Favorite Wines of 2019

by artfuldiner on January 11, 2020

in Artful Diner Review, Breaking News, Opinion, Wine

Wine 3I tasted quite a number of excellent wines in 2019, the great majority of them very reasonably priced. And of the 30-plus vintages noted throughout the year, the ten (10) listed below – five (5) white; five (5) red – are particularly recommended.

Please note that prices quoted are approximate, depending upon where the wines are purchased; and, of course, all are subject to change. The prices in states other than Pennsylvania can vary significantly from retailer to retailer. So, it would certainly be to your advantage to spend some time surfing online for the best deals.



 2017 Domaine André Bonhomme Viré-Clessé Vieilles Vignes (France): The Viré-Clessé Vieilles Vignes is produced exclusively from vines that are 75 to 90 years old. The grapes are hand-harvested and fermented on natural yeast. The wine is then matured for 29 months in a mix of stainless steel and oak barrels, 15% of which are new. The result is a Chardonnay that is luminous pale gold in color with hints of pear and pineapple on the nose. On the palate, this is a rich wine, creamy and expansive, with a voluptuous mouth feel and long, exotic finish. If tasted blind it might easily be mistaken for an infinitely more expensive Meursault or Puligny-Montrachet. Fortunately, however, it retails around the $32.00 mark.

 Demorgenzon Winery- DMZ Chard 20172017 DeMorgenzon DMZ Chardonnay (South Africa): The fruit for DMZ Chardonnay is selected from premium trellised parcels in South Africa’s Stellenbosch district at elevations of 100 to 200 meters above sea level. The cooling effects of the close proximity to the ocean, as well as the weathered granite and sandstone soils all contribute to the wine’s elegance, minerality, and fresh citrus character. Notwithstanding the heady 14% alcohol, this wine is extremely light on its feet. “A bright and bouncy style,” as the Wine Spectator describes it, bestowing 90-points. DMZ is DeMorgonzon’s value label, where the objective is to produce classic, elegant, well-balanced wines that overdeliver in terms of quality for price. For my money, the estate has more than delivered on its promise… An excellent Chard at a terrific price point: $15.00.

 2015 EnRoute Brumaire Chardonnay, Russian River Valley (California): Recently garnering a whopping 95-points (100-point scale) from the Wine Enthusiast, the 2015 is voluptuously rich yet lithe and velvety on the palate. There’s plenty of oak here, but it’s so beautifully balanced with fresh citrus nuances that you only sense succulence and complexity rather than heaviness. To quote Wilfred Wong of Wine.com: “This winery seems to be aiming to make the most traditional style Chardonnay with a decidedly Burgundian accent.” … And it is certainly succeeding. This wine normally retails around the $40.00 mark. However, when I snatched it up, it was a “Chairman’s Selection” and on sale in Pennsylvania for a mere $24.99. If not still available in PA, you can probably snare a few bottles online for about the same reduced price. A definite winner that is well worth seeking out.

2017 Louis Latour Pouilly-Fuissé (France): Maison Louis Latour is an important négociant-éléveur (A French wine merchant who buys grapes and vinifies them, or buys wines and blends them, bottles the result under his own label and ships them.) of red and white wines in Burgundy, France. Currently operated by the seventh Louis Latour, Louis-Fabrice Latour, the company has remained family-run since its foundation in 1797 and has built a reputation for tradition and innovation. The 2017 Louis Latour Pouilly-Fuissé stands out as one of the Winery’s best efforts in the Mâconnais, a wine region located in the south of Burgundy. The 2017 is an exceptional vintage. Wine critic Wilfred Wong of Wine.com bestowed 91-points and noted the wine as “flavorful and lasting.” It is also quite fragrant with a core of fruit and spices on the palate. Light, lithe, and easy to drink it is wonderful as an aperitif or with a variety of foods. The price isn’t bad either. Purchased at Pennsylvania State Stores at $24.99; online it goes for as low as $17.99.

Hamilton Russell Chardonnay 20152017 Hamilton Russell Chardonnay, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (Walker Bay, South Africa): The wines of Hamilton Russell are widely regarded as the best in South Africa and among the best in the world. “We want to produce wines as Burgundian as possible here in South Africa – Wines from South African soil with a Burgundian soul,” notes owner Anthony Hamilton Russell. Their 2017 Chardonnay – rated #57 on the Wine Spectator “Top 100 of 2018” and receiving high marks from critics all around – is medium-bodied, beautifully textured, and seamless & elegant on the palate. Opulent notes of melon, apple, white peach, and quince all follow through to a fabulous finish. A class act. Retails around the $38.99 mark; purchased online from Saratoga Wine Exchange for $31.99.



 2016 EnRoute Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Les Pommiers (California): This charming wine possesses all that oenophiles love about Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley: namely, luxurious aroma and ultra-rich texture. Generous red fruit flavors dance across the palate softened by elegant, silky tannins, while a mouthwatering acidity leads to a long and focused finish. And you won’t have to wait years or even months for this wine to come around… it’s irresistibly approachable at the present moment. Just pop the cork and have a go. On the other hand, given the superb structure and intensity, setting a few bottles aside in the cellar for five to ten years will also have its rewards. Available through Pennsylvania State Stores at $59.99, the high end of the retail scale, this wine is hardly a bargain. However, I’ve seen it offered online for as low as $29.99. So, this is one instance in which a little comparison shopping could save you a bundle.

 Portugal - Insurgente 20152015 Lua Cheia em Vinhas Velhas Insurgente (Portugal): Lu Cheia em Vinhas Velhas, which translates as “full moon in old vines,” is the joint project of three experienced Portuguese wine professionals, João Silva e Sousa, Francisco Baptista, and Manual Dias. Their 2015 Insurgente is a 50/50 blend of Touriga Nacional and Alfrocheiro, two grapes that are indigenous to Portugal. The grapes are from the Dão, one of the country’s most prominent wine regions, just south of the famous Douro Valley. In the glass, this wine dazzles the eye with its distinctive inky purple color. The aroma is intense and complex, a combo of ripe black fruits and spice. This is a juicy, full-bodied wine with plenty of acidity and velvety well-integrated tannins. And, unlike the hefty clout of many Cabernets, the Insurgente is rich, stylish, and rife with subtle nuances of taste and texture. Named a “Best Buy” in 2017 by Wine Enthusiast magazine, its $14.99 Pennsylvania price tag was a positive steal (even lower from sources online). An incredible wine at an absolutely incredible price point.

2017 Louis Latour Bourgogne Pinot Noir (France): Latour’s 2017 Bourgogne Pinot Noir is an intriguing wine for any number of reasons. I wasn’t terribly excited about it at first… but it does tend to grow on you. Light-bodied with fresh raspberries much in evidence on the palate, it goes down nice and easy… and even better with just a touch of chill. Food friendly to a fault, this is a wine that is eminently quaffable during any season of the year. But the best part is undoubtedly the price point. It was purchased on sale in Pennsylvania for $19.99, but I’ve seen it online for a mere $14.99. Quite a bargain, indeed.

