Athens - Black Duck GardenOur second Athenian adventure, the day following our visit to the Acropolis and Acropolis Museum, was a Private Flavourful Tour, a walking food and wine excursion hosted by Epiculiar Tours. And it turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip, as it totally ignored the usual culinary suspects; instead, leading us to lesser-known, 100% locally-owned stores and restaurants far removed from the usual tourist trail.

The man and woman who guided us were both locals and were particularly pleasant and knowledgeable…

Fillo - AthensOur first stop, just past 10:30 a.m., was Fillo – Food and Coffee, just around the corner from our hotel. This small shop in the heart of Athens is famous for offering patrons traditional savory pies (both usual and unusual) from small villages all over Greece (zucchini pie, cheese pie, spinach pie, organic greens pie with herbs, organic mushroom pie with feta cheese, etc.).

Our guides ordered a variety of slices for us to sample… And all were very good, but the Ham & Cheese Pie from the city of Loannina and the Spinach Pie from Larissa were especially delicious. The fillings were more than generous & superbly seasoned and the crusts marvelously flaky. Athenians really know how to start their day off right!

Black Duck Garden, AthensWe could, of course, have enjoyed coffee here as well… But that was reserved for our next stop, the Black Duck Garden, a bistrot located within the confines of the Athens City Museum. Normally, the garden would have been closed in November, but because the weather in Athens had been much warmer than usual, it had remained open. And it was a relaxing venue to just sit and talk and get to know our hosts, and they us. For instance… since they had introduced themselves to us in the lobby of the hotel using only their first names, we had no idea that they also happened to be married – to each other!

The Black Duck has an interesting menu and an even more interesting list of libations, with such intriguing cocktails as Duckarita (Silver & Reposado Olmeca Tequila Blend, orange liqueur & lemon) and Lady Duck (White Porto Wine, elderflower liqueur, almond syrup, lemon & lime). Something to keep in mind should you be visiting Athens… But we came for the coffee…

Athens - Coffee at Black Duck GardenAnd Greek coffee is quite different from the American version, as it is boiled rather than brewed in a special pot called a briki. In addition, it is made with Arabica coffee beans, which are ground to a very fine powder, so it has more concentrated antioxidants per ounce than a cup of regular coffee. It also has more health benefits. Drinking more Greek coffee can supposedly protect your arteries, lower your risk of diabetes, and boost your overall health. So much for the medicinal aspects.

But Greek coffee is, in reality, Turkish coffee (however, tensions with Turkey in the 1960s led to the political euphemism “Greek coffee,” which became even more popular after the Turkish invasion of Cyprus in 1974). And an old proverb describes Turkish coffee as “Black as hell, strong as death, sweet as love.” I couldn’t agree more. Turkish/Greek coffee is incredibly bold & rich, and infinitely more powerful than espresso. So, if you’re an espresso lover – as I am – trust me, one taste and you’ll be hooked. Think of it as espresso on steroids.

Athens - Outdoor CafeFrom here on, my recollections get a bit fuzzy, as we became engrossed in conversation with our hosts and made a number of stops along the way, including doing a bit of shopping (a shoulder bag for me). We walked by a barrel of live snails at an open-air market – which was of great interest to my traveling companion, a dedicated fan of escargots – and then settled in at a charming outdoor café for a brief libation and snack. I tried to keep track of precisely where we were in reference to our hotel, but eventually gave up the struggle. I believe this photo was taken in the Plaka section of the city, home to many romantic restaurants and cafés.

Athens - Charcuterie, Food & Wine TourOur final stop, a no-frills combo of market, deli, and café, was definitely a haven for locals. There were a couple of unadorned tables in the front near the entrance and a few more in the rear. Nothing fancy at all. The four of us were seated between shelves awash with liquor bottles and a huge deli case filled with an incredible assortment of meats and cheeses. And, as you will notice from the size of the charcuterie board, this place certainly wasn’t at all stingy about sharing the wealth. But it wasn’t just the quantity… One taste and you knew immediately the comestibles here were top of the line.

But this place was known for more than just the food. It also dabbled in homemade wines that were served in small pitchers rather bottles; and both the red and white we sampled were quite good. We were also served a potent liqueur that reminded me of the Greek version of grappa… In other words, a few sips were more than enough.

Athens - Ellen & Guide, Food & Wine TourBut it is amazing to me how just the sharing of vino can help to cement a friendship between people who began the day as total strangers. And this is also one of the distinct advantages of a personal tour – rather than just being herded together in a group – as you get to know your guides on a more intimate basis. Indeed, by the time the afternoon came to an end, we felt as though we had spent the day with old friends. (Pictured: My traveling companion on the right and our guide on the left, toasting to a wonderful day together.)

 Καλλή Όρεξη!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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GB Athens - Acropolis by Day from Roof Garden RestaurantPrior to embarking on our November 2021 cruise to the Greek Islands, my traveling companion and I arrived in Athens several days early to enjoy the sights and sounds of this marvelous city… And we decided pretty early on that the easiest and most satisfying way to get thoroughly acquainted with foreign ports of call was via a private tour. Yes, I know it’s more expensive, but it is definitely worth it – and that certainly proved to be the case with this trip.

By private, I mean that the tour is just for the two of us. Our first excursion, for example, was a Private Panorama City Tour with a Mercedes E Class taxi & driver and a professional English-speaking guide. We were picked up at our hotel at 10:30 a.m., and the tour lasted approximately three hours. As we drove through the various Athens’ neighborhoods, our guide, a charming and extremely knowledgeable young woman, pointed out points of interest, bits of history, etc.

Acropolis - ParthenonThe highlight of our tour was, of course, the Acropolis, which literally means, “High City.” The view from afar is spectacular… but, actually walking among those proud stones that bear witness to the noble civilization that flourished and then died there, is simply awe-inspiring. Situated on the highest point of the Acropolis, the Parthenon, the former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena, though battered by the elements, is still a majestic symbol of artistic perfection. As I sat on a bench chatting with our guide, she pointed out an incredible optical illusion… Since straight lines appear to be curved, Parthenon architects slightly curved the temple’s 50 columns so that they would appear perfectly straight.

Acropolis MuseumWithout doubt, the most complex building on the Acropolis is the Érechthéion. Complex in the sense that it houses shrines to several different deities, including Athena, Zeus, and Poseidon. It is named for the mythic King Erechtheus, who judged the contest between Athena and Poseidon as to who would be the patron deity of Athens (Poseidon struck his trident into a rock and created a spring; but Athena bested him by miraculously producing an olive tree, a symbol of peace and prosperity). The building also incorporates two porches: one at the northwest corner that is supported by tall ionic columns; and one at the southwest corner that is supported by the famous Caryatids, columnlike statues of maidens delicately draped in pleated gowns. The ones in place on the Acropolis are copies. Five of the originals reside in the Acropolis Museum (pictured).

Acropolis Museum 3Open to the public on June 20, 2009, the Acropolis Museum contains more than 4,250 objects over three levels. A walk through the galleries mimics an ascent up the Acropolis Hill. On the ground floor, the Acropolis Slopes gallery contains votives, offerings, and other finds from sanctuaries at the base of the Acropolis, where cults to Athena and other gods and goddesses were worshipped. The marble floor slopes to the next level, where works are arranged in the order in which ancients walking through the Acropolis would have viewed them.

