Pluckemin Inn - San GennaroOn Friday, September 16, and Saturday, September 17, 2016, the Pluckemin Inn, Bedminster, New Jersey, will “go Italian” with menus created by Executive Chef Andrew Lattanzio. The menus will also be served with a selection of Italian wines that will be available at retail prices at the restaurant.

ANTIPASTI (Choice of) – Capocollo: Spicy Cured Pork, Chicory, Olives, Pickles… Frittatine di Maccheroni: Linguine Fritters, Clams, Garlic, Parsley Pesto… Zuppa Fredda di Melone: Chilled Lemon Soup, Prosciutto, Basil, Mint… Fioridi Zucca Fritti: Fried Squash Flowers, Ricotta, Mozzarella, Anchovy, Olive… Insalata Caprese: Heirloom Tomato Salad, Basil, Mozzarella di Bufala

PRIMI (Choice of) – Bucatini all’Amatriciana: Plum Tomato, Guanciale, Parsley, Onion, Pecorino… Sqaguetti con Cozze: Mussels, White Wine, Garlic, Chiles, Lemon, Parsley… Pasticcio di Maccheroni: Baked Pasta, Ricotta, Mozzarella, Basil, Tomato Sauce… Ricotta Gnocchi: Broccoli Rabe, Sausage, Chiles, Pecorino Romano… Ravioli di Melanzane: Eggplant, Cherry Tomato, Parigiano Olives, Pine Nuts

SECONDI (Choice of) – Cotolette di Maiale: Pork Chop, Mushrooms, Polenta, Spinach, Marsala Sauce… Zuppa di Pesce: Monkfish, Clams, Mussels, Calamari, Shrimp, Tomato Broth… Pollo allo Scarpariello: Braised Chicken, Sausage, Potatoes, Basil, Peppers… Pesce Spade alla Siciliano: Swordfish, Cherry Tomatoes, Capers, Olives, Pine Nuts… Bistecchina di Manzo: Angus Sirloin Steak, Fried Potatoes, Broccoli Rabe, Lemon, Pecorino

DOLCI (Choice of) – Budino di Cioccolato: Warm Chocolate Pudding, Pistachio, Olive Oil Gelato… Zeppole: Amaretto Cream, Chocolate Sorbetto, Cherries, Almond Florentine… Tiramisu: Espresso Soaked Lady Fingers, Mascarpone Mousse, Espresso Foam… Biscotti: Italian Cookie Sampler

The San Gennaro dinner is priced at $65.00 per person for three courses; $75.00 per person for four courses (plus beverages, tax & gratuity).

For more information, or to make reservations, please call (908) 658-9292.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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RosaLuca’s Italian Bistro

1114 Route 173

Asbury, New Jersey

(908) 238-0018

http://rosalucas.com

Rosalucas - Exterior Although it hardly seems possible, a full decade has passed since I penned my original review of RosaLuca’s. Based upon a recent visit, however, very little seems to have changed…

Rosalucas - Luca's Table … As you ascend the hill on Route 173, the lovingly restored farmhouse still beckons warmly; the interior remains simple but homey, adorned with black and white family photographs and crisp white napery; and the diminutive bar continues to be the perfect spot to sample of the restaurant’s well-made martinis. The only addition to the interior… Luca’s Table (pictured), where guests may enjoy a pleasant preprandial libation or dine with a small group of friends.

In 2006, as I recall, patrons (and a few restaurant reviewers) were in the process of bitching & moaning about an elevation in prices. A scant three years before, as one disgruntled reviewer noted, most entrées were priced under $20.00; but that was certainly not the case at the time of my review. Other than the pasta dishes, the only main course finishing (barely) under the $20.00 mark was a rendition of oven-roasted boneless chicken ($19.95). Entrées ranged from the high twenties to the mid-thirties.

But as I noted at that time, I was not for a moment suggesting that dining here was not worth the expenditure. Food of this caliber is not an inexpensive proposition. Chef/proprietor Carmine Castaldo’s innovative Italian presentations continue to utilize only the freshest possible ingredients – with herbs grown onsite and vegetables produced on a ten-acre plot just down the road – and are lovingly prepared, nicely presented, and amply proportioned.

