Davis Family Vineyards - Guy DavisOn Saturday, August 19, 2017, 7:00 p.m., Stage Left Steak, 5 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick, New Jersey, will host a special dinner featuring the wines of Davis Family Vineyards of Healdsburg, California. The special guest of the evening will be proprietor and winemaker Guy Davis.

Davis Family Vineyards’ wines are organic. Fermentation is with indigenous yeasts; and the wines are neither filtered nor fined. The wines are generous and juicy, but also sophisticated, demonstrating both grace and restraint.

TASTING: Sparkling Rosé 2016… Chardonnay 2015… Pinot Noir “Sonoma Coast” 2013… Pinot Noir “Soul Patch” 2013… Syrah “Soul Patch” 2013… Rosé de Noir (Sparkling) 2016

 

MENU:

Crab Cake: Roasted Garlic Aioli; Wine Pairing: Cuvée Luke “Saralee’s Vineyard,” 2014

Roasted Quail: Porcini Mushrooms; Wine Pairings: Pinot Noir, Russian River, 2014… Pinot Noir, “Campbell Ranch,” 2013

Flatiron Steak: On a Salt Brick with Marrow; Wine Pairing: Zinfandel “Old Vines,” 2014

Lemon Crème: Raspberry, Crumbled Graham, Salted Meringue; Wine Pairing: Late Harvest Viognier, “Gratitude – Saralee’s Vineyard,” 2013

The cost of the Davis Family Vineyards wine dinner is $129.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity). For more information, or to make reservations, please call (732) 828-4444.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Autograph Brasserie - ExteriorOn Thursday, September 21, 2017, Autograph Brasserie, 503 West Lancaster Avenue, Wayne, Pennsylvania, will host another in its signature wine dinner series. This installment will feature a four-course dinner paired with Spanish wines.

The cost of the Spanish wine dinner is $85.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity).

Since dining at Autograph can be a rather expensive proposition, these wine dinners are quite a bargain. For more information, or to make reservations, please call (610) 964-2588.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Chateau de BeaucastelOn Tuesday, August 1, 2017, 7:00 p.m., with apologies for the very short notice, the Pluckemin Inn, Bedminster, New Jersey, will host a special wine dinner featuring the superlative wines of Château de Beaucastel. The special guest of the evening will be Emmanuel Perrin, one of the owners of the estate, who will guide guests through the wines, each paired with a course designed by Executive Chef Kevin Takafuji.

With a history that dates back to the 1500s, and under the Perrin Family’s stewardship for over a century, this esteemed property in Châteauneuf du Pape crafts some of the finest and most sought after wines in the world. They consistently earn the highest accolades and top scores from wine critics and collectors around the world.

The cost of this special wine dinner is $125.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity). For more information, or to make reservations, please call (908) 658-9292.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Andrew Wyeth - Wife, BetsyTo mark the 100 anniversary of Andrew Wyeth’s birth, the Brandywine River Museum of Art and the Seattle Art Museum have organized an exhibition of his finest paintings and works on paper selected from major museums and private collections. The exhibition will be on display at the Brandywine from June 24, 2017 – September 17, 2017, followed by its presentation at the Seattle Art Museum beginning in October 2017.

The exhibition, which features over 100 works, examines four major periods in Wyeth’s career: from the early watercolors that established his reputation to his final painting, Goodbye, which was completed just a few months before his death in 2009. The exhibition offers new interpretations of the artist’s work, including the lesser explored influences of popular film and images of war. It also looks more closely at the relatively unstudied numerous portrayals of African Americans from the Chadds Ford community.

Andrew Wyeth - The Lobsterman1935 – 1949: Andrew Wyeth’s emerging presence in the art world. His first medium was watercolor, his works reminiscent of the style of Winslow Homer, debuted at the Philadelphia Art Alliance in 1936. Highlights of this period include Lobsterman (1937), which was painted the summer before his first one-man show in New York. An incredibly successful exhibit, as every painting sold within the first two days.

Andrew Wyeth - Christina's WorldIn 1945, his father and his three-year-old nephew were killed when their car stalled at a railroad crossing. The tragedy caused a profound shift in Wyeth’s art, choosing subjects rife with visual metaphors that reflected his feelings of loss. His breakthrough came in 1948 with a painting of Christina Olson, who is likely to have suffered from Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, a genetic polyneuropathy. She is seen from behind, crawling across a field toward her house at the top of a small hill. The house is located in Cushing, Maine. Wyeth had a summer home in the area and was on friendly terms with Olson and her younger brother, using them as subjects of paintings from 1940 to 1968. Interestingly enough, although Olson was the inspiration and subject of the painting, she was not the primary model – Wyeth’s wife, Betsy, posed as the torso of the painting.

Christina’s World was first exhibited at the Macbeth Gallery in Manhattan in 1948. Though Wyeth considered the painting something of a failure, and it received little attention from art critics at the time, Alfred Barr, the founding director of the new Museum of Modern Art, quickly purchased it for $1,800. Barr promoted the painting at MoMA and it gradually grew in popularity over the years. Today, it is considered an icon of American art and is rarely loaned out by the museum.

