Nicholas - Holiday Walk Around Wine TastingYes, it’s that time again… And the big question is – at least from an oenological standpoint – “What wines are best served with your holiday feast(s)?”

But as I’ve mentioned on several other occasions, the problem usually isn’t the main course – especially turkey – which usually marries quite nicely with any vintage you’d care to throw at it. No, the monkey in the wrench is that seemingly endless complicated array of holiday side dishes. From sweet potatoes to the ubiquitous green bean casserole, choosing wines that marry well – or at least don’t alienate – this gastronomic hodgepodge can be more than a little challenging.

The art of pairing wine with food is, of course, really very much a matter of personal preference. On the other hand, there are several fairly safe amalgams – both white and red – that come to mind. With white wines, the pairing priority is finding those with well-balanced acidity. Ponderous, over-oaked California chardonnays, for example, need not apply. When it comes to reds, you want wines with fairly subtle tannins that will support the flavors of the food rather than overpowering them, or being overpowered by them… So, forget about uncorking that fabulously expensive 20-year-old Bordeaux you’ve been lovingly cellaring for a special occasion, as it just might get “lost in the sauce.”

Keeping all this in mind, listed below in alphabetical order are just a few of my recently-sampled favorite wines for your holiday table…

ACROBAT PINOT NOIR 2017 (Oregon): The Acrobat brand is best known for producing award-winning, versatile, and reasonably-priced Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris varietal wines that showcase the complexity of Oregon’s emerging wine growing regions. Originally part of King Estate Winery in Eugene, Oregon, Acrobat was purchased by Foley Family Wines of Healdsburg, CA, in October 2018.

Acrobat Pinot Noir isn’t a great wine… but, year after year, it is consistently reliable. The 2017 is a very pleasant, light-bodied vintage with rich, fruit-forward aromas and interesting hints of cinnamon & vanilla. On the palate, it’s delightfully crisp, smooth as silk going down, and marries nicely with a great variety of foods.

Priced at $19.99, the 2017 Acrobat Pinot Noir is available through Pennsylvania State Stores.

Villa AntinoriANTINORI, VILLA ANTINORI, TOSCANA RUSSO 2017 (Italy): An attractive blend of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah, the 2017 Villa Antinori, which recently received 90 enthusiastic points from Wine Spectator magazine, is a perfect red wine for everyday quaffing or for any special occasion. This is a rich and succulent wine with well-integrated tannins & acidity and a long, satisfying finish.

Trouble is… while the wine is listed at $20.00 retail, it is currently going for an inflated $23.99 at Pennsylvania State Stores. Just a bit of online searching, however, and Villa Antinori can be had at a real bargain. The Wine Anthology, for example, is offering it at $15.69; Gary’s Wine at $16.99. And both these New Jersey retailers will ship to Pennsylvania… And even with shipping charges added on, you’ll still be way ahead of the game.

Gigondas 2016DOMAINE DE LONGUE TOQUE GIGONDAS 2016 (France): Gigondas is a wine Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC) in the southern Rhône region of France. It is primarily a red wine region, with a very small amount of rosé wine production.

The 2016 Domaine de Longue Toque Gigondas is a lush blend of Grenache, Syrah, and splash of Mourvèdre. It is deep purple/ruby in color with intense aromas of black fruits and touches of vanilla and spice. This is a plump, full-bodied wine that is beautifully structured and layered with flavor, while fine lingering tannins move you seamlessly along to an impressively fruity finish. Wine critics have been effusive across the board. The 2016 Gigondas garnered 93 points from the Wine Spectator, while Jeb Dunnuck bestowed a whopping 95 points, calling it “the finest vintage of this cuvée to date. In short, it’s a blockbuster.”

And here is one instance in which the Pennsylvania LCB has pitched you a real bargain. Listed at $44.00, this “Chairman’s Select” is on sale for a more than reasonable $19.99.

Legit Cabernet 2013TOLAINI “LEGIT” CABERNET SAUVIGNON 2013 (Italy): The 2013 “LEGIT” is a highly recommendable wine… for a variety of reasons. First of all, it garnered 94 points and was chosen as #26 in the Wine Spectator “Top 100 of 2019.” This wine is rich with aromas of dark fruit and cassis surrounded by the spice of French oak. On the palate, it is full-bodied with excellent depth, balance, and fine tannins, which are indicative of a cellar-worthy vintage.

The 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon was farmed organically in the San Giovanni vineyard in the heart of Chianti Classico and the wine produced in a state-of-the-art facility under the watchful eye of world-class winemaker Michel Rolland. This is, indeed, quite a wine to savor.

… And then there’s the label. In case you’re wondering… the face and the hands of the legendary Thelonious Monk. When Tuscan vintner and international wine importer Lia Tolaini Banville met the grandchildren of the late, great jazzman, she was inspired to a collaboration to honor his memory with a singular wine from her family estate – LEGIT.

The retail price is listed at $45.00. However, once again, shopping online can save you a great deal. Hi-Time Wine Cellars in Costa Mesa, California, is offering it at $31.99; the Red Wagon Wine Shoppe in Rochester, Michigan at $36.99 (plus shipping). Both will ship directly to Pennsylvania. Well worth seeking out, and the perfect supplement to your holiday table.

Tesch, MartinTESCH KARTHAUSER RIESLING 2016 (Germany): Tesch has been a family owned wine estate in the Nahe region of southwest Germany since 1723. Dr. Martin Tesch, whose degree is in microbiology, began working in the parental wine estate in 1996. After his father retired, Martin proceeded to completely restructure the estate. In 2002, he changed his entire wine collection. He stopped producing any medium dry or sweet Rieslings, changed labels, and reduced his entire collection to five (5) single vineyard wines plus the brand like Unplugged and the Dr. Tesch R, a Riesling in a 1-liter size bottle.

