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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Bunha Faun

152 Lancaster Avenue

Malvern, Pennsylvania

(610) 651-2836

www.bunhafaun.net

Bunha Faun - Interior 2Tucked away on bustling Route 30 in a rather dull, nondescript structure that once housed a Dairy Queen, it is quite easy to pass Bunha Faun by without notice. Even if you’ve dined here a number of times – as my permanent dining partner and I have – somehow it still manages to slip under your culinary radar from time to time… And that is truly a shame, as this diminutive Main Line mainstay has so much to offer. The unassuming exterior notwithstanding, the restaurant’s interior is attractively and tastefully appointed. And the cuisine – French fare with an Asian flair – is consistently lovingly prepared and beautifully but simply presented.

Bunha Faun - Oriental NoodlesOne glance at the Snow Pea Salad, for example, and you realize that the food here is really something special. When it comes to ingredients, the dish is the soul of simplicity… snow peas, mushrooms, and a splash of sesame dressing. But the constituents are arranged so artfully – the snow peas fanned about an epicenter of sliced mushrooms – that the presentation succeeds in beguiling the eye as well as the palate. The more seasonal Asparagus Salad – spears caressed by a wafer-thin carrot sheath in pools of sherry vinaigrette – is just as photogenic and equally delicious… As was my starter during our most recent visit, Oriental Noodles (pictured) tossed with sesame dressing topped with slivers of chicken and crushed peanuts surrounded by alternating snippets of carrots and broccoli. Simple but sublime. This is obviously a kitchen at the very top of its game.

And there are certainly other apps worthy of consideration… The Baby Spinach Salad, for instance, tossed with mushrooms & bacon bits and splashed with sherry vinaigrette. While not as eye-catching as those mentioned immediately above, it is also quite excellent. As are several pasta items… Both the Black Angel Hair Pasta and the Black Lobster Ravioli luxuriate in a marvelous Champagne cream sauce. My favorite, however, also the recipient of a lusty cream sauce, is the Green Angel Hair Pasta sautéed with prosciutto & mushrooms and finished with a tiara of parmesan cheese.

Bunha Faun - EscargotMy dining partner, however, would be quick to tell you that nothing quite measured up to the Escargot (pictured). Baked in garlic butter, served on a bed of spinach, and topped with Swiss cheese, it was both incredibly rich and extraordinarily delicious. Not to be missed. Just be sure to postpone your upcoming cholesterol test.

Bunha Faun - Filet MignonDuring our several visits, entrée-wise, we’ve pretty much covered the field. The Duck Breasts – pan seared with a choice of sweet raspberry or savory red wine sauce – for some odd reason, is the only dish of note that has managed to escape our attention… But soon to be rectified, as I know it is right at the top of my dining partner’s list of priorities. We have sampled the Rack of Lamb and the Filet Mignon (pictured), the two most expensive items on the regular menu – $37.00 and $39.00, respectively – and both are more than worth their price tags. The lamb, baked with an herb and mustard sauce, is excellent. But the filet – wrapped in bacon and served with green peppercorns in an incomparably flavorful red wine sauce – is even better.

Seafood items are well represented, many as daily specials… The Steamed Salmon, for example, is topped with crabmeat and finished with cream of vermouth. The Baked Rainbow Trout is stuffed with sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, and spinach and swims to table in a red Burgundy sauce.

Bunha Faun - BarramundiThe Sautéed Barramundi (pictured) is an uncommonly special treat. As I mentioned in another review – and it deserves to be repeated here – barramundi is a member of the sea bass family and is native to Australia’s northern tropical waters and parts of Southeast Asia. While a relative newcomer to the U.S. seafood market, it has appeared on menus seemingly at the speed of light. Because of its firm moist texture and sweet, buttery flavor – somewhat akin to halibut and grouper – it has quickly become the darling of seafood lovers and confirmed carnivores alike… Even people who don’t like seafood tend to like barramundi. Bunha Faun’s kitchen prepares it with a slightly unusual but extremely subtle ginger scallion sauce… The result is simply extraordinary.

