As the warm weather continues in earnest, noted below are several more wines that are quite suitable for summertime quaffing or as accompaniments to a variety of items hot off the grill.

I’ve noted several excellent white wines in the posts below… On the other hand, if you’re incurably carnivorous, and decide to throw a New York strip on the grill, there are two recently tasted red wines that I can heartily recommend…

La Massa Toscana 2013The first is the 2013 La Massa “La Massa” Toscana. This full-bodied Italian red is produced in the Chianti Classico region of Panzano. It is comprised of 60% Sangiovese and 30% Merlot; the remaining 10% a combo of Cabernet Sauvignon and Alicante Bouschet. This dark, almost jammy wine is intense & complex and superbly rich on the palate. So if you want something on the hefty side to stand up to that steak, this is definitely a suitable candidate. Best of all, it’s reasonably priced. A bargain at its usual $21.00 mark, I’ve seen it online for as low as $18.98.


But if you’re looking for something with a bit more savoir-faire, the 2011 Tenor 2:2 Columbia Valley Red Wine is just what the doctor ordered. A product of Washington State’s Matthews/Tenor Winery, this sumptuous red is dressed to impress.

Tenor Wines - Winemaker Aryn MorellSince 1992 the family-owned and operated Matthews Winery has been crafting excellent Bordeaux style wines. And their winemaker, Aryn Morell, sports a résumé that reads like a Who’s Who of impressive Napa Valley wineries. Mr. Morell has honed his significant winemaking skills at the likes of Joseph Phelps, Quintessa, Hartwell, Chimney Rock, Caldwell Vineyards, Vineyard 29, Chappellet, Rutherford Hill, Spring Mountain Winery, Stags Leap Winery, and Turnbull. He became head winemaker for Matthews in 2007 and, in 2008, launched Tenor Wines with a focus on ultra-premium red and white Bordeaux style wines.

Mr. Morell’s 2011 Tenor 2:2 Columbia Valley Red Wine, which received a 93-point score from the Wine Enthusiast, is a blend of 35% Merlot, 34% Cabernet Franc, 27% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 4% Malbec. Typical of Bordeaux-like blends, the nose catches an initial intoxicating whiff of cordovan shoe polish followed by aromas of coffee, wood & spice. A stunning combination of power and finesse, the palate is all about dark fruits and a finish that seems to go on forever.

The 2011 Tenor 2:2 is a stunning wine and worth every penny of its $55.00 price tag. As luck would have it, however, it is currently on sale at Pennsylvania State Stores for a modest $29.99. A wine of this quality and price point does not come along every day. ‘Nuff said?

Cheers & Bon Appétit!



As the warm weather continues in earnest, noted below are several more wines that are quite suitable for summertime quaffing or as accompaniments to a variety of items hot off the grill.

WillaKenzie Pinot Blanc 2014Oregon: WillaKenzie Estate Grown Pinot Blanc (Yamhill-Carlton District) 2014 – In 1991, after a successful career in high tech, Bernard Lacroute and his wife, Ronnie, purchased a 430-acre cattle ranch just outside Yamhill, Oregon. The couple named the property WillaKenzie Estate after the ancient Willakenzie sedimentary soil on which the vineyards are planted (Willakenzie soils are, in turn, named after two of Oregon’s major rivers: the Willamette and the McKenzie).

With 130 acres now given over to vines, WillaKenzie is the largest family vineyard holding in northwestern Oregon. Two-thirds of the vineyards are Pinot Noir; the remaining vineyards are planted to Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Gamay Noir, and Chardonnay. Under the direction of winemaker Thibaud Mandet, who was educated at the University of Bordeaux, Oregon’s WillaKenzie Estate combines the best French methods with American innovation to craft wines that are complex, refined, and unique; wines that express the terroirs of both WillaKenzie and the Willamette Valley.