Acropolis Museum - Parthenon GalleryThe spacing of the columns of the Parthenon Hall is the same as that of the ancient temple; and the use of glass on all four exterior walls allows the natural light to illumine the Parthenon marbles as they do on the ancient temple. Wrapping around the walls is a 530-foot section of one of the world’s greatest ancient treasures: the Parthenon Frieze, a tableau of a procession in honor of Athena.

Acropolis Museum 4As the building is built over an extensive archaeological site, parts of the floor are made of glass, which allows visitors to see the excavations below. The museum also contains an amphitheater, virtual theater, and hall for temporary exhibitions.

Consistently rated as one of the best museums in the world, the Acropolis Museum is a truly evocative experience.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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GB Athens - Acropolis at Night from Roof Garden RestaurantPrior to embarking on our November 2021 cruise to the Greek Islands, my traveling companion and I arrived in Athens several days early to enjoy the sights and sounds of this marvelous city.

We spent three wonderful nights at the Hotel Grande Bretagne. An Athens landmark for 160 years, the key word here is, indeed, grand. Overlooking Syntagma Square, affording stunning views of the Parliament and the Acropolis, the atmosphere is delightfully Old World seamlessly fused with 21st century comfort.

 GB Athens - Winter Garden LoungeAs you would expect, a hotel of this caliber offers guests numerous amenities to make their stay more pleasant. However, the gastronomic and libationary opportunities deserve special mention. Just around the corner from the reception area, for example, you discover the Winter Garden City Lounge (pictured), an exquisite, beautifully appointed refuge where one may partake of European breakfast, light lunch, or dinner accompanied by the soothing notes of live classical piano. The restaurant also serves afternoon tea, exclusively curated by its pastry & executive chefs, offering tea connoisseurs the finest selection of sweet and savory delicacies.

After checking-in – thoroughly exhausted from our overnight flight, layover/plane change in Frankfurt, and connecting flight to Athens – we decided that the Winter Garden would be the perfect spot for a late lunch/early dinner… which, we also agreed, would be followed shortly thereafter by a very early evening.

GB Athens - Winter Garden - Grilled ChickenWe began by sharing an authentic (no lettuce) Greek salad embellished with copious squares of creamy feta cheese finished with a tangy oil & vinegar dressing. My dining partner then opted for the Sea Bream; I, for the moist and tender Grilled Chicken (pictured) with a sauté of new potatoes. Both were excellent (and, as you will notice, served on beautiful china)… as was the personable but unobtrusive service.

GB Athens - Alexander's Bar 2And be sure to pay a call at the adjoining Alexander’s Bar. The 18th century tapestry of Alexander the Great is the focal point here, but the bartender also makes a great Cosmo and Negroni, which we enjoyed with our meal. Oh, and by the way, Alexander’s was voted the “Best Hotel Bar in the World” by Forbes magazine, so it’s definitely a great place to linger over a glass of ouzo, classic cocktail, or traditional Greek wine.

GB Athens - Roof Garden RestaurantHowever, no stay at the Grande Bretagne – or visit to Athens – would be complete without a romantic evening at the GB Roof Garden Restaurant & Bar (pictured). Located on the 8th floor of the hotel, this enchanting space offers unparalleled views of the City of Athens and the Acropolis with the Parthenon – a former temple dedicated to the goddess Athena – majestically perched upon it.

There is an old saying that the quality of a restaurant’s cuisine may be measured in inverse proportion to the quality of its view. In other words, the more spectacular the view, the less spectacular the food. Fortunately, that is not the case here. Under the watchful eye of Michelin-starred Executive Chef Asterios Koustoudis and Chef de Cuisine Nikos Mavrokostas, the Roof Garden’s kitchen has been the recipient of Athinorama magazine’s Toques d’Or (Golden Chef’s Hat) award for three consecutive years.

GB Athens - Roof Garden - Grouperwith Steamed Vegetables 2Chef Koustoudis’ philosophy is deceptively straightforward. His New Mediterranean cuisine gives a subtle modern twist to premium quality fresh ingredients to allow their exquisitely clean attributes to shine through. Typical of this approach is his Grilled Fish of the Day (pictured) – in this instance, grouper – which we selected as our entrée of the evening.

If there is one thing I have discovered in my years as a “hired belly,” it is that matters piscatorial – specifically delicately flavored denizens of the deep like grouper – are best served by those sauces and other accoutrements that intrude the least.  Moist, meaty, and grilled to perfection, served on a pillow of steamed vegetables, and garnished with nothing but a touch extra virgin olive oil and splash of lemon, the presentation is utterly sublime in its simplicity.

GB Athens - Roof Garden - Lemon Cream CakeSweet endings, courtesy of famed award-winning Parisian Chef Pâtissier Arnaud Larher, continue the kitchen’s extraordinary work. The current dessert menu offers such familiar items as Tiramisu and Crème Brûlée … but also more interesting possibilities such as Paris Brest Pistache (choux pastry, handmade cream with Aegina pistachio praline and caramelized pistachios) and Millefeuille Chocolat (caramelized puff pastry, bitter chocolate crémeux and Chantilly). The night of our visit, it was a variation on La Tarte Citron theme, a luscious Lemon Cream Cake (pictured), that assuaged our sweet tooth.

 I should also mention that, in addition to its other awards, for the sixth consecutive year, the Roof Garden has received the special recognition of “Best of Award of Excellence” from Wine Spectator magazine for its superb international wine list. This distinction is due in no small part to the efforts of Head Sommelier Evangelos Psofidis, who has been responsible for the maintenance of the Wine Cellar and the creation and editing of the restaurant’s wine card since 2009. And the excellent Assyrtiko from the Isle of Santorini, which accompanied our recent dinner, is certainly indicative of his oenological expertise.

Grande Bretagne AthensIf you are visiting Athens, there is absolutely no question in my mind that Hotel Grande Bretagne is THE address to hang your hat. But even if you do decide upon other accommodations, the GB Roof Garden Restaurant & Bar is a dining experience that is simply not to be missed.

Καλλή Όρεξη Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Alba - Chef Sean WeinbergOn Monday, February 14, 2022, Restaurant Alba, 7 West King Street, Malvern, Pennsylvania, will celebrate Valentine’s Day with a special five-course tasting menu and wine pairing featuring the food and wine of France.