2017 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir, Hemel-en-Aarde Valley (Walker Bay, South Africa): The 2017 HR Pinot Noir, which was matured for 10 months in 37% new oak, is another marvelous effort from this extraordinary winery. It is a sleek, impeccably structured, and ethereally elegant wine. Jonathan Ray of Britain’s The Spectator, I believe, said it best: “Anthony HR makes famous ‘Burgundian’ Pinots but that’s not to say that they are simple imitations. There is a definite sense of place to these wines and the only place they could come from is the Hemel-en-Aarde (Heaven and Earth) Valley, one of the sweetest of sweet spots for this capricious grape variety.” Retails at the $43.99 mark; purchased online from the Wine Library in Springfield, NJ for $29.99.

Zenato Winery - Alanera Rosso2013 Zenato Alanera Rosso Veronese (Italy): The 2013 Alanera is a blend of 55% Corvina, 25% Rondinella, 10% Corvinone, 5% Merlot, and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon. The word “Alanera” – Italian for “Crow” – refers to the black skin of the Corvina grape. This wine is produced in the appassimento style. This is a technique in which harvested grapes go through a drying process prior to fermentation, which influences the flavor and concentrates sugars in dried grapes. This results in flavor and mouthfeel alterations in the wines. As the sugar concentrates, through water evaporation, the wines produced may have a higher alcohol content. Flavors also become richer and bolder, adding complexity to still wines. These characteristics are clearly demonstrable in the 2013 Alanera, which is delightfully full-bodied with elegant and velvety tannins, a vibrant acidity, and a smooth and harmonious finish. Recently receiving a 91-point rating from wine writer James Suckling, the 2013 is an exceptional wine at an exceptional price. It normally retails at the $18.00 mark, but I’ve seen it on sale in PA State Stores for as low as $14.99.




Creed's - InteriorOn Thursday, January 16, 2020, 7:00 p.m., Creed’s Seafood and Steaks, 499 North Gulph Road, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, will host a sumptuous 4-course wine pairing dinner featuring select, unique wines from the Napa Valley region of California.

First Course: Pan Seared Hudson Valley Foie Gras, Brioche Crostini, Julienne Granny Smith Apple, Warm Dark Cherry Compote; Wine Pairing: Charles Krug, Pinot Noir, Napa Valley, California, 2017

Second Course: Vanilla Butter Poached Maine Lobster Tail, Honey-Allspice Whipped Mascarpone Cheese, Micro Edible Flowers and Greens, Warm Peach Vinaigrette; Wine Pairing: Ghost Block, Morgan Lee, Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California, 2018

Third Course: Pan Seared Juniper Berry Dusted Venison Strip Loin, Sweet Potato Purée, Pink Peppercorns, Spanish Dried Plum Foam; Wine Pairing: Honig, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California, 2012

Fourth Course: Persimmon Brioche Bread Pudding, Vanilla Ice Cream, Toasted Chestnuts, Chocolate Hazelnut Crème Anglaise; Wine Pairing: Dolce, “Late Harvest,” Napa Valley, California, 2012.

The price of the “Taste of Napa” wine dinner is $130.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity).

In addition, guests are also invited to tour the restaurant’s newly renovated wine tasting room. Tours will begin at 5:30 p.m. with “A Taste of Napa” dinner being served at 7:00 p.m. This has been a vision of the restaurant for quite some time and is coming toward completion.

For more information, or to make reservations, please call Creed’s at (610) 265-2550.

Bon Appétit!



Nicholas - Black Truffle Menu 2017From Tuesday, January 14 – Saturday, January 18, 2020, Restaurant Nicholas in Red Bank, New Jersey, will be offering diners a special five-course menu with each course featuring fresh black truffles from Périgord, France.

Amuse: Wild Mushroom Soup, Black Truffle

First Course: Wagyu Beef Carpaccio, Black Truffle Vinaigrette, Fromage Blanc, Puff Pastry

Second Course: Barnegat Light Scallops, Black Truffle “Béarnaise”

Third Course: Black Truffle Risotto, Parmigiana Reggiano

Fourth Course: Black Truffle Scented Organic Breast of Hen, Yukon Gold Potato Mousseline

Dessert Amuse: Lemon Sorbet with Black Truffle Honey

Dessert: Dark Chocolate Ganache, Black Truffle Chocolate Sauce, Shaved Black Truffles, Chocolate Ice Cream

The price of the special black truffle menu is $135.00 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity). For more information, or to make reservations, please call (732) 345-9977.

Bon Appétit!



For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of the sixteen (16) restaurants reviewed during the year 2019. The month appearing in parenthesis indicates the month the restaurant’s full review appeared on the blog.

Anthony's Downingtown - LasagnaANTHONY’S CUCINA FRESCA (August), 78 West Lancaster Avenue, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (610) 873-5544, http://anthonyscucinafresca.com/: Anthony’s Cucina Fresca is a homey, welcoming and, above all, bustling trattoria. No matter what day of the week you decide to put in an appearance – especially at dinner – rest assured that the joint will be jumping. The food here is well prepared, generously portioned, and the price is right. Another plus is the restaurant’s well-stocked bar, which features select signature cocktails and an assortment of Italian wines and beers. Start things off with winners like Stuffed Figs, Prosciutto, and Mascarpone or Anthony’s Eggplant interspersed with homemade fresh mozzarella and Romano cheese. At top of my entrée list is Anthony’s Lasagna (pictured) splashed with panna sauce, marinara spruced up with heavy cream and a touch of nutmeg. Irresistible. Desserts cover the usual bases; but every once-in-a-while the kitchen will serve up an exquisitely-made fresh fruit tart. If it happens to make a guest appearance the evening of your visit, don’t hesitate to dig in.

Anthony's - InteriorANTHONY’S PIZZA & ITALIAN RESTAURANT (May), 127 West King Street, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (610) 447-7400, www.anthonysmalvern.com : Tucked away in the Malvern Shopping Center – and no relation to the above-mentioned Anthony’s, by the way – Anthony’s Pizza is a popular BYOB majoring in Italian comfort food. Just how popular…? Since the restaurant does not except reservations, even on a quiet weekday evening, the wait for a table could very easily be 20 to 30 minutes. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. There’s a bit of everything here, so you’re not likely to go hungry for lack of choices. In addition to the usual suspects, appetizers include such intriguing possibilities as Artichoke Casserole in beurre blanc sauce and Asiago Risotto Bites. Among the entrées, the Penne alla Norma, pasta accompanied by tender morsels of eggplant, tomato, garlic, and basil crowned with dabs of ricotta and shavings of Grana Padano cheese, is highly recommended. Ditto the kitchen’s classic version of Eggplant Parmigiana. Dessert-wise, have a go at either the Cannoli or House-Made Cheesecake. Both are first-rate.