Two years ago – June 2014 – I reviewed the 2011 WillaKenzie Estate Pinot Gris, noting its synthesis of French & Italian styles, producing a lovely medium-bodied wine that combined a creamy texture & earthy minerality with refreshing acidity. The 2014 Estate Grown Pinot Blanc is quite similar in character to the above-mentioned Pinot Gris. This is a light, elegant vintage that offers up hints of peach and pear fruit embraced by a hefty but well-integrated 13.8% alcohol. Retailing around the $21.00 mark, this is a wine of excellent character at a more than reasonable price.


Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 2015South Africa: Hamilton Russell Walker Bay Chardonnay 2015 – Hamilton Russell Vineyards is located in the cool maritime Walker Bay wine appellation in the beautiful Hemel-en-Aarde Valley. The winery specializes in producing terror driven Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – “Wines from South African soil with a Burgundian soul” – that are widely regarded as the best in South Africa and among the best in the New World.

Hamilton Russell Vineyards Chardonnay is quite different from most New World Chardonnays. The stony, clay-rich soil, cool maritime climate, and naturally low yields produce wines with a tighter, drier, more complex mineral character and length to complement the fruit. And many wine enthusiasts – this writer included – prefer this more “classic” style to the round, viscous, vanilla and overripe fruit character of so many Chardonnays.

Hamilton Russell Chard possesses the elegance, acidity, and balance that is reminiscent of a great white Burgundy… but it also exhibits the concentrated ripe juicy fruit characteristic of a New World wine. As wine critic Stephen Tanzer notes: HR Chardonnays “convey a powerful impression of intensity without weight.”

I’ve previously sampled the 2013 & 2014 HR Chardonnay – both highly rated by the wine gurus – but there is no question in my mind that the 2015 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay – tops them both. This is simply a fabulous wine, ripe & rippling, beautifully balanced, and alive with an incredible depth of flavor and refreshing minerality…

… And given the incomparable quality of this vintage, a comparative bargain. The 2015 normally retails at the $30.00 mark; but do a little surfing and you’re sure to come up with several options for purchase in the low to mid-20s. A whopping 94 points from the Wine Spectator, this wine will be at its best from 2017 – 2022… But only 2,700 cases imported, so you’d better get a move on.

Cheers & Bon Appétit!



Gladstone Tavern - Eat Drink Local WeekBeginning on Friday, July 22, and continuing through Sunday, July 31, 2016, the Gladstone Tavern, 273 Main Street, Gladstone, New Jersey, will celebrate edible Jersey’s 5th Annual “Eat Drink Local Week” with special menu selections from New Jersey farms.

Melick’s Farm: Ginger Hard Cider

Melick’s Farm Sugar Plum Fizz: Greenhock Beach Plum Gin, Aperol, Apricot Liquor, Lemon, Champagne

Uncle Bill’s Farm Gazpacho: Garlic Crostini

Flock Town Farm Chioggia Beet & Honeydew Salad: Pickled Cherry, Baby Mustard Green, Lemon-Sumac Yogurt

Bobolink Farm Cheeses: House Crackers, Grilled Peach, Honey

Viking Village Sea Scallop: Summer Squash “Fettucine,” Heirloom Tomato Broth, Basil

Goffle Farm Fried Chicken: Succotash of Corn, Tomato, Pea Greens, Green Onion

Fossil Farm Porcetta: Stewed Plum, Shishito Pepper, Arugula-Fennel Salad

Melick Farm Peach Buckle Cake: Opal Basil Ice Cream, Oat Praline, Raspberry Compote

For more information about edible Jersey’s “Eat Drink Local Week,” or to make reservations, please call (908) 234-9055.

Bon Appétit!



As the warm weather continues in earnest, noted below are several more wines that are quite suitable for summertime quaffing or as accompaniments to a variety of items hot off the grill.

Pouilly-Vinzelles 2014France: Cave des Grands Crus Blancs Vieilles Vignes Pouilly-Vinzelles 2014 – Cave des Grands Crus Blancs (or CGCB) is a group of small wine growers established in 1929 in Vinzelles and Loché, two villages located next to Pouilly-Fuissé. This small cooperative represents 330 acres in France’s Mâcon region, which includes appellations Mâcon-Loché, Mâcon-Vinzelles, Mâcon-Chaintré, Pouilly-Loché, and Pouilly-Vinzelles.

