Prior to embarking on our cruise from Cape Town to Lisbon, we spent five full days in South Africa visiting wineries and restaurants in Franschhoek and Cape Town. This was our second trip to Cape Town and, once again, the Giltedge Travel Group did a simply superb job, not only of arranging our itinerary and our guide, but also of securing tables-with-a-view in all the restaurants in which we dined.

SamsonThe highlight of our visit, however, was Samson, our driver and guide for the duration. He came highly recommended by our travel agent, and her praise was, indeed, well-deserved. He was extremely knowledgeable with regard to the history, culture, food, wine, vegetation, and people of South Africa. He was always timely and had excellent ideas of what to do each day; and, also, what to do if something on our itinerary changed unexpectedly. He was positive, personable, had a delightful sense of humor, and is now someone we would call a dear friend (pictured… By the way, there’s water in that glass!).

Noted below are the restaurants & wineries we visited in the order in which they were experienced.

 PROTĖGĖ, 18 Huguenot Street, Franschhoek, South Africa, Tucked away in Le Quartier ProtegeFrancais, a charmingly rustic little hostelry in the heart of the wine country, and our home for two nights, Protégé, which describes itself as “an informal eatery featuring stylish casual fare,” seemed like the perfect place to unwind and chill out after our 14-hour flight.

The setting is informal – patrons may dine alfresco (as we did) or watch the chefs at work in a 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 little innovative. However, gastronomic esoterica such as BBQ Pork Roti, Gochujang (red chili paste) and Salmon Miso Aubergine, Ssamjang (Korean spicy dipping sauce) is unlikely to appeal to the meat and potatoes crowd.

The menu is also prix fixe – X number of courses for X number of Rand (the national currency of South Africa) – no matter what you order, you still pay full price. Which means copping out with a light snack or burger & fries à la carte simply is not part of the equation. Actually, though, this was not such a bad deal as our four courses cost a total of R795, which translated to $43.50 per person (plus beverages, tax & tip).

 STARK-CONDĖ WINES, Oude Nektar Farm, Jonkershoek Valley, Stellenbosch, South Africa, The boutique Stark-Conde Wines 2winery is nestled in the picturesque Jonkershoek Valley, just three kilometers outside the town of Stellenbosch. The setting is incredibly beautiful (see photo) and includes a small Balinese tasting room situated on its own little island surrounded by vineyards and mountain peaks… Hence the name of the winery’s restaurant, the Postcard Café. Interestingly enough, the Café, which was intended to attract more people to the winery, has more than accomplished its mission, and has also become a dining destination in its own right.

Winemaker and co-owner Jose Condé handcrafted his first-ever Cabernet Sauvignon vintage in 1998, which subsequently received a five-star rating from South African wine writer John Platter. Evidently, he was destined to become a winemaker rather than a graphic designer.

Steep alterations in vineyard elevation combined with abundant winter rainfall in Jonkershoek (3 times more rain than nearby Stellenbosch) ensure a more than suitable terrain for growing Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Petit Syrah, and Pinotage.

Stark-Condé Field Blend is the only estate white wine produced; and it is an elegant balance of Roussanne, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, and Verdelho.

Mr. Condé firmly believes in traditional winemaking… handpicking, careful hand selection of the grapes, manual punch-downs, open-tank fermentation, basket pressing, and patient maturation for 22 months in French oak barrels. With only 6,000 cases produced annually, wines are not sold commercially; word of mouth is the winery’s sole method of advertising.

We tasted a number of wines; however, the red wines were particularly noteworthy. Samson had told us in advance that he was especially fond of the Syrah… and I totally agreed. I found the 2018 vintage to be incredibly lush, full-bodied, and quite elegant. I later discovered that the usual assortment of wine writers definitely agreed with Samson’s assessment. Decanter, for instance, bestowed 94 points, and Jancis Robinson called it “absolutely mouth-watering.” I purchased a bottle at the winery, which we presented to Samson as a parting gift.

DELAIRE GRAFF ESTATE, Helshoogte Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa, Following our wine tasting at Stark-Delaire Graff Estate - TerraceCondé, we departed for lunch at the Delaire Graff Estate. Yes, we could have remained at the above-mentioned Postcard Café, but we preferred to dine alfresco; and, once again, Samson was right on the money with his Delaire recommendation. Shaded by ancient oak trees, the restaurant’s broad wooden terrace provided diners with sweeping views of vineyards and olive groves from Simonsberg Peak across the Banghoek Valley…

… And the food was quite good as well. The Salad Niçoise and the Caramel Tart were both excellent. And, while this may come as a surprise to readers, my dining partner and I enjoyed our luncheon sans fruit of the vine. Since we had already sampled several wines at Stark-Condé, planned to sample several more at Great Heart Boutique Wines during a personal afternoon tasting at our hotel, and were also looking forward to enjoying cocktails and wine with the evening’s dinner at La Petite Colombe, it seemed that oenological discretion would undoubtedly prove to be the better part of peristaltic valor.

GREAT HEART WINES – WINE BOUTIQUE, Le Quartier Francais, Huguenot Street, Franschhoek, 7690, South Africa, Great Heart is the staff empowerment project of Mullineux & Leeu Family Wines, known for their multi-award Great Heart Boutique Wineswinning Leeu Passant and Mullineux wineries. Aimed at improving the livelihoods of those who work for the company, as well as their families, the Great Heart wine brand is collectively owned by the winery staff, and a portion of all sales under this label go directly to them.

The winery produces four cuvées from grape varieties best suited to the regions in which they are grown: Swartland Chenin Blanc and Red Blend, and a Stellenbosch Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. We tasted all four varietals…

2020 Swartland Chenin Blanc: This wine is produced from sustainably farmed old vineyard parcels of dry land bush vines grown in decomposed granite soils of the Swartland. It is naturally fermented – 85% in tank,15% in old French oak barrels. The wine is on the citrusy side with hints of flint. It’s very nice on the palate with a refreshing acidity.

Great Heart Red Blend 20192019 Swartland Red Blend: This is a blend of 51% Syrah, 34% Tinta Barocca, and 15% Cabernet Sauvignon. It is naturally fermented and aged in older French oak barrels for 18 months. The nose exhibits hints of red fruit, cloves, and black pepper. It is full-bodied on the palate with a touch of spice on the long, lingering finish.

2022 Stellenbosch Chardonnay: This single vintage Chardonnay is planted in the deep, loam-rich soils on the lower slopes of Helderberg Mountain. Natural fermentation takes place in oak barriques (20% new) followed by spontaneous malolactic fermentation and 10 months on the lees. This is a rich and complex wine with a superb minerality, racy acidity, and enticing fruit flavors.

2020 Stellenbosch Cabernet Sauvignon: Indigenous yeast fermentation followed by 3-7 weeks skin contact. Matured for 11 months in 225 & 500L French oak barrels, 10% new. Deep garnet red in color, it is rife with red fruit and silky tannins leading to a gentle, lingering finish.

The wine that rang the most bells for me was clearly the 2019 Swartland Red Blend. And, fortunately, this wine is also available in the U.S. Your best bet is to purchase online through the Saratoga Wine Exchange in New York State. The price is $21.94 per bottle (plus shipping).

LA PETITE COLOMBE, Leeu Estates, Dassenberg Road, Franschhoek, South Africa, Part of the Leeu La Petite Colombe - View from InteriorCollection stable of fine restaurants, La Petite Colombe is nestled in the midst of vineyards and manicured landscapes, offering diners extraordinarily beautiful views of the Franschhoek Valley and Franschhoek Pass… And the cuisine, I can assure you, is every bit as photogenic as the scenery.

The adventure begins with cocktails and “snacks” in the lounge. Following this delightful prelude, we are called to table… And, as I noted above, thanks to the Giltedge Travel Group, it is another in a series of spectacular “tables-with-a-view.”

The menu at dinner is either The Chef’s Experience or The Chef’s Vegetarian Experience, both multi-course tasting menus. My dining partner chose the former; I the latter, so that we could mix ‘n match. The cost was R 1795 per person ($98.75), plus beverages, tax & gratuity. I won’t bore you with a blow-by-blow description of each presentation, but, instead, just mention a few of the highlights.

Both menus began innocently enough with an assortment of Leeu Estate Olives… After that, innovation was definitely the name of the game, including a host of ingredients – many indigenous to South Africa – that will send you scrambling for an epicurean dictionary. The Beef Tartare is a familiar dish; however, in this instance enhanced with chipotle and a zippy smoked aioli. The vegetarian menu substituted beetroot, which added its own unique contributions. And while the vegetarians were treated to Home Churned Butter spread on a bagel, the regular menu – in lieu of the usual salmon – offered Smoked Snoek – a local white-fleshed fish somewhat akin to Australian barracuda.

