Valley Forge Trattoria & Lounge

1130 Valley Forge Road

Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

(610) 935-7579

If you just happen to be driving by, Valley Forge Trattoria & Lounge (formerly Valley Forge Pizza) looks pretty much like any other run-of-the-mill strip mall eatery. But, trust me, the attractive dining rooms and comfy bar area completely belie the restaurant’s utilitarian exterior… And the first-rate Italian cuisine continues to surprise and delight.

VF Pizza - Outdoor DiningHowever, if you’re a bit nervous about dining indoors – as I am – with Covid-19 still among us, I would strongly suggest that you make a reservation on the restaurant’s charming outdoor patio (pictured).  It’s cool, cozy, comfortable, and also covered, just in case Mother Nature decides to send a sudden shower your way – which she did during one of our recent visits.

VF Pizza - Garlic KnotsThe large menu runs the gamut… from a host of salads… to pizzas, strombolis and calzones… to classic pastas… to chicken, veal, beef, and seafood entrees… to a variety of sandwiches, croissants, wraps, grinders, and hoagies. Whatever your preferences on a given day, you will find the portion sizes quite generous. And you might also consider saving a bit of cash by skipping the appetizers, as a house salad and the restaurant’s irresistible Garlic Knots (pictured) are included with most entrées.

VF Pizza - Chicken ParmYou would think that with such an extensive menu, one might have a bit of trouble zeroing in on an entrée… Not so my permanent dining partner, who is something of a semi-regular, often meeting her girlfriend here for dinner. Never a doubt. She is totally addicted to the kitchen’s Chicken Parmesan, which she ordered on both of our two recent visits. And, as you can tell from the photograph, the portion size borders on gargantuan… But quality is quite evident as well. The breading is light and crisp, the chicken moist & tender, and the sauce just sweet enough backed by a solid acidity.

VF Pizza - Side of Veg w Chic ParmThe dish is normally served with a pasta of choice; but she prefers a vegetable side, which changes on a regular basis. Most recently, it consisted of an appetizing combo of broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, and red onion. Obviously freshly sautéed, all constituents were at the very peak of good health.

My own entrée choices were a bit more diverse. Veal, for example, is always a good indication of an Italian kitchen’s capabilities (or lack thereof), and usually my first selection at a restaurant I have not previously visited. So, the Veal Saltimbocca seemed like a good place to begin. This dish, both quick and elegant, is a mainstay in Roman trattorias and is comprised of basically three ingredients: veal cutlets, prosciutto, and fresh sage (and, as pictured, often with a topping of melted mozzarella cheese).

VF Pizza - Veal SaltimboccaAnd the rendition served up here is one of the most satisfying I have sampled anywhere. The veal was perfectly sautéed, firm to the bite yet tender, and all the other elements combined in a delightfully sensual gastronomic gestalt. And the simple sauce, made by deglazing the pan with a touch of marsala, added a slightly salty, sumptuous air to the proceedings. Kudos to the kitchen.

VF Pizza - Eggplant ParmOn my second visit, I opted for the Eggplant Parmesan. Once again, this is a relatively simple dish… but – as I have mentioned in several other reviews – one that is easily mucked up. Eggplant is a decidedly tricky item to deal with. It is very easily either under or overcooked. If the former, it can be hard as nails and lacking in flavor; if the latter, a mushy mess. And if slightly over-the-hill, the seeds become an all too prominent part of the equation.

Fortunately, Valley Forge’s kitchen does everything just right. The lengthwise slices are appetizingly thin, the crisp golden-brown exterior yielding to a deliciously creamy core. A topping of melted cheese and pillow of your pasta of choice (in this case, capellini) bathed in a first-rate marinara complete the package.

VF Pizza - Gourmet Turtle CheesecakeDessert offerings, although not made in-house, are still quite good and certainly worth saving room for. Of course, you have traditional items like Cannoli and Tiramisu… but the Italian Lemon Cream Cake, light and airy on the palate, makes a fabulous finish. Even better, though, especially if you’re looking for something with a bit more substance, is the Gourmet Turtle Cheesecake (pictured). The delightfully smooth and creamy New York-style cheesecake rests on a thick layer of fudge, is topped with caramel cream, and then sprinkled with a tiara of chopped pecans. Not-to-be-missed!

The restaurant has a serviceable selection of wines by the glass; and, as my dining partner can clearly attest, the bartender makes a damn good Cosmo as well.

Bon Appétit!

