Avenue Kitchen

789 East Lancaster Avenue

Villanova, Pennsylvania

(610) 525-3950

www.avekitchen.com

 Tucked away next to the Villanova Post Office, in a portion of the space previously occupied by the gargantuan, ill-fated Maia, Dana Farrell’s Avenue Kitchen appears to attempt to stake out a middle ground between her other culinary ventures: her former association with The Classic Diner in Malvern with ex-husband Tom Farrell; and her current interest in the Harvest Seasonal Grill & Wine Bar in Glen Mills with partner Dave Magrogan.

Avenue Kitchen - Interior 1Avenue Kitchen’s upscale décor – sleek all-white interior adorned with subway tiles, antique mirrors, and aluminum chairs – may at first strike one as unabashedly cold & stark au courant; but rustic wood tables, comfy booths, subdued lighting, and other subtle aesthetic touches soften things up significantly.

The cuisine, in the hands of Ms. Farrell’s brother, Chef Gregory Smith, provides some homey influences as well. It’s basically upscale American fare with a few interesting international twists and creative turns, but with enough familiar points of reference to appeal to a broad range of appetites.

Problem is… Avenue Kitchen has something of a split personality; it is, in reality, TWO restaurants. Drop in for lunch and you come away with one (generally positive) impression. Settle in for dinner, on the other hand, and you tend to harbor a few second thoughts.

However, let’s begin on a positive note, based upon several luncheon visits. Salads are particularly enjoyable (you may also add chicken, shrimp, salmon cake, steak, yellowtail tuna steak, or salmon to the greenery at an additional charge). The Mediterranean chopped salad, for example, replete with cherry tomatoes, English cucumber, sliced red onion, pitted Kalamata olives, and generous chunks of feta cheese, is obviously freshly tossed and enlivened with a subtle, palate-pleasing white balsamic vinaigrette.

Avenue Kitchen - Baby Arugula SaladEqually up to the mark is the baby arugula & goat cheese salad. The greenery is nicely trimmed, pristinely fresh, and supplemented by cherry tomato halves, and morsels of endive & shallot. Once again, however, it is the dressing – in this case, an ethereal sherry wine vinaigrette – that acts as a sublime culinary catalyst. Meanwhile, the deep fried golden brown goat cheese patty succeeds in providing a perfect crispy/creamy textural contrast to the peppery arugula.

Avenue Kitchen - Sweet Sausage PizzaMoving on… Although this is not an Italian restaurant per se, I would certainly recommend the wood-fired pizzas. Recently sampled, for instance, was the pie boasting sweet Italian sausage as well as mozzarella, spinach, roasted garlic, and San Marzano tomato sauce. The crust was thick but crispy and the toppings generously applied and alive with flavor. An excellent effort… ditto another Italian staple, the rigatoni Bolognese made with a first-rate short rib meat sauce.

Avenue Kitchen - Avocado BLTSandwiches also have a good deal to recommend them and represent a range of possibilities…from the upscale brioche lobster roll & grilled yellowtail tuna steak to the sublimely simple short rib cheese steak and three-cheese grilled cheese. In this latter category you also find a top-notch rendition of the classic corned beef Reuben on marble rye and a revved up version of the BLT (pictured), boasting wedges of avocado and thick slathering of zippy chipotle mayo on toasted sourdough.

Avenue Kitchen - BurgerBut if you happen to be in the mood for a burger, the kitchen does a fine job with a grass-fed prime beef patty on brioche companioned by caramelized onion, aged cheddar, and lettuce and tomato (pictured). For a variation on the theme, you might also consider giving the salmon burger a try. Accoutrements include roasted garlic aioli, arugula, and a soft pretzel roll.

Luncheon visits here were all thoroughly satisfying… Dinner, however, proved to be a different story. For starters, the kitchen seemed to lose its way. While the aforementioned salads were exceptional at lunch, the Caesar sampled at dinner was generic at best. The torn romaine leaves were undeniably fresh, but the promised homemade garlic croutons tasted mass produced, and the roasted garlic Caesar dressing was rather sparingly applied, rendering the greenery unappetizingly dry.