Bunha Faun - Sweet Red Pepper ShrimpAlthough my dining partner enjoys finny fare, she much prefers shellfish, which have been her entrées of choice during several visits. She definitely enjoyed the Sautéed Shrimp and Scallops. These were served up with artichoke hearts and mushrooms in a Champagne cream sauce. And, yes… the dish was exceedingly rich. But even better, in her opinion, was the choice during our most recent visit, the Sweet Red Pepper Shrimp (pictured). Companioned by a very nice rice pilaf and sautéed green beans, the perfectly prepared crustaceans were decorously anointed with an exquisite red pepper sauce that was just sweet enough to complement rather than smother the objects of its affection.

Bunha Faun - Escalop of VealIf I had to choose my favorite entrée, it would be, hands down, the delectable Escalope of Veal (pictured with an accompaniment of potatoes au gratin and green beans). I have sampled numerous variations on the theme over the years, but Bunha Faun’s kitchen turns out something that is really quite special. For starters, the veal is pounded nearly wafer-thin and is incredibly tender. Then, of course, there is that utterly addictive white wine sauce aided and abetted by wild mushrooms and prosciutto. And it is undoubtedly the prosciutto – and its irresistibly sweet/salty countenance – that propels this dish into an entirely unique and exciting flavor dimension.

Bunha Faun - Cappuccino TruffleIf Bunha Faun has a low point culinarily, it continues to be their desserts. With the exception of the Crème Brûlée (which was absent from the menu the evening of our most recent visit), the usual suspects are trucked in from off campus – Tiramisu Cake, Chocolate Velvet Cheesecake, Dark Side of the Moon Cake, etc., etc. And this is, indeed, unfortunate. Given the overall quality of the appetizers & entrées, just a few more homemade desserts would add immensely to the total dining experience. On the other hand, I freely admit that my dining partner’s Pecan Pie and my Cappuccino Truffle (pictured) – dark chocolate encrusted cappuccino ice cream with pieces of candy toffee – were both, if not memorable, certainly quite tasty.

To my knowledge, food has never been an issue at Bunha Faun… No, as I mentioned in my first review, the major gripe has usually been with regard to service – a two-fold issue involving both servers and the kitchen. During our visit several years ago, for example, there appeared to be only two individuals taking care of the entire restaurant: the chef in the kitchen and one server in the dining room. And since there was an unexpected influx of diners on this particular evening, the pace at which food arrived at table was somewhat slower than a herd of turtles.

During our most recent visit, the situation had changed somewhat… Instead of two individuals taking care of the entire restaurant there were now three: the chef in the kitchen, a server, and a runner who transported the food to table, which did seem to help the situation significantly. The service was certainly smoother than it had been during our above-mentioned visit. On the other hand, it wasn’t a terribly busy evening. If it had been… well, who knows?

If you plan to dine at Bunha Faun – and it is most assuredly worth a visit – my advice is to make it your only stop for the evening… Just in case.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Stoller Family Estate Vineyard & Winery

by artfuldiner on August 9, 2021

in Breaking News, Opinion, Wine

Stoller Winery - View from Tasting RoomStoller Family Estate has been named Oregon’s Most Admired Winery by the Portland Business Journal for four consecutive years. It is also a three-time winner of Best Tasting Room by USA Today 10 Best Reader’s Choice poll… And the moment you step across the threshold of the winery’s low-slung, solar-powered, LEED Gold-certified winery (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, the most widely used green building rating system in the world) tasting room you will understand why. The first thing you will see is the gentle rolling hills of the vineyard (pictured). The entire back wall consists of floor-to-ceiling windows, most of which roll all the way up in summer. It’s as if you are tasting wine right where the grapes are grown. And although the large airy tasting room is exceedingly modern, the breathtaking view appears to bring the outdoors in; somehow you feel like you’re communing with nature without getting your feet muddy.

