Volvér

300 South Broad Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

(215) 670-2302

http://philadelphia.volverrestaurant.com/

Volver - InteriorTo the immense satisfaction of Philadelphia area foodies – this writer included – chef/owner Jose Garces’ Volvér, which was closed for an extended period due to the Covid pandemic, has now reopened. So, if you are contemplating a visit to the Kimmel Center and seeking a suitable pre-event dining venue, this fine restaurant should, once again, be at the very top of your list of possibilities.

One of the reasons for this, of course, is the fact that Volvér is located right in the Center itself; which, I can tell you from bitter experience, will save you an unbelievable amount of hassle… Instead of rushing from here to there following a hasty dinner – like hoofing several blocks in less-than ideal weather – you are already “there.” The only thing you need to worry about is getting to your seat on time.

Volver - BarBut there is certainly more to dining here than just convenience… Volvér, which opened its doors in April 2014 and was first reviewed by this writer in November 2018, continues to serve up innovative, seasonally-driven cuisine that is subtle in both preparation and presentation. Many would undoubtedly consider the portions here on the diminutive side… but since most of the restaurant’s patrons are headed to a performance at the adjoining Kimmel Center and, therefore, not up for a heavy meal, discretionary ingestion might be considered the better part of peristaltic valor. The à la carte menu is just right for spirited mix ‘n match grazing; and the three-course pre-theater menu, priced at $56.00 (plus beverages, tax & gratuity), also has a good deal to recommend it.

Volver - Shrimp ToastsWhile perusing the menu, why not soothe your restless gastronomic spirit with a creative cocktail – The Brown Derby (Old Grandad, grapefruit, lemon, and honey) is quite intriguing, as is the Rose Gold (Tito’s Vodka, rosemary, passion fruit, and bitters) – and one or more of the “Snacks.” During a previous visit, the Deviled Egg filled with silky duck liver mousse spiked with Pedro Ximénez Sherry clearly stole the show. More recently, the Shrimp Toast (pictured) – sesame, scallion, and karashi (Japanese hot mustard) mayo – acquitted itself equally well.

Volver - Seasonal Greens SaladAs you move on to the “Small Plates” (appetizers), the seasonally changing options currently range from the Snapper Tartare adorned with young ginger, Champagne cream, black olives, Meyer lemon, and poppy seeds to the almost too clever bowl of Milk & Cereal – bacon, glazed chicken, thyme marshmallows, puffed rice, white asparagus, and wild mushrooms – which tastes nothing like what you wolf down for breakfast. My nod, however, goes to the rather innocuously sounding Seasonal Greens Salad (pictured): assorted greenery (mostly peppery arugula) awash with wafer-thin slices of Granny Smith apples & kohlrabi tossed with an exquisite creamy Champagne vinaigrette and crowned with a bonnet of tangy radicchio. Deceptively simple… and utterly sublime.

Volver - Market Fish - BarramundiOver the course of our numerous visits, my permanent dining partner and I have sampled an interesting variety of the restaurant’s entrées. Memorable choices have included Ricotta Gnudi, gnocchi-like dumplings made with ricotta cheese instead of grated or milled russet potatoes. A lighter, pillowy dish in contrast to the often denser, sometimes chewy gnocchi, Volvér’s ethereal rendition was simply extraordinary. The Barramundi (pictured), a sweet, succulent, meaty white-fleshed fish with a clean mild flavor that is similar to halibut, was also quite exceptional… The filet arrived at table swimming in a sensual sea of celeriac emulsion and truffle jus with wild mushrooms and a tiara of watercress playing strong supporting roles.

Volver - Crispy ChickenThe current list of main courses offers such options as Roasted Lamb Chops with eggplant escabeche and Filet Mignon “Philly Style” with caramelized onion purée, toasted sourdough, red wine braised shallots, and alpine cheese fondue. All that sounded a bit too heavy for my dining partner, who decided to give the Crispy Chicken (pictured) a try. This included such accompaniments as a stout braised thigh, bacon lardons, wild mushrooms, and potato purée. As you may observe from the photo, the kitchen won’t win any prizes for presentation on this one, as it looks like all the constituents had been dropped into a bowl from ten thousand feet… It was, however, as my dining partner would attest, quite tasty.

Volver - Trout Meuniere 2My choice during our most recent visit was a long-running menu staple, the Rainbow Trout Meunière (pictured), which I’ve enjoyed on several other occasions. An intriguing presentation, the beautifully sautéed filet was accompanied by braised lentils, Brussels sprout leaves, lemon butter, and horseradish. The fish itself was uniquely flavorful but not too trout-y; and while the embellishments may strike one as slightly on the quirky side, they were delightfully complementary and not at all intrusive.

Like other menu items, desserts vary with the seasons. Past sweet endings have included such treats as the St. Honoré, a salted caramel tart garnished with maple marshmallow & candied peanuts, Orange & Pistachio Parfait, and Chocolate Choux, a chocolate éclair with dark chocolate cream.

Volver - Old-Fashioned Chocolate CakeOur most recent visit offered up a Brown Butter Choux Puff, Beignets with sweet milk coffee, macerated banana, and black sesame and Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake (pictured) contemporized with coconut meringue, pecan gelato, and maple tuille. This was my dessert of choice and it did not disappoint.

One final note: This season, Chef Jose Garces is hosting rising star, minority chefs from around the Philadelphia region for six-week residencies. The Chefs in Residency program places selected chefs’ signature dishes on the menu for 6-8 weeks each, alongside Chef Garces’ French-inspired presentations. Throughout each residency, Volvér will raise funds to support the inaugural line-up of chefs and their current and/or future projects. Donations can be made, similar to tipping a server, when the dinner check is presented. The Garces Foundation will match up to the first $5,000. The matching Grant will be donated by the Garces Foundation, which offers medical and educational resources to the hospitality community…

 Chef Phila Lorn; Date of Residency: December 2, 2021 – January 17, 2022

Chef Jezabel Careaga; Date of Residency: January 26 – March 13, 2022

Chef Jennifer Zavala; Date of Residency: March 16 – May 1, 2022

Chef Alex Yoon; Date of Residency: May 4 – May 31 2022

Chef Dane DeMarco; Date of Residency: June 1 – July 1, 2022

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Wine 3I tasted an interesting variety of wines in 2021, including several outstanding vintages during a recent sojourn to Greece and the Greek Islands. Of those, 5 white and 5 red are particularly recommended. My favorite red wines of 2021 are listed below.

Please note that prices quoted are approximate, depending upon where the wines are purchased; and, of course, all are subject to change. The prices in states other than Pennsylvania can vary significantly from retailer to retailer. So, it would certainly be to your advantage to spend some time surfing online for the best price point.

 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 20162016 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre (Italy): Allegrini is the most aclaimed winery in the Veneto region of northeast Italy. The family has been involved in winemaking for over six generations, playing a major role in the Valpolicella Classico area since the 16th century… However, it was Giovanni Allegrini, patriarch of the modern estate, who developed and perfected major innovations in the art of wine. He was among the first to question local viticultural techniques, revolutionize accepted practices, and emphasize quality.

While Amarone is Allegrini’s claim to fame, fortunately the winery also produces several other vintages that are of excellent quality – and also a good deal less expensive… The 2016 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre, for example, is a blend of 40% Corvina Veronese, 30%Corvinone, 25% Rondinella, and 5% Sangiovese. I’ve sampled this wine on numerous occasions; and it is a perennial favorite, remarkably consistent from year to year. Elegant and well-balanced, it possesses a long velvety finish and silky tannins. Readily available through PA State Stores, this highly-rated vintage is a bargain at $19.99.

 

Chad Alexander2019 Chad Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (Oregon): Winemaker Chad Alexander’s name is probably not terribly familiar to most readers… perhaps because his is a negociant label that was launched during the economic crisis in 2009 to take advantage of inventory that had backed up at prestigious wineries and to protect the brand of the maker. Wineries bottle their new wines in “shiners,” that is, wine bottles without label or branded cork. Mr. Alexander offers a price on the entire lot that is substantially higher than the depressed bulk market but still dramatically less the intended retail. These “shiners” are then bottled under the Chad label.

Wines of this quality are generally found in bottles that are twice the price… That’s because what’s in the bottles IS twice the price! And the fact that these wines have made appearances in upscale restaurants like The Odeon and Bar Boulud in New York City is a testimony to their superior quality.

The 2019 Chad Pinot Noir, for example, is the very essence of Oregon Pinot. On the nose, black cherry predominates, along with a beguiling touch of spice. On the palate, this is pure Pinot, vibrant & complex, with an abundance of berry fruit flavors and soft, silky tannins. The finish is smooth, long and elegant.

This is an outstanding wine… an equally outstanding price point. The lowest listing I’ve seen online is $19.99 per bottle (plus shipping) at Central Wine Merchants of Flemington, New Jersey.