Course One – Parisian Salads: Wood-Roasted Beets, Orange, Tarragon… Celery Root Remoulade… Carrots, Chickpeas & Meyer Lemon… Torchon of Foie Gras, Poached Pear, Shallot Jam; Wine Pairing – 2018 Doisy Vedrines, Sauternes

Course Two – Tartare of Patagonia Salmon Egg, Capers, Crème Fraiche… Cold Smoked Atlantic Salmon Mustard & Chive Aioli, Frisée; Wine Pairing – 2017 Trimbach Riesling Reserve, Alsace

Course Three – Truffled Parisian Gnocchi, Duck Confit, Caramelized Endive; Wine Pairing – 2015 Château de Haute-Serre, Cahors

Course Four – Beef Bourguignon: The Plat de Resistance with Bacon, Mushrooms, Carrots, Pearl Onions, Potatoes; Wine Pairing – 2013 Georges Lignier, Clos des Ornes, Morey St. Denis, Premier Cru, Burgundy

Course Five – Chocolate Pot du Crème, Galette Cookie; Wine Pairing – 2016 M. Chapoutier, Banyuls

 The price of the Valentine’s Day French Wine Dinner is $190.00 per person (plus tax & gratuity). Doors will open at 5:00 p.m.; dinner at 5:30 p.m.

 A credit card is required to reserve. For more information, or to make reservations, please call Restaurant Alba at (610) 44-4009.

Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD


 

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Santorini WinesDuring the first half of our recent cruise – which began in Athens and then took in a number of the Greek Islands before visiting several ports in Italy and disembarking in Rome – my permanent dining partner and I had ample opportunity to sample a variety of outstanding Greek wines.

There is absolutely no question that the wines of Greece are difficult to spell – and even more difficult to pronounce – but they are, on the other hand, extremely pleasing to both the palate and the pocketbook…. But the real difficulty with Greek wines has always been finding them. Seeking them out usually required a road trip to specific specialty shops in Greek neighborhoods. Now, thankfully, they are carried in numerous fine wine shops in equally numerous locations. Listed below are several Greek varietals and wineries that may be of interest. I have personally tasted all the wines noted… and all (with one exception) are available through Pennsylvania State Stores.

Santorini Assyrtiko 20182018 BOUTARI ASSYRTIKO SANTORINI: The Boutari family has been producing wines from Greek varietals since 1879. Since that first vintage, the family has become a pioneer of Greek wines, now crafting wines from six different regions, utilizing grapes that are grown nowhere else in the world.

Boutari has been named International Winery of the Year by Wine & Spirits magazine 19 times; only five wineries in the world have received the award more times. Achievements such as developing the modern style of Santorini wines to reviving lost varietals have garnered praise from the wine press and spawned a generation of high-quality Greek wines.

And nothing could be more indicative of Boutari’s winemaking prowess than the 2018 Assyrtiko Santorini, their benchmark treatment of Greece’s iconic white wine grape (as I discussed in a previous article, Assyrtiko originated from the Cyclades Island of Santorini, but is now planted to most Greek wine regions, becoming, in terms of quality, one of the most important native varietals).  Wine critic Jeb Dunnuck bestowed a whopping 96 points (100-point scale), noting: “It’s deep, rich, medium-bodied, and concentrated on the palate, with perfectly integrated acidity and a monster of a finish. It’s pure class.”

Exhibiting a bright yellow color in the glass, with beautiful aromas of exotic and citrus fruits, this is a zesty, refined wine with an intense minerality and fabulous finish. Highly recommended. $31.99.

 

Mylonas Assyrtiko 20192019 MYLONAS ATTIKA ASSYRTIKO: Located in the city of Keratea in Attika, far down the peninsula that extends south from Athens, the history of Mylonas Winery goes back a century and has been passed down from father-to-son for three generations. Now run by the Mylonas brothers – Antonis, Tasos, and Stamatis – they work with local grapes and experiment with new varieties in this emerging region. In this part of Attica, Savatiano is actually the most famous grape. But the story here is quite different…

About twenty years ago, or so the story goes, before Santorini was recognized as a world class wine production site, mainland winemakers would buy grapes from the island to bulk up their production, Stamatis Mylonas found some Assyrtiko grapes mixed in with the red grapes he was using to produce his rosé. He was curious and journeyed to Santorini to acquire some vine cuttings… And the rest, as they say, is history. Today, the Assyrtiko is hand-harvested, fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel tanks, spends about three months on the lees, and yields wines of true concentration, character, and finesse.

The 2019 Mylonas Attika Assyrtiko, for example, received 91- and 92-points from Wine Enthusiast and Wine & Spirits, respectively.  This is a superb wine, with excellent body, an appealing creaminess, and a lingering clean finish with a subtle salty spin. As K&L Wine Merchants noted: “This expression of Assyrtiko calls to mind the wines of Santorini but at a much more inviting price.” $15.99.

 

Alpha Estate Malagouzia 20192019 ALPHA ESTATE MALAGOUZIA: Alpha Estate is not a new name to the premium wine trade, as wine writers Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding, and Robert Parker are all enthusiastic fans of this top-quality Greek winery. Established in 1997 by viticulturist Makis Mavridis and oenologist Angelos Iatridis, Alpha is recognized as one of the pioneers of modern Greek wine. The winery combines international with traditional grapes and has its own nursery developing colonial selections. The winery is so state-of-the-art it can direct underground irrigation to specific vine roots and change the air in its wine cellars three times a day.

Located at a very high altitude in the sandy Amyndeon plateau in northwestern Greece, Alpha is particularly famous for its Xinomavro, a complex, collector-worthy red that is often compared to the far more expensive Barolo and Nebbiolo wines. But Latridis also excels with his red blends and, given the climate, quite naturally with white wines.

His Sauvignon Blanc is the most sought-after in Greece and his Malagouzia, specifically the 2019 Alpha Estate Malagouzia, is nothing short of pure delight. The “Turtle Vineyard” Malagouzia is a single-vineyard white that is completely the product of stainless-steel fermentation. In the glass it exhibits a straw color with an explosive-expressive nose and touch of flintiness. Light and lively on the plate, there is a slight effervescence with Riesling-like qualities and a touch of subdued spice similar to a Gewürztraminer. A positively lovely wine, the 2019 Malagourzia received a 90-point rating from both Robert Parker and Decanter magazine. $18.99.

 

Domaine Skouras Zoe 20202020 DOMAINE SKOURAS ZOE: Located in Nemea on the Peloponnese Peninsula, Domaine Skouras was founded by George Skouras, who was graduated from the University of Dijon with a degree in oenology. After working for a number of wineries in France, Italy and Greece, he finally fulfilled the dream of setting up his own small wine-making facility in Pyrgela in 1986. This was quickly followed by the creation of a boutique winery in the Nemea Appellation area, in the village of Gymno.

The Domaine Skouras and its associates cultivate the local grape varieties of Agiorgitiko, Moschofilero, Rodhitis, and Kydonitsa, as well as the foreign varieties such as Viognier, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah. Many of the vintages produced are everyday wines, while others are unique & innovative (and rather pricey) varietal combinations that are rare, limited, and terribly difficult-to-find.

The wine I sampled from this producer was the 2020 Domaine Skouras Zoe, an intriguing white blend of 60% Roditis and 40% Moschofilero, two grapes that are probably not terribly familiar to most wine lovers. Roditis is a pink-skinned grape traditionally grown in the Peloponnese region of Greece. Today, it is most commonly blended with Savatiano in the making of Retsina, a famous (or infamous) Greek wine infused with pine resin. Moschofilero is an aromatic white grape with a pink/purple skin, spicy flavor, and excellent acidity.            The result is a wine with a complex aroma of fresh flowers, a luxurious texture rife with flavors of citrus fruit, and a marvelous acidity that moves across the palate to a clean, refreshing finish. The price is pretty refreshing as well… $13.99.