Those folks who have told me from time to time that they have never tasted a Riesling that wasn’t sweet, should certainly have a go at the 2016 Tresch Karthauser. It has that bright and distinctive “petrol” nose that seems to be alive with tropical fruit and mineral nuances. On the palate, it is a study in finesse and elegance… It is also bone dry with a delicate acidity and lingering salinity. This is precisely the kind of white wine that marries so well with the odd mishmash of dishes that often grace the holiday table.

This lovely vintage received 93 points from wine critic James Suckling and 92 points from Stephan Reinhardt of Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, who called it a wine of “great class.” Its list price is $45.00… But be sure to check online, as the Wine Library in Springfield Township, New Jersey, currently has it on sale for $27.99 per bottle.

Cheers and Happy Holidays!



Red Fox Inn & Tavern

2 East Washington Street

Middleburg, Virginia

(540) 687-6301

Red Fox Inn - ExteriorDuring our recent stay at the Salamander Resort & Spa – see my previous post, Savoring Salamander – my permanent dining partner and I enjoyed dinner at the nearby Red Fox Inn & Tavern. Established in 1728, and originally known as Chinn’s Ordinary, this charming inn has offered uninterrupted hospitality to travelers for more than 275 years, making it the oldest continually operated inn in the United States. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and steeped in the lore of the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, each of its cozy dining rooms exudes a piece of history.

Over the years, the Inn has played host to many notable politicians, authors, musicians, athletes, and celebrities, including, in 1748, an enthusiastic young surveyor named… Yes, George Washington really did sleep here.

Owned and operated by three generations of the Reuter Family since 1976, family members continue to oversee the inn’s daily operations, including its highly praised culinary aspects. The tavern’s menu highlights local ingredients and genuine home-style dishes that are both lovingly prepared and beautifully presented.

Unfortunately, because of the ever-changing environment prompted by the coronavirus, the inn’s indoor dining spaces are not open at this time. However, we thoroughly enjoyed our al fresco experience on their cozy and spacious tented garden terrace.

The only bill of fare currently being offered is the kitchen’s four course autumn tasting menu (with three options for appetizers, three options for soup/salad, six options for entrées, and three options for dessert), which also includes bottled water and non-alcoholic beverages, for $125.00 per person. Virginia wine pairing with each course is priced at an additional $38.00 per person. This may at first appear rather restrictive; but the options available for each course are certainly broad enough to appease a variety of tastes and temperaments, and the menu may also be customized to accommodate food allergies or other dietary requirements. The menu may also seem rather pricey; but, trust me, it’s worth every penny… As was the wine pairing, which married exceedingly well with my choices.

Red Fox - Roasted Pear CrostiniAppetizer Course: I ordered the Roasted Pear Crostini. In Italian, crostini refer to small slices of grilled or toasted bread with a variety of toppings. In this instance, roasted pear slices were paired with a brandy & gorgonzola spread and topped with walnut bits and crisp prosciutto. Pears & blue cheese are an unbeatable combo… and this delectable presentation certainly proved the case.  Wine Pairing: NV Extra Brut, Thibaut-Janisson Winery, Charlottesville, VA. The dryness of the bubbly provided a marvelous contrast to both the sweetness of the pears and the earthiness of the blue cheese.

Red Fox - Lamb MeatballsOn the other hand, taste-wise, my dining partner’s Lamb Meatballs simply stole the show. Rife with feta & pine nuts, set on islands of charred red onion surrounded by a sea of mint-infused yogurt, they were utterly irresistible. One bite and I was saying to myself: “Why didn’t I order these?” Flavor… texture… everything was just right. And there was just enough mint to complement rather than overwhelm the perfectly seasoned lamb. Kudos to the kitchen. Third Appetizer Option: Butternut Squash & Sage Wontons with goat cheese, hazelnuts, and plum chutney.

Soup/Salad Course: I know my choice of the Roasted Pear & Arugula Salad sounds like a repeat performance, but I just couldn’t resist that pear/blue cheese combo once again. Add candied walnuts, and a delightfully creamy Champagne vinaigrette providing a tasty textural counterpoint to that peppery greenery and you have a perfect prelude to any meal. Wine Pairing: 2019 Viognier, Greenhill Vineyards, Middleburg, VA. I’m usually not a fan of viognier, but this was simply a lovely wine – elegant, crisp, clean – and just right with the salad.

Red Fox - Beets w Goat CheeseMy dining partner’s Beets with Goat Cheese (pictured) also set off some bells and whistles. A marinade of zippy whole grain mustard gave the red and yellow beets a lively kick; the Monocacy Ash Farmstead Soft Ripened Goat Cheese struck a decidedly decadent chord; and a smattering of baby arugula and crispy rye toast were excellent in their supporting roles. Third Salad/Soup Option: Butternut Squash Bisque, crème fraiche, candied pumpkin seeds.

Entrée Course: With the arrival of the main courses, the kitchen’s prowess became even more impressive. My dining partner will tend to order either shrimp or scallops – or both – at the mere drop of a fork, so her choice of Caramelized Sea Scallops was certainly no surprise… And they were excellent. Beautifully seared, the moist & meaty bivalves were pillowed on a seabed of mushroom & pearl barley risotto and accompanied by bacon lardons, sautéed kale, and micro tarragon salad. There was obviously a lot going on here; but nothing felt (or tasted) out of sync, as a lovely white wine sauce served as a splendid culinary catalyst.