1950 – 1967: During this period, Wyeth focused his attention on his own emotional responses to the landscape around his homes in Chadds Ford and Maine. In Chadds Ford, he painted the Kuerner Farm (now part of the Brandywine River Museum), which was forever associated in his mind to the nearby railroad crossing where his father, N.C. Wyeth, had met a tragic death. In Maine he continued to express his emotional connection with Christina and Alvaro Olson and their 18th-century house.

Andrew Wyeth - In Retrospect Catalogue Front CoverDuring this period, Wyeth also painted a variety of persons he knew in the African American community that had been established in Chadds Ford during the Civil War. There were also extensive studies in pencil and watercolor of African American subjects such as Tom Clark, Adam Johnson, and Willard Snowden, The Drifter (1967), whose portrait adorns the front cover of the Yale University Press catalogue.

Andrew Wyeth - Helga1968 – 1988: At this point in time, Andrew Wyeth was considered one of America’s most famous artists. However, in 1968, his artistic inclinations began to take him in a different direction: He began to explore the realm of what would be considered erotic art. This is the period that was characterized by his first extended series of nude figures: the adolescent Siri Erickson in Maine (with her parents’ permission) and Helga Testorf in Chadds Ford. In 1986, the paintings of his neighbor Helga, which had been painted over a fifteen year period, were revealed to the art world for the first time. The New York Times reported that Wyeth’s wife, Betsy, did not know of the paintings’ existence until 1985, when Wyeth, fearing he might be dying of influenza, told her about them. This revelation caused something of a national sensation; and intimations of an affair propelled a portrait of Helga onto the covers of both Time and Newsweek. In 1987, an exhibition of the paintings mounted at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC, with a best-selling catalogue introduced by the Gallery’s Deputy Director John Wilmerding, began a circuit to museums in Boston, Houston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Detroit. John Updike favorably reviewed the exhibition in “Heavily Hyped Helga,” which appeared originally in The New Republic and was later reprinted in his Just Looking: Essays on Art.

Not everyone, however, accepted the history of the paintings presented by the Wyeths. The major dissenter was Robert Hughes, chief art critic of Time magazine, who harbored the suspicion that a nonexistent scandal had been created in order to hype the paintings and drive up their sales price. “I expressed skepticism about it,” he recalled two decades later. “It all seemed a little too good to be quite true, and the romance with the blonde struck me as distinctly unlikely. And since it had long been a well-known fact that Betsy Wyeth was her husband’s business manager, the notion of a quarter of a thousand objects squirreled away from her eyes over one-third of their matrimonial life together seemed even less likely.”

If you also consider the fact that it would have been nearly impossible for Wyeth to hide the paintings’ existence from his wife because of the amount of time he had to have spent with Helga… that Nancy Hoving, wife of the head of the Metropolitan Museum of Art at the time, had seen at least one of the Helga works… that the Brandywine River Museum acknowledged that it knew of the paintings’ existence before it was revealed to the world and, in fact, had already displayed some from time to time… and that Wyeth’s sister, Carolyn, dismissed the idea of an affair between her brother and Helga as “a bunch of crap…” then Hughes’ assertion appears even more plausible. Another bit of intrigue to ponder as you’re strolling through the exhibition.

Whatever your point of view on this subject, however, I think that most viewers – this writer included – would undoubtedly agree with John Updike’s insightful perception of Andrew Wyeth’s erotic musings: “They significantly add to a venerable genre rather undernourished in America, where the menace and sadness of naked flesh have impressed artists as much as its grandeur and allure. When all the hype has faded… Wyeth’s fifteen years of friendly interest in Helga should leave a treasurable residue.”

1989 – 2009: Beginning in 1989, Wyeth’s painting became infinitely more self-reflective; partly related, perhaps, to the critical backlash related to the Helga paintings. His late works are often enigmatic, infused with a surreal quality that recalls his earliest paintings and, at times, directly seems to reference them.

Andrew Wyeth - Snow HillIn that state of reflection, he began Snow Hill, a large tempera to mark his 70th birthday in 1987. He finished the painstaking work a full two years later. Here Wyeth conjured up the dramatis personae of his Chadds Ford paintings and brought them together in a festive dance atop Kuerner’s Hill. As co-curator Patricia Junker notes: “This dreamscape is strange but suggests ancient traditions – a Yuletide circle dance, perhaps, overlaid with aspects of a medieval danse macabre, in which the dead dance with the living. Wyeth seems to have considered the dancers martyrs to his art.” Evidently, Wyeth was quoted as saying he had “raised hell with them mentally and emotionally… They wish I were dead so they wouldn’t have to pose anymore.”