 

Nasiakos Agiorgitiko 2019 (2)2019 NASIAKOS AGIORGITIKO: The vineyards of the Nasiakos families lie in the heart of the two largest and most important wine regions of Greece. One is in Mantinia in Arcadia; the other – the highest point on Nemea – in Corinth, Peloponnese. Leonidas Nasiakos is the viticulturalist, winemaker, and producer of the wines that bear his name. Under the Nasiakos label, 6,500 cases of wine are produced from the indigenous appellation varietals such as Moschofilero and Agiorgitiko. Nasiakos wines have been rated by publications such as Robert Parker, Wine Spectator, Wine Enthusiast, and Wine & Spirits for over 15 years, with ratings from 87 to 93 points.

Of particular importance is Agiorgitiko, the most widely planted red wine grape in Greece. It is one of the more commercially important indigenous varieties; and it can exhibit a wide range of characteristics, from soft to very tannic, depending upon factors in the growing and winemaking processes.

The 2019 Nasiakos Agiorgitiko is most definitely of the latter persuasion… In the glass, mesmerizing aromas of vanilla, blackberry, and currant quickly capture your attention… carried over to invitingly ripe fruit flavors on the palate. This is a wine with a surprisingly light – almost ethereal – touch. It goes down as smooth as silk and is also marvelously food friendly. A lovely wine on all counts. $15.99.

 

Boutari Kretikos 20162016 BOUTARI KRETIKOS RED: As noted above, the Boutari family has been producing wines from Greek varietals since 1879 and has become a pioneer of Greek wines, crafting vintages from six different regions, utilizing grapes that are grown nowhere else in the world.

… And the 2016 Boutari Kretikos has helped to set the quality standard of Cretan wines worldwide. Kretikos, which means “originating in Crete,” is a carefully selected blend of 60% Kotsifali and 40% Mandilaria, both indigenous grapes. Kotsifali – Mandilaria blends are quite common in the red wines of Greece, but particularly so on Crete, the southernmost and largest of the Greek Islands. Such a beneficial blending brings together the aromatics, sugars, and corpulence of Kotsifali with the strong color, acidity, and tannins of Mandilaria.

Both Kotsifali and Mandilaria are most often blended with other varieties, as neither is famed for the quality of its wines when vinified as a single varietal. Only the very finest vineyard sites can produce complex and balanced wines from either grape alone… but combining the two is quite a different story. Kotsifali – Mandilaria blends can be aromatic, complex, colorful, and beautifully balanced.

It is not certain at what point in history Kotsifali and Mandilaria were first deliberately blended, but the benefits are quite apparent… as the 2016 Boutari Kretikos Red clearly demonstrates. This beautifully balanced wine features a brilliant ruby color, pleasant aromas of red fruits, velvety tannins, and a lingering finish. It also has a decidedly earthy note, which I very much enjoy. I also enjoy the price tag: $8.99. Snatch it up while you can.

 

Zacharias Assyrtiko 2020One closing note: Since we have been discussing Greek wines, please do not overlook the extraordinary 2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko, which I mentioned in last month’s article as one of my favorite white wines of 2021. Hailing from the Peloponnese Peninsula, the 2019 Zacharias Assyrtiko recently received 91 points and was included in the “Top 100 Best Buys of 2021” by Wine Enthusiast (but is impossible to find)… The good news, however, is that the 2020 is even better.

Just be aware that this is the one wine that is not available through Pennsylvania State Stores. The best price I discovered online is $12.99 per bottle (plus shipping) from Central Wine Merchants in Flemington, New Jersey.

 Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Volvér

300 South Broad Street

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

(215) 670-2302

http://philadelphia.volverrestaurant.com/

Volver - InteriorTo the immense satisfaction of Philadelphia area foodies – this writer included – chef/owner Jose Garces’ Volvér, which was closed for an extended period due to the Covid pandemic, has now reopened. So, if you are contemplating a visit to the Kimmel Center and seeking a suitable pre-event dining venue, this fine restaurant should, once again, be at the very top of your list of possibilities.

One of the reasons for this, of course, is the fact that Volvér is located right in the Center itself; which, I can tell you from bitter experience, will save you an unbelievable amount of hassle… Instead of rushing from here to there following a hasty dinner – like hoofing several blocks in less-than ideal weather – you are already “there.” The only thing you need to worry about is getting to your seat on time.

Volver - BarBut there is certainly more to dining here than just convenience… Volvér, which opened its doors in April 2014 and was first reviewed by this writer in November 2018, continues to serve up innovative, seasonally-driven cuisine that is subtle in both preparation and presentation. Many would undoubtedly consider the portions here on the diminutive side… but since most of the restaurant’s patrons are headed to a performance at the adjoining Kimmel Center and, therefore, not up for a heavy meal, discretionary ingestion might be considered the better part of peristaltic valor. The à la carte menu is just right for spirited mix ‘n match grazing; and the three-course pre-theater menu, priced at $56.00 (plus beverages, tax & gratuity), also has a good deal to recommend it.

Volver - Shrimp ToastsWhile perusing the menu, why not soothe your restless gastronomic spirit with a creative cocktail – The Brown Derby (Old Grandad, grapefruit, lemon, and honey) is quite intriguing, as is the Rose Gold (Tito’s Vodka, rosemary, passion fruit, and bitters) – and one or more of the “Snacks.” During a previous visit, the Deviled Egg filled with silky duck liver mousse spiked with Pedro Ximénez Sherry clearly stole the show. More recently, the Shrimp Toast (pictured) – sesame, scallion, and karashi (Japanese hot mustard) mayo – acquitted itself equally well.

Volver - Seasonal Greens SaladAs you move on to the “Small Plates” (appetizers), the seasonally changing options currently range from the Snapper Tartare adorned with young ginger, Champagne cream, black olives, Meyer lemon, and poppy seeds to the almost too clever bowl of Milk & Cereal – bacon, glazed chicken, thyme marshmallows, puffed rice, white asparagus, and wild mushrooms – which tastes nothing like what you wolf down for breakfast. My nod, however, goes to the rather innocuously sounding Seasonal Greens Salad (pictured): assorted greenery (mostly peppery arugula) awash with wafer-thin slices of Granny Smith apples & kohlrabi tossed with an exquisite creamy Champagne vinaigrette and crowned with a bonnet of tangy radicchio. Deceptively simple… and utterly sublime.

Volver - Market Fish - BarramundiOver the course of our numerous visits, my permanent dining partner and I have sampled an interesting variety of the restaurant’s entrées. Memorable choices have included Ricotta Gnudi, gnocchi-like dumplings made with ricotta cheese instead of grated or milled russet potatoes. A lighter, pillowy dish in contrast to the often denser, sometimes chewy gnocchi, Volvér’s ethereal rendition was simply extraordinary. The Barramundi (pictured), a sweet, succulent, meaty white-fleshed fish with a clean mild flavor that is similar to halibut, was also quite exceptional… The filet arrived at table swimming in a sensual sea of celeriac emulsion and truffle jus with wild mushrooms and a tiara of watercress playing strong supporting roles.

