Antica Italian Restaurant

1623 Baltimore Pike

Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania

(484) 770-8631

www.anticapa.com

Antica - Interior 1Situated just a few hundred yards from the Brandywine River Museum in the shadow of Brandywine Prime Steakhouse, Antica (pronounced an-TEE-ka) sounds like some exotic Mediterranean port-of-call. In reality, however, the name is merely a playful nod to the area’s long-running enthusiasm for antiquing.

Owned by chefs Josh Friedberg and Gent Mema, also proprietors of the popular Il Granaio restaurants in Glen Mills and Phoenixville, Antica’s three light & airy dining areas come replete with soothing colorations, a rustic stone wall, and framed prints by Andrew Wyeth, Chadds Ford’s favorite artistic son. You sense immediately that this is a cozy, welcoming space… But it is the authentic, lovingly prepared and beautifully presented cuisine that makes this diminutive eatery worth a journey.

Although I had dined at Antica on several previous occasions (and reviewed the restaurant twice before), the circumstances my dining partner and I encountered were quite different from previous visits.

First of all, originally a BYOB, the restaurant now sported a liquor license, offering its patrons a compact selection of wines by the glass and bottle, brews, and an interesting inventory of specialty cocktails.

Secondly, our visit occurred on a Sunday evening during the month of December, just after the governor had once again prohibited indoor dining. We were seated on the partially enclosed porch with a free-standing heat tower perched directly next to our table. And while the unit did a commendable job of radiating the heat downward toward the tabletop, appendages below the table – namely legs and feet – remained colder than a witch’s toenail throughout our meal. In addition, the traffic noise from Route 1 was more than a little daunting.

Despite our bone-chilling evening, however, one aspect of the Antica dining experience has certainly not changed – the excellent quality of the cuisine… And, as an added bonus, the entrée portions were infinitely more prodigious than I remembered them. Leftovers abounded.

Antika - Roast Pork & Broccoli Rabe EggrollTo start things off, my dining partner and I decided to share the Roast Pork & Broccoli Rabe “Eggroll.” A relatively new addition to the menu – and a real winner, by the way – two crispy rolls are cut on the diagonal and filled with tender slices of pork, broccoli rabe, and kicked up a notch with plenty of sharp provolone cheese. But the real crowd pleaser comes courtesy of the accompanying mustard horseradish aioli… with just enough heat to tantalize rather than paralyze those delicate taste buds.

When it comes to entrées, under normal circumstances, we undoubtedly would have chosen the seafood route, as the kitchen is quite adept at matters piscatorial and offered both Sautéed Salmon and Grilled Whole Bronzino on their printed menu. However, since our lower extremities were still doing battle with the elements (rather unsuccessfully, I might add), some good old-fashioned down-home Italian fare looked mighty inviting…

Antika - Sunday SupperAnd my dining partner’s Sunday Supper (pictured) – a Sunday evening special combining braised pork cheeks, ground sausage, and meatballs in a rich red sauce over homemade tagliatelle pasta – succeeded in warming both body and soul. My own Veal Parmigiana, topped with mozzarella and served up with linguini marinara, Italian comfort food taken to the max, was equally satisfying.

The house specialties I’ve sampled over the years have all been incomparably delicious. So, when various items put in periodic guest appearances, be sure to take advantage of your good fortune. The Pasta Pomodoro, for instance, a deceptively simple dish, still managed to blow me away. It offered a choice of pastas – I ordered linguini – in a pomodoro sauce, which is made with fresh tomatoes, olive oil & garlic and, usually, basil. It is meant to be a quick, light sauce rather than a heavy one. And Antica’s version was most assuredly light on the palate… but it was also alive with fresh flavors.

Antica - Spinach FettucciniOn the other hand, the Spinach Fettuccini, a dish with a slightly richer consistency, definitely stepped up the “wow” factor. House-made spinach pasta was sprinkled with toasted pine nuts, tossed with a pesto cream sauce, and topped with shaved Grana Padano cheese. I generally find cream sauces entirely too overwhelming for my palate; but the pesto cream was both light and irresistible. The infusion of basil and garlic added a spicy, earthy dimension that both contrasted with and, at the same time, complemented the luscious consistency of the cream. And the toasted pine nuts contributed a most satisfying textural counterpoint.

Antica - Carote MarsalaAmong the side dishes, the Carote Marsala – freshly sliced carrots braised in marsala wine and flavored with thin slices of roasted garlic – is highly recommended. Carrots are rarely offered as a restaurant side dish, usually being consigned to some form of innocuous vegetable medley or nondescript garnish. But here, as elsewhere, the kitchen continues to weave its magic with a highly colorful presentation that is both tasty and tasteful.

Antica - Lemon Cream CakeHomemade desserts include such favorites as cannoli, tiramisu, and Bundino di Pane, an Italian version of bread pudding. For my money, however, nothing quite tops the considerable charms of the luscious Lemon Cream Cake. This is a crowd-pleaser at both Antica and the two Il Granaio restaurants. After a substantial Italian dinner (like ours), this delightful denouement hits all the right notes… It’s rich, but not cloyingly so. And, unlike some heavy, over-the-top sweet endings, it’s also as light as a feather on the palate. The perfect conclusion to your evening at table.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Favorite Red Wines of 2020

by artfuldiner on January 2, 2021

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Wine

I certainly sampled an interesting variety of wines in 2020 – including five days of glorious tastings in South Arica – most of which were quite reasonably priced. Listed below, however, are the 5 red wines that are particularly recommended (favorite white wines will be noted in the post immediately below).

Gigondas 20162016 Gabriel Meffre Domaine de Longue Toque Gigondas (France): Gigondas is a wine Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in the southern Rhône valley of France. It is primarily a red wine region, with a very small amount of rosé wine production. The 2016 Domaine de Longue Toque Gigondas is a lush blend of Grenache, Syrah, and splash of Mourvèdre. It is deep purple/ruby in color with intense aromas of black fruits and touches of vanilla and spice. This is a plump, full-bodied wine that is beautifully structured and layered with flavor. Fine lingering tannins move you seamlessly along to an impressively fruity finish. Wine critics have been effusive with their praise. The 2016 Gigondas garnered 93 points from Wine Spectator, while Jeb Dunnuck bestowed a whopping 95 points, calling it “the finest vintage of this cuvée to date. In short, a blockbuster.” And here is one instance where the Pennsylvania LCB has pitched you a real bargain. Listed at $44.00, this “Chairman Select” is on sale for a paltry $19.99.

 Tesselaarsdal Winemaker2018 Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir (South Africa): The Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) valley of South Africa is known for its lighter, elegant style wines. This is also the home of the world class Hamilton Russell Vineyards, which has been extremely influential in shaping the region’s focus by emphasizing the grapes of Burgundy, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  The 2018 Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir was produced by Anthony Hamilton Russell’s protégé Berene Sauls, who founded the Tesselaarsdal Winery in 2015. Hamilton Russell initially financed the project. Ms. Sauls is a descendent of the freed slaves of South Africa who were bequeathed the land by former East India Company settler Johannes Tesselaar in 1810. This is a downright elegant wine, silky smooth on the palate with engaging aromas of red fruit. Aged for 9+ months in 100 French oak barrels, the 2018 Pinot Noir is graceful and charming at the present moment but still age worthy.  The price is on a par with what you would expect from a Hamilton Russell vintage. The lowest price I have seen online is $42.93 from the International Wine Shop. Trust me, you’ll want to check this one out.

