SHAKEN, NOT STIRRED

007’s FAVORITE COCKTAIL

Vesper Martini“A dry martini,” (Bond) said. “One. In a deep champagne goblet.”

 “Oui, monsieur.”

 “Just a moment. Three measures of Gordon’s, one of vodka, half a measure of Kina Lillet. Shake it very well until it’s ice-cold, then add a large thin slice of lemon peel. Got it?”

 Certainly, monsieur.” The barman seemed pleased with the idea.

 “Gosh, that’s certainly a drink,” said (Felix) Leiter.

 Bond laughed. “When I’m… er… concentrating, he explained, “I never have more than one drink before dinner. But I do like that one to be large and very strong and very cold, and very well-made. I hate small portions of anything particularly when they taste bad. This drink’s my own invention. I’m going to patent it when I think of a good name.”

 Of course, Bond later named the drink after his love interest, Vesper Lynd.

Vesper Martini 2The above passage is from chapter seven of Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale, penned in 1953. If you’d care to see Daniel Craig’s interpretation of the dialogue from the film of the same name, please click on https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uuRKTvAs_ns.

Contrary to popular belief, while Fleming’s novel popularized the cocktail, it was not his creation. It was actually devised by his good friend Ivar Bryce. Naming the drink, the Vesper, however, was Fleming’s idea, though it was based on someone else’s pun on “vespers,” a religious observance normally held around sunset.

Lillet BlancThe only item in the above recipe that may be unfamiliar is Kina Lillet. Invented in 1887, this was a liqueur made with white wine mixed with fruit liqueurs and flavored with quinine. The Kina in its name is derived from quinine’s main ingredient: the bark of the kina-kina (or cinchona) tree.

In 1986, however, Lillet Blanc, which has a lower quinine content, replaced Kina and has since become exceedingly popular in bars and restaurants. Lillet is actually a family of French aromatized wines; that is, wines fortified with brandy and then infused with herbs, spices, fruit, or other botanicals.  Lillet Blanc is crisp and light, with subtle floral, herbal, and citrus notes. It tastes like a semi-sweet white vermouth with distinctive herbal notes on the finish.

In addition to Kina Lillet being discontinued, in 1992 Gordon’s cut the proof of their gin; so, unfortunately, we cannot duplicate the exact recipe as it was stated. We can, however, with substitutes, come pretty close…

Cocchi AmericanoLillet Blanc is available, but Kina Lillet included quinine. Cocchi Americano can be used as a substitute, as it possesses a more bitter finish than Lillet Blanc…. For a more traditional flavor, 100 proof vodka should be used to bring the alcohol content of the cocktail back to 1953 levels… Because Gordon’s Gin has been cut to 75 proof, possible substitutes are Beefeater, Bombay Sapphire, or Broker’s (I prefer Bombay Sapphire), which provide the traditional flavor of 94 proof gin.

The Vesper Martini:

Ingredients:

3 ounces gin

1 ounce vodka

½ ounce Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc

ice cubes

lemon for lemon twist

Instructions:

  1. Pour gin, vodka, and Cocchi Americano or Lillet Blanc into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.
  2. Shake vigorously for 20-30 seconds, until ice cold.
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  4. Rub the lemon twist along the rim of the glass and drop it into the cocktail.

The Vesper Martini is definitely not for the faint of heart, as it contains 4 ounces of liquor, plus a splash of Cocchi Americano. It’s, well… yes, delightfully boozy… But it’s as uniquely alluring as it is powerful.

Cheers!

TAD

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Favorite Wines of 2023

by artfuldiner on January 29, 2024

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Wine

Wine 3Once again, 2023 was a great year for wine tasting. Of the slew of wines sampled, from a variety of different countries, the 8 listed below – 4 white; 4 red – are particularly recommended.

Please note that prices quoted are approximate, depending upon where the wines are purchased; and, of course, all are subject to change. The prices in states other than Pennsylvania can vary significantly from retailer to retailer. So, it would certainly be to your advantage to spend some time surfing online for the best price point.

 

FAVORITE WHITE WINES OF 2023:

 2021 Cadre Band of Stones Grüner Veltliner (California): While Austria is known as the home of the finest Grüner Veltliner, I freely confess that Cadre Band of Stones Gruner 2021I much prefer this version from California’s Edna Valley. Not only does it possess infinitely more body than many of its Austrian cousins, but it also hits you with less acidity. This wine is also highly rated – 92 points from Wine Enthusiast; 91 points from Wilfred Wong of Wine.com – and readily available from Pennsylvania State Stores. So, when you begin to tire of those over-oaked California chards, but still want a wine with plenty of body and texture, the 2021 Cadre Band of Stones may be just your ticket. And, priced at $15.99, its also less expensive than it Austrian siblings.

 2022 Forrester, Ken Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc (South Africa): In March 2023, I visited Ken Ken ForresterForrester Wines, considered by locals and wine loves alike, the home of Chenin Blanc. The man himself, affectionally known as “Mr. Chenin Blanc,” is reputed to be just as dynamic as the grape he so fervently champions. I tasted four wines during my visit… and the standout (and most reasonably priced & readily available) continues to be the Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc. While I sampled the 2022, the 2021 and 2020 are also excellent vintages. So, feel free to snatch up whatever may be available from various sources online. Priced in the $18.00 – $20.00 range.

 2020 Trimbach Riesling Reserve (Alsace, France): Structured, bone dry, and delightfully fruity, the 2020 Trimbach- WineryReserve is finesse personified. Wine writer James Suckling bestowed 94 points, referring to the “super-ripe lemon, fresh pineapple and herb aromas… of this medium-bodied, concentrated and sophisticated dry Riesling… and the excellent balance at the long, very clean finish.” Priced at $33.99 at your local State Store. The lowest price I have seen online is from the Saratoga Wine Exchange: $27.94 (plus shipping). If you’d prefer a slightly lower priced wine, I would suggest the 2020 Trimbach Riesling, $23.89 at State Stores; lowest price online: $19.99 (plus shipping) at Gary’s Wine & Marketplace in New Jersey.

2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko (Greece): Among the little-known grape varieties of Greece, Assyrtiko has been by far the most popular among Greek whites. Zacharias Assyrtiko 2020Although originating on the Island of Santorini, it is now planted across mainland Greece, becoming one of the most important native varietals. It produces mainly dry white wines, some of which are aged in oak. The 2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko is characterized by light yellow color and aromas of yellow fruits and lemon flowers. It is bone-dry with distinctive character, excellent structure, and crisp acidity. It is pleasant to drink young; however, it also ages well – from five to ten years, sometimes significantly longer – developing aromas and flavors of ripe fruits, honey, and intense minerality. This is not, unfortunately, available through Pennsylvania State Stores. The best price I have discovered online is $10.95 (plus shipping) from Shoppers Vineyard in Clifton, New Jersey.