La Petite Colombe - Karoo LambThe high point for both of us was clearly the Karoo Lamb (pictured), which is considered by many – this writer among them – to be 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 flavor. Here the succulent slices were served with celeriac and kapokbos (wild rosemary). On the vegetarian menu, a delicious Herbed Gnocchi, replaced the lamb, but the accompaniments remained the same.

One of the more intriguing vegetarian dishes was Chawanmushi, a savory rather than sweet Japanese egg custard adorned with soy and dukkah, a Middle Eastern condiment consisting of a mixture of herbs, nuts, and spices. The flavor was, to say the least, highly unusual… but also pleasantly addictive.

La Petite Colombe - Panna CottaDesserts were nearly identical on both menus, the only exception being that the Verbena (plant based minty/tangerine flavor) Panna Cotta (pictured) for vegetarians replaced the standard Vanilla Panna Cotta. Both versions, however, were garnished with gooseberry and tonka (a bean with a nutty vanilla flavor that is illegal in the United States). These were followed by Poached Pear steeped in rooibos (a South African red herbal tea), caressed by dulcey (a velvety smooth white chocolate sauce). An array of chocolates from the Sweets Trolley provided the ever-so-decadent finished touch.

KEN FORRESTER WINES, Scholtzenhof Farm, Winery Road & R44, Raithby, South Africa, As I mentioned in a previous article, South Africa grows more Chenin Ken Foorester Vineyard 2Blanc than the rest of the world combined. And located on the slopes of the scenic Helderberg Mountains, the vineyards of Ken Forrester Wines are considered by locals and wine lovers as the home of Chenin Blanc. The man himself, known affectionately as “Mr. Chenin Blanc,” is reputed to be just as dynamic as the grape he so fervently champions. Unfortunately, he wasn’t around the day of our visit, but our tasting experience proved to provide its own unique rewards.

The white wines began with the 2019 Sparklehorse Cap Classique, a delightful sparkling wine, and moved on through the excellent, previously enjoyed 2022 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc, concluding with the iconic 2020 FMC (acronym for “Forrester Meinert Chenin”) and 2015 Dirty Little Secret, which, if you’re feeling particularly flush, is available from Union Square Wine & Spirits in New York City for $239.99.

Mr. Forrester’s red wines are not as well known, but first-class in every respect. The Petite range features Pinotage, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. The 2020 Renegade is a Rhône blend reserve, as is his iconic The Gypsy… and both were absolutely first-rate.

 ERNIE ELS WINERY RESTAURANT, Annandale Road, Stellenbosch, South Africa, Following our morning Ernie Els Winery Restaurant - Terracetasting at Ken Forrester’s estate, 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 us incredible views of Stellenbosch and the Helderberg Mountains (pictured).

The cuisine was quite hearty, made with a host of fresh, locally-sourced ingredients. 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 had nothing but praise for Beef Filet. An excellent glass of Chenin Blanc proved the perfect complement to my salad.

ONE & ONLY HOTEL, Dock Road, V& A Waterfront, Cape Town, South Africa, After our enjoyable luncheon at Ernie Els, Samson transported us to the One & Only, which was to be our home for three nights while we explored the sights, sounds, and restaurants in the immediate Cape Town area.

One & Only - Vista Bar 2Situated in a prime location next door to the Two Oceans Aquarium, the One & Only is more of a resort than a city hotel. The spacious, beautifully-appointed reception lobby leads to the social heart of the hotel, the Vista Bar and Lounge with its triple-volume glass windows framing spectacular views of Table Mountain (pictured).

And there seems to be no end to the excellent wining/dining possibilities… The aforementioned Vista Bar and Lounge, for example, is open all day, serving cocktails, meals, light snacks, and afternoon tea. Ochre is the hotel’s vibrant breakfast dining room and buffet; while Isola is the establishment’s cool, laid-back poolside restaurant. Then, of course, there is the famous Nobu, serving classical Japanese cuisine with intriguing Peruvian subtitles. You may also want to check out the Wine Studio, which boasts one of the most balanced and diverse wine collections on the continent.

FYN RESTAURANT, 5TH Floor, Speakers Corner, Parliament Street, Cape Town, South Africa, Fyn Fyn Restaurant 1Restaurant – pronounced  “Fain” – made its debut in 2018 on the fifth floor of a 19th-century silk factory and has 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. Renowned South African chef and restaurateur Peter Tempelhoff launched the venue, supported by French general manager Jennifer Hugé and head chef Ashley Moss.

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 dishes change frequently; however, diners are generally greeted – as we were on the Fyn Reduced Menu (meaning a few less courses than the Experience Menu) – with such intriguing starters as Guinea Fowl Wonton and Ostrich Egg Chawanmushi (savory egg custard).

After that we moved on to such delicacies as Cape Malay King Trout with smoked barley, curry vinaigrette, and yuzu atchar gel; Rooibos Smoked Sashimi with white soy and lemon; and Roast Duck Breast with lacquered onion & hijiki, sancho pepper and lacto blueberries. Dessert was Ethiopian Ice Cream with yuzu (citrus fruit sauce) and blackberries. Wine pairings are available for courses on both menus.

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.

FOODBARN CAFÉ & TAPAS, Noordhoek Farm Village, Village Lane, Cape Town, South Africa, Foodbarn & Tapas - ExteriorFollowing a morning of sightseeing – full descriptions to follow in another article – we paused for lunch at the Foodbarn Café & Tapas in Noodhoek Farm Village. Aptly named, the super casual eatery is set in a renovated barn replete with high thatched ceiling, bare wooden tables, and modern lighting fixtures.

But don’t be fooled by the laidback ambience, as the subtle French-influenced cuisine is beautifully prepared and generously portioned. So much so, in fact, that Fodor’s referred to the Foodbarn as “probably the best restaurant on the Cape Peninsula.” My dining partner & I dined al fresco and enjoyed the Calamari and Mushroom Ravioli, respectively, then shared a Rhubarb Crème Brûlée for dessert. All three were excellent.

I should also add that first-rate, reasonably-priced wine pairings, stellar service, and al fresco dining complete the picture. Definitely a gastronomic high point… By the way, just a stone’s throw away, the Foodbarn Deli serves fabulous breakfasts and lunches, as well as an evening tapas menu.

CHEFS WAREHOUSE, Beau Constantia Wine Farm, 1043 Constantia Main Road, Constantia Neck, Cape Town, South Africa, Located twenty minutes from Cape Town proper, this modern eatery opened its doors in 2016. Chef's WarehouseFrom the outside, the building with its eye-catching cubed glass, appears suspended in space. The interior, which has recently undergone a complete revamp, 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. Much of the produce utilized in the kitchen is grown locally or on the Beau Constantia farm. This allows for a continuous flow of new ingredients and innovative adaptations to classic dishes, each carefully prepared and creatively, yet simply presented.

Chef's Warehouse - Thai Roast ChickenMain courses include such intriguing possibilities as Char-Grilled Tuna with perilla leaves (mint), Nam Phrik (spicy Thai chilli sauce) & Szechuan-style cashews; Pear Flan accompanied by blue cheese mousse, smoked pecan nut & thyme relish, and aged balsamic; Hakurei Turnip Mille-Feuille garnished with preserved spring flowers, and vadouvan (Indian curry blend of spices) & buttermilk dressing (The Hakurei or “Tokyo” turnip is sometimes referred to as a “salad turnip” due to its crisp raw flavor… Unlike other turnip varieties, hakurei do not need to be cooked); Thai Roast Chicken with BBQ cashew nut purée and roast chicken & tamarind dressing (pictured).

Interestingly enough, while the innovative cuisine was as picturesque as it was delicious, the evening got off to a rather rocky start, as the cocktails we ordered – my Negroni and my dining partner’s Cosmopolitan – were absolutely terrible. Especially the Negroni – traditionally made with equal parts gin, Compari, and sweet vermouth – which was beneath contempt. So bad that I had to send it back. So… over comes someone I supposed to be one of the managers, as he proceeded to give me an argument, telling me that he had mixed the cocktail himself and had certainly included the correct proportions. “Sorry,” said I, but it certainly didn’t taste that way… Off he goes in a huff. A few minutes later another Negroni puts in an appearance, which is spot-on. Needless to say, not the most hospitable way to be welcomed to a highly-touted restaurant. Go figure. Perhaps he should have taken a few lessons from Danny Meyer.

SALSIFY AT THE ROUND HOUSE, Round House Road, Camps Bay, Cape Town, South Africa, The gentle waves of Salsify at the Round Housethe restless Atlantic. The imposing Lion’s Head as a backdrop (pictured)… As gastronomic settings go, it would be difficult to top this one. And, once again, kudos to the Giltedge Travel Group for securing us a window table with the best possible view. The setting is decidedly romantic with an intriguing retro edge thrown in for good measure. Think colorful mid-century leather & velvet meet crisp white linen & bold modern art, as one writer put it, and you begin to get the picture.