Looking back at it now, all that brouhaha seems like nothing more than a tempest in the proverbial teapot. In the interim decade, prices have risen – as prices tend to do – but certainly not outlandishly so. Given the quality of the cuisine, the rise in tariffs, indeed, seems quite modest. My only quibble remains the same as it did in my initial review: A number of prices on the wine list seem out of line. I mean, charging $48.00 for Antinori’s “Santa Cristina” Sangiovese, which goes retail for about ten bucks a bottle, strikes me as a bit over-the-top… Draw your own conclusions…

To start things off, many of the familiar apps are still around: extraordinarily tender rings of cornmeal crusted calamari counterpointed by a spicy tomato aioli, for example; pristinely plump Prince Edward Island mussels in a tomato white wine broth; littleneck clams oreganato; and polenta dumplings companioned by sweet Italian sausage, tomato ragù, and crumbled goat cheese.

Rosalucas - Grilled Garden EggplantMy absolute favorite, though, which had just made its debut during my initial visit ten years ago, remains the slices of grilled garden eggplant topped with generous dollops of parmesan soufflé. And while this is an incredibly rich prelude, its luscious consistency is perfectly counterbalanced by a drizzle of earthy, aromatic basil oil.

Rosalucas - Zucchini FlowersAnd, when it is available, another not-to-be-missed starter is the superlative tempura fried zucchini flowers. Their golden brown texture is just right – neither overly crunchy nor soggy; and a light dusting of Pecorino Romano cheese infuses enough flavor to the slightly bland batter to keep your taste buds interested.

Main courses carry on with style. Choices include pan-roasted Scottish salmon with an oven roasted portabella mushroom “stack”; grilled prime hand-cut filet mignon teamed with fresh haricots verts, olive oil whipped potatoes, caramelized red onions, and an exciting red wine jus; and pappardelle Bolognese with Manchego cheese. However, when it is offered, don’t miss the opportunity to sample Mr Castaldo’s fabulous homemade lasagna. It is layered with chunks of sweet Italian sausage, summer squash, and mozzarella. Set in a pool of heady marinara, it is then topped with a decadent four-cheese sauce.

Rosalucas - Pork Braciole & RigatoniSampled during my most recent visit was an incomparable pork braciole. The pork is slow-braised to a succulent fall-off-the-bone consistency and stuffed with pancetta, Romano cheese, and parsley. It is then pillowed on a bed of rigatoni tossed with zesty tomato basil ragù. The ultimate in Italian comfort fare.

Rosalucas - Veal ScallopiniAlso highly recommended is the veal scallopini. The tender scallops are pan seared and topped with thin slices of egg-battered eggplant, prosciutto, and fontina cheese. The natural veal jus is a winner and gives the dish a delicious added dimension. Unfortunately, the accompanying mountain of spinach risotto is a bit on the bland side. One thing is certain, however; if this is your entrée of choice, you certainly won’t leave hungry.

Rosalucas - Cheesecake w Fresh BerriesDesserts, courtesy of Mrs. Castaldo, don’t miss a beat. Possibilities include house-made cannoli, warm strawberry crumble, dark chocolate pot de crème, and a decadent warm white chocolate/almond bread pudding swimming in a rich caramel sauce garnished with vanilla ice cream. Also highly recommended, and most recently sampled, is the super creamy sour cream cheesecake garnished with fresh berries (pictured).

Opened in 1999, RosaLuca’s continues to dish out a warm welcome, excellent service, and generous portions of impeccable prepared Italian cuisine. And, as I noted at the conclusion of my initial review, my one regret is that my schedule prevents me from dining here more often.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Gladstone Tavern Dog DinnerDogs and their well-behaved humans are encouraged to join the Gladstone Tavern’s 10th annual “Bring Your Dog to Dinner” on the restaurant’s outdoor terrace.