Vinzelles is a small village located in the southern part of the Mâconnais in the department of Saône and Loire. Pouilly-Vinzelles appellation is comprised of only 13 acres, only 10% of the size of its famous – and infinitely better known – neighbor, Pouilly-Fuissé. The appellation, created in 1937, is a single plot selection with vines averaging 30-70 years.

The 2014 Pouilly-Vinzelles is produced from 100% Chardonnay grapes picked from 45-year-old vines. The wine is then fermented, aged in stainless steel vats with partial malolactic (secondary) fermentation, and remains unoaked. This gives the wine a fresh and vibrant acidity, tangy texture, and refreshing aftertaste.

The Wine Enthusiast bestowed 90 points (100-point scale) and an “Editors’ Choice” designation. Normally retailing around the $26.00 mark, Pennsylvania State Stores currently have it on sale for $16.99.


Acrobat Pinot Gris 2014Oregon: King Estate “Acrobat” Pinot Gris 2014 – Wine writer Matt Kramer of The Oregonian considers King Estate the benchmark producer of Pinot Gris (aka Pinot Grigio) in the country. In the 2007 edition of Wine & Spirits magazine’s annual restaurant poll, a survey of only the top Zagat-rated restaurants across the United States, King Estate Pinot Gris was the number one ranked domestic wine in the Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio category and number two overall in the category, the highest rank for an Oregon producer in the 18-year history of the poll.

King Estate’s “Acrobat” label, launched in 2009, was specifically designed to offer wine lovers quality wines at reasonable prices. From its inception, Acrobat has been a huge success. So much so, in fact, that in 2014, King Estate announced that their wildly popular Acrobat Wine would be separated into a new division of the company, which would include the brand’s own winery and licensing, new director of winemaking, and designated sales team.

The 2013 Acrobat Pinot Gris, which I reviewed in July of last year (2015), garnered 90 points from both the Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits, was the perfect companion for summertime imbibing and/or dining, and a positive steal at $13.00 – $14.00 a bottle. Unfortunately, except for a few strays here and there, the vintage is all but gone.

The good news, however, is that the 2014 Acrobat Pinot Gris, which I sampled just recently, is almost its equal. Receiving 88 points and a “Best Buy” designation from the Wine Enthusiast, the 2014 is lush & creamy on the palate and refreshingly crisp & clean at the finish. And, like its predecessor, it is a versatile, food-friendly wine that pairs exceedingly well with a variety of warm weather menu items. The best part, though, might just be the price. Normally retailing around the $15.00 mark, I’ve seen it going for as low as $9.69 a shot… So do a bit of googling and you just might be rewarded.

Cheers & Bon Appétit!



Downtown Bangkok Café

705 Pothouse Road

Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

(610) 933-4800

 Tucked away on the second floor of Yaowapa Thailand Treasures, a retail gift shop majoring in handmade imports, you practically have to organize a search party to find the entrance to the Downtown Bangkok Café – but, trust me, it’s worth the spirited game of hide-and-seek.

Yaowapa and Jerry Kowal opened the gift shop in 2009. But in 2015, the couple’s passion for their culinary heritage got the better of them; and the Downtown Bangkok Café, their sedate 48-seat restaurant, made its debut.

Downtown Bangkok Cafe - InteriorThe four diminutive dining rooms and reception area, as you can well imagine, given Mr. Kowal’s skill as an engineer and importer, are beautifully and tastefully appointed… right down to the elephant-adored silverware and logo-embroidered napery. Once across the threshold, you’re pretty sure this isn’t going to be just another one of those bare-bones, cookie-cutter ethnic eateries. But when Mr. Kowal, who is also the restaurant’s manager, appears at your table to personally welcome you and thank you for dining at his establishment, you’re certain of it.