Legit Cabernet 20132013 Tolaini “Legit” Cabernet Sauvignon (Italy): This remarkable wine garnered 94 points and was chosen as #26 in the Wine Spectator “Top 100 of 2019.” It is rich with aromas of dark fruit and cassis surrounded by the spice of French oak. On the palate, it is full-bodied with excellent depth, balance, and fine tannins, which are indicative of a cellar-worthy vintage. The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was farmed organically in the San Giovanni vineyard in the heart of Chianti Classico and produced in a state-of-the-art facility under the watchful eye of world-class winemaker Michel Rolland. This is, indeed, a wine to savor. The label… in case you’re wondering, is the face and hands of the legendary Thelonious Monk. When Tuscan vintner and international wine importer Lia Tolaini Banville met the grandchildren of the late jazz great, she was inspired to honor his memory with a singular wine from her family estate – LEGIT. The retail price is listed at $45.00… However, Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California, is offering it at $31.99; the Red Wagon Wine Shoppe in Rochester, Michigan at $36.99 (plus shipping). Both will ship directly to Pennsylvania. Simply a fabulous wine! Not to be missed!

Trefethen Merlot 20172017 Trefethen Oak Knoll District Merlot (California): The Merlot grape flourishes in relatively cool growing regions with moist soils. This makes it a perfect match for certain parts of the Trefethen estate vineyard, located in the Oak Knoll District of the Napa Valley, a sweet spot between warmer up-valley regions and the cool southern tip. The 2017 Trefethen Merlot has a splash (5%) of Cabernet Franc mixed in, which gives added pleasure to both the nose and the palate. The wine is definitely fruit forward but not at all unctuous. It spent 18 months maturing in American oak, 44% new, so you’ll definitely sense a healthy amount on the palate. Fortunately, however, the oak is perfectly counter-balanced with luscious red fruit and mouth-watering acidity. The fine tannins indicate that this wine will age very well… but why wait? The price is right, too. Currently on sale in PA State Stores for $19.99.

Cantina Zaccagnini 20172017 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Tralcetto” (Italy): The Zaccagnini Winery was founded in 1978 in Bolognano, a small town in the Abruzzo region of Italy. Starting from a family-run business, the estate has grown rapidly and steadily, reaching its current state of 300 hectares of beautiful vineyards with 70% of an annual production of over 3,000,000 bottles destined for an international market of 45 countries. The 2017 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo “Tralcetto” is a wine that embodies the essence of terroir. It is produced from 100% Montepulciano grapes, a vine of Tuscan origin imported into Abruzzo toward the end of the 18th century. After vinification in steel, the wine spends 4 months in wooden barrels and can rest even more than 3 years in the bottle. Montepulciano d’Abruzzo doesn’t get the same attention as more familiar Italian reds from such well-known regions as Tuscany, Piedmont, and Sicily. So, for now at least, this wine is still flying under the radar, which is why it continues to be such an incredible bargain – $14.99 in Pennsylvania State Stores – and could very easily become your everyday go-to Italian red.  With its fruity flavor, complex medium-body, relatively soft tannins, and incredible price point, the 2017 Zaccagnini Tralcetto is a wine that’s hard to resist.

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Favorite White Wines of 2020

by artfuldiner on December 31, 2020

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Wine

I certainly sampled an interesting variety of wines in 2020 – including five days of glorious tastings in South Arica – most of which were quite reasonably priced. Listed immediately below, however, are the 5+ white wines that are particularly recommended (favorite red wines will be noted in a forthcoming post).

Please note that prices are approximate, depending upon where the wines are purchased; and, of course, are subject to change. Prices in states other than Pennsylvania can vary significantly from retailer to retailer. Therefore, it would certainly be to your advantage to spend some time surfing for the best possible deals.

 A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines - 2016 White Blend2016 A.A. Badenhorst Kalmoesfontein White Blend (South Africa): The description of this vintage in the wine mags was positively glowing, as it garnered a whopping 94 points from both the Wine Spectator and Wine & Spirits. A blend of Chenin Blanc, Grenache Gris, Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Marsanne, Sémillon, Viognier, and Colombard, the 2016 is positively opulent, filled with exotic flavors and a marvelous acidic backbone that holds its complex elements in perfect harmony. Similar in structure to the DeMorgenzon Maestro – another highly-regarded South African blend that I highly recommend – the Badenhorst exhibits a bit more body and depth… and also carries a highly price tag. Listed at $43.00, according to the Wine Spectator, it is currently available online at Connecticut’s International Wine Shop for $29.89 per bottle.

DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc 20172018 DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc (South Africa): The wineries of South Africa are the most beautiful in the world; and there are many who believe – this writer among them – that DeMorgenzon is the most beautiful of them all. Today, this estate is not only celebrated for its majestic beauty, but also for crafting some of South Africa’s most exciting and original wines. And it is the DeMorgenzon Reserve Chenin Blanc that has captured the attention of critics and connoisseurs alike. During my trip, I sampled their 2018 Chenin Blanc,and it is nothing short of spectacular. Once again, this excellent vintage is available online through the International Wine Shop for $31.80 per bottle. If you consider the price a bit steep, be sure to try the Ken Forrester 2018 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, which is available online through Wine Chateau at $14.97. Sampled at Helena’s Restaurant in Stellenbosch, this is a lovely wine, golden-hued and full bodied, with a perfect balance of fruit and delicate oak/vanilla flavors. An excellent wine at an excellent price point. 

Greenhill Winery & Vineyards2019 Greenhill Vineyards Viognier (Virginia): Wonderfully picturesque, Greenhill Vineyards reminded us of several wineries we had visited in South Africa. Of particular note is their 2019 Viognier, which was sampled both at the winery and during our dinner at the Red Fox Inn. I am usually not a fan of viognier, but this is simply a lovely wine in every respect. Aged in stainless steel, it offers up a distinctive floral bouquet. Crisp and clean, it beguiles the palate with notes of stone fruit and mandarin, leading to a lively and expressive finish. Though a bit pricey at $39.00, it is still, in my opinion, worth a shot. And, conveniently, it may be ordered directly from the Greenhill Vineyards’ website and shipped directly to Pennsylvania.

Loveblock - Pinot Gris 20182018 Loveblock Pinot Gris, Marlborough (New Zealand): Owned by winemaker Kim Crawford and his wife, Erica, Loveblock wines are both sophisticated and complex. Pinot Gris (Grigio) has a number of different styles. The wines produced in Italy tend to be light-bodied and on the acidic side. Those hailing from Oregon, the other hand, are fuller bodied and more rounded. The organic Pinot Gris from Loveblock, however, goes its own way… It is decidedly “elegant” – a word not generally associated with Pinot Gris – supple and as smooth as silk. Garnering 92 points and designated an “Editors’ Choice” by the Wine Enthusiast, this is, as Decanter magazine noted, a Pinot Gris “to sink into.” Currently on sale at Pennsylvania State Stores for $15.99

Trefethen Chardonnay 20182018 Trefethen Oak Knoll District Chardonnay (California): The estate’s history can be traced back to the Eschol Winery, which was commissioned by James and George Goodman and constructed in 1886 by a Scottish sea captain named Hamden McIntyre. The winery is now owned by John & Janet Trefethen, withtheir son-in-law, Brian Kays, doing a fabulous job as winemaker. Signature wines include Dry Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Dragon’s Tooth, a Bordeaux-like blend. The 2018 Oak Knoll District Chardonnay, which received 93 points from the Wine Enthusiast, is both elegant and classically-styled. It is beautifully structured, displaying just the lightest touch of ripe fruit. Low in oak, but engagingly supple of texture with 13.3% alcohol, it also possesses a refreshing acidity that keeps all its elements in perfect balance. You will find the price tag quite refreshing as well. The list price is $38.00, but numerous sites online are running specials in the mid-$20.00 range. The really good news, however, is that Pennsylvania State Stores currently have it on sale for $19.99.