Avola - Meat & CheeseAVOLA KITCHEN & BAR (June), 625 North Morehall Road, Malvern, Pennsylvania, (484) 328-8584, www.avolakitchenandbar.com: The Avola Kitchen & Bar is named after a picturesque seaside village in the south of Sicily… But buzzing past its location among the new strip mall storefronts on bustling Route 29, it doesn’t exactly strike you as very Old World…neither does the restaurant’s industrial chic interior. The result is a cavernous space that reverberates sounds – even when partially filled – like a chainsaw run amuck. The food – small plates, soups & salads, pasta, pizza, and entrée-size portions – a Mediterranean combo of Old- World flavors and farm fresh ingredients, is something of a mixed bag… Although the menu has changed significantly since my visits in June.  I particularly enjoyed the Charcuterie & Formaggio, (pictured) a meat & cheese board that incorporated an ethereal chicken liver foie mousse, several cheeses, and a variety of accompaniments. The Spaghetti Pomodoro, a relatively simple dish, was also quite excellent, as was the Caesar Salad. Entrée-size portions include a first-rate Branzino served up with shrimp, artichokes, capers, leeks, and cherry tomatoes in a flavorful clam brodo, Wood Roasted Chicken with cauliflower purée, and braised short ribs. There is no question that dining at Avola can be a thoroughly rewarding experience. Be particularly circumspect in your menu selections and you probably won’t be disappointed.

Bud and Marilyn' - MeatloafBUD & MARILYN’S (November), 1234 Locust Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 546-2220, www.budandmarilyns.com: Named after co-owner Marcie Turney’s grandparents, who ran a restaurant in Ripon, Wisconsin, the restaurant is unabashedly retro. Vintage décor, clunky glassware, and an odd assortment of knickknacks all add to the pleasant illusion of another time and place… as do the updated riffs on a host of classic cocktails. The food, on the other hand, is retro in name only. In some cases, items listed on the menu simply provide a springboard for the infusion of a host of upscale/updated ingredients; in others, all pretense of culinary reminiscence is simply laid aside. Most of the dishes I encountered here were both heavy and heavy-handed. Heavy with regard to portion-size, preparation, and impact on one’s delicate peristalsis; and particularly heavy-handed with regard to presentation. Among the spruced up retro entrées, the Fontina & Chard Stuffed Meatloaf (pictured) had the most to recommend it. Other sure bets included the irresistible Wisconsin Cheese Curds, Warm Buttermilk Biscuits, and Miso Glazed Salmon. Bud & Marilyn’s offers diners an interesting culinary journey down memory lane… I just wish there were a few less bumps in the road.

Downtown Bangkok Cafe - Crispy Spring RollDOWNTOWN BANGKOK CAFÉ (July), 705 Pothouse Road, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (610) 933-4800, www.downtownbangkokcafe.com: I first reviewed Downtown Bangkok in August 2016 and have returned on numerous occasions since. There is no question in my mind that Chef Yaowapa Kowal’s lovingly prepared and presented Thai cuisine is the very best in the area. No matter how many times you’ve paid a call here, the food and the ambiance – four diminutive beautifully appointed dining rooms – will woo you back again and again. To start things off, the crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls (pictured) are something of a must… ditto the Thai Salad tossed with an incredibly addictive peanut dressing. When it comes to the entrées, I’m extremely partial to the spicy Drunken Man Noodles, a winning combo of onion, bell pepper, basil, egg, carrots, broccoli, and scallions. But if Chef Kowal has a signature dish, it is undoubtedly her incomparable Crispy Duck prepared with a zesty tamarind sauce and sided by jasmine rice. The Downtown Bangkok Café continues to be a marvelously satisfying dining experience. Just don’t forget to make reservations and BYOB.

Eddie V's - HalibutEDDIE V’s PRIME SEAFOOD (November), 670 West Dekalb Pike, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, (610) 337-7823, www.eddiev.com: When it comes to judging steakhouses and restaurants of similar ilk, foodwise, Eddie V’s is clearly near the top of the heap. Bacon Wrapped Filets “Oscar” Style with King Crab drew well-deserved oohs and aahs at our table, with perfectly grilled asparagus and a luscious Béarnaise filling in the blanks… And there is absolutely no question that the seafood, which is flown in fresh daily, is at the peak of good health, impeccably prepared, and attractively presented. The Misoyaki Alaska Halibut (pictured), for example, swims to table in a bewitchingly ethereal miso broth awash with sugar snap peas and shiitake mushrooms. The rich and succulent Chilean Sea Bass is prepared Hong Kong-style, steamed, and then served in an elegant soy broth. Accompaniments such as the combo of Brussels Sprouts, Bacon and Shallots, Au Gratin Cheddar Potatoes, Truffled Macaroni and Cheese, and over-the-top Butter Poached Lobster Mashed Potatoes also get high marks. Desserts unfortunately, which are made fresh daily in the kitchen, are something of a mixed bag and, in my opinion, the restaurant’s weakest point – other than the, at times, lethal noise level and equally lethal tariffs that is. Does the quality of the restaurant’s cuisine justify its outrageous prices…? It’s your call.

Francisco's on the River - ExteriorFRANCISCO’S ON THE RIVER (August), 1251 River Road, Washington Crossing, Pennsylvania, (4215) 321-8789, www.franciscosontheriver.com: First reviewed in December 2017, Francisco’s remains a local and personal favorite. If you happen to be cruising by on a journey to or from the New Hope/Lambertville area, this charming little BYOB makes the perfect stopover for a casual dinner. Whatever you do, be sure to start things off with the restaurant’s famous whole wheat garlic bread. It isn’t complimentary, but $3.00 is a paltry sum to shell out for something so utterly delicious. If Francisco’s has a house specialty, it is undoubtedly chef/proprietor Francisco Argueta’s brilliant take on the two paradigms of Neapolitan comfort cuisine. His Eggplant Parmigiano is deliciously picturesque and decidedly upscale. Fourteen (14) layers of wafer-thin eggplant are bathed in the restaurant’s red sauce and enhanced with a sprinkling of parmesan and basil. Equally pleasing to both eye and palate is his Lasagna. Luscious layers of perfectly cooked pasta are interspersed with ricotta cheese & Bolognese supplemented by porcini mushrooms, smoked bacon, mozzarella cheese, and more of that irresistible red sauce. Desserts are all first-rate and well worth the extra calories. Coconut Cake is the house favorite; and, in my opinion, completely deserving of the accolade.