 

FAVORITE RED WINES OF 2023:

 2021 Barista Pinotage (South Africa): Produced by legendary South African winemaker Bertus Fourie, the 2021 Barista Pinotage is its own unique Barista Pinotage 2021oenological treasure. It is a deliberately & distinctly modern interpretation of South Africa’s signature grape; and will undoubtedly remind most wine lovers of a top-notch Pinot Noir. Nuances of vanilla and mocha and silky-smooth tannins make this a completely accessible wine that is ready to be enjoyed. Readily available from a variety of sources, it is currently priced at $15.59 at Pennsylvania State Stores.

2019 Château Brun Despagne Querre Bordeaux Supérieur (France): The Bordeaux Supérieur I have Bordeaux Superieur - Imageenjoyed on a regular basis is the 2019 Château Brun Despagne Querre, an enticing blend of 80% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. Garnering 91 points from James Suckling, this medium-bodied every-day quaffer is lusciously textured, alive with sweet dark fruit, and pure pleasure in the glass. But the best part of the 2019 Bordeaux Supérieur wines, as one writer put is, is that “every one of them sells for a song.” The 2019 Château Brun Despagne Querre, for example, is currently on sale at Pennsylvania State Stores at $8.99 per bottle (a dollar or two more at Total Wines).

 2018 Manzanos 111 Reserva Red Rioja (Spain): Hailing from Bodegas Manzanos, one of Spain’s largest producers, the 2018 111 Reserva, like all Manzanos Wines - Reserva Rioja 2018red Riojas, is a blended wine of predominately Tempranillo supplemented by smaller percentages of Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano. As a Reserva, it has also been aged for three years (one of which was in barrel) before release. And although it received 93 points from Mike DeSimone of Wine Enthusiast, I think that score could have been even a few notches higher, as this wine is incredibly opulent, delightfully complex, and as smooth as silk on the palate. In addition, although the suggested retail price is $45.00, it is currently on sale from various sources online and also available in Pennsylvania at a paltry $12.99.

2020 Vinha da Coutada Velha (Portugal): This wine hails from Portugal and is an intriguing blend of Aragonez – a Vinha Da Coutada Velha 2020Portuguese name for Tempranillo, Tincadeira, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, combining native grapes with international varieties. The pleasing result is a marvelously spicy mix of red and dark fruit flavors backed by an intriguing earthiness. The Wine Enthusiast bestowed 92 points, noting its smooth & powerful finish and potential longevity, while the Washington Post called it a “great value.” Priced at a mere $9.99 at your local State Store, it is a bargain, indeed.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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Poseidon Asian Cuisine & Sushi Bar

128 Paoli Pike

Paoli, Pennsylvania

(610) 812-3333

https://www.poseidonpa.com/

Tucked away in a building that has been home to several restaurants – including the long-running Luigi’s, the short-lived Big Easy, and an excellent Poseidon - Exterior2gastropub dubbed the Redhound GrillePoseidon Asian Cuisine, hopefully, will enjoy a longer and more prosperous tenure than its various predecessors. And, based upon several recent visits, as well as the comments posted on social media, as of this writing, the gastronomic gods – especially the Greek god of the sea – seem to be smiling favorably.

The menu, of course, rounds up the usual suspects… sushi, sashimi & teriyaki; fried rice, noodles, Szechuan stir Poseidon - Outdoor Tablesfry & poke bowls. Familiar the culinary constituents may be, but… the ingredients are of impeccable quality, the preparation & presentation first-rate, and the atmosphere – including a beautiful patio for al fresco dining in warmer weather (pictured) – relaxed and inviting. Add personable & knowledgeable service, reasonable prices, and the fact that you may BYOB, and a very pleasant dining experience awaits.

There are, as you may very well suspect, numerous ways to start things off here. My dining partner, for example, is a lover of crab, and she went immediately for the Crab Cheese Wontons, which she highly praised. I, on the other hand, since I consider myself something of a veggie-saurus at heart, felt very much in the mood to give the Tempura Vegetable a try.

Tempura is a dish that consists of vegetables – in this case, carrot, sweet potato, broccoli & mushroom cap – (or Poseidon - Veggie Tempuraseafoods) that are battered and deep fried. However, it is the distinctive batter that makes tempura remarkably different from other fried foods. Tempura batter utilizes no breadcrumbs; it is basically made from beaten egg, flour, and cold water. Occasionally, a touch of oil or spices may be added… And here it was as light as a feather.

Tempura is one of the most common Japanese dishes served outside of Japan. And, in the minds of many, along with sushi, it has become synonymous with Japanese cuisine. Interestingly enough, however, tempura’s origins are not Japanese. This method of frying food was introduced in the 1600s by Portuguese missionaries. The original dish is no longer extant, but it was a meal designed for Lent, when many Christian denominations are forbidden to eat meat. In point of fact, the name tempura comes from the Latin ad tempora cuaresme – meaning, “in the time of Lent” – which, evidently the Japanese mistook as the dish’s name and called it tempura. Speculation has it that the original Portuguese dish may have originated in Goa, India, where a similar dish known as pakora is served.

Please pardon the momentary digression… Back to the entrées… My choice for the evening was a rather simple dish, the Eggplant with Chicken. That being said, however, the brown sauce was quite excellent… It was also slightly on the spicy side, which was very much to my liking, as there was just enough heat to invigorate rather than incinerate the palate. The slender slices of chicken were moist and tender, and the eggplant just the proper texture and consistency.

My dining partner went straight for the Sexy Lobster (pictured), a dish she had thoroughly enjoyed during a previous visit. The lobster is steamed, formed Poseidon - Lobster Rollinto a roll and stuffed with lobster salad. It is then topped with steamed shrimp, avocado, red tobiko (flying fish roe), and companioned by spicy mayo and mango sauce. An absolutely fabulous dish that is highly recommended on all counts… And as you can tell from the photograph, it was as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palate.

Asian restaurants aren’t particularly known for their desserts. However, the cheesecake we shared certainly Poseidon - Cheesecakedeserves mention. Although not made in-house, it was moist, flavorful, and the perfect sweet ending for our evening at table.

I do apologize, however, for the poor quality of the photograph… We visited the restaurant during the latter part of August and were seated outdoors on the patio. As you can tell, darkness had begun to descend.

As noted above, the service here is quite good. In this regard, however, I do have one significant complaint; and I take a moment to dwell upon it here, not because it is endemic to Poseidon, but because it seems to be occurring with the nauseating inevitability of an unloved season (mostly, it is true, in more casual eateries; but occasionally in fine-dining establishments as well – a prominent Michelin-starred restaurant in London, which shall remain nameless, comes immediately to mind).

The scenario goes something like this… You and your dining partner have stepped out for a leisurely dinner. In absolutely no hurry, you’re enjoying your appetizers and some very pleasant conversation. You’re not quite halfway through the starters when… you guessed it… up pops a runner bearing entrées. This is a positive no-no. There is absolutely no way that entrées should be presented at table before appetizers have been cleared.

Unfortunately, this Speedy Gonzales approach to restaurant service has become more and more commonplace of late. And this questionable state-of-affairs Poseidon - Interioris certainly not the fault of the kitchen; rather, it occurs because of the inexperience of servers and, ultimately, as a result of poor management. Some restaurateurs seem to be under the mistaken impression that anyone with the appropriate number of appendages is qualified to wait tables… and that, quite simply, is not the case. Occasionally, a bit of instruction is very much in order.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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Ivy, The - Interior 1For your dining pleasure, listed below are synopses of the restaurants reviewed during the year 2023. The month appearing in parentheses indicates the month the restaurant’s full review appeared on my blog.