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of final seven (7) of the fourteen (14) restaurants reviewed during the year 2020. Please be advised that, as of this writing, all Pennsylvania restaurants are closed for indoor dining until January 4, 2021.

 OLIVE TREE MEDITERRANEAN GRILL (March), 379 West Uwchlan Avenue (Route 113), Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (610) 873-7911, www.olivetreegrill.com: Tucked Olive Tree - Interioraway on the ground floor of a diminutive office building, the Olive Tree has been hiding in plain sight for nearly two decades. The interior is contemporary and sparklingly clean, boasting comfy booths and large wall murals. As you would surmise at a Greek-Mediterranean establishment, seafood plays a prominent role. Possibilities range from Baked Jumbo Shrimp in a garlic red tomato sauce to Char Grilled Lemony Salmon to Ionian Seafood Selection, an inviting seafood sampler. The Moussaka, of course, is always highly recommended… ditto Pastitsio, Greek lasagna that combines tubular pasta and seasoned ground sirloin flavored with tomato sauce and topped with a rich, rich, rich béchamel sauce. There are numerous appetizers from which to choose, but the most auspicious way to begin is with the Horgiatiki or Greek village salad, which is really an authentic Greek salad as it contains no greenery. It offers up a combo of ripe tomatoes, cucumbers, red onions, kalamata olives, pepperoncini, and feta cheese splashed with olive oil & vinegar sprinkled with herbs. Excellent food… generous portions… reasonable prices… and excellent service. The Olive Tree is always worth a visit.

RED FOX INN & TAVERN (December), 2 East Washington Street, Middleburg, Virginia, (540) 687-6301, http://www.redfox.com:

Red Fox - Pecan Curry Crusted HalibutDuring our recent stay at the Salamander Resort & Spa, my permanent dining partner and I thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at the nearby Red Fox Inn & Tavern. Established in 1728, this charming inn has offered uninterrupted hospitality to travelers for more than 275 years. Owned and operated by three generations of the Reuter Family since 1976, the tavern’s menu highlights local ingredients and genuine homestyle dishes that are both lovingly prepared and beautifully presented. Currently, the only bill of fare is the kitchen’s four-course autumn tasting menu for $125.00 person. The Red Fox is also offering Virginia wine pairing with each course, and it is well worth the additional $38.00. Among the appetizers, the Lamb Meatballs, rife with feta & pine nuts surrounded by a sea of mint-infused yogurt, are not to be missed… ditto the Roasted Pear & Arugula Salad splashed with a delightfully creamy Champagne vinaigrette. Entrée options include such interesting items as Seared Duck Breast with apple & onion cider sauce, Filet Mignon, and Rack of Lamb companioned by parsnip purée and pinot noir sauce. For my money, though, matters piscatorial take center stage. The Curry Pecan Crusted Halibut (pictured), for example, is simply flawless with the Caramelized Sea Scallops running a close second. For dessert, the Caramelized Banana Bread Pudding is a real crowd-pleaser.

SALAMANDER RESORT & SPA (November), 500 North Pendleton Street, Middleburg, Virginia, (540) 751-3160, www.salamanderresort.com: If there was one thing that impressed us during our stay, it was the overall quality of cuisine. Whether the Gold Cup Wine Bar, the resort’s casual venue serving lunch & dinner on a first-come, first served basis, or Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill, the upscale steakhouse, food-wise, Salamander always delivers. (The resort also owns Market Salamander, a casual market/café serving American & Mediterranean fare, located at 200 West Washington Street in Middleburg proper.)

Gold Cup - Pumpkin CheesecakeGold Cup Wine Bar serves up such diverse items as artisan cheeses and charcuterie board, hand-tossed pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and limited number of entrees. Of particular note is the Crispy Sesame Cauliflower – roasted florets set on a bed of jasmine rice and tossed with a sweet soy ginger glaze and sprinkling of shredded coconut – an absolutely fabulous starter. Entrées are no less intriguing. My dining partner’s Shrimp and Grits, revved up with a spicy meat spread tasting similar to deviled ham, was a benchmark effort… ditto my Aged Cheddar Mac n Cheese accompanied by perfectly grilled chicken. Desserts turn significantly upscale and offer a number of interesting possibilities. The Pumpkin Cheesecake (pictured) sounded a bit downhome, but turned out to be anything but… As you note from the photo, this is really a dual presentation: half pumpkin cheesecake, half Turkish coffee mousse separated by a walnut sablé, a French round shortbread cookie. Cheesecake and mousse were both incredibly delicious garnished with local Catoctin Creek Whisky Powder and dollop of white chocolate ice cream. The Gold Cup also boasts not only a compact wine list by the glass & bottle, but also local wine flights, an exotic list of artisanal cocktails, whiskey flights, and a number craft beers.

Harrimans - Fruit Tart SharedSince Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill caters to the carnivorously-inclined, I would highly recommend the restaurant’s “Butcher’s Cuts.” The Berkshire Pork Tenderloin, for example, is incomparably moist and succulent, exhibiting a cut-like-butter tenderness. The Petite Filet also has a lot going for it. Prepared to a perfect “medium,” as requested, it also benefits from a complimentary Hunter’s Sauce, a winning combo of tomatoes, onions, and garlic in a savory veal stock reduction. And a “Side to Share,” Wild Green Onion Potato Purée spiked with crème fraiche, proved a most satisfying traveling companion for both pork and filet. Desserts, courtesy of Executive Pastry Chef Jason Reaves, are well worth the additional calories and expenditure. They range from Sweet as Salamander Honey, a luscious honey-banana pudding replete with choco-banana cake, to Raspberry Linzer with hazelnut shortbread, raspberry balsamic, and goat cheese ice cream. Chef Reaves also offers a sweet ending that is suitable for sharing by 2 – 4 guests. The evening of our visit it was an incredible Fresh Fruit Tart (pictured). The photo tells the story… Need I say more?

SILVERSPOON (October), 603 West Lancaster Avenue, Eagle Village Shops, Wayne, Pennsylvania, (610) 688-7646, https://www.silverspoonwayne.com: This innovative Silverspoon - Mezza Platelittle BYOB quietly continues its role as one of Wayne’s most popular eateries. Maine Line foodies know a good thing when they taste it; and – judging by the ebullient crowds – they obviously taste it here. Executive Chef Oen Kolva does a fine job with traditional salads like Caesar and Greek. And his Baby Spinach comes replete with such tantalizing items as feta cheese, strawberries, candied almonds, and splash of white balsamic vinaigrette. Another rare treat is the Burrata Cheese paired with marinated heirloom tomatoes and finished with balsamic vinegar & extra virgin olive oil. To start things off, however, nothing quite beats the spectacular Mezza Plate (pictured). Comprised of hummus, falafel, feta cheese, olives, vegetables, Mideast salads, and grilled pita, this colorful presentation is certain to appeal to the most discriminating of palate as well as the most ravenous of appetite. Entrées range from top-of-the-line Pan-Seared Pork Chop to the establishment’s more casual Silverberger served up on a brioche bun with all the usual accompaniments. My dining partner choose the Summer Risotto, seductively creamy arborio rice dotted with sweet corn & zucchini consummated with basil pesto and Pecorino-Romano. But my Soba Noodles, an evening special, stole the show. The noodles were served cold, awash with Asian-cut vegetables dressed in a spectacular soy sesame honey ginger vinaigrette that propels the dish into orbit. Desserts, all made in the restaurant’s kitchen, are worth saving room for.