But the circle is not closed. One dancer at the rear, who would have held the second white ribbon, is absent (at least unseen). Some have speculated that the ribbon represented the artist himself. Others believe instead that the ribbon may be for the crippled Christina Olson. The other possible candidate for the missing dancer is the artist’s wife, Betsy Wyeth. For it was she who gave the painting its title, Snow Hill, from a poetic reference in Moby Dick to the great white whale – “A hump like a snow-hill!” Then there are others who speculate that this snow hill may also be a metaphor for Andrew Wyeth’s own nemesis, his father, N.C. Wyeth.

Snow Hill represents a painting from the height of Wyeth’s powers that is relatively little known, seen or reproduced. While it has been on loan to the Brandywine Museum for several years, its fragility of surface has kept it from going out on loan to a wider audience; and its singularity of subject matter has not readily found it a place in recent Wyeth monographs or exhibition catalogues. Only posterity is likely to sort out which of his paintings will stand up as his most memorable works… but Snow Hill is likely to hold its own as one of the most haunting, beautiful and resonant of Wyeth’s seven-decade career.

Andrew Wyeth - 1963 Time Magazine CoverAndrew Wyeth’s work is held in the most prestigious public collections in the United States. In 1963, he was the first living American artist to be exhibited in the White House when he was the first artist to receive the Presidential Freedom Award given by President John F. Kennedy. In 1980, he was the first American artist to have a retrospective at London’s Royal Academy. He appeared on the cover of Time magazine in 1963; and, in 1985, both Time and Newsweek carried rival covers of Helga paintings. In popular and commercial terms he is among the most successful painters in the history of art…

And yet… simultaneously he has been regularly dismissed by the majority of critics as too popular, sentimental and reactionary, particularly in his choice of rural subject matter, from farming landscape to farming folk; devoid, or so it was thought, of any meaningful references to modern life. One of the canniest assessments of Andrew Wyeth was that of the late Robert Rosenblum, former Professor of Fine Arts and Curator of 20th-Century Art at the Guggenheim Museum: Wyeth was “at once the most overestimated painter by the public and most underestimated painter by the knowing art audience… a creator of very, very haunting images that nobody who hates him can get out of their minds.”

Andrew Wyeth - PhotographBut perhaps the most perceptive closing thoughts are to be found in Recalling Andy Wyeth by Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art: “How to die? A couple of drinks before a good dinner, asleep at 9:00 p.m. and then a quiet, who-knows-what-dreams death in his bed. 91 years old. I knew Andrew Wyeth. I interviewed him for a book, which will always stand as the most complete of his creative life. We wrote another book together.

“I admired him – but for all the wrong reasons. I don’t think he gave a damn about nostalgic America; I think he was one tough, uncompromising SOB of a painter who recorded the people and places in Pennsylvania and Maine who were by and large tough SOBs themselves. Including me.

“The obits are flooding in. Virtually all say pretty much what Mike Kimmelman, the New York Times Berlin-based art reporter, says, ‘Wyeth gave America a prim and flinty view of Puritan rectitude, starchily sentimental, through parched gray and brown pictures of spooky frame houses, desiccated fields, deserted beaches, circling buzzards and craggy-faced New Englanders.’

“But Wyeth didn’t paint a single sentimental picture in his life, starch or not. Oh, maybe one, the cloying tempera showing all his models dancing around a Maypole.

“Wyeth painted like a surgeon cuts. Crisp, flinty-eyed, completely unsentimental. The hell with the patient or the pain of recovery. What’s really there is what you see.”

Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect will be on view at the Brandywine River Museum of Art through Sunday, September 17, 2017.

Just one final culinary note… Following your visit to the exhibition, Brandywine Prime, just a stone’s throw away from the museum, is the ideal spot to enjoy both happy hour and dinner.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Chakra - Thomas CiszakDuring the summer season, the Garden State produces a host of bountiful produce: New Jersey Corn, Heirloom Tomatoes, Watermelon, Blueberries, Chanterelle Mushrooms and much more.

In celebration, Chef/Partner Thomas Ciszak of Chakra Restaurant in Paramus, New Jersey, is offering patrons a special three-course prix-fixe “Summer Harvest Menu” for a limited time.

APPETIZER (Choice of) – Heirloom Tomato Salad Bruschetta: Basil, Toasted Italian Country Bread… New Jersey Corn Soup: House-Cured Salmon, Pickled Jersey Chanterelles, Lavender… Thick-Cut Bacon: Compressed Watermelon, Jalapeños, Honey Glace

ENTRÉE (Choice of) – Brioche Crusted Salmon: Salmon Pea Mousse, Jersey Corn, Chanterelles, Lavender… Grilled Hanger Steak: Arugula, Grilled Peaches, Fried Goat Cheese… Maltagliata Pasta: Spicy Boar Sausage, Caramelized Fennel, Broccoli Rabe, Pecorino

DESSERT (Choice of) – Crispy Waffle: Jersey Corn Ice Cream, Jersey Blueberry Compote… Watermelon Mojito: Rum Ice Cream, Mint Sorbet, Compressed Watermelon

The price of the New Jersey Summer Harvest Menu is $39.00 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity). This menu will only be offered for a limited time.