As you will note, I have also included restaurants from my recent travels to London and South Africa, which are well worth visiting and, hopefully, may be of interest to those who enjoy an occasional gastronomically-inspired sojourn (pictured: The Ivy in London).

United States

 BUNHA FAUN (July), 152 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (610) 651-2836, https://bunhafaun.net: The unassuming exterior notwithstanding (it formerly housed a Dairy Queen), the restaurant’s inner sanctum is attractively and Bunha Faun - Interior 2tastefully appointed… And the cuisine – French fare with a distinctive Asian flair – is lovingly prepared and beautifully presented. Recommended starters include an eye-catching Snow Pea Salad and Oriental Noodles tossed with sesame dressing topped with slivers of chicken and crushed peanuts surrounded by alternating snippets of carrots and broccoli. Entrée-wise, the Filet Mignon wrapped in bacon is excellent; but the Escalope of Veal in an addictive white wine sauce aided & abetted by wild mushrooms & prosciutto is even better. Desserts (mostly trucked in from off campus) are, unfortunately, a low point. And just be prepared. Depending upon the night of your visit, service can be as slow as a herd of turtles. BYOB.

THE CHOICE (March), 845 Lancaster Avenue, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, (484) 383-3230, https://thechoice-restaurant.com: Given the fact that the menu is awash with a host of French and Asian fusion innuendos, you would probably never Choice, The - Scallops in Shredded Filo Doughsuspect that the restaurant is owned by two Ukrainian families. But since well-traveled co-proprietor “Vlad” Hyvel served as sous-chef in London’s Nobu and also put in time at Le Cirque, Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges, his curious culinary predilections make perfect sense. Matters piscatorial – both preludes and main courses – play a significant role in Mr. Hyvel’s repertoire. Scallops in Shredded Filo (pictured) accompanied by a zippy wasabi cream sauce, for example, were simply irresistible. Ditto the Wild Caught Striped Bass. Wrapped in a crispy potato crust, the filet was served on a seabed of creamy leeks and splashed with a delicate red wine sauce. If the restaurant has a weakness, it is their desserts, which are exceedingly limited and completely lacking in creativity. While dining at The Choice is not an inexpensive proposition, the fact that you may BYOB helps to soften the blow somewhat.

 DI BRUNO BROS. (September), 385 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, Pennsylvania, (484) 581-7888, https://dibruno.com/locations/wayne: Located smack dab in the middle of the hustle & bustle of this well-known Philadelphia-based gourmet Di Bruno Interior 1specialty store, the charming little Alimentari Bar/Café is a great place to enjoy a luncheon rendezvous or afternoon snack bolstered by one of the establishment’s creative cocktails. Italian comfort food is the name of the game here, with items such as House of Grilled Cheese Sandwich, Pizza alla Romana, and Spicy Sausage Rigatoni taking center stage. Dolci, “sweets” are somewhat limited, but be sure to try the traditional Affogato al Caffe, vanilla gelato “drowned” in a shot of potent espresso. On the other hand, the pastry department is just a few steps away… Why not make a quick stop and savor your dessert at home.

 LE BERNARDIN (October), 155 West 51st Street, New York, New York, (212) 554-1515, www.le-bernardin.com/: The recipient of three Michelin stars and more culinary honors than you can shake a fork at, if Le Bernardin - Eric Ripertyou appreciate the unmitigated joys of fine dining, Le Bernardin should most assuredly be at the very top your bucket list. Chef de Cuisine/co-owner Eric Ripert’s (pictured) French-inspired piscatorial fare is absolutely incomparable – there is simply no other word for it. And nothing quite measures up to his superlative pan-roasted Dover Sole. Adorned with crisp green olive rings & toasted almonds, the delicate filet is finished with a subtly seductive sherry wine emulsion that gently caresses the object of its affection. The award-winning wine list, curated by wine director Aldo Sohm in collaboration with Chef Ripert, is a thing of beauty; and desserts, under the watchful eye of Executive Chef Orlando Soto, are equally pleasing to both eye and palate. An extraordinary experience that is, indeed, worthy of a journey.

 POMOD’ORO PIZZA & ITALIAN RESTAURANT (May), 200 Chestnut Street, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (610) 873-0405, www.pomodorodowningtown.com:  Pomod’oro is the younger sibling of Anthony’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant in Malvern. And, like its elder Pomodoro - Cannoli Cake2brother, Pomod’oro is a BYOB majoring in Italian comfort food that sports princely portions at downright paltry prices.  The interior is somewhat utilitarian – unadorned wooden tables, silverware wrapped in paper napkins, hardwood floors, bare windows – but don’t be misled. The dining rooms have a warmth all their own, especially when filled by the restaurant’s loyal and ever-growing clientele, which is most of the time. The menu runs the gamut, from appetizers, soups and salads, pizza, sandwiches, stromboli and calzones, through entrees and signature dishes: chicken or veal prepared Marsala, Piccata, Parmigiana or Cacciatora… But save room for dessert. All are homemade from the bakery located on the premises. My favorite? The incredible Cannoli Cake (pictured). Part creamy cannoli filling, part moist yellow cake, it is both irresistibly decadent and utterly delicious. BYOB.

 SCHAEFER’S CANAL HOUSE (August), 208 Bank Street, Chesapeake City, Maryland, (410) 885-7200, https://www.schaeferscanalhouse.com: Tucked away on the north side of the C&D Canal in the historic town of Chesapeake City, Maryland, Schaefer's Canal House - ExteriorSchaefer’s isn’t exactly a “destination” restaurant. However, should you find yourself traveling along the I-95 corridor between Philly & DC – especially in warmer weather – its considerable charms will surely beckon. And no matter where you happen to be seated, outdoor veranda or dining room, the view of the canal is truly spectacular. Given the restaurant’s strategic waterside location, it’s no surprise that seafood is the name of the game. Start with the incomparably tender Traditional Calamari, for example, and I guarantee you will not be disappointed. From there, you can move on to entrées such as Jambalaya, Grilled Salmon, Parmesan-Crusted Mahi Mahi, or lighter fare like Fish Tacos or Crab Melt. An especially pleasant spot for lunch during the summer months.

 

London

 THE AMERICAN BAR (February), Savoy Hotel, The Strand, London, https://www.thesavoylondon.com/restaurant/american-bar: American Bar - Cheese BoardWhen in London, nothing beats a visit to the Savoy’s world-famous American Bar – one of the most iconic cocktail bars in the world. It has been named “World’s Best Bar at Tales of the Cocktail Spirited Awards 2018 and World’s 50 Best Bars in 2017. Most recently, it was named one of “The World’s 44 Best Hotel Bars” by the Forbes Travel Guide. Luncheon offerings – such as Grilled Dry-Aged USDA Beef Burger, Texas Fried Chicken Strips, and Vegan Reuben Sandwich – feature uniquely British flourishes on All-American Favorites. The American is also a great spot for a late-night snack following an evening at the theater. Gastronomic possibilities include Oysters, Caviar, Coffee & Cupcake, and a New York Deli Platter. We finally settled on the Artisan Cheese Board (pictured), which proved to be an excellent choice.

