Restaurant Alba

7 West King Street

Malvern, Pennsylvania

(610) 644-4009

https://www.restaurantalba.com

I’ve always enjoyed my visits to Alba. My first review was penned a few months after it opened its doors as a bustling BYOB. I posted a second review early in 2012. The previous December the restaurant had broadened its horizons by securing a liquor license and expanding into the corner property located at King Street & Warren Avenue. The new space became home to a warm & intimate area that continues to offer patrons classic cocktails, craft beer, and a superb predominantly Italian wine list, which is the recipient of the prestigious Wine Spectator Award of Excellence.

Alba - Outside DeckApart from reviews, I’ve returned to Alba many times for my own dining pleasure. On this particular occasion, however, my companion and I, still feeling a bit “iffy” about indoor dining, decided to give the restaurant’s bi-level deck a try. There isn’t much of a view, but the seating is very comfortable and the atmosphere decidedly cozy. And a goodly number of other patrons seemed to share our preferences; as, both coming and going, while the deck was filled to capacity, the indoor dining rooms were nearly deserted.

A graduate of the CIA, chef/proprietor Sean Weinberg does an absolutely superb job of giving full vent to his passionate and inventive culinary spirit. His well-traveled appetizers, for example, range from daily changing Bruschette to Spanish-Style Gazpacho to Wood-Grilled Octopus paired with Sicilian tuna potato salad to Argentinian Beef Empanadas with chimichurri sauce.

Alba - Fried Green TomatoesHowever, we decided to start things off with a decidedly southern flare by sharing Mr. Weinberg’s unique take on classic Fried Green Tomatoes (pictured). After several visits to Richmond, Virginia, a few years ago, I find this dish – in whatever variation-on-the-theme it may appear – to be simply irresistible. In this case, the tomatoes arrived at table still steaming, sprinkled with parmesan cheese and swimming in a beautifully seasoned tomato coulis.

Alba - TroutThe restaurant’s “Secondi (main dishes) and Sandwiches” are a bit more downhome than their predecessors, with presentations like Cape May Sea Scallops, Overnight Roasted Berkshire Pork, Grass Fed Beef Burger, and Chicken BLT with bacon, Jersey tomato, arugula, aioli, and hand-cut fries. My dining partner really decided to go local with the Wood Grilled Pennsylvania Trout (pictured). This was a picture-perfect presentation garnished with bitter escarole, tangy blueberries, and a rich hazelnut brown butter.

Alba - Chicken ParmOn the other hand, I engaged in a bit of role reversal by ordering the Chicken Parmigiano (usually my partner’s favorite dish). This is Italian comfort food taken to the max; and Mr. Weinberg’s version is right on the money, offering up a marvelously moist chicken breast bathed in San Marzano tomatoes, smothered in fresh mozzarella, and accompanied by a small leafy green salad (a side of pasta in tomato sauce may also be ordered for an additional $5.00). Sublime in its simplicity… but supremely seductive and incomparably well prepared.

Pastas, of course, also make marvelous entrées… Currently, Mr. Weinberg is offering a number of seafood combos that are worthy of attention: Spaghetti teamed with Maryland crab, sun gold tomatoes, and sweet corn, for example; or Bucatini with shrimp, Alaskan cod, tomato, and seafood & herb butter. He also cooks up a terrific Tuscan-style wild boar ragú – a thick, full-bodied pork-with-an-attitude meat sauce sprinkled with Parmigiano Reggiano – that leaves the palate panting for more.

Alba - Butterscotch BudinoThere are a limited number of desserts available, but all are top-notch. The Crostata, an open-face free-form tart crowned with vanilla ice cream is always a winner. I’ve sampled the apple; Mr. Weinberg is currently offering peach/blueberry. The Chocolate & Banana Bread Pudding is also not to be missed… and the House-Made Almond Biscotti team up quite nicely with the restaurant’s potent espresso. But this time around we decided to share the extraordinarily delicious Butterscotch Budino (pictured), a sensually sweet Italian pudding. Arriving at table adorned with a splash of caramel, sprinkling of sea salt, and dollop of soft whipped cream, it goes down as smooth as silk.

One final word… Be sure to check out “Wine Wednesdays,” when the restaurant offers half off glass pour wine by the bottle or by the glass!

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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Silverspoon

603 West Lancaster Avenue

Eagle Village Shops

Wayne, Pennsylvania

(610) 688-7646

http://www.silverspoonwayne.com

Silverspoon - Outdoor PatioI must confess that when my dining partner and I first glanced at he restaurant’s bill-of-fare, nothing struck us as terribly appealing. But looks – and menus – can be deceiving, as we enjoyed one of our most pleasurable meals at this innovative little BYOB.