For more information, or to make reservations, please call (201) 556-1530.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Wine Spectator CoverThe latest issue of the Wine Spectator, dated August 31, 2017, announced the magazine’s guide to award-winning restaurant wine lists around the world. This year, the Restaurant Awards program honored 3,592 dining destinations from all 50 states in the U.S. and more than 75 countries internationally.

There are three levels of restaurant awards: the Award of Excellence; the Best of Award of Excellence; and the Grand Award, with 2335, 1,168, and 89 winners this year in each respective category. Five of the Grand Award winners – Del Fisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in New York, Grill 23 7 Bar in Boston, Les Climats in Paris, PM & Vänner in Växjö, Sweden, and Wally’s Beverly Hills – are first timers.

Once again, New Jersey restaurants collected their share of oenological kudos…

GRAND AWARDS: The Pluckemin Inn, 359 Route 206 South, Bedminster…Restaurant Latour, Crystal Springs Resort, 1 Wild Turkey Way, Hardyston

BEST OF AWARD OF EXCELLENCE: The Bernards Inn, 27 Mine Brook Road, Bernardsville… Berta’s Chateau, 7 Grove Street, Wanaque… Bobby Flay Steak, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City… Caffe Aldo Lamberti, 2011 Route 70 West, Cherry Hill… The Capital Grille, 2000 Route 38, Cherry Hill… Catherine Lombardi, 3 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick… Court Street Restaurant & Bar, 61 Sixth Street, Hoboken… The Frog and the Peach, 29 Dennis Street, New Brunswick… Il Capriccio Ristorante, 633 Route 10 East, Whippany… Il Villaggio, 651 Route 17 North, Carlstadt… Knife and Fork Inn, 3600 Atlantic Avenue, Atlantic City… La Griglia Seafood Grill & Wine Bar, 740 Kenilworth Boulevard, Kenilworth… The Manor, 111 Prospect Avenue, West Orange… Ninety Acres, 2 Main Street, Peapack-Gladstone… Old Homestead Steakhouse, Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, 1 Borgata Way, Atlantic City… Stage Left Restaurant, 5 Livingston Avenue, New Brunswick… Steve & Cookie’s by the Bay, 9700 Amherst Avenue, Margate… The Tewksbury Inn, 55 Old Turnpike road, Oldwick… Undici Taverna Rustica, 11West River Road, Rumson… Vic & Anthony’s Steakhouse, Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino, Brigantine Boulevard, Atlantic City…Water & Wine Ristorante-Taverna, 141 Stirling Road, Watchung… Windrift, Windrift Hotel Resort, 105 80th Street, Avalon

The complete list of award winners is available in print in Wine Spectator’s August 31st issue, currently on newsstands; and online at https://restaurants.winespectator.com/.

Just keep one thing in mind: Lists can be extremely misleading… A great wine cellar does not necessarily mean great (or even good) cuisine. Over the years, in fulfillment of my various obligations as a professional restaurant reviewer, I’ve been unfortunate enough to dine in numerous establishments with highly-touted, voluminous War and Peace-type wine lists that served up food so downright disgusting a ravening hyena wouldn’t deign to sniff at it.

Please note that the Wine Spectator headline on the above-mentioned issue is “Where to DRINK well,” not “Where to EAT well.” One, of course, would like to think that the two go together… but not necessarily. When seeking out a restaurant, especially for that special occasion, it’s always wise to consult a variety of sources.

Cheers & Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Riesling WineRiesling has long been acknowledged as the world’s finest grape variety for white wines. It is a native of Germany, where it’s believed to have been cultivated for at least 500 years, possibly as long as 2,000 years. It is a grape that simultaneously produces the most refreshing and the most complex wines. At their best, Riesling wines are both crisp and juicy, flowery and minerally, a miraculous collusion of lightness and intensity.

However, while fine Riesling wines from the more than twenty countries where the variety is grown on a commercial scale all bear the Riesling hallmarks of vibrant fruitiness and elegance, they appear in a remarkably wide variety of styles. The other noble white-wine grape varieties produce great wines in only one or two styles… but fine Riesling wines cover the entire spectrum of tastes – from ultra-light, bone-dry whites to some of the richest dessert wines in the world. In Germany, these sweet wines, which are usually affected by Botrytis cinerea (a beneficial form of grey fungus, also called “noble” rot), are graded in ascending order or sweetness as auslese, beerenauslese, and trockenbeerenauslese.

There are also extensive Riesling plantings in California, where early wines were made in a dry but oaky style. California winemakers now produce high-quality, German-style Rieslings that are lighter, more delicate, and slightly to medium sweet. Other states that have had success with Riesling wines include Oregon, Washington, and New York. Australia has extensive plantings of the grape and produces high-quality Riesling wines, particularly from the Eden and Clare Valleys. France’s Alsace region and Italy’s Alto Adige also produce excellent Rieslings.