On Sunday, August 28, 2016, Gladstone Tavern, 273 Main Street, Gladstone, New Jersey, will once again honor and celebrate “best friends.” It is the restaurant’s “Bring Your Dog to Dinner” benefit – outdoor dining with dogs that benefits St. Hubert’s Animal Welfare Centers.

Gladstone Tavern will be serving their lunch menu at 12:00 noon, 2:00 p.m. & 4:00 p.m., and dinner at 6:00 p.m. Admission is $10.00 donation per dog. Daily specials will feature beef stew for dogs in two sizes, and dog biscuits – with all proceeds going to benefit St. Hubert’s in Madison and North Branch. Funds raised go toward the Centers’ veterinary care, shelter, food and adoption program expenses.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Terre a Terre - ChefOn Monday, September 26, 1016, 7:00 p.m., Todd Villani, former chef-owner of Terre à Terre and Friend Marc Swierkowski of Ella’s Woodburning Oven Restaurant will cook a joint farm-to-table dinner at Manhattan-based James Beard House.

The complete menu and wine pairings are noted below…

Hors d’Oeuvres: Beet Spring Rolls with Lamb Bacon, Crème di Blue Cheese, Walnuts, and Cucumbers… Pickled Corn-Zucchini Pancakes with maple Butter and Smoked Trout Roe… Pork Rillettes Doughnuts with Peach-Fennel Mostarda… Northeast Oysters with Kimchi Mignonette, Borage, and Pears… Served with Carpenè Malvolti Prosecco Di Conegliano NV

First Course: Grilled Octopus with Pumpkin Caponata and Sichuan Peppercorn Aioli; Wine Pairing: A. Christmann Riesling Pfalz 2014

Second Course: Soup and Salad: Mussel Bisque with Black Rye, Smoked Crab, Quinoa, and Cress; Wine Pairing: Raata Family Wines Original Chenin Blanc 2015

Third Course: Manhattan Cocktail-Cured Foie Gras Torchon with Brittle Chocolate-Cherry Bread; Wine Pairing: Beyra Vinhos De Altitude Reserva Red 2013

Fourth Course: Crispy Pork Belly with Celery Root-Sour Apple Barlotto, Lightly Pickled Blue Kraut Purée, and Kecap Manis Sauce; Wine Pairing: Jean Edwards Cellars Stagecoach Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2012

Fifth Course: Slow-Braised Beef Short Rib with Shaved Mushrooms, Kabocha Squash, Burnt Onion-Marrow Butter, and Peppercorn-Crusted Tayberries; Wine Pairing: Montepulciano D’Abruzzo Marina Cvetic Masciarelli Riserva 2011

Dessert Course: Sticky Chocolate Toffee Pudding Cake with Fall Squash Ice Cream and Salted Toffee Sauce; Wine Pairing: Castell Del Remei Gotim Bru 2010

The cost of the “Food & Friendship” dinner is $135.00 per person for James Beard Foundation members; $175.00 per person for non-members. Reservations may be made with the James Beard House, https://www.jamesbeard.org/events/food-and-friendship?category=Dinner, or by calling (212) 627-2308. Friends and fans of the restaurants can access a limited number of discounted tickets by calling Ella’s at (508) 759-3600.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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The Last Wines of Summer

by artfuldiner on August 22, 2016

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Opinion, Wine

Summer will be with us a while longer; officially, until the 22nd of September. So here, for your libationary pleasure, are the “Last Wines of Summer,” a few more vintages perfectly suited for warm weather quaffing and dining…

Chehalem INOX Chard 2014Chehalem INOX Unoaked Chardonnay, 2014 (Oregon): Chehalem – pronounced Chuh-hay-lum – is a local Calapoola Indian word that may be translated as “gentle land” or “valley of flowers.” And these phrases accurately capture Chehalem’s reverence for the land, as the winery is dedicated to reflecting, as purely as possible, the fruit of the vine with minimal processing.