 

Don Melchor 20182018 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile): “This is amazing.” So wrote wine critic James Suckling after bestowing an unheard-of 100-point rating. A consistently highly-praised wine year after year, the iconic 2018 Don Melchor is particularly polished, harmonious, and downright delicious. Produced from 181 lots covering 151 different vineyard parcels, this is only the second time that the blend has included all four Bordeaux varieties on the estate – 91% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot.

As winemaker Enrique Tirado has noted: “The wine manages to produce that unique sensation you only get from great wines and great harvests.” I have personally tasted this wine and, thankfully, I still have two bottles left in the cellar. It is spectacular… there is simply no other word for it.

It is currently available through PA State Stores at $119.99.

 

Ken Forrester - Pinotage2018 Ken Forrester Petit Pinotage (South Africa): Indigenous to South Africa, Pinotage is a grape crossing of Cinsaut (called Hermitage) and Pinot Noir. Acutely aware that Pinot Noir struggled in South Africa’s climate, scientist Abraham Perold decided to cross it with Cinsaut, a very productive species. His goal was to create a wine that was as delicious as Pinot Noir but that grew as well as Cinsaut. The results, however, were somewhat mixed. The Pinotage grape was extremely dark in color and the wine it created quite bold in character… It was nothing like its progenitors. Plagued with difficulties from the very beginning, what winemakers failed to realize was that while Pinotage was a very easy wine to make, it was an extremely difficult wine to make well. Fortunately, however, in the last 15 years, thing have begun to change for the better.

… And the 2018 Ken Forrester Petit is the quintessential well-made Pinotage. It is decidedly fruit forward but with an intriguing, earthy quality. As Forbes food/wine writer John Mariani noted: “A very good price for a splendid ‘little’ Pinotage whose elements are impeccably blended in an unoaked version of the varietal.” And speaking of price… a mere $11.99 at your local PA State Store.

 

Stoller Winery - Owner Bill Stoller2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (Oregon): I first tasted the 2018 in the Purser’s Pub at the Inn at Perry Cabin during a trip to St. Michaels, Maryland, and was immediately impressed. This is simply a lovely wine from start to finish. In the glass, it is a bright ruby color; and the equally bright nose is alive with the aromas of red fruits. It is soft and elegant on the palate, with smooth silky tannins and a long ethereal finish.

Wine critic James Suckling bestowed 92 points and called the 2018 Stoller “their finest release under this estate label.” And wine writer Gus Clemens added: “Stoller is doing something right, and we get a very approachable superb expression of Willamette Valley pinot at a fair price and a fair chance of finding it.”

And speaking of price… The 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir will cost you $27.99 per bottle in Pennsylvania State Stores… On the other hand, it is available online from The Wine Buyer in Wayne, New Jersey, at $18.99 per bottle. This is where I purchased my six bottles, and the shipping was only about $16.00. So, this is one instance in which you can save a bundle by shopping online.

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Favorite White Wines of 2021

by artfuldiner on December 23, 2021

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Breaking News, Wine

Wine 3I tasted an interesting variety of wines in 2021, including several outstanding vintages during a recent sojourn to Greece and the Greek Islands. Of those, 5 white and 5 red are particularly recommended. My favorite white wines of 2021 are listed below.

Please note that prices quoted are approximate, depending upon where the wines are purchased; and, of course, all are subject to change. The prices in states other than Pennsylvania can vary significantly from retailer to retailer. So, it would certainly be to your advantage to spend some time surfing online for the best price point.

Grgich Hills Chardonnay 20172017 Grgich Hills Estate Grown Chardonnay (California): Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, a native of Croatia, was the winemaker behind the iconic 1973 Chateau Montelena, which triumphed over the French at the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976. And while you may not be able to sample the original 1973 Chateau Montelena, a bottle of which now resides in the Smithsonian, you can still discover why Mike Grgich has come to be known as the King of Chardonnay.”

His 2017 Grgich Hills Estate Grown Chardonnay, which recently received 93 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, is a wine that is easy to love. It is medium-bodied, rich & sumptuous, and decidedly elegant on the palate. Reminiscent of a fine white Burgundy, it is available from various sources online at a fraction of the price. Retailing in the $35.00 – $45.00 range, the lowest price I’ve seen online is $34.00 per bottle (plus shipping) from Nicholas Wines, https://www.nicholaswines.com, in Red Bank, New Jersey.

 

Ken Forrester2018 Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc (South Africa): South Africa grows more chenin blanc than the rest of the world combined. The best South African wines are produced in the Stellenbosch region, just 25 miles east of Cape Town… And, located on the slopes of the scenic Helderberg Mountains, the vineyards of Ken Forrester Wines are considered by locals and wine lovers as the home of chenin blanc. The man himself, affectionately known as “Mr. Chenin Blanc,” who has become the ambassador for South Africa’s most widely planted varietal, seems a little bit larger than life and just as dynamic as the grape he so fervently champions. No wonder his wines were chosen to be served at Nelson Mandela’s 85th birthday party.

The grapes from Mr. Forrester’s 2018 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc are sourced from 40-year-old vines picked by hand. The wine is barrel- and tank-fermented and left on the lees for nine months, employing 20% new French Oak.

This is a very attractive wine, youthful and delicately textured. Full-bodied and complex, but not overpowering, it has a very satisfying mouthfeel and soft, lingering finish… And, given its outstanding quality, this wine is also quite reasonably priced, retailing around the $15.00 mark. It is available through PA State Stores via special order only for $15.29. The lowest price I have seen online is $12.99 from Joe’s Canal in the Mercer Mall, Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

 

King Estate Pinot Gris 20182018 King Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Gris (Oregon): Wine writer Matt Kramer of The Oregonian considers King Estate the benchmark producer of pinot gris (aka pinot grigio) in the country. While the winery also makes pinot noir and limited amounts of chardonnay, it is mainly credited with bringing the pinot gris grape varietal into the national consciousness… And the 2018 King Estate Pinot Gris is a particularly first-rate example of the winemaker’s art. “This baseline Pinot Gris really shines in this vintage,” the Wine Enthusiast noted, bestowing 91 points and an Editors’ Choice designation. Its juicy fruit flavors and marvelously fresh acidity lead the palate to a long, elegant finish. It is also available from a variety of sources; particularly PA State Stores at $21.99 and Total Wine, Claymont, DE, at $18.49.

 

Tiefenbrunner Muller Thurgau2017 Tiefenbrunner Feldmarschall von Fenner Müller-Thurgau (Italy): I first tasted the 2018 Tiefenbrunner while dining at Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia. And, as previously mentioned, I was so impressed that the moment I returned home I began an online search to see where it might be available for purchase.

Unfortunately, the 2018 was nowhere to be found. I was, however, able to secure four bottles of the 2017, which was even more highly rated – 96 whopping points from the Wine Enthusiast and listed as #14 in their Top 100 Wines of 2019 – and, as one wine writer noted, it was “a stunner from swirl to finish.” In addition, wine critic James Suckling referred to it as possibly the “best Müller-Thurgau in the world”; and the renowned Gambero Rosso Wine Guide awarded it with a coveted Three Glasses prize. This is simply a fabulous wine – elegant and delicious – and well worth seeking out.

The wine’s retail list price is $45.00, but I’ve seen it priced as high as $60.00 per bottle. The best deal thus far discovered online is $43.98 from Central Wine Merchants in Flemington, New Jersey, which is where I managed to secure my four bottles.

 

 Zacharias Assyrtiko2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko (Greece): Assyrtiko is Greece’s most striking white grape. It originated from the Cyclades Island of Santorini, but is now planted to most Greek wine regions – from other Aegean Islands to Macedonia, Central Greece, and down to the Peloponnese – becoming, in terms of quality, one of the most important native varietals. It produces mainly dry white wines, some of which are aged in oak, but a number of rich and sumptuous sweet wines as well.

Dry Assyrtiko wines tend to appeal to those who – like this writer – are drawn to unconventional, intense styles of whites that emphasize texture and density rather than fruit and oak. During our recent trip to Greece and the Greek Islands, I was fortunate enough to sample a number of Assyrtiko wines from various producers. And while they differed slightly, depending upon the terroir of their place of origin, all displayed a stony minerality and citrusy freshness that made them extraordinarily food friendly.

The 2019 Zacharias Assyrtiko, which hails from the Peloponnese Peninsula, received 91 points and was included in the “Top 100 Best Buys of 2021” by Wine Enthusiast. I tried desperately to secure it online, but it was not to be found… So, I settled for the 2020 Zacharias, which turned out to be, in my opinion, even better. The list price is noted as $15.00. However, the best price online is $12.99 per bottle (plus shipping) from Central Wine Merchants in Flemington, New Jersey.

A fabulous wine… at an equally fabulous price. Don’t miss it!

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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2021 Restaurant Redux – Part 2

by artfuldiner on December 15, 2021

in Uncategorized

For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of five (5) of the eleven (11) restaurants reviewed during the year 2021.