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MaconnaisLocated in the southern portion of France’s Burgundy wine region, Mâconnais is a large grape-growing area that takes its name from the village of Mâcon. It is positioned between Beaujolais to the south and the Côte Chalonnaise to the north.

White wines, which are made from the Chardonnay grape, comprise up to two-thirds of the area’s production. Red and Rosé wines are made primarily from Gamay and Pinot Noir. With the exception of Chards like Pouilly-Fuissé, Saint-Véran and Viré-Clessé, quality is clearly not this region’s main focus, as the great majority of vintages produced here are rather inexpensive unoaked drink-now village level wines.

Bourgogne Select Macon-Villages 2018That being said, however, every so often a vin ordinaire comes along that is a treat to both palate and pocketbook and is well worth seeking out… Such is the 2018 Bourgogne Select Mâcon-Villages. In many ways, this is a typical Village wine – lightly floral with a nice splash of citrus fruit and refreshing minerality. But the 2018 Bourgogne Select also exhibits a distinctly nutty character – faintly reminiscent of almonds, or hazelnuts perhaps, with a particularly attractive smooth and creamy mouthfeel.

 As the summer heats up, this is precisely the kind of eminently quaffable easygoing wine that goes perfectly with a variety of warm weather offerings; or it may also be served up as a thoroughly enjoyable aperitif. Whatever your libationary needs may be, you can’t go wrong with this versatile little beauty.

And, as I mentioned above, this wine is also easy on the pocketbook. Currently it is available through Pennsylvania State Stores at a mind-boggling $12.99 per bottle (also available from a number of sources online for the same price; but don’t forget you must also pay for shipping). A very good wine at a fabulous price point.

 On the other hand, if you’re in the mood to take a step up, I would highly recommend a Chardonnay from the district of Viré-Clessé, a relatively new growing area located in the southern-most point of Mâconnais. The wines from this region are very similar in style to a Premier Cru, yet at a fraction of the price. In addition, they are also often mistaken for high-quality New World Chardonnays, as they tend to be plump, ripe, and voluptuous.

Bonhomme, PascalRecently, I sampled a very nice 2018 Pascal Bonhomme Viré-Clessé Vieilles Vignes. This wine is 100% Chardonnay produced from 60-65-year-old vines grown on clay-limestone soils. Pascal Bonhomme belongs to a younger generation of winemakers. Together with his wife, Nathalie, he manages the entire manufacturing process from the management of the vines and the harvest, which is done by hand, to the wine making and sales.

The 2018 is a certainly a first-rate effort. It’s very clean on the nose, exhibiting aromas of lemon & honey backed by saline. The palate nicely balances a bright acidity with subtle hints of oak and touches of pineapple & honey. The finish is long and dry.

This wine is readily available through Pennsylvania state stores at a very reasonable $22.95 per bottle. I’ve also seen it online for as low as $19.99 (plus shipping) from the Wine Library in Springfield, New Jersey.


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Creed’s Seafood & Steaks

499 North Gulph Road

King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

(610) 265-2550

Having been gastronomically deprived since March, I was more than a little anxious to sample restaurant cuisine in a setting more appealing than opening a paper bag. So, having received a green light from Pennsylvania’s powers-that-be, my permanent dining partner and I decided to celebrate her birthday at Creed’s Seafood and Steaks… And even though it would have been possible to dine indoors, we still opted for al fresco (more on that later).

Just keep in mind that, when entering and exiting a restaurant, whether dining inside or out, patrons are required to wear a mask. Once seated at table, masks may be removed to eat and drink. However, when moving around inside the restaurant (to visit the restroom, for example), masks must be put on once again. Hopefully, this ritual will not last two years, as the title of this article seems to suggest; however, from what I’ve observed and read recently, I think it extremely likely that masks will remain part of our restaurant attire for some time to come. ☹ But on to more pleasant pursuits…

Creed's Outdoor TentCreed’s, as you will note from the photograph, set up a large tent adjacent to their entrance with tables properly spaced to ensure social distancing. The hum of traffic on nearby Route 422 notwithstanding, the setting was absolutely perfect for our romantic celebratory evening at table… And the kitchen, as usual, was at the very top of its game, sending out an enticing array of comestibles that were as pleasing to the eye as they were to the palate.

The menu is gently tweaked on a seasonal basis supplemented by nightly specials. The list of appetizers, for instance, currently features two soups (Lobster Bisque with snipped chives and Wild Mushroom Soup with truffle croutons & fines herbes) and two salads (Traditional Caesar and Classic Iceberg Wedge), as well as several old favorites like Filet Mignon Tartare and Colossal Shrimp Cocktail… My dining partner and I, however, decided on two more recently offered starters.