The restaurant is a partnership between Luke Dale-Roberts and his head chef Ryan Cole, a culinary coalescence that has succeeded in changing Cape Town’s dining landscape. Mr. Cole, a master of unpretentious subtlety, impresses both eye and palate with every nature-inspired bite that comes out of the kitchen. It begins with a dazzling Smoked Springbok Loin accompanied by porcini & goat cheese mousse and puffed sorghum (ancient grain)… continues on through Slow Cooked Pork BellyFree Range Beef Fillet and concludes with a decadent Hazelnut & Bitter Chocolate Tart companioned by Laphroaig Whisky ice cream.

In addition to the Chef’s Menu and Reduced Menu, Salsify also offers diners the option of a Boutique Wine Pairing or more upscale Gem Series Wine Pairing – both featuring exceptional South African wines – with each course. Go for the Gem Series, trust me, you won’t be disappointed.

 Bon Appétit!

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Swartland Pinotage 2021Pinotage, a red wine grape that is a cross between pinot noir and cinsault, is South Africa’s signature varietal. Pinotage was created in South Africa by Abraham Izak Perold, the first Professor of Viticulture at Stellenbosch University. He was attempting to combine the best qualities of the robust cinsault with the subtle refinement of pinot noir (cinsault was known locally as “Hermitage,” hence the interesting conflation of names).   

Despite the fact that Pinotage is deceptively easy to grow, excessively high yields, lack of understanding, and poor trial-and-error methods of production have contributed to the wine’s historic struggles and poor reputation.

In recent years, fortunately, a remarkable renaissance has taken place. Quality-minded producers have worked to better understand cultivation techniques, as well as ideal climates and terroirs for the wine’s varied final expressions. And there is absolutely no question that the average quality of Pinotage is infinitely better today than it was 20 years ago; the grape is also better understood and respected.

During my recent cruise from Cape Town – Lisbon, I had the opportunity to enjoy several South African wines. The most noteworthy, however, was the 2021 Swartland Pinotage (pictured above), an example of the so-called “New Wave” of this controversial varietal… and it was, in a word, excellent. Plenty of concentrated ripe fruit, rich complexity, and a delightful suppleness on the palate. As smooth as silk going down. It was so good, in fact, that it remained my red wine of choice for the entire voyage.

Fabulous… Just one little problem… I have checked every possible source, and this wine simply is not available in the US. That’s the bad news. Now for the good…

Barista Pinotage 2021On a whim, I checked out my local State Store just to see if I could find a Pinotage that was similar in nature. What I discovered, while not exactly comparable, still turned out to be an incredible find, as the 2021 Barista Pinotage, produced by legendary South African winemaker Bertus Fourie, is its own unique oenological treasure. The 2021 is a deliberately and distinctly modern interpretation of South Africa’s signature grape. It is significantly lighter in body than the aforementioned Pinotage and will certainly remind most wine lovers – this writer included – 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.


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Pomod’oro Pizza & Italian Restaurant

200 Chestnut Street

Downingtown, Pennsylvania

(610) 873-0405

Pomodoro - Exterior2First reviewed in November 2019, Pomod’oro is the younger sibling of Anthony’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant in Malvern, PA. Croce “Tony” Cataldo, who hails from Carini in the City of Palermo, Sicily, opened Anthony’s in 1993. This first venture was such a success that Mr. Cataldo and his wife, Claudia, decided to open a second restaurant, Pomod’oro, in Downingtown in 2015.

ike Anthony’s, Pomod’oro is a BYOB majoring in Italian comfort food and sports princely portions at downright paltry prices. And, also like its elder brother, it has proved to be immensely popular. Reservations are accepted for lunch, but not for dinner. If you’re contemplating an evening meal, it is best to come early – so I advised in my first review – but even this strategy is no guarantee of complete success. My dining partner and I recently arrived a little before six o’clock on a Friday night only to find the place already full and overflowing. Weekends here can be something of a mob scene. Your best bet…? The earlier in the week you pay a call, the less likely you will have to cool your heels waiting for a table. Consider yourself forewarned.

Pomodoro - InteriorThe interior may strike you as somewhat utilitarian – unadorned wooden tables, silverware wrapped in paper napkins, hardwood floors, bare windows – but don’t be misled by the above photograph. 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 entrées – baked dishes, seafood, pasta and risotto, chicken and veal signature entrées – and luscious homemade desserts.

And there are numerous choices in all these categories… The Signature Dishes, for example, offer either chicken or veal prepared Pomod’oro (artichoke hearts, fresh tomatoes, asparagus tips, basil, and fresh mozzarella in a white wine garlic sauce with seasonal vegetables), Marsala, Piccata, Parmigiana or Cacciatora.

Pomodoro - Tuna Melt SandwichThe sandwiches begin with a variety of Hoagies and continue through the traditional Turkey Club to Parmigiana (chicken, eggplant, meatball, sausage, and veal), and conclude with the all-American Angus Beef Cheeseburger and Tuna Melt (pictured). The Tuna Melt may not look like much, but it is, by far, the best representative of the genre it has ever been my pleasure to ingest… Served open faced on Italian bread, the fresh-made tuna salad is topped with tomato, lettuce, and melted Swiss cheese and companioned by crispy house-made potato chips. Team that with a side order of their luscious deep-fried onion rings, and you have a casual dinner that simply can’t be beat.

Pomodoro - Eggplant ParmDuring several previous visits, I had excellent opportunities to sample the various entrées, which are all carefully prepared and generous to  fault. The Spaghetti Bolognese, for instance, mentioned in my previous review, is so prodigiously proportioned that it provided me with two ample dinners at home in addition to what I consumed in the restaurant. The decadently rich & creamy Tortellini Alfredo, while somewhat more reasonable in size, is still more than ample… ditto the deliciously downhome Eggplant Parmigiana (pictured), a personal fave.

Pomodoro - Pasta DiMareSeafood also holds a prominent place among the entrées, tempting diners with a number of old favorites: Linguini con Vongole, clams in a choice of red or white sauce; Seafood Alfredo, shrimp, scallops, and crabmeat in Alfredo sauce over linguine; Seafood Ravioli, lobster stuffed ravioli with crabmeat ina rosa sauce; Shrimp Scampi, rock & jumbo srhimp in a white wine & garlic sauce over linguine; Fish of the Day, prepared according to the chef’s whim; and last, but certainly not least (a little bit of everything), Pasta DiMare, fresh mussels, clams, rock & jumbo shrimp, scallops & crabmeat in a choice of red or white wine sauce over fettuccine (pictured in red sauce).

Pomodoro -Fried CalamariThere are numerous appetizer options… As I mentioned in my first review, the Artichoke Casserole baked in butter and garlic and topped with mozzarella cheese is not for the faint of appetite and certainly has a great deal to recommend it… ditto the Baked Stuffed Mushrooms with crab imperial in a rich butter sauce. The Mussels are steamed and served with melted butter or white wine butter sauce or marinara. In a similar vein, the Steamers are soft-shell clams swimming in either a white wine & lemon sauce or marinara. Other popular items include Bruschetta, Mozzarella Sticks with marinara sauce, or, my dining partner’s favorite, the Fried Calamari (pictured).

However, since the entrée portions are quite large (a doggie bag will undoubtedly be de rigueur) and most come with a house salad and well-stocked breadbasket, you might want to save yourself a few bucks and skip the appetizer.

Pomodoro - Cannoli Cake2… Saving room for dessert, however, is something of a must. Especially since the restaurant has a bakery on the premises and all items – including the gelato – are homemade. And there are plenty from which to choose… from the more traditional – Rice Pudding, Chocolate Mousse, Chocolate, Cake, and New York Cheesecake – to Italian favorites such as Tiramisu, Limoncello Cake, and Cannoli. But as I mentioned in my previous review, my absolute favorite remains the incredible Cannoli Cake (pictured). Part creamy cannoli filling, part moist yellow cake, it is both irresistibly decadent and utterly delicious. And be sure to wash it down with a double shot of potent espresso. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Highly recommended on all counts… Just don’t forget to BYOB.

 Bon Appétit!

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The United States of Cocktails – A Review

by artfuldiner on March 31, 2023

in Uncategorized

United States of Cocktails - CoverFROM THE BOOKSHELF: Brian Bartels, The United States of Cocktails:

Recipes, Tales, and Traditions from All 50 States (and the District of Columbia), 2020

The Foreword, written by Brad Thomas Parsons (author of Last Call: Bartenders on Their Final Drink and the Wisdom and Rituals of Closing Time, which I shall be reviewing at a future date), pretty much says it all: “Brian (Bartels) has never met a cocktail den, tavern, corner tap or dive bar that wasn’t worthy of exploration, and his always-curious egalitarian approach to drinking, along with the stories shared every day and night behind the bar, makes him the perfect candidate to tell this story. Brian is as American as a Bruce Springsteen song, but on his version of the album cover of Born in the U.S.A. instead of a dusty red ball cap you’ll find a well-worn Moleskine notebook tucked into the back left pocket of his Levi’s 501 jeans.”