German WinesA century ago, the finest Riesling wines from Germany’s Rhine and Mosel valleys were the most expensive and renowned wines produced anywhere in the world. Their prices at auction and on British merchants’ lists regularly exceeded those of even the finest Bordeaux wines. Unfortunately, Riesling’s reputation has suffered major setbacks. In part, this is due to the current popularity of Chardonnay, wines that tend to have a high alcoholic content and usually smell and taste of the new oak barrels in which they are made. Riesling wines, on the other hand, are quite different in style, tasting decidedly crisp and clean no matter how rich and powerful they may be.

But the more important cause of Riesling’s declining reputation has undoubtedly been over-commercialization. In California, South Africa, Australia, and Eastern Europe, wines produced from grape varieties either unrelated or only distantly related to true Riesling have been marketed as “Riesling.” These have invariably been cheap, sweet wines with none of the elegance or brilliance of true Riesling wines. In Germany, the names of famous Riesling-producing regions and villages have been used to sell cheap, sweet wines made from inferior grape varieties.

During the past few years, however, Riesling has begun to storm back into fashion among wine producers in Austria, Germany, Washington State, Oregon, Australia, and New Zealand. Demand for Riesling wines has also been increasing in a number of markets around the world, most dramatically in Japan and the Far East. The demand from restaurateurs for light, elegant white wines, combined with increasing appeal of low-alcohol wines, strongly favor the trend to fine Riesling wines.

Riesling’s incredible draw as a wine for the dining table is its crisp, refreshing, palate-cleansing acidity, which cuts the fat in rich cream sauces, meats such as pork and duck, and soft cheeses like Camembert and Brie. Riesling is a wine that pairs remarkable well with all foods; but it is also the perfect companion for quiet quaffing on a warm summer afternoon.

Listed below are a number of recently sampled Rieslings from several diverse regions that may be of interest. Just bear one thing in mind… Unlike Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay, which are easily manipulated into a particular style by the winemaker, Riesling wines stubbornly reflect the goût de terroir, the complete natural environment in which they were produced. In other words, don’t expect a Riesling wine produced in Italy or the United States to have the same aromatic and/or flavor characteristics as one produced in Germany or Alsace. Each wine will be unique based upon the individual region’s soil, topography, and climate. As wine writer Stuart Pigott notes: “(Riesling wines) are a bastion of individuality and regional integrity in a wine world where technology, fashion, and modern marketing are tending to standardize the pleasure of wine drinking.

 

GERMANY: Many would argue – and rightly so, I believe – that Riesling finds its finest expression on the steep banks of the Mosel River and its Saar and Ruwer tributaries. The incomparable 30% gradient attracts maximum ripening sunlight, both directly and via reflection from the river’s surface. And the easily warmed slate soils, typical of this region, can also help late season ripening. The result is wines unique in the world for their combination of low alcohol, striking aroma, high extract, and delicacy of texture.

Immich-BatteriebergThe 2011 Immich-Batterieberg Enkircher “Batterieberg” Riesling ($25.92 – $32.99) hails from the “Battered Mountain,” a steeply terraced vineyard in the Mosel Valley. It was produced from 60-year-old vines planted on grey slate soils rife with quartz. Barrel fermented with native yeasts, the 2011 is an intense, mineral-driven wine with a light petrol nose – a good deal lighter than you would expect from this vintage – and hints of pear on the palate. Crisp and quite potent, this wine will age gracefully and continue to evolve over the next 25 years.

The 2015 St.-Urbans-Hof “Ockfener Bockstein” Riesling Kabinett ($22.99) introduces a touch of sweetness into the equation. The bouquet is ripe with floral and herbal aromas. On the palate, Robert Parker, describes this wine as “sweet and racy-piquant.” More the latter rather than the former, in my opinion. The finish is elegantly lush with an intense minerality. If you enjoy Rieslings with a bit of off-dry stimulation, this wine should be much to your liking.

 

Trimbach WineryALSACE, FRANCE: Alsace is situated in the northeast corner of France, bordered on the west by the Vosges Mountains and on the east by the Rhine River, which separates it from Germany. The shared history between France and Germany has created a unique approach to the styles of Alsatian wines and cuisine. With vineyards surrounding the picturesque hamlet of Ribeauvillé, the Trimbach family has been promoting the history, exceptional terroirs, and wines of Alsace since 1626. Across 13 generations, the family has always produced wines that are structured, long-lived, fruity, elegant, and beautifully balanced. And the 2013 Trimbach Riesling ($17.99) is certainly no exception. This quintessential Alsace Riesling is delightfully taut on the palate with sparks of lemon and peach leading to a clean and dry finish. If you can’t find the 2013, bear in mind that the 2014 and 2015 vintages are equally highly rated.