THE CINNAMON CLUB (February), 30-32 Great Smith Street, London, https://cinnamonclub.com: Sequestered in the former home of the old Westminster Library, just around Cinnamon Club - Interior 2the corner from Parliament and Westminster Abbey, the Cinnamon Club isn’t all that easy to find (there is no exterior sign)… but if you enjoy fine Indian cuisine, it is definitely worth the effort. And, as you may observe from the photo, evidences of the previous occupant are very much in evidence – which only adds to the enjoyment – but it’s the outstanding quality and presentation of the cuisine that clearly places this restaurant in a class by itself. Items such as Chicken Seekh Tawa Masala (minced chicken in a spicy sauce), Masala Corn Kebabs, Corn & Ginger Soup, and Cauliflower & Berkswell Cheese Parcel with Tomato Fenugreek Sauce succeeded in making this a most memorable lunch. And even though desserts are usually not given a second thought in most Indian restaurants, we found the Royal Malai Kulfi (Indian ice cream) with caramelized quinoa & raspberry crip and the Mango Meringue Tart with spiced puffed rice and smoked berry sorbet every bit as extraordinary as their illustrious predecessors.

GALVIN LA CHAPELLE (February), 35 Spital Square, London, https://galvinrestaurants.com/restaurant/galvin-la-chapelle: Located in Galvin La Chapelle - InteriorSt. Boltolph’s Hall, a 19th century former school chapel, the setting – vaulted ceilings, massive pillars, grand buttresses, dark woods & leather furnishings – was, indeed, awe-inspiring (pictured). Unfortunately, the cuisine and service, a Michelin star notwithstanding, were significantly less so. The Foie Gras Terrine, an appetizer garnished with black garlic, caramel vinegar, and fermented cherry, while beautifully presented, was the bland-leading-the-bland. Ditto my dining partner’s entrée of Herdwick Lamb; another triumph of form over substance. Flavor was conspicuous by its absence. On the other hand, my Barbecued Monkfish kissed by an ethereal clam velouté was positively sublime in its simplicity. Desserts – Provence Peach Soufflé and Raspberry & Manjari Chocolate Delicacy – were also quite good. However, apart from the Monkfish – with an “honorable mention” to the desserts – the food, in my opinion, simply wasn’t up to Michelin star standards. And the same was true of the service. Nothing seriously amiss… just out of sync. Our Speedy Gonzales server was in entirely too much of a hurry – to take our orders… to bring wine… to serve the entrées – when there was absolutely no need to be. Especially since we told him we wished to linger over cocktails. An interesting experience. However, as my dining companion so aptly put it: “I don’t think I’d hurry back.”

 THE IVY (February), 1-5 West Street, London, https://the-ivy.co.uk/: Located directly across the street from St. Martin’s Theatre, The Ivy has Ivy, The - Cheese Soufflebeen a West End institution for over a century. The attractive bohemian-style eatery comes replete with a sumptuous flatiron bar, iconic wood paneling, harlequin mullioned windows, and a kitchen that is quite adept at turning out an impressive array of traditional British fare with decidedly innovative touches. Entrées run the gamut… from roasted & grilled items such as Slow Cooked Rabbit Leg & Spring Lamb Cutlets to miso-marinated Black Cod and a rather pricey Dover Sole. My dining partner and I enjoyed two of the house favorites, Deep-Fried Haddock & Chips and Shepherd’s Pie, respectively; and both were excellent. The absolute show-stopper, however, was our shared appetizer, the Twice-Baked Cheese Soufflé (pictured), which was nothing short of extraordinary.

TURNIPS (February), 43, Borough Market, London, https://restaurant.turnipsboroughmarket.com/: Tucked under the historic arches of London’s iconic TurnipsBorough Market, Turnips is a greengrocer selling high quality fruit and vegetables from independent producers across Britain, Europe and beyond… But it is also an haute cuisine restaurant offering patrons seasonally-inspired creative modern dishes featuring world-class vegetables. The restaurant’s small plate selection and tasting menu both showcase a beautifully presented cooking style that follows the micro-seasonality of the ingredients. Definitely high end, but totally accessible, as Chef Lidakevicius’ cuisine remains in perfect harmony with the charmingly casual ambience of the market stall. While sipping glasses of white wine and taking in the seemingly ceaseless flow of human flora & fauna, my dining companion and I were treated to such remarkable luncheon creations as Wild Mushroom Croquette with mozzarella, Sicilian & Provence Outdoor Tomato garnished with walnut & gorgonzola, and Britany Cauliflower crowned with Australian black truffle. Haute cuisine… smack dab in the middle of the bustling Borough Market… Who would have guessed?

 South Africa

CHEFS WAREHOUSE (June), Beau Constantia Wine Farm, Constantia Neck, Cape Town, South Africa, https://www.chefswarehouse.co.za/beau-constantia: Located twenty minutes from Cape Town proper, this modern eatery opened its doors in 2016. Chef's Warehouse - Thai Roast ChickenFrom the outside, the building with its eye-catching cubed glass appears suspended in space. The recently revamped interior boasts an expanded open kitchen and spacious outdoor terrace that affords diners exceptional views of the valley below. Chef Ivor Jones offers a celebration of global flavors with a unique set menu that changes seasonally. Main courses include such intriguing possibilities as Char-Grilled Tuna with Perilla leaves (mint), Nam Phrik (spicy Thai chili sauce) & Szechuan-style cashews; Hakurei Turnip Mille-Feuille garnished with preserved spring flowers, and vadouvan (Indian curry blend of spices) & buttermilk dressing; and Thai Roast Chicken with BBQ cashew nut purée and tamarind dressing (pictured). Fabulous!

DELAIRE GRAFF ESTATE (June), Helshoogte Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa, https://www.delaire.co.za: Following our morning tasting at Stark-Condé Wines, we departed for lunch at Delaire Delaire Graff Estate - TerraceGraff. We wanted to dine alfresco and, once again, Samson, our knowledgeable guide, was right on the money with his suggestion. Shaded by ancient oak trees, the restaurant’s broad wooden terrace provided breathtaking views of vineyards and olive groves from Simonsberg Peak across the Banghoek Valley (pictured)… And the food was every bit as pleasing as the view. Entrées included innovative presentations such as Sweet Potato Gnocchi with wild mushrooms, broccoli, and parmesan velouté; Seafood & Black Risotto awash with langoustine, mussels, prawns, squid, seaweed, tomato, sesame, and roasted red peppers; and Duck Breast accompanied by turnips, fennel prune, and marsala jus. However, since we were scheduled for another wine tasting that afternoon, followed by an upscale dinner, which would include cocktails and wine, we decided that a light luncheon, sans the fruit of the vine, was definitely called for. And an excellent Salad Niçoise, followed by an ethereal but exceedingly flavorful Caramel Tart, filled the bill quite nicely.