Creed's - CalamariShe chose one of her favorite dishes, Flash Fried Calamari, which was accompanied by a serrano crema. The serrano pepper is a type of chili pepper that originated in the mountainous regions of the Mexican states of Puebla and Hidalgo. And serrano peppers are hot, quite literally. With a ranking of 5,000 to 15,000 Scoville units on the chili heat scale, serranos are up to five times hotter than their cousin, the jalapeño… No worries, however, as the crema – a Mexican dairy product prepared with heavy cream and buttermilk that is similar in taste and texture to crème fraiche – is totally beguiling. There’s just enough subtle afterburn to tantalize the palate without causing irreparable damage to your delicate nether regions.

The quality of the dipping sauce notwithstanding, the key to calamari is how it is prepared. Calamari’s rubbery reputation is certainly not undeserved; when overcooked it is about as appetizing as chewing on rubber bands. The key is to cook it quickly over high heat or slowly over low heat. In Creed’s kitchen, the former holds court. It is flash fried, a high-heat deep frying technique at an oil temperature of at least 400 degrees… The result is a soft supple texture – combined with that fabulous crema – that kept us coming back for more.

Creed's - BurrataMy Burrata was equally up to the mark. Burrata is an Italian cow milk cheese made from mozzarella and cream. The outer shell is solid mozzarella, while the interior contains stracciatella, mozzarella strings that are obtained by shredding a mozzarella orb. These are then mixed with cream, yielding a unique soft and creamy cheese with incredible flavor.

Burrata, of course, may be served with a variety of accompaniments. In this case, it is placed on a bed of heirloom tomatoes presented carpaccio, in wafer-thin slices, splashed with extra virgin olive oil and a bracing sweet-tart balsamic reduction. In combination with the creamy burrata, the interplay of colors, tastes, and textures is truly a sensual delight.

When it comes to entrées, in typical steakhouse fashion, Creed’s serves up a variety of steaks & chops that may be mixed and matched with a number of à la carte sauces and sides. There is also a very nice list of “Chef’s Specialities,” which, for my money, is where the action is. A personal favorite here – which I first sampled as a New Year’s Eve special and was obviously so popular it made its way onto the regular menu – is the Pan Seared Surf and Turf, a delightful combo of sliced filet mignon and three grilled shrimp accompanied by roasted Yukon Gold potatoes, asparagus, and a dynamite Chianti demi-glace.

… And while I do enjoy an excellent filet mignon upon occasion – and the Surf & Turf was quite tempting – since this was a particularly warm summer’s evening, matters piscatorial seemed infinitely more apropos. I opted for the Pan Seared Tilefish, a nightly special; my dining partner for the Blackened Barramundi & Sea Scallops.

Creed's TilefishTilefish is sometimes called “Rainbow Tilefish” because of its beautiful blue, green, rose, and yellow coloration. It yields thick pinkish-white fillets that cook up pure white with a firm, flaky texture. The flavor is mild but distinctive, faintly reminiscent of lobster or crab, which is not surprising, as its diet is largely crustaceans.

Because of its firm texture, tilefish offers chefs numerous options with regard to its preparation. Here it was beautifully pan seared, which sealed in the juices, keeping the filet moist and flavorful. It then arrived at table pillowed on a seabed of baby zucchini squash and squiggle of nicely seasoned white bean purée. The presentation was sublime in its simplicity.

Creed's - Blackened Barramundi & Sea ScallopsMy dining partner’s Blacked Barramundi and Sea Scallops was a bit more complex but just as delicious. A member of the sea bass family, barramundi is native to Australia’s northern tropical waters and parts of Southeast Asia. A relative newcomer to the U.S. seafood market, it has appeared on menus seemingly at the speed of light. Because of its firm moist texture and sweet, buttery flavor, somewhat akin to halibut and grouper, it has quickly become the darling of seafood lovers and confirmed carnivores alike. Even people who don’t like seafood like barramundi.

As mentioned above, there’s a lot going on here, but all the elements work together in perfect harmony. The barramundi is moist and flaky, the scallops delightfully meaty. They are then placed on a seabed of haricots verts and wild rice pilaf. The pièce de résistance, however, is courtesy of an incomparably flavorful cioppino-tomato coulis that also provides a welcome splash of color.