Inn at Perry Cabin - ExteriorINN AT PERRY CABIN (September), 308 Watkins Lane, St. Michaels, Maryland, (410) 745-2200, https://innatperrycabin.com: During the latter part of June, my permanent dining partner and I were fortunate enough to escape pandemic blues for three wonderful nights at the Inn at Perry Cabin, which has long enjoyed the reputation of being the top hotel on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Inn basically offers guest three dining options: Stars, their gourmet restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Purser’s Pub, offering a menu of locally-inspired small plates, as well as a collection of rare whiskeys and bourbons; and the High Tide Pool Bar, which we did not visit. We found Purser’s to be the perfect spot for a late lunch, afternoon snack, or relaxing libation in the midst of a busy day. The couches and high-top tables are exceedingly comfortable, the service is attentive and personable, and the food quite good. Stars, on the other hand, is something of a mixed bag. Breakfasts served on the restaurant’s outdoor patio are excellent… But the cuisine at dinner has significant ups and downs. Given the picturesque setting – and the picturesque prices – it simply isn’t all that it could be… or should be. Interestingly enough, if you check out Stars’ reviews on Social-Media, Yelp and Tripadvisor, for example, even those people who soundly trashed the restaurant had nothing but praise for the Inn itself. And my dining partner and I feel much the same way. My criticisms of Stars’ cuisine notwithstanding, we would gladly return to the Inn at Perry Cabin at a moment’s notice.

 

JG Sky High Lounge - ViewJG SKY HIGH LOUNGE & RESTAURANT (November), 1 North 19th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 419-5059, https://www.jean-georgesphiladelphia.com/jean-georges-sky-high/: To the extreme disappointment of the area’s culinary cognoscenti, Jean-Georges Philadelphia, located on the penultimate 59th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in the Comcast Technology Center, remains closed due to the pandemic. The rumor that the restaurant would reopen this fall has, unfortunately, not come to fruition…. In the meantime, situated one floor above, adjacent to the hotel’s reception area, its more casual sibling, JG Sky High Lounge & Restaurant, continues to run at full throttle. The menu, as you would undoubtedly surmise since the restaurant is located within hotel precincts, runs the gamut – from Caviar to Pizza; Crusted Prime Beef Tenderloin to Cheddar Bacon Cheeseburger – and everything I’ve ordered has been attractively presented and incredibly delicious. Popular menu favorites include such items as Roasted Salmon caressed by a flavorful lime-corn broth and Parmesan Crusted Organic Chicken served with artichokes and an addictive lemon-basil sauce. Most recent samplings have offered up an exceptional Zucca Pasta bathed in a light tomato sauce with smoked bacon, slices of jalapeño, and peppery arugula and an exotic Artichoke Tagine, a slow-cooked savory stew adorned with kumquats and Persian cucumbers… The restaurant also features an intriguing collection of cocktails and a select list of wines by the glass… And the down-home desserts are worth saving room for.

 

Orangery - ExteriorORANGERY: TUSCAN CUISINE GLEN ISLE AT (December), 130 South Lloyd Avenue, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (484) 401-5554, http://www.orangeryatglenisle.com: Tucked away in Glen Isle, a bit of bucolic bliss just off bustling Business Route 30 on the western fringe of Downingtown, the Orangery is very much a world apart… Drive down a narrow gravel lane and park your car in an unpaved lot next to the stone ruins of an old daily barn. The restaurant itself, a stately stucco mansion, is quite cozy. In a very real sense, the Orangery defies description; and your ultimate opinion of the restaurant will very much depend upon your expectations going in. If you’re anticipating a Michelin-starred experience, you’ve come to the wrong address. With a few exceptions, the homespun Tuscan cuisine, though generally quite good, is hardly memorable. If you have never dined at the Orangery, it is, in my opinion, worth a visit. Given its pastoral setting and homey, unpretentious food and service, it is a delightfully restful step back in time that will do infinitely more to soothe the soul than appease the appetite. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

 

Seasons 52 - Tomato FlatbreadSEASONS 52 FRESH GRILL & WINE BAR (June), 160 Norrth Gulph Road, Suite 101, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, (610) 992-1152, www.seasons52.com: Part of the Darden Specialty Restaurant Group, there are currently 42 Seasons 52 locations in the United States. But don’t let corporate convolutions fool you… Good things are happening here. The menu changes four times per year, with the seasons, and the kitchen strives to feature healthy and flavorful ingredients at their seasonal peak. As I mentioned eight years ago in my initial review, if Seasons 52 has a signature dish, it is undoubtedly their irresistible flatbreads – and nothing that has transpired in the interim has changed my opinion. The kitchen also does a good job with soups and salads. But as the restaurant’s culinary strengths remain the same, so do its weaknesses… namely, its entrées. It’s not that the main courses aren’t good; for the most part, they are. They simply are not as good as a number of other presentations. Desserts – or Mini Indulgences, as they are called here – are right back on track. And the restaurant’s top drawer wine list – a recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence – remains another high point.

 

Vetri Cucina - Sweet Onion Crepe 2VETRI CUCINA (July), 1312 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 732-3478, https://vetricucina.com: Tucked away in a stately townhouse – the former home of Georges Perrier’s late, great Le Bec Fin before it moved to its Walnut Street location – Vetri Cucina, which opened its doors in 1988, remains the distinguished flagship of chef/restaurateur Marc Vetri’s restaurant empire. The interior is sedate and sophisticated; the service young, personable, and extremely knowledgeable with regard to both menu and wine list.

The food…? Unfortunately, something of a mixed bag. Appetizers – specifically my dining partner’s Squab en Croûte with rhubarb agrodolce and my Sweet Onion Crepe (pictured) surrounded by a pool of truffle-infused parmesan fondue – were absolutely superlative… ditto several pasta dishes and the positively decadent desserts. On the other hand, the Dover Sole for Two, the special entrée of the evening, was an absolute disaster. In addition to being drowned in a surprisingly viscous sauce overwhelmed with radish slices and a surfeit of capers, the filets were decidedly rubbery, a sure sign of overcooking. Not the kitchen’s finest hour.

Then there was the wine issue… Two white wines offered by the glass were particularly noteworthy… But the $35.00 price per glass was nothing short of outrageous. Couple this with the disappointing Dover sole, and the fact that the check for the evening, including tax & tip, came to over $400.00, and you can understand my mixed emotions.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of six (6) of the eleven (11) restaurants reviewed during the year 2021.

Antica - Interior 2ANTICA ITALIAN RESTAURANT (February), 1623 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, (484) 770-8631, http://www.anticapa.com: Owned by chefs Josh Friedberg and Gent Mema, also proprietors of the popular Il Granaio restaurants in Glen Mills and Phoenixville, Antica’s three light & airy dining areas come replete with soothing colorations, a rustic stone wall, and framed prints by Andrew Wyeth, Chadds Ford’s favorite artistic son. Originally a BYOB, the restaurant now sports a liquor license, offering its patrons a compact selection of wines by the glass and bottle, brews, and an interesting inventory of specialty cocktails. Entrées include a combo of old-fashioned Italian comfort fare – such as Veal Parmigiana and Pasta Pomodoro – as well as piscatorial pleasures like Sautéed Salmon and Grilled Whole Bronzino. Homemade desserts include favorites like Cannoli, Tiramisu, and Bundino di Pane, the Italian version of bread pudding. For my money, however, nothing quite tops the considerable charms of the kitchen’s luscious Lemon Cream Cake.

Awful Arthurs - ExteriorAWFUL ARTHUR’S SEAFOOD COMPANY (September), 402 South Talbot Street, St. Michaels, Maryland, (410) 745-3474, https://awfularthursusa.com: Visited while staying at the Inn at Perry Cabin on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (see separate review), Awful Arthur’s is a super casual eatery featuring indoor/outdoor seating and a bustling authentic oyster bar that serves up more than nine varieties of oysters, as well as clams, shrimp, mussels, crab legs, crawfish, and their famous steamed  seafood platter. Whatever your piscatorial preference, you will undoubtedly find it here. Starters tempt the palate with the likes of Blackened Tuna Bites, Day Boat Scallops wrapped in bacon, Shrimp & Grits, and the incredibly rich Lobster Mac & Cheese. Entrée-wise, try the first-rate Fish & Chips and Lobster Roll. Desserts – all made in-house – are on the homey side but well worth saving room for… If you’re a seafood lover, and happen to be visiting St. Michael’s, Awful Arthur’s is the place to go.