Chehalem traces its history to vineyard operations initiated by Harry Peterson-Hedry in 1980 at Ridgecrest Vineyards. Bill & Cathy Stoller became partners in the winery in 1993 and subsequently began Stoller Vineyards – a densely planted 125 acres on Stoller family farmlands at the southern tip of the Dundee Hills. Corral Creek Vineyards, adjacent to the winery facility is Chehalem’s third estate vineyard. The winery’s first release was its Ridgecrest Pinot Noir in 1990.

Chehalem is well-known for its complex, structured and intensely fruited varietals. Both their Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are rich & full and very much in the style of Alsace; while their Riesling is intense and bone dry.

But the 2014 Chehalem INOX Unoaked Chardonnay – INOX, by the way, takes its name from inoxydable, the abbreviation of the French word for stainless steel – is unique among unoaked Chards. Most are rather harsh and austere upon the palate and exhibit little or no fruit. But, as the Wine Enthusiast notes: “The fruit shines brightly in this all-stainless cuvée. Ripe golden apples are at the core, with hints of peach and papaya. It’s a lovely forward, ready-to-drink style that brings extra concentration and detail that is all too rare in unoaked Chardonnays.” The Enthusiast went on to bestow 91 points and an “Editors’ Choice” designation. I’ve never warmed up to unoaked Chards, but the 2014 Chehalem is certainly the exception. And the price is right. Goes for about $20.00 in Pennsylvania State Stores, but I’ve seen it online for as low as $14.00.

 

Chateau Montelena Chard 20132013 Château Montelena Chardonnay (Napa Valley, California): In 1882, entrepreneur Alfred Loving Tubbs bought 254 acres of land just north of Calistoga at the foot of Mount Saint Helena. He planted vines; and by 1896, Château Montelena was the seventh largest winery in the Napa Valley. With the onset of Prohibition, winemaking ceased at the Château and in the period that followed Tubbs sold grapes but did not make wine. In 1958 the winery was sold to Yort Wing Frank, a Chinese electrical engineer, and his wife, Jeanie, who were looking for a retirement home. In 1968, Lee and Helen Paschich bought the property and partnered with attorney James L. Barrett and property developer Earnest Hahn. Barrett replanted the vineyard, installed winemaking equipment in the historic buildings, and the Chateau began producing wine again in 1972.

Four years later, the 1973 Château Montelena Chardonnay won first place in the white wine section of the historic “Judgment of Paris” wine event. Château Montelena’s Chardonnay was in competition with nine other wines from France and California under a blind tasting. All 11 judges awarded their top scores to either the Chardonnays from Château Montelena or Chalone Winery, another California wine producer. A bottle of Château Montelena’s 1973 Chardonnay now resides in the Smithsonian National Museum of American History… And a fictionalized version of Château Montelena’s historic victory was featured in the 2008 film Bottle Shock.

Several years ago, while dining at the Bernards Inn in Bernardsville, New Jersey, I asked sommelier Terri Baldwin if she would recommend a California Chardonnay that tasted more like a French white Burgundy. Château Montelena was her immediate choice… and I’ve been a fan ever since. Forty years after the historic “Judgment of Paris,” the 2013 Château Montelena Chardonnay remains one of the very best Chardonnays you can buy. It is marvelously focused, intense, and beautifully balanced. Lusciously rich, it beguiles the palate with hints of apple and ever-so-subtle shadings of sweet oak. And, given this wine exceptional quality, it is something of a steal around the $50.00 mark (but I’ve seen it on sale for as low as $35.00 online), which is less than half what you would pay for a comparable white Burgundy. Definitely one for the cellar.

 

DFV Claret 20122012 DFV Donati Family Vineyards Claret (Central Coast, California): The Donati Family came to Paicines (pronounced pie-see-ness) in California’s Central Coast in 1998. Since then, Matt and his father Ron have engaged in planting the family vineyard and planning their state-of-the-art winery. In 2003 the Donatis produced Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage, Claret, Chardonnay, and Pinot Blanc. They aged the bottles until 2005 when they began hand-selling them to great restaurants and boutique wine shops. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Following fermentation, the red wines, such as the 2012 Claret, are aged in a combination of both French and American oak barrels for 12-18 months. During this period, a continuous sensory assessment of each lot gives winemaker Denise Valoff the ability to designate the premium lots for Donati’s higher-end wines. When those lots are selected, the wine is racked, blended and stored in barrels until bottling. The red wines are then bottled “un-fined and unfiltered” to preserve the natural flavors and aromas of the grape varietals.