GRAPEVINE CUISINE (March), 84 West Lancaster Avenue, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (610) 269-1304, www.grapeviewcuisine.com: THIS RESTAURANT HAS PERMANETLY CLOSED.

High Street on Market - InteriorHIGH STREET ON MARKET (April), 308 Market Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 625-0988, https://highstreetonmarket.com/: Once little more than a take-out addendum to Fork, co-owner Ellen Yin and Chef Eli Kulp (who, even after the ill-fated 2015 Amtrak crash, still remains a vital part of Ms. Yin’s ever-expanding restaurant organization) have refashioned the diminutive bustling space into an exceedingly popular breakfast-through-dinner restaurant with its own unique identity. Significantly less expensive and more laid back than its next-door elder sibling, High Street still maintains the very same commitment to the utilization of farm-to-table quality ingredients and their careful and thought-provoking preparation & presentation. The Crispy Mixed Vegetables are sublime in their apparent simplicity. Caressed by a thin coating of rice flour and then flash fried, the result was a lighter-than-air crackle followed by an assortment of firm-to-the-bite veggies invigorated with a generous slathering of “chow chow,” a spicy pickle relish. Other starter options include a selection of Pennsylvania Cheeses, Charred Broccoli with lemon ricotta and pecorino, and Sloop Point Oysters from Barnegat Bay. Current entrées include Crab Spaghetti, Spelt Pappardelle with pork ragu, and Lasagna with sweet potato and short rib. In addition to the tempting culinary offerings, the restaurant has also put together an exciting array of unusual cocktails and spirits, as well as a compact but extremely interesting wine list.

Jansen - Lemon SoleJANSEN (February), 7402 Germantown Avenue, Mt. Airy, Pennsylvania, (267) 335-5041, www.jansenmtairy.com: For over a decade, David Jansen was the chef de cuisine at the legendary Fountain Restaurant at Philadelphia’s Four Seasons Hotel. His current domicile, a three hundred-year old handsome stone structure, is far less intimidating. The 72-seat interior has been tastefully renovated with whitewashed walls, crisp white napery, and strikingly contrasting blue draperies supplemented by a lovely walled outdoor garden. The food, while not cutting-edge, could best be described as thoroughly approachable upscale comfort cuisine, which appears to be a perfect fit for the slightly conservative gastronomic inclinations of the Mr. Airy & Chestnut Hill dining sets. The appetizer course is comprised exclusively of seafood, while the first course is where you’ll find an interesting variety of soups and salads… But the real winner among the starters is the daily presentation of Foie Gras. You never know what Mr. Jansen is going to come up with, but it is inevitably decadently delicious and beautifully presented. There are a select number of entrées on the printed menu; and, from what I’ve observed, seafood appears to be the restaurant’s strong suit. The Lemon Sole filets (pictured) perfectly pan seared to a golden brown, are set on a seabed of creamy risotto awash with crunchy rock shrimp and finished with a tangy lime emulsion. The Alaskan Halibut is equally up to the mark. Desserts, courtesy of pastry chef Angela Irwin, are always worth a look-see.

La Fava - Pollo RosmarinoLA FAVA (September), 1102 Baltimore Pike, #101, Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, (484) 840-8603, https://lafavaglenmills.com: Hidden away in a small shopping center on Route 1 North, La Fava made its debut in February 2019. And, judging by the crowds I’ve witnessed recently at both lunch and dinner, its Italian/Mediterranean fusion cuisine has made quite a splash on the local dining scene. The closest you’ll come to the usual suspects is undoubtedly the Chicken Parmigiana, which does have its own unique charm. Of infinitely more interest, however, is the Pollo Rosmarino (pictured), a semi-boneless chicken breast spruced up with rosemary, Castelvetrano olives, and splash of white wine. Seafood selections are impressive… ditto the pasta dishes, which divide their time between classic and innovative presentations. On the other hand, the Roasted Vegetable Lasagna offers diners a bit of both worlds. While it resembles your standard lasagna awash with San Marzano tomato sauce, the magic lies just below the surface in a winning combo of squash, spinach, and host of root vegetables. But the pièce de résistance is a decadently rich béchamel sauce, which makes an extraordinarily delicious stand-in for the business-as-usual ricotta. La Fava also sports an impressive list of signature cocktails, as well as a number of interesting wines by the glass.

Liberty Union - Wisconsin Mac & CheeseLIBERTY UNION BAR & GRILL (July), 519 Kimberton Road, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, (484) 927-4244, www.libertyunionbar.com: Liberty Union is what is colloquially known as a Local Happy-Tappy, a totally unpretentious neighborhood joint that is a thoroughly reliable purveyor of proletarian pub grub. It’s a spur-of-the-moment, guaranteed-not-to-break-the-bank, burger and brewsky kind of place. As local happy-tappies go, Liberty Union acquits itself reasonably well. There’s a bustling bar scene, live entertainment several nights a week, a slew of TVs to keep the sports fans happy, and the food isn’t bad either. The Idaho Loaded Tater Tots are great starters… ditto the Philly Cheesesteak Eggrolls. The kitchen turns out a scrumptious NY Deli Reuben and a highly recommendable Cauliflower Steak for those of the vegetarian persuasion. My favorite among the entrées is clearly the completely addictive Wisconsin Mac & Cheese (pictured) spruced up with bacon, sautéed onions, and topping of crispy breadcrumbs… And be sure to add the grilled chicken to the mix; it’s well-seasoned, marvelously moist, and provides the perfect textural counterpoint to all that luscious cheese. Don’t get me wrong, there will be occasional miscues here; but, on the whole, for what it is, and for what it attempts, Liberty Union does a pretty good of keeping its patrons happy.

Pomodoro - Cannoli CakePOMOD’ORO PIZZA & ITALIAN RESTAURANT (December), 200 Chestnut Street, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (610) 873-0405, www.pomodorodowningtown.com: Pomod’oro is the younger sibling of Anthony’s Pizza & Italian Restaurant in Malvern, PA. And, like Anthony’s, Pomod’oro is a BYOB majoring in Italian comfort food that sports princely portions at downright paltry prices. The menu – which ranges from pizza, sandwiches, stromboli & calzones through entrées and homemade desserts – is very similar to Anthony’s, so there certainly should be no surprises. As you would undoubtedly expect, entrées round up the usual suspects – but all are carefully prepared and sure to satisfy the most voracious of appetites. The Spaghetti Bolognese, for example, is simply mountainous. But we’re not just talking quantity here. The meat sauce is beautifully seasoned, classic in every sense of the world, and the pasta is just the right side of al dente. “Baked” entrées include a first-rate Lasagna, Manicotti, Baked Ziti, Eggplant Parmigiana, and a fabulous Crespelle Ripiene, fresh crepes stuffed with ricotta and spinach and topped with marinara and mozzarella. And be sure to save some room, as the homemade desserts – particularly the decadently delicious Cannoli Cake (pictured above) – are not to be missed.