Bas Rouge - Dover SoleBAS ROUGE (September), 19 Federal Street, Easton, Maryland, (6410) 822-1637, http://www.basrougeeaston.com/: The flagship of New York energy mogul Paul Prager’s BluePoint Hospitality Group, Bas Rouge isn’t the kind of restaurant you expect to find in Easton, a sleepy little burg on Maryland’s Eastern Shore… This is Old World dining at its most gracious. The décor is reminiscent of a grand 19th century Austrian bistro. Executive Chef Harley Peet and Chef de Cuisine Phil Lind present a stylish & innovative take on Viennese & European classic dishes… and their presentations are nothing short of extraordinary. Currently entrées run the gamut from Wild Turbot to Pappardelle with braised duck ragu to Chicken Ballotine to Veal Roulade with parsnip purée, shaved Brussels sprouts, and truffle jus.

The night of our visit, it was Dover Sole (pictured) that was presented rolled, gently sautéed with herbed emulsified melted butter, crowned with pickled vegetables & toasted hazelnuts, and surrounded by potato and green asparagus purées – and it was simply spectacular. Desserts, courtesy of pastry chef Jim Hutchinson, continue the kitchen’s excellent work. Dining here is not an inexpensive proposition. But, trust me, it is an incredibly satisfying experience – and then some. Worth a journey.

Baxter's - SundaeBAXTER’S AMERICAN GRILLE (May), 14 Paoli Shopping Center, Paoli, Pennsylvania, (610) 296-2699, http://www.baxtersinpaoli.com/: Tucked away in the Paoli Shopping Center, Baxter’s is a neighborhood happy-tappy cum sports bar serving up an eclectic mix of comfort fare, pub grub, classic sandwiches, and a limited number of entrées. One glance will tell you that this place isn’t exactly the Ritz… but neither is it pretending to be. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for a burger, brew, or just some laid back comfort fare, it’s definitely a place to consider. After all, man doesn’t live by fie gras alone. Like restaurants of similar ilk, the dishes Baxter’s does best are those that require the least amount of creative fuss. “Classic Sandwiches” are usually a good bet. The Traditional Turkey Club is quite good… ditto the Classic Bacon Cheeseburger. The Fish & Chips and Home-Style Meatloaf, on the other hand, proved to be disappointments. Of the dessert choices, which round up the usual suspects, the Brownie Sundae (pictured) is clearly the way to go. Very old-fashioned… but also very good, very rich, and very suitable for sharing.

Blue Elephant - InteriorBLUE ELEPHANT (October), 152 East High Street, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, (484) 949-9084, https://www.blueelephantbar.com: Ensconced in the stately bank building at the corner of High and Hanover Streets, the Blue Elephant is the newest entry in the Wine Signature stable, a restaurant group owned by Win and Sutida Somboonsong. The creation of the Pottstown restaurant, however, was completely overseen by the couple’s daughter, a graduate of Cornell University’s hospitality program. The restaurant’s interior is striking – high ceiling accentuated with long draperies, gold mirrors, various forms of greenery, 30-foot-long quartz bar, series of comfortable velvet & leather booths, and flowing marble fountain – the cuisine less so.

Appetizers such as Rock Shrimp in crispy tempura batter, Dumplings, and Zucchini Fritters seasoned with Japanese spices are a high point. Entrées, on the other hand, are generally disappointing. Even traditional Thai favorites such as Drunken Noodles and Crab Fried Rice fail to deliver the goods.

Indeblue - Spinach ChaatINDEBLUE (August), 205 South 13th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 545-4633, http://www.indebluerestaurant.com: Indeblue made its debut in Midtown Village in 2013 – and has been wowing palates ever since. Not only is it Philadelphia’s top-rated Indian restaurant, it is also one of the top-10-rated Indian restaurants in the United States. What chef/owner Rakesh Ramola does best is artfully mix and match traditional flavors with dishes that push the Indian envelope… And push the envelope he does. Consider his extraordinary Spinach Chaat (pictured) as Exhibit A. Crispy fried spinach is teamed with shallots & chopped tomatoes and finished with an irresistible combo of sweet yogurt and tamarind chutney. The result is an app that is so incredibly delicious and texturally appealing that it is simply off the charts. Entrées include such intriguing possibilities as Seafood Coconut Rasam, a South Indian soup with an addictive spicy-sweet-sour stock utilizing coconut & mint; Catani, chunks of boneless chicken breast swimming in a lusciously creamy sauce of basil, tomato, and garlic; and Baigan Rasedar, an appetizing casserole of eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, and Rai, a Hindu spice made with black mustard seeds. Desserts, such as Pumpkin Ice Cream with Crumble, Coconut Gulab Jamun, and Caramelized Mango Kheer are not to be missed… ditto the array of innovative cocktails. So be sure to try the Indebluetini, composed of citrus, vodka, mango, cardamom, and lemon or the Maharani, offering vodka, rosewater Cointreau, lemon, and orange peel.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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The Orangery

Tuscan Cuisine at Glen Isle

130 South Lloyd Avenue

Downingtown, Pennsylvania

(484) 401-5554

http://www.orangeryatglenisle.com/

Orangery - Entrance SignTucked away in Glen Isle, a bit of bucolic bliss just off bustling Business Route 30 on the western fringe of Downingtown, the Orangery is a secluded little restaurant retreat that has continued to charm and delight patrons from the moment of its debut in September 2011.

It is very much a world apart… Drive down a narrow gravel lane and park your car in an unpaved lot next to the stone ruins of an old dairy barn. Then a brief jaunt to the restaurant itself, a stately stucco mansion, which is also the residence of head chef Sabrina Lutz and her husband, Paul. The 40-seat main dining room, an enclosed sunporch, is quite cozy… On the other hand, in warmer weather, you may wish to take advantage of the restaurant’s comfortable patio to dine alfresco.

The Orangery is open Thursday – Saturday with one seating only at 6:30 p.m. The set menu of Tuscan cuisine changes fortnightly, so the menu my dining partner and I recently enjoyed – along with twenty-two other members of her community – may be different from what you will experience. This will, however, give you some idea of what to expect…

Orangery - Sweet Pepper CrostiniOur five-course meal commenced with Sweet Peppers Crostini (pictured), which was really something of a misnomer. The word crostini in Italian means “little toasts.” This generally describes canapés consisting of small slices of toast adorned with some sort of savory topping. However, what was served here was a rather large thick slice of Italian bread that was definitely not toasted… On the other hand, the topping of delightfully seasoned roasted sweet red peppers was so utterly delicious that no one – especially this writer – was about to quibble over semantics.

Orangery - CapreseNext on the agenda was the Caprese (pictured), an Italian salad comprised of slices of fresh mozzarella & tomatoes interspersed with sweet basil leaves. It is generally minimally seasoned with just a pinch of salt and extra-virgin olive oil. And, as you will notice, like Pizza Margherita, it features the colors of the Italian flag: green, white, and red.

There are many variations on the theme, of course; but the less convoluted, in my opinion, the better. And this is a particularly nice presentation… artfully yet simply arranged with a splash of balsamic reduction adding a sweet/tangy kick to the proceedings.

Orangery - Butterfly Pasta PrimaveraRegardless of what the main course may be, the menu always includes a pasta course. The evening of our visit it was the Butterfly Pasta Primavera (pictured). This is also commonly known as bowtie pasta, but more properly as Farfalle, the name being derived from the Italian word for butterflies. The versatile bowtie shaped noodle originated in the Lombardy & Emilia-Romagna regions of northern Italy and is best with lighter and creamy sauces.

Interestingly enough, while the restaurant prides itself on the presentation of authentic Tuscan cuisine, pasta primavera is an American dish invented in the 1970s. While the actual invention of the dish is contested… In 1975, or so the story goes, New York restaurateur Sirio Maccioni and his two top chefs flew to the Canadian summer home of Italian Baron Carlo Amato on Robert’s Island, Nova Scotia. They began experimenting with fish and game, but the Baron and his guests requested something different. So Maccioni then mixed butter, cream and cheese with vegetables and pasta and brought the recipe back to New York City. The fame of pasta primavera may be traced to Maccioni’s restaurant Le Cirque, where it first appeared as an unlisted special before it was made famous via a 1977 article in the New York Times by Craig Claiborne and Pierre Franey, which also included a recipe for the dish. Pasta primavera is now widely recognized as one of the signature developments of American cuisine in the 1970s.

Unfortunately, the presentation encountered here was quite disappointing and, culinarily speaking, the weakest part of our meal. For starters, in the midst of a five-course meal, unless you happen to possess the appetite of a starving yak, the portion size was entirely too large. Secondly (as you may note from the photograph), it was not terribly attractively plated. In addition, the primavera portion – namely, the vegetables – was nearly conspicuous by its absence. And, perhaps most importantly, the dish was woefully under-seasoned. In point of fact, it was completely bland. At the very least, a generous sprinkling of parmesan would have mitigated the situation significantly.

Orangery - Chicken Scaloppini 2Conversely, the main course, Chicken Scaloppini embellished with lemon and capers (pictured), was quite good. The chicken was nicely presented, perfectly prepared – incredibly moist and tender – and the lemon sauce irresistibly flavorful. My only quibble here… I thought the organic green salad with asparagus and parmesan cheese a rather odd, and not particularly well-chosen, plating companion. My preference would have been for a wild rice pilaf and a nicely arranged green vegetable (perhaps the asparagus, sans superfluous greenery), both of which would have made more appropriate accompaniments.