 VALLEY FORGE TRATTORIA & LOUNGE (September), 1130 Valley Forge Road, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (610) 935-7579, www.valleyforgepizza.com: This may look like VF Pizza - Garlic Knotsany other run-of-the-mill strip mall eatery, but the attractive dining rooms, comfy bar, and cozy covered patio belie the restaurant’s utilitarian exterior. The large menu runs the gamut… from a host of salads… to pizzas, Stromboli, and calzones… to classic pastas… to chicken, veal, beef, and seafood entrees… to a variety of sandwiches, croissants, wraps, grinders, and hoagies. The portion sizes are also quite generous and generally include a house salad and the restaurant’s irresistible Garlic Knots (pictured). Old-time favorites are clearly the way to go here. And the Veal Saltimbocca, a mainstay in Roman trattorias, is always a solid choice. Comprised of basically three ingredients: veal cutlets, prosciutto, and fresh sage (and often with an additional topping of melted mozzarella cheese), the rendition served here is one of the most satisfying I have sampled anywhere. The same may be said for the top-notch Eggplant Parmesan and my dining partner’s all-time favorite, Chicken Parmesan. Desserts, although not made in-house, are still worthy of consideration. And the Gourmet Turtle Cheesecake – New York-style cheesecake resting on a layer of fudge, topped with caramel cream, and sprinkled with chopped pecans – is definitely at the top my list.

VICKERS RESTAURANT   (October), 192 East Welsh Pool Road, Exton, Pennsylvania, (610) 363-7998, www.vickersrestaurant.com: Because Vickers - Bourbon Vanilla Bread Puddingof their proximity and certain ambient & culinary similarities, Vickers and the above mentioned Kimberton Inn are often compared. And a goodly number of diners, I was recently surprised to learn, prefer Vickers – I, however, am not one of them… For while their outdoor patio is nicely appointed and extremely pleasant for warm weather dining, their food, in my opinion, tends to fall short of the mark. A conspicuous-by-its-absence red wine vinaigrette left our Harvest Salad annoyingly dry. Entrées, unfortunately, didn’t fare much better. My Grouper, paired with a tasteless herb risotto, was drowned beneath a bland-leading-the-bland dill cucumber sauce. Dessert, namely the extraordinarily delicious Bourbon Vanilla Bread Pudding (pictured), was, without question, the highlight of the evening. Too bad the kitchen’s other offerings fail to demonstrate the same level of excellence.

 

VOLVÉR (May), 300 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 670-2302, http://philadelphia.volverrestaurant.com/: Volver - Trout MeuniereVolvér, which opened its doors in April 2014 and was first reviewed by this writer in November 2018, continues to serve up exquisitely plated, innovative seasonally-driven cuisine that is subtle in its preparation and as attractive to the eye as it is pleasing to the palate. The à la carte menu is just right for some spirited mix ‘n match grazing; and the three-course pre-theater menu, priced at $35.00 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity), is quite the bargain. The “Small Plates” range from the semi-simplicity of Winter Lettuces adorned with Macoun apples and a creamy Champagne vinaigrette… to the almost-too-clever bowl of Milk & Cereal, which tastes nothing like what you probably chow down for breakfast… to the utter decadence of the Savory Duck & Foie Gras Tart with roanne sauce. The current selection of “Large Plates” (entrées) includes Coq à la Bière (porter braised chicken), Roasted Lamb Chops, Tournedos Philadelphia, prime beef tenderloin, and several seafood dishes. A particularly interesting take on finny fare is the long-running Rainbow Trout Meunière (pictured) accompanied by braised lentils, Brussels spout leaves, lemon butter, and horseradish. For dessert, be sure to try the St. Honoré, a salted caramel tart garnished with maple marshmallow and candied peanuts.

 

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of seven (7) of the fourteen (14) restaurants reviewed during the year 2020. Please be advised that, as of this writing, all Pennsylvania restaurants are closed for indoor dining until January 4, 2021.

RESTAURANT ALBA 7 West King Street, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (610) 644-4009, http://www.restaurantalba.com: Because of the coronavirus, Alba was one of several Alba - Fried Green Tomatoesrestaurants that was enjoyed alfresco rather than indoors. And, while the restaurant’s bi-level deck doesn’t offer much of a view, the seating is very comfortable and the atmosphere is decidedly cozy. A graduate of the CIA, chef/proprietor Sean Weinberg does an absolutely superb job of giving full vent to his passionate and innovative culinary spirit. His well-traveled appetizers, for example, range from daily changing Bruschetta to Wood-Grilled Octopus paired with Sicilian tuna potato salad to Argentinian Beef Empanadas with chimichurri sauce to his own unique take on classic Fried Green Tomatoes (pictured). The restaurant’s main courses are a bit more downhome but just as enticing. The Wood-Grilled Pennsylvania Trout companioned by bitter escarole, tangy blueberries, and rich hazelnut brown butter is a standout… ditto the marvelously moist Chicken Parmigiano. For dessert, the Butterscotch Budino, a sensually sweet Italian pudding, is extraordinarily delicious.

 AVLÓS GREEK CUISINE 258 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (610) 455-4110, https://avlosgr.com: Inhabiting the space that Avlos - Soutzoukia Smirneikawas Restaurant Majolica for over a decade, the restaurant’s interior is minimalist but attractive, boasting the warmth of an exposed brick wall and sea of white tablecloths. And, like its predecessor, Avlós is also BYOB. The cuisine here isn’t the best Greek food it has ever been my pleasure to ingest; but it is certainly authentic, well prepared & presented, and generally quite good. Among the starters, the Soutzoukia Smirneika (pictured) – Smyrna meatballs seasoned with cumin & garlic served up with tomato sauce and splash of Greek yogurt – are something of a must. Entrées include a benchmark Moussaka and equally praiseworthy Kota Stifado, a luscious stew incorporating a moist boneless chicken breast with pearl onions, pasta, fresh tomato sauce, and sprinkling of thyme. The nod to my favorite sweet ending goes to the Galaktoboureko, a rich, creamy semolina custard in filo coated with sweet syrup. Delightfully decadent and loaded with calories… but simply impossible to resist. The food is of excellent quality, the price is right, the welcome is warm, and the service is enthusiastic and knowledgeable… let’s just hope Avlós survives the coronavirus.

CREED’S SEAFOOD AND STEAKS 499 North Gulph Road, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, (610) 265-2550, http://creedskop.com/: Even seated in the tent adjacent to the Creed's - Burratarestaurant’s entrance, a visit to Creed’s remains an exceedingly comfortable and satisfying dining experience… And the kitchen, as usual, is still at the top of its game. The menu is gently tweaked on a seasonal basis supplemented by nightly specials. The Lobster Bisque and Wild Mushroom Soup are always dynamite starters here, as is the Burrata (pictured), an Italian cow milk cheese made with mozzarella and cream and pillowed on an heirloom tomato carpaccio. Also highly recommended is the beautifully textured Flash Fried Calamari teamed with a tantalizing serrano crema. Among the “Chef’s Specialties” the Pan Seared Surf and Turf – sliced filet mignon with three shrimp, roasted Yukon gold potatoes, and Chianti demi-glace is always a winner, as are the San Francisco Style Cioppino and Blacked Barramundi and Sea Scallops. One final note… I recently sampled the bar’s newest hand-crafted cocktail – The Double Agent – in homage to James Bond. Ardbeg Uigeadail Scotch, Belvedere vodka, splash of St. Germain liquor, fresh lemon juice with peel of lemon, and… but of course…shaken, not stirred. Fabulous.