United States of Cocktails - Notebook… And he has filled that notebook (and these pages) with an intriguing potpourri of memories, recipes, folklore, and a few tall tales from his incredible journey into the cocktails, spirits, and bar history celebrated in every state in America, paying a call at over seven hundred different bars, taverns, etc., along the way. As Ernest Hemingway once remarked, “If you want to know about a culture, spend a night in its bars.”

In the introduction, readers are given an intriguing Abbreviated History of an American Invention: The Cocktail. This mix of liquor, sugar, bitters and, usually, ice was born in the early nineteenth century and made its first appearance in the 1803 edition of The Farmer’s Cabinet of Amherst, New Hampshire, which proclaimed: “Drank a glass of cocktail – excellent for the head.” The origin of the word itself, however, is up for grabs, as divergent theories abound.

United States of Cocktails - Mount RushmoreThe main portion of the book is divided by regions – Northeast, South, Midwest, West – with individual states listed accordingly. For each state, the author lists its notable cocktail bars, state spirit, bucket list bar (absolutely must be visited if you are traveling near a certain town or area), oldest bar, state beverage, and cocktail recipe(s) indigenous to that particular state. Take Pennsylvania, for instance… Notable Cocktail Bar: Charlie Was a Sinner, Philadelphia; State Spirit: Jannamico Super Punch; Bucket List Bar: Kelly’s Bar & Lounge, Pittsburgh; Oldest Bar: McGillin’s Olde Ale House, Philadelphia, 1860; State Beverage: Frank’s Black Cherry Wishniak; Cocktail Recipe: Clover Club, Julie Reiner, created in the late 1800s at the Clover Club inside the Bellevue-Stratford Hotel in Philadelphia.   

The United States of Cocktails also contains a recipe list by region and by spirit, as well as an excellent bibliography. It is available from Amazon and other sources online.


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Vieux Carre - Bartender Walter BergeronThe Vieux Carré is a legendary cocktail that most people have either never heard of… or mispronounce (It is pronounced in the Cajun & Creole style “vyur kaa ray”). But that hardly matters. What does matter is that this is a libation you may definitely wish to add to your cocktail resumé. The Vieux Carré was created in the 1930s by head bartender Walter Bergeron (pictured) at the Hotel Monteleone in New Orleans, who was seeking an alternative to the trademarked Sazerac. Bergeron named it after the French phrase meaning “old square,” which referred to the French Quarter.

 Vieux Carre - CocktailIt’s a short, slow sipper that begins with equal parts of rye whiskey, Cognac, and sweet vermouth. Not one, but two bitters are added; plus, a splash of a classic herbal liqueur to give it even more dimension. It’s a slightly sweet, slightly spicy, warming concoction with subtle herbal, citrus, and smoky nuances. It’s similar to a Manhattan but more complex thanks to the Cognac, Bénédictine, and two kinds of bitters. It is truly a classic cocktail and one of the signature drinks of New Orleans.

Famous New Orleans DrinksThe recipe for Vieux Carré was first printed in the 1937 edition of Famous New Orleans Drinks and how to Mix ‘Em” and was initially exceedingly popular. But, as time when on, the cocktail did fall out of favor for a number of decades and slip into relative obscurity. All that changed, however, with the recent resurgence of interest in classic cocktails and rye whiskey. Thanks to skillful bartenders and the availability of fine ingredients, Vieux Carré is once again on every cocktail enthusiast’s list of truly great libations.

Vieux Carre - Cocktail 2As cocktail guru Tom Macy once remarked, “If you love a Manhattan or Old Fashioned, the Vieux Carré is the next drink to add to your rotation. Essentially a Manhattan with a few additions that make it something entirely its own. There are several ingredients to collect, which make this a tougher drink to execute, but the effort is well worth it.”

The ingredients and directions are noted below…


1ounce Rye Whiskey

1ounce Cognac

1ounce Sweet Vermouth

1-2 dashes Angostura Bitters

1-2 dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

½ ounce Bénédictine

Lemon Twist or Cherry Garnish


1, Add the Rye Whiskey, Cognac, Sweet Vermouth, Bénédictine, and Bitters into a mixing glass with ice & stir until well-chilled.

  1. Strain into a rocks glass over fresh ice or a cocktail glass.
  2. Garnish with a cherry or lemon twist, or both.

This is the original recipe. However, if you would prefer your Vieux Carré on the drier side, amp up just a bit on the rye whiskey and cut back on the sweet vermouth.


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Cellar Signae Cesarini Sartori - WinerySIGNAE, aka Cesarini Sartori Winery, is a family-run estate located in the landlocked Umbria region of central Italy, just north of the historic village of Assisi, the birthplace of St. Francis. The winery focuses on crafting organic wines, specializing in Sagrantino, a low-yielding red wine grape that is indigenous to the region. Luciano, the head of the Cesarini family is passionate about the health properties of Sagrantino – which was recently noted to contain some of the highest polyphenol (antioxidants) levels of any red wine – and his daughter, Alice, is working to promote this important varietal, which is still little known outside the region or Italy.

The origins of Sagrantino are both unclear and poorly documented. However, the first written record of it occurred in Umbria in the late 16th century as a communion wine. The name itself is also of uncertain origin, possibly from sagra (feast) or sacrestia (communion wine). Historically, Sagrantino was used primarily for making sweet passito wines, partially drying the grapes to yield a thick syrupy wine. Since the 1970s, however, the wines have been made primarily in the dry secco style. The Sagrantino grape has one of the highest tannic levels of any variety in the world. Its wines contain more tannin than those from Aglianico or Tannat, and twice the level of Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo wines. The grape creates wines that are dark, brooding with earthy, cinnamon accents.

Cellar Signae Cesarini Sartori Rossobastardo 2019The wine I tasted recently, however, Signae Rossobastardo 2019, is a good deal less lethal on the palate than you might imagine. That’s because the Sagrantino is blended with a smooth combo of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Sangiovese. Produced from grapes grown in the territory of the municipality of Gualdo Cattaneo, it is a cooperative combination of modern technology and traditional winemaking and Umbrian wine culture. The wine was such a success that Luciano Cesarini named the wine after his birthplace.

This highly rated wine is rich ruby red in color with intense aromas of ripe black fruit and black pepper. On the palate it is medium bodied, nicely balanced, and downright sensual… But the best part about this little beauty is the price: $9.99 at your local Pennsylvania State Store. If you’re a red wine lover, trust me, you’ve just found your perfect “everyday” food-friendly wine. Great to accompany a meal or standing on its own. An incredible bargain!


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As I mentioned in a previous article, cruising – like other forms of travel – has its advantages and disadvantages. The major advantage is, of course, that you Silversea Silver Whispermust endure the onerous rigors of unpacking/packing only once. Also, however – and certainly not a minor consideration – is the fact that you need not worry about the possible consequences of indulging in a wee bit too much vino over dinner, as the comfort of your stateroom is just a step or two away.

On the other hand, one of the major disadvantages – at least from my perspective as a food, wine, and travel writer – is that, apart from a few shore excursions that may include an excellent lunch, afternoon high tea, or other epicurean delights, one is limited to the culinary vicissitudes of your ship’s floating kitchen(s). And, given the length of some cruises, it is no exaggeration to assume that the quality of the food may owe infinitely more to creative cryogenics rather than innovative cookery.

My most recent encounter with cruise line cuisine occurred aboard Silversea’s Silver Whisper on a 12-day voyage from Reykjavik, Iceland, to London. Silver Whisper - BarSilversea is obviously intent upon providing a more sophisticated/upscale environment for its passengers, especially during dinner services, as it spells out the preferred proper dress code – casual, informal, formal – in its daily bulletins. During the several “formal” evenings, for example, ladies are expected to wear either cocktail dresses or pantsuits; for gentlemen, tuxedos, dinner jackets, or dark suits & ties are considered de rigueur (Pictured: Silver Whisper’s Bar, traditional gathering place for preprandial libations).

There are several venues for onboard dining… The Restaurant, the ship’s main dining area, is both elegant and airy, sporting floor-to-ceiling windows and Silver Whisper - Main Restaurantsparkling chandeliers (pictured). The Restaurant offers a traditional breakfast menu; lunch features appetizers, soups, pastas, hearty salads, wraps, carving du jour, entrées, and an Asian specialty. Dinner is more comprehensive, with “formal” nights offering an array of possibilities. Guests can expect a suggested four-course menu showcasing a particular country, special evening recommendations, fresh fish & meats, and vegetarian options. And, although the onboard cuisine generally had its ups and downs, The Restaurant – which had significantly more ups than downs – proved to be our favorite haunt for dinner.