Red Fox - Pecan Curry Crusted HalibutThe Pecan Curry Crusted Halibut immediately caught my eye. Halibut, I must admit, always grabs my attention, as it is my all-time favorite seafood indulgence. But I hesitated at first, as curry can be a bit overwhelming; add pecans and it struck me as a double whammy, an ill-conceived assault on this ever-so-delicate denizen of the deep… And I wasn’t particularly overjoyed with the accoutrements either. The carrot and sweet potato purée could be downright cloying, especially when added to the curry/pecan combo; and the spiced & roasted cauliflower with currants could very easily make this particular entrée entirely too convoluted for its own good.

Fortunately, my assumptions were wrong on all counts, as the presentation was a nearly perfect gastronomic gestalt. Each element had its own individual part to play, but the whole of the dish was infinitely more than the mere sum of the particular parts. And despite my fears that the curry/pecan concoction might overwhelm the halibut’s delicate disposition, the crust caressed rather than smothered the object of its affection. Wine Pairing: 2015 Hardscrabble Chardonnay, Linden Vineyards, Linden, VA. There’s a touch of oak here, but it’s breathtakingly subtle. This beautiful wine exhibits the finesse and sophistication of a fine white Burgundy.

Other Entrée Options: Seared Duck Breast, Leek & Gruyère, Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Currants, Apple & Onion Cider Sauce… Filet Mignon, Sweet Potato Au Gratin, Sautéed Kale & Bacon Lardons, Herb Butter Au Poivre Sauce… Rack of Lamb, Parsnip Purée, Orange Rosemary Roasted Carrots, Pinot Noir Sauce… Stuffed Portobello Mushroom, Walnut & Tarragon Filling, Sweet Potato & Carrot Purée, Sautéed Kale & Frizzled Onions.

Dessert Course: When it came to a choice of sweet endings, as far as my dining partner was concerned, there was never a moment of doubt… She went straight for her old favorite, the Panna Cotta. Italian for “cooked cream,” The Red Fox’s rendition was topped with a semi-interesting cranberry cardamom compote.

Unlike my partner, however, I confess that I’ve never been able to drum up much enthusiasm for this particular denouement

… With the exception of one rather humorous erotic gastronomic diversion. Several years ago, we were dining in Toqué, one of my favorite Montreal restaurants. Dessert that evening was a provocative vanilla flavored panna cotta. And this lovely amalgam of cream and gelatin bore uncanny resemblance to a white Hershey’s kiss with a case of the bouncies… or… (just let your imagination run wild😊). Needless to say, its gyrating journey to table caused more than a few chuckles among the assembled diners.

Red Fox - Banana Bread PuddingSo much for panna cotta. Do pardon the aside… My evening at the Red Fox concluded with an absolutely scrumptious Caramelized Banana Bread Pudding (pictured). Built upon a delicate foundational layer of dark chocolate and crowned with a tiara of crème anglaise, this decadently rich dessert was a real crowd-pleaser. Wine Pairing: And the 2015 Paxxito, Barboursville Vineyards, Barboursville, VA, was the ideal complement. This is a distinctive wine created via the traditional Passito process in which Moscato Ottonel & Vidal grapes are carefully hand-selected and set aside to rest and air-dry for up to 120 days before crushing and pressing. Six months of slow, cool fermentation followed by extended barrel aging produces an intense, rich, balanced wine of luscious sweetness and excellent acidity. Third Dessert Option: Flourless Chocolate Torte, Candied Hazelnuts, Mascarpone Cream.

If you’re planning a road trip to the Middleburg area, bear in mind that the Red Fox Inn & Tavern is also an enchanting place to spend a night or two. Centrally located in the heart of Middleburg Village, the Inn is comprised of five buildings that encompass twenty-two inn rooms, suites and cottages, each with their own individual charm…

But whether you decide to stay here, or at the Salamander Resort & Spa as we did, dinner at the Red Fox is something of a must. The cuisine is exceptional, the service personable, and the atmosphere warm and inviting. I guarantee you will not be disappointed.

Bon Appétit!

Be Well & Stay Safe



Still reeling from the disappointment of having our two highly-anticipated cruises cancelled, and undoubtedly suffering the deleterious effects of what the New York Times euphemistically refers to as “Pandemic Fatigue,” my permanent dining partner and I decided that a restorative getaway might be just the cure for our enveloping ennui.

Salamander - ExteriorCarefully studying the possibilities, and eliminated anything we felt would put us in harm’s way – that included air travel – we finally settled on the Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg, Virginia. Highly recommended by friends, it was a mere three and one-half hours away by car in the heart of the Virginia wine country. We knew, however, from statements on their website – as well as a printed notice when we checked in – that, because of the coronavirus, in addition to the requirement of wearing facemasks in public areas and keeping proper social distancing, some of the amenities, as well as those “personal special touches” (like twice a day room cleaning, valet services, opening car doors, etc.) would be conspicuous by their absence.

Salamander - Our RoomThere is no question that even in such comfortably posh surroundings, the feeling wasn’t quite the same as it would have been without the coronavirus lurking in the dark shadows. Still, even under such extraordinary circumstances, Salamander did a first-class job of making our four-night stay an extremely pleasant one. Our top-floor accommodation, for example, an Estate Room with Fireplace (pictured), was quite spacious, tastefully appointed, and afforded us a fabulous view of the grounds from our stone balcony.

But if there was one thing that impressed us more than any other, it was the overall quality of the food… Even breakfast was a perpetual winner. My dining partner’s Biscuits and Gravy – soft dough biscuits covered in meat gravy rife with bits of sausage and ground beef – a southern specialty, was alive with flavor and downright decadent. And you would think that turning out a decent omelet was something of a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at how many kitchens muck them up. Here, regardless of the ingredients, they were perfect every time… as were the positively ethereal scrambled eggs.