And you need have no fears with regard to the culinary offerings, as Chef Yaowapa Kowal’s lovingly prepared & presented Thai cuisine is as sedate and sophisticated as the décor. Indeed… the moment the appetizers hit the table, you know you’re in good hands.

Downtown Bangkok Cafe - Butterfly BlanketTake the Butterfly Blanket (pictured), for example. Five fried dumplings are stuffed with ground chicken and served up with a delightfully tangy sweet and sour sauce. The wraps are beautifully textured to the bite; properly crispy but with not a hint of grease… and that sweet and sour sauce is a marvelous accompaniment. A first-rate starter… Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the Steamed Vegetable Dumplings. The homemade soy-based sauce is just fine. But once the wraps cool, they turn decidedly rubbery.

The Vegetable Spring Rolls, however, are right back on track. They are served with or without chicken (in this case, with) and, like the aforementioned fried dumplings, are companioned by that superlative sweet and sour concoction. Once again, they sport an irresistibly crispy countenance and, cut on the bias & artfully arranged, they are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate. Another coup for the kitchen.

Downtown Bangkok Cafe - Thai SaladThe table favorite, however, proved to be the incomparably delicious Thai Salad. Here you have shredded Napa cabbage & carrots, fresh soy beans, and crispy noodles all tossed with a house-made peanut dressing (for a modest supplement, you may also add chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp). A smattering of peanuts provides additional crunch; a sliced hard-boiled egg a contrasting textural dimension. Color and texture are right on the money… but it’s that incredibly addictive peanut dressing that clearly propels this dish into orbit.

When it comes to entrées, there are numerous possibilities; and you may also add chicken, beef, pork or tofu to most dishes at no charge (shrimp or seitan may be added at $3.00 per).

Downtown Bangkok Cafe - Drunken Spicy Man (Noodles) w PorkHigh on the agenda, of course, is Pad Thai, the national dish of Thailand. Here it is authentically prepared with rice noodles, ground peanuts, egg, bean sprouts, and scallion. Certainly recommended. But if you decide to go the noodle route, I much prefer the Drunken Man (pictured), a combo of onion, bell pepper, basil, egg, carrots, broccoli, and scallions. The dish is noted on the menu as “medium spicy,” and that description is right on the money (all dishes may be specified “Mild,” “Medium,” or “Hot). There’s just enough heat tantalize the taste buds without setting fire to your delicate nether regions.

Among the stir-fry dishes, the Mixed Vegetables – broccoli, zucchini, green beans, carrots, celery, bell peppers & baby corn awash in a mild but assertive house-made sauce – is quite excellent… ditto the Sweet & Sour, which, as the name denotes, incorporates a variety of vegetables and chunks of pineapple in an pleasingly pungent sweet & sour sauce.

Downtown Bangkok Cafe - Basil Eggplant Stir Fry w PorkBut the most gastronomically engaging stir-fry, in my opinion, is the Basil Eggplant (pictured). The Japanese eggplant is done to a turn, infusing its own unique aura into a colorful combo of bell peppers, onions, scallions, and racy fresh basil. My choice of pork, which can dry out at the drop of a fork, was perfectly moist and added a particularly pleasant textural dimension. The culinary catalyst, however, was a beautifully balanced sauce of tamarind, soy, ginger, and a host of seasonings that added an intensity of flavor without adding weight. The sauce itself is worth the price of admission.

Downtown Bangkok Cafe - Crispy Duck with Tamarind SauceThe restaurant also sports a number of specialties that are definitely worthy of attention… The delightfully crunchy Coconut Shrimp, for example, served over the aforementioned Thai Salad with addictive peanut dressing and sweet chili sauce. Another special, the Thai Salmon, may be either fried or steamed and served with your choice of house-made Panang, Tamarind, or Garlic Sauce. But if Chef Kowal has a signature dish, it is undoubtedly her sumptuous Crispy Duck (pictured). The half duck is prepared with a zesty tamarind sauce and sided by jasmine rice. And priced at a mere $22.50 it is an incredible bargain (and the most expensive item on the menu)

If the Downtown Bangkok Café has a weakness, other than the sparse selection of desserts, it is, most assuredly, the service, which may only be adequately described as “amateur night.” In fact, during my last visit, there was a sign on the door advertising for wait staff.