Avenue Kitchen - MusselsMy wife’s Prince Edward Island mussels, however, were the real problem. The pale ale broth awash with generous chunks of sweet sausage was just fine, but the mussels themselves were unbelievably tiny. Yes, yes, PEI mussels are small… But I have never, and I do mean never, seen bivalves so puny. Perhaps the restaurant purchased a truckload at bargain prices. Tiny, puny, minuscule, dwarfish, Lilliputian, call them what you will; one thing is certain, however: Their jumbo-size $16.00 price tag is no bargain.

Avenue Kitchen - MeatloafWhen it comes to entrées, the meatloaf with mac & cheese is about as homespun as it gets. The grass-fed meatloaf is set on a pillow of tender haricots verts and smothered in a rich dark brown gravy. The accompanying mac & cheese (also available as a side), a combo of Gruyère, cheddar, and provolone is a creamy, decadent delight. Excellent.

Avenue Kitchen - BranzinoOn the other hand, it’s difficult to believe that the pan-roasted branzino could have been produced in the same kitchen as that gloriously simple meatloaf/mac & cheese – yes, it was that bad… But let me qualify. The filet, set on a seabed of potato purée, was quite tasty on its own… when it was eventually discovered, that is. I say this because it was buried beneath an unsightly – and not particularly flavorful – mishmash of baby carrots, fava beans, roasted mushrooms & cherry tomatoes, and an artichoke barigoule (artichokes braised with onions, garlic & carrots in a seasoned broth of wine & water). I don’t expect culinary presentations to be works of art… but I do expect that they will appear at least semi-appetizing – and the branzino certainly was not. To paraphrase that old axiom: The palate can only ingest what the eye can endure.

… And, as if to add insult to injury, the branzino filet was also quite small. Both my wife and I have rather diminutive appetites; but even by our standards, the portion size was woefully deficient – perhaps the reason for the attempted camouflage. There’s nothing deficient about the price, however. At a whopping $28.00, it is the second most expensive item on the menu.

But it’s not only the food that makes a bit of an about-face at dinner; the general atmosphere takes a nosedive as well. On a recent visit, for example, we were greeted and seated by a teenager wearing a white shirt, bowtie, rose colored slacks, and Docksiders… At a typical family chow-down, hey, no problem. But is this the image a supposedly sophisticated Main Line eatery that has been variously described as chic and upscale wishes to project…? Apparently so.

Then there’s the clientele, especially the representatives populating the bar area, which, unfortunately, is merely an extension of the dining room, not a separate entity. It wasn’t exactly the From Dusk Till Dawn crowd – more like an impromptu cougars’ convention – but there were still some pretty strange vibrations floating around, which is not particularly conducive to a comfortable and relaxing dining experience.

The bottom line: If I happened to be in the area, I wouldn’t hesitate to pop back into Avenue Kitchen for lunch. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be terribly anxious to book a return evening’s engagement. There are simply too many other excellent restaurants in the area that offer better food, more pleasant surroundings, and a comparable – or superior – bang for your hard-earned buck.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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cornucopiaMealSharing.com announces its second annual “ThanksSharing” to promote food and togetherness for the classic American holiday.

Dubbed the “AirBnB of Home Cooked Meals,” MealSharing.com connects hosts and guests in more than 450 cities worldwide over home cooked meals. This year, MealSharing.com will continue its ThanksSharing initiative to connect thousands of people over one very special meal – Thanksgiving.

“Last year’s ThanksSharing helped people enjoy a meal with others who otherwise would have been eating alone,” notes Jay Savsani, founder of MealSharing.com. “As a popular celebration that promotes people coming together over food, ThanksSharing does just that – whether a person is traveling, alone for the holiday or simply wants a different experience – ThanksSharing is helping connect people over home cooked meals for a special occasion.”

To host a ThanksSharing event, hosts simply create a meal on MealSharing.com, specifying what they are making, how many people can come to their table, and the optional “chip-in” price per person to help offset the cost of ingredients. Then, by selecting ThanksSharing as the type of meal, guests from around the world can easily search and join a ThanksSharing dinner with one click. A special ThanksSharing webpage for those seeking a meal will also be readily available, with even a potluck feature to promote community involvement.