When it comes to dessert, I was always of the opinion that nothing quite measured up to Creed’s Classic Cheesecake with its revolving toppings. Recently added to the menu, however, is an extraordinary Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Mousse garnished with house-made whipped cream and touch of mint. If you’re a peanut butter/chocolate fan – as I am – you will find this sweet ending positively irresistible.

As I mentioned at the outset of this review, at the time of our visit, restaurant dining rooms had just reopened and it would have been possible for us to dine inside. However, even though the evening was quite warm, we chose to remain outside rather than dine in the restaurant proper… Quite frankly, everything that we had read or heard recently gave us serious doubts about dining inside. The chances of contracting the virus seemed far greater, even with the social distancing of tables… And an article by the Texas Medical Association sealed the deal.

Dining during the VirusTheir panel of physicians rated the risk of contracting the virus while engaged in certain activities on a scale from 1 – 10 (1 being the lowest risk; 10 the highest). For example, the risk of opening the mail was rated at 1, the lowest risk possible, while going to a bar was rated at 9 an extremely high risk. Eating in a restaurant outside was rated at 4 (moderately low risk); whereas dining inside a restaurant was rated at 7 (moderately high risk). The same as traveling by plane, by the way.

Perhaps we are being overly cautious… but given what we consider the significant amount of risk involved, my dining partner and I have decided to avoid indoor dining, at least for the time being. Hopefully, by the time the cold weather prohibits al fresco dining, the situation will have changed for the better…But, once again, it’s your call.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe



The Battle of Brunch

by artfuldiner on June 18, 2020

in Breaking News, Opinion, Wining and Dining

Brunch 1According to the Oxford English Dictionary and Punch magazine, the origins of the word “Brunch” – a portmanteau of breakfast and lunch – may be traced to an 1895 article entitled “Brunch: A Plea” by Guy Beringer in the British magazine Hunter’s Weekly.

Instead of indulging in a typically English Sunday post church dinner, Mr. Beringer suggested a new meal, perhaps served around 12:00 noon, that would begin with tea or coffee and other breakfast staples before moving on to heavier fare. In addition, by eliminating the need to get up early on Sunday, brunch made life infinitely more pleasant for Saturday night revelers. “Brunch,” he noted, “is cheerful, sociable and inciting. It is talk-compelling. It puts you in a good temper, it makes you satisfied with yourself and your fellow beings, it sweeps away the worries and cobwebs of the week.”

While brunch is clearly a British invention, the concept really came to fruition after crossing the pond… first in New Orleans, where it was transformed into a luxurious, elegant meal, and then gaining a popular foothold at the Waldorf Astoria, Delmonico’s, and other fine New York City restaurants.

Originally conceived as an elaborate drawn-out affair for the wealthy, brunch soon became part of mainstream dining. By 1939, the New York Times was pontificating that Sunday had become a two-meal day. By the 1960s, brunch’s popularity was giving rise to specific cookbooks, and by the 1990s, brunching had become an integral part of Saturday dining as well.

According to an article in the Washington Post, “Data from Google Trends show that search interest in brunch has been rising steadily since 2004.” This steady rise also includes noticeable spikes in searches during the spring of each year, which happen to correspond to Easter and Mother’s Day, two Sunday celebrations that appear to be synonymous with brunch for many Americans.

There are a number of reasons why brunch has become so popular. For starters, the family breakfast just isn’t what it used to be. Fewer adults are eating breakfast; and younger generations – specifically millennials – are the likeliest to skip the morning meal… But there still remains a healthy desire for many breakfast foods, which is usually fulfilled via Sunday (or Saturday) brunch, when schedules aren’t quite so demanding.

Demographics also plays a part… The popularity of brunch is certainly being perpetuated by a shift in the places where people live. More and more Americans are residing in urban areas, where there are numerous restaurant choices and, therefore, brunch is more likely to be offered.

In addition, brunch is the one time during the week when you may enjoy a cocktail in the morning or the middle of the day without fear of tarnishing your heretofore unblemished reputation. Not only did brunch popularize – and legitimatize – occasional daytime imbibing, but it was also instrumental in introducing several new cocktails to the American public, including the Bloody Mary and Mimosa.

And while brunch is most popular among millennials – who tend to have a good deal of disposable time and income – it remains, however, a multi-generational meal. As writer Sabrina Plejdrup put it: “It’s something that the old generation can share with the young generation. There is no fancy technology that has to be used to enjoy an omelette. Food is timeless and is something that we all have in common; we all have to eat.”