The 2012 DFV Donati Vamily Vineyards Claret is a blend of all five Bordeaux varieties: 47% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 14% Malbec, 14% Cabernet Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot. There are whiffs of that typical Bordeaux “nose” – black pepper, sweet tar, and cordovan shoe polish – while, on the palate, the flavors are complex and fruit forward. An “Editors’ Choice” from the Wine Enthusiast, as well as a hefty 91 points. No question, this wine is a real crowd pleaser that’s designed to go down easy – and it surely does. And the price goes down easy as well. I’ve seen this little beauty priced as low as $13.50. Do a little browsing online and you can’t go wrong.

Cheers!

TAD

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garces-tradingOn Thursday, August 25, 2016, at 6:00 p.m., Garces Trading Company, 1111 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, will welcome Unis Star Importing for a summer wine dinner.

Guests are invited to enjoy five courses paired with exclusive wines from across the Bordeaux region. Unis Star Importing is a new wine importer & wholesaler based in Easton, Pennsylvania. Together they seek out a selection of artisanal wines from local family-run vineyards in France that would otherwise be unavailable in the United States.

The complete menu and wine pairings are noted below…

First Course – Salade de Tomatoes: Heirloom Tomatoes, Dragon Tongue beans, Tarragon Aioli, Tomato Cherry Consommé; Wine Pairing: Château des Cappes, Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon 2015

Second Course – Foie Gras: Foie Gras Mousse, Maque-Choux, Summer Melon, Brioche; Wine Pairing: Château des Matards, Muscadelle/Sauvignon Blanc 2014

Third Course – Skate Grenobloise: Pan-Roasted Skate, Lemon Butter, Caper, Asparagus; Wine Pairing: Croix de Roche, Merlot/Malbec/Cab Franc NV

Fourth Course – Boeuf et Brocoli: Dry-Aged Rib-Eye, Roasted Broccoli, Whipped Époisses, Onion Jus; Wine Pairing: Front de Merlet, Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2010

Dessert Course – Pots de Crème: Dark Chocolate Mousse, Roasted Cherry, Fruit de Forét, Crème Fraîche; Wine Pairing: Château Haut Lagrange, Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot

Tickets for this special Unis Star wine dinner are $75.00 per person and may be purchased at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/2588666.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Nicholas - Lobster RollsBeginning Tuesday, August 23, and continuing through Sunday, August 28, 2016, Bar N at Restaurant Nicholas, Red Bank, New Jersey, will be featuring a special three-course lobster menu.

First Course: Mug of “Kennebunk” Lobster Bisque; Wine Pairing: 2015 Sancerre, Domaine Dominique Crochet

Second Course: Classic Lobster Rolls; Wine Pairing: Domaine Saint Amant Cotes du Rhone La Borry Viognier 2015

Third Course: Cherry Cheesecake, Graham Cracker Ice Cream, Cherry Balsamic Purée; Wine Pairing: 2015 Moscato d’Asti, Elio Perrone

The cost of the special three-course lobster menu is $45.00 per person; $65.00 per person with wine tasting flight (plus tax & gratuity).

For more information, please call (732) 345-9977.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Gladstone Tavern - Local Corn WeekFrom Thursday, August 18, through Wednesday, August 24, 2016, the Gladstone Tavern, 273 Main Street, Gladstone, New Jersey, will celebrate a bumper crop of delicious Jersey corn grown at Melick’s Town Farm. Fresh corn will be featured in a specially prepared menu in imaginatively tasty dishes.