Stoller Winery - Owner Bill StollerOwner Bill Stoller is the founder and CEO of the Stoller Group – whose brands include Stoller Family Estate, Chehalem, Chemistry, History Wine, and Canned Oregon – also the president and vice-chairman of Express Employment Professionals, and founder and CEO at Xenium HR & Employer Services. A native Oregonian, Mr. Stoller holds a bachelor’s degree in business and economics from Pacific University, and an MBA from Portland State University. His considerable successes in employment services allowed him to pursue his passion for wine.

The Stoller Family Estate is a 400-acre parcel located on the southern slope of the Dundee Hills. In 1993, Mr. Stoller purchased his family’s second-generation turkey farm with the vision of cultivating an enduring legacy for the land and the Oregon wine industry. Over the past two decades, he has transformed the property into the largest contiguous vineyard in the Dundee Hills with more than 225 acres planted.

Interestingly enough, the very factors that made the land a poor choice for turkey farming proved to be perfect for an award-winning vineyard. In 1995, Mr. Stoller planted 10 acres each of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, combining the experience of consulting viticulturists with innovative vineyard techniques to maximize grape quality. Today, in addition to the two signature varieties, the vineyard also grows small amounts of Pinot Gris, Riesling, Tempranillo, Syrah, and Pinot Blanc.

Stoller Winery - Melissa Barr, WinemakerMelissa Burr is Vice President of Winemaking for Stoller Family Estate. Raised in the Willamette Valley, she intended to practice naturopathic medicine before discovering that wine was her true passion. Following her completion of Chemeketa Community College’s Vineyard and Winery Management program and Oregon State’s Fermentation Science program, she interned during harvest for several local wineries before becoming production winemaker for Cooper Mountain Vineyards.

Melissa joined the Stoller Family Estate in 2003 as the winery’s first dedicated winemaker. In 2013, she partnered with Stoller to launch History, a brand dedicated to paying homage to historic vineyards in the Pacific Northwest. Promoted to Vice President of Winemaking in 2018, she now oversees two winemaking teams – one at each of two production facilities on the estate – focuses on blends, and supports marketing efforts.

The 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir is the wine of which she is especially proud. She refers to it as her “mosaic” because it represents all the different plantings of Pinot grown across the 200-acre estate: all of the vine ages – from 1995 to 2017 – and everything in between.

Stoller Winery - Dundee Hills Pinot Noir 2018I first tasted the 2018 in the Purser’s Pub at the Inn at Perry Cabin during our recent trip to St. Michaels, Maryland. I was so impressed that the moment I returned home I ordered six bottles online. This is a lovely wine – there is simply no other word for it.  In the glass, it is a bright ruby color; and the equally bright nose is alive with the aromas of red fruits. It’s soft and elegant on the palate with smooth silky tannins and a long, light ethereal finish. The wine is aged primarily in neutral barrels, only 15% new French, so there is just the faintest hint of oak. And at 14.1% alcohol by volume, it is decidedly food friendly.

Wine critic James Suckling bestowed 92 points (100-point scale) and called the 2018 “Their finest release under this estate label.” And wine writer Gus Clemens also makes several important points. First of all, he notes that Stoller has upped production on this cuvée to more than 21,000 cases without sacrificing quality. He also points out that while the winery does produce some single vineyard and single clone efforts that cost more and achieve higher quality, this wine is “very nice.” Something of an understatement, in my opinion… However, I am in complete agreement with his concluding comments: “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, 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 shopping online.

Stoller Winery - Dundee Hills Chardonnay 2019The 2019 Stoller Dundee Hills Chardonnay is yet another stunning example of the winemaker’s art. The chardonnay grapes go directly in the estate’s press. The pressed juice is then collected and settled in steel tanks for 12-24 hours. From there, chardonnay fruit for the estate’s Reserve and Legacy wines goes into French oak barrels where the wine ferments and ages for approximately 10 months; this process builds both richness and complexity. The Dundee Hills Chardonnay, on the other hand, is fermented entirely in stainless steel tanks, which produces wines that are crisper and fruit-driven.