Finally, with regard to its popularity, brunch is infinitely more than just another passing gastronomic fad. In a very real sense, the meal is a type of bonding ritual. “Restaurant brunches are more than just destinations,” writes Maura Judkis of the Washington Post, “they’re communal experiences.” With busy schedules, sometimes weekend mornings may well be the only times that groups of friends can get together… and brunch is the perfect catalyst that brings them together.

Brunch 2With apparently so much going for it, however, one could not help but wonder, as did Sadie Stein in her “Are We Done Hating Brunch?” article in The New Yorker, “How did an innocuous meal of eggs and breadstuffs become the focus of so much controversy?” How, indeed! While brunch has certainly collected its share of naysayers over the years, more recent criticisms have centered around not what brunch actually is, but rather what it supposedly represents.

“Brunch is a ritual that is corroding the soul of America,” wrote Alexander Nazaryan in the New York Daily News; “Brunch is decadence, served with a side of bacon”; “Brunch is national decline, slathered atop French Toast”; “Brunch is America sticking a maple-syrup slathered finger up at the concerns of the real world, concerns waiting right outside the window of the charming French bistro where you have decided to sequester yourself”; “Thousands of New Yorkers are ‘doing brunch,’ instead of doing something more worthwhile.”

Nazaryan’s article was published in 2012… But the eggs Benedict really hit the fan several years later, October 2014, when David Shaftel’s Op-Ed piece, “Brunch Is for Jerks,” appeared in the New York Times. Brunch, it seems to Shaftel, has become the downright nefarious visible symptom of the evils of gentrification that have taken place in his West Village neighborhood. More than that, “(brunch) has become a twice-weekly symbol of our culture’s increasing desire to reject adulthood. It’s about throwing out not only the established schedule but also the social conventions of our parents’ generation. It’s about reveling in the naughtiness of waking up late, having cocktails at breakfast and eggs all day.”

Brunch 4 - Trouble WithIn his book, The Trouble with Brunch – briefly quoted in Shaftel’s above-mentioned article – Shawn Micallef, a Canadian writer and academic, appears far more interested in the supposed battle between the classes than he does in the meal itself. The actual quoted material – “Brunchers treat servers uncharitably and servers, in turn, view them with contempt. Chefs bury the dregs of the week’s dinners under rich sauces, arranging them in curious combinations.” – is supported by no visible documentation whatsoever. Once again, as with a host of other writers, Micallef’s treatment of brunch is symptomatic rather than substantive.

Brendan Francis Newman, co-author of Brunch Is Hell, considers brunch emblematic of the larger problem of arrested development: “In college, you just roll into a dining hall and can get waffles any time of day. And that ethos seems to continue with a lot of young adults,” he writes. “It’s really about the permanent adolescence of the American human, and I’m not sure that’s great for us as a society.”

Brunch has, unfortunately, become the bearer of a veritable truckload of pseudo-emotional baggage, the all-too-convenient gastronomic whipping boy for almost any sociological/psychological ill – either real or imagined – that you would care to dream up. In short, it has become entirely too serious.

But… brunch is definitely not serious. That is precisely the point. “That’s its inherent genius,” notes Tim Teeman, Senior Editor of Daily Beast. “It’s gossip, giggling, silly time, fun… It is hardly a rejection of adulthood, rather a momentary escape from routine. And if it is a rejection of adulthood, the brutal truth is it only lasts two hours tops before the demands of the Big-A – bill paying, work stuff, relationship crises, cleaning your apartment, running errands – reassert themselves.” So, let’s take brunch for what it is and what it was originally meant to be, Teeman concludes: “delicious time, time to be savored that’s off the grid.”

Brunch 3 - Anthony BourdainMy permanent dining partner and I do have brunch occasionally, though certainly not on a weekly (or even monthly) basis. But, every once in a while, at the right place and time, when the stars are properly aligned, it’s a marvelous escape from the ordinary… and just plain delicious fun. That being said, however, I still entertain certain misgivings about it. Misgivings originally prompted by Anthony Bourdain’s less than appetizing revelations in his Kitchen Confidential. Namely that brunch is a dumping ground for the odd bits and scraps leftover from Friday and Saturday evenings… for fish past its prime preserved en vinaigrette… and for hollandaise sauce made from strained table butter that he describes as “a veritable petri-dish of biohazards.”

Then, of course, there’s the monetary matter. While brunch items are inexpensive to turn out, menu prices are inflated. Combine this with an often-obscene number of high-priced alcoholic beverages and that brunch tab can add up to a rather substantial sum. On the other hand, when compared to dinner at an even modestly upscale restaurant, brunch is still a relative bargain.