In addition, ThanksSharing hosts will be able to raise money for local food banks through the MealSharing.com platform. To urge participation, MealSharing.com will offer meal credits to any hosts who open up their table to guests for ThanksSharing.

To join the MealSharing.com community and host a ThanksSharing meal, please visit www.mealsharing.com/thanks.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Terre a Terre - ChefTerre à Terre, Carlstadt’s vibrant farm-to-table eatery and artisan market, is among a select group of New Jersey restaurants to be certified for eco-friendly practices.

Terre à Terre is the first Meadowlands area restaurant to have received certification as a 2-Star Certified Green Restaurant from the Green Restaurant Association (GRA), a national nonprofit organization that helps restaurants become more environmentally sustainable. The restaurant has undergone a rigorous certification process with GRA that covers the seven environmental categories of energy, water, waste, chemicals, food, disposable, and building.

“As a farm-to-table restaurant, our commitment to sustainability includes serving locally sourced foods, but we knew we wanted to extend that focus beyond the kitchen (and the plate) to the rest of our operation – the physical restaurant environment,” notes chef/proprietor Todd Villani. “The restaurant’s commitment to sustainability includes an eco-friendly environment through a dedicated effort to reduce waste, to recycle, conserve water, and generally pay more attention to our impact on the environment.”

“We are proud of Terre à Terre’s leadership in becoming Meadowland’s first independent Certified Green Restaurant,” said Michael Oshman, CEO and Founder of the Green Restaurant Association. “Every community has its early adopters in sustainability, and we look forward to other restaurants following Terre à Terre’s lead.”

Chef Villani’s approach reflects a broader trend in the food industry as more NJ chefs step up and serve as the voice of sustainability in their communities. Many, including Chef Villani, are forging stronger ties with farmers, growing their own produce, seeking to transform their operations so they are more environmentally responsible, and educating guests about how and where their food is grown.

With nearly 50 seats, a private dining area and outdoor garden, the Chef’s Table, which offers a multi-course gourmand tasting menu, Terre à Terre provides dining from Wednesday through Saturday, 5:30 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.; and for Sunday brunch, 11:00 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Terre à Terre is located at 312 Hackensack Street, Carlstadt, New Jersey. For more information, or to learn more about farmers and artisans supplying Terre à Terre, please visit www.terreaterre.biz. Reservations may be made online or by phone at (201) 507-0500.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Cantina ZaccagniniCantina Zaccagnini – a magnificent wine estate in the Bolognano region of Abruzzo, a remote area surrounded by snow-capped mountains – is a family affair, father and son, Ciccio and Marcello Zaccagnini, and cousin & winemaker Concezio Marulli. Though Cantina Zaccagnini is now a very respected, well-capitalized, well-established winery with many awards to its credit, the first 1978 vintage was produced in the Zaccagnini’s garage. Initially, 1,000 bottles of wine per year was the average production. Today, the annual production is over 500,000, with 85% of the wine exported to 43 countries.

“It is not difficult to produce a premium wine,” notes Angelo Ruzzi, export manager for Cantina Zaccagnini, “It is much more difficult to produce a value wine.” And while Zaccagnini does produce three quality levels of wine, it has been particularly successful at consistently turning out quality wines at extremely reasonable prices.

Wine of the Month - November 2014-12013 Cantina Zaccagnini Pinot Grigio, $13.00 – $16.00 – The Winery’s Pinot Grigio is produced from 100% Pinot Grigio grapes that are harvested by hand. Following low-temperature fermentation, the wine is aged in stainless steel.

This is a first-rate Pinot Grigio alive with whiffs of minerals and tropical fruit. It is medium-bodied and lush on the palate with a crisp, vibrant acidity and citrusy finish. A versatile wine, it is eminently enjoyable, either flying solo or as the perfect complement to a variety of foods. It remains a constant winner, a simple yet elegant wine that fills the bill for just about any occasion… And the price isn’t bad either.

 

Wine of the Month - November 2014-22011 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, $14.99 – I previously reviewed this wine in January 2009, commenting upon the 2005 and the 2004 Riserva. And, interestingly enough, it was first sampled in La Valle Ristorante, a homey little Italian eatery (where the friendly youthful bartender hailed from Milan) tucked away just around the corner from Munich’s Marienplatz.