Despite the 2019’s rather low 12.5% alcohol level, the wine doesn’t feel at all underripe, just vibrant and succulent. And while unoaked chardonnays have a tendency to be rather austere and overly acidic, this one is exceedingly pleasant on the palate, winding down to a long, soft lingering finish. And the critics were quite taken with it as well. Antonio Galloni’s Vinous rated it at 91 points; Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast each bestowed 90.

The suggested retail price is $25.00. Pennsylvania State Stores are offering it at $19.99… but it is currently out of stock. The lowest price I have seen online is $17.29 at Wine Anthology, Clark, NJ…

Both wines are definitely worth seeking out.

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Blue Elephant

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, former home of the Brick House restaurant, the Blue Elephant is the newest entry in the Win Signature stable, a restaurant group owned by Win and Sutida Somboonsong. Their other four culinary outposts include Mikado Thai Pepper in Ardmore, Teikoku in Newtown Square, and Azie, which boasts locations in both Villanova and Media.

Blue Elephant - InteriorThe creation of the Pottstown restaurant, however, was completely overseen by the couple’s daughter, Pearl Somboonsong, a graduate of Cornell University’s hospitality program. Ms. Somboonsong was responsible for all aspects of the new venture, including design, tile selections, colors, renovations, decorations, and hiring.

… And the room is striking… The high ceiling accentuated with long draperies, gold mirrors, various plants & greenery, a 30-foot-long quartz bar, and a series of comfortable velvet & leather booths filling the large open space… There is even a flowing marble fountain. As I said, striking.

After a recent visit, however, the members of our party of five – this writer included – are wishing Ms. Somboonsong had paid a bit more attention to the food and a little less to the décor. Their mission statement promises “a refreshingly innovative twist on Asian fusion dishes,” which is basically Italian-Thai with some Japanese influences thrown in for good measure. That all sounds good, and a number of the menu items look quite intriguing…but the execution – of even some of the simpler straightforward Thai dishes – leaves a great deal to be desired, with entrées as the chief culprits.

Blue Elephant - BarBut let’s begin on a positive note… My permanent dining partner and I arrived about a half-hour ahead of the rest of our party to enjoy a preprandial libation at the bar. And the list of innovative cocktails is very much on the exotic side. The Tokyo Twist Cosmo, for example, a combo of “8000 Generation” Japanese Shochu (a distilled Japanese spirit in place of the usual vodka), triple sec, lime, and cranberry juice… or the Himalayan Heat, Cazadores Blanco Thai chili-infused Tequila, ginger, crème of coconut, lemongrass, and roasted coconut.

We decided on a slightly more conservative approach concoction-wise… Pearl’s Punch was my partner’s choice: raspberry vodka, triple sec, pomegranate, cranberry, cinnamon, orange/pineapple juice, and citrus soda. Quite refreshing in the heat of summer. Ditto My Ginger Bourbon Old-Fashioned: Bulleit Bourbon, muddled ginger, ginger ale, and lemon.

I should add that the bar area is very comfortable, the bartender exceedingly pleasant (as was the young woman who was our server during dinner), and the cocktails well mixed. During “Happy Hour” – Monday to Friday, 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. – a number of cocktails are reduced in price, as are “small bites”; house wines are $5.00 per glass, as are well liquors and mixers; and draft beers are $2.00 off. Something to keep in mind.