 

ALTO ADIGE, ITALY: Alto Adige – or Südtirol to the German-speaking two-thirds of its inhabitants – is located in northeast Italy, bordered by Lombardy on the west, Veneto on the east, and Austria on the north. Situated in the sleepy village of Novacella in the Isarco River Valley, Abbazia was founded in 1142 by Augustinian Order of Canons Regular. The Augustians are not monks in the familiar sense. Although they have taken vows of poverty, chastity and obedience to their superiors, they also work to support themselves as a part of their community. The abbey not only grows grapes for winemaking, but also farms fruits and vegetables; and there is a small school devoted primarily to the study of viticulture.

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The abbey’s reputation as a winery is exceptional and international. In 2009, for example, Gambero Rosso, Italy’s influential food and wine magazine, named Celestino Lucin, the abbey’s enologist, Winemaker of the Year. The estate has long been known for producing world class white wines with an excellent price/quality ratio. The soil surrounding Abbazia di Novacella is mainly granitic schist, created by ancient glaciers; and the vineyards are quite steep. In the Isarco Valley, vines do not live much longer than 30 years, and the yields are naturally small, producing wines that are aromatic and quite rich as well as refreshingly crisp. And the 2015 Abbazia di Novacella Riesling ($19.99) is a delicious case in point. Not nearly as acidic as other Rieslings I’ve encountered, the 2015 exhibits definitive floral notes on the palate and boasts a hefty – for a Riesling – 13.5% alcohol. All the elements are well integrated, however, and the finish is long and satisfying. For something a bit different, this Italian Riesling is certainly worth a try.

 

Charles Smith WineryWASHINGTON STATE: As one wine writer put it: “When Charles Smith makes a move… the earth moves.” And in October 2016, the Washington State wine industry recorded an 8.9 on the oenological Richter Scale when the maverick winemaker sold his eponymous wine brand to mega-giant Constellation Brands for a cool $120 million. The deal features what Mr. Smith calls “the five core brands” of his company – Kung Fu Girl Riesling, Eve Chardonnay, Boom Boom Syrah, Velvet Devil Merlot and Chateau Smith Cabernet Sauvignon.

These wines were originally created as separate brands, beginning with Kung Fu Girl in the 2006 vintage. The others were added in 2007. The Riesling, the largest volume of the portfolio, reached 198,000 cases in 2014. Velvet Devil stands next with 150,000 cases and Boom Boom Syrah at 42,000. Altogether, the brands add up to nearly 500,000 cases per year.

And don’t be fooled by the off-the-wall wine names, as the Wine Spectator scores for these modestly priced little beauties have ranged from 87 to 91 points (100-point scale) in recent years… A self-taught winemaker, Mr. Smith is a true artisan and pioneer in the wine world. In 2008, his winery was recognized by Wine & Spirits magazine as one of the “Best New Wineries of the Last Ten Years” and as “Winery of the Year” in their annual buying guide. In 2009, Food & Wine magazine awarded Mr. Smith “Winemaker of the Year”; in 2010, Seattle Magazine named him their “Winemaker of the Year”; and, in 2014, Wine Enthusiast also named him “Winemaker of the Year.”

So let’s take the 2015 Kung Fu Girl Riesling ($9.99) as Exhibit A… This wine was named number 45 in the Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2016. “Yet another terrific vintage,” the Spectator gushed. “Pure, focused and mouthwatering.” Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate added: “Juicy and lively, with lots of citrus blossom, lychee and a touch of lime, the 2015 Riesling Kung Fu Girl is medium-bodied, vibrant and crisp on the palate, with terrific purity, integrated acidity and a great finish. It’s a steal at the price.” The Wine Enthusiast called it “an über-aromatic wine” and named it a “best buy.” The bottom line: A fabulous wine… at an equally fabulous price.* Drink up!

*All prices – but of course – are subject to change.

Cheers!

TAD

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Brandywine Prime Seafood & Chops at Chadds Ford Inn

1617 Baltimore Pike (Route 1)

Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania

(610) 388-8088

www.brandywineprime.com

Brandywine Prime - Dining Room 2Tucked away in a beautifully restored 1703 stone cottage, just around the corner from the Brandywine River Museum, Brandywine Prime is an extremely popular eatery that majors in traditional American cuisine with an emphasis on grilled steakhouse fare. In addition to the sumptuous menu of steaks, chops and seafood, Chef Jason Barrowcliff also serves patrons a healthful array of organic produce from his own garden. And for all you oenophiles out there, the restaurant also boasts an impressive, reasonably-priced wine list that has been the recipient of the Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence since 2008.

Brandywine Prime - BarYou will find Prime’s dining room (pictured above) tastefully appointed, quiet and sedate… But the bustling bar and tavern (the tavern is the smaller dining room adjoining the bar area) are definitely the places to be during the Monday – Thursday, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m., happy hour. The restaurant’s $5.00 happy hour menu includes munchies like Spicy Shrimp Salsa Chips, Shrimp Spring Rolls, Salt Roasted/Fried Loaded Potato Skins, and House-Made Mozzarella. The drinks menu highlights $3.00 select draft beers, $3.00 Italian pear martinis, and $5.00 select house red and white wine.