Ron's Original - Italian MeatloafRON’S ORIGINAL BAR & GRILLE (May), 74 East Uwchlan Avenue (Route 113), Lionville, Pennsylvania, (610) 594-1000, www.ronsoriginal.com: My initial review of Ron’s Original was posted in November 2012… But very little has changed in the interim. The restaurant continues to offer its patrons the best of organic and/or local comestibles that are not only good for you but pleasing to the eye and palate as well. In addition, the menu lists the items that are gluten free, hormone/antibiotic free, spicy, vegetarian, clean eating, and/or made from scratch. A lion’s share of Ron’s menu is given over to the kitchen’s superb interpretation of so-called “pub grub.” But the kitchen also turns out a select variety of entrées. It’s homey Black Angus Italian Meatloaf (pictured), for example, is topped with house-made marinara sauce and companioned by a mound of luscious garlic mashed potatoes and perfectly cooked broccoli florets. The restaurant also offers up a number of tempting options to assuage your sweet tooth… But nothing quite measures up to the over-the-top Peanut Butter Chocolate Cheesecake. More than suitable for sharing, this irresistibly rich and creamy delight is decadence personified. If you’re on the prowl for well-prepared casual fare that utilizes top-notch ingredients and won’t break the bank, Ron’s Original is highly recommended for both lunch and dinner.

TSan Nicola - InteriorRATTORIA SAN NICOLA (December), 4 Manor Road, West Paoli, Pennsylvania, (610) 695-8990, www.sannicola.net: First reviewed in October 2008 and more recently in December 2019, San Nicola boasts an interior of distressed stone/brick walls, colorful murals & original works of art, a piazza replete with bubbling fountain, a chef’s room for special parties, and a comfortable bar area. I found the lusty Italian fare generally well prepared, attractively presented, and reasonably priced. You may dine well here; you may also, unfortunately, dine not so well… as the kitchen, in my view, lacks consistency – as does the service. The Branzino (European sea bass) baked en casserole and simply complemented with olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, and a bevy of sautéed mixed vegetables, is always a solid choice. Conversely, veal seems to be the restaurant’s Achilles’ heel. On one occasion, an appetizer of Involtini di Melanzane – lightly battered eggplant rolled around provolone cheese, asparagus, basil, and capers in a garlic tomato sauce – was a table favorite. Most recently, however, it was a mere shadow of its former self and totally lacking in flavor.  Among the starters, salads appear to be your best bets, with arugula the greenery of choice. Entrée-wise, ordering one of the pastas, in my opinion, puts the odds for success solidly in your favor. Service, unfortunately, remains very much the luck of the draw.

Zorba's - Fisherman FeastZORBA’S TAVERNA (October), 2230 Fairmount Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 978-5990, https://zorbastavern.com/: First reviewed in July 2014, this father-son BYOB is located just a short distance from the Philadelphia Museum of Art in the shadow of Eastern Penitentiary with a handy paid parking facility just across the street. The diminutive eatery boasts two colorful dining rooms, an open kitchen, and some very, very good Greek cuisine. The Greek Salad, of course, makes a perfect starter. It is spectacular, as is the dressing, just the right combo of olive oil, vinegar, herbs, and other seasonings. But even better, in my opinion, is the suitable for sharing Spring Salad, an amalgam of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, olives, and feta cheese. When it comes to your main course, there are numerous ways to go. But if you happen to be a seafood lover, the Fisherman’s Feast for two (pictured) should be your entrée of choice. This extraordinary dish contains, salmon, tilapia, rainbow trout filets, and two shrimps roasted over charcoal, as well as potatoes, rice, and a delicious array of slow-roasted vegetables teamed with tomatoes, garlic, oregano, lemon, and olive oil. When it comes to sweet endings, Baklava is still the name of the game. I have sampled many renditions of this iconic Greek dessert over the years, and Zorba’s version is benchmark in every respect.

Bon Appétit!



Jean-Georges Philadelphia

1 North 19th Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

(215) 419-5059


“I write for myself – not necessarily for readers… I’d be dead if I tried to please a particular audience. Criticism is only informed opinion. I write a piece that is a personal reaction based, hopefully, on a lot of years of study, background, scholarship and whatever intuition I have. It’s not a critic’s job to be right or wrong; it’s his job to express an opinion in readable English.”

Jean-Georges, ChefAbove are the words of Harold Schonberg, Pulitzer Prize-winning chief music critic for the New York Times from 1960 – 1980. And, as I sit down in front of my computer contemplating my upcoming review of the highly-anticipated Jean-Georges, they seemed particularly appropriate. Why? Because two critics have already weighed in, each with his own particular hermeneutic, arriving at two totally different informed opinions – so different, in fact, that readers are probably wondering if they’ve chowed down in parallel restaurant universes. Jason Sheehan of Philadelphia magazine bestowed three stars (out of four), inviting readers to “Come from anywhere in the region” to dine here. Craig LaBan of the Philadelphia Inquirer, on the other hand, doled out but one paltry star (bell) and called the cuisine “hit-or-miss” in no uncertain terms.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Messrs. LaBan and Sheehan have been at loggerheads over their view of a particular restaurant. Their disagreements occur with such nauseating regularity they’re beginning to resemble the gastronomic personas of yin and yang.

Jean-Georges - View 2But while the two hired bellies may be at odds about the food, they are in total concert when it comes to the breath-taking setting. Ensconced atop the Comcast Technology Center, Jean-Georges Philadelphia occupies not only the skyscraper’s 59th floor but also part of the Four Seasons Hotel’s 60th floor reception area. And the ride up in the glass-enclosed elevator has its own thrills and chills. Once you disembark, it’s a different world… a world of light & glass, of black granite floors, and profusion of color-coordinated flowers.

Jean-Georges - Stairs to Dining RoomYou traverse the mezzanine of the JG Sky High Lounge and descend the black streaming waterfall-framed staircase to the dining area, which features its own bar, seating for 120 patrons, and 40-foot windows, affording incomparable views of the Philadelphia skyline from three sides. But architect Norman Foster has one more trick up his sleeve… an arrangement of mirrors set along the length of the ceiling are angled to reflect the hustle and bustle of vehicular and pedestrian traffic on the streets below – an ingenious addition to the already mind-boggling gaze from Mount Olympus.

And yet… the restaurant’s ambiance somehow doesn’t feel glitzy or overblown. The combination of clean lines, light & airy space, and high ceiling strike one as more sedate than sartorial. And that high ceiling, the well-spaced tables, and the distant hum of the water walls only add to the overall feeling of tranquility, ease of conversation, and low noise level.