Orangery - Ricotta CakeThe desserts – at least one – prompted a number of oohs & aahs from several members of our dining group. The Ricotta Cake, a classic Italian delicacy, was quite nice. The consistency of ricotta cake is slightly denser than that of traditional cake; and its texture has often been described as somewhere between regular cake and cheesecake. And that was true of Orangery’s version as well. Soft, moist, and buttery, it was simply garnished with powdered sugar and strawberry purée.

Orangery - Affogato al CaffeBut the expressions of delight were reserved for the Affogato al Caffè. Originally invented in Italy, the word “affogato” may literally be translated as “drowned” in English. And this is a very apt description, as affogato is simply a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream “drowned” in espresso. While the recipe of affogato is basically standard in Italy, numerous variations exist in European and American restaurants.

Occasionally, for example, coconut, berries, honeycomb, and multiple flavors of ice cream are added. A biscotto or cookie may also be served alongside. We were fortunate enough, however, to enjoy the unadulterated Italian version, which was thoroughly enjoyed by all. Well… not quite all… My dining partner doesn’t care for coffee. ☹

In a very real sense, the Orangery defies description… And your ultimate opinion of the restaurant – whether you love it or hate it – will very much depend upon your expectations going in. For example, if you’re anticipating a Michelin-starred experience, you’ve definitely come to the wrong address. The food here is homespun Tuscan and, with a few exceptions, it is quite good, though hardly exceptional. Service is on a par with the cuisine – meaning it is decidedly not professional. Servers are young, friendly, well-meaning, and accommodating… unfortunately, they appear to be completely unfamiliar with the complexities and subtle nuances of fine dining.

Orangery - ExteriorIf you have never dined at the Orangery, it is certainly, in my opinion, worthy of a visit… but neither for the food nor the service. Given its pastoral setting and homey, unpretentious ambiance, it is a delightfully restful step back in time that will do infinitely more to soothe the soul than appease the appetite. Just keep the above-mentioned caveats in mind and you will probably not be disappointed.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Thanksgiving - Wine ChartIf you happen to consult the Internet for assistance with regard to choosing wine(s) to pair with your Thanksgiving dinner, you soon realize there is absolutely no shortage of suggestions… approximately 5,190,000 to be more specific… And the sources couldn’t be more diverse. They range from individual wineries and wine stores to periodicals like Wine Spectator, Food & Wine, Town & Country, Woman’s Day, and Oprah Daily to blogs like Pioneer Woman, Reverse Wine Snob, and Spruce Eats (that’s their nifty little wine chart).

… And while the art of pairing wine with food – as I’ve mentioned on several occasions – is very much a matter of personal preference, there are several fairly safe amalgams, both white and red, that may help to alleviate your oenological conundrums. With white wines, the pairing priority is finding vintages with well-balanced acidity (over-oaked chardonnays, for example, need not apply); your best bets, therefore, are Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Grigio. When it comes to reds, you want to seek out wines with fairly subtle tannins that will support the flavors of the food rather than overpowering them. And the winner is…? Without doubt, Pinot Noir.

Riesling is a white wine that may be either bone dry or incredibly sweet. And whether hailing from Alsace, Germany, or Washington State, it is absolutely the top pick for pairing with Thanksgiving dinner. Its innate flavors and clarifying acidity give it a significant pairing edge with items like sweet potatoes, turkey, and spice-laden or herb-filled stuffing.

Trimbach Winery 4My choice to accompany your Thanksgiving dinner would be the 2018 Trimbach Riesling from the Alsatian region of France. The Trimbach family has been producing wines in the tiny hamlet of Ribeauvillé since 1626; and, across 13 generations, their wines have always been well-structured, long-lived, fruity, elegant, and beautifully balanced. In addition, bottles remain in their cellar for several years before reaching the marketplace, so as to ensure that the wines will be both ready to drink upon release and also hold great aging potential. The 2018 exhibits a beautiful straw color with green tinges at the periphery. On the nose, the characteristic petrol-mineral combo is unmistakably present and accounted for. And on the palate, it assaults the senses with a bone-dry refreshing acidity that continues through to the long, lingering, mouthwatering finish. Currently on sale through PA State Stores at $17.99.

However, if you really want to splurge for your Thanksgiving feast, I highly recommend the Trimbach 2011 Cuvée Frédéric Emile, considered, year after year, to be one of Alsace’s greatest Rieslings. This is also available through PA State Stores at $72.99… and, trust me, it is worth every penny.

Sauvignon Blanc is also considered an excellent wine to pair with Thanksgiving dinner. This white wine grape is widely cultivated in France and California. The best of French wines made from 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc are produced in the Loire Valley at Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé. It is also grown in Italy, eastern Europe, Australia, New Zealand, South America and South Africa.

Its crisp tartness and herbaceous aroma and flavor make it an obvious choice for the Thanksgiving table… But I do have one caveat. While the Sauvignon Blancs of New Zealand have developed a tremendous following recently, they have simply become almost too citrusy (read here grapefruit-y) to pair very well with foods – especially with the variety of foods served on a chilly Thanksgiving Day. No, these wines are best enjoyed for their own merits on a warm summer’s afternoon.

Ken Forrester Sauvignon Blanc 2018I do, however, have one suggestion… South Africa produces consistently fine wines in a variety of categories that may be purchased online through Cape Ardor, https://cape-ardor.com/, the largest exclusive boutique wine retailer of top international wine. However, if Sauvignon Blanc is your choice for the Thanksgiving Day table, be sure to check out the many possibilities and prices at https://wineshop.cape-ardor.com/sauvignon-blanc-c98.aspx. I have ordered a number of items from Cape Ardor, so I can personally vouch for their promptness and reliability.

On the other hand, if you’re not particularly disposed to put up with the possible hassles and the extra expense of shipping, I highly recommend the 2018 Ken Forrester “Petit” Sauvignon Blanc, which is also from South Africa, but is readily available at your local State Store for a mere $12.99 per bottle. This is really a marvelous little wine, tart, crisp, and clean yet without that off-putting grapefruit-y overdose.

If you would prefer Pinot Grigio with your Thanksgiving feast, you certainly can’t do any better than those of Elena Walch. Located in northeast Italy, bordered by Lombardy in the west, Veneto on the East, and Austria on the north, Elena Walch is a leading estate in the Alto Adige region and is also considered one of the finest in Italy.

Elena WalchThe 2020 Elena Walch Pinot Grigio was recently rated 90 points by Wine Enthusiast and 91 points by James Suckling. This is a wonderful wine, with a very nice mineral-salty richness and crisp acidity on the palate, an excellent depth of lemon/lime flavor, and a long, crisp finish. Marvelously versatile, it will marry well with the variety of foods that often grace the Thanksgiving table. Currently priced at $15.99 at PA State Stores, a dollar of two less from a number of sources online.

… And if you’d like to go a bit more upscale, the 2018 Elena Walch Pinot Grigio Vigna “Castel Ringberg” is an excellent choice. It is mostly made in stainless steel tanks, but approximately 15% is fermented and aged in wood in order to provide more heft and depth of flavor. Currently available online through the Wine Library in Springfield, New Jersey, at $20.99 per bottle.

Pinot Noir is a traditional favorite at the Thanksgiving table. Its subtle, earthly undertones and often mushroom-inspired flavors surround the fresh fruit features and tend to complement the variety of flavors present at the Thanksgiving Day meal.

Here are my suggestions of the moment… The 2019 Chad Pinot Noir Willamette Valley is smooth on the palate and the pocketbook. It is the very essence of Oregon pinot. Aromatically, black cherry predominates along with a beguiling touch of spice. The taste is vibrant and complex with an abundance of berry fruit and soft, silky tannins. This is an outstanding wine at an outstanding price point. The lowest listing I’ve seen online is $23.50 per bottle (plus shipping) at Nicholas Wines, Red Bank, New Jersey.

Hamilton Russell Winery - Anthony & OliveHamilton Russell Vineyards is one of South Africa’s most prestigious wineries. Located in the beautiful Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven & Earth) Valley appellation adjacent to the picturesque fishing village of Hermanus, it is also one of the most southerly wine estates in Africa and one of the closest to the sea. Anthony Hamilton Russell and his wife, Olive (pictured), winemaker Emul Ross, and viticulturist Johan Montgomery are completely dedicated to expressing the personality of Hamilton Russell Vineyards’ terroir in their wines. Diminutive yields and intense worldwide demand keep the elegant, highly individual, estate-grown Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in very short supply.