Should you dine in the restaurant’s Bar/Tavern on “Prime Thursday,” the sandwiches (except Best of Philly and Cheddar Burgers) are ½ price all evening; on “Burger Friday,” the Best of Philly Burger, Blue Cheese, or Double Cheese Burger are served all night at ½ price. But the really big deal is Prime’s “Wine Wednesday,” when select bottles of wine and Nachos may both be had at ½ price. My dining partner and I recently enjoyed a first-rate 2013 Ridge Vineyards “3 Valleys” Zinfandel Blend – which will normally set you back $49.00 – for a mere $24.50… And that’s less than retail, folks!

Brandywine Prime - Tuna TartareTo start things off (if you haven’t already pigged out on the aforementioned nachos), the raw bar presents a number of interesting possibilities. The Jumbo Lump Crab Cocktail, for example, comes complemented by the subtly sweet flavor of wakame, a seaweed salad. Shrimp Cocktail and Freshly Shucked Oysters on the Half Shell are also available. And, should you be so inclined, there’s even Local Buffalo Carpaccio from Buffalo Run Ranch in Coatesville, PA… But the clear winner here is the utterly enticing Tuna Tartare (pictured). Pristinely fresh tuna is combined with slices of avocado, soy marinated onions, crunchy tortillas, and a zippy wasabi aioli. Turn up the “wow” factor several notches.

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LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

Other preludes include Grilled Pacific Octopus, House-Made Mozzarella with fire roasted tomato sauce and basil pesto, a variety of salads – Mixed Greens, Chopped Iceberg, Baby Spinach, Grilled Romaine – and French Onion Soup. Among the non-seafood starters, however, nothing even comes close to the extraordinarily delicious Kennett Square Mushroom Tart (pictured). Sautéed local mushrooms are splashed with truffle oil, caressed by triple cream Brie, and crowned with a tiara of micro greens. This is one appetizer that is worth the price of admission. Not to be missed!

As you move on to the entrées, beef clearly takes center stage… There are, for instance, several variations on the rib eye theme – 14oz. Delmonico, 10oz. Barrel Cut, and 18oz. Choice Short Bone-In. Then there’s the 8oz. Choice Angus Club Eye New York Strip, 12oz. Prime Center Cut New York Strip, 6oz. New York Strip Black Angus Steak Salad, and Chianti Braised Short Ribs.

Brandywine Prime - 8 oz Center Cut Filet MignonIf happen to be incurably carnivorous but are uncertain of what to choose, I would highly recommend the yet-to-be-mentioned 8oz. Center Cut Filet Mignon. I know this sounds like a major cop-out; but, trust me, it’s not. Yes, I know the argument all too well: Filet may be tender, but other cuts have infinitely more flavor. Under normal circumstances, I would tend to agree with that assessment. However, I must tell you that Prime’s filet was absolutely the best cut of beef I have tasted in a very long time. Not only did it “cut like butter,” if you’ll pardon a vastly overused phrase, but it was also incredibly flavorful. And when you teamed this filet up with a ramekin of the restaurant’s own steak sauce, the result was completely irresistible. I’m not one to ooh and aah over steak… but this was something else again.

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LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

In addition to beef, Prime’s kitchen also whips up some excellent finny fare as well. The Grilled Faroe Island Wild Salmon, for example, was teamed with asparagus, salt roasted beets, and finished with an enticing pesto vinaigrette and touches of Meyer lemon aioli. An excellent presentation… But even better, in my opinion, was the Line Caught Swordfish (pictured). The swordfish steak was quite thick, yet it was perfectly grilled: cooked through, but still incredibly moist. Its traveling companions included buttered haricots verts and artful slathering of lemon caper aioli.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

Also highly enjoyable was the Blue Cobia, a daily special. Cobia is a firm textured, mild to moderately flavored fish. The flesh is pinkish tan when raw; but it cooks up pristinely white. It’s a touch less fatty than swordfish and sports a slightly more assertive flavor than mahi mahi. Most of the cobia available in the United States is farm raised. The offering here was beautifully grilled, moist and flaky. Set on a bed of seafood rice replete with mussels & clams, the finishing touch was a lovely bouillabaisse sauce.

If you decide to dine in the bar/tavern, various sandwiches/burgers, at half price on Thursdays & Fridays (see above), will also be available. Most recently sampled was the French Dip Panini, shaved rib eye, melted gruyère, horseradish aioli and pan jus all stuffed between slices of freshly baked Le Bus bread. My dining partner wasn’t terribly happy with her choice, but I thought it was excellent. One thing we agreed upon, however, was the fabulously crisp house-cut fries.

… And speaking of fabulous, the Creamy Potato Purée, one of the restaurant’s side dishes (noted above with the swordfish), was totally addictive. The 3-Cheese Truffle Potato Gratin, on the other hand, was slightly on the dry side and lacked significant flavor. Other recommended sides include the Truffle Parmesan Fries, Mushrooms with Bacon/Duck Fat, and Sauté of Local Baby Carrots.