This particular wine, produced from 100% Montepulciano d’Abruzzo grapes, has always enjoyed the excellent reputation of being a reasonably priced dark & inky rough ‘n’ ready red that was just right for everyday quaffing and/or the perfect sidekick for zesty pasta dishes and other hale & hearty fare. From year to year, the Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo has always been an utterly reliable wine… But the 2011 vintage, if you’ll pardon the pun, is definitely a wine of a different color…

The 2011 is still full bodied, but it is also softly textured and, yes… downright opulent on the palate. Aged in French oak barrels for eight months, followed by several months in the bottle prior to release, this is a wine – rife with succulent ripe fruit and soothing touch of vanilla – that has truly come into its own. So much so, in fact, that James Suckling of the Wine Spectator bestowed a whopping 91 points (out of 100), and Tastings.com rated it 89 and highly recommended.

And, amazingly enough, it is still an incredible bargain. The 2011 Cantina Zaccagnini Montepulciano d’Abruzzo will set you back a mere $15.00; a few dollars less at Total Wines, where I’ve observed it literally flying off the shelves by the case.

This is an exceptional wine at an exceptional price that wine lovers can’t afford to pass up… I recommend it highly.

Cheers!

TAD

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Classic Diner - MalvernThe Classic Diner announces a new location in West Chester, PA, opening at 16 Gay Street in November 2014. The popular Malvern diner has been serving up breakfast and lunch since 1995 and has become a local mainstay, earning many rave reviews and awards, including “Best of Philly Diner” by Philadelphia Magazine, “Best Main Line Diner” by Main Line Today, and “County Lines Best Breakfast” by County Lines Magazine.

The new location will offer a similar menu of well-presented traditional and non-traditional “classic diner fare,” including the renowned eggs Benedict, “famous” bacon, a wide array of egg dishes, brioche French toast, and buttermilk pancakes. Favored lunch offerings include the Boston BBQ pulled pork, crab cake sandwich with chili lime aioli, and custom order burgers. The restaurant uses only the freshest ingredients to prepare menu items made from scratch, resulting in delectable meals that rival some of the best offerings in many upscale restaurants.

The restaurant expansion is a partnership by The Classic Diner owners Kristina Flynn and Tom Farrell and Sovana Bistro owners Linda and Nick Farrell. “We are a solid team with over 50 years of combined experience in the restaurant industry,” notes Kristina Flynn. “We share the same passion of setting new standards for food quality and dining experiences.”

Located in downtown West Chester, The Classic Diner will serve breakfast and lunch from 7:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. seven days a week. “After nearly two decades in Malvern, we were looking to expand The Classic Diner footprint,” comments owner Tom Farrell. “We found the perfect location in the borough, near where the four of us grew up.”

Brothers Tom & Nick Farrell have been highly successful with independent restaurants, The Classic Diner and Sovana Bistro, and recently partnered to launch their first joint venture RapiDOUGH Pizza Pies, which opened in Collegeville in May. The new restaurant combines fresh ingredients with rapid food preparation for a modern pizza parlor dining experience. Two additional RapiDOUGH locations are scheduled to open in early 2015.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Stage Left - Byron Kosuge's Pinot Noir Wine DinnerOn Friday, November 7, Stage Left, 5 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, New Jersey, will host a special wine dinner headlining the extraordinary Pinot Noirs of Byron Kosuge.

Mr. Kosuge spent the first fifteen years of his wine making career as winemaker at Saintsbury in Carneros. Since 2001, he’s been on his own, making complex and delicious Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Mr. Kosuge will be the special guest of the evening and will be pouring his owns wines, five Pinot Noir and one Chardonnay.