However, the 2019 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir is unique… as it is the only HR Pinot Noir to be made with purchased grapes, as wildfires tainted the estate’s own fruit. This is a cuvée of the three Hemel-en-Aarde Valley sub-regions… “and all the better for it,” notes wine critic Tim Atkin, who bestowed a whopping 95 points on the 2019 vintage. “A fine effort in very trying circumstances,” chimed in Decanter. And that’s putting it mildly… Vinous said it much better: “Given the trauma suffered this vintage, this should be considered a success, not least because it still seems to bear the imprimatur of Hamilton Russell.” A simply fabulous wine and a wonderful complement to your Thanksgiving table.

The 2019 vintage is available online from Empire Wine, Albany, NY, at $42.98. However, if you would prefer, the 2020 vintage (also highly rated) may be purchased online through Shoppers Wines, Union, NJ, and Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, Wayne, NJ, at $34.95.

King Estate Inscription Pinot NoirThe 2019 King Estate “Inscription” Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is a relatively new brand introduced by the King Estate. About half the grapes in this wine come from King Estate’s own vineyards, with the balance from acclaimed vineyards located throughout the Willamette Valley. The grapes were hand-sorted with each lot and individually fermented in small batches. Stainless steel fermentation with daily punch downs and pump overs were followed by malolactic fermentation. The wine was then aged for 8 to 10 months in French oak, approximately 30% new barrels, before the final blend was made. The Wine Enthusiast, bestowed 90 points and an Editors’ Choice designation describing the wine as classy and affordable. And, yes, it is very affordable. The average U.S. retail price is $18.00 per bottle; $18.99 per bottle at Total Wine in Claymont, DE. Once again, however a little online shopping can yield a number of bargains: $14.99 at Marketview Liquor, Rochester, NY; $14.94 at Saratoga Wine Exchange, Ballston Lake, NY.

I first tasted the 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir in the Purser’s Pub at the Inn at Perry Cabin during a trip to St. Michaels, Maryland… And I was so impressed that the moment I returned home I ordered six bottles online. This is a beautiful pinot noir: bright ruby red in color and an equally bright nose alive with the aromas of red fruits. Soft and elegant on the palate, its smooth, silky tannins move you along to a long, light ethereal finish. Wine critic James Suckling bestowed 92 points and referred to the wine as “their finest release under this estate label.” The 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir will cost you $27.00 per bottle in Pennsylvania State Stores… On the other hand, it is available online from The Wine Buyer in Wayne, NJ, at $18.99 per bottle. This is where I purchased my six bottles, and shipping was only about $16.00. So, this is one instance in which you can save a bundle by doing a little searching online.

Tesselaarsdal WinemakerThe 2018 Tesselaarsdal Pinot Noir was produced by Berene Sauls, a protégé of the aforementioned Anthony Hamilton Russell, who founded the Tesselaarsdal Winery in 2015. Hamilton Russell also financed the project. Ms. Sauls is a descendent of the freed slaves of South Africa, who were bequeathed the land of former East India Company settler Johannes Tesselaar in 1810.

This is a downright elegant wine, silky smooth on the palate with engaging aromas of red fruit. Aged for nine plus months in 100% French oak barrels, the 2018 Pinot Noir is graceful and completely enjoyable at the present moment but still age-worthy. The lowest price I have seen online is $44.93 at the International Wine Shop, Westport, CT. The perfect complement to your Thanksgiving table. Trust me, this is a wine you will definitely want to seek out.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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JG Sky High Lounge & Restaurant

1 North 19th Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

(215) 419-5059

https://www.jean-georgesphiladelphia.com/jean-georges-sky-high/

JG Sky High Lounge - ViewTo the disappointment of the culinary cognoscenti, Jean-Georges Philadelphia – located on the penultimate 59th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in the Comcast Technology Center – remains closed due to the pandemic. Rumor has it, however, that the restaurant will reopen sometime in October, serving a dinner tasting menu only.

In the meantime, situated one floor above, adjacent to the hotel’s reception area, its more casual sibling, JG Sky High Lounge & Restaurant, continues to run at full throttle. Especially in the evening, the bar attracts a younger, boisterous crowd of tipplers, while the all-day menu caters to a contrastive coalescence of local city dwellers, hotel guests, curious tourists, and assorted gourmet gadflies in search of the latest gastronomic thrill ride… All fetchingly garbed, I might add, in everything from designer sartorial finery to gimme caps, shorts, and sneakers.

JG Sky High - Bacon CheeseburgerThe menu, as you would undoubtedly surmise since the restaurant is located within hotel precincts, runs the gamut – from Caviar to Pizza; Sushi to Guacamole; Rigatoni with Meatballs to Vegetarian Moroccan Tagine; Roasted Salmon to Pepper Crusted Prime Beef Tenderloin. There’s a little of something for everyone – including a fabulously delicious Cheddar Bacon Cheeseburger with creamy Russian dressing, yuzu pickles, and extraordinarily crispy French fries (pictured).

There are a number of ways to get things started here. You could, of course, should your wallet be feeling particularly flush, take the Caviar route… one ounce Osetra with warm blinis & chive crème fraiche ($120.00)… or, somewhat less expensive, companioned by egg toast with herbs ($48.00).

JG Sky High - GuacamoleOn the other hand, infinitely more interesting – as well as more moderately priced – my permanent dining partner and I highly recommend the Warm Asparagus, an appetizer we have thoroughly enjoyed on several occasions. Garnished with summer mushrooms and sprinkling of herbs, the perfectly prepared spears arrive at table swimming in an irresistible palate-pleasing vegetable vinaigrette. The Wagyu Cheese Steak Spring Roll also has a great deal to recommend it… as does the Burrata. On one occasion, adorned with a tangy Meyer lemon jam; on another, strawberry compote and basil. Most recently, however, the Guacamole accompanied by Sungold tomato salsa and warm crunchy tortillas (pictured) proved to be a light and eminently sharable prelude to our meal. The guacamole was appropriately chunky of countenance, turning rich and creamy on the palate, with the salsa adding a nice touch of heat to the proceedings.

Perhaps at this juncture I should mention that in less than one week’s time my permanent dining partner and I had managed to pay two separate visits to JG Sky High Lounge & Restaurant: Friday evening dinner with another couple; and luncheon the following Friday in the company of my dining partner’s daughter. Which, due to the brevity of the menu and the fact that we had been to the restaurant on several previous occasions, made for some interesting choices entrée-wise.

JG Sky High - Zucca PastaFor luncheon, I couldn’t quite bring myself to indulge in the Rigatoni with Meatballs – which sounded more than just a little on the heavy side and, because of my somewhat delicate constitution, the unwelcome invitation to peristatic perplexity – but decided instead on the Zucca Pasta (pictured). Zucca, which means “pumpkin” in Italian, are shaped like tiny ribbed cups; and, in this instance, are bathed in a light tomato sauce awash with bits of smoked bacon, slices of jalapeño, and peppery arugula. A very, very nice presentation… and beautifully seasoned.

JG Sky High - Roasted SalmonFor dinner, the Roasted Salmon (pictured) also turned out to be a fortuitous choice. I rarely order salmon in a restaurant, as this is a fish I generally prepare at home – with what seems nauseating regularity – so I much prefer to sample some other representative of piscatorial pleasure when I’m out and about. However, this particular incarnation turned out to be even more intriguing – and delicious – than its bare bones description would have led me to believe. It swims to table encrusted in an ethereal amalgam of herbs and seasonings, companioned by a corn/scallion succotash, and gently caressed by an exquisitely flavorful lime-corn broth.

Jean-Georges - Parm Crusted ChickenEven though I’ve made mention of the Parmesan Crusted Organic Chicken (pictured) in my previous review of both Jean-Georges Philadelphia and JG Sky High, it is certainly worth pointing out once again. Because, as I previously discussed, among the items appearing on both restaurant menus, it strikes me as the most notable… And, trust me, it is that good. So good, in fact, that during our recent dinner/lunch caper, my dining partner ordered it for both meals.

Yes, I know, chicken doesn’t sound terribly exciting… but this dish has absolutely everything going for it. The exquisitely seasoned parmesan crust provides a perfect textural counterpoint to the tender, succulent fowl, while artichokes and a downright addictive lemon-basil sauce are positively superb in their supporting roles.

JG Sky High - Artichoke TagineThe Artichoke Tagine (pictured) also deserves mention. This is the current vegetarian entry on the menu, and it is quite good, indeed. A tagine or tajine is a Berber dish, named after the earthenware pot in which it is cooked. It is also called maraq or marqa. Algerian and Moroccan tagine dishes are slow-cooked savory stews, typically made with sliced meat, poultry or fish, but also with vegetables and/or fruit. Spices, nuts, and dried fruits are also utilized. In this instance, the artichokes are companioned by kumquats and Persian cucumbers.

The tagine pictured may not look like much, but it is alive with flavors. The kumquat’s contribution is decidedly citrusy, while the diminutive Persian cukes add a mild, sweet flavor. Common spices include ginger, cumin, turmeric, cinnamon, and saffron. Paprika and chili are used in vegetable tagines. This particular rendition is served with a side of mint couscous, which add immensely to the enjoyment.