 FARM AND THE FISHERMAN TAVERN + MARKET 1442 Marlton Pike East, Cherry Hill, New Jersey, (856) 356-2282, http://www.fandftavern.com/home: In November 2014, Josh & Colleen Lawler teamed up with chef Todd Fuller and his wife, Leigh, to open the Farm and the Fisherman Tavern in a Cherry Hill strip mall. Like the original Philadelphia restaurant, which closed in 2016, the Jersey outpost is a farm-to-table establishment utilizing local Farm & Fisherman - Cheesesteak Tacosmeat and produce. However, since the new restaurant possesses a liquor license, it also pairs its locally-sourced culinary creations with selected wine, spirits, and local drafts in a more spacious and comfortable tavern-like environment. The food here is also quite different from Mr. Lawler’s original Philadelphia eatery. More simply prepared and presented, it is, perhaps, best described as innovative comfort fare. Just dig into an appetizer of Caramelized Cauliflower with Mushroom Cream Sauce and you’ll get the idea. Entrée-wise, be sure to try the Squash Lasagna. The idea certainly isn’t earth-shatteringly new; but the careful integration of ingredients adds just the proper beguiling touch to a comfortingly familiar recipe. And the same may be said for Cheesesteak Tacos (pictured above). The soul of simplicity… but beautifully executed and mouthwateringly photogenic. By the way, if you’re not in the mood for a commute, you might give The Farm and the Fisherman Tavern in Horsham, PA, a try.

JEAN-GEORGES PHILADELPHIA 1 North 19th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 4195059, https://www.fourseasons.com/philadelphia/dining/restaurants/jean-georges-philadelphia: Perched atop the Four Seasons Hotel, Jean-Jean-Georges, ChefGeorges Philadelphia resides not only on the skyscraper’s 59th floor, but his Sky High Lounge also occupies part of its 60th floor reception area as well… The ride up in the glass-enclosed elevator has its own thrills and chills; and, once seated, the forty-foot windows provide a mind-boggling view of Philadelphia from Mount Olympus. The food…? Simply incomparable. The Butternut Squash Soup garnished with mushrooms and chive is creamy smooth, perfectly seasoned, and utterly irresistible. Nothing, however, quite measures up to the ingenious starter of Yellowfin Tuna Noodles… unless it’s the decadent Caramelized Foie Gras. Meaty entrées include an excellent Seared Beef Tenderloin with miso mustard or a steakhouse-style Roasted Ribeye for Two accompanied by creamed spinach. The Steamed Black Sea Bass – which has enjoyed a number of tantalizing incarnations and is currently appearing bathed in a delightful mushroom emulsion – is positively ethereal. Even the plebeian-sounding Parmesan-Crusted Chicken is nothing short of spectacular. Jean-Georges also offers patrons a Seasonal Tasting Menu with wine pairings. Not to be missed.

KIMBERTON INN 2015 Kimberton Road, Kimberton, Pennsylvania, (610) 933-8148, http://www.kimbertoninn.com: This is the Kimberton Inn - Shrimp & Sea Scallopsfourth time I’ve reviewed the Kimberton Inn, on this occasion critiquing its al fresco dining. During the warmer weather, the Inn’s outdoor facilities include a comfortable canopied patio as well as a string of tables amid the picturesque flora and fauna along the small creek just below the restaurant’s parking lot. After a somewhat rocky start in 2018, executive chef Tom Wolter appears to have hit his stride. Typical of Mr. Wolter’s style is his memorable Sautéed Halibut Fillet pillowed on potato purée embellished with white corn, heirloom carrots, and exquisite lemon thyme cream. Almost its equal is his Sautéed Shrimp and Sea Scallops (pictured) in a savory roasted fennel broth awash with sauteed shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, red pepper, and English peas. To start things off, nothing quite tops the Cauliflower Florets or the exceedingly popular “Probably the Best Salad You’ll Ever Have.” Desserts are an impressive array of old favorites… but the winner in my book is the scrumptious Key Lime Pie.

 LIMONCELLO RISTORANTE & BAR 499 East Uwchlan Avenue (Route 113), Chester Springs, Pennsylvania, (610) 524-3112, https://www.limoncellorestaurant.com: Limoncello - Peanut Butter ExplosionLimoncello is the younger sibling of the restaurant of the same name located in West Chester, PA. The outdoor facilities here – especially the side patio – are expansive, attractively appointed, and exceedingly popular. And, as a recent visit clearly demonstrated, the comforting southern Italian cuisine – based upon old family recipes or updated variations thereof – remains as solid as ever. To start things off, nothing quite measures up to the Arancini, “little oranges,” a Sicilian specialty. Seasoned risotto croquettes are filled with beef Bolognese, green peas, and mozzarella cheese and then breaded, deep fried to a golden brown, and splashed with marinara. Entrée-wise, the Chicken Messina – finished with a caprese cream sauce and served up on a generous tangle of linguine – is as bounteous as it is delicious… ditto the Eggplant Parmigiana, a marvelous rendition of the Neapolitan classic. Dessert…? The rich buttery Limoncello Cake is the house favorite. On the other hand, if you find the combination of peanut butter and chocolate simply impossible to resist, the recently added Peanut Butter Explosion (pictured) is an absolute must. The chocolate base is topped with peanut butter ganache and chocolate mousse, then coated in ganache and finished with chopped peanuts and a fabulous peanut butter sauce. Wow!

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Davio's King of Prussia, PAOn Christmas Eve, Wednesday, December 24, 2020, 3:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m., in addition to their regular full dinner menu, Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, will be serving the Feast of the Seven Fishes. This is an Italian Christmas Eve tradition that honors the vigil prior to a religious holiday when no meat is served.

Primo: Lobster Bisque, Shrimp Crostini, Sherry Cream

 Secondo: Scallops, Calamari, Calabrian Chilies, Vermentino, Lemon Butter

Piatto Della Vigilia: Pan Seared Cod, Crispy Oysters, Lump Crab Risotto

The price of the special Feast of the Seven Fishes menu is $75.00 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity). For more information, or to make reservations, please call Davio’s in King of Prussia, (610) 337-4810.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Alba - Chef Sean WeinbergOn Monday evening, December 21, 2020, Restaurant Alba, 7 West King Street, Malvern, Pennsylvania, will host the Feast of the Seven Fishes, a 5-course tasting menu with wine pairings. Seating will be limited and social distant.

Course One – Antipasti: Crostini of Baccala Mantecato… Marinated Greenwalk Trout, Almonds, Picked Onion… Crudo of Ahi Tuna, Capers, Olives, Charred Peppers; Wine Pairing: 2017 Calafe Fiano di Avellino

Course Two – Octopus in “Purgatory”: Venetian Style Polenta; Wine Pairing: 2018 St. Urbans-hof “Wiltinger” Kabinett Riesling

Course Three – Fricassea of Shrimp: Spinach Gnocchetti, Fennel, Herbs; Wine Pairing: 2019 Cocito “Ben Turno” Lanhge Bianco

Course Four – Wood Grilled Branzino: Creamy Cannellini Beans, Guanciale-Clam Vinaigrette; Wine Pairing: 2018 Terredora di Paolo “Irpinia” Falanghina

Course Five – Christmas Bombolini: Fruit Preserves, Chocolate Sauce; Wine Pairing: 2018 Braida Moscatod’Asti

The cost of the Feast of Seven Fishes 5-course tasting menu and wine pairing is $130.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity). Doors will open at 5:00 P.M.; dinner will begin at 5:30 p.m. For more information, or to make reservations, please call Restaurant Alba, (610) 644-4009.

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Nicholas - Holiday Walk Around Wine TastingYes, it’s that time again… And the big question is – at least from an oenological standpoint – “What wines are best served with your holiday feast(s)?”

But as I’ve mentioned on several other occasions, the problem usually isn’t the main course – especially turkey – which usually marries quite nicely with any vintage you’d care to throw at it. No, the monkey in the wrench is that seemingly endless complicated array of holiday side dishes. From sweet potatoes to the ubiquitous green bean casserole, choosing wines that marry well – or at least don’t alienate – this gastronomic hodgepodge can be more than a little challenging.