Blue Elephant - Steamed Pork DumplingsOnce our party was seated at table, appetizers proved to be the high point of the evening… Naturally, many of the usual suspects are present and accounted for – through often treated to a number of creative twists & turns: Rock Shrimp, for instance, encased in a crispy tempura batter and served with spicy aioli; Duck Confit Arancini (risotto balls) companioned by green curry remoulade; and the ubiquitous Cheesesteak Spring Rolls teamed with cheddar and pepper jack cheeses. Interestingly enough, it was the old-fashioned, unadorned Dumplings (pictured) – stuffed with pork & scallions, gently steamed, and accompanied by a first-rate soy vinaigrette – that proved to be the table favorite.

Blue Elephant - Zucchini FrittersComing in a very close second, however, were the Zucchini Fritters (pictured). That may not sound terribly exciting, but these were tempura battered and seasoned with shichimi togarashi, a zippy blend of seven Japanese spices. But the pièce de résistance was delivered courtesy of an incredibly irresistible melted Gorgonzola dipping sauce, which succeeded in propelling what could have been just another unexciting appetizer into gastronomic orbit.

And though technically not a starter, the Potts Bread – which arrived in an actual flower pot – makes a first-rate accompaniment to any meal, especially when teamed up with a ramekin of miso honey butter.

Up until this point, everything had been absolutely spot-on… Once the entrées arrived, however, disappointment followed not far behind. And, ironically, the faux pas were most evident, not with the complex fusion dishes, as one might have expected, but with more traditional Thai favorites that certainly should have been “no-brainers” for owners with over thirty years in the business and an experienced kitchen staff even remotely familiar with Thai cuisine.

Blue Elephant - Drunken Noods w ChickenTake my Drunken Noodles (pictured), for example… a relatively simple presentation basically consisting of stir-fried wide noodles, egg, chicken, and spicy Thai basil chili sauce. This is such a popular dish that many different stories grew up around it – most of them undoubtedly apocryphal – as to how it became known as Drunken Noodles since there is no alcohol in the recipe. One such tale is that the noodles are so spicy that those partaking get drunk in the process of attempting to quench their thirst.

And here I freely give credit where credit is due… The infusion of spices was perfect for my palate. There was just enough heat to prompt an exhilarating “after burn” without causing irreparable damage to one’s delicate nether regions… But… even after all this good work, the kitchen still somehow managed to mess up the chicken, which was woefully overcooked. As tough as Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide saddle and twice as chewy.

Blue Elephant - Crab Fried Rice 2The Crab Fried Rice (pictured), another extremely popular Thai dish, also fell short. In addition to the crab, the other constituents included carrots, onions, scallions, eggs, and garlic soy sauce. Regrettably, the latter ingredient was conspicuous by its absence. Without the all-important sauce, the rice was the-bland-leading-the- bland. So bland, in fact, that the gentleman who ordered it declared it inedible and left it completely untouched.

Blue Elphant - Flounder stuffed w CrabmeatMy permanent dining partner was the only one in our party who chose what would be considered an innovative fusion presentation, the Stuffed Flounder (pictured). The filet was stuffed with crabmeat, smothered in cream of Parmigiano Reggiano and finished with a tiny tiara of Japanese tobiko (flying fish roe). The accompaniment was listed as a lemon asparagus salad, which turned out to be arugula. In her considered opinion – and my concurrence – the flounder was merely “OK” but not exceptional. In addition, the filet contained a surfeit of bones. With any fish, it is not unusual for an occasional bone to put in an unwelcome appearance… But there seemed to be an inordinate number of them here, as if this particular piscatorial representative had been haphazardly filleted and/or improperly checked over before preparation.

Our group passed on dessert. It is, however, worth mentioning, as unlike most Asian restaurants, the Blue Elephant offers an assortment of sweet endings. Not only the usual suspects like Triple Chocolate Cake, Crème Brûlée, and Carrot Cake, but also more intriguing options such as Green Tea Tiramisu and Japanese Mochi Ice Cream (a soft pounded sticky rice dumpling formed around an ice cream filling), which might be worth trying.