The smooth-as-a-Japanese-railroad service also adds a great deal to the dining experience. It’s less formal than the Jean-Georges New York flagship but it’s just as professional and also benefits from a decidedly personal touch. One of our servers reminisced about his time at the dearly departed Striped Bass; while another, an alumna of the Fountain in the old Four Seasons Hotel, shared fond memories of former chef David Jansen. The members of the staff here are all seasoned veterans – ditto the sommeliers – and it shows.

Jean Georges - Duck BreastBut on to the food… Mr. LaBan is certainly entitled to his “informed opinion.” But I can only say that my significant other and I have dined at Jean-Georges on two occasions – once with another couple and once with a party of eight – and we have yet to encounter anything even remotely resembling the horrendous faux pas he described with such relish. Without exception, we found the culinary offerings to be carefully prepared and beautifully presented. The Marinated Charred Duck Breast (pictured) was the only dish that I felt was slightly subpar. Glazed turnips and berries in port wine added nice complementary touches, but I thought the duck itself was inordinately chewy… My dining partner, on the other hand, thoroughly enjoyed it.

Judging by the preferences of our party, beef tenderloin appears to be an extremely popular entrée. It’s currently being served up seared with parsnips, Brussels sprouts, and a zippy miso mustard. The day of our visit, however, the Grilled Snake River Farms Wagyu Beef Tenderloin was accompanied by roasted tomato, crackling potatoes, and a classic béarnaise sauce. The filet is mouth-wateringly tender and packed with flavor; and while the various accoutrements are familiar, they are also jazzed up just enough to maintain your interest. The perfect dish for the less adventurous of palate…

Jean-Georges - Parm Crusted Chicken… as is the Parmesan Crusted Organic Chicken (pictured). Chicken may not sound terribly exciting, but the parmesan crust really does wake up the taste buds. Artichokes also add a nice textural dimension… and the lemon basil sauce is downright addictive.

Jean-Georges - Black Sea BassBear in mind, however, that chef de cuisine Nicholas Ugliarolo’s kitchen is particularly adept at matters piscatorial. The Roasted Salmon, for example, swims to table encrusted in an interesting amalgam of herbs and spices, set on a seabed of gently sautéed fennel, and finished with a provocative coconut lime infusion. An excellent rendition… But even better, in my opinion, is the exquisite Black Sea Bass (pictured), which has enjoyed a number of tantalizing incarnations. My significant other recently ordered it bathed in a lemon turmeric emulsion, while my previous encounter had featured an equally impressive sweet and sour jus. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Jean-Georges - Yellowfin tuna noodlesStarters are rife with intriguing possibilities. My friend’s Butternut Squash Soup garnished with wild mushrooms and chive, for instance, was a benchmark effort, creamy smooth, perfectly seasoned, and utterly irresistible… ditto the Shrimp festooned with water chestnuts, kabocha squash purée, and hint of saffron. Nothing, however, quite measures up to the ingenious presentation of Yellowfin Tuna Noodles (pictured), raw tuna cut into udon-thick ruby noodles garnished with avocado, radish, and finished with a seductive ginger dressing. Even my significant other, who is not particularly fond of sushi, found the dish completely enticing.

Jean Georges - Foie GrasSurprisingly enough, in his above-noted review, Mr. LaBan completely ignored the one starter that our entire party of eight ordered as a prelude to their recent meal – the incomparable Sautéed Foie Gras (pictured). Well… maybe not so surprising, when you consider his statement in a previous review: “Who needs a quarter-pound of liver to start a meal?”

Mr. LaBan’s rather curious off-the-wall comment notwithstanding, this starter has proved to be one of the most popular mainstays of the Jean-Georges menu; and it is well worth ordering. While the accompaniments may vary with the seasons, the members of our party were treated to roasted chanterelles, figs, and a downright sexy port wine syrup… And if your server should suggest a glass of Sauternes to accompany the foie gras, be sure to take him up on the offer. The delicate sweetness of the wine is the perfect match for the silky texture of the liver.

Jean Georges - Choc Passion Fruit MousseDesserts are a high point here (no pun intended), with the pastry kitchen turning out a host of sweet endings that are as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate. The Orchard clamors for your attention with its spiraling cone of caramelized apple ribbons filled with crème fraîche and side of green apple sorbet; while the Pumpkin oozes spiced pumpkin cream from orange sugar shells shaped like mini-pumpkins. The table favorite on two separate occasions, however, proved to be the Chocolate Passion Fruit Mousse (pictured) with spheres of passion fruit, chocolate, honey peanut ice cream, and delightfully chewy peanut-caramel.

In the context of his review, Craig LaBan makes one thing quite clear: He’s not particularly wild about the notion of a chain restaurant. “The notion of a chain – even one with a name brand so deluxe – doesn’t thrill me for such a pinnacle showplace. The Fountain in the old Four Seasons was an original. Instead, we’ve gotten the fifth branch of Jean-Georges’ flagship in New York.”

To which I would reply that Mr. LaBan has failed to see the forest for the trees. With all due respect, he should try getting out more and reading things other than his own reviews. There was, for example, an illuminating article by Christopher Cox in a recent issue of New York Times Magazine. Mr. Cox is a visiting scholar at the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at New York University; and I quote him at length because, I believe, he has placed his finger on the pulse of what is the Jean-Georges phenomenon.

Jean-Georges - View 3“What are his 38 restaurants? They don’t feel as if they are part of a chain – though in a manner of speaking, they are. They aren’t hotel restaurants, though a small number of them are in hotels. And, with the exception of Jean-Georges, they aren’t formal dining rooms, though the service at each exudes some of the stateliness of the highest-end, black-tie-and-silver-cloche places. They resemble instead a species of restaurant that has proliferated with the rise of the middle-class foodie. Precise but not fussy. Lush but not luxe. Expensive but not meant for expense accounts. A place you might go on a date night, but before you leave the house, you have to stare at your closet and ask, ‘Can I wear jeans?’ (The answer is yes.)

“Most of the restaurants in this class are one-offs, neighborhood joints created by culinary-school grads and sous chefs who have reached escape velocity from whatever kitchens they trained in. These are passion projects – the realization of a single chef’s vision, now that she finally gets to run her own shop. The bewildering trick that Vongerichten and his team have pulled off is to replicate these labors of love, but at scale.

“The result is a group of restaurants that feels more like a commonwealth of independent states than an evil empire. They are inflected by a single sensibility – French technique; Asian spices; light, acidic sauces – but the joy the Jean-Georges team takes in making each place new is apparent.”

Jean-Georges is an infinitely more rewarding dining experience than Craig LaBan’s rather jumbled diatribe might at first lead you to believe. It is definitely worth a visit… and not just for the view.

Bon Appétit!