The art of pairing wine with food is, of course, really very much a matter of personal preference. On the other hand, there are several fairly safe amalgams – both white and red – that come to mind. With white wines, the pairing priority is finding those with well-balanced acidity. Ponderous, over-oaked California chardonnays, for example, need not apply. When it comes to reds, you want wines with fairly subtle tannins that will support the flavors of the food rather than overpowering them, or being overpowered by them… So, forget about uncorking that fabulously expensive 20-year-old Bordeaux you’ve been lovingly cellaring for a special occasion, as it just might get “lost in the sauce.”

Keeping all this in mind, listed below in alphabetical order are just a few of my recently-sampled favorite wines for your holiday table…

ACROBAT PINOT NOIR 2017 (Oregon): The Acrobat brand is best known for producing award-winning, versatile, and reasonably-priced Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris varietal wines that showcase the complexity of Oregon’s emerging wine growing regions. Originally part of King Estate Winery in Eugene, Oregon, Acrobat was purchased by Foley Family Wines of Healdsburg, CA, in October 2018.

Acrobat Pinot Noir isn’t a great wine… but, year after year, it is consistently reliable. The 2017 is a very pleasant, light-bodied vintage with rich, fruit-forward aromas and interesting hints of cinnamon & vanilla. On the palate, it’s delightfully crisp, smooth as silk going down, and marries nicely with a great variety of foods.

Priced at $19.99, the 2017 Acrobat Pinot Noir is available through Pennsylvania State Stores.

Villa AntinoriANTINORI, VILLA ANTINORI, TOSCANA RUSSO 2017 (Italy): An attractive blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, the 2017 Villa Antinori, which recently received 90 enthusiastic points from Wine Spectator magazine, is a perfect red wine for everyday quaffing or for any special occasion. This is a rich and succulent wine with well-integrated tannins & acidity and a long, satisfying finish.

Trouble is… while the wine is listed at $20.00 retail, it is currently going for an inflated $23.99 at Pennsylvania State Stores. Just a bit of online searching, however, and Villa Antinori can be had at a real bargain. The Wine Anthology, for example, is offering it at $15.69; Gary’s Wine at $16.99. And both these New Jersey retailers will ship to Pennsylvania… And even with shipping charges added on, you’ll still be way ahead of the game.

Gigondas 2016DOMAINE DE LONGUE TOQUE GIGONDAS 2016 (France): Gigondas is a wine Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in the southern Rhône region of France. It is primarily a red wine region, with a very small amount of rosé wine production.

The 2016 Domaine de Longue Toque Gigondas is a lush blend of Grenache, Syrah, and splash of Mourvèdre. It is deep purple/ruby in color with intense aromas of black fruits and touches of vanilla and spice. This is a plump, full-bodied wine that is beautifully structured and layered with flavor, while fine lingering tannins move you seamlessly along to an impressively fruity finish. Wine critics have been effusive across the board. The 2016 Gigondas garnered 93 points from the Wine Spectator, while Jeb Dunnuck bestowed a whopping 95 points, calling it “the finest vintage of this cuvée to date. In short, it’s a blockbuster.”

And here is one instance in which the Pennsylvania LCB has pitched you a real bargain. Listed at $44.00, this “Chairman’s Select” is on sale for a more than reasonable $19.99.

Legit Cabernet 2013TOLAINI “LEGIT” CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2013 (Italy): The 2013 “LEGIT” is a highly recommendable wine… for a variety of reasons. First of all, it garnered 94 points and was chosen as #26 in the Wine Spectator “Top 100 of 2019.” This wine is rich with aromas of dark fruit and cassis surrounded by the spice of French oak. On the palate, it is full-bodied with excellent depth, balance, and fine tannins, which are indicative of a cellar-worthy vintage.

The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was farmed organically in the San Giovanni vineyard in the heart of Chianti Classico and the wine produced in a state-of-the-art facility under the watchful eye of world-class winemaker Michel Rolland. This is, indeed, quite a wine to savor.

… And then there’s the label. In case you’re wondering… the face and the hands of the legendary Thelonious Monk. When Tuscan vintner and international wine importer Lia Tolaini Banville met the grandchildren of the late, great jazzman, she was inspired to a collaboration to honor his memory with a singular wine from her family estate – LEGIT.

The retail price is listed at $45.00. However, once again, shopping online can save you a great deal. Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California, is offering it at $31.99; the Red Wagon Wine Shoppe in Rochester, Michigan at $36.99 (plus shipping). Both will ship directly to Pennsylvania. Well worth seeking out, and the perfect supplement to your holiday table.

Tesch, MartinTESCH KARTHAUSER RIESLING 2016 (Germany): Tesch has been a family owned wine estate in the Nahe region of southwest Germany since 1723. Dr. Martin Tesch, whose degree is in microbiology, began working in the parental wine estate in 1996. After his father retired, Martin proceeded to completely restructure the estate. In 2002, he changed his entire wine collection. He stopped producing any medium dry or sweet Rieslings, changed labels, and reduced his entire collection to five (5) single vineyard wines plus the brand like Unplugged and the Dr. Tesch R, a Riesling in a 1-liter size bottle.

Those folks who have told me from time to time that they have never tasted a Riesling that wasn’t sweet, should certainly have a go at the 2016 Tresch Karthauser. It has that bright and distinctive “petrol” nose that seems to be alive with tropical fruit and mineral nuances. On the palate, it is a study in finesse and elegance… It is also bone dry with a delicate acidity and lingering salinity. This is precisely the kind of white wine that marries so well with the odd mishmash of dishes that often grace the holiday table.

This lovely vintage received 93 points from wine critic James Suckling and 92 points from Stephan Reinhardt of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, who called it a wine of “great class.” Its list price is $45.00… But be sure to check online, as the Wine Library in Springfield Township, New Jersey, currently has it on sale for $27.99 per bottle.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!

TAD

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Red Fox Inn & Tavern

2 East Washington Street

Middleburg, Virginia

(540) 687-6301

http://www.redfox.com/

Red Fox Inn - ExteriorDuring our recent stay at the Salamander Resort & Spa – see my previous post, Savoring Salamander – my permanent dining partner and I enjoyed dinner at the nearby Red Fox Inn & Tavern. Established in 1728, and originally known as Chinn’s Ordinary, this charming inn has offered uninterrupted hospitality to travelers for more than 275 years, making it the oldest continually operated inn in the United States. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and steeped in the lore of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, each of its cozy dining rooms exudes a piece of history.

Over the years, the Inn has played host to many notable politicians, authors, musicians, athletes, and celebrities, including, in 1748, an enthusiastic young surveyor named… Yes, George Washington really did sleep here.

Owned and operated by three generations of the Reuter Family since 1976, family members continue to oversee the inn’s daily operations, including its highly praised culinary aspects. The tavern’s menu highlights local ingredients and genuine home-style dishes that are both lovingly prepared and beautifully presented.

Unfortunately, because of the ever-changing environment prompted by the coronavirus, the inn’s indoor dining spaces are not open at this time. However, we thoroughly enjoyed our al fresco experience on their cozy and spacious tented garden terrace.

The only bill of fare currently being offered is the kitchen’s four course autumn tasting menu (with three options for appetizers, three options for soup/salad, six options for entrées, and three options for dessert), which also includes bottled water and non-alcoholic beverages, for $125.00 per person. Virginia wine pairing with each course is priced at an additional $38.00 per person. This may at first appear rather restrictive; but the options available for each course are certainly broad enough to appease a variety of tastes and temperaments, and the menu may also be customized to accommodate food allergies or other dietary requirements. The menu may also seem rather pricey; but, trust me, it’s worth every penny… As was the wine pairing, which married exceedingly well with my choices.