If you’re a confirmed brunch addict, more power to you. My advice is to forget all the sociological hocus-pocus and simply enjoy. Find a cozy haunt that fits your temperament and pocketbook and settle in for a leisurely Saturday/Sunday repast. Keeping Mr. Bourdain’s admonitions in mind, order with the circumspection of a minnow in a shark tank and all will be well. 😊

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe



Wines of Carpineto

by artfuldiner on June 17, 2020

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Opinion, Wine

Carpineto Winery 2Casa Vinicola Carpineto was established in 1967 by award-winning winemaker Giovanni Sacchet and Antonio Mario Zaccheo in the small historic settlement of Dudda, in the township of Greve in Chianti. The aim of the partnership was to become a high-quality producer of Chianti Classico. This focus on quality in the Classico region was uncommon in the 1960s, as Chianti was more famous for its large-scale production and “fiasco” straw basket-wrapped bottles.

Carpineto has since expanded beyond Chianti to other well-known Tuscan regions. It currently has five estates, two in Chianti Classico and one each in Maremma, Montepulciano, and Montalcino. Over 90 percent of the wine produced is red, 65% of this being “riserva” wines that are aged three or more years before their release date. Sangiovese is easily the most important varietal, dominant in Carpineto’s most prestigious wines, which include Chianti Classico, Brunello di Montalcino, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

The winery also has a range of single-vineyard selections and proprietary blends, including several Super Tuscans. Cabernet Sauvignon plays a significant part in these wines, while Chardonnay is the most represented variety in its limited selection of white wine.

Carpineto Winery - Caterina Sacchet, WinemakerCaterina Sacchet is the eldest daughter of co-founder Giovanni Sacchet. After graduating from high school, she decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. She received a degree in Enology and Viticulture from the University of Florence and then went on to gain more experience in the field by working abroad to achieve an international understanding of winemaking. Today she plays an important role in the family company as head winemaker, following the wine making process from vineyard to table.

 Carpineto is widely regarded as one of the quality leaders of Italian winemaking, exporting the majority of its wine production to over 30 countries worldwide. Their winemaking style is to deliver wines that are full-bodied, complex, and fruity in character, with a round, supple tannin structure and long, persistent, clean finish. Despite their approachability upon release, their red wines are designed for long cellar aging of twenty years or longer.

I have tasted numerous wines from this fine producer over the years and have yet to be disappointed. The Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva is particularly noteworthy. Luckily, I have one bottle of both the 2010 and the 2013 remaining in my cellar, as these years are now difficult – if not impossible – to obtain. The former received 93 points from the Wine Spectator and was awarded #26 on their Top 100 Wines of 2015; the latter was even more highly rated and was placed at #11 in the WS Top 100 of 2018. Fortunately, the 2015, rated 92-points, is still readily available from various sources online.

Carpineto Chianti Classico Riserva 2015Carpineto’s most recently reviewed wine is their excellent 2015 Chianti Classico Riserva, which received 94-points from the Wine Spectator. According to the review, while the aroma is reminiscent of Cabernet Sauvignon enhancing the Sangiovese, it is actually Canaiolo with splashes of Mammolo and Colorino. This wine has excellent body, structure, and balance and is well worth seeking out – especially since it is so readily available through Pennsylvania State Stores. In point of fact, I have purchased several bottles of this wine in Wegmans, which has certainly upgraded their selections of late. The price is more than reasonable at $25.99.

The 2015 Chianti Classico Riserva is also available online at a significantly reduced price – as low as $17.99 from several sources – but bear in mind that you also must pay for shipping.


Be Safe



Restaurants ReopeningI’m sure that most people – this writer included – after weeks of confinement, social distancing, and picking up curbside orders to go, are looking forward to getting back out and having dinner in their favorite restaurant once again.

But for those anticipating the hoopla of restaurant grand reopenings, prepare yourselves for disappointment. When restaurants in our area do begin reopening their dining rooms, patrons will be confronted with servers wearing masks and/or gloves. Diners themselves may also be asked to wear masks, removing them to eat and drink. And how will guests feel about dining out if they must submit to temperature checks at the door?

Sound appetizing…? Not particularly. As Kim Severson of the New York Times put it: “Is the urge to sit in a restaurant so great that customers will endure an experience that is more like a trip to the dental hygienist? Will they risk infection, even in a place with the safest protocols?”