Volver - Crispy ChickenThe current list of main courses offers such options as Roasted Lamb Chops with eggplant escabeche and Filet Mignon “Philly Style” with caramelized onion purée, toasted sourdough, red wine braised shallots, and alpine cheese fondue. All that sounded a bit too heavy for my dining partner, who decided to give the Crispy Chicken (pictured) a try. This included such accompaniments as a stout braised thigh, bacon lardons, wild mushrooms, and potato purée. As you may observe from the photo, the kitchen won’t win any prizes for presentation on this one, as it looks like all the constituents had been dropped into a bowl from ten thousand feet… It was, however, as my dining partner would attest, quite tasty.

Volver - Trout Meuniere 2My choice during our most recent visit was a long-running menu staple, the Rainbow Trout Meunière (pictured), which I’ve enjoyed on several other occasions. An intriguing presentation, the beautifully sautéed filet was accompanied by braised lentils, Brussels sprout leaves, lemon butter, and horseradish. The fish itself was uniquely flavorful but not too trout-y; and while the embellishments may strike one as slightly on the quirky side, they were delightfully complementary and not at all intrusive.

Like other menu items, desserts vary with the seasons. Past sweet endings have included such treats as the St. Honoré, a salted caramel tart garnished with maple marshmallow & candied peanuts, Orange & Pistachio Parfait, and Chocolate Choux, a chocolate éclair with dark chocolate cream.

Volver - Old-Fashioned Chocolate CakeOur most recent visit offered up a Brown Butter Choux Puff, Beignets with sweet milk coffee, macerated banana, and black sesame and Old-Fashioned Chocolate Cake (pictured) contemporized with coconut meringue, pecan gelato, and maple tuille. This was my dessert of choice and it did not disappoint.

One final note: This season, Chef Jose Garces is hosting rising star, minority chefs from around the Philadelphia region for six-week residencies. The Chefs in Residency program places selected chefs’ signature dishes on the menu for 6-8 weeks each, alongside Chef Garces’ French-inspired presentations. Throughout each residency, Volvér will raise funds to support the inaugural line-up of chefs and their current and/or future projects. Donations can be made, similar to tipping a server, when the dinner check is presented. The Garces Foundation will match up to the first $5,000. The matching Grant will be donated by the Garces Foundation, which offers medical and educational resources to the hospitality community…

 Chef Phila Lorn; Date of Residency: December 2, 2021 – January 17, 2022

Chef Jezabel Careaga; Date of Residency: January 26 – March 13, 2022

Chef Jennifer Zavala; Date of Residency: March 16 – May 1, 2022

Chef Alex Yoon; Date of Residency: May 4 – May 31 2022

Chef Dane DeMarco; Date of Residency: June 1 – July 1, 2022

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Wine 3I tasted an interesting variety of wines in 2021, including several outstanding vintages during a recent sojourn to Greece and the Greek Islands. Of those, 5 white and 5 red are particularly recommended. My favorite red wines of 2021 are listed below.

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 price point.

 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre 20162016 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre (Italy): Allegrini is the most aclaimed winery in the Veneto region of northeast Italy. The family has been involved in winemaking for over six generations, playing a major role in the Valpolicella Classico area since the 16th century… However, it was Giovanni Allegrini, patriarch of the modern estate, who developed and perfected major innovations in the art of wine. He was among the first to question local viticultural techniques, revolutionize accepted practices, and emphasize quality.

While Amarone is Allegrini’s claim to fame, fortunately the winery also produces several other vintages that are of excellent quality – and also a good deal less expensive… The 2016 Allegrini Palazzo della Torre, for example, is a blend of 40% Corvina Veronese, 30%Corvinone, 25% Rondinella, and 5% Sangiovese. I’ve sampled this wine on numerous occasions; and it is a perennial favorite, remarkably consistent from year to year. Elegant and well-balanced, it possesses a long velvety finish and silky tannins. Readily available through PA State Stores, this highly-rated vintage is a bargain at $19.99.

 

Chad Alexander2019 Chad Pinot Noir Willamette Valley (Oregon): Winemaker Chad Alexander’s name is probably not terribly familiar to most readers… perhaps because his is a negociant label that was launched during the economic crisis in 2009 to take advantage of inventory that had backed up at prestigious wineries and to protect the brand of the maker. Wineries bottle their new wines in “shiners,” that is, wine bottles without label or branded cork. Mr. Alexander offers a price on the entire lot that is substantially higher than the depressed bulk market but still dramatically less the intended retail. These “shiners” are then bottled under the Chad label.

Wines of this quality are generally found in bottles that are twice the price… That’s because what’s in the bottles IS twice the price! And the fact that these wines have made appearances in upscale restaurants like The Odeon and Bar Boulud in New York City is a testimony to their superior quality.

The 2019 Chad Pinot Noir, for example, is the very essence of Oregon Pinot. On the nose, black cherry predominates, along with a beguiling touch of spice. On the palate, this is pure Pinot, vibrant & complex, with an abundance of berry fruit flavors and soft, silky tannins. The finish is smooth, long and elegant.

This is an outstanding wine… an equally outstanding price point. The lowest listing I’ve seen online is $19.99 per bottle (plus shipping) at Central Wine Merchants of Flemington, New Jersey.

 

Don Melchor 20182018 Concha y Toro Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon (Chile): “This is amazing.” So wrote wine critic James Suckling after bestowing an unheard-of 100-point rating. A consistently highly-praised wine year after year, the iconic 2018 Don Melchor is particularly polished, harmonious, and downright delicious. Produced from 181 lots covering 151 different vineyard parcels, this is only the second time that the blend has included all four Bordeaux varieties on the estate – 91% Cabernet Sauvignon with 5% Cabernet Franc, 3% Merlot, and 1% Petit Verdot.

As winemaker Enrique Tirado has noted: “The wine manages to produce that unique sensation you only get from great wines and great harvests.” I have personally tasted this wine and, thankfully, I still have two bottles left in the cellar. It is spectacular… there is simply no other word for it.

It is currently available through PA State Stores at $119.99.

 

Ken Forrester - Pinotage2018 Ken Forrester Petit Pinotage (South Africa): Indigenous to South Africa, Pinotage is a grape crossing of Cinsaut (called Hermitage) and Pinot Noir. Acutely aware that Pinot Noir struggled in South Africa’s climate, scientist Abraham Perold decided to cross it with Cinsaut, a very productive species. His goal was to create a wine that was as delicious as Pinot Noir but that grew as well as Cinsaut. The results, however, were somewhat mixed. The Pinotage grape was extremely dark in color and the wine it created quite bold in character… It was nothing like its progenitors. Plagued with difficulties from the very beginning, what winemakers failed to realize was that while Pinotage was a very easy wine to make, it was an extremely difficult wine to make well. Fortunately, however, in the last 15 years, thing have begun to change for the better.