I guess this shouldn’t be at all surprising, however, as the Silverspoon Café quietly continues its role as one of Wayne’s most popular eateries. The quality and presentation of the cuisine have always been top-notch. Main Line foodies know a good thing when they taste it; and – judging by the ebullient crowds – they obviously taste it here. And even after an absence of some months, our server remembered out names and greeted us warmly… There’s just no substitute for that personal touch; and Silverspoon just seems to have it.

Silverspoon - Mezza PlateTo start things off, nothing quite beats the spectacular Mezza Plate (pictured). Comprised of hummus, falafel, feta cheese, olives, vegetables, Mideast salads, and grilled pita, this colorful presentation is certain to appeal to the most discriminating of palate as well as the most ravenous of appetite. The liberal portions guarantee that there will be plenty left over to enjoy for lunch the following day. Kudos.

Executive Chef Oen Kolva also does a fine job with traditional salads such as Caesar and Greek. And his Baby Spinach comes replete with such tantalizing items as feta cheese, strawberries, candied almonds, and splash of white balsamic vinaigrette. Another rare treat is the Burrata Cheese paired with marinated heirloom tomatoes and finished with balsamic vinegar & extra virgin olive oil.

Entrées range from top-of-the-line Pan-Seared Pork Chop to North Atlantic Salmon to Spaghetti and Rock Shrimp in salsa verde to the Silverberger served up on a brioche bun with all the usual accountrements. My dining partner thought the Fried Chicken Platter – legs & thighs accompanied by potato salad, coleslaw, and southern cornbread – sounded interesting. Unfortunately, it was sold out by the time we arrived, so she settled on the Summer Risotto and was quite pleased with her choice. The arborio rice was seductively creamy, dotted with sweet corn & zucchini, and consummated with basil pesto and Pecorino-Romano.

Silverspoon - Soba Noodles w ChickenAfter a good deal of debate, I opted for the Soba Noodles (pictured), an evening special. This was being offered as an appetizer, but our server explained that if I wished to add grilled chicken or some other protein, it could also be served as a main course. Which is precisely what I did. The noodles were served cold, awash with Asian-cut vegetables. But as every foodie knows, it is the dressing that either makes it or breaks it. And in this case, a spectacular soy sesame honey ginger vinaigrette simply propelled this dish into orbit. So incredibly flavorful that I would make a return visit just to taste it once again.

Desserts, all made in the restaurant’s kitchen, are worth saving room for. During previous visits, I’ve sampled two of the house favorites: Espresso Sugar Dusted Doughnuts and Bananas Foster. The former, made from the restaurant’s own Philadelphia Cream Cheese recipe, are fried to order and garnished with chocolate and vanilla sauces. The latter is the Silverspoon’s unique take on the classic incendiary dessert.

Silverspoon - CheesecakeThis time around, however, we got back to basics and decided to share the Cheesecake (pictured). Accompanied by a ramekin of fresh whipped cream and three strawberry halves, the presentation is a study in simplicity. The cheesecake itself is just the proper consistency, firm yet delightfully creamy, and alive with flavor. The graham cracker-crust a mouth-wateringly crunchy success story. Some representatives of this genre can feel like a lead weight on your palate (and your ever-so-delicate peristalsis); but Silverspoon’s version is as light as a feather.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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Vickers Restaurant

192 East Welsh Pool Road

Exton, Pennsylvania

(610) 363-7998

https://www.vickersrestaurant.com

Because of their proximity and certain ambient & culinary similarities – both reside in picturesque 200-year-old structures and sport mirror image menus – Vickers and the Kimberton Inn (mentioned in the review immediately below) often prompt a spirited game of “compare & contrast” among their respective clientele. And a goodly number, I was recently surprised to learn, prefer Vickers – I am not one of them.

Vickers - Harvest SaladFor while their outdoor patio is nicely appointed and extremely pleasant, the food in my opinion, tends to fall short of the mark. The Harvest Salad (pictured) – roasted beets, sunflower seeds, feta cheese, and red wine vinaigrette – sounded absolutely delicious. Unfortunately, the promised red wine vinaigrette was pretty much conspicuous by its absence, rendering the assorted greens and their accompaniments annoyingly dry and rather tasteless.

The entrées didn’t fare much better… For starters, both my Grouper – a special of the evening – and my dining partner’s Pecan Chicken were adorned with significant portions of the very same vegetables: broccoli and carrots, which filled in a good deal of on the plate and provided a splash of color… but added precious little in the way of flavor. Copious piles of the very same generic veggies on several different platings is never a good sign… but it does speak volumes about the kitchen’s lack of creativity.

