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, https://www.salamanderresort.com/, 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, https://experiencegreenhill.com/, 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, https://www.50westvineyards.com/Boxwood Estate Winery, 2042 Burrland Lane, https://boxwoodwinery.com/Cana Vineyards & Winery, 38600 John Mosby Highway, https://canavineyards.com/Chrysalis Vineyards, 39025 John Mosby Highway, https://www.chrysaliswine.com/.

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, https://www.lindenvineyards.com/, 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, https://www.calvertwoodley.com/.

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, https://www.stonetowerwinery.com/, 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, https://www.rdvvineyards.com/, 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, https://www.kneadwine.com/, 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, https://www.cbcwine.com/websearch_results.html?kw=RDV+Vineyards, 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.

Cheers!

Be Safe

TAD

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Farm and the Fisherman Tavern + Market

1442 Marlton Pike East

Cherry Hill, New Jersey

(856) 356-2282

http://www.fandftavern.com/home

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!

Be Safe

TAD

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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.

Cheers!

Be Safe

TAD

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Limoncello Ristorante & Bar

499 East Uwchlan Avenue (Route 113)

Chester Springs, Pennsylvania

(610) 524-3112

https://www.limoncellorestaurant.com/

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!

Be Safe

TAD

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Restaurant Alba

7 West King Street

Malvern, Pennsylvania

(610) 644-4009

https://www.restaurantalba.com

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!

Be Safe

TAD

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Silverspoon

603 West Lancaster Avenue

Eagle Village Shops

Wayne, Pennsylvania

(610) 688-7646

http://www.silverspoonwayne.com

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!

Be Safe

TAD

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Vickers Restaurant

192 East Welsh Pool Road

Exton, Pennsylvania

(610) 363-7998

https://www.vickersrestaurant.com

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!

Be Safe

TAD

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Kimberton Inn

2105 Kimberton Road

Kimberton, Pennsylvania

(610) 933-8148

https://www.kimbertoninn.com

The Kimberton Inn was first reviewed in 2007 and then again in 2015. In 2018, it was reviewed a third time when the long-running (27 years) chef, Jim Trainer, suddenly departed and his second-in-command, Tom Wolter, took over as the power-behind-the-stove. Kimberton Inn Wine Dinner – A Retrospective was a separate review of a specific wine dinner also posted in 2015.

Kimberton Inn - Outdoor PatioThe current circumstances, however, are somewhat different, as this review will deal exclusively with al fresco (outdoor) dining. The Inn’s facilities include a patio as well as a string of tables amid the picturesque flora and fauna along the small creek just below the restaurant’s parking lot.

But the Kimberton Inn offers infinitely more than its significantly rustic charms (whether seated outdoors or in one of the cozy dining rooms), as the cuisine continues to draw kudos from the Inn’s loyal clientele and food critics alike – this writer included. After getting off to what I considered a rather rocky start, Executive Chef Tom Wolter certainly appears to have hit his stride.

Typical of Mr. Wolter’s style, for example is his extraordinary Sautéed Halibut Fillet. The generous fillet is sautéed to a golden hue that yields to a moist and flaky snow-white interior. Pillowed on a creamy seabed of potato purée, it is embellished with a smattering of white corn & heirloom carrots. The consummating touch is an exquisite lemon thyme cream. Truly memorable.

Kimberton Inn - Shrimp & Sea ScallopsAlmost its equal was my dining partner’s Sautéed Shrimp and Sea Scallops (pictured). The perfectly prepared constituents swim to table in a savory roasted fennel broth awash with sautéed shiitake mushrooms, asparagus, red pepper, and English peas.

Kimerton Inn - Wild Mushroom & Shishito Pepper Pad ThaiThe only disappointment in several visits proved to be the Wild Mushroom & Shishito Pepper Pad Thai (pictured). This is a stir-fried noodle dish commonly served as street food in Thailand. It is typically made with rice noodles, tofu, scrambled egg, bean sprouts, and peanuts. The Kimberton version also features cilantro and scallions. The ingredients are sautéed together in a wok. Once the dish is completed, it is tossed with a special sauce that gives the dish its unique tangy salty flavor with just a hint of sweetness.

The problem here is that the ingredients are not sautéed together; in point of fact, they did not appear to be sautéed at all. Nor were they tossed with sauce, which was practically nonexistent… A major faux pas and proof positive that the chef should stick to what he knows best and not wander too far afield, as the results are a good deal less than edifying.