There is no question in my mind that the Blue Elephant has the desire – and the potential – to be an excellent restaurant. However… given the rather odd missteps with regard to the entrées, one cannot help but wonder what strange culinary machinations may or may not be transpiring in the bowels of the kitchen. And until that problem is properly addressed, the restaurant’s reach will continue to exceed its grasp.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Bas Rouge

19 Federal Street

Easton, Maryland

(410) 822-1637

https://www.basrougeeaston.com/

The flagship of New York energy mogul Paul Prager’s BluePoint Hospitality Group (which also owns several other restaurants and boutiques in town), Bas Rouge isn’t the kind of restaurant you expect to find in Easton, a sleepy little burg on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. In fact, in this age of smart casual eateries dominating the culinary landscape, restaurants like Bas Rouge are becoming increasingly difficult to find anywhere.

Bas Rouge - View InsideAccording to their website, “(It) is a contemporary European restaurant offering an impeccable integration of fine dining, a world-class wine list, and elegant service.” And that pretty much sums it up. Indeed, this is classic, refined Old World dining at its most gracious. The décor is reminiscent of a grand 19th century Austrian bistro. Furnishings include an antique Lobmeyr crystal chandelier & sconces, marble-topped antiques, and 19th century Austrian & German oil paintings.

Executive Chef Harley Peet and Chef de Cuisine Phil Lind, utilizing ingredients sourced from the very best local purveyors and farms, present a stylish & innovative take on Viennese & European classic dishes… and their cuisine is nothing short of extraordinary.

As you have undoubtedly surmised, dinner here will not be an inexpensive proposition. Three courses will put a $100.00 dent in your pocketbook; four courses, $125.00 (plus beverages, tax & gratuity). The three-course wine pairing is $75.00; four-courses, $100.00. Premium wine pairings are $125.00 and $150.00, respectively. My dining partner and I chose the three-course menu; I also opted for the premium wine pairing (both of which, in my opinion, more than justified the price). Since my companion was driving, she decided to be more circumspect with her alcoholic consumption.

Bas Rouge - Tuna w CapersDinner began with an amuse-bouche, a sliver of perfectly prepared tuna garnished with capers. The presentation was simple… but the taste sublime. And even more sublime was the wine that accompanied this gift from the chef – a glass of Champagne. But not just any Champagne. No, no… Dom Perignon… And that was just a hint of the marvelous things to come.

Bas Rouge - Sweet Onion RavioliAppetizers, for instance, offered up a number of intriguing possibilities. Items such as Terrine de Campagne with ground pistachio, peach salsa, and blueberry & ginger jam; Tuna Tartare ($20.00 supplement) served with cucumber, crème fraîche, salmon roe, and kaluga caviar; Clarified Gazpacho accompanied by tomato-basil sorbet and jumbo lump crab; and Sweet Onion Ravioli (pictured) filled with house-made ricotta crowned with spargel foam and smattering of brown butter crumbs. Spargel is a variety of white asparagus that Germans refer to as “white gold” and pay more per kilo for it than they do meat. Peeling and boiling for just the proper amount of time unlocks its unique flavor, which is subtler, lighter, and slightly sweeter than its green cousin… and proved a delectable complement to the delicately textured ravioli. This was my dining partner’s choice, and she was not disappointed.

Bas Rouge - Petit Tomato SaladMy Petit Tomato Salad (pictured) – comprised of red, yellow, and Sungold (golden orange) cherry tomatoes, splash of tomato water, and hint of basil – is another one of those deceptively simple dishes filled with all sorts of unexpected pleasures… and not merely the diversity of color. The yellow tomatoes, for example, are slightly less acidic than red varieties and, therefore, milder & sweeter in flavor. The Sungold tend to be sweet as well, but also firmer in texture. The translucent tomato water (the liquid that seeps from the ripe flesh after the tomato has been cut) not only intensifies the flavor but the fragrance of the dish as well. A marvelous starter.