Red Fox - Roasted Pear CrostiniAppetizer Course: I ordered the Roasted Pear Crostini. In Italian, crostini refer to small slices of grilled or toasted bread with a variety of toppings. In this instance, roasted pear slices were paired with a brandy & gorgonzola spread and topped with walnut bits and crisp prosciutto. Pears & blue cheese are an unbeatable combo… and this delectable presentation certainly proved the case.  Wine Pairing: NV Extra Brut, Thibaut-Janisson Winery, Charlottesville, VA. The dryness of the bubbly provided a marvelous contrast to both the sweetness of the pears and the earthiness of the blue cheese.

Red Fox - Lamb MeatballsOn the other hand, taste-wise, my dining partner’s Lamb Meatballs simply stole the show. Rife with feta & pine nuts, set on islands of charred red onion surrounded by a sea of mint-infused yogurt, they were utterly irresistible. One bite and I was saying to myself: “Why didn’t I order these?” Flavor… texture… everything was just right. And there was just enough mint to complement rather than overwhelm the perfectly seasoned lamb. Kudos to the kitchen. Third Appetizer Option: Butternut Squash & Sage Wontons with goat cheese, hazelnuts, and plum chutney.

Soup/Salad Course: I know my choice of the Roasted Pear & Arugula Salad sounds like a repeat performance, but I just couldn’t resist that pear/blue cheese combo once again. Add candied walnuts, and a delightfully creamy Champagne vinaigrette providing a tasty textural counterpoint to that peppery greenery and you have a perfect prelude to any meal. Wine Pairing: 2019 Viognier, Greenhill Vineyards, Middleburg, VA. I’m usually not a fan of viognier, but this was simply a lovely wine – elegant, crisp, clean – and just right with the salad.

Red Fox - Beets w Goat CheeseMy dining partner’s Beets with Goat Cheese (pictured) also set off some bells and whistles. A marinade of zippy whole grain mustard gave the red and yellow beets a lively kick; the Monocacy Ash Farmstead Soft Ripened Goat Cheese struck a decidedly decadent chord; and a smattering of baby arugula and crispy rye toast were excellent in their supporting roles. Third Salad/Soup Option: Butternut Squash Bisque, crème fraiche, candied pumpkin seeds.

Entrée Course: With the arrival of the main courses, the kitchen’s prowess became even more impressive. My dining partner will tend to order either shrimp or scallops – or both – at the mere drop of a fork, so her choice of Caramelized Sea Scallops was certainly no surprise… And they were excellent. Beautifully seared, the moist & meaty bivalves were pillowed on a seabed of mushroom & pearl barley risotto and accompanied by bacon lardons, sautéed kale, and micro tarragon salad. There was obviously a lot going on here; but nothing felt (or tasted) out of sync, as a lovely white wine sauce served as a splendid culinary catalyst.

Red Fox - Pecan Curry Crusted HalibutThe Pecan Curry Crusted Halibut immediately caught my eye. Halibut, I must admit, always grabs my attention, as it is my all-time favorite seafood indulgence. But I hesitated at first, as curry can be a bit overwhelming; add pecans and it struck me as a double whammy, an ill-conceived assault on this ever-so-delicate denizen of the deep… And I wasn’t particularly overjoyed with the accoutrements either. The carrot and sweet potato purée could be downright cloying, especially when added to the curry/pecan combo; and the spiced & roasted cauliflower with currants could very easily make this particular entrée entirely too convoluted for its own good.

Fortunately, my assumptions were wrong on all counts, as the presentation was a nearly perfect gastronomic gestalt. Each element had its own individual part to play, but the whole of the dish was infinitely more than the mere sum of the particular parts. And despite my fears that the curry/pecan concoction might overwhelm the halibut’s delicate disposition, the crust caressed rather than smothered the object of its affection. Wine Pairing: 2015 Hardscrabble Chardonnay, Linden Vineyards, Linden, VA. There’s a touch of oak here, but it’s breathtakingly subtle. This beautiful wine exhibits the finesse and sophistication of a fine white Burgundy.

Other Entrée Options: Seared Duck Breast, Leek & Gruyère, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Currants, Apple & Onion Cider Sauce… Filet Mignon, Sweet Potato Au Gratin, Sautéed Kale & Bacon Lardons, Herb Butter Au Poivre Sauce… Rack of Lamb, Parsnip Purée, Orange Rosemary Roasted Carrots, Pinot Noir Sauce… Stuffed Portobello Mushroom, Walnut & Tarragon Filling, Sweet Potato & Carrot Purée, Sautéed Kale & Frizzled Onions.

Dessert Course: When it came to a choice of sweet endings, as far as my dining partner was concerned, there was never a moment of doubt… She went straight for her old favorite, the Panna Cotta. Italian for “cooked cream,” The Red Fox’s rendition was topped with a semi-interesting cranberry cardamom compote.

Unlike my partner, however, I confess that I’ve never been able to drum up much enthusiasm for this particular denouement

… With the exception of one rather humorous erotic gastronomic diversion. Several years ago, we were dining in Toqué, one of my favorite Montreal restaurants. Dessert that evening was a provocative vanilla flavored panna cotta. And this lovely amalgam of cream and gelatin bore uncanny resemblance to a white Hershey’s kiss with a case of the bouncies… or… (just let your imagination run wild😊). Needless to say, its gyrating journey to table caused more than a few chuckles among the assembled diners.

Red Fox - Banana Bread PuddingSo much for panna cotta. Do pardon the aside… My evening at the Red Fox concluded with an absolutely scrumptious Caramelized Banana Bread Pudding (pictured). Built upon a delicate foundational layer of dark chocolate and crowned with a tiara of crème anglaise, this decadently rich dessert was a real crowd-pleaser. Wine Pairing: And the 2015 Paxxito, Barboursville Vineyards, Barboursville, VA, was the ideal complement. This is a distinctive wine created via the traditional Passito process in which Moscato Ottonel & Vidal grapes are carefully hand-selected and set aside to rest and air-dry for up to 120 days before crushing and pressing. Six months of slow, cool fermentation followed by extended barrel aging produces an intense, rich, balanced wine of luscious sweetness and excellent acidity. Third Dessert Option: Flourless Chocolate Torte, Candied Hazelnuts, Mascarpone Cream.

If you’re planning a road trip to the Middleburg area, bear in mind that the Red Fox Inn & Tavern is also an enchanting place to spend a night or two. Centrally located in the heart of Middleburg Village, the Inn is comprised of five buildings that encompass twenty-two inn rooms, suites and cottages, each with their own individual charm…

But whether you decide to stay here, or at the Salamander Resort & Spa as we did, dinner at the Red Fox is something of a must. The cuisine is exceptional, the service personable, and the atmosphere warm and inviting. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Bon Appétit!

Be Well & Stay Safe

TAD

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Still reeling from the disappointment of having our two highly-anticipated cruises cancelled, and undoubtedly suffering the deleterious effects of what the New York Times euphemistically refers to as “Pandemic Fatigue,” my permanent dining partner and I decided that a restorative getaway might be just the cure for our enveloping ennui.

Salamander - ExteriorCarefully studying the possibilities, and eliminated anything we felt would put us in harm’s way – that included air travel – we finally settled on the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia. Highly recommended by friends, it was a mere three and one-half hours away by car in the heart of the Virginia wine country. We knew, however, from statements on their website – as well as a printed notice when we checked in – that, because of the coronavirus, in addition to the requirement of wearing facemasks in public areas and keeping proper social distancing, some of the amenities, as well as those “personal special touches” (like twice a day room cleaning, valet services, opening car doors, etc.) would be conspicuous by their absence.