JG Sky High - Warm Cherry Pie The down-home desserts – with items like Warm Cherry Pie garnished almond milk sorbet (pictured) and Chocolate Layer Cake tempting your sweet tooth – continue to be a high point and, most assuredly, worth saving room for. However, my dining partner, who is something of a dessert maven, maintains that the fabulous sundaes are the real sleepers here… And who am I to argue? She certainly was right about the Salted Caramel Sundae, which we sampled on a previous visit. The combo of creamy salted caramel ice cream, candied peanuts & popcorn, hot fudge, and whipped cream proved to be utterly irresistible.

JG Sky High - Strawberry SundaeAnd the Strawberry Sundae (pictured), currently gracing the menu, is every bit its predecessor’s equal. Constructed on a foundation of strawberry ice cream & strawberry sorbet and adorned with miniature meringues and all the usual trimmings, it is definitely a winner on all counts. But for a special treat, do what we did… order the sundae to share and also the Cookie Plate – chocolate chip, shortbread, almond, and fudge – to go with it. An incredible combo!

As I mentioned in my initial review, in addition to the excellent cuisine, the restaurant also features an intriguing collection of cocktails and a select list of wines by the glass. A few favorites include 2020 Boschkoof Sauvignon Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa; 2018 Produttori di Gavi “Il Forte” Cortese, Piemonte, Italy; and 2013 Dumol “Wester Reach” Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, California.

 While Jean-Georges Philadelphia remains closed, the JG Sky High Lounge & Restaurant offers diners a tasteful and “tasty” alternative… and the perfect perch from which to enjoy the spectacular view.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Fattoush Mediterranean Cuisine

182 Lancaster Avenue

Malvern, Pennsylvania

(484) 568-4465

https://fattoushhealthydining.com/

Fattoush - Interior 2As I mentioned three years ago in my original review, Fattoush is one of those little gems that seems to operate under the radar… and not a great deal has changed in the interim. Hidden away in a nondescript little strip mall, this restaurant doesn’t look like anything special from the outside; and the interior, awash with unadorned tables and minimalist décor, isn’t much of a turn on either.

However, looks can be deceiving; and, in this case, they most assuredly are.  The strictly utilitarian surroundings belie the fresh, vibrant, made-from-scratch Mediterranean (Lebanese) cuisine that continues to surprise and delight. Add downright moderate prices and the fact that you may BYOB… and you have a recipe for a marvelously enjoyable evening at table.

Fattoush - Fattoush SaladThere are a number of excellent appetizers from which to choose, including several absolutely first-rate salads. Tabbouleh, for instance, is a luscious Middle Eastern salad combining tomatoes, finely chopped parsley, mint, bulgur, and onion. Horiatiki is a traditional Greek salad consisting of romaine lettuce, kalamata olives, cucumbers, tomato, and feta cheese. A generous sprinkling of oregano provides the perfect seasoning while all the components are gently tossed with a light dressing of olive oil and lemon juice. For something a bit different, there’s always the Fattoush (pictured), a traditional Lebanese salad comprised of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion, green peppers, radish, and pomegranate splashed with olive oil & lemon juice and spiked with sumac, a deep red spice with a zippy lemony flavor.

Fattoush - MezzaFor my money, however, there’s really only one way to start things off; and that’s with the incomparable Lebanese Mezza (pictured), a shared platter comprised of many of the traditional usual suspects: Hummus and Baba Ghanouj (popular apps made with ground chickpeas & smoked eggplant, respectively); Falafel (deep-fried spiced balls of ground chickpeas & fava beans) topped with tahini sauce; Kibbe (Lebanese meatballs stuffed with spiced beef, onions, and nuts); Stuffed Grape Leaves; and, of course, plenteous portions of Pita Bread for dipping, etc. The grape leaves may strike many as old hat. May be… but they are still quite delicious and incredibly superior to representatives I have sampled elsewhere. Both the Hummus and Baba Ghanouj exhibit an incredible depth of flavor (my dining partner prefers the former; I, the latter), and the Falafel and Kibbe are irresistibly seasoned.

During several previous visits, my dining partner and I have sampled a number of the house special entrées, of particular note are the Shawarma. This refers to a method of meat preparation where cuts of spiced & marinated lamb, chicken, turkey, beef, veal, or mixed meats are stacked in a cone-like shape on a vertical rotisserie. As it rotates and the outside cooks continuously, thin slices are shaved off. Shawarma is one of the world’s most popular street foods, especially in countries of the eastern Mediterranean, western Asia, and northeast Africa.

Fattoush - Samke HarraShawarma may be served as a wrap or on a platter with various accompaniments. At Fatoush, both the Beef Shawarma and the Chicken Shawarma are wrapped in very thin Lebanese pita bread. The former is garnished with lettuce, tomato, parsley, onion, and tahini sauce; the latter with lettuce, pickles, and garlic sauce. The Beef Shawarma Platter is served over rice with Fattoush salad and tahini sauce; the Chicken Shawarma Platter is served rice with Tabbouleh salad and homemade garlic sauce. Both versions beguile the palate with winning combinations of tastes and textures… But even more interesting, in my opinion, is the Samke Harra (pictured). Pan-fried flounder is served on a pillow of rice and perfectly seasoned slices of sautéed zucchini, topped with diced tri-colored peppers, nuts & onion, and finished with a sensual tahini sauce.

During our most recent visit, we both decided on chicken wraps… but with slightly different ingredients and seasonings… My dining partner chose the Zaatar Chicken Wrap on Lebanese Bread sided by Fattoush salad. Zaatar is a spice that is a staple of the Lebanese table, a blend of savory dried herbs like oregano, marjoram, thyme, and toasted earthy spices such as cumin and coriander, along with sesame seeds and salt. The most important ingredient, however, is sumac, which adds a marvelous tanginess to the diced chicken breast. Other key ingredients include feta cheese, tomato, and cucumber.

Fattoush - Greek Chicken WrapMy wrap of choice was the Greek Chicken, also on Lebanese bread with an accompanying cucumber salad (pictured). It wasn’t quite as zippy as the above-mentioned Zaatar, but still nicely seasoned with a combo of interesting flavors provided by spinach, feta cheese, tomato, and, of course, typical of Greek salads, olives.

As you have undoubtedly noticed, the portion sizes here are very generous. So generous, in fact, that our server noted that those diners who, like us, order the Lebanese Mezza to start, often elect to share one entrée rather than order two… Certainly something to keep in mind.

And that brings me to another item of interest… In my first review, I was rather critical of the service, which I noted could be, at times, on the flighty side. During our most recent visit, however, it was excellent – both knowledgeable and attentive – from start to finish. Hopefully, it will continue in this vein.

Fattoush - Bread PuddingMy second gripe concerned dessert – or the lack thereof. On one previous visit, we enjoyed the Homemade Baklava, which was quite good indeed. On another occasion, dessert was conspicuous by its absence… nothing, zippo, zilch. The kitchen had nothing to offer… which to me in an absolute no-no. During our most recent visit, however, we were faced with an abundance of riches… Not only did my dining partner enjoy another go at the Baklava, but I assuaged my sweet tooth with the kitchen’s fabulously decadent Bread Pudding (pictured).

With first-rate service and the two excellent homemade dessert offerings, the restaurant seems to have done a bit of fine tuning since our previous visit – and that makes this little gem even more recommendable. The food here is of impeccable quality, made from scratch, and nicely presented… In addition, as I mentioned at the outset, prices are exceedingly wallet-friendly. The most expensive item on the menu tops out at a mere $19.99… Just don’t forget to BYOB.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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South Africa grows more Chenin Blanc than the rest of the world combined. It is the country’s most populous grape, accounting for 18.5% of the national vineyard that totals just over 92,000 hectares (227,336.95 acres).

Ken ForresterThe best South African wines are produced in the Stellenbosch region, just 25 miles east of Cape Town… And, located on the slopes of the scenic Helderberg Mountains, the vineyards of Ken Forrester Wines are considered by locals and wine lovers as the home of Chenin Blanc. The man himself, affectionately known as “Mr. Chenin Blanc,” who has become the ambassador for South Africa’s most widely planted varietal, seems a little bit larger than life and somehow just as dynamic as the grape he so fervently champions. No wonder his wines were chosen to be served at Nelson Mandela’s 85th birthday party.

Born in Zambia, the son of a copper mining engineer of Scottish descent, the family moved to South Africa when Forrester was 10. He was immediately enrolled in boarding school in Krugersdrop, a mining town near Johannesburg. This was followed by a three-year course in Hotel Management at the Johannesburg Hotel School and his first big career break, employment with the Southern Sun hotel chain.