COBB-TAILS – Corn-Fidential: NE Corn Whisky, Honey Ginger, Lemon, Black Pepper Bitters… Corn-al Knowledge: Corn Milk, Tequila, Illegal Mescal, Lime Agave, Cilantro

Truffled Popcorn Basket: Truffle Butter, Parmesan, Chive

FIRST COURSE – Corn Gazpacho: Tomato, Cucumber, Sour Cream, Crispy Tortilla… Corn & Local Tomato Salad: Bacon, Cucumber, Gorgonzola, Mesclun, Basil Vinaigrette… Crab & Corn Cake: Avocado Salad, Ancho Chili Sauce

SECOND COURSE – Good Corn Bread served with your dinner – Grilled Lobster & Cheddar Corn Grits: Cilantro-Smoked Almond Sauce, Zucchini Ribbons, Maitake Mushroom, Corn Shoots… Cornmeal-Crusted Trout: Roasted Corn Sauce, Cherry tomato, Pesto, Crisp Polenta Cake… Seared Corn-Fed Aged New York Strip Steak: “Onion Soup” Sauce, Corn Pudding, Charred Baby Corn, Creamed Spinach

THIRD COURSE – Corn Blueberry Cake: Sweet Corn Ice ?Cream, Caramel Corn, Blueberry Foam

For more information, or to make reservations, please call (908) 234-9055.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Pizza by Elizabeths

3801 Kennett Pike (Route 52)

Wilmington (Greenville), Delaware

(302) 654-4478

www.pizzabyelizabeths.com

 Tucked away in Greenville Center, just a stone’s throw from Winterthur and the Delaware Museum of Natural History, Pizza by Elizabeths’ location alone makes it a handy stopover after a strenuous afternoon of cultural osmosis. And, yes, this is not a typo; you are reading correctly. It is Pizza by Elizabeths. Proprietors Elizabeth LeRoy and Elizabeth Snyder thought it might be fun to pay homage, not only to their own given names, but also to the famous Elizabeths of the past and present.

Pizza by Elizabeths - Interior 1One glance at the establishment’s website and you’re bound to be impressed – I certainly was. Words like “sophisticated,” “intriguing,” “casual elegance,” “fresh, all-natural,” and “step-above service” are freely bandied about, along with photographs of the restaurant’s tea room-looks-like-it-was-designed-by-Martha Stewart décor lovingly bathed in soft, filtered light. There’s even a short, snappy video, Go Behind the Scenes, courtesy of Delaware Today. Wow! “How did I manage to miss this one?” I kept asking myself.

But looks – and websites – can be deceiving. Things are not always what they appear to be. And, despite a plethora of kudos by the media, Pizza by Elizabeths is a bundle of contradictions – culinary and otherwise. But first, let’s talk about the food…

“Join us for a dining experience that’s unforgettable (italics mine) – just like our favorite Elizabeths.” Or so trumpets the restaurant’s website. Uhhh… Well, not quite. The cuisine here, for lack of a more exciting adjective, is generally “decent.” But it is hardly “unforgettable.” It can, like other aspects of this particular eatery, be somewhat hit or miss. Choosing wisely has its rewards; likewise, choosing poorly definitely has its punishments.

Pizza by Elizabeths - 7 ince pizza at barSo let’s start with the pizza, Elizabeths’ claim to fame. Recently, seated at the bar, my dining companion and I shared a 7-inch pie. And it was certainly acceptable… But we had both sampled better for less at numerous other establishments. No question, given the quality of the pizzas, I definitely consider them (and a number of other menu items) overpriced. And, if you’ll pardon the automotive analogy, should you decide to take the “make your own pizza” route, you’ll also find yourself paying optional extra prices for what should be standard equipment. Three or fewer selections on your pizza and you pay one price; four or more, and the tab goes up. But this is where they’ve got you by the short hairs. The only standard equipment is the crust. Everything else – including sauce and cheese – is considered an extra selection. So if you want a pizza with two toppings – say, pepperoni and onions – you’re already at four selections and will end up paying the higher price… A bit of a con jobus maximus in my book.