Alba - Interior 2On Monday evening, December 30, 2019, 6:00 p.m., Restaurant Alba, 7 West King Street Malvern, Pennsylvania, will be celebrating the Feast of Capodanno, the traditional Italian New Year’s Eve celebration, with a special tasting menu and wine pairing.

Chef Sean Weinberg will be in the kitchen preparing the feast and describing the inspirations behind his menu. House sommelier Frank Hurley created and will speak about each course’s perfect wine pairing.

First Course – Seafood Antipasti: Main Lobster, Blood Orange Zabaglione… Crudo of Ahi Tuna, Tonnato Sauce, Pickled Peppers… Fried Pacific Oyster, Peppedew Chilies, Celery Heart; Wine Pairing: Monchiero Carbone “Cecu” Roero Arneis 2017

Second Course – Raviolo of Burrato Cheese: Our Own Hen’s Egg, Brown Butter & Sage; Wine Pairing: Vican Verdicchio “L’Insolito” 2015

Third Course – Salumeria Bieliese Cotechino: Green Umbrian Lentils; Wine Pairing: La Spinetta Nebbiolo 2016

Fourth Course – Panettone Bread Pudding: Pistachio Gelato; Wine Pairing: Malvira “Renesium” Late Harvest Arneis NV

The cost of the Feast of Capodanno tasting menu and wine pairing is $125.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity).

Restaurant Alba will also be serving a traditional four course prix fixe Italian tasting menu on New Year’s Eve, Tuesday, December 31, 2019, accepting reservations from 5:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. The price is $85.00 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity).

For more information, or to make reservations for either event, please call Restaurant Alba at (610) 644-4009.

Bon Appétit!



Washington House Basking Ridge - InteriorOn New Year’s Eve, Tuesday, December 31, 2019, Washington House, 55 South Finley Avenue, Basing Ridge, New Jersey, will be serving lunch from 11:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.

Dinner will begin at 4:00 p.m. and will feature the regular dinner menu, plus the festive specials noted immediately below. There will also be a complimentary champagne toast at midnight.

New Year’s Eve Menu Specials…

 Appetizers – Lobster Bisque: Puffed Pastry Croutons, Micro Greens, Cup $8/Bowl $11… Strawberry & Citrus Salad: Organic Mixed Greens, Toasted Almonds, Shaved Parmesan Cheese, Raspberry Vinaigrette, $17… Blackened Tuna Tiradito: Micro Green Salad, Wasabi Aioli, Ginger Soy Drizzle, $18

Entrées – Braised Long Bone Short Rib: Creamy Basil Polenta, Roasted Baby Carrots, Natural Sauce, $29… Prosciutto-Wrapped Whole Branzino: Parsnip Purée, Wilted Shaved Asparagus, Lemon Saffron Wine Sauce, $32… House Surf & Turf: New York Strip Steak, Colossal Shrimp, Roasted Potatoes Batons, Sautéed Spinach, Bordelaise Sauce, $41

Dessert – Flourless Chocolate Almond Cake: Cinnamon Spice Ice Cream, Strawberry Sauce, $13

For more information, or to make reservations, please call (908) 766-7610.

 Bon Appétit!



Vickers Restaurant - InteriorOn Christmas Eve, Tuesday, December 24, 2019, Vickers Restaurant, 192 East Welsh Pool Road, Exton, Pennsylvania, will be accepting dinner reservations from 2:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.

The complete Christmas Eve menu is noted immediately below…

Appetizers – Smoked Atlantic Salmon: Capers, Red Onion, Horseradish Crème Fraiche, Toast Points, $15.00… Shrimp Cocktail: Bloody Mary Cocktail Sauce, $15.00… Petit Crab Cake: Fine Mustard Sauce, $16.50… Escargots Persillades: Garlic, Champagne, Herbs d’ Provence, $14.00… Lobster Ravioli: Champagne Cream Sauce, $16.00

Soups – Lobster Bisque, $12.00… Cream of Chester County Mushroom Soup, $11.00

Salads – Vickers Heritage Spinach Salad: Creamy House Dressing, Crispy Bacon… Caesar Salad: Vickers Homemade Dressing… Harvest Salad: Port Wine Poached Pears, Blue Cheese, Toasted Walnuts, Red Wine Vinaigrette

Entrées – Roasted Christmas Duck: Farro  Risotto, Brandied Cherries, Winter Vegetables, $36.00… Sole Imperial: Fresh Sole, Creamy Crab Imperial, Lobster Champagne Sauce, $39.00… Maple Glazed Salmon: French Lentils, Wilted Autumn Greens, Vermouth-Orange Infusion, $37.00… Roasted Rack of Lamb: Rosemary Dijon Crust, Port Wine Sauce, Potato Croquette, $42.00… Beef Wellington: Puff Pastry, Mushroom Duxelle, Truffle Pâté, Truffled Potatoes, Market Vegetables, $42.00… Vickers Crab Cakes: Maryland Lump Crab, Whole Grain Mustard Sauce, $39.00… Wild Mushroom Ravioli: Parmesan Cream Sauce, Wilted Spinach, Toasted Walnuts, $29.00

Children’s Menu (Children Under 8): Pasta with Tomato Sauce, $19.95… Chicken Tenders with French Fries, $19.95.

For more information, or to make reservations, please call Vickers Restaurant at (610) 363-7998.

Bon Appétit!



Louette’s BYO Hosts Feast of the Seven Fishes

by artfuldiner on December 16, 2019

in Uncategorized

Louette's - Chef Steve HowellsOn Monday evening, December 23, 2019, Louette’s BYO, 106 Bridge Street, Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, will host the traditional Feast of the Seven Fishes.

First Course: Hamachi Crudo, Lime Agrodolce, Jicama, Aji Pepper

Second Course: Lobster Cappuccino, Shrimp Cracker, Lobster Meat

Third Course: Brandade Croquettes, Rouille, Crusty Bread

Fourth Course: Mussels & Linguini, Chive-Garlic Mussel Sauce

Fifth Course: Salt Roasted Shrimp, Arugula, Romesco

Sixth Course: Charred Squid, Maitake Mushroom, Celery Root, Lime

Seventh Course: Olive Oil Poached Halibut, Potato Rosti, Roasted Cauliflower, Puffed Rice, Carrot Jus

Dessert: Zuppa Ingles, Cacao, Cookie Crumble

The price of the Feast of the Seven Fishes menu is $89.00 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity). Reservations will be accepted from 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

For more information, or to make reservations, please call (484) 924-9906.

 Bon Appétit!