After a brief stint in the army, he went straight into the restaurant trade… and within two years had purchased Gatriles in the center of Johannesburg, followed by several other eateries. However, a trip to Cape Town in the early ‘90s offered him the possibility of a career in wine. In 1993, he purchased the derelict Scholtzenhof Farm in Stellenbosch, which dated from 1694. Following several false starts in the vineyard, he and winemaker & friend Martin Meinert finally found what they were striving for with the 2000 vintage in a bottle simply labelled “The Chenin Project.” The wine became a Cape icon known as the FMC, an acronym for “Forrester Meinert Chenin.”

Ken Forrester - Tasting RoomToday, Ken Forrester Wines is a million-bottle business producing five different levels of chenin: from the entry level Petit range to the luxury chenins, as well as a sparkling and Noble Late Harvest. In addition to Chenin Blanc, the estate also produces wines from other varietals, including: Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Mourvedre, Pinotage, Roussanne, Viognier, Shiraz, and Sauvignon Blanc. These wines are classified into four types… Petite Range – Everyday wines that are made from grapes cultivated in contracted vineyards… Ken Forrester Range – Exclusive wines made from grapes grown in the family-owned estate in Stellenbosch… Icon Range – Highly individualistic wines that are made from grapes sourced from single vineyards only. Hard-picking, harvesting, fermenting, and bottling of these grapes go through strict quality control to ensure only the best grapes are utilized… Cellar Exclusives Range Wines that are only available in the cellars of Ken Forrester.

With one exception, I have specifically chosen wines from the Petite Range for several reasons. First of all, the price is right. Given their overall quality, they are remarkably inexpensive. Secondly, they are (with one exception) readily available through Pennsylvania State Stores. Finally, I have tasted all of these wines myself and can vouch for their character… To quote Indiana Jones: “Trust me”! 😊

Ken Forrester - Petit2019 Ken Forrester Petit Chenin Blanc: The Petit is the wine name that means this is a “young” wine that receives little or no aging. As a young wine, this chenin is bright, crispy, and alive with citrus fruit. It’s as light as a feather on the palate with a slight salty sensation and hint of tart grapefruit. A young wine it may be… but it still has great personality and is loaded with flavor. This is a wine, as one writer put it, “where you need to buy twice as many bottles as you originally planned, as there won’t be any leftovers.”

And speaking of buying… $12.99 in PA State Stores. The lowest price I’ve seen online is $9.49 from Marketview Liquors in Rochester, NY. Just don’t forget that you will also have to pay for shipping.

2018 Ken Forrester Petit Chardonnay: Although South Africa’s most popular white wine grape is Chenin Blanc, their Chardonnays are also quite excellent. The Chardonnays from South Africa range from slightly on the “steely” side to heavily oaked vintages with rich, buttery consistency. As a general rule, the wines are less complex than French Chardonnays and lighter and more tropical than California varieties.

This is certainly true of Ken Forrester’s 2018 Petit. A lovely golden hue in the glass, aromatically there are distinct touches of tropical fruit. On the palate, the texture is quite creamy – with just the subtlest hint of oak – complemented by a crisp acidity at the finish. Very nice, indeed.

There is absolutely no question that South Africa is capable of producing world-class Chardonnays… Hamilton Russell, for example, is the name that comes immediately to mind. I have personally visited Hamilton Russell Vineyards in Hermanus, South Africa, and tasted many of their wines over the years… And they are spectacular, to say the very least. Just keep in mind that a bottle of Hamilton Russell Chardonnay will put a $35.00 – $40.00 dent in your wallet.

By way of contrast, the 2018 Petit will set you back a measly $9.59 in a PA State Store. I’m not for a moment suggesting that the Petit is in the same league with Hamilton Russell Chardonnay. However, what I am suggesting is that, in its own way – and at its own particular price point – it is a very enjoyable wine. Extremely light on its feet, it is the perfect everyday pour for devoted lovers of Chardonnay.

Ken Forrester - Pinotage2018 Ken Forrester Petit Pinotage: The name Pinotage is somewhat misleading. Because it sounds so much like Pinot Noir, people naturally tend to assume that Pinot Noir and Pinotage taste alike – which they categorically do not. This dark-skinned grape looks and tastes more like Shiraz, even though it is technically related to Pinot Noir.

Pinotage is a grape crossing of Cinsaut and Pinot Noir. This crossing first took place in South Africa in 1925 in the gardens of scientist Abraham Perold. Acutely aware that Pinot Noir struggled in South Africa’s climate, he decided to cross it with Cinsaut (called Hermitage), a very productive species. His goal was to create a wine that was as delicious as Pinot Noir but that grew as well as Cinsaut. The results, however, were somewhat unexpected. The Pinotage grape was extremely dark in color and the wine it created quite bold in character. High in tannin and anthocyanin (a red flavonoid pigment), it was nothing like its progenitors. Despite the difference in flavor, however, it eventually became the second most-planted grape in South Africa.

Almost from the very beginning, however, Pinotage has been burdened with a bad reputation… Since it was so prolific, producers often used it to make very low-quality commercial wine. And since it was also extremely inky in character, this made it possible for wineries to stretch their wine as thin as possible. What winemakers didn’t realize in the 1980s and ‘90s was that while Pinotage is a very easy wine to make, it is a very difficult wine to make well. Fortunately, in the last 15 years, things have begun to change, with producers focusing on reducing crop yields and using careful winemaking techniques to manage this unique grape.

The 2018 Ken Forrester Petit is quintessential well-made Pinotage. It is decidedly fruit-forward but with an intriguing, earthy quality. And, despite the fact that Pinotage gone awry can be overly tannic and ponderous on the palate, this version is marvelously fresh and light-bodied with excellent acidity. As Forbes food/wine writer, John Mariani, noted: “A very good price for a splendid ‘little’ Pinotage whose elements are impeccably blended in an unoaked version of the varietal.”

I must confess that I have never been terribly fond of Pinotage, but the 2018 Petit has forever made me a fan. And speaking of price… a mere $11.99 at your local PA State Store.

Ken Forrester Reserve Chenin Blanc 2018The one wine not included in the Petit category, the 2018 Ken Forrester “Old Vine Reserve” Chenin Blanc, deserves special mention. My dining partner and I first sampled this stunning reserve over dinner at Helena’s Restaurant in the Coopmanhuijs Boutique Hotel & Spa, Stellenbosch, during our trip to South Africa. The grapes for 2018 are sourced from 40-year-old vines picked by hand. The wine is barrel- and tank-fermented and left on the lees for nine months, employing 20% new French oak.

This is a very attractive wine, youthful and delicately textured, displaying a beautiful harmonious balance between fruit and subtle oak/vanilla flavors. Full-bodied and complex, but not overpowering, it has a very satisfying mouthfeel and a soft lingering finish. Critics concurred: 91 points from both Decanter and Vinous.

… And, given its outstanding quality, this wine is also quite reasonably priced, retailing around the $15.00 mark. It is available through PA State Stores via special order only for $15.29. The lowest price I have seen online is $12.99 from Joe’s Canal in the Mercer Mall, Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

On the other hand, if you’d like to step up to the Icon Range (see description above), you might give the 2018 Ken Forrester The FMC Chenin Blanc a try. (As noted above, this is an acronym for “Forrester Meinert Chenin.”)  This wine comes highly recommended by Christian Eedes, editor of winemag.co.za, a digital newsletter reviewing fine wines from South Africa, who recently bestowed 95 points (100-point scale) on the Forrester flagship.

The review, I think, speaks for itself: “The current-release The FMC 2018 from Ken Forrester Wines works particularly well. The cuvée has always had a reputation for being a big and bold rendition of Chenin Blanc but what’s striking about this vintage is more the balance and intricacy… The nose shows a hint of reduction before pear, lemon, peach and apricot while a note of honeysuckle reveals itself with time in the glass. The palate has a lovely fruit purity and freshness, the finish long and pithy.”

The 2018 FMC is available online from Solano Cellars in California and is priced at $67.50 per bottle. The 2017 and 2019 vintages are available through PA State Stores by special order (I’m not sure about the 2018) at $58.59 per bottle.

One final word… Wine critic Neal Martin of Vinous had some very insightful and valuable thoughts about Ken Forrester’s Petit line of wines, which, I believe, deserve quotation in full…

“Ken Forrester is one of the most familiar faces in the South Africa scene, an important figure whose portfolio strands both high-end boutique bottlings from old vines to bottles that populate supermarket shelves. These cheaper, high-volume wines are just as much ambassadors for a wine region or country. South Africa’s weakness has been at this end with too much substandard fodder bought doubtlessly for potential profit margins that supermarkets or high-volume distributors crave. Yet, I have always a good word for Forrester’s “Petit” range that cost just a handful of dollars. They might not attract the highest scores, but that is not their intention. They are clean, well made, and respectful of their varietal and demonstrate that in the right hands, cheap South African wine can be perfectly fine.”

I’ll drink to that… Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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