Among other menu items, “variable” is the word that immediately comes to mind. You certainly can luck out and be treated to a good meal here… But the kitchen can also be wildly inconsistent; and since the specials menu changes weekly, you’re never quite sure what the cooking minions may be prone to screw up.

Pizza by Elizabeths - Crab CakesWhen it comes to entrée choices, the chicken potpie – although it lacks the characteristic creaminess of this American classic – is quite good; the lasagna – rich, rich, rich and loaded with cheese – is better; but the crab cakes (pictured), in my opinion, constitute the best main course the kitchen has yet to turn out… Although, the chef would do well to deep-six the accompanying spicy soy vinaigrette, which only succeeds in overwhelming the delicate flavor of the crab.

Pizza by Elizabeths - Spinach Salad… But the most highly recommended presentations are undoubtedly the salads. The greenery is fresh and crisp, the accoutrements well chosen, and all may be ordered in either appetizer or entrée portions. A special summer salad was companioned by slices of tomato and fresh mozzarella; the Greek version came replete with field greens, feta cheese, Kalamata olives, sweet onions, and a zippy balsamic vinaigrette. The spinach salad (pictured), however, proved to be the table favorite. The greenery was pristine & nicely trimmed; and accompaniments included red onion, blue cheese, crumbled bacon, Mandarin oranges, hard-cooked eggs, toasted walnuts, and an engaging apple cider vinaigrette. A lovely combination of tastes and textures.

Pizza by Elizabeths - Peach Pound CakeAmong other miscellaneous items, the fettucine with meatballs wasn’t bad; but, on two separate occasions, the stands of pasta were stuck together and the sauce rather sparse. A side of steamed broccoli with cheese was the bland-leading-the-bland and in desperate need of seasoning. Desserts were, well, yes… “variable.” There’s that word again. The peanut butter pie drizzled with chocolate sauce and the peach pound cake were both outstanding. On the other hand, the lemon-blueberry layer cake was either still recovering from an incomplete cryogenic resuscitation or suffering the deleterious effects of an extended exile in the nether regions of the fridge. Regardless of the reason, both taste and texture (or lack thereof) were extremely suspect.

While some menu presentations might be considered rather “iffy” side, there is no question that my cheeseburger, ordered during our most recent visit, was an absolute “horror.” And this was as much a result of poor service as it was a faux pas on the part of the kitchen – perhaps more so.

Pizza by Elizabeths - CheeseburgerThe scenario went something like this… on two previous occasions at Elizabeths, while my dining companion and I were merrily munching away on our appetizers, up popped the server with the entrées; which, as I’ve mentioned in previous reviews, drives me right up a wall. So on our third visit my dining partner specifically requested that our entrées not be served until we had finished our starters. After dutifully processing this request, our server should have waited until we had nearly completed our apps before putting in the order for entrées. Evidently she was unaware of this or just didn’t give a damn… As a result, my cheeseburger spent an unspecified but certainly inordinate length of time languishing under a heat lamp. By the time it reached the table, it was as dry and tough as Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide saddle. My partner’s fettucine with meatballs, as noted above, also suffered the ill-effects – but at least it was still edible. My cheeseburger was not.

So much for “step-above” service… which inevitably leads me to the hostesses. Whether you receive good or bad service here is pretty much the luck of the draw; conversely, however, the hostesses are young, immature, and totally without a clue. When our party approached the hostess desk, the two women were munching away on Twizzlers and laughing and carrying on like they were at a frat party. One was decked out in a summer knit dress that was so form fitting it left precious little to the imagination. I mean, I’m as much an admirer of the female form as any man; but this was definitely over-the-top and completely inappropriate given the establishment’s so-called “casually elegant” and “sophisticated” environs.

Pizza by Elizabeths - Cork BarThen there’s the cleanliness issue. This is a touchy subject; but I can only relate what I have personally experienced. On our first visit, as we settled in at the bar, we couldn’t help but notice a profusion of crumbs beneath the chairs… plus several layers of dust on the chairs themselves, indicating that they had not been cleaned in some time. There were additional crumbs under tables in the dining room, as well as crumbs and dust on several windowsills. In the men’s room, there was what looked like grease or dirt on the baseboard molding.