Kimberton Inn - Fried Cauliflower FloretsAppetizers, however, are consistently excellent across the board. They include such items as Birchrun Hills Farm Cheese, a delightful cheeseboard garnished with pickled vegetables, local fruit preserves, and crostini; “Probably the Best Salad You’ll Ever Have” – leaf lettuce, baby spinach, tart apple slices, toasted sunflower seeds, and aged gouda splashed with a sweet sesame-walnut dressing – a menu favorite; and the fabulous Fried Cauliflower Florets (pictured) accompanied by roasted poblano peppers, confit garlic, fresh cilantro, and a dynamite sesame aioli.

Desserts are an impressive array of old favorites like Pecan Pie with Caramel Sauce, Chocolate Torte with White Chocolate Buttercream, and Strawberry Shortcake… But the winner in my book is the kitchen’s benchmark Key Lime Pie. It sports a great crust, the proper color (yellow, not green), and is just tart enough. The perfect ending to any meal.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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Trefethen Family VineyardsTrefethen’s history can be traced back to the Eschol Winery, which was commissioned by James and George Goodman and constructed in 1886 by a Scottish sea captain named Hamden McIntyre. The original estate was 208 acres, 40 of which were planted in vineyards.

McIntyre designed an ingenious gravity-flow system in which a horse-drawn winch brought grapes to the third floor of a three-story structure for crushing… gravity carried the juice to the second floor for fermenting… and, eventually, the wine descended to the first floor for aging. The vineyards survived Prohibition by producing grapes for the production of sacramental wine. However, by 1940, the vineyards and winery building fell into disuse.

In 1968, following his retirement from Kaiser Industries, Eugene Trefethen and his wife, Katie, purchased Eschol, along with six adjoining properties to create Trefethen Vineyards. Replanting of the vineyards and restoration of the historic winery building soon began. In 1988, their restoration efforts were recognized by the Department of the Interior, which placed the winery on the National Register of Historic Places as the only 19th-century wooden gravity-flow winery surviving in Napa County.

The couple’s original intention was to sell all their grapes… but their son, John, had other ideas. He began making small batches of wine in the basement of his parents Napa home. And, in 1973, with his new wife, Janet, he produced Trefethen Vineyards’ first commercial wine. Just three years later, the winery’s 1976 Chardonnay earned “Best Chardonnay in the World” honors at the 1979 Gault Millau World Wine Olympics in Paris. That accomplishment, coupled with John’s sound business sense and determination to create a world-class wine estate, put Trefethen Vineyards on the global fine wine map. Today, John and Janet devote themselves full-time to the family winery.

Trefethen - Bryan Kays, WinemakerWinemaker Bryan Kays earned an undergraduate degree in English Literature from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, before turning to wine as a career. He worked for a small winery in the Sierra Foothills for several years and then earned a Viticulture and Enology degree at UC Davis before joining Trefethen in 2006 as a viticulture intern. Bryan worked his way into the cellar, up to the position of assistant winemaker in 2008, and then assumed the role of winemaker in 2015. His passion is creating balanced, true-to-type wines that embody his conviction that winemaking is as much about restraint as it is about action. In June 2019, Bryan married John & Janet Trefethen’s daughter, Hailey.

Trefethen’s Signature Wines include Dry Riesling, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Dragon’s Tooth, a Bordeaux-like blend of 54% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 16% Petit Verdot, and 5% Merlot. The winery also produces 3 reserves and 10 small lot wines.  It was recently my pleasure to sample two of their signature vintages, the 2018 Chardonnay and 2017 Merlot, and both were of excellent quality…

Trefethen Chardonnay 2018The Trefethen 2018 Oak Knoll District Chardonnay, which received 93 points from the Wine Enthusiast, is both elegant and classically-styled. It is beautifully structured, displaying just the lightest touch of ripe fruit. This is certainly not one of those ponderous California Chards. Low in oak but engagingly supple of texture with 13.3% alcohol, it also possesses a lively acidity that keeps all its elements in perfect balance leading to a smooth and refreshing finish.

I think you’ll find the price tag pretty refreshing as well. The list price is $38.00, but numerous sites online are running specials in the mid-$20.00 range. The really good news, however, is that Pennsylvania State Stores have this particular wine on sale for $19.99.

 

Trefethen Merlot 2017The Trefethen 2017 Merlot is equally rewarding. The Merlot grape flourishes in relatively cool growing regions with moist soils. This makes it a perfect match for certain parts the Trefethen estate vineyard, located in the Oak Knoll District of the Napa Valley, a sweet spot between warmer up-valley regions and the cool southern tip.

The 2017 Merlot also has a splash (5%) of Cabernet Franc mixed in, which gives added pleasure to both the nose and the palate. This wine is definitely fruit-forward but not at all unctuous. It spent 18 months maturing in American oak, 44% new, so you’ll definitely feel a healthy amount on the palate… Fortunately, however, the oak is perfectly counter-balanced with red fruit and mouth-watering acidity. The lush tannins indicate that this wine will age very well… But why wait. It’s ready to enjoy right now.