 ERNIE ELS WINERY RESTAURANT (June), Annandale Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa, https://ernieelswines.com/restaurant: Ernie Els Winery Restaurant - TerraceFollowing a morning wine tasting, it was but a short drive to South African golfer Ernie Els Winery Restaurant for lunch. This was another eatery highly recommended by our guide, and we certainly were not disappointed.

The building itself was quite impressive: a charming open-plan space that extended out onto a spacious terrace, offering incredible views of Stellenbosch and the Helderberg Mountains (pictured). The cuisine, made with a host of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients, was quite hearty. My Roasted Butternut Squash and Goat Cheese Feta Salad, for example, came replete with an intriguing cashew nut praline, baby leaf greens, pickled onions, and was finished with a first-rate citrus dressing. My traveling companion was perfectly satisfied with her Roasted Local Vegetable & Pecorino Tagliatelle, and Samson, our guide, had nothing but praise for his Beef Filet. An excellent glass of the winery’s Chenin Blanc proved the perfect complement to my salad.

FOODBARN CAFÉ & TAPAS (June), Noordhoek Farm Village, Village Lane, Cape Town, South Africa, https://www.thefoodbarn.co.za: After a morning of sightseeing, we paused for lunch at the Foodbarn Café & Foodbarn & Tapas - ExteriorTapas. Aptly named, this super-casual eatery is set in a renovated barn with high-thatched ceiling, bare wooden tables, and modern lighting fixtures. But don’t be fooled by the laid-back ambience, as the subtle French-influenced cuisine is beautifully prepared and generously portioned. So much so that Fodor’s referred to the Foodbarn as “probably the best restaurant on the Cape Peninsula.” We dined alfresco and enjoyed the Calamari and Mushroom Ravioli, respectively, then shard a luscious Rhubarb Crème Brûlée for dessert. I should also add that first-rate, reasonably-priced wine pairings and stellar service completed the picture. Definitely a gastronomic high point.

FYN RESTAURANT (June), 5th Floor, Speakers Corner, Parliament Street, Cape Town, South Africa, http://fynrestaurant.com: Fyn Restaurant – pronounced “Fain” – made its debut in 2018 and Fyn Restaurant 1has been making waves on the global gastronomic scene ever since. In 2022, it broke into the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list at number 37… picking up the Best Restaurant in Africa award at the same time. At its core, the menu is completely Japanese, utilizing fresh fish, poultry, and meat from the best of Cape Town’s farms and fisheries. The menu included intriguing starters like Guinea Fowl Wonton and Ostrich Egg Chawanmushi (savory egg custard) before moving on to such delicacies as Cape Malay King Trout with smoked barley and curry vinaigrette, Rooibos (a South African red herbal tea) Smoked Sashimi, and Roast Duck Breast with lacquered onion & hijiki, sancho pepper & lacto blueberries. Dessert…? Ethiopian Ice Cream with yuzu (citrus fruit sauce). By the way, if you arrive before sunset, the views of Lion’s Head and Table Mountain from the triple-height windows are truly spectacular.

LA PETITE COLOMBE (June), Leeu Estates, Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek, South Africa, https://lapetitecolombe.restaurant: Part of the Leeu Collection stable of fine restaurants, La Petite La Petite Colombe - Karoo LambColombe is nestled in the midst of vineyards and manicured landscapes, offering diners extraordinarily beautiful views of the Franschhoek Valley and Franschhoek Pass… And the delicious cuisine, I can assure you, is every bit as photogenic as the scenery. The adventure begins with cocktails and “snacks” in the lounge before being called to table. Innovation is definitely the name of the game here, including a host of ingredients – many indigenous to South Africa – that will send you scrambling for an epicurean dictionary. The high point was clearly the Karoo Lamb (pictured), which is considered by many the best lamb in South Africa. Raised in a semi-desert area, the sheep feed mainly on the indigenous flora, which is extremely nutritious and responsible for the lamb’s unique favor. Dessert, a luscious Vanilla Panna Cotta, was garnished with gooseberry and tonka (a bean with a nutty vanilla flavor that is illegal in the US). An array of chocolates from the Sweets Trolley provided an ever-so-decadent finishing touch.

PROTÉGÉ (June), 18 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek, South Africa, https://protege.restaurant/: Tucked away in Le Quartier Francais, a Protegecharmingly rustic little hostelry in the heart of the wine country, Protégé describes itself as “an informal eatery featuring stylish casual fare.” The setting is quite informal, as patrons may dine alfresco or watch the chefs at work in the central open kitchen. The food, however, is anything but. Calling it “stylish casual fare” is, indeed, an understatement… And that is not meant to be a knock, as the Asian, French, and Italian nuanced cuisine dished out in trendy small plates is perfectly prepared, beautifully presented, and more than just a touch innovative. Gastronomic esoterica such as BBQ Pork Roti, Gochujang and Salmon Miso Aubergine, Ssamjang isn’t likely to appeal to the meat & potatoes crowd… and just as likely to send even the most knowledgeable of diners in desperate search of semantic succor. The menu is also prix fixe – X number of courses for X number of Rand (the national currency of South Africa) – so copping out à la carte simply is not an option. Still, not such a bad deal as four courses will set you back a total of R795, which translates to $43.50 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity).

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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From Dubai to Cape Town

by artfuldiner on January 13, 2024

in Uncategorized

Dubai - SkylineI recently returned from a six-week journey and cruise that took me from Dubai, UAE, through several other countries in the Middle East, to India, with diversions to the famous Taj Mahal and Red Fort, to Tanzania, Madagascar, and Richards Bay, before disembarking in one of my favorite cities, Cape Town, South Africa.

There were several interesting dining experiences along the way, as well as a visit to the Klein Constantia Winery in South Africa. (Pictured: Dubai’s majestic skyline)

More to come soon.

Best regards,

TAD

 

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The 25 Best Restaurants

in Philadelphia Right Now

 … at least according to the New York Times.

The article first appeared on October 23, 2023, as part of the Where to Eat: 25 Best, a series highlighting the paper’s favorite restaurants in cities across the

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U.S. I won’t bore you with a complete recitation, as the chosen 25 may be noted from various sources online. And, needless to say, the Times’ take on Philly’s dining scene has raised some eyebrows and a touch of ire here & there as well. (Pictured: Dining Room at Friday Saturday Sunday)

Michael Klein of the Philadelphia Inquirer, for example, noted that the Times’ article was “heavy on South Philly.” He went on to specify that “fourteen of the Times’ top 25 are in South Philadelphia… only four restaurants are located in the rapidly growing Fishtown-Kensington area, while six are in Center City.”