Vickers - GrouperThe chicken – exceedingly moist & tender – was actually quite good. The pecan crust provided a nice contrasting crunch and the apricot glaze a sweet but not cloying reward. My grouper (pictured), however, was another matter entirely. The fillet was paired with two jumbo shrimp… and neither was terribly exciting. In addition to the generic vegetables, it was pillowed on a seabed of what the menu described as “herb risotto,” which was something of a misnomer, as it had infinitely more in common with rice pilaf and was basically tasteless.

Speaking of lack of flavor… nothing quite matched the “bland leading the bland” dill cucumber sauce drowning the grouper. This could have been such an exciting dish – somewhat akin to the splendid sautéed halibut I enjoyed at the Kimberton Inn, for instance – but it simply had nothing to offer. And priced at $38.00, it was an exercise in financial as well as gastronomic futility.

Vickers - Bourbon Vanilla Bread PuddingDessert, namely the extraordinarily delicious Bourbon Vanilla Bread Pudding (pictured), was, without question, the highlight of our evening at table… Unfortunately, the kitchen’s other offerings failed to demonstrate the same level of excellence.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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Kimberton Inn

2105 Kimberton Road

Kimberton, Pennsylvania

(610) 933-8148

https://www.kimbertoninn.com

The Kimberton Inn was first reviewed in 2007 and then again in 2015. In 2018, it was reviewed a third time when the long-running (27 years) chef, Jim Trainer, suddenly departed and his second-in-command, Tom Wolter, took over as the power-behind-the-stove. Kimberton Inn Wine Dinner – A Retrospective was a separate review of a specific wine dinner also posted in 2015.

Kimberton Inn - Outdoor PatioThe current circumstances, however, are somewhat different, as this review will deal exclusively with al fresco (outdoor) dining. The Inn’s facilities include a patio as well as a string of tables amid the picturesque flora and fauna along the small creek just below the restaurant’s parking lot.

But the Kimberton Inn offers infinitely more than its significantly rustic charms (whether seated outdoors or in one of the cozy dining rooms), as the cuisine continues to draw kudos from the Inn’s loyal clientele and food critics alike – this writer included. After getting off to what I considered a rather rocky start, Executive Chef Tom Wolter certainly appears to have hit his stride.

Typical of Mr. Wolter’s style, for example is his extraordinary Sautéed Halibut Fillet. The generous fillet is sautéed to a golden hue that yields to a moist and flaky snow-white interior. Pillowed on a creamy seabed of potato purée, it is embellished with a smattering of white corn & heirloom carrots. The consummating touch is an exquisite lemon thyme cream. Truly memorable.

Kimberton Inn - Shrimp & Sea ScallopsAlmost its equal was my dining partner’s Sautéed Shrimp and Sea Scallops (pictured). The perfectly prepared constituents swim to table in a savory roasted fennel broth awash with sautéed shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, red pepper, and English peas.

Kimerton Inn - Wild Mushroom & Shishito Pepper Pad ThaiThe only disappointment in several visits proved to be the Wild Mushroom & Shishito Pepper Pad Thai (pictured). This is a stir-fried noodle dish commonly served as street food in Thailand. It is typically made with rice noodles, tofu, scrambled egg, bean sprouts, and peanuts. The Kimberton version also features cilantro and scallions. The ingredients are sautéed together in a wok. Once the dish is completed, it is tossed with a special sauce that gives the dish its unique tangy salty flavor with just a hint of sweetness.

The problem here is that the ingredients are not sautéed together; in point of fact, they did not appear to be sautéed at all. Nor were they tossed with sauce, which was practically nonexistent… A major faux pas and proof positive that the chef should stick to what he knows best and not wander too far afield, as the results are a good deal less than edifying.

Kimberton Inn - Fried Cauliflower FloretsAppetizers, however, are consistently excellent across the board. They include such items as Birchrun Hills Farm Cheese, a delightful cheeseboard garnished with pickled vegetables, local fruit preserves, and crostini; “Probably the Best Salad You’ll Ever Have” – leaf lettuce, baby spinach, tart apple slices, toasted sunflower seeds, and aged gouda splashed with a sweet sesame-walnut dressing – a menu favorite; and the fabulous Fried Cauliflower Florets (pictured) accompanied by roasted poblano peppers, confit garlic, fresh cilantro, and a dynamite sesame aioli.