The price is right, too. Currently on sale in PA State Stores for $19.99.

Cheers!

Be Safe

TAD

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Valley Forge Trattoria & Lounge

1130 Valley Forge Road

Phoenixville, Pennsylvania

(610) 935-7579

https://www.valleyforgepizza.com/

If you just happen to be driving by, Valley Forge Trattoria & Lounge (formerly Valley Forge Pizza) looks pretty much like any other run-of-the-mill strip mall eatery. But, trust me, the attractive dining rooms and comfy bar area completely belie the restaurant’s utilitarian exterior… And the first-rate Italian cuisine continues to surprise and delight.

VF Pizza - Outdoor DiningHowever, if you’re a bit nervous about dining indoors – as I am – with Covid-19 still among us, I would strongly suggest that you make a reservation on the restaurant’s charming outdoor patio (pictured).  It’s cool, cozy, comfortable, and also covered, just in case Mother Nature decides to send a sudden shower your way – which she did during one of our recent visits.

VF Pizza - Garlic KnotsThe large menu runs the gamut… from a host of salads… to pizzas, strombolis and calzones… to classic pastas… to chicken, veal, beef, and seafood entrees… to a variety of sandwiches, croissants, wraps, grinders, and hoagies. Whatever your preferences on a given day, you will find the portion sizes quite generous. And you might also consider saving a bit of cash by skipping the appetizers, as a house salad and the restaurant’s irresistible Garlic Knots (pictured) are included with most entrées.

VF Pizza - Chicken ParmYou would think that with such an extensive menu, one might have a bit of trouble zeroing in on an entrée… Not so my permanent dining partner, who is something of a semi-regular, often meeting her girlfriend here for dinner. Never a doubt. She is totally addicted to the kitchen’s Chicken Parmesan, which she ordered on both of our two recent visits. And, as you can tell from the photograph, the portion size borders on gargantuan… But quality is quite evident as well. The breading is light and crisp, the chicken moist & tender, and the sauce just sweet enough backed by a solid acidity.

VF Pizza - Side of Veg w Chic ParmThe dish is normally served with a pasta of choice; but she prefers a vegetable side, which changes on a regular basis. Most recently, it consisted of an appetizing combo of broccoli, zucchini, yellow squash, and red onion. Obviously freshly sautéed, all constituents were at the very peak of good health.

My own entrée choices were a bit more diverse. Veal, for example, is always a good indication of an Italian kitchen’s capabilities (or lack thereof), and usually my first selection at a restaurant I have not previously visited. So, the Veal Saltimbocca seemed like a good place to begin. This dish, both quick and elegant, is a mainstay in Roman trattorias and is comprised of basically three ingredients: veal cutlets, prosciutto, and fresh sage (and, as pictured, often with a topping of melted mozzarella cheese).

VF Pizza - Veal SaltimboccaAnd the rendition served up here is one of the most satisfying I have sampled anywhere. The veal was perfectly sautéed, firm to the bite yet tender, and all the other elements combined in a delightfully sensual gastronomic gestalt. And the simple sauce, made by deglazing the pan with a touch of marsala, added a slightly salty, sumptuous air to the proceedings. Kudos to the kitchen.

VF Pizza - Eggplant ParmOn my second visit, I opted for the Eggplant Parmesan. Once again, this is a relatively simple dish… but – as I have mentioned in several other reviews – one that is easily mucked up. Eggplant is a decidedly tricky item to deal with. It is very easily either under or overcooked. If the former, it can be hard as nails and lacking in flavor; if the latter, a mushy mess. And if slightly over-the-hill, the seeds become an all too prominent part of the equation.

Fortunately, Valley Forge’s kitchen does everything just right. The lengthwise slices are appetizingly thin, the crisp golden-brown exterior yielding to a deliciously creamy core. A topping of melted cheese and pillow of your pasta of choice (in this case, capellini) bathed in a first-rate marinara complete the package.

VF Pizza - Gourmet Turtle CheesecakeDessert offerings, although not made in-house, are still quite good and certainly worth saving room for. Of course, you have traditional items like Cannoli and Tiramisu… but the Italian Lemon Cream Cake, light and airy on the palate, makes a fabulous finish. Even better, though, especially if you’re looking for something with a bit more substance, is the Gourmet Turtle Cheesecake (pictured). The delightfully smooth and creamy New York-style cheesecake rests on a thick layer of fudge, is topped with caramel cream, and then sprinkled with a tiara of chopped pecans. Not-to-be-missed!

The restaurant has a serviceable selection of wines by the glass; and, as my dining partner can clearly attest, the bartender makes a damn good Cosmo as well.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe

TAD

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