Hors d’Oeuvres: Champagne Cocktails

Scallops: Charred Romaine, Preserved Jersey Tomato, Pork Belly, Warm Garlic Aioli; Wine Pairing: Kosuge Chardonnay, 2012, Sonoma Coast

Quail, Duck, Pumpkin Ravioli: Fennel, Red Wine Chanterelle Mushrooms; Wine Pairings: Kosuge Pinot Noir, 2012, Sonoma Coast; Kosuge Pinot Noir, “The Shop,” 2012, Carneros

Lamb Loin: Jamon, Beet, Pearl Onion, Spaetzle, Bacon; Wine Pairings: Kosuge Pinot Noir, “Hirsch Vineyard,” 2012, Sonoma Coast; Kosuge Pinot Noir, “Hirsch Vineyard,” 2006, Sonoma Coast

Nectarine and Blood Orange

Blood Orange Thyme Ice Cream

Pistachio Mint Pesto & Brittle

The cost of the Byron Kosuge wine dinner is $139.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity). For more information, or to make reservations, please call (732) 828-4444.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Ho-Ho-Kus Inn - Ex Chef Andrew RodriguezAt the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn & Tavern, One East Franklin Turnpike, Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey, the fall season kicks off with an array of fine culinary and noteworthy wine/craft beer events that are certain to please every palate.

Wednesday, October 22, 6:30 p.m.: The Inn’s monthly series of craft beer tasting events will showcase “Autumn Oktoberfest Brews.” Held in the casual setting of the Tavern, the October tasting will feature Blue Moon Harvest Pumpkin Ale, Sam Adams Oktoberfest, Hofbrau Munchen Oktoberfestbier, and Woodchuck Pumpkin Cider. Complimentary bar bites will be served, and the cost is $20.00 per person. Reservations are recommend, and participants are encouraged to stay for dinner following the event.

Wednesday, November 12, 6:30 p.m.: The Inn will host a Cakebread Cellars wine dinner. Executive Chef Andrew Rodriguez will create a lavish five-course dinner complemented by selected Ckebread wine pairings. Founded in Rutherford, California, Cakebread has set the standard for American fine wine since 1973 with world class wines known for their continuity and quality. Reservations are required. The menu and wine pairings are noted below…

Amuse

Amberjack Crudo: Watercress, Citrus, Pickled Jalepeño, Fennel Pollen; Wine Pairing: Sauvignon Blanc, 2008

Spiced Duck Breast: White Asparagus, Heirloom Grains, Charred Grapes; Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir, 2006

Red Snapper: Parsnip, Local Bacon, Hon Shimeji Mushroom, Smoked Apple Broth; Wine Pairing: Chardonnay, 2006

Venison Osso Buco: Celery Root Gratin, Chanterelles, Chestnut, Plum Reduction; Wine Pairing: Merlot, 2006

Local Jersey Artisan Cheese Board: Compressed Seasonal Fruits, Accoutrements

Thursday, November 27: This year, the Inn will be serving a sumptuous Thanksgiving Dinner with 2-hour reservations being taken from 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., offering a classic all-American turkey dinner or an innovative seasonal autumn à la carte menu. The classic turkey dinner is priced at $35.00 per person; $15.00 for children 12 and under, exclusive of tax & gratuity. Reservations are required.

For more information about these events, or to make reservations, please call (201) 445-4115.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Talula's - PizzaTalula’s, 550 Cookman Avenue, Asbury Park, New Jersey, a new restaurant, bar, and bakery offering vibrant, flavorful dishes made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients, is scheduled to open the week of October 20, 2014.

The menu of good, honest, deceptively simple dishes made with the best, freshest ingredients available will include sourdough and other breads by baker Josh Stewart; sourdough pizzas and toasts made with quintessential, seasonal and, sometimes, unexpected toppings; fresh house-made pastas; big flavorful salads; a dessert menu with rustic-style pastries, fried-to-order doughnuts, and house-made ice cream.

Talula’s beverage program and full bar will offer local craft beers on tap, and a few domestic bottles and cans; house wines; also on tap, a handcrafted cocktail menu incorporating daily shrubs and a thoughtfully curated bottle list; Boylan all-natural sodas and Irving Farm espresso drinks.

Chefs/Proprietors Steve Mignogna & Shanti Church founded Talula’s with a values-based vision that includes a reverence for family, community, and the local food system. Their mission is simply to bring people together around great food.

Open seven days a week, serving Brunch: 10:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (Sat & Sun); Lunch: 11:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m. (Mon – Fri); Dinner: 5:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. (Mon-Sat), 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m. (Sun); Late Night: Bar, slices and sweets only 11:00 p.m. – 2:00 a.m. (Fri & Sat).