… And equally marvelous was the sommelier’s choice of wine: a white Châteauneuf-du-Pape. When most people think of Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the southern Rhône Valley, red wine comes immediately to mind. And that is certainly understandable, as only 7% of the wines made in that region are white. Produced from one or a combination of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Bourboulenc, and Clairette, these are some of the rarest and most prestigious wines in France. They are intense, full-bodied, age beautifully, and are a wonderful match with a great variety of foods – particularly my Petit Tomato Salad.

Bas Rouge - Dover SoleAs my dining partner and I both love Dover sole, our choice of Dover Sole Roulade (pictured) was something of a no-brainer. Unlike other fish, Dover sole is very firm of texture; “more like meat,” as one writer put it. And the flavor…? Legal Seafood has a positively wonderful description: “The flavor of Dover sole is mild and sweet, elusive and enticingly different from more mundane white fish species. It’s a special indulgence and always worth extra care and expense.”

And at Bas Rouge it is prepared to perfection. The filet is rolled, gently sautéed with herbed beurre monte (emulsified melted butter), crowned with pickled vegetables & toasted hazelnuts and – the pièce de résistance – surrounded by potato & green asparagus purées. As you will note from the photograph, it is a feast for the eye as well as the palate.

The wine pairing was pretty close to perfection as well… a spectacular Chassagne-Montrachet. Located in France’s Côte de Beaune, the southern area of the Côte d’Or, the Chassagne-Montrachet wine region produces both pinot noir and chardonnay… But it is the white wines, made from 100% chardonnay, that are considered some of the very best in the world. And the wine I enjoyed with my Dover sole was certainly one of the best I have tasted in recent memory. It was a wonderfully elegant harmony of intense fruit, minerality, and delicate toasty flavors imparted by oak barrel fermentation. Incredible body… but as light as a feather on the palate. Kudos to the sommelier.

Bas Rouge - Blueberry Almond TartDesserts, courtesy of pastry chef Jim Hutchison, continue the kitchen’s excellent work. The night of our visit there were four possibilities noted on the printed menu: Strawberry Tart, vanilla sable, whipped vanilla ganache, strawberries; Coconut Mousse, yuzu curd, lime-infused pineapple, meringue; Pecan Brownie, pecan praline, whipped milk chocolate ganache, caramel; and House-Made Ice Creams.  But the one item not listed on the menu, the Blueberry Almond Tart (pictured), a special of the evening, was our dessert of choice. Encrusted in vanilla sable (sablé is the French word for shortbread), garnished with house-made vanilla ice cream, and overrun with fresh blueberries, the tart proved to be a marvelous conclusion to an equally marvelous meal… Made even more enjoyable while sipping my final wine of the evening, Mirtillo, a stunning blueberry liqueur imported from Austria.

If you happen to be visiting St. Michaels – staying at the Inn at Perry Cabin, as we were, or some other nearby location – Bas Rouge is only a leisurely twenty-minute drive away… and it is worth the trip. No, let me rephrase: This is one restaurant that is worth a journey.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Awful Arthur’s Seafood Company

402 South Talbot Street

St. Michaels, Maryland

(410) 745-3474

https://awfularthursusa.com/

Awful Arthur’s was founded by Arthur W. Webb, Jr., in 1975. The original restaurant was located in Exmore, on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and served pizza and subs. In 1983, Webb moved to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and created the first Awful Arthur’s Seafood Company. The seafood concept proved to be so popular that, in 1991, he began opening more Awful Arthur’s back in Virginia. There are now four locations in the state, two in Richmond and one each in Roanoke and Salem.

Awful Arthurs - Exterior The St. Michaels outpost, located in the heart of the historic downtown, was the first to open in Maryland… And it’s about what you would expect… 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.