At this juncture, I should mention that all our meals, including breakfasts, were enjoyed alfresco, as we were still quite conscious of the possible risks of dining indoors. Since our trip took place in early October, we were fortunate enough to encounter mild temperatures and days filled with sunshine.


Our four dinners were evenly divided: two at Salamander; two at restaurants off campus. The first evening we dined at the Gold Cup Wine Bar, the resort’s casual venue that serves lunch and dinner on a first-come, first-served basis. Gold Cup boasts not only a compact wine list by the glass & bottle, but also local wine flights, an exotic list of artisanal cocktails, whiskey flights, and a number of interesting craft beers.

Gold Cup - Cream of Broccoli SoupThe menu contains items like a selection of local artisan cheeses and charcuterie board, hand-tossed pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and a limited number of entrees. My dining partner started things off with Cream of Broccoli, the soup of the day. And this was certainly a rich concoction – loads of cream – but beautifully seasoned and the perfect prelude to ward off the creeping nighttime chill.

Gold Cup - Crispy Sesame CauliflowerI had a go at the Crispy Sesame Cauliflower – roasted florets set on a bed of jasmine rice and tossed with a sweet soy ginger glaze and sprinkling of shredded coconut – an incredibly delicious presentation. So delicious, in fact, that my dining partner gulped down more than her share after polishing off the soup… But who could blame her? The cauliflower was done just right; and that sweet soy ginger glaze was positively addictive. If there’s one dish that would bring me back to Gold Cup for a return engagement, this is definitely it.

Gold Cup - Shrimp & GritsEntrées were no less intriguing. This may be comfort food, but the kitchen always seemed to come up with some nifty little tagalong to transport a dish out of the realm of the ordinary. Take my partner’s downhome Shrimp & Grits, for instance. Here you have jumbo Texas shrimp, Byrd Mill grits, and a touch of citrus butter. But the secret here is the Virginia n’duja, sometimes spelled ‘nduja. This is a very special meat spread made from pork, roasted pepper, and spices that is similar to sobrassada. The is taste generally described as somewhat akin to deviled ham, which succeeds in adding a nice jolt to the taste buds.

Gold Cup - Mac & Cheese w ChickenPresented in a cast iron skillet, my Aged Cheddar Mac ‘n Cheese wasn’t as exotic; but the three-year-old, generously seasoned aged cheddar still delivered the goods. And the cavatappi – a corkscrew-shaped pasta scored with lines and ridges – was the perfect shape to capture and hold all that addictively rich cheesy flavor.

The Mac ‘n Cheese was presented on the menu as a side dish, but by adding grilled chicken, our server suggested, it would make a very nice entrée… which proved to be a perfect match and more than ample for even the heartiest of appetites.

Desserts turned significantly upscale and offered such diverse possibilities as a suitable-for-sharing Chocolate Craving – mason jar chocolate cake, Nutella Rocher truffle pop, and cocoa raspberry brownie – and the Twisted Funfetti Donut with ruby raspberry crème anglaise, kiss the rainbow meringues, and cookie monster ice cream.

Gold Cup - Pumpkin CheesecakeAfter a spirited debate, we decided to share the more seasonal Pumpkin Cheesecake, which turned out to be an absolutely fabulous choice and as pleasing to the eye as it was to the palate. This was really a dual presentation: half pumpkin cheesecake, half Turkish coffee mousse separated by a walnut sablé, a French round shortbread cookie. Both the cheesecake and the mousse were incredibly delicious with garnishes including local Catoctin Creek Whisky powder and a dollop of white chocolate ice cream. A fabulous ending to a first-class downhome meal.


Harrimans - Outside DiningThe third night of our Salamander stay we dined outside at Harrimans Virginia Piedmont Grill, the resort’s upscale steakhouse. And be advised… as with most establishments of similar ilk, everything is à la carte and the prices are almost certain to put a major dent in your pocketbook.

On the other hand, as Harrimans obviously caters to the carnivorously-inclined, and since you (usually) can’t go wrong ordering what the house proports to do best, meatier matters clearly seemed to hold out the greatest promise of success… More specifically, the restaurant’s “Butcher’s Cuts.” My dining partner settled on the 8 oz. Berkshire Pork Tenderloin; I, after much debate, cast my lot with the 6 oz. Petite Filet. Both of us, thankfully, were pleased with our choices.

Harrimans - Berkshire Pork TenderloinPork, as any diner knows (usually from sad experience), is a tricky proposition. It can overcook at the mere drop of a fork and turn as dry and tough as Clint Eastwood’s Rawhide saddle. Fortunately, Chef Bill Welch obviously knows his business. His pork tenderloin (pictured) was incomparably moist, succulent and, as you may be able to see from the photo, exhibits just a touch of pink. Its cut-like-butter tenderness doesn’t get much better than this. Highly recommended on all counts.

My petite filet also had a lot going for it. Prepared to a perfect “medium,” precisely as requested, it also benefited from a complimentary Hunter’s Sauce, a winning combination of tomatoes, onions, and garlic in a savory veal stock reduction.

Harrimans - Potato PureeWe also ordered a side to share, a Wild Green Onion Potato Purée spiked with crème fraiche (pictured), which turned out to be the hit of the evening and the perfect traveling companion for both the pork and the filet.

Harrimans - Roasted Brussels Sprouts SaladOnly the appetizer didn’t quite make it… As we are both quite fond of Brussels sprouts, we thought sharing the Roasted Brussels Sprouts (pictured) certainly looked like a sure thing. This was actually a salad, as the sprouts were served cold accompanied by good things like crumbles of Point Reyes Blue Cheese, wafer-thin slices of Honeycrisp apple, and an absolutely first-rate vinaigrette. Just one problem… the Brussels sprouts weren’t roasted long enough. They were the next thing to raw… My jaws feel tired just thinking about it.