Located in the heart of the downtown business and shopping district of Asbury Park at 550 Cookman Avenue, (732) 455-3003, is scheduled to open the week of October 20.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Centreville Café

5800 Kennett Pike

Centreville, Delaware

(302) 777-4911

www.centrevillecafe.com

Centreville Cafe, DelawareA long-running local favorite, the Centreville Café made its debut in September 2003 and morphed into Montrachet Fine Foods, its cooking and catering arm, approximately one year later. Specifically mentioned in “36 Hours in the Brandywine Valley,” a New York Times article published on August 28, 2013, the Cafe, and its proprietor, Susan Teiser, are practically the stuff of urban legend…

At the Centreville Café, breakfast is served all day, while innovative soups, salads, and sandwiches take center stage at lunch. All meats are roasted & sliced on the premises, all soups are made from scratch, and only specialty breads are utilized to build the gourmet sandwiches. In addition, the restaurant is dog-friendly, has a spacious patio for al fresco dining, and guests may BYOB. Sounds great. I mean, what more could one ask?

But despite the warm & fuzzy website, cutesy floral-infused menu, several glowing online reviews (although, given the Café’s longevity, one would have expected infinitely more comments floating about), a beneficent blurb from the NY Times, and Ms. Teiser’s smiling countenance, as well as a loving enumeration of her extensive culinary, social, and philanthropic endeavors, a recent Sunday afternoon visit proved downright disappointing.

Centreville Cafe - Daffodil SandwichThe sandwiches, for example, their flowery noms de plume notwithstanding, fell far short of expectations. My wife’s “Daffodil” – herbed focaccia with crumbled feta cheese, hummus, cucumber slices, lettuce, and tomato – long on bread and short on filling, was extremely dry. The hummus, which would have added a much needed touch of moisture (and flavor), was practically nonexistent; and the other “bland leading the bland” items, also rather sparsely applied, simply couldn’t carry the sandwich on their own.

Centreville Cafe - Sunflower SandwichMy “Sunflower” – white tuna salad served open faced on an English muffin with melted provolone cheese & tomato – was also somewhat less than edifying. The tuna salad was slightly on the “fishy” side with pronounced lemony undertones. In addition, the muffin was barely toasted and decidedly doughy, and the tomato slices crowning the melted provolone had a rather strange, off-putting taste. Not the kitchen’s finest hour… But there were other negative vibes as well.

When we arrived for a light lunch at 2:00 p.m., Ms. Sweet-Young-Thing was holding forth behind the counter. Since we were first time visitors, she mentioned that we should order first, pay, and then retire to the parlor where our orders would be delivered to us when ready. So far, so good.

But after getting these preliminaries out of the way, one couldn’t help but notice that the interior was old, well-worn, and felt somewhat less than squeaky clean. This may seem an extraordinarily subjective snap judgment… Perhaps… That is, until Ms. Sweet-Young-Thing, noting that we had toted along a bottle of wine, popped into the next room to fetch a couple of wine glasses before sending us off to table. She promptly returned with two glasses that were – and this is hardly subjective – extraordinarily filthy.

Whether they had somehow managed to escape proper washing, or had simply been gathering dust for the last decade or so is entirely up for grabs… However, the fact that she had failed to notice their condition, I think, speaks volumes… not only about the attitude of the staff but also with regard to the establishment’s attention to detail and, perhaps, its overall state of cleanliness as well.

When I politely inquired, “Excuse me, may we please have two clean wine glasses?” she definitely sent a hairy eyeball floating in my direction, imagining, no doubt, that I had just made some shockingly outrageous demand. She departed, for a longer period this time, eventually reappearing with two acceptable – but hardly sparkling – offerings… We turned toward the parlor, wine glasses in hand. Before we managed to exit stage right, however, she felt the need to specifically instruct us that the restaurant closed promptly at 3:00 p.m. Fine, I nodded.

Once seated, our sandwiches arrived almost immediately; and we were enjoying our wine and a refreshing cross-breeze from two open windows, when, around 2:25 p.m., along comes another youthful member of the restaurant staff who proceeded to close and lock every window in sight… A scant five minutes later, Ms. Sweet-Young-Thing made a point of floating by to jog our memories: “Just a reminder that we close at 3:00 p.m.”