… And the 2018 Ken Forrester Petit is the quintessential well-made Pinotage. It is decidedly fruit forward but with an intriguing, earthy quality. As Forbes food/wine writer John Mariani noted: “A very good price for a splendid ‘little’ Pinotage whose elements are impeccably blended in an unoaked version of the varietal.” And speaking of price… a mere $11.99 at your local PA State Store.

 

Stoller Winery - Owner Bill Stoller2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir (Oregon): I first tasted the 2018 in the Purser’s Pub at the Inn at Perry Cabin during a trip to St. Michaels, Maryland, and was immediately impressed. This is simply a lovely wine from start to finish. In the glass, it is a bright ruby color; and the equally bright nose is alive with the aromas of red fruits. It is soft and elegant on the palate, with smooth silky tannins and a long ethereal finish.

Wine critic James Suckling bestowed 92 points and called the 2018 Stoller “their finest release under this estate label.” And wine writer Gus Clemens added: “Stoller is doing something right, and we get a very approachable superb expression of Willamette Valley pinot at a fair price and a fair chance of finding it.”

And speaking of price… The 2018 Stoller Dundee Hills Pinot Noir will cost you $27.99 per bottle in Pennsylvania State Stores… On the other hand, it is available online from The Wine Buyer in Wayne, New Jersey, at $18.99 per bottle. This is where I purchased my six bottles, and the shipping was only about $16.00. So, this is one instance in which you can save a bundle by shopping online.

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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Favorite White Wines of 2021

by artfuldiner on December 23, 2021

in Artful Diner Mini Review, Breaking News, Wine

Wine 3I tasted an interesting variety of wines in 2021, including several outstanding vintages during a recent sojourn to Greece and the Greek Islands. Of those, 5 white and 5 red are particularly recommended. My favorite white wines of 2021 are listed below.

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 price point.

Grgich Hills Chardonnay 20172017 Grgich Hills Estate Grown Chardonnay (California): Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, a native of Croatia, was the winemaker behind the iconic 1973 Chateau Montelena, which triumphed over the French at the “Judgment of Paris” in 1976. And while you may not be able to sample the original 1973 Chateau Montelena, a bottle of which now resides in the Smithsonian, you can still discover why Mike Grgich has come to be known as the King of Chardonnay.”

His 2017 Grgich Hills Estate Grown Chardonnay, which recently received 93 points from Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate, is a wine that is easy to love. It is medium-bodied, rich & sumptuous, and decidedly elegant on the palate. Reminiscent of a fine white Burgundy, it is available from various sources online at a fraction of the price. Retailing in the $35.00 – $45.00 range, the lowest price I’ve seen online is $34.00 per bottle (plus shipping) from Nicholas Wines, https://www.nicholaswines.com, in Red Bank, New Jersey.

 

Ken Forrester2018 Ken Forrester Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc (South Africa): South Africa grows more chenin blanc than the rest of the world combined. The best South African wines are produced in the Stellenbosch region, just 25 miles east of Cape Town… And, located on the slopes of the scenic Helderberg Mountains, the vineyards of Ken Forrester Wines are considered by locals and wine lovers as the home of chenin blanc. The man himself, affectionately known as “Mr. Chenin Blanc,” who has become the ambassador for South Africa’s most widely planted varietal, seems a little bit larger than life and just as dynamic as the grape he so fervently champions. No wonder his wines were chosen to be served at Nelson Mandela’s 85th birthday party.

The grapes from Mr. Forrester’s 2018 Old Vine Reserve Chenin Blanc are sourced from 40-year-old vines picked by hand. The wine is barrel- and tank-fermented and left on the lees for nine months, employing 20% new French Oak.

This is a very attractive wine, youthful and delicately textured. Full-bodied and complex, but not overpowering, it has a very satisfying mouthfeel and soft, lingering finish… And, given its outstanding quality, this wine is also quite reasonably priced, retailing around the $15.00 mark. It is available through PA State Stores via special order only for $15.29. The lowest price I have seen online is $12.99 from Joe’s Canal in the Mercer Mall, Lawrenceville, New Jersey.

 

King Estate Pinot Gris 20182018 King Estate Willamette Valley Pinot Gris (Oregon): Wine writer Matt Kramer of The Oregonian considers King Estate the benchmark producer of pinot gris (aka pinot grigio) in the country. While the winery also makes pinot noir and limited amounts of chardonnay, it is mainly credited with bringing the pinot gris grape varietal into the national consciousness… And the 2018 King Estate Pinot Gris is a particularly first-rate example of the winemaker’s art. “This baseline Pinot Gris really shines in this vintage,” the Wine Enthusiast noted, bestowing 91 points and an Editors’ Choice designation. Its juicy fruit flavors and marvelously fresh acidity lead the palate to a long, elegant finish. It is also available from a variety of sources; particularly PA State Stores at $21.99 and Total Wine, Claymont, DE, at $18.49.

 

Tiefenbrunner Muller Thurgau2017 Tiefenbrunner Feldmarschall von Fenner Müller-Thurgau (Italy): I first tasted the 2018 Tiefenbrunner while dining at Vetri Cucina in Philadelphia. And, as previously mentioned, I was so impressed that the moment I returned home I began an online search to see where it might be available for purchase.

Unfortunately, the 2018 was nowhere to be found. I was, however, able to secure four bottles of the 2017, which was even more highly rated – 96 whopping points from the Wine Enthusiast and listed as #14 in their Top 100 Wines of 2019 – and, as one wine writer noted, it was “a stunner from swirl to finish.” In addition, wine critic James Suckling referred to it as possibly the “best Müller-Thurgau in the world”; and the renowned Gambero Rosso Wine Guide awarded it with a coveted Three Glasses prize. This is simply a fabulous wine – elegant and delicious – and well worth seeking out.

The wine’s retail list price is $45.00, but I’ve seen it priced as high as $60.00 per bottle. The best deal thus far discovered online is $43.98 from Central Wine Merchants in Flemington, New Jersey, which is where I managed to secure my four bottles.

 

 Zacharias Assyrtiko2020 Zacharias Assyrtiko (Greece): Assyrtiko is Greece’s most striking white grape. It originated from the Cyclades Island of Santorini, but is now planted to most Greek wine regions – from other Aegean Islands to Macedonia, Central Greece, and down to the Peloponnese – becoming, in terms of quality, one of the most important native varietals. It produces mainly dry white wines, some of which are aged in oak, but a number of rich and sumptuous sweet wines as well.

Dry Assyrtiko wines tend to appeal to those who – like this writer – are drawn to unconventional, intense styles of whites that emphasize texture and density rather than fruit and oak. During our recent trip to Greece and the Greek Islands, I was fortunate enough to sample a number of Assyrtiko wines from various producers. And while they differed slightly, depending upon the terroir of their place of origin, all displayed a stony minerality and citrusy freshness that made them extraordinarily food friendly.

The 2019 Zacharias Assyrtiko, which hails from the Peloponnese Peninsula, received 91 points and was included in the “Top 100 Best Buys of 2021” by Wine Enthusiast. I tried desperately to secure it online, but it was not to be found… So, I settled for the 2020 Zacharias, which turned out to be, in my opinion, even better. The list price is noted as $15.00. However, the best price online is $12.99 per bottle (plus shipping) from Central Wine Merchants in Flemington, New Jersey.