Harrimans - Fruit Tart SharedDesserts, however, courtesy of Executive Pastry Chef Jason Reaves, were right back on track and well worth the additional calories and expenditure. They included such intriguing denouements as Sweet as Salamander Honey, a luscious honey-banana pudding replete with choco-banana cake; Raspberry Linzer with hazelnut shortbread, raspberry balsamic and goat cheese ice cream; and a decadently rich Dark Chocolate Lava Cake.  Chef Reaves also usually offers a sweet ending that is suitable for sharing by 2 – 4 guests. The evening of our visit it was an absolutely fabulous Fresh Fruit Tart. The photo tells the story… Need I say more?

One final word… Wine lovers have a number of interesting options here. My partner thoroughly enjoyed her 2017 Foley Johnson Chardonnay from California’s Carneros region. I began with the 2017 La Marimorena Rosal Albariño from Spain and moved on to the 2017 Saldo Zinfandel from California’s Prisoner Wine Company. Both quite good. Of course, if you’re feeling really flush, Napa Valley’s 2018 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon ($45.00 glass/$170.00 bottle) is an excellent choice.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe



Virginia is for (Wine) Lovers

by artfuldiner on October 24, 2020

in Artful Diner Review, Opinion, Wine

My permanent dining partner and I recently enjoyed a sojourn to Salamander,, a resort/spa located in Middleburg, Virginia (more on the resort and the restaurants at a later date). Middleburg is a charming little town in Loudoun County, approximately 43 miles from Washington, DC. Since the early 20th century, Middleburg has enjoyed the reputation as the “nation’s horse and hunt capital,” drawing distinguished visitors from all over the United States.

But Middleburg is also surrounded by “DC’s Wine Country,” as the rolling hills and cliff-edged slopes of Loudoun County are home to more than 40 wineries and tasting rooms.

Greenhill Winery & VineyardsThe Greenhill Winery & Vineyards, 23595 Winery Lane, Middleburg, VA,, is quite picturesque and reminded us of several wineries we had visited in South Africa. Of particular note was their 2019 Viognier. This is a lovely wine that is aged in stainless steel and offers up a distinctive floral bouquet. Crisp and clean, it beguiles the palate with notes of stone fruit and mandarin leading to a lively and expressive finish. A very nice wine, indeed, priced at $39.00.

Also highly recommended is their 2018 Chardonnay, $42.00, and the 2017 Superstition, a blend of 51% Cabernet Franc, 34% Syrah, and 15% Merlot, $38.00. These wines may be ordered from the winery’s website and will be shipped directly to Pennsylvania.

Other popular Middleburg wineries worth a visit: 50 West Vineyards, 39060 John Mosby Highway, Estate Winery, 2042 Burrland Lane, Vineyards & Winery, 38600 John Mosby Highway, Vineyards, 39025 John Mosby Highway,

One evening we dined at the historic Red Fox Inn; and I choose a special pairing of Virginia wines to accompany my dinner. I was particularly taken with the 2015 Hardscrabble Chardonnay from Linden Vineyards, 3708 Harrels Corner Road, Linden, VA,, which is located a short twenty miles from Middleburg.

Linden Vineyards - Hardscrabble VineyardHardscrabble is Linden’s iconic estate vineyard that surrounds the winery (pictured). It is appropriately named for steep, poor, rocky slopes that are notoriously difficult to farm but wonderful for vines. The first plantings date from 1985. The vineyard tends to produce firmly structured wines that develop slowly and take on more depth with time. Because of the older vines and diversity of soils, the wines develop great complexity. The chardonnays are Burgundian in style and require 3 or 4 years of aging before they evolve.

The 2015 Hardscrabble Chardonnay, for example, was aged for 12 months in 20% new French oak and tips the scale at a perfectly balanced 13.7% alcohol. There’s just a touch of oak at the outset… but it’s breath-takingly subtle, as this wine exhibits the sophistication and finesse of a fine white Burgundy. This is a beautiful wine at an equally beautiful price point. It is available at $33.99 online through Calvert Woodley Fine Wine & Spirits in Washington, DC,

Stone Tower WineryIf there is one winery in the Middleburg area that deserves a visit, it is undoubtedly the Stone Tower Winery, 19925 Hogback Mountain Road,, just a short hop down the road in Leesburg.

Interestingly enough, Stone Tower, owned by Mike & Kristi Huber, really doesn’t boast an actual stone tower on the property. The Huber family once lived in Germany, and the name Stone Tower was inspired by the imposing stone castles that dot the German landscape. It’s also a reference to the rocky soils on Hogback Mountain Road, where the winery is located.

Stone Tower, however, does boast two different tasting rooms… one is a two-story red barn that serves as the family (read here: children) and dog friendly tasting area. The second is a new and stunning three-story venue. This new tasting room, as well as the outdoor terraces are for adults only. The winery grounds are beautiful and spacious, with ample outdoor seating and expansive views in all directions.

In addition to tastings and wines by the glass and bottle, the winery also offers an excellent menu of wood-fired pizzas, salads, sandwiches, and charcuterie. The day of our visit, for example, we enjoyed an excellent Moroccan Spiced Hummus served with toasted pita bread and an olive tapenade.

Currently, the winery makes wine under two different labels. The estate label, Stone Tower Estate, is wine made at Stone Tower with grapes grown exclusively on the estate. The Wild Boar Cellars label also denotes wine made at Stone Tower, but with grapes sourced from other locations.