A restaurant with such superlative cuisine and peacefully beautiful ambiance should have the very best in knowledgeable service as well. Hopefully, by the time of your visit – and it is, most assuredly worthy of a visit – this minor problem will have been resolved.

Bon Appétit!



Wine Spectator - 2016 Restaurant ListYes, it’s that time again… when wine publications roll out their annual “Best” lists of wine restaurants. The Wine Spectator recently released its annual “Restaurant Wine List Awards.” There are, according to the cover story 3,595 award winners in all 50 states and more than 70 countries. The Wine Enthusiast previously published (August 2016) “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants 2016.

From the Wine Spectator, in our immediate neck of the woods, there are a number of familiar standouts and personal favorites…

NEW JERSEY: The Bernards Inn, Bernardsville… Birravino (formerly Basil T’s, Red Bank… Esty Street, Park Ridge… The Frog and the Peach, New Brunswick… Ho-Ho-Kus Inn & Tavern, Ho-Ho-Kus… Knife & Fork, Atlantic City… La Griglia Seafood Grill & Wine Bar, Kenilworth… The Manor, West Orange… Ninety Acres, Peapack-Gladstone… The Peacock Inn, Princeton… The Pluckemin Inn, Bedminster… Restaurant Latour, Hardyston… The Ryland Inn, Whitehouse Station… Stage Left, New Brunswick… Undici Taverna Rustica, Rumson…

PENNSYLVANIA: Amada, Philadelphia… Lacroix at the Rittenhouse, Philadelphia… Panorama, Philadelphia… Volvér, Philadelphia… Brandywine Prime, Chadds Ford… Margaret Kuo’s Restaurant, Wayne… Mistral, Skippack… Savona, Gulph Mills…

DELAWARE: Caffé Gelato, Newark… Domaine Hudson, Wilmington… Green Room, Wilmington…

For those interested in perusing the complete list, this issue of the Wine Spectator (August 31, 2016) will hit the newsstands tomorrow, Tuesday, July 19, 2016.

From the Wine Enthusiast’s list of “America’s 100 Best Wine Restaurants, two locals may be of interest:, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Restaurant Latour, Hardyston Township, New Jersey.

I freely confess that I am not a fan of this kind of oenological smoke and mirrors listing game. Why? For the simple reason that excellent wine lists do not excellent restaurants make. Just because a restaurant sports a superior wine list, there is no guarantee that the cuisine (and service) will be of the same superior quality… And the Wine Spectator’s “The List,” and others of similar ilk, can be totally misleading, precisely because the unspoken implication is that all aspects of a particular restaurant’s dining experience will be as exceptional as the wine list.

As a professional “hired belly,” my advice to readers has always been to check out restaurants from a variety of sources. Wine, in my opinion, is an important part of the overall dining experience – but it is still only a part… And a good wine list is no guarantee of an enjoyable and satisfying evening at table.

And always keep the words of Jeff Weinstein, the former restaurant reviewer of The Village Voice, at the back of your mind: “A list is a fundamentally lazy way for a newspaper or magazine to fill space and woo as many advertisers as possible. Modern restaurant reviewing was born as advertisement copy that snuck onto the other side of the page. It may die there.”

Bon Appétit & Cheers!



Panache Debuts in Blue Bell, PA

by artfuldiner on July 11, 2016

in Uncategorized

Habib Troudi, the proprietor of the elegant Castello at Blue Bell, announced the opening of his new “sister” restaurant, Panache Wood Fire Brick Oven GrillPanache at Blue Bell - Logo, located at 602 Skippack Pike, Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. Panache is making its debut today, July 11, 2016.