Appetizers were especially notable. Our first evening onboard, for example, I began with Asparagus Ravioli in Silver Whisper Cuisine - Fantasia of SalmonCream Sauce, my dining partner with Shrimp Salad. Both were excellent. Other winners included Study of Artichokes, Velouté of Tomatoes, Chef’s Salad with Mandarin Orange Dressing, Spring Rolls, Stockfish (Cod) Croquettes, Pear & Blue Cheese Salad, and the spectacular Fantasia of Salmon (pictured) that was as photogenic as it was delicious. There was an occasional clinker – like the Welsh Rarebit that needed more cheese, or the ho-hum take on Foie Gras – but, for the most part, starters were definite high points.

… As were the delightfully innovative desserts. Items such as Walnut Cake with Butter Pecan Ice Cream, Silver Whisper Cuisine - Death by Chocolate BuffetRaspberry Mousse, Lemon Meringue Tart, Orange Cake with Mandarin Orange Ice Cream, Rice Pudding with Vanilla Ice Cream and Blueberry Almond Tart proved to be marvelous conclusions to our evenings at table and feasts for the eye as well as the palate. Without doubt, however, for true dessert addicts, the pièce de résistance was the incomparable “Death by Chocolate Buffet” (pictured) served up in the ship’s Panorama Lounge. Kudos to the pastry chef.

So much for the culinary “ups.” However, with the arrival of the entrées, the “downs” became a tad more Silver Whisper Cuisine -Beef Bourguignonprominent. As I mentioned above, our first dinner onboard began with two first-rate dishes, Asparagus Ravioli in Cream Sauce and Shrimp Salad, respectively. Unfortunately, these two excellent efforts were followed by a so-so Corvina, a white-fleshed fish that is similar to sea bass. Like the majority of items that emerge from Silver Whisper’s kitchens, this one was beautifully presented… but it was also totally devoid of flavor. Conversely, the very next evening, the kitchen served up an absolutely superb Beef Bourguignon (pictured), which was thoroughly enjoyed.

“A foolish consistency,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson once remarked, may very well be “the hobgoblin of little Silver Whisper Cuisine - Spiced Lamb Cubesminds…” It is, however, the absolute sine qua non of a successful restaurant. And it is precisely at this point that Silversea’s main dining room – and numerous other floating eateries – seem to fall short. There is absolutely no question that Silver Whisper’s kitchen, for example, turned out a number of excellent entrées: Their Yellow Stuffed Pepper with risotto topped with mozzarella and tomato sauce was absolutely first-rate. Ditto the Scallops of Veal, Wiener Schnitzel, Shepherd’s Pie, Grilled Branzino, and Spiced Lamb Cubes Rosh (pictured), a superlative Indian recipe… But then… the Swordfish on a Bed of Spinach was woefully overcooked, and the Steak & Ale Pie (which is similar to the aforementioned Shepherd’s Pie but also sports a piecrust) was as dry as a bone and in desperate need of a resuscitating gravy infusion.

On a brighter note, a complimentary red and white wine are poured nightly, or you may choose a different complimentary bottle or order from the premium wine list. On one particular evening, not happy with the evening pours, we sampled a Chenin Blanc & Pinotage from South Africa, both excellent. On another evening, we ordered a bottle of white Burgundy, Joseph Drouhin Mácon-Bussiéres Les Clos 2020; and we enjoyed it so much that the wine steward, Amis, had another bottle placed in our stateroom fridge at no extra charge.

La Terrazza is the venue for Silver Whisper’s breakfast and lunch buffet, with a menu similar to that of The Restaurant. At lunch, diners are offered an array of sushi, shellfish, smoked fish, high-end deli meats & cheeses, an expansive salad bar, carving station du jour, numerous hot dishes, and desserts. A gluten-free station is also prominently featured.

At night, however, La Terrazza is transformed into a reservations-only Italian restaurant with an intimate romantic ambience. The evening is likely to Silver Whisper Cuisine - Complimentary Charcuteriebegin with a glass of Prosecco, complimentary charcuterie (pictured) & bread basket. House-made pasta may be ordered as either an appetizer or entrée. Main courses include such items as King Prawns with Cognac and Grilled Duck Breast. Desserts showcase Gelati, Italian Cheeses, and Chocolate Molten Cake.

We enjoyed three dinners at La Terrazza and, like the main dining room, it generally provided more palpable hits than misses. The disappointments were minimal – a so-so Eggplant Parm entrée… and the Insalata Caterina de Medici (mesclun salad, arugula, cherry tomatoes, walnuts), which seemed to promise much but delivered little.

The soups here, however – Lentil and Rich Tomato – were first-rate and made excellent starters… ditto my dining partner’s Caprese Salad and my Pasta Silver Whisper Cuisine - Lasagna alla Bolognesewith Pesto. Other high points included: Mushroom Tart; Scallops of Veal; Grilled Branzino; La Nostre Conserve, tuna-stuffed bell peppers, porcini mushrooms, and Tomino cheese; Penne all’ Amatriciana, homemade penne pasta, pig’s cheeks, fresh tomato sauce, Parmigiano Reggiano, garlic, and red pepper; and a superlative Lasagna alla Bolognese, lasagna pasta, Bolognese sauce, Bechamel sauce, Parmigiano Reggiano, and fresh herbs (pictured).

Over the course of our three evenings at table, we sampled several excellent wines… a first-class Nero d’Avola from Sicily; an Orvieto, a white wine produced in the region located in Umbria and Lazio that is a blend of Grechetto and Trebbiano; and a superbly succulent Valpolicella.

Silver Whisper Cuisine - Limoncello CakeBut the real stars of the show were the beautifully prepared and presented desserts. If you want to keep it simple, for example, there’s Baklava accompanied by a scoop of Gelato, which is made onboard, by the way. Then, of course, there’s the Cannoli – crispy fried pastry tubes with ricotta cheese, pistachios, candied fruit, and chocolate chips – and the decadently rich Cream Puffs. Nothing, however, quite comes close to the incomparably deliciously Limoncello Cake (pictured). Downright addictive, it simply bewitches the taste buds. Not to be missed.

The Grill is a casual alfresco restaurant located on deck 8 next to the pool and the hot tubs. At lunch, diners Silver Whisper Cuisine - Grill Entreesmay choose from sandwiches, salads, burgers, hot dogs, and grilled fish specials. On sea days, poolside lunch buffets are enhanced with live music.

The big drawing card here, however, is dinner, which features wildly popular hot rock dining, where passengers cook meat, fish, or vegetables over a hot lava stone. The server provides some cooking instructions… he also drapes you in an apron to protect your clothing. Diners begin with a choice of salad and then have a go at the grilled items accompanied by a number of sauces and side dishes.

The Grill certainly makes for an interesting dining experience, especially for families with children… But there are some drawbacks. First of all, the starter salads are basically generic and nothing to write home about. Secondly, timing is a major issue. By the time you finish cooking your entrée – in my case the filet – your side dishes are cold and must be sent back to the kitchen to be reheated. By the time your side dishes make a reappearance, your entrée could very well be half eaten or cold – or both.

Silver Whisper Cuisine - The Grill Apple TartBut take heart, the best is yet to come, as desserts are a high point. And, as you would probably surmise from the alfresco ambience and unpretentious cookery, they tend to be on the casual side. We sampled the Cheesecake and Apple Tart with Cinnamon Ice Cream (pictured), and both were sublime in their simplicity – but feasts for the eye as well as the palate.

Paying a visit to The Grill? My advice… sit back and relax, take in the sea air, sip a little vino, forget the damn lava stone – and all the possible grief attendant thereto – and let the chef do the cooking.

La Dame is Silver Whisper’s bastion of haut French cuisine. The setting is diminutive with a maximum capacity of 24 diners; and there is but one seating. The table is yours for the evening.

The menu is a showcase of luxuriant ingredients, with appetizers ranging from caviar to foie gras to lobster salad and a variety silky, intensively-flavored soups. Entrees are equally sumptuous, headlined by Limousin beef from France – ranked as one of the world’s best – served with truffles. Breads are unique to La Dame and are accompanied by creamy Normandy butter. The meal may be concluded with an assortment of French cheeses and/or the star dessert, a Grand Marnier soufflé. The quality of the presentations is commensurate with that of the ingredients; so, as you can well imagine, photo ops abound.

But – and it seems like there’s always a “but” – whereas all meals at the above-mentioned restaurants – as well as room service and an elegant afternoon tea served daily in the Promenade Lounge – are included in the price of your cruise, dinner at La Dame sports at $60.00 surcharge per passenger, per visit. The added cost, however, apparently does little to diminish demand; as, once onboard, reservations are notoriously difficult to come by. It’s best to book online before sailing.