We sampled both the 2019 Estate Chardonnay $10.00 Glass/$32.00 Bottle) and the 2017 Wild Boar Pinot Noir ($12.00 Glass/$38.00 Bottle). The chard was light on the palate and well-balanced with just a hint of oak. After sampling a nauseating number of over-oaked California chardonnays, this was a delightfully welcome relief. My dining partner, who simply adores chardonnay, was suitably impressed. The pinot noir was also quite nice, which really wasn’t a great surprise as the grapes had been sourced from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The wine was elegant, delicate, and as smooth as silk on the palate. This is the winery’s best-selling Wild Boar red wine; and it very well-made and an absolute pleasure to drink.

The winery also produces an Estate “Hogback Mountain,” 2017 currently available, which I did not taste. Aged in a combination of new and used French and American oak, this is a cabernet-based Bordeaux-style blend with touches of merlot, cabernet franc, and petit verdot. $69.00.

All the above-mentioned vintages are available for purchase at the winery.

RdV WineryOne final word about a winery I was unable to visit because of time constraints… RdV Vineyards (the initials of owner/vigneron Rutger de Vink), 2550 Delaplane Grade Road, Delaplane, VA,, is a boutique winery celebrating the 10th anniversary of its first vintage. It currently produces only three wines…

Lost Mountain is the ultimate expression of terroir. Named for a nearby hilltop on the edge of the Blue Ridge Mountains once surveyed by George Washington, Lost Mountain is a world-class wine formed by RdV’s granite soil and produced by the vineyard’s finest cabernet sauvignon. The 2016 RdV Lost Mountain is comprised of 97% cabernet sauvignon and 3% merlot, and has received a 96-point rating from wine critic James Suckling.

Rendezvous, a stylish Bordeaux-blend of 36% merlot, 35% cabernet sauvignon, and 29% cabernet franc, is described as expressive and hedonistic, a wine for all occasions.  The 2016 Rendezvous also received a 96-point rating from critic James Suckling.

Friends and Family is also a Bordeaux-blend of 42% cabernet sauvignon, 40% merlot, 16% cabernet franc, and a touch of petit verdot, produced from younger vines. This wine spends a shorter time in oak and, therefore, delivers a more open, ready to drink style. I have personally tasted the 2017 Friends and Family and it exhibits classic Bordeaux aromas, has a lovely texture and a very nice finish.

Just one caveat… These wines are rather difficult to find, and they are expensive. The 2016 Lost Mountain, the winery’s flagship wine, is only sold to members of the winery’s wine club and is priced at $225.00. It is currently sold out. The 2016 Rendezvous is priced at $75.00. I was fortunate enough to pick up a bottle of the 2017 Friends and Family at Knead Wine,, 5 West Washington Street in Middleburg, an interesting combination wine shop and pizza parlor. Price: $45.00.

Your best place to find Rendezvous and Friends and Family is probably online… Chain Bridge Cellars, 1351 Chain Bridge Road, McLean, VA,, for example, is selling the 2015 Rendezvous at $84.99 per bottle; the 2017 Friends and Family at $39.99. I’m not certain whether they will ship to Pennsylvania, as the rules governing wine shipping seem to change faster than you can pop a cork. In addition, don’t hesitate to contact the winery directly, as they may have some helpful suggestions. These wines are definitely worth the effort.


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Farm and the Fisherman Tavern + Market

1442 Marlton Pike East

Cherry Hill, New Jersey

(856) 356-2282

The Farm and the Fisherman began in March 2011 with Josh & Colleen Lawler’s tiny (32-seat) restaurant on Pine Street in Philadelphia. Both were distinguished chefs: he, the former chef de cuisine of Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, New York; she, the sous chef of Picholine in Manhattan. Together their diminutive BYOB set the standard – often imitated, but never quite duplicated – for all the farm-to-table establishments that were to follow.

Far & Fisherman - ExteriorIn November 2014, the Lawlers teamed with chef Todd Fuller and his wife, Leigh, to open the Farm and the Fisherman Tavern in a Route 70 strip mall in Cherry Hill, New Jersey. Like the original Philadelphia establishment, which closed in 2016, the Jersey outpost utilizes local meat and produce; however, since the new restaurant also possesses a liquor license, it also pairs its locally-sourced culinary creations with selected wine, spirits, and local drafts in a more spacious (150-seats) and comfortable tavern-like environment.

Since the Cherry Hill F-and-F had garnered decidedly mixed reviews from a variety of sources, my dining partner and I were not quite sure what to expect. Fortunately, ours turned out to be a completely satisfying experience on all counts.

However, just one thing to keep in mind… The food here is quite different from Mr. Lawler’s original Philadelphia establishment. It is more simply prepared and presented; perhaps best described as innovative comfort fare.

Farm & Fisherman - Caramelized Cauliflower w mushroom cream sauceWe started things off by sharing the Caramelized Cauliflower with Mushroom Cream Sauce (pictured). Although cauliflower – in various and sundry appetizer incarnations – has been making a remarkable comeback on restaurant menus of late, this was still a rather unusual dish. One does not usually think of cauliflower as pairing very well with a rich mushroom sauce – but the two proved to be perfect traveling companions. The sauce just rich enough… the cauliflower just crunchy enough. Add a sprinkle of cheese and some herbs, and you have the perfect starter to any meal.

Farm & Fisherman - Squash LasagnaAs you move on to the entrées, you can really see the interesting direction the kitchen has taken. The main courses demonstrate a good deal more comfortable simplicity than those that were offered in the Philadelphia restaurant… and yet, they still show a degree of innovation that is downright captivating without becoming annoyingly convoluted. Take my dining partner’s fascinating Squash Lasagna, for example. The idea certainly isn’t earth-shatteringly new by any stretch of the imagination… but the careful integration of ingredients adds just the proper beguiling touch to a comfortingly familiar recipe.