I should mention that all of the above were noted at about 5:30 p.m., during the “happy hour” and start of the dinner service, when the restaurant should have been spotless. And, like most diners, if I observe these kinds of lapses in cleanliness in the restaurant’s public areas, I can’t help but wonder what issues may lurk in other parts of the establishment that are not open to public view.

There is no question in my mind that Pizza by Elizabeths has the makings of a terrific eatery. At the moment, however, it appears to be resting on its supposed laurels and bogged down in a malaise of mediocrity. The concept is first class… the execution, on the other hand, is strictly economy coach.

The Bottom Line: In my opinion, this place really needs a good kick in the… asparagus. And the very first priority would certainly be the kitchen. Right now the food is hit-or-miss at best. It clearly needs to be better focused and more carefully prepared.

My second suggestion is to immediately fire the entire hostess staff and get some people in there who can dress the part, behave properly, and live up to the restaurant’s website assertion of sophistication and casual elegance. In conjunction with this, every server should immediately be enrolled in a remedial course in how to wait tables and properly coordinate with the kitchen… as, at present, the service is as erratic as the cuisine.

Finally, someone in the management chain of command must be responsible for making certain that the restaurant is acceptably clean and ready to receive patrons. Crumbs under chairs at the very start of the dinner hour – and assorted other lapses in cleanliness – send a decidedly negative message to potential diners.

Pizza by Elizabeths - ToffeeMy advice to you, dear reader – should you be fresh from a visit to nearby Winterthur and contemplating a sojourn to Elizabeths – is to order with the circumspection of a minnow in a shark tank. Stick with the salads and pizzas and you probably can’t go too wrong. A snack at the bar is also a good bet; ditto several very nice wine selections available by the glass… But the gastronomic highlight…? The fabulous toffee that arrives with the check.

Pizza by Elizabeths - Men's Room DoorOne final note: As I mentioned briefly at the outset with regard to the restaurant’s rather unique moniker, owners Elizabeth LeRoy and Elizabeth Snyder thought it might be fun to pay homage, not only to their own given names, but also to Elizabeths past & present and vintage & modern, as well as a nod to European nobility & old Hollywood. A superlative collection of Elizabeths to be sure, with Elizabeth Taylor’s likeness particularly prominent… So guess whose photograph adorns the entrance to the men’s room…? You got it!

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Feast in the Fields2In the continued effort to strengthen and grow the public awareness of the work of the local farmers, South Jersey Hot Chefs continue a new and different approach – not by taking the food to the guest but the guest to the food. On Saturday, August 20, 2016, you are invited to an evening of dining with Chef Fred Kellerman of Elements Café in Haddon Heights on the 1895 Organic Farm in Lumberton, New Jersey, for “Feast in the Fields 2016.”

Hors d’Oeuvres: Tomato & Goat Cheese Tart… Spicy Pepper Jam Crostini… Deviled Chicken Croquettes… Crab & Sorrel Stuffed Tomato, Prosciutto-Wrapped Cantaloupe… BBQ Beef Short Rib Taco

First Course: Vichyssoise: Smoked Onion Relish, Herb Crème Fraiche

Second Course: Poached Beet & Roasted Carrot Salad: Whipped Ricotta, Candied Pecans, Strawberry Vinaigrette

Main Course (Choice of): Lobster, Scallop, Clam & Mussels in a Tomato, Corn & Onion Stew… or… Zucchini Duxelle Stuffed Organic Chicken in Tomato & Pepper Broth with Rouille Crostini

Dessert Course: Caramelized Sun-Gold Buckle with Lemon Basil Ice Cream and just picked Watermelons

*Vegetarian entrées available upon request.

Starting time is 5:00 p.m. for hors d’oeuvres; dinner at 6:00 p.m.

The cost of the “Feast in the Fields” dinner is $65.00 per person, which includes gratuity. To purchase tickets, please go to http://www.elementscafe.com/feast-in-the-fields-2016.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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