Silver Whisper - La DameIn their assessment of La Dame, Cruise Critic offered up only two negative assessments… First of all, they noted that the wines matched up with what was available in The Restaurant… but thought – as I do – that they should have been a “notch above.” Secondly… the real bone of contention is a flaw in the seating design. The tables, arranged in a circle and often occupied by all couples, are situated in such a way so that everyone’s back is to the wall, staring into the center of the room at other couples, rather than facing each other.  The suggestion has been made – and I think it is certainly worthy of consideration – that a more intimate arrangement needs to be forthcoming. As you may observe from the photo above, the setting isn’t terribly romantic. Perhaps screens between tables and the addition of flowers and/or candlelight would add considerably to the ambience.

So… is La Dame worth the added expenditure…? Only your pocketbook knows for sure.

Bon Appétit!

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The Choice

845 Lancaster Avenue

Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania

(484) 383-3230

Choice, The - InteriorThe Choice is one of those restaurants that appears to be hiding in plain sight. When we first considered dining there – noting that it had received very positive reviews on Social-Media – we were surprised to find that no one of our acquaintance had even heard of the place, let alone dined there. And yet… when our party of three arrived for a recent Wednesday evening reservation, we found the 50-seat dining room full and joyously overflowing.

… And, given the fact that the menu is awash with a host of French and Asian fusion innuendos, you would probably never suspect that the restaurant is owned by two Ukrainian families. But, since the well-traveled co-proprietor Volodymyr “Vlad” Hyvel served as sous-chef in London’s Nobu and also put in time at Le Cirque, Alain Ducasse and Jean-Georges, his diverse culinary inclinations make impeccably perfect sense.

Choice, The - Scallops in Shredded Filo DoughMatters piscatorial – both preludes and main courses – play a major role in Mr. Hyvel’s repertoire. His starters, for instance, range from cold items such as Yellowtail Sashimi, Tuna Tartare, and Lobster Ceviche to a comforting tomato-y Fish Soup awash with shrimp & scallops. Among his starters, however, the chef’s magnum opus proved to be his extraordinary Scallops in Shredded Filo (pictured). The rich & meaty deep-fried bivalves arrived at table accompanied by a zippy wasabi cream sauce… and were simply irresistible.

Entrées are pretty evenly divided between “Meat” and “Fish and Seafood.” In addition to Filet Mignon, Short Ribs, and Grilled New Zealand Lamb Chops with a spicy Peruvian sauce, the former category also included Chicken Teriyaki and Duck Canton splashed with a seductive caramel-coffee-orange sauce. Once again, however, for our party at least, seafood took center stage.

Choice, The - Striped BassMy dining partners decided upon the Halibut and Branzino, respectively. The former was companioned by mushrooms and finished with a green pepper dressing; the latter was presented with creamy mushrooms, crisp potato balls, and a side of fennel dressing. My Wild Caught Striped Bass (pictured) was a particular treat, as the filet was wrapped in a crispy potato crust, served on a bed of creamy leeks, and splashed with a delicate red wine sauce.

If The Choice has a weakness, it is their desserts. As noted above, appetizers & entrées are both delightfully innovative and cosmopolitan in scope. When it comes to sweet endings, however, options are exceedingly limited and creativity is conspicuous by its absence – Chocolate Meltdown with Vanilla Ice Cream… Pecan Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream… Warm Apple Tart with Vanilla Ice Cream… Ice Cream. You get the picture. Given the quality of all that has gone before, you expect more… and it simply isn’t forthcoming.

Choice, The - ExteriorJust be prepared… Dinner at The Choice is not a cheap date. Those aforementioned highly-touted Scallops in Shredded Filo, for instance, will set you back $18.00. Lobster Ceviche goes for $28.00; with appetizers topping out at $32.00 for the Pan-Seared Foie Gras. Entrée-wise, that Butter-Poached Lobster will put a sizeable $60.00 dent in your wallet, while all finny fare goes for either $35.00 or $40.00. Meats are $35.00 per, with Chicken Teriyaki occupying the menu’s bottom rung at $28.00. Even those rather nondescript downhome desserts will set you back $12.00 per.

Given the current state of economic affairs, I am not suggesting that these prices are outrageous by any means. However, given the restaurant’s location – the western ‘burbs – and the laidback atmosphere and service, they are a bit on the heady side. Not exactly a likely candidate for a last-minute inexpensive casual evening out… Fortunately, the fact that you may BYOB helps to soften the blow somewhat.

Bon Appétit!

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It’s All Greek to Me!

by artfuldiner on January 21, 2023

in Uncategorized

Greek Wine Tasting ImageFor your quaffing pleasure: Wines tasted at our wine club gathering on Saturday, January 14, 2023…

 2020 Mylonas Retsina: Retsina, a wine made with the infusion of resin from the Aleppo pine tree, is Greece’s most famous and historic wine. Its flavor has often been likened to turpentine – even by locals who consume it on a regular basis. Most retsinas were poor, thin wines with resin used to mask their dullness and “off” character.

In recent years, however, Retsina has undergone a remarkable renaissance. A number of wine producers, including Stamatis Mylonas, have demonstrated that, when carefully made from conscientiously grown grapes, Retsina can be a delicious wine that will pair well with variety of cuisines.

Made from 100% Savatiano, one of Greece’s most widely planted grape varieties, at the time of fermentation only between 1 percent and 0.15 percent of resin is added to the wine. As a result, modern retsina exhibits only subtle touches of resin-like aromas and flavors, similar to rosemary and lime.

In the words of one reviewer, the 2020 Mylonas Retsina is “a crisp white wine that doesn’t act like Retsina. There are notes of white flower, mint, lemon, and pine. The pine resin is low here. It’s more crisp and mineral style of white. Fantastic on a hot summer day with fish.” $16.99 Total Wine.


2021 Dionysos Fileris: Located in the Greek wine region of Corinthos, in Peloponnesus southwest of Athens, the Dionysos Winery was founded in 1936 by Asimakis Koutsouros and Stelios Gikas. Today, the winery is still represented by members of the same two families and produces more than 11 million liters of wine annually.

The 2021 Dionysos Fileris is made from a native grape, which is a clone of Greece’s popular Moschofilero. In the glass, the wine is medium straw in color with green highlights. It is quite floral on the nose with perfume-like hints of jasmine, honeysuckle, grapefruit oil, and dandelion. Tart and ripe on the palate, this medium-bodied wine would pair well with fresh fruit and/or seafood. $16.49 Total Wine.


2021 Skouras Moscofilero: Domaine Skouras was established in 1986 by George Skouras following his winemaking studies in Dijon, France. He felt that he could bring modern winemaking techniques to his home region of Nemea, and quickly established himself as one of Greece’s top winemakers.

The Moscofilero is a traditional grape from the Nemea region, known for its floral and tropical aromas. Aromatically similar to a dry Viognier from France, it is medium-bodied, creamy & fruity on the palate, with lingering spices at the finish. A definite crowd-pleaser as an aperitif or paired with simply grilled fish.

Received 90 points (100-point scale) from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate and wine critic James Suckling. $18.99 Total Wine.


2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko: Santorini WinesAmong the little-known grape varieties of Greece, Assyrtiko has been by far the most popular among Greek whites. Although originating on the Island of Santorini, it is now planted across mainland Greece (as well as in parts of Australia), becoming one of the most important native varietals. It produces mainly dry white wines, some of which are aged in oak. Assyrtiko is one of those rare white grape varieties that can grow in hot and dry climatic conditions while, at the same time, keep the high alcohol in perfect balance with its crisp acidity.

This is a wine that is made for people who are looking for unconventional, intense styles of whites that lean toward texture and density rather aromatics. Assyrtiko produced outside of Santorini maintains its crispness and minerality, but it also exhibits a higher level of fruit aromas and a less dense structure.

The 2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko is characterized by light yellow color and aromas dominated yellow fruits and lemon flowers. It is bone-dry with distinctive character, excellent structure, and crisp acidity. It is pleasant to drink young; and it makes a perfect accompaniment to pasta with pesto and various fish & shellfish dishes. However, this wine also ages well – from five to ten years, sometimes significantly longer – developing aromas and flavors of ripe fruits, honey, and intense minerality.

Be advised that this wine is not available Pennsylvania State Stores. The best price I have discovered online is $10.95 per bottle (plus shipping) from Shoppers Vineyard in Clifton, New Jersey.


2020 Boutari Kretikos Red: The Boutari family has been producing wines from Greek varietals since 1879. The family has become a pioneer of the Greek wine industry, now crafting wines from six different regions, utilizing grapes that are grown nowhere else in the world.

… And the 2020 Boutari Kretikos has helped to set the quality standard of Cretan wines worldwide. Kretikos, which means “originating in Crete,” is a carefully selected blend of 60% Kotsifali and 40% Mandilaria, both indigenous grapes. Kotsifali – Mandilaria blends are quite common in the red wines of Greece, but particularly so on Crete, the southernmost and largest of the Greek Islands. Such a beneficial blending brings together the aromatics, sugars, and corpulence of Kotsifali with the strong color, acidity, and tannins of Mandilaria.