Carved out of the building that had been home to L’Angolo Blue, Panache will offer patrons Neapolitan-style pizzas cooked in a wood-burning, coal-fired oven, as well as prime steaks, seafood, and other new American cuisine.

Panache is open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week, with Sunday brunch coming soon.

For more information, please call (215) 641-9000 or check out the restaurant’s website at

Bon Appétit!



Frog and Peach4The Frog and the Peach, 29 Dennis Street at Hiram Square, New Brunswick, New Jersey, will be celebrating Restaurant Week from Saturday, July 9, through Saturday, July 23, 2016, with specially priced three-course lunch and dinner menus.


First Course (Choice of) – Local Hothouse Tomato: Greek Oregano, Crushed Fava Beans, Grains, Creamy Feta, Hot Chili Oil… Charred Octopus: Gigante Beans, Greek Oregano, Spicy Green, Tomato Vinaigrette

Second Course (Choice of) – Grilled Local Monkfish: Chorizo, Olives, Crispy Potato, Roasted Pepper Bonito Sauce… Balsamic Marinated Hanger Steak: Porcini Dusted Frites, Cherry Tomato, King Trumpet Mushroom, Baby Carrots, F&P Steak Sauce

Third Course (Choice of) – Local Cherry Sundae: Chocolate Cake, Pistachios, Cherry Sorbet, Hot Fudge… Gorgonzola Cremificato: Cow’s Milk Blue Cheese, Lombardy, Italy, Beet & Walnut Pesto, Muscat Grapes, Foccacia



First Course (Choice of) – Cassaday Farms Jersey Corn Bisque: Queso Fresco, Smoked Chili Purée… Local Hothouse Tomato: Greek Oregano, Crushed Fava Beans, Grains, Creamy Feta, Hot Chili Oil

Second Course (Choice of) – Seared Day Boat Sea Scallops: Sesame Peanut Noodle Sushi, Pickled Vegetable Salad, Miso Vinaigrette… Griggstown Chicken: Pan Fried Thighs, Summer Squash Risotto, Bacon, Pecorino, Truffled Chicken Jus

Third Course (Choice of) – Local Cherry Sundae: Chocolate Cake, Pistachios, Cherry Sorbet, Hot Fudge… Gorgonzola Cremificato: Cow’s Milk Blue Cheese, Lombardy, Italy, Beet & Walnut Pesto, Muscat Grapes, Foccacia

The three course dinner is priced at $39.00 per person; the three course lunch at $19.00 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity). For more information, or to make reservations, please call (732) 846-3216.

Bon Appétit!



Nicholas - Lobster MenuRestaurant Nicholas’ lobster menu scheduled for Tuesday, July 26th, noted immediately below, is sold out. Nicholas has added two more evenings: Wednesday, August 3rd & Thursday, August 4th. The complete menu and prices are listed below. For more information, or to reserve your place, please call (732) 345-9977.

Bon Appétit!



Nicholas - Lobster RollsOn Tuesday, July 26, 2016, 7:00 p.m., for one night only, Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank, New Jersey, will host a special lobster menu. For this annual summer tradition, Nicholas flies in Nova Scotia lobsters that will have come out of the ocean less than 24 hours before.

Four courses will showcase fresh lobster paired with locally sourced summer produce, including Jersey corn and tomatoes. If you’re a lobster love, this is one menu you won’t want to miss.

2016 Lobster Menu…

First Course: Classic Lobster Roll

Second Course: Tempura Lobster, Avocado Lime Purée, Radish, Cucumber, Roasted Tomato

Third Course: House-Made Lobster Ravioli, Corn, Lobster Butter Sauce

Fourth Course: Sous Vide Lobster, Corn Pudding, Grilled Corn Succotash, Lemon Butter

Dessert: Key Lime Semi Freddo, Graham Cracker Ice Cream, Vanilla Cream

The cost of the special lobster menu is $13.00 per person; $185.00 with wine pairings (plus tax & gratuity). For more information, or to make reservations, please call (732) 345-9977.

Bon Appétit!