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

LEAD Technologies Inc. V1.01

The restaurant also offers a number of house-made desserts, including Chocolate Cheesecake with cranberry-strawberry preserve & Bailey’s Whipped Cream, and Carrot Cupcake with raisins, nuts, cream cheese icing, and candied carrots. My nod, though, goes to the Chocolate Chip Bread Pudding companied by vanilla caramel swirl ice cream and crème anglaise (pictured). For a somewhat more civilized conclusion to your evening at table, you might consider sharing the Chef’s Market Selection of Cheeses.

If you happen to be taking in an exhibition at the nearby Brandywine River Museum, or simply visiting in the Chadds Ford area, Brandywine Prime makes a deliciously convenient stopover. Just be advised… while the restaurant serves dinner seven days a week and Sunday brunch from 10:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., lunch is served on Saturdays only beginning at 12:00 noon.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Wine Spectator CoverThe latest issue of the Wine Spectator, dated August 31, 2017, announced the magazine’s guide to 3,592 award-winning restaurant wine lists around the world. Noted below are establishments in the Philadelphia area that may be of interest.

CITY OF PHILADELPHIA: Amada, 217-219 Chestnut Street… Bistro Romano, 120 Lombard Street… The Capital Grille, 1338 Chestnut Street… Chima Brazilian Steakhouse, 1901 John F. Kennedy Boulevard… Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, 1426-28 Chestnut Street… Fogo de Chão, 1337 Chestnut Street… Gran Caffe L’Aquila, 1716 Chestnut Street… La Famiglia Ristorante, 8 South Front Street… Lacroix at the Rittenhouse, Rittenhouse Hotel, 210 West Rittenhouse Square… Morton’s the Steakhouse, 1411 Walnut Street… Ocean Prime, 124 South 15th Street… Osteria Philadelphia, 640 North Broad Street… Panorama, Penn’s View Inn Hotel, Front and Market Streets… The Restaurant School, Walnut Hill College, 4207 Walnut Street… R2L, 50 South 16th Street… Ruth’s Chris Steak House, 1800 Market Street… Tinto, 116 South 20th Street… Volvér, 300 South Broad Street

MAIN LINE/WESTERN SUBURBS: Brandywine Prime, 1617 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford… The Capital Grille, 236 Mall Boulevard, King of Prussia… Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, 555 East Lancaster Avenue, Suite 10, Radnor… Fogo de Chão, 155 Main Street, Building L, King of Prussia… Joseph Ambler Inn, 1005 Horsham Road, North Wales… Legal Sea Foods, 680 West Dekalb Pike, King of Prussia… Margaret Kuo’s Restaurant, 175 East Lancaster Avenue, Wayne… Mistral, Hotel Fiesole, 4046 Skippack Pike, Skippack… Morton’s the Steakhouse, 640 West Dekalp Pike, King of Prussia… Nectar, 1091 Lancaster Avenue, Berwyn… Restaurant Alba, 7 West King Street, Malvern… Savona, 100 Old Gulph Road, Gulph Mills… Seasons 52, 160 North Gulph Road, King of Prussia… Sullivan’s Steakhouse, 700 West Dekalb Pike, King of Prussia… Yangming, 1051 Conestoga Road, Bryn Mawr

The complete list of award winners is available in print in Wine Spectator’s August 31st issue, currently on newsstands; and online at https://restaurants.winespectator.com/.

Just keep one thing in mind: Lists can be extremely misleading… A great wine cellar does not necessarily mean great (or even good) cuisine. Over the years, in fulfillment of my various obligations as a professional restaurant reviewer, I’ve been unfortunate enough to dine in numerous establishments with highly-touted, voluminous War and Peace-type wine lists that served up food so downright disgusting a ravening hyena wouldn’t deign to sniff at it.

Please note that the Wine Spectator headline on the above-mentioned issue is “Where to DRINK well,” not “Where to EAT well.” One, of course, would like to think that the two go together… but not necessarily. When seeking out a restaurant, especially for that special occasion, it’s always wise to consult a variety of sources.

Cheers & Bon Appétit!

TAD

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Chakra - Burlesque Show & DinnerBack by popular demand! On Sunday, July 30, 2017, 6:00 p.m., Chakra Restaurant in Paramus, New Jersey, will host a special burlesque show and dinner.

FIRST COURSE – Shrimp Salad: Avocado, Dill, Meyer Lemon Vinaigrette

SECOND COURSE (Choice of) – Salmon Medallion: Orange Scented Asparagus, Saffron Mousseline Potato, Ginger-Lemongrass Sauce… Filet Mignon: Grilled Asparagus, Saffron Mousseline Potato, Balsamic-Red Wine Jus

DESSERT – Warm Valrhona Chocolate Brioche Bread Pudding: Vanilla Chantilly

The cost of the burlesque show and dinner is $79.00 per person (plus beverages, tax & gratuity). Reservations are required. The bar will open at 5:00 p.m.

For more information, or to make reservations, please call (201) 556-1530.

Bon Appétit!

TAD

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