Apparently the members of the staff had pressing engagements elsewhere and wanted to make sure we got the (significantly less than subtle) hint… We did, indeed. After a last sip or two, given the fact that we had apparently worn out our welcome, we decided that it was definitely time to pack up and head for home.

Perhaps there was the fear that, because we had brought along a bottle of wine, we were planning to settle in for the duration of the afternoon… I have no way of knowing. I can certainly understand the desire to vacate the premises after a hard day’s work… but that this fact was made so blatantly obvious would hardly be considered customer friendly. Needless to say, patrons don’t like to feel they’re being pushed out the door.

There’s no question that the Centreville Café is both quaint and quirky; and as a professional restaurant reviewer, I find this desire to march to the beat of a slightly different drummer a refreshing change from the usual cookie-cutter cuisine and service encountered in many establishments. But quaint and quirky carry you only so far… then you need a good deal of substance to back up the bravado. And it is precisely here – with regard to both the quality of food and service – that the Café, in my opinion, falls short.

Repeat customers are a restaurant’s bread & butter. Thus, I think it would be well for Ms. Teiser and her assorted minions to realize that patrons whose initial dining experience proves less than satisfactory are seldom (if ever) tempted to return to the scene of the crime.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Recently, my wife & I, and two other couples, hosted a session of our community wine club in which participants sampled seven (7) Spanish wines. Here’s Part II: Favorite Spanish Red Wines…

SPANISH RED WINES:

WINE OF THE MONTH - October 2014-32008 Glorioso Rioja Reserva, $15.00 – Rioja is Spain’s most celebrated wine region. However, there are actually three unique districts that compose the Rioja: the two cooler climates of Rioja Alta and Rioja Alavesa, and the balmier region of Rioja Baja. Strategically placed between the Atlantic and the Mediterranean, the Rioja region produces the majority of its acclaimed red wines from the Tempranillo grape, in addition to growing Garnacha, Mazuelo, and Graciano – which are often used for blending with Tempranillo.

The 2008 Glorioso Rioja Reserva is produced by Bodegas Palacio. The winery was founded in 1904 by Don Cosme de Palacio, who went on to establish the legendry Vega Sicilia estate in Ribero del Duero. In the 1990s, Palacio was acquired by Hijos de Antonio Barcelo, one of Spain’s largest winemaking conglomerates, itself part of the giant Acconia group. Thanks to a high level of investment, Palacio has been able to expand, modernize, and thrive.

The Glorioso line was created in 1928 and is Palacio’s most popular wine and the most regional in style – although its aging in Bordeaux French oak barrels for 16 months is hardly typical. It is this type of aging, however, that provides the elegant, sophisticated touches for this this brand is known. The nose is rife with cedar and vanilla; on the palate, the wine is exceptionally smooth and well balanced, with soft, integrated tannins and a long expressive finish. A wonderful wine… and the price is right.

WINE OF THE MONTH - October 2014-42007 Pittacum Mencía, $21.00 – Tucked away in the village of Arganza (population 90; average age 70) in the remote mountainous district of Bierzo in northern Spain, Viñedos y Bodegas Pittacum was founded in 1999. Pitticum is the Roman name for an amphora, several of which, dating back to the occupation by Rome, were discovered on the site. The vineyards are comprised of old vines ranging in age from 50- to 80-years-old and are farmed as organically as possible. 65% of the Winery was acquired by Terras Gaudas wine group in 2002.

85% of the Pittacum’s vineyards are planted with Mencía, a thick skinned violet-blue grape that was once thought to be related to Cabernet Franc. Modern DNA testing has disproved this theory, however, but has uncovered the fact that the grape is indigenous to the Iberian Peninsula and is genetically identical to Portugal’s Jaen. Mencía generally produces freshly acidic, robustly tannic wines that are on the spicy side with peppery notes and berrylike fruit; interestingly enough, faintly reminiscent of Cabernet Franc.