Restaurant Reopening 2Meanwhile, restaurant owners have their own problems to contend with… Like keeping patrons spaced at least six-feet apart, using disposable menus, stocking single-serve condiments, sanitizing and re-sanitizing after customers depart, and trying to figure out how to maintain social distancing for employees in the tight confines of commercial kitchens.

Then there’s the not insignificant matter of finances… State governors are currently mandating that reopening restaurant dining rooms may only operate at 50% of capacity… some as low as 25%. Needless to say, opening doors with that limited capacity will probably not allow most restaurants to remain in business for very long, unless they can supplement their razor-thin profit margins with a second source of revenue – namely, alcohol. Which means, unfortunately, that many of the 300 independently-owned BYOB restaurants scattered around the Philadelphia area could very well be facing extinction.

On the other hand, even if establishments find it economically feasible to reopen – and remain so – there is certainly no guarantee that members of the general public will feel safe enough to show up in sufficient numbers to sustain restaurant recovery.  As of the end of April, according to a survey by SAP’s Qualtrics, the employee management software company, 68% of Americans said they would feel uncomfortable eating at a restaurant. These misgivings may change in the coming months, of course. However, at the present moment, I must confess that I’m not terribly keen on the idea myself.

Restaurant Image, GeneralBut according to Erik Gordon, a professor at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, “Building up the courage to return to restaurants may be one of the most essential elements to returning to normal… Restaurants can serve as a confidence bellwether for Americans who are dipping their toes back into normal society.”

True enough. And “Reopening is the way forward, there can be no doubt,” writes Chris Westfall in a recent article in Forbes. “Here’s hoping that we do so safely and in a way that protects small business owners, workers and the folks who just want to grab a little dinner. In reaching for prosperity, pub owners could get crushed in the process. Because, right now, restaurants have more than bad Yelp reviews to consider. A lot more.”

Bon Appétit?????



Azaya 2017 ImageFinca Azaya is an estate bottled wine made from 100% Tempranillo grapes grown in the low-yield vineyards of Spain’s Bodegas Valduero, a family winery founded in 1984 by Gregorio Garcia Álvarez. It is the result of an environmentally friendly, handcrafted method of production, which avoids the use of chemicals and irrigation. The 2017 Azaya has spent 14 months in American & European oak, plus an additional 12 months aging in the bottle.

In the glass, the result is a wine that’s ruby red in color with captivatingly complex aromas of ripe fruit. It’s easy on the palate; rich, yet softly textured. There’s plenty of power here, but it’s kept in check with a beautiful balance of intrinsic fruit and profusion of fine tannins.

You would expect a wine of this caliber to receive high marks from the critics… From one source, however, the praise was entirely too effusive. At the 2019 Decanter magazine’s World Wine Awards, the 2017 Valduero Finca Azaya not only received 97 points (100-point scale) but was also declared one of the “Best in Show,” a distinction only awarded to 50 of the 16,500 wines tasted during the prestigious event.

With all due respect to the 280 distinguished judges from 30 different countries – including Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers – and recognizing that wine preferences are extremely subjective, as I mentioned at the outset, the 2017 Azaya is an excellent, highly enjoyable wine… but it is not, in my opinion, a 97 pointer.

When you move into the 95 – 100-point range, you’ve entered the sanctum sanctorum; your breathing (or you should be) the rarefied air of truly outstanding, classic wines… The 2017 Azaya is not a classic wine, by any stretch of the imagination. It is, however, an exceedingly comfortable wine; a wine I’d be happy to curl up with as my “go to” libation on a daily basis; a wine that complements and holds its own with a wide variety of foods. By the way, if you happen to check online, with the exception of Decanter, the wine in question is rated in the 89 – 91-point range. And that seems to me to be right on target.

Suckling, James, Wine CriticThis episode with Decanter strikes me as yet another example of the recent tendency on the part of writers and critics to seriously overrate wines. And there is no doubt that the chief perpetuator of this inflation is James Suckling, late of the Wine Spectator, now an independent wine critic. Mr. Suckling has parked himself at the high end of the oenological Richer scale and seems content to remain there. Just last year, for example, he bestowed a whopping 99 points on a particular Italian white wine that was, in my opinion, not even close to that lofty appraisal.

And I’m certainly not the only one who has noticed this unfortunate trend. A couple of years ago, for example, a contributor to Wine Berserkers, the world’s largest & most active online wine community, posed a rather interesting question: “Are you getting irritated by James Suckling’s scores?”  The implication being that they were entirely too high.