Of particular interest to this writer was not only the restaurants that were included, but those that were Vernick Fish - Interiorexcluded. Among them, a number of highly-regarded upscale establishments that had received excellent reviews and were all-too conspicuous by their absence. This also caught Mr. Klein’s attention, but he blithely tossed it off as inconsequencial: “As Mason said to Dixon, ‘You have to draw the line somewhere.’” (Pictured: Dining Room at Vernick Fish)

Yes, Mr. Klein raised several significant questions… but failed to follow through. In fact, right from the outset, or so it seemed to me, his comments with regard to the Times’ article appeared to be self-consciously solicitous, studiously avoiding stepping on anyone’s toes. He did bring up a minor point of contention with regard to restaurant Friday Saturday Sunday, but never seriously questioned the general tenor and/or content of the article itself: “As the Times is writing for an international – or at least New York – audience, there are few surprises to those who follow the Philadelphia restaurant scene. Philadelphia readers may insist that their favorites have been overlooked as the Times writers have included a breadth of cuisines and price points. Such lists are conversation-starters, anyway, and are purely subjective.”

Subjective, indeed… “Food writing’s shameful secret,” chef/author John Thorne once remarked, “is its intellectual poverty.” And empty enumerations such as John ThorneThe 25 Best Restaurants in Philadelphia Right Now are glaring examples of that searing indictment. They represent, in my humble opinion, the worst of culinary journalism.

… And the New York Times should have known better – although, apparently not, as numerous other cities have already fallen (or will fall) victim to their top 25 as well. In this regard, Mr. Klein had ample opportunity to make a relevant contribution here… Unfortunately, he chose to remain mute, and/or refused to answer on the grounds that he might incriminate himself (as the Inquirer is by no means immune to the “listing” syndrome… ditto Philadelphia magazine and a number of local sources online).

In June of 1980, Jeff Weinstein, then restaurant reviewer of the Village Voice, penned a thought-provoking article entitled Learning to Eat“The 25 Greatest Restaurants in America,” which was subsequently included in his book Learning to Eat, published in 1988. The article was brief and to the point; its major thesis even more relevant today than the moment it was written: “If anything can kill the possibility of spirited and serious food writing, it’s the list.”

“Most lists are nothing but menu information and prices, with a few adjectives like silky or pungent tossed in as camouflage. Not only is this an impoverished way to describe experience, it presupposes that all experience is available to this predigestion.”

Lists can also be deceptive, Mr. Weinstein asserts, as they lead us to expect perfection. However, “(lists) don’t have moods, memories, ambivalences. They won’t refund for disappointments.” In addition, lists have a deep structural connection to fads. Lists help create fads and are also subject to them. “The same editors,” he notes, “lick their chops at both.”

Another of Mr. Weinstein’s comments that I found particularly intriguing – but also completely valid – is the fact you can’t have a restaurant list without an expert. Conversely, anyone not an expert is basically a dimwit. And here he is definitely right on target: “Other kinds of media games can reinforce feelings of inadequacy, but the list does it without even trying.”

When it comes to the media’s fetish for lists, as you would undoubtedly surmise, profit motive plays a major role. “A list,” Mr. Weinstein concludes, “is a fundamentally lazy way for a newspaper or magazine to fill space and woo as many advertisers as possible. Modern restaurant reviewing was born as advertising copy that snuck onto the other side of the page. It may die there.”

His final word on the subject: “Ships list – before they sink.”

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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The Wines of Bodegas Manzanos

by artfuldiner on November 15, 2023

in Uncategorized

Manzanos Wines - EntranceBodegas Manzanos is a large Spanish wine producer, founded in 1890 by members of the Fernández de Manzanos family. The original production capacity of the small winery was 50,000 liters of wine. In the 1940s, a new facility was constructed, expanding the capacity to 350,000 liters.

Between the 1950s and 60s the estate was consolidated with the creation of the Viña Marichalar winery, the first attached to the Rioja Qualified Denomination of Origin, increasing the output to more than 1.5 million liters.

In the 1990s, after obtaining a Master’s Degree in Viticulture & Oenology from the Polytechnic University of Madrid, Victor Fernández de Manzanos Pastor joined the family business. He then built the Marqués de Butrago winery and fulfilled his life-long ambition with the construction of Bodegas Manzanos.

In 2020, the reins of the winery were turned over to brothers Victor & David Fernández and Victor’s wife, Laura Mateo Manzanos Wines - 4th Generation(pictured). The young entrepreneurs, while still maintaining a deep respect for family tradition, have turned Bodegas Manzanos into a prosperous, modern facility equipped with the latest technologies. In 2020, when COVID was preventing industry professionals from visiting Spain. They took the bold step of establishing a U.S. office and tasting room in Miami, Florida.

I recently had opportunity to sample two red wines from Bodegas Manzanos, which are not only of excellent quality but also readily available and quite reasonably priced.

Manzanos 111 Red Blend 2021: Hailing from the estate’s winery in Navarra, this is an interesting red blend of 85% Manzanos Wines - 111 Red Blend 2021Grenache & 15% Cabernet Sauvignon… and it hits all the right notes. Mike DeSimone of Wine Enthusiast bestowed 93 points, noting its “vibrant acidity and plush tannins,” before launching into the usual ad infinitum, ad nauseum pontification of aromas & flavors.

Forget the usual palaver. Bottom line… this is a very likeable wine. It’s medium-bodied, offers a nice tinge of black fruit on the palate and is, above all, eminently quaffable. I happen to think it’s overrated (see more of that below)… but if you’re a red wine lover in search of that perfect everyday libation, trust me, you’ve just found it.

But there’s more. The price is quite likeable as well… a paltry $8.99 at your local State Store. And you can’t get much better than that. Well… actually you can. Please check out the wine below.

Manzanos 111 Reserva Red Rioja 2018: The red wines produced in Spain’s leading wine region, Rioja, are also blends. Tempranillo is the predominate grape, supplemented by smaller percentages of Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano to add body and color.

The phylloxera blight (the invasion of an insect pest that attacks grapevines) in the 1870s brought an influx of Bordeaux winemakers to the Rioja region. Manzanos Wines - Reserva Rioja 2018These winemakers introduced many techniques from their own region, including the use of new oak barrels for long-term aging. Thus, the tempranillo-based red blends take on new complexities, depending upon their time in oak. Crianzas have the shortest aging requirement of two years (one of which must be in barrel); and Gran Reservas have the longest requirement of five years (two of which must be in barrel). Reservas, such as the 2018 Manzanos 111 Red Rioja, occupy the middle ground of aging: three years (one of which must be in the barrel), which means they are generally characterized by the subtle hints of baking spice, vanilla, and chocolate.

However, I tasted both Manzanos’ wines side-by-side; and what struck me was not only the difference in flavor – which was infinitely more subtle – but also the difference in texture. The Reserva was incredibly opulent, and as smooth as silk on the palate.

Interestingly enough, Mike DeSimone of Wine Enthusiast bestowed the exact same score – 93 points – on this wine as he did the wine noted above.  A ludicrous case of over/under rating, in my opinion. Especially since 2018 Manzanos 111 Reserva Red Rioja, which retails at $45.00, is currently on sale for $12.99 at your local State Store. While a tad higher in price than the 2021 111 Red Blend, it is definitely worth the few dollars more.

By the way, the Manzanos 111 Reserva would make an excellent complement to your Thanksgiving table.

Cheers!

 TAD

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Trimbach- WineryAs you may recall, I’ve mentioned Trimbach on several occasions; and I make no apology for the fact that this estate produces some of my favorite wines. For three centuries, across thirteen generations, the Trimbach family has produced wines that are fruity, elegant, and beautifully balanced. Its vineyards surround the picturesque village of Ribeauvillé in the Alsatian region of France. And the area’s shared history between France and Germany has created a unique approach to the styles of both wine and cuisine.