The 2007 Pittacum Mencía is comprised of grapes from vines of different ages from different vineyards with different characteristics. Vinification in stainless steel takes place separately according to the individual vineyards. The wine is then aged for approximately 8 months in 50/50 French and American oak, 1/3 each new, 1 & 2 years old. The result is a heady, complex wine with its own unique personality. It is rich, lush, and silky smooth on the palate, exhibiting plenty of ripe fruit and a slightly smoky finish. The hefty 14.5% alcohol is perfectly balanced with the medium tannins and acidity. Definitely not your usual run-of-the-mill fare… The perfect match for a hearty steak.

 

WINE OF THE MONTH - October 2014-52011 Las Rocas de San Alejandro, $12.00 – Deep in the interior of Aragon, Spain, is a wine region that few have heard of: Calatayud. The air is dry, the terrain is unforgiving, and shattered rock stretches as far as the eye can see. It would seem that nothing could grow here…

Yet, somehow, Garnacha vines thrive on the arid, rocky slopes of Calatayud, creating some of the world’s most sought-after wines. Spain is one of the few places where vintners bottle pure Garnacha – or Grenache, as it is called outside of Spain – and Calatayud is home to some of the country’s highest Garnacha vineyards.

Rooted deep in rocky, limestone soils at elevations of up to 3,500 feet, these vines see intense sunlight, prompting thicker skins and, ultimately, grapes with richer flavors. Cool evening temperatures mean fruit with greater acidity, giving Las Rocas wines a unique elegance and structure.

Many of Calatayud’s Garnacha vines are nearly a century old, producing rich, robust wines. With flavors and tannins reminiscent of a Cabernet Sauvignon, matched by a structure similar to Pinot Noir, Las Rocas Garnacha has a distinct palate of red fruit, black pepper, and earthy notes.

The 2011 Las Rocas Garnacha comes from the cooperatives of Bodegas San Alejandro, an association of hundreds of small growers in Calatayud, one of the most productive of the Spanish regions. After harvest, the grapes were cold-soaked and fermented at temperatures between 75 and 82 degrees. During fermentation, the juice remained in contact with the skins for 15 days. Malolactic (a second) fermentation allowed the juices to acquire a softer texture, pleasing to the palate and easy to enjoy. During the aging process, a small part of the Garnacha was barreled in French and American oak, creating a subtle overtone to the final product.

This is a hefty wine, weighing in at 14.9% alcohol, with pronounced tannins and slightly bitter notes of black cherry and dark chocolate… But it also a food-friendly wine, marrying well with traditional meat dishes and strong cheeses. And, retailing at around $12.00 a bottle, it is a price-friendly wine as well.

 

WINE OF THE MONTH - October 2014-62011 Bodegas la Magdelena Sueño Tempranillo, $13.00 – Situated between Madrid and Alicante – in a kind of Spanish no man’s land – lies the Ribera del Júcar, a recently-awakened-from-its-slumber wine region. The Tempranillo grape has been experiencing a renaissance in worldwide wine production; and this surge began partly as a result of the efforts of a “new wave” of Spanish growers and co-ops, like the Bodega la Magdalena, who have demonstrated that it is possible to produce wines of great character and quality in areas outside of Rioja. Magdalena is a co-operative winery founded by 60 local growers in 1958 that presently has grown to 290 partners who deliver grapes from over 1,600 acres of property. In 1990, they began to label their wine products under the “Vega Moragena” brand. Today, armed with the newest in winemaking technologies, they’re committed to producing the highest quality Spanish wines. With an altitude reaching 2,400 feet, gentle slopes, varying soil textures, and layers of pebbles, the Ribera del Júcar is a genuine micro-climate indigenous to grow extraordinary Tempranillo

The 2011 Sueño, which means “dream” in Spanish, is sourced from 50-year old vines with low yields; the result is an exceedingly rich red with marvelous concentration. And the 10 months spent in small oak casks has added even more character to the vintage. This is a heady wine, but also supple and elegant with soft balanced tannins. Wine guru Robert Parker rated the 2011 Sueño a whopping 91 on his 100-point scale and noted: “The oak is very well integrated… and it lends the dark chocolate-tinged finish a seamless quality and weight without impinging upon the terroir character.” This is a great Spanish red at any price… but the fact that it retails around $13.00 a bottle makes it something of an oenological no-brainer.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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