The responses were equally intriguing… Several responders simply said they ignored his scores and recommendations completely… Another referred to him as the persona non grata of wine critics… Others noted that, on average, Suckling’s scores were four to six points higher than they would have bestowed. The major bone of contention, however, seemed to be the fact that many retailers use his scores exclusively, even though particular wines have been judged (with lower scores) by a number of other reviewers… And therein lies the real annoyance, as one responder put it. Points sell and the Suckling sells points. His scores get top billing because they are always highest. The higher the point score, the faster the wine sells. “Thus, many retailers use (Suckling) for their daily email blasts.”

I, personally, have learned from bitter experience never to accept the Suckling’s scores at face value. In other words, I would never consider purchasing a wine based upon his rating alone – no matter how high it may be. As a matter of course, I start out by mentally deducting 5-6 points from his score… Then, if a wine looks interesting, other critics have given favorable reviews, and the price is right, I might decide to give it a try. Other than that, forget it. He simply isn’t reliable.

Wine Library, Springfield, NJBut I digress… Back to the subject at hand. The 2017 Valduero Finca Azaya may be overrated at 97 points; it is, however, fortunately for us, still a very good wine, a very comfortable wine… and, in this surrealistic time of “social distancing,” a very comforting wine. It’s also young, exciting, lively, and downright sensual. If you’re a red wine lover, this is a vintage that’s easy to cozy up to, a wine that’s perfect for everyday quaffing or that special occasion – especially at such a reasonable price point. Order the 2017 Azaya, as I did, from the Wine Library in Springfield, New Jersey,, and it will only cost you $19.99 per bottle (plus shipping).  I guarantee you will not be disappointed.


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Firebirds Collegeville 2Firebirds Wood Fired Grill, 51 Town Center Drive, Collegeville, Pennsylvania, will be offering a special Memorial Day weekend “Grillin’ Feast” featuring their in-house butchered and smoked meats.

Each grilling package will include the following: Smoked Chicken Wings (6), Full Rack of Baby Back Ribs, Large BLT Salad, Cider Slaw, Potato Salad, Fresh Watermelon, and Fresh Baked Cookies (8)

 Burger Feast (Serves 3-4), Half Pound Burgers (2), $39.95… Beef Filet Kabob Feast (Serves 3-4), Hawaiian Beef Filet Kabobs (2), $59.95… Ribeye Feast (Serves 3-4), 14oz. Ribeye Steaks (2), $69.95… Filet Mignon Feast (Serves 3-4), 9oz. Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon (2), $79.95… Salmon Feast (Serves 3-4), 8oz. Salmon Fillets (2), $49.95.

You must pre-order by Wednesday, May 20th, and pick up on May 22 – 25, between 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 noon. Orders may be made by calling (484) 902-1850 or online at

Bon Appétit!

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Stage Left - Hirsch Zoom Wine DinnerOn Friday, May 29, 2020, 7:30 p.m., Stage Left Steak in New Brunswick, New Jersey, will host a special zoom wine dinner featuring the iconic wines of Sonoma County’s Hirsch Vineyards. Special guest of the evening will be Jasmine Hirsch, winemaker and general manager.

Hirsch Vineyards Zoom Wine Dinner Menu…

First Course: Crab Vichyssoise with Saffron Aioli & Crab Cakelet Garnish; Wine Pairing: Hirsch Vineyard Chardonnay 2018

Second Course: Jamon Iberico de Bellota with Pecans, Parmigiano & Dried Cherries; Wine Pairing: Hirsch Vineyard Pinot Noir “The Bohan-Dillon” 2017

Third Course: Cassoulet with Confit Duck Leg; Wine Pairing: Hirsch Vineyard “San Andreas Fault” 2017

Dessert: Chocolate Chip Cookie with Cinnamon Ice Cream Sandwich

Wine three-pack: $189.00 (serves up to four people); Dinner $69.00 per person

For more information, or to make reservations, please call (732) 828-4444 ext. 213 or email

Stage Left will deliver or participants can pick up the food and wine the day of the dinner. Simple heating instructions come with the dinner.

Participants then meet at the computer at 7:30 p.m.

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333 Belrose Mother's Day BreakfastSurprise Mom with breakfast on Mother’s Day… 333 Belrose Bar & Grill, 333 Belrose Lane, Radnor, Pennsylvania, will be offering a delicious Mother’s Day special breakfast to go.

Please check out the complete Mother’s Day menu,, and call (610) 293-1000 or email to place your order. Orders may be picked up Saturday, May 9, 2020, 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. Just heat up Sunday morning and serve to Mom!

 Bon Appétit!

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