… Recently, however, as I scanned the vintages in my favorite PA State Store, it occurred to me that Trimbach produces a series of wines that are the perfect complement for the Thanksgiving table. I say this because, given the diversity of the foods served on this particular holiday, the wines chosen must be extremely versatile. With white wines, for example, the pairing priority is finding vintages with well-balanced acidity, such as Riesling, Sauvignon Grigio, and Pinot Blanc, etc. (in other words, over-oaked chardonnays are a definite no-no). When it comes to reds, you should be seeking out wines with fairly subtle tannins that will support the flavors of the food rather than overpowering them. So whatever your preference may be, red or white (or both) Trimbach has you covered.

2021 Trimbach Pinot Blanc: Pinot Blanc is the white grape variety that is most associated with Alsace region of France. Although its heritage is Trimbach - Pinot BlancBurgundian, today it is rarely found there; instead, it is grown primarily in Germany & Austria, where it is known as Weissburgunder, and in the Alto Adige region of Italy, where it is called Pinot Bianco. Trimbach’s 2021 Pinot Blanc is completely approachable, aromatic, and plush on the palate. Highly rated, it has received 91 points and 90 points, respectively, from the Wine Enthusiast and James Suckling. It is priced at $20.79 in Pennsylvania State Stores… And for those who think that Total Wine in Delaware, always has better prices, think again: $22.99 in the Claymont store. The lowest price I have seen online is $13.90 (plus shipping) at Saratoga Wine Exchange in New York State.

2020 Trimbach Riesling Reserve: Structured and delightfully fruity, the 2020 Reserve is a wine characterized by finesse. The winemaker notes: “Characteristic of the geological richness of the limestone terroir of Ribeauvillé, it expresses itself with a beautiful width in the mouth. Always in balance, it is of course dry and chiseled with a gourmet and charming side.” Wine writer James Suckling bestowed 94 big points, referring to the “super-ripe lemon, fresh pineapple and herb aromas… of this medium-bodied, concentrated and sophisticated dry Riesling… and the excellent balance at the long, very clean finish.” Priced at $33.99 at your local State Store. Lowest price I have seen online is once again from the Saratoga Wine Exchange: $27.94 (plus shipping). If you’d prefer to the lower the price a bit, I would suggest the 2020 Trimbach Riesling, $23.89 at State Store; lowest price online: $19.99 (plus shipping) at Gary’s Wine & Marketplace in New Jersey.

2021 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile: All of the above-mentioned white wines are of excellent quality. However, if you really want to “put on Trimbach - Cuvee Frederic Emilethe dog” for those once-a-year relatives, or simply enjoy the finer things of life every once-in-a-while, I highly recommend the incomparable Cuvée Fédéric Emile. Outstandingly-rated year after year, this is truly one of Alsace’s greatest Rieslings. 94 points from James Suckling; 93 points from Wine & Spirits; and 93 points from Wilfred Wong of Wine.com, who also added: “The 2011 Cuvée Fédéric Emile Riesling is evocative and delicious… This wine brings a potpourri of aromatic flowers, earth and ripe apple to the fore.” I have personally tasted numerous vintages of this wine, and it never fails to impress. It is simply superb. The 2011 is available through Pennsylvania State Stores at $72.99. Lowest price online: Gary’s Wine & Marketplace: $58.99. If you would prefer a slightly younger version, the 2014 may be purchased online through Empire Wine at $74.99.

2020 Trimbach Pinot Noir Reserve: When you’re considering red wines for Thanksgiving, as I noted above, you want a wine with fairly subtle tannins that will support the flavors of various foods rather than overpowering Trimbach - Pinot Noir Reserve 2020them. Without doubt, the wine of choice is Pinot Noir. And, in point of fact, it is the only red grape variety that is authorized in Alsace. Grapes for reserve wines are the result of a rigorous selection process, mostly from old vineyards in Ribeauvillé and the surrounding villages. Grapes are selected at maturity and, after de-stemming, undergo a gentle pneumatic pressing followed by an eight-day cold maceration to extract color and fruit. The juices are then blended in the cellar in stainless steel vats and old casks for malolactic fermentation. The Pinot Noirs are the only Trimbach wines to undergo malolactic fermentation. They are bottled after three months ageing and then spend a minimum of one year ageing in the bottle before release. The 2020 growing season experienced a mild winter and spring followed by a very dry and hot summer. When rain finally appeared, it allowed the grapes to ripen under optimal conditions. Acidity was preserved by surprisingly cool nights throughout the summer and early fall, resulting in an exceedingly fresh, structured, and balanced Pinot Noir. The 2020 Reserve Pinot Noir was reviewed in Antonio Galloni’s Vinous in January 2023. Anne Krebiehl, MW, bestowed 91 points, praising its “lovely sinuous, flowing nature.” Alive with delicate aromas of red and black berries; the palate is velvety and light as a feather. An excellent vintage that is best served moderately chilled. Priced at $26.99 at Pennsylvania State Stores, slightly less online.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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Failla’s Pizzeria & Ristorante

2669 Charlestown Road

Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

(610) 255-2828

https://www.faillaspizza.com/

 

Situated on the corner of Charlestown & Coldstream Roads, the former home of Stables Bar was recently reincarnated as Failla’s Pizzeria & Ristorante, a family-owned restaurant rooted in the rich culinary heritage of Sicily. And it certainly hasn’t taken long for word to get around. Judging by the enthusiastic crowds observed during my two recent visits, good news obviously travels fast.

Failla's Pizzeria - InteriorThe interior – as you will note from the photograph – is strictly utilitarian. There’s a small dining area as you enter, beyond that, the takeout counter and kitchen. The tables are bare, the lighting exceedingly bright, and there’s a constant stream of human flora & fauna picking up orders to go. Anticipating a romantic little tête-à-tête…? Forget it, you’ve come to the wrong address…

… There are, however, several significant compensations: Since the restaurant does not accept reservations, this is a great spot for one of those last-minute dine-out (or take-out) decisions; the food – not a minor consideration – is very good, indeed; and the prices are incredibly easy on the wallet (especially since you may BYOB).

Failla's Pizzeria - PizzaPizza, of course, is the name of the game, and the choices are legion. Both Traditional and Gourmet Pizzas may be ordered as personal 10”, large 16”, Sicilian 16” square, or by the slice, all with a slew of assorted toppings.

Even if you’re not a pizza fan, however, don’t be shy about checking out some of the entrées, as the kitchen does an excellent job with these as well. Yes, all the usual suspects are present and accounted for – Veal & Chicken Parmigiana, Saltimbocca, and Marsala; Shrimp Scampi, Salmon, and Seafood Linguini; Lasagna, Manicotti, and Baked Ziti, etc. – but all are well-prepared, generously proportioned, and served up with garlic bread and choice of spaghetti or a tossed salad.