Desserts are an impressive array of old favorites like Pecan Pie with Caramel Sauce, Chocolate Torte with White Chocolate Buttercream, and Strawberry Shortcake… But the winner in my book is the kitchen’s benchmark Key Lime Pie. It sports a great crust, the proper color (yellow, not green), and is just tart enough. The perfect ending to any meal.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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Trefethen Family VineyardsTrefethen’s history can be traced back to the Eschol Winery, which was commissioned by James and George Goodman and constructed in 1886 by a Scottish sea captain named Hamden McIntyre. The original estate was 208 acres, 40 of which were planted in vineyards.

McIntyre designed an ingenious gravity-flow system in which a horse-drawn winch brought grapes to the third floor of a three-story structure for crushing… gravity carried the juice to the second floor for fermenting… and, eventually, the wine descended to the first floor for aging. The vineyards survived Prohibition by producing grapes for the production of sacramental wine. However, by 1940, the vineyards and winery building fell into disuse.

In 1968, following his retirement from Kaiser Industries, Eugene Trefethen and his wife, Katie, purchased Eschol, along with six adjoining properties to create Trefethen Vineyards. Replanting of the vineyards and restoration of the historic winery building soon began. In 1988, their restoration efforts were recognized by the Department of the Interior, which placed the winery on the National Register of Historic Places as the only 19th-century wooden gravity-flow winery surviving in Napa County.

The couple’s original intention was to sell all their grapes… but their son, John, had other ideas. He began making small batches of wine in the basement of his parents Napa home. And, in 1973, with his new wife, Janet, he produced Trefethen Vineyards’ first commercial wine. Just three years later, the winery’s 1976 Chardonnay earned “Best Chardonnay in the World” honors at the 1979 Gault Millau World Wine Olympics in Paris. That accomplishment, coupled with John’s sound business sense and determination to create a world-class wine estate, put Trefethen Vineyards on the global fine wine map. Today, John and Janet devote themselves full-time to the family winery.

Trefethen - Bryan Kays, WinemakerWinemaker Bryan Kays earned an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, before turning to wine as a career. He worked for a small winery in the Sierra Foothills for several years and then earned a Viticulture and Enology degree at UC Davis before joining Trefethen in 2006 as a viticulture intern. Bryan worked his way into the cellar, up to the position of assistant winemaker in 2008, and then assumed the role of winemaker in 2015. His passion is creating balanced, true-to-type wines that embody his conviction that winemaking is as much about restraint as it is about action. In June 2019, Bryan married John & Janet Trefethen’s daughter, Hailey.

Trefethen’s Signature Wines include Dry Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Dragon’s Tooth, a Bordeaux-like blend of 54% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot, and 5% Merlot. The winery also produces 3 reserves and 10 small lot wines.  It was recently my pleasure to sample two of their signature vintages, the 2018 Chardonnay and 2017 Merlot, and both were of excellent quality…

Trefethen Chardonnay 2018The Trefethen 2018 Oak Knoll District Chardonnay, which received 93 points from the Wine Enthusiast, is both elegant and classically-styled. It is beautifully structured, displaying just the lightest touch of ripe fruit. This is certainly not one of those ponderous California Chards. Low in oak but engagingly supple of texture with 13.3% alcohol, it also possesses a lively acidity that keeps all its elements in perfect balance leading to a smooth and refreshing finish.

I think you’ll find the price tag pretty refreshing as well. The list price is $38.00, but numerous sites online are running specials in the mid-$20.00 range. The really good news, however, is that Pennsylvania State Stores have this particular wine on sale for $19.99.

 

Trefethen Merlot 2017The Trefethen 2017 Merlot is equally rewarding. The Merlot grape flourishes in relatively cool growing regions with moist soils. This makes it a perfect match for certain parts the Trefethen estate vineyard, located in the Oak Knoll District of the Napa Valley, a sweet spot between warmer up-valley regions and the cool southern tip.

The 2017 Merlot also has a splash (5%) of Cabernet Franc mixed in, which gives added pleasure to both the nose and the palate. This wine is definitely fruit-forward but not at all unctuous. It spent 18 months maturing in American oak, 44% new, so you’ll definitely feel a healthy amount on the palate… Fortunately, however, the oak is perfectly counter-balanced with red fruit and mouth-watering acidity. The lush tannins indicate that this wine will age very well… But why wait. It’s ready to enjoy right now.

The price is right, too. Currently on sale in PA State Stores for $19.99.

Cheers!

Be Safe

TAD

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Valley Forge Trattoria & Lounge

1130 Valley Forge Road

Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

(610) 935-7579

https://www.valleyforgepizza.com/

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!

Be Safe

TAD

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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.

Cheers!

Be Safe

TAD

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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

TAD

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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

TAD

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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.

Cheers!

Be Safe

TAD

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