A fabulous wine… at an equally fabulous price. Don’t miss it!

Cheers!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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2021 Restaurant Redux – Part 2

by artfuldiner on December 15, 2021

in Uncategorized

For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of five (5) of the eleven (11) restaurants reviewed during the year 2021.

Inn at Perry Cabin - ExteriorINN AT PERRY CABIN (September), 308 Watkins Lane, St. Michaels, Maryland, (410) 745-2200, https://innatperrycabin.com: During the latter part of June, my permanent dining partner and I were fortunate enough to escape pandemic blues for three wonderful nights at the Inn at Perry Cabin, which has long enjoyed the reputation of being the top hotel on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The Inn basically offers guest three dining options: Stars, their gourmet restaurant serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner; Purser’s Pub, offering a menu of locally-inspired small plates, as well as a collection of rare whiskeys and bourbons; and the High Tide Pool Bar, which we did not visit. We found Purser’s to be the perfect spot for a late lunch, afternoon snack, or relaxing libation in the midst of a busy day. The couches and high-top tables are exceedingly comfortable, the service is attentive and personable, and the food quite good. Stars, on the other hand, is something of a mixed bag. Breakfasts served on the restaurant’s outdoor patio are excellent… But the cuisine at dinner has significant ups and downs. Given the picturesque setting – and the picturesque prices – it simply isn’t all that it could be… or should be. Interestingly enough, if you check out Stars’ reviews on Social-Media, Yelp and Tripadvisor, for example, even those people who soundly trashed the restaurant had nothing but praise for the Inn itself. And my dining partner and I feel much the same way. My criticisms of Stars’ cuisine notwithstanding, we would gladly return to the Inn at Perry Cabin at a moment’s notice.

 

JG Sky High Lounge - ViewJG SKY HIGH LOUNGE & RESTAURANT (November), 1 North 19th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 419-5059, https://www.jean-georgesphiladelphia.com/jean-georges-sky-high/: To the extreme disappointment of the area’s culinary cognoscenti, Jean-Georges Philadelphia, located on the penultimate 59th floor of the Four Seasons Hotel in the Comcast Technology Center, remains closed due to the pandemic. The rumor that the restaurant would reopen this fall has, unfortunately, not come to fruition…. In the meantime, situated one floor above, adjacent to the hotel’s reception area, its more casual sibling, JG Sky High Lounge & Restaurant, continues to run at full throttle. The menu, as you would undoubtedly surmise since the restaurant is located within hotel precincts, runs the gamut – from Caviar to Pizza; Crusted Prime Beef Tenderloin to Cheddar Bacon Cheeseburger – and everything I’ve ordered has been attractively presented and incredibly delicious. Popular menu favorites include such items as Roasted Salmon caressed by a flavorful lime-corn broth and Parmesan Crusted Organic Chicken served with artichokes and an addictive lemon-basil sauce. Most recent samplings have offered up an exceptional Zucca Pasta bathed in a light tomato sauce with smoked bacon, slices of jalapeño, and peppery arugula and an exotic Artichoke Tagine, a slow-cooked savory stew adorned with kumquats and Persian cucumbers… The restaurant also features an intriguing collection of cocktails and a select list of wines by the glass… And the down-home desserts are worth saving room for.

 

Orangery - ExteriorORANGERY: TUSCAN CUISINE GLEN ISLE AT (December), 130 South Lloyd Avenue, Downingtown, Pennsylvania, (484) 401-5554, http://www.orangeryatglenisle.com: Tucked away in Glen Isle, a bit of bucolic bliss just off bustling Business Route 30 on the western fringe of Downingtown, the Orangery is very much a world apart… Drive down a narrow gravel lane and park your car in an unpaved lot next to the stone ruins of an old daily barn. The restaurant itself, a stately stucco mansion, is quite cozy. In a very real sense, the Orangery defies description; and your ultimate opinion of the restaurant will very much depend upon your expectations going in. If you’re anticipating a Michelin-starred experience, you’ve come to the wrong address. With a few exceptions, the homespun Tuscan cuisine, though generally quite good, is hardly memorable. If you have never dined at the Orangery, it is, in my opinion, worth a visit. Given its pastoral setting and homey, unpretentious food and service, it is a delightfully restful step back in time that will do infinitely more to soothe the soul than appease the appetite. Don’t expect too much and you won’t be disappointed.

 

Seasons 52 - Tomato FlatbreadSEASONS 52 FRESH GRILL & WINE BAR (June), 160 Norrth Gulph Road, Suite 101, King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, (610) 992-1152, www.seasons52.com: Part of the Darden Specialty Restaurant Group, there are currently 42 Seasons 52 locations in the United States. But don’t let corporate convolutions fool you… Good things are happening here. The menu changes four times per year, with the seasons, and the kitchen strives to feature healthy and flavorful ingredients at their seasonal peak. As I mentioned eight years ago in my initial review, if Seasons 52 has a signature dish, it is undoubtedly their irresistible flatbreads – and nothing that has transpired in the interim has changed my opinion. The kitchen also does a good job with soups and salads. But as the restaurant’s culinary strengths remain the same, so do its weaknesses… namely, its entrées. It’s not that the main courses aren’t good; for the most part, they are. They simply are not as good as a number of other presentations. Desserts – or Mini Indulgences, as they are called here – are right back on track. And the restaurant’s top drawer wine list – a recipient of the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence – remains another high point.

 

Vetri Cucina - Sweet Onion Crepe 2VETRI CUCINA (July), 1312 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 732-3478, https://vetricucina.com: Tucked away in a stately townhouse – the former home of Georges Perrier’s late, great Le Bec Fin before it moved to its Walnut Street location – Vetri Cucina, which opened its doors in 1988, remains the distinguished flagship of chef/restaurateur Marc Vetri’s restaurant empire. The interior is sedate and sophisticated; the service young, personable, and extremely knowledgeable with regard to both menu and wine list.

The food…? Unfortunately, something of a mixed bag. Appetizers – specifically my dining partner’s Squab en Croûte with rhubarb agrodolce and my Sweet Onion Crepe (pictured) surrounded by a pool of truffle-infused parmesan fondue – were absolutely superlative… ditto several pasta dishes and the positively decadent desserts. On the other hand, the Dover Sole for Two, the special entrée of the evening, was an absolute disaster. In addition to being drowned in a surprisingly viscous sauce overwhelmed with radish slices and a surfeit of capers, the filets were decidedly rubbery, a sure sign of overcooking. Not the kitchen’s finest hour.

Then there was the wine issue… Two white wines offered by the glass were particularly noteworthy… But the $35.00 price per glass was nothing short of outrageous. Couple this with the disappointing Dover sole, and the fact that the check for the evening, including tax & tip, came to over $400.00, and you can understand my mixed emotions.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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For your dining pleasure, listed below in alphabetical order are synopses of six (6) of the eleven (11) restaurants reviewed during the year 2021.

