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Food

The Restaurant Rating Scale:

Wallet Closed – we wouldn’t go back.  Not very good and certainly not for the money.

Wallet Half Open – some good and bad – we’d give it another shot.

Wallet Open – definitely go back – depending on price either often or occasionally.

Credit Card Out – this place is great – we’d be regulars.

****************************************************************************************

Trip to Northern Italy – June/July 2014

Albergo Ristorante Verbano

We had visited the three Borromean Islands off of Stresa on a rainy day, dodging downpours and not seeing much of one island especially, that being Isola dei Pescatori, or the Fisherman’s Island.  This island is small and really just a collection of shops and restaurants.  As a way to experience more of it we decided, on Cheri’s recommendation, to hire a boat out to the

The View!

island for a romantic dinner.  Several of the restaurants remain open late into the evening, however all the shops are closed.  This means that we have to return one day and visit Isola dei Pescatori on a sunny day.  Somehow this does not seem like a problem.

Dinner is the subject at hand however, and we arrived at the island unsure of which restaurant we would choose.  Starting at one end of the island proved to be fateful, as we never left the first restaurant we laid eyes on.  When you consider the views it’s not hard to see why.  The terrace was breathtaking, on a night where the weather was perfect and the lake lay like a jewel in the fading sunlight.  We would spend the next two to three hours here.

Simple and elegant

Albergo Ristorante Verbano hangs onto the south end of Isola dei Pescatori, with an outdoor terrace offering extensive lake views and an unbeatable close up view of the palace on Isola Bella.  Tables are well spaced, with white tablecloths and elegant place settings.  We settled in to a nice table,  with the lake in front of us, and perused the menu.  There were many choices, and I could have tried all of them.  The wine list is extensive and, understandably, very Italian oriented.  We picked a nice bottle of Nebbiolo from Roero, a 2011 Bric Valdiana.  While the waiter suggested white with our fish he graciously did not seem offended when we ordered red.  Prior to dinner a glass of brute sparkling wine was served, along with an amuse bouche, both of which were excellent.

The hotel (yes you can also stay here) and restaurant was started in 1896, and it has stood the test of

There was wine of course

time.  The food was outstanding.  Cheri started with a tomato tartare, which was lightly dressed, very fresh and came with fresh mozzarella, sweet potatoes and olives.  Cheri declared that it was perfect.  I started with a mixed plate, the Antipasti de Pescatori.  This had five different small servings, including salmon tartar with dill mayo, whitefish over a pickled slaw, pickled trout, a trout terrine and a tiny river crustacean that looked like a miniature lobster.  Everything was delicious, but especially the trout terrine which had perfect texture.  The salmon tartare was also delightful, very fresh and the play of the dill mayo brightened it up nicely.

The tomato tartare

Main courses were a whitefish fillet from Lake Maggiore with potatoes for Cheri, and the branzini (or sea bass) over polenta and shrimp for me.  Both dishes were perfectly cooked and well seasoned.  We have no faults to find with any part of this meal.

Coffe and chocolate gelato provided a simple and elegant finish to a

The Branzini

wonderful dining experience.  This was one of our favorite dinners anywhere, anytime.  It is a beautiful place, a great restaurant and an unbelievable setting.

Also beautiful inside

Obviously the weather will not always be perfect, and for those days there is a beautiful indoor seating area.  We’re glad we had the opportunity to experience the terrace on a beautiful night though.

While we are sure there are other excellent restaurants on Isola dei Pescatori, you cannot go wrong if you choose to eat at Verbano.  It will remain as one of our favorite memories.

Here are the particulars:IMG_0425

Albergo Ristorante Verbano
Via Ugo Ara 2. –  Isola dei Pescatori. –  28838 Stresa

Telephone – +39 0323 30408 Website – www.hotelverbano.it

A votre sante!

Restaurants at the Biltmore Estate in Asheville, NC – April 2014 Trip

Lotus Bar and Eatery in Gastonia

It was a relatively late flight to Charlotte on the recent trip to the Biltmore Estate, so we stopped in Gastonia for a late dinner.  The restaurant was Lotus Bar and Eatery, kind of an Asian fusion place in a plaza.  The menu looked good online, and it was close to our first hotel.  Turned out to be a good choice as we liked it.

The decor is pretty cool, although it was night and somewhat dark inside.  It’s bigger than it looks, with a large upstairs dining area they were not using as it wasn’t crowded on a Wednesday night.  As such we got a comfy booth and settled in.

The menu is good, and quite varied.  I felt like something lite and opted for a California Roll and some white tuna Nigiri.  Cheri had a crab cake and a plate of sauteed spinach on the side.  I would say the sushi was top notch, very fresh, well prepared and nicely presented.  There is a sushi bar on the first floor that

The Sushi Bar

seats about 8 or so at quick glance.  Cheri thought her crab cake was excellent, and that the spinach was the best she had ever had.  I can’t offer an opinion as I can’t eat cooked spinach.  But, overall, the food was quite good.  It would be worth going back if we’re in the area to dive more deeply into the menu.