Snacking Through Staunton

by artfuldiner on December 13, 2019

in Uncategorized

Yelping Dog - Exterior SignIt’s been fifteen years since I paid a visit to Staunton (pronounced “Stanton”), Virginia. At that time, following an extended stay in Richmond and subsequent stopover at Monticello, my wife and I had planned to dine and spend the night in Charlottesville… But the prospect of enduring a tumultuous UV football weekend and slew of other local festivities sounded more raucous than relaxing, so we opted instead for a scenic forty-mile jaunt and the quiet homespun charms of Woodrow Wilson’s birthplace.

 I must confess, however, that it was the Belle Grae Inn rather than Wilson’s Presidential Library and Museum that attracted us. Seventeen rooms and suites set in a beautiful 1873 Victorian structure and other 19th-century buildings. Lauded as one of the top ten inns in Virginia, it was listed in the Select Registry as one of the “Distinguished Inns of North America” and simply gushed all over in Frommer’s Virginia. And the food… “Dining is a must at Belle Grae,” proclaimed the Select Registry enthusiastically… Three big stars bestowed by Frommer. The praise appeared to be unceasing. With these impeccable credentials, it seemed the perfect spot to settle in for a sumptuous meal and a romantic overnight stay.

Alas… this was not to be the case. Our stay proved to be an unmitigated disaster, as a glance at my review will quickly bear out. Fortunately, for all concerned, the Belle Grae Inn is no more. The buildings now house Ubon Thai Victorian Restaurant Inn… a culinary oxymoron if ever there was one.

Our most recent sojourn to Staunton, thankfully, was infinitely more pleasant, as well as being gastronomically more productive. We attended the installation service for my significant other’s son-in-law as Head of School at Stuart Hall Preparatory School. Following the festivities, a group of us set out to sample Staunton’s surprisingly sophisticated dining scene.

Our first stop was the Yelping Dog Wine and Cheese Shop (8 Beverley Street, 540-885-2275, yelpingdogwine.com) for preprandial libations. This is my kind of place. There are no TVs here… just great wines by the glass and an excellent selection of craft beers (plus 1,200 wines available for purchase by the bottle from over 200 vineyards).

 Yelping Dog - Interior 2The carefully selected limited menu is big on cheese, tempting imbibers with a variety of Grilled Cheese Sandwiches and Cheese Plates. The former includes such interesting possibilities as Double Cheddar and Tomato Jam, cheddar piled high with locally made tomato jam on sourdough bread… the Wisconsinite, cheddar and blue cheeses, with Dijon mustard and cranberry sauce on rye bread… and the Godfather, marinated mozzarella & tomatoes, chopped olives, and mild Colby on sourdough bread.

Yelping Dog - Moody BlueThe Cheese Plates are equally intriguing. The Italian, for example, is composed of Taleggio, Reggianito, marinated mozzarella & tomatoes, and olives with crackers & baguette slices… The Local pairs Virginia Grayson & Appalachian with fig preserves and dried fruit. Our group, however, thoroughly enjoyed The Moody Blue (pictured), a delicious combo of Roth Kase Buttermilk Blue with honey, apples, pears, and walnuts with crackers & baguette slices.

Locally made mild or spicy charcuterie salami may be added to any cheese plate or sandwich or simply served by itself. The kitchen also puts out one homemade soup – White Chicken Chili – the evening of our visit, and several scrumptious desserts. All are worthy of consideration. Unfortunately, we were on our way to dinner elsewhere, so we had to be content with wine and the above-mentioned cheese plate.


Zynodoa - ExteriorOur choice for dinner was only a few doors away. Zynodoa (115 East Beverley Street, 540-885-7775, zynodoa.com) offers up innovative southern cuisine in a stylish, metropolitan setting. Although tucked away in a historic building in downtown Staunton, this is an eatery that would easily be at home in Manhattan or Center City Philadelphia.

Zynodoa is a farm-to-table restaurant that is extremely proud of its support of Virginia’s independent farmers and producers. The restaurant’s produce and livestock are primarily sourced from the Shenandoah Valley and Piedmont regions. Their seafood comes from the Chesapeake Bay. As the restaurant utilizes only the freshest seasonally available ingredients, the menu changes daily.

Among the appetizers, salads are always a popular choice… The evening of our visit, my dining partner and I shared the Baby Arugula & Strawberry Salad spruced up with salt-roasted beets, Caromont Chèvre, spiced macadamia nuts, and a splash of enticing Virginia Vinegar Works vinaigrette. Also high on everyone’s popularity list was the smooth-as-silk Polyface Farm Chicken Liver Pâté served up whole grain mustard, apple slices, and Newtown Baking Company Baguette.

Zynodoa - CornbreadOther starter possibilities include Rappahannock River Fried Oysters with a host of varying accompaniments – on one evening, an apple & fennel slaw and citrus aioli; on another, spring greens, radish, and a ramp remoulade – and a tempting array of Artisan Cheeses with appropriate accoutrements. But there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the gastronomic sine qua non of any visit to Zynodoa is the kitchen’s outrageously irresistible Brûléed Cast Iron Cornbread (pictured). It comes with a ramekin of Main Street Farmstead Butter for enthusiastic slathering and a variety of rotating jams. Trust me… one bite will make you a believer.

Zynodoa - New York StripEntrées are equally appealing and the compact menu runs the gamut of options from seafood to pasta, to chicken, pork, and beef. On one occasion, for example, fowl may be presented as Polyface Farm Chicken and Dumplings with roasted carrots, turnips & onions in a rich chicken cream sauce; on another, as Herb Marinated Picnic Chicken aided and abetted by cabbage, radish & dill slaw, and Anson Mills sea island peas. Beef is also treated to various incarnations, including Seven Hills Braised Beef Short Ribs… although, steak appears to be a particularly popular menu mainstay; and during our visit, put in a guest appearance as Buffalo Creek Farm Grilled New York Strip (pictured) companioned by perfectly roasted fingerling potatoes.

Zynodoa - ScallopsThe kitchen is especially adept at seafood, so expect to find such locally and seasonally driven items like Chesapeake Bay Crispy Soft-Shell Crabs and Virginia Stuffed Flounder with Benton’s country ham, Swiss chard, glazed carrots, Geechie Boy Carolina gold rice, and candy onion soubise. And I recently sampled a first-rate Cornmeal-Crusted Wild Blue Catfish, which was set on a seabed of cauliflower purée and garnished with collard greens… Even better, though, was my dining partner’s beautifully Seared Scallops (pictured) served with sautéed zucchini squash, orange segments, and finished with an enticing orange beurre blanc.

The restaurant also boasts a rotating array of desserts, including such sweets as Red Velvet Cake with cream cheese frosting and Creamsicle frozen yogurt and New York-Style Cheesecake served with bada bing cherry compote… And be sure to check out the interesting wine list that features well-chosen wines from around the world as well as several excellent selections from local Virginia vineyards.

Whether visiting for dinner or Sunday brunch, Zynodoa will not disappoint.

 Bon Appétit!