Ribbons of butternut squash, of course, stand in for the usual lasagna noodles while the cheese, tomato sauce, and seasonings remain in prominent supporting roles – with delicious results. But as my dining partner was quick to note, the tomato sauce – while it at first seemed to need more flavor – had been purposely toned down to allow the squash’s natural attributes to shine through. An excellent presentation.

Farm & Fisherman - Cheesesteak Tacos… Ditto my Cheesesteak Tacos (pictured). The presentation is the soul of simplicity, but beautifully executed. Just looking at the photo is enough to make your mouth water. Photogenic, to be sure. But more than this, the steak is perfectly prepared and irresistibly seasoned.  I’d gladly return here just to have another go.

Farm & Fisherman - Jersey Peach PieDessert (pictured) was a down-home winner: Jersey Peach Pie topped with a dollop of vanilla ice cream and garnished with ribbons of caramel sauce.

At the time we visited, indoor dining in New Jersey was still verboten. But that was fine with us, as we were (and are still) a bit leery about dining inside. At Cherry Hill F-and-F, a nice chunk of strip mall parking had been turned into a partially covered patio for a surprisingly comfortable al fresco dining experience.

Definitely worth a visit.

Bon Appétit!

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Loveblock - VineyardIf you’re a wine lover – or even if you’re not – you’ve probably heard the name Kim Crawford. Kim Crawford wines, more specifically the Marlborough, New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc, can be found in seemingly every supermarket and wine & spirits store from coast to coast and border to border. Kim Crawford has become synonymous with NZ Sauvignon Blanc.

Interestingly enough, however, Kim Crawford the man hasn’t had anything to do with Kim Crawford the brand for over ten years. But even more ironic is the fact that most Americans think Kim Crawford is a woman. “If it weren’t for actress Kim Novak, Kim still would be a man’s name,” Mr. Crawford joked recently.

In 2003 Crawford needed cash to double the Kim Crawford brand’s capacity and was having difficulty with the banks… so he sold the Kim Crawford brand to a company called Vincor. All was going well – Kim Crawford wines continued to prosper, becoming one of the early New Zealand brands to gain recognition in the United States – when things took a dramatic turn in 2006 and the label was gobbled up by Constellation Brands, the world’s largest wine company.

Loveblock - OwnersMr. Crawford left the company six months later armed with enough cash to add to his already 100 acres and start Loveblock. He and his wife, Erica, now own all their vineyards and completely control the Loveblock brand and its wines. The Crawfords have 200 acres in Marlborough’s Awartere Valley, at the north end of New Zealand’s south-island, their organic vineyard, which produces sauvignon blanc and pinot gris. They also own another 20 acres in Central Otago, at the south end, where they grow pinot noir. (The Loveblock farm in Awatere Valley is certified organic by BioGro New Zealand, the country’s leading organic certifier. The Central Otago property, purchased in 2008 and dedicated solely to Pinot Noir is SWNZ – Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand – accredited.)

I found the Loveblock wines to be sophisticated, elegant, and complex. In a 2018 interview, for example, Mr. Crawford noted that he was attempting to move away from stereotypical sauvignon blancs toward what he described as wines with a “more mature style.”

But New Zealand wines are clearly becoming more diversified, offering wine lovers infinitely more than just sauvignon blanc… And Loveblock appears to be on the cutting edge of this movement, with their recently tasted pinot gris and pinot noir leading the way.

Loveblock - Pinot Gris 2018Loveblock 2018 Pinot Gris (Marlborough): Pinot Gris (Grigio) has a number of different styles. The wines produced in Italy tend to be light-bodied and on the acidic side. Those hailing from Oregon, on the other hand, tend to be fuller bodied, more rounded, and less acidic. The organic Pinot Gris from Loveblock, however, tends to go its own way… It is decidedly “elegant” – a word not usually associated with Pinot Gris – supple and as smooth as silk.

The 2018, for example, offers up pear and apple aromas with subtle floral notes. On the palate, it is breathtakingly delicate yet perfectly balanced and beautifully textured with a mouthwatering acidity and just enough residual sugar to round off the edges. A Pinot Gris, as Decanter magazine noted, “to sink into.” It also garnered 92 points and was designated an “Editors’ Choice” by the Wine Enthusiast. This is a wine to enjoy with delicate Asian flavors, a variety of seafood, or simply by itself.

The Loveblock 2018 Pinot Gris lists for $23.99 but is currently on sale in Pennsylvania State Stores for $17.99. I don’t usually get so hyped up over Pinot Gris… but this wine is a winner in every respect.

Loveblock - Someone's Darling Vineyard Loveblock 2018 Pinot Noir (Central Otago): Despite the great love he has for his Marlborough wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, there is absolutely no doubt that Mr. Crawford is obsessed with his Central Otago, “Someone’s Darling” Vineyard, Pinot Noir – a Pinot Noir that is quite different from the rest of New Zealand’s style of this grape. Because of the long days – up to 18 hours of sunshine – the skins of the grapes are thicker; hence and the wines are more “masculine” with darker, brooding flavors… And that is precisely the style that Mr. Crawford prefers.

Interestingly, however, his 2018, which has received many accolades, including being chosen #46 in the Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2019, just happens to be in an atypical “feminine” style, sporting enticing clove-scented notes of plum and black cherry, a rich creamy texture, and elegant body. This is an excellent wine that is also quite versatile and pairs well with a great variety of foods.