Salamander - Our RoomThere is no question that even in such comfortably posh surroundings, the feeling wasn’t quite the same as it would have been without the coronavirus lurking in the dark shadows. Still, even under such extraordinary circumstances, Salamander did a first-class job of making our four-night stay an extremely pleasant one. Our top-floor accommodation, for example, an Estate Room with Fireplace (pictured), was quite spacious, tastefully appointed, and afforded us a fabulous view of the grounds from our stone balcony.

But if there was one thing that impressed us more than any other, it was the overall quality of the food… Even breakfast was a perpetual winner. My dining partner’s Biscuits and Gravy – soft dough biscuits covered in meat gravy rife with bits of sausage and ground beef – a southern specialty, was alive with flavor and downright decadent. And you would think that turning out a decent omelet was something of a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many kitchens muck them up. Here, regardless of the ingredients, they were perfect every time… as were the positively ethereal scrambled eggs.

At this juncture, I should mention that all our meals, including breakfasts, were enjoyed alfresco, as we were still quite conscious of the possible risks of dining indoors. Since our trip took place in early October, we were fortunate enough to encounter mild temperatures and days filled with sunshine.

 

Our four dinners were evenly divided: two at Salamander; two at restaurants off campus. The first evening we dined at the Gold Cup Wine Bar, the resort’s casual venue that serves lunch and dinner on a first-come, first-served basis. Gold Cup boasts not only a compact wine list by the glass & bottle, but also local wine flights, an exotic list of artisanal cocktails, whiskey flights, and a number of interesting craft beers.

Gold Cup - Cream of Broccoli SoupThe menu contains items like a selection of local artisan cheeses and charcuterie board, hand-tossed pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and a limited number of entrees. My dining partner started things off with Cream of Broccoli, the soup of the day. And this was certainly a rich concoction – loads of cream – but beautifully seasoned and the perfect prelude to ward off the creeping nighttime chill.

Gold Cup - Crispy Sesame CauliflowerI had a go at the Crispy Sesame Cauliflower – roasted florets set on a bed of jasmine rice and tossed with a sweet soy ginger glaze and sprinkling of shredded coconut – an incredibly delicious presentation. So delicious, in fact, that my dining partner gulped down more than her share after polishing off the soup… But who could blame her? The cauliflower was done just right; and that sweet soy ginger glaze was positively addictive. If there’s one dish that would bring me back to Gold Cup for a return engagement, this is definitely it.

Gold Cup - Shrimp & GritsEntrées were no less intriguing. This may be comfort food, but the kitchen always seemed to come up with some nifty little tagalong to transport a dish out of the realm of the ordinary. Take my partner’s downhome Shrimp & Grits, for instance. Here you have jumbo Texas shrimp, Byrd Mill grits, and a touch of citrus butter. But the secret here is the Virginia n’duja, sometimes spelled ‘nduja. This is a very special meat spread made from pork, roasted pepper, and spices that is similar to sobrassada. The is taste generally described as somewhat akin to deviled ham, which succeeds in adding a nice jolt to the taste buds.

Gold Cup - Mac & Cheese w ChickenPresented in a cast iron skillet, my Aged Cheddar Mac ‘n Cheese wasn’t as exotic; but the three-year-old, generously seasoned aged cheddar still delivered the goods. And the cavatappi – a corkscrew-shaped pasta scored with lines and ridges – was the perfect shape to capture and hold all that addictively rich cheesy flavor.

The Mac ‘n Cheese was presented on the menu as a side dish, but by adding grilled chicken, our server suggested, it would make a very nice entrée… which proved to be a perfect match and more than ample for even the heartiest of appetites.

Desserts turned significantly upscale and offered such diverse possibilities as a suitable-for-sharing Chocolate Craving – mason jar chocolate cake, Nutella Rocher truffle pop, and cocoa raspberry brownie – and the Twisted Funfetti Donut with ruby raspberry crème anglaise, kiss the rainbow meringues, and cookie monster ice cream.

Gold Cup - Pumpkin CheesecakeAfter a spirited debate, we decided to share the more seasonal Pumpkin Cheesecake, which turned out to be an absolutely fabulous choice and as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palate. This was really a dual presentation: half pumpkin cheesecake, half Turkish coffee mousse separated by a walnut sablé, a French round shortbread cookie. Both the cheesecake and the mousse were incredibly delicious with garnishes including local Catoctin Creek Whisky powder and a dollop of white chocolate ice cream. A fabulous ending to a first-class downhome meal.

 

Harrimans - Outside DiningThe third night of our Salamander stay we dined outside at Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill, the resort’s upscale steakhouse. And be advised… as with most establishments of similar ilk, everything is à la carte and the prices are almost certain to put a major dent in your pocketbook.

On the other hand, as Harrimans obviously caters to the carnivorously-inclined, and since you (usually) can’t go wrong ordering what the house proports to do best, meatier matters clearly seemed to hold out the greatest promise of success… More specifically, the restaurant’s “Butcher’s Cuts.” My dining partner settled on the 8 oz. Berkshire Pork Tenderloin; I, after much debate, cast my lot with the 6 oz. Petite Filet. Both of us, thankfully, were pleased with our choices.

Harrimans - Berkshire Pork TenderloinPork, as any diner knows (usually from sad experience), is a tricky proposition. It can overcook at the mere drop of a fork and turn as dry and tough as Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide saddle. Fortunately, Chef Bill Welch obviously knows his business. His pork tenderloin (pictured) was incomparably moist, succulent and, as you may be able to see from the photo, exhibits just a touch of pink. Its cut-like-butter tenderness doesn’t get much better than this. Highly recommended on all counts.

My petite filet also had a lot going for it. Prepared to a perfect “medium,” precisely as requested, it also benefited from a complimentary Hunter’s Sauce, a winning combination of tomatoes, onions, and garlic in a savory veal stock reduction.

Harrimans - Potato PureeWe also ordered a side to share, a Wild Green Onion Potato Purée spiked with crème fraiche (pictured), which turned out to be the hit of the evening and the perfect traveling companion for both the pork and the filet.

Harrimans - Roasted Brussels Sprouts SaladOnly the appetizer didn’t quite make it… As we are both quite fond of Brussels sprouts, we thought sharing the Roasted Brussels Sprouts (pictured) certainly looked like a sure thing. This was actually a salad, as the sprouts were served cold accompanied by good things like crumbles of Point Reyes Blue Cheese, wafer-thin slices of Honeycrisp apple, and an absolutely first-rate vinaigrette. Just one problem… the Brussels sprouts weren’t roasted long enough. They were the next thing to raw… My jaws feel tired just thinking about it.

Harrimans - Fruit Tart SharedDesserts, however, courtesy of Executive Pastry Chef Jason Reaves, were right back on track and well worth the additional calories and expenditure. They included such intriguing denouements as Sweet as Salamander Honey, a luscious honey-banana pudding replete with choco-banana cake; Raspberry Linzer with hazelnut shortbread, raspberry balsamic and goat cheese ice cream; and a decadently rich Dark Chocolate Lava Cake.  Chef Reaves also usually offers a sweet ending that is suitable for sharing by 2 – 4 guests. The evening of our visit it was an absolutely fabulous Fresh Fruit Tart. The photo tells the story… Need I say more?

One final word… Wine lovers have a number of interesting options here. My partner thoroughly enjoyed her 2017 Foley Johnson Chardonnay from California’s Carneros region. I began with the 2017 La Marimorena Rosal Albariño from Spain and moved on to the 2017 Saldo Zinfandel from California’s Prisoner Wine Company. Both quite good. Of course, if you’re feeling really flush, Napa Valley’s 2018 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon ($45.00 glass/$170.00 bottle) is an excellent choice.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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