It is not certain at what point in history Kotsifali and Mandilaria were first deliberately blended but the benefits are quite apparent… This nicely balanced wine features a brilliant ruby color, pleasant aromas of red fruits, velvety tannins, and a lingering finish. $14.99 (plus shipping) from b-21 Fine Wine & Spirits, Tarpon Springs, FL.


2019 Hermes Neméa Red: Located in the northeast corner of the Peloponnese peninsula, Neméa is arguably Greece’s most important red wine appellation. Neméa red wines can only be made from the Agiorgitiko grape, which is the most widely planted red wine grape in Greece and has been grown in this region since the 5th century BC. One of the more commercially important indigenous Greek varieties, it can exhibit a wide range of characteristics, from soft to very tannic, depending upon factors in the growing and winemaking processes.

Red wines from the Neméa appellation are crafted in many different styles, from light-bodied to lush and full-bodied, with flavors and aromas of red fruit, particularly dried cherries, and often exhibit a decidedly spicy character. Vines are located in three subzones, ranging from sea level to the mountains, with the best wines often coming from higher altitude vineyard sites.

The 2019 Hermes Neméa Red is bone dry with good body and a pleasant peppery warmth at the finish… This is a great wine for everyday quaffing, as it’s smooth on the palate, very versatile with a variety of foods… and the price is right. $14.99 Total Wine.


2019 Nasiakos Neméa Agiorgitiko: Athens - Hotel Grand Bretagne, Viw from Rooftop RestaurantThe vineyards of the Nasiakos families lie in the heart of the two largest and most important wine regions of Greece. One is in Mantinia in Arcadia; the other – the highest point on Neméa – in Corinth, Peloponnese. Leonidas Nasiakos is the viticulturalist, winemaker, and producer of the wines that bear his name. Under the Nasiakos label, 6,500 cases of wine are produced from the indigenous appellation varietals such as Moschofilero  and Agiorgitiko.

Nasiakos wines have been rated by publications such as Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine & Spirits for over 15 years, with ratings from 87 to 93 points.

Of particular importance is Agiorgitiko, which, as noted above, can exhibit a wide range of characteristics, from soft to very tannic; and the 2019 Nasiakos Agiorgitiko is definitely of the latter persuasion. In the glass, mesmerizing aromas of vanilla, blackberry, and currant quickly capture one’s attention… carried over to invitingly ripe fruit flavors on the palate. This is a wine with a surprisingly light touch. It goes down as smooth as silk and is also marvelously food friendly. $7.99 PA State Stores


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2022 Restaurant Redux

by artfuldiner on January 16, 2023

in Uncategorized

For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of the thirteen (13) restaurants reviewed during the year 2022. The month appearing in parenthesis indicates the month the restaurant’s full review appeared on my blog. Please note that I have also included several restaurants from my recent travels, which are well worth visiting and may be of interest to those who enjoy an occasional gastronomically-inspired sojourn.


333 BELROSE BAR & GRILL (April), 333 Belrose Lane, Radnor, Pennsylvania, (610) 293-1000, Thirteen years have passed since I first reviewed this ever-popular eatery… but very little has changed in the interim. Chef/proprietor Carlo deMarco, a Villanova native, is still turning out top-notch contemporary American fare with international flair in a lively yet decidedly sophisticated setting.

333 Belrose - Simply Grilled SalmonThe Spicy Asian Brussels Sprouts embellished with peanuts, shishito peppers, and sweet chili sauce always make an excellent starter… ditto the superb Butternut Squash Bisque. Entrée-wise, the Java Pork Tenderloin with smashed yams, mango salsa, black bean sauce, and maple jus remains a house favorite. However, in my opinion, the Simply Grilled Salmon (pictured) steals the show. Presented with a fresh house salad, the seductive orange-ginger vinaigrette proved to be not only a marvelous dressing for the greenery but also a wonderful complement to the salmon itself, transforming a relatively straightforward dish into an utterly sublime presentation.


AGAVE MEXICAN CUISINE (September), 1620 Baltimore Pike (Route 1), Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, (484) 770-8345, www.agavebyo.comAgave - Quinoa SaladA scant moment after you’re seated, the tortilla chips and salsa hit the table… But be sure to team them up with the benchmark Guacamole, served in a traditional molcajete (the Mexican version of mortar and pestle). Other highly recommended starters include Queso Fundido – a type of party dish often compared to a cheese fondue – and an incomparable Quinoa Salad (pictured), a delightful amalgam of pumpkin seeds, avocado, raisins, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and Queso fresco splashed with an enticing lemon vinaigrette dressing.  Simply not to be missed. The tacos here – all served on homemade corn tortillas – are definitely a cut above. Choose your five favorites, which constitute the Taco Tasting Platter, and feel free to share.

Agave is still BYOB. However… the restaurant also offers a three-course special for $35.00 per person and will even throw in a complimentary bottle of white wine or pitcher of margaritas. So be sure to check it out.


CIRCA 1886 RESTAURANT (November), Wentworth Mansion, 49 Wentworth Street, Charleston, South Carolina, (843) 853-7828, Circa 1886 - Ex Chef Marc CollinsTucked away in the original carriage house of the Wentworth Mansion, Circa 1886, so notes their website, “evokes the romance and Old-World charm of historic downtown Charleston.” But the restaurant offers diners infinitely more than alluring ambience, as it is consistently ranked as one of the finest in the city, as Executive Chef Marc Collins (pictured) works with local farmers & fishermen to create an innovative seasonal menu that takes Lowcountry cuisine to new culinary heights.

The Foie Gras – bewitching the palate with such avant garde traveling companions as cassava pudding, pomegranate strawberry jam, lime basil oil, and smattering of hazelnuts – is a particularly noteworthy starter… Although, the Southern Grilled Cheese – pimento cheese mousse, grilled brioche, Surryano ham, paddlefish caviar, cured yolk powder – finishes a close second.

When it comes to entrées, matters piscatorial tend to take center stage. The Paprika Grouper, for example, was a captivating combo of flavors and textures… But the Rainbow Trout was even more thought-provoking. The filet was enveloped in an ethereal sunflower sumac crust and kissed by an enticing corn sauce, with wild rice porridge, arugula, and cranberry paint in strong supporting roles.


DANTE’S ITALIAN BISTRO & PASTRY (August), 550 Kimberton Road, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (484) 924-8072, : Semi-sequestered behind Citadel Federal Credit Union in the Kimberton Shoppes, Dante’s is easily passed by without notice. The interior, which is rather utilitarian and brightly lit, isn’t exactly high on ambience; but it’s comfortable, the service is friendly & attentive and, as an added incentive, you may BYOB.

… And the food, as you may have surmised, is just as homey and down-to-earth as the atmosphere. Red sauce – which, I will warn you in advance, tends to be a touch on the sweet side – predominates the proceedings, and portion sizes are prodigious. You won’t go hungry here… You won’t go broke either, as prices are decidedly easy on the wallet.

Dante's Bistro - Arancini al FromaggioTo start things off, be sure to go for the Arancini al Fromaggio (pictured). A staple of Sicilian cuisine, Arancini are Italian rice balls that are stuffed with mozzarella (and, occasionally, other items such as green peas and ham), coated with bread crumbs, deep fried, and served with a marinara dipping sauce. If the kitchen has a claim to fame, it is undoubtedly their pastas. Stick with them and you can’t go wrong.


DAVIO’S NORTHERN ITALIAN STEAKHOUSE (July), 200 Main Street, Town Center, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, (610) 337-4810, Davio's KOP - Veal TenderloinDining at Davio’s is a good news/bad news proposition. First the good: The cuisine is first-rate on all counts. During my most recent visit, the six diners in our party (three couples) were completely satisfied with the gastronomic goings-on. Of special note was the incomparable Sautéed Veal Tenderloin (pictured). It remains, without doubt, one of the best veal presentations it has ever been my pleasure to ingest. And the same may be said for the outstanding Atlantic Salmon, which arrived at table on a seabed of sautéed spinach surrounded by a pool of warm eggplant caponata.

Now for the bad: Davio’s cavernous dining space remains something of an echo chamber. Caught between a high ceiling, hardwood floors, and bustling bar scene, the decibel level is downright daunting – as are the prices. Dining here has always been an expensive proposition. Recently, however, the menu has graduated from “expensive” to “simply outrageous,” surpassing even Eddie V’s Prime Seafood as king of high prices.

Does the quality of the cuisine justify the hefty tariffs…? That depends to a great extent upon your point of view… and the state of your wallet. Your call.