The 2018 Loveblock Pinot Noir is currently available through Pennsylvania State Stores at $32.99. I think that’s a little pricey; however, if you enjoy a truly elegant Pinot Noir, it is definitely worth the expenditure. It is less expensive from other sources, Total Wine, for instance (though not a great deal), and online (but don’t forget you have to pay for shipping).  Try a bottle… you won’t be disappointed.


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Limoncello Ristorante & Bar

499 East Uwchlan Avenue (Route 113)

Chester Springs, Pennsylvania

(610) 524-3112

Limoncello - Outdoor DiningTucked away in a corner of the Lionville Shopping Center, Limoncello is the younger sibling of the restaurant of the same name located in West Chester, PA. Both establishments are owned by the Mingrino family; and members of the family – parents, sons and daughter – are very much in evidence, in the kitchen as well as at the front of the house, making certain that things run smoothly.

The outdoor facilities here – especially the side patio – are expansive, attractively appointed, and exceedingly popular. As long as the warm weather remains with us, this is definitely the place to enjoy al fresco dining.  And, as a recent visit clearly demonstrated, the comforting southern Italian cuisine – based upon old family recipes or updated variations thereof – remains as solid as ever.

But the thing to keep in mind about Limoncello is that their entrée portions are downright humongous. So, unless you happen to have the peristaltic capacity of a starving yak, a doggie bag will be very much in order. And, given both the quantity and quality of the food, main courses are a genuine bargain. Especially since they’ll heat up just fine for lunch or dinner the following day.

To start things off, there are a number of options… You can make your own personal pizza or, perhaps, share a flatbread. When it comes to antipasto proper, nothing quite measures up to the Arancini, “little oranges,” a Sicilian specialty. Seasoned risotto croquettes are filled with beef Bolognese, green peas, and mozzarella cheese and then breaded and deep fried to a golden brown. Add marinara sauce, and they’re downright addictive.

Limoncello - Berry and Goat CheeseThis time around, however, on a nice warm summer’s evening, salad appeared to be more the order of the day. My dining partner and I decided to share the Berry and Goat Cheese, which the kitchen was kind enough to serve on two separate plates (pictured). Arugula and radicchio are accompanied by an artful arrangement of strawberries & blueberries supplemented by cherry tomatoes, shreds of red onion, toasted almonds, and creamy goat cheese. The pièce de résistance is a nothing-short-of-extraordinary champagne vinaigrette that provides the perfect gastronomic gestalt while, at the same time, totally mesmerizing the palate.

Limoncello - Sauteed GrouperEntrée-wise, my dining partner and I have sampled a variety of dishes during our numerous visits, all of them highly recommendable. The kitchen definitely has a way of seafood and usually cooks up a nightly seafood special that is always worth checking out. On one particular evening, for example, I was very much taken with a beautiful presentation of Sautéed Grouper (pictured). This is lean, moist, firm-textured fish with a distinctive mild flavor that has often been described as a cross between bass and halibut. And the chef was wise enough to let the grouper’s unique flavor speak for itself rather than trying to gussie it up. A splash of lemon butter sauce proved just the right touch, as did a simple seabed of luscious mashed potatoes and extraordinarily tender broccoli rabe.

Then, of course, there was my dining partner’s memorable Chicken Messina, a bounteous offering with its own unique appeal. The parmesan-crusted chicken breast was stuffed with asparagus, Prosciutto di Parma, and fresh mozzarella, finished with a first-rate caprese cream sauce, garnished with mixed mushrooms & pancetta, and served up with a generous tangle of linguine. Needless to say, there was a lot going on here – and dish wasn’t exactly photogenic – but all the elements did work rather well together. The chicken was perfectly moist; and that irresistible caprese cream sauce kept you coming back for more.

Limoncello - Eggplant ParmisanDuring our most recent outing, however, three out of our party of four – myself included – ordered the Eggplant Parmigiana (the lone dissenter opted for the Tortellini Alfredo). Yes, I know. It’s one of the usual suspects… and as plebeian as you can get… but it has always been one of my favorite Italian dishes; and I knew from previous visits that it would be well prepared and there would probably be enough left over to supply me with two more dinners…

And I wasn’t disappointed.  The eggplant was thinly sliced, lightly breaded, sautéed until soft (but not mushy!), crowned with melted mozzarella, and companioned by al dente linguine. The smothering of tomato sauce was rich & flavorful with just the proper amount of acidity. An excellent rendition of the Neapolitan classic. Not bad for $17.00.

Limoncello - Peanut Butter ExplosionDesserts offer a number of decadently delightful possibilities… Like the Limoncello Cake, for instance. This is a rich buttery cake splashed with Limoncello liqueur, filled with chunks of white chocolate, and finished off with a Limoncello glaze and dollop of vanilla ice cream… On the other hand, if find the combination of peanut butter and chocolate simply impossible to resist – as I do – the wickedly rich Peanut Butter Explosion (pictured) is simply not to be missed. The chocolate base is topped with peanut butter ganache and chocolate mousse, then coated in ganache and finished with chopped peanuts and a fabulous peanut butter sauce. Wow.

Limoncello also sports a nice selection of martinis, cocktails, and wines by the glass, as well as an interesting list of wines by the bottle, and draft & bottled brews.

Bon Appétit!

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Restaurant Alba

7 West King Street

Malvern, Pennsylvania

(610) 644-4009

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bon Appétit!

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603 West Lancaster Avenue

Eagle Village Shops

Wayne, Pennsylvania

(610) 688-7646

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bon Appétit!

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Vickers Restaurant

192 East Welsh Pool Road

Exton, Pennsylvania

(610) 363-7998

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bon Appétit!

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