If I had to choose a favorite, though, I’d go straight for the Eggplant Parmigiana (pictured), a good test for any Failla's Pizzeria - Eggplant ParmItalian kitchen.  Something of a no-brainer, you’re thinking. True. On the other hand, it is a dish that is so straightforward it is easily – and frequently – mucked up. No worries here, however. The breading is light & irresistibly crisp; the eggplant thinly sliced and just the proper texture (neither too hard nor too mushy); the pasta spot-on al dente; and the sauce a delightful blend of sweetness and acidity. Simple… yet sublime.

But in addition to the pizzas and regular entrées noted above, the restaurant also offers numerous other options to assuage your hunger pangs. There are Salads, Sandwiches, Wraps, Hot & Cold 12” Hoagies, Burgers, Quesadillas, and assorted Cheese Steaks… All worthy of consideration.

Failla's Pizzeria - Stomboli SupremeBut if you’re a die-hard pizza fan, allow me to suggest a variation on the theme: Stromboli (pictured). A stromboli is essentially a cylindrical, rolled up pizza filled with layers of cheese, meats, and/or vegetables that is baked to a crispy, golden-brown finish, then sliced and garnished with marinara sauce. Interestingly enough, stromboli was invented by Italian-Americans living in the Philadelphia area.

While there were numerous choices with regard to suitable fillings, my dining partner and I settled upon the Supreme, a luscious combo of pepperoni, sausage, black olives, mushrooms, onions, green peppers, bacon, and extra cheese. It was, in a word, outstanding. And, as you will note from the photograph, massive. Doggie bag…? Something of a must.

Whatever your gastronomic predilections on a given afternoon/evening, you’ll want to start things off on a positive note. And, once again, appetizer choices are abundant: Bruschetta, Garlic Knots, Mussels (red or white sauce), Fried Calamari, Mozzarella Sticks, Onion Petals, Mac & Cheese Bites, Jalapeño Poppers, and Fries (cheese, pizza, loaded, nacho) are all present and accounted for.

Failla's Pizzeria - Tour of Italy 2However, if you happen to be dining à deux, and wish to appease your palate (and your partner) with something a tad more sophisticated, be sure to give the Tour of Italy (pictured) a try. This colorful combo of roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, burrata, Italian meats & cheeses, and eggplant caponata, all set on a pillow of arugula and drizzled with balsamic fig glaze, succeeds in dazzling the eye as well as tantalizing the taste buds.

As you have undoubtedly noticed, portion sizes here are quite ample… but do save room for dessert, as they are Failla's Pizzeria - Limoncello Cakedefinitely worth the additional calories. There are, of course, the ubiquitous Tiramisu & Cannoli, as well as other Italian specialties, including Gelato. I have personally tasted the restaurant’s Strawberry & Pistachio Gelato, and both are excellent. And even though they are not made in-house, they are still made off campus by a member of the Failla family… The real show-stopper, however, and my absolute favorite, is the utterly delicious Limoncello Cake (pictured). Fluffy, smooth as silk, and downright addictive, it is simply not to be missed.

Bon Appétit & Cheers!

 TAD

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The Orangery

Tuscan Cuisine at Glen Isle

130 South Lloyd Avenue

Downingtown, Pennsylvania

(484) 401-5554

https://www.orangeryatglenisle.com/

Orangery - Exterior 2It had been nearly two and a half years since we first traversed the narrow gravel lane and parked in the unpaved lot adjacent to the stone ruins of an old dairy barn… From there, it was just few brief steps to a secluded little restaurant retreat known as Orangery, which is also the residence of head chef Sabrina Lutz and her husband, Paul. As though caught in a time warp – tucked away in Glen Isle, a bit of bucolic bliss just off bustling Business Route 30 on the western fringe of Downingtown – it remains very much a world apart, a hidden gem from another age.

The 40-seat enclosed sunporch, is both cozy and romantic. On the other hand, in warmer weather, nothing is Orangery - Patioquite so pleasant as dining alfresco on the restaurant’s comfortable patio (pictured).  The five-course set menu of hearty Tuscan fare changes fortnightly; so, as I also noted in my first review, the items I mention here may be somewhat different from what you will experience. However, this intro will still give you some idea of what to expect (to discover precisely what Orangery will be serving during a given week, please consult the restaurant’s website).

Dinner here generally begins with Crostini, which means “little toasts” in Italian, and consists of canapés Orangery - Vegetable Quicheadorned with a savory topping. During our first visit, Sweet Peppers Crostini was quite delicious; the second time around, the Shrimp Crostini was less so – and infinitely more filling (more on that later). In lieu of a second course salad, the kitchen served up a Mini Vegetable Quiche (pictured), which was quite good, although – falling victim to a not uncommon faux pas – inordinately bland.

Once again, however, the pasta course – in this case, Gnocchi with Salmon pictured) – proved the weakest link Orangery - Gnocchi w Salmonin the culinary chain. Bathed in an unctuous cream sauce, to say that this dish was exceedingly rich would, indeed, be an understatement. It was simply too much of too much of a good thing… But, more than this, several misgivings voiced as a result of my first visit, I note verbatim: “In the midst of a five-course meal, unless you happen to possess the appetite of a starving yak, the portion size was entirely too large”; and, in addition, “as you may note from the photograph, it was not terribly attractively plated.” Even a modest sprinkling of parsley or other herbs would have gone a long way toward significantly improving this dish’s bland dropped-onto-the-plate-from ten thousand-feet appearance.

The Chicken Pizzaiola (pictured), though, was right back on track. This is a variation of carne alla pizzaiola, or Orangery - Chicken Pizzaiolapizza-maker style beef. Legend has it that, because they were so busy, pizza makers in Naples needed a dish they could easily prepare with ingredients they had on hand. And this is one of those dishes that is absolutely sublime in its simplicity. The chicken breast is lightly breaded, gently fried, and then topped with a sauce comprised of tomatoes, olive oil, oregano & basil. The finishing touch, a tiara of fresh mozzarella. And all is as it should be… the chicken is moist & tender and the sauce has just the proper interplay of sweetness and acidity.

My only quibble is that, once again, I consider the organic green salad with asparagus and parmesan cheese a rather odd, and not particularly well-chosen, plating companion. My preference definitely would have been for a wild rice pilaf and a nicely arranged green vegetable, sans superfluous greenery.

The sweet ending…? A moist and flavorful chocolate cake garnished with strawberries.

One or two closing notes… What I mentioned in my first review continues to hold true… Your ultimate opinion of this restaurant will very much depend upon Orangery - Entrance Signyour expectations. If you’re looking for a sophisticated Michelin-starred experience, you’ve definitely come to the wrong address. The cuisine here is hearty homespun Tuscan and, on the whole, quite good. The service is not professional; however, it is young, friendly, well-meaning, and has definitely improved since my previous visit.

If you have never dined at the Orangery, it is, in my opinion, certainly worthy of a visit. Given its pastoral setting and homey, unpretentious ambiance, it is a delightfully restful step back in time. Just keep the above-mentioned caveats in mind, and you will not be disappointed.

Be sure to consult the restaurant’s website for current hours of operation… Reservations are de rigueur.

 Bon Appétit & Cheers!

TAD

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