DOCKS SEAFOOD RESTAURANT & MARKET (October), 15 Evans Street, South Portland, Maine, (207) 899-4433, Docks, South Portland, Maine - InteriorVisited on our way to Bar Harbor, this super-casual restaurant/market combo features fresh, local & sustainable species of fish & shellfish, Maine craft beers, wine & cocktails, and local snacks & art. The setting is unpretentiously utilitarian, but the welcome is warm and the regional cuisine carefully & lovingly prepared.

Lobster, as you can well imagine, plays a significant role here. The Maine Lobster Dinner is a house favorite, or you can also go for the Lobster Roll, Lobster Nuggets, or the downright decadent Lobster Mac & Cheese.

If you happen to be traveling north to Maine, Docks Seafood Restaurant & Market would make a very pleasant stopover.


ELLA GREEK COOKING (March), Athens, Greece, +30-21-0331-5547, Ella - Chef Nena IsmirnoglouAcclaimed chef Nena Ismyrnoglou (pictured), who spent several years at the famous Estiatorio Milos in New York City before returning to her homeland, is the power behind the stove. A committed connoisseur of Greek cuisine – but also one of the country’s most highly-regarded chefs – she infuses traditionally loved recipes with her own unique innovative flair.

The Assorted Spreads – which includes smoked white cod roe spread, feat cheese spread with spicy peppers, tzatziki, and hummus – makes an excellent starter… But even better is the Traditional Greek Salad, a combo of cherry tomatoes, feta cheese, onion, cucumber, olives, peppers, capers, and basil. And the accompanying vinaigrette is a true classic… Olive oil, red wine vinegar, splash of lemon juice, shot of Dijon mustard, minced garlic cloves, dried oregano, and pinch of salt & pepper all conspire together in this irresistibly flavorful tour de force.

Entrées include Giouvetsi Lamb, Grilled Sea Bream Filet, and an absolutely fabulous Salmon Burger.

A completely satisfying dining experience; and a fitting culmination to our brief – but thoroughly rewarding – stay in Athens. The atmosphere was casual, the prices moderate, the service first-rate, the food extraordinary, and the dining alfresco.


FATTOUSH MEDITERRANEAN CUISINE (June), 182 Lancaster Avenue, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (484) 568-4465, Fattoush is one of those little gems that seems to operate under the radar. The utilitarian surroundings belie the fresh, vibrant, made-from-scratch Mediterranean (Lebanese) cuisine that continues to surprise and delight. Add downright moderate prices and the fact that you may BYOB… and you have a recipe for a marvelously enjoyable evening at table.

Fattoush - MezzaTo start things off, nothing quite measures up to the incomparable Lebanese Mezza (pictured), a shared platter comprised of a host of traditional appetizers. Of particular note among the special entrées are the Shawarma, cuts of spiced & marinated lamb, chicken, turkey, beef & veal sliced wafer-thin from a vertical rotisserie. Generally, only two desserts are offered – traditional Homemade Baklava and a decadent Bread Pudding – and both are well worth the extra calories.


FIX BURGER BAR (October), 108 Grove Street, Worcester, Massachusetts, (774) 823-3327, Housed in an old warehouse building, the Fix Burger Bar provides a modern setting for custom burgers companioned by craft beers, innovative cocktails, and a slew of spiked milkshakes.

We found the appetizers here quite intriguing: The Mac & Cheese with parmesan, cheddar & truffle breadcrumbs is a house favorite… ditto the Spicy & Sweet Snaps, roasted sugar snap peas with a spicy soy glaze, crushed cashews, and red pepper flakes. Our starter of choice, however, was the Fried Pickles, crispy crinkle cuts with a dynamite horseradish dipping sauce.  Just a hint of dill through the light breading with the sauce adding a nice bit of heat. A fabulous starter.

Fix Burger Bar - The Gatsby BurgerThe burgers here are nothing short of spectacular. Without doubt, the best I have tasted anywhere. They range from the Bigger Mac – an obvious takeoff on McDonald’s – through the Mushroom, Bacon Blue, Phenomenal, which includes a fried egg along with a load of other accompaniments, and culminates with the Gatsby (pictured), ½ lb. American Wagyu patty, Clothbound cheddar, slab bacon, grilled onion, ancho ketchup, brioche roll, the most expensive burger on the menu.


GB ROOF GARDEN RESTAURANT & BAR (March), Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens, Greece, +30-21-0333-0000, Athens - Hotel Grand Bretagne, Viw from Rooftop RestaurantNo visit to Athens would be complete without a romantic evening at the GB Roof Garden Restaurant & Bar. Located on the 8th floor of the Hotel Grande Bretagne, this enchanting space offers unparalleled views of the City of Athens and the Acropolis with the Parthenon – a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena – majestically perched upon it.

Under the watchful eye of Michelin-starred Executive Chef Asterios Koustoudis and Chef de Cuisine Nikos Mavrokostas, the Roof Garden’s kitchen has been the recipient of Athinorama magazine’s Toques d’Or (Golden Chef’s Hat) award for three consecutive years.

Chef Koustoudis’ philosophy is deceptively straightforward. His New Mediterranean cuisine gives a subtle modern twist to premium quality fresh ingredients to allow their exquisitely clean attributes to shine through. Typical of this approach is his Grilled Fish of the Day, our selected entrée of the evening. Moist, meaty, and grilled to perfection, served on a pillow of steamed vegetables, and garnished with nothing but a touch of extra virgin olive oil and splash of lemon, the presentation was utterly sublime in its simplicity. Sweet endings, courtesy of famed award-winning Parisian Chef Pâtissier Arnaud Larher, continue the kitchen’s extraordinary work.


MAT BAR (November), Hverfisgata 26, 101 Reykjavik, Iceland, (354) 788-3900 Mat Bar - InteriorReplete with spiffy retro black-and-white tile floors and diminutive cozy bar, this little bohemian pub is every local’s favorite eatery, serving up one of Reykjavik’s most creative menus… And that menu changes seasonally – seemingly in the blink of an eye – with favorite tapas-style dishes reappearing in new forms, depending upon the mood of the kitchen and dictates of the weather.

Mat Bar - Eggplant TempuraSmall plates included: Cod Crudo adorned with diced apples, crumbled rye bread, and garden cress and splashed a light vinaigrette; Broccoli rubbed in chili oil before cooking and seasoned with a subtle hint of sweetness, salted lemon, and mint; and Celeriac Cannelloni stuffed with cheese and topped with diced potatoes and green tomatoes. The one shared large plate – the high point of the evening – was the spectacular Eggplant Tempura splashed with puttanesca sauce and a sprinkling of fresh basil (pictured).

“Herein lies Mat Bar’s appeal,” notes the Reykjavik Grapevine. “Every dish is remarkable, in one way or another, with bold choices in presentation, flavor combinations, and unusual twists on well-known recipes.”

If you’re contemplating a trip to Iceland, be sure to pay a call at Mat Bar in Reykjavik. I can assure you that you will not be disappointed.


VOLVÉR (February), 300 South Broad Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 670-2302, Volver - InteriorVolvér, which was closed for an extended period due to Covid, has now reopened. So, should you be contemplating a visit to the Kimmel Center and seeking a suitable pre-event dining venue, this fine restaurant should once again, be at the very top of your list of possibilities.

It’s location alone – smack dab in the center itself – will save you an unbelievable amount of hassle… But there’s certainly more to dining here than just convenience. The à la carte menu is just right for some spirited mix ‘n match grazing; and the three-course pre-theater menu also has a good deal to recommend it.

For a second season, Latin American chef/owner Jose Garces is hosting emerging, minority chefs from around the Philadelphia region for six-week residencies. Therefore, the bill-of-fare is really two menus in one. Half devoted to Chef Garces’ signature dishes; the other half to those prepared by the visiting chef in residence.

Just one caveat… The service here, which was never the greatest, seems to have gotten even worse recently. Be prepared.


WINTER GARDEN CITY LOUNGE (March), Hotel Grande Bretagne, Athens, Greece, +30-21-0333-0000, GB Athens - Winter Garden LoungeLocated just around the corner from the hotel’s reception area, the Winter Garden City Lounge is an exquisite, beautifully appointed refuge where guests may partake of European breakfast, or a light lunch or dinner, accompanied by the soothing notes of live classical piano. The restaurant also serves afternoon tea, exclusively curated by its pastry & executive chefs, offering tea connoisseurs the finest selection of sweet and savory delicacies.

Our late lunch/early dinner began with an authentic (no lettuce) Greek salad embellished with copious squares of creamy feta cheese finished with a tangy oil & vinegar dressing. This was followed by delicious entrées of Sea Bream and Grilled Chicken, respectively. Both were excellent (and served on beautiful china), as was the personable but unobtrusive service.

Also deserving of a visit is the adjoining Alexander’s Bar, which was recently voted the “Best Hotel Bar in the World” by Forbes magazine. Definitely a great spot to linger over a splash of Ouzo, classic cocktail, or glass of traditional Greek wine.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well