Awful Arthurs - Lobster Mac & CheeseBut if the oyster bar isn’t quite your thing, the regular appetizers have a great deal to offer as well… The Blackened Tuna Bites, for instance, come replete with your choice of horseradish ranch or ginger soy dipping sauces. Then there are a number of other interesting items, such as: Day Boat Scallops wrapped in bacon and accompanied by hollandaise; Shrimp & Grits; Crab Dip; baked Oysters Awful topped with chorizo, jalapeño, and smoked Gouda cheese. On the other hand, if you really feel like splurging – and also have a hearty appetite – why not start with the Lobster Mac & Cheese (pictured), chunks of New England lobster and perfectly cooked elbow macaroni swimming in a velvety sauce courtesy of Chapel’s Country Creamery cheddar. Rich, rich, rich!

 On the other hand, if you’d prefer something that’s a wee bit lighter on the palate, the kitchen also does a splendid job with greenery. The House Salad, for example, offers mixed greens, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, sweet red onions, and a very nice honey vinaigrette dressing. There is also the ubiquitous traditional Caesar as well as a Seasonal Salad, boasting spring mix rife with strawberries & blackberries, goat cheese, and candied walnuts splashed with lemon poppy dressing.

Awful Arthurs - Roasted Beet SaladThe evening of our visit, however, the special Roasted Beet Salad (pictured) was particularly noteworthy. In additional to the roasted red beets pillowed on mixed greens, it tantalized the palate with an intriguing combination of pickled onions, crumbled goat cheese, pine nuts, and sweet balsamic dressing.

Entrées, for the most part, round up a number of the usual suspects: Crab Cake DinnerCioppinoScallopsChesapeake Bay RockfishLinguini with ClamsFresh Catch of the Day… etc., etc. There is also quite a selection for landlubbers – Penne Pasta PrimaveraAngus Hot Dog & Angus BurgerClassic Reuben… and Grilled Chicken Breast Sandwich – on the other hand, why go to a seafood restaurant and order chicken? Your guess is as good as mine.

Awful Arthurs - Lobster RollOn this particular evening, my dining partner and I were in a more casual mood: She decided upon the Lobster Roll (pictured); I, the Fish & Chips. Both were excellent. The most important thing about lobster is its texture. Lobster meat turns tough and rubbery when overcooked. Once prepared, lobster’s soft flesh should be pristine white, soft and tender… and here, presented on a toasted buttered bun, it was right on the money. Given a choice of side dishes, my partner chose the Fresh Fruit and was quite pleased.

Awful Arthurs - Fish & ChipsNeedless to say, Fish & Chips (pictured) is not the kind of entrée that I would chow down on a daily basis… Every once in a while, however, I do get the overwhelming urge to succumb to temptation. The dish may seem like a no brainer to the average diner, but there’s plenty that can go wrong – and usually does – as I’ve discovered on numerous occasions in numerous restaurants… And beer batter is generally the culprit. Meaning, there tends to be far too much of it, totally eclipsing what precious little fish just happens to put in a guest appearance. In this case, happily, the proportions were just right. The batter was judiciously applied, light & delightfully crisp (as opposed to soggy); and the cod was moist, flaky, and very much in evidence. And let’s not forget those “chips”; the fries were first-rate, as was a side of house-made coleslaw.

Awful Arthus - Peach Berry CrumbleDesserts – all made in-house – are on the homey side. The night of our visit, the sweet ending of choice was the downhome Peach & Berry Crumble (pictured) garnished with a tiara of vanilla ice cream. And all the elements were in perfect sync… the peach slices and berries were at the peak of ripeness, the streusel-like topping just the right combo of flour, sugar, and butter, and the vanilla ice cream a marvelously creamy counterpoint to the delightfully crunchy topping. A study in simplicity, to be sure; but, given the character and quality of our app and entrées, it was an extremely satisfying conclusion to an equally satisfying evening at table.

As an added plus, the outside dining area – most of it sheltered beneath a canopy to protect against inclement weather – is particularly pleasant. As are the servers. They are young, enthusiastic, personable… and they know the menu.

In St. Michaels, if you’re a seafood lover, Awful Arthur’s is the place to go.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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