Antica - Interior 2ANTICA ITALIAN RESTAURANT (February), 1623 Baltimore Pike, Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, (484) 770-8631, http://www.anticapa.com: Owned by chefs Josh Friedberg and Gent Mema, also proprietors of the popular Il Granaio restaurants in Glen Mills and Phoenixville, Antica’s three light & airy dining areas come replete with soothing colorations, a rustic stone wall, and framed prints by Andrew Wyeth, Chadds Ford’s favorite artistic son. Originally a BYOB, the restaurant now sports a liquor license, offering its patrons a compact selection of wines by the glass and bottle, brews, and an interesting inventory of specialty cocktails. Entrées include a combo of old-fashioned Italian comfort fare – such as Veal Parmigiana and Pasta Pomodoro – as well as piscatorial pleasures like Sautéed Salmon and Grilled Whole Bronzino. Homemade desserts include favorites like Cannoli, Tiramisu, and Bundino di Pane, the Italian version of bread pudding. For my money, however, nothing quite tops the considerable charms of the kitchen’s luscious Lemon Cream Cake.

Awful Arthurs - ExteriorAWFUL ARTHUR’S SEAFOOD COMPANY (September), 402 South Talbot Street, St. Michaels, Maryland, (410) 745-3474, https://awfularthursusa.com: Visited while staying at the Inn at Perry Cabin on Maryland’s Eastern Shore (see separate review), Awful Arthur’s is a super casual eatery featuring indoor/outdoor seating and a bustling authentic oyster bar that serves up more than nine varieties of oysters, as well as clams, shrimp, mussels, crab legs, crawfish, and their famous steamed  seafood platter. Whatever your piscatorial preference, you will undoubtedly find it here. Starters tempt the palate with the likes of Blackened Tuna Bites, Day Boat Scallops wrapped in bacon, Shrimp & Grits, and the incredibly rich Lobster Mac & Cheese. Entrée-wise, try the first-rate Fish & Chips and Lobster Roll. Desserts – all made in-house – are on the homey side but well worth saving room for… If you’re a seafood lover, and happen to be visiting St. Michael’s, Awful Arthur’s is the place to go.

Bas Rouge - Dover SoleBAS ROUGE (September), 19 Federal Street, Easton, Maryland, (6410) 822-1637, http://www.basrougeeaston.com/: The flagship of New York energy mogul Paul Prager’s BluePoint Hospitality Group, Bas Rouge isn’t the kind of restaurant you expect to find in Easton, a sleepy little burg on Maryland’s Eastern Shore… This is Old World dining at its most gracious. The décor is reminiscent of a grand 19th century Austrian bistro. Executive Chef Harley Peet and Chef de Cuisine Phil Lind present a stylish & innovative take on Viennese & European classic dishes… and their presentations are nothing short of extraordinary. Currently entrées run the gamut from Wild Turbot to Pappardelle with braised duck ragu to Chicken Ballotine to Veal Roulade with parsnip purée, shaved Brussels sprouts, and truffle jus.

The night of our visit, it was Dover Sole (pictured) that was presented rolled, gently sautéed with herbed emulsified melted butter, crowned with pickled vegetables & toasted hazelnuts, and surrounded by potato and green asparagus purées – and it was simply spectacular. Desserts, courtesy of pastry chef Jim Hutchinson, continue the kitchen’s excellent work. Dining here is not an inexpensive proposition. But, trust me, it is an incredibly satisfying experience – and then some. Worth a journey.

Baxter's - SundaeBAXTER’S AMERICAN GRILLE (May), 14 Paoli Shopping Center, Paoli, Pennsylvania, (610) 296-2699, http://www.baxtersinpaoli.com/: Tucked away in the Paoli Shopping Center, Baxter’s is a neighborhood happy-tappy cum sports bar serving up an eclectic mix of comfort fare, pub grub, classic sandwiches, and a limited number of entrées. One glance will tell you that this place isn’t exactly the Ritz… but neither is it pretending to be. On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for a burger, brew, or just some laid back comfort fare, it’s definitely a place to consider. After all, man doesn’t live by fie gras alone. Like restaurants of similar ilk, the dishes Baxter’s does best are those that require the least amount of creative fuss. “Classic Sandwiches” are usually a good bet. The Traditional Turkey Club is quite good… ditto the Classic Bacon Cheeseburger. The Fish & Chips and Home-Style Meatloaf, on the other hand, proved to be disappointments. Of the dessert choices, which round up the usual suspects, the Brownie Sundae (pictured) is clearly the way to go. Very old-fashioned… but also very good, very rich, and very suitable for sharing.

Blue Elephant - InteriorBLUE ELEPHANT (October), 152 East High Street, Pottstown, Pennsylvania, (484) 949-9084, https://www.blueelephantbar.com: Ensconced in the stately bank building at the corner of High and Hanover Streets, the Blue Elephant is the newest entry in the Wine Signature stable, a restaurant group owned by Win and Sutida Somboonsong. The creation of the Pottstown restaurant, however, was completely overseen by the couple’s daughter, a graduate of Cornell University’s hospitality program. The restaurant’s interior is striking – high ceiling accentuated with long draperies, gold mirrors, various forms of greenery, 30-foot-long quartz bar, series of comfortable velvet & leather booths, and flowing marble fountain – the cuisine less so.

Appetizers such as Rock Shrimp in crispy tempura batter, Dumplings, and Zucchini Fritters seasoned with Japanese spices are a high point. Entrées, on the other hand, are generally disappointing. Even traditional Thai favorites such as Drunken Noodles and Crab Fried Rice fail to deliver the goods.

Indeblue - Spinach ChaatINDEBLUE (August), 205 South 13th Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, (215) 545-4633, http://www.indebluerestaurant.com: Indeblue made its debut in Midtown Village in 2013 – and has been wowing palates ever since. Not only is it Philadelphia’s top-rated Indian restaurant, it is also one of the top-10-rated Indian restaurants in the United States. What chef/owner Rakesh Ramola does best is artfully mix and match traditional flavors with dishes that push the Indian envelope… And push the envelope he does. Consider his extraordinary Spinach Chaat (pictured) as Exhibit A. Crispy fried spinach is teamed with shallots & chopped tomatoes and finished with an irresistible combo of sweet yogurt and tamarind chutney. The result is an app that is so incredibly delicious and texturally appealing that it is simply off the charts. Entrées include such intriguing possibilities as Seafood Coconut Rasam, a South Indian soup with an addictive spicy-sweet-sour stock utilizing coconut & mint; Catani, chunks of boneless chicken breast swimming in a lusciously creamy sauce of basil, tomato, and garlic; and Baigan Rasedar, an appetizing casserole of eggplant, potatoes, tomatoes, and Rai, a Hindu spice made with black mustard seeds. Desserts, such as Pumpkin Ice Cream with Crumble, Coconut Gulab Jamun, and Caramelized Mango Kheer are not to be missed… ditto the array of innovative cocktails. So be sure to try the Indebluetini, composed of citrus, vodka, mango, cardamom, and lemon or the Maharani, offering vodka, rosewater Cointreau, lemon, and orange peel.

 Bon Appétit!

Be Safe & Stay Well

TAD

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