The wine list was really cool, offered lots of more eclectic choices, and offered 4 reds and 4 white wines by the glass and a bunch by the carafe.  You could get a carafe of Corvina, Nebbiolo, Aglianico or a Priorat.  On the bottle side there were multiple Albarinos, Gruner Veltliners, Vouvrays and Verdejos.  They also had four Tannat bottles, but these were all South American and there was no

Interior Lighting - very cool!

elusive Madiran wine.  More traditional choices were also available, and you could get a 2008 Caymus Special Selection Cab ($225) or a Paul Hobbs “Beckstoffer Dr. Crane” ($300).  It was really a pretty interesting wine list, and makes Lotus a great stop for the more adventurous wine lover.

Cheri had a glass of the Pascual Toso 2012 Cabernet.  This Argentinian Cab was young and very fruit forward.  It had some good depth and was very pleasing.  I

Wine and Beer store across the street

opted for a local craft beer instead, and enjoyed my Appalachian Extra Special Pale Ale from Bryson City.  There must have been 100 beers on their list.  It is a very beer and wine centric establishment.  Right across the street is a pretty cool little wine shop as well, called Grape and Barley.

Our wallet is out and we’d love another shot at Lotus Bar and Eatery.  I imagine it gets a lot more crowded on weekends.

A votre sante!

The Bistro at Biltmore Estate

We had lunch at The Bistro, just across from the entrance to the Biltmore Winery during our recent trip.  It’s one of the three restaurants we sampled on our brief stay.  It may be our favorite.  The decor is comfortable yet elegant.  The menu for both lunch and dinner is very good, although we only had lunch.  Service was excellent, as we let them know we had an appointment at the winery and they kept things moving crisply, on our schedule, but not too fast.

I ordered a lunch special, a very simple grilled chicken club with a mayonnaise based sauce.  It was very fresh and tasty.  Cheri ordered the Pecan Chicken Salad, which she claimed was IMG_0030also excellent.  It was lightly dressed, and that is something both excellent and rare these days.  You can always order dressing for a tossed salad on the side, but something like chicken salad is made with the dressing and you get what you get.

IMG_0032All the wines available here were Biltmore wines, and you might be worried about that.  If you are read our review of the winery and wines, and that will put your mind at ease.  You can see that here.

Lunch entrees run between $12 and $25.  At dinner it ratchets up to $20 to $45, but the choices looked very good and judging by the lunch we had we suspect high quality.  Our total bill came to $62 before tip, and that included two Bombay Sapphire and tonics.IMG_0037

Our wallet is definitely open if we happen to be near Antler Village on the Biltmore Estate again.  Next time we’re planning on trying dinner here.  If you are as well I suggest reservations.  The Inn shuttle will take you right to the door.

A votre sante!

The Dining Room at the Inn on Biltmore Estate

On our night at the Biltmore Estate Cheri and I decided to have dinner in the Dining Room, the restaurant on the lower level of the inn.  It looked very nice, and the menu was pretty attractive as well.  They suggest gentlemen wear jackets to dinner, so we expected a more formal approach to the meal,

The staircase from the lobby

The tasting menu

which we got.  We’d have to say the atmosphere was very good.  If you get there early enough you might get one of the window tables with breathtaking views of the mountains.  We did not, unfortunately, but made do with a nice table in front of the large fireplace.

Initial service was excellent.  The wine was a bottle of the Biltmore’s own 2012

2012 Dry Creek Cabernet

Dry Creek Valley Cabernet.  I ordered the 2010 that was on the menu, but they arrived with the 2012.  Worried about it being too young we asked that it be decanted, which was done quickly, and while the wine was somewhat closed down at first it quickly opened and was quite excellent.  For our meals I ordered the 5 course tasting menu, and Cheri ordered lobster bisque, filet mignon and the famous Biltmore chocolate ice cream for dessert.  A key here would be how they coordinated my five courses with her three.  It went fairly well until the latter part of the meal, but more on that later.

There was an amuse bouche to start, a strawberry gazpacho that was spicy and herbaceous along with

Lobster Ravioli

the fruit and very good.  There was also some champagne in the mixture.  Cheri liked her lobster bisque, and it was very creamy and savory, as well as nicely presented.  Later she had some issues and did not like it quite so much.  My initial course was breaded, deep fried lobster ravioli with tomatillo green salad.  This was very tasty, and the crunchy tomatillos were bright and really

The cheese course

sharpened the dish.  Next I had a sampling of local goat cheese, with pickled rasberry, orange and cardamom sauce.  This was just delicious, and all the flavors worked together harmoniously.  So far I was impressed, as my first two dishes were very complex, but at the same time balanced and tasty.  Someone knew what they were doing.

My third course consisted of trout with smoked mussels, fried leeks and some mixed vegetables.  The smoky flavors were not too much, and both the fish and shellfish were tasty as well as well cooked.  The sauce lit up the overall

Trout and mussels

dish.  At the end of it I had 7 or 8 ingredients together on my fork and it worked.

Unfortunately Cheri had been watching me eat for some time now, as well as having a sample or two.  This changed as they arrived with some strawberry and orange sorbet, and they brought some for her as well, which was a nice touch.  She also got to actually eat the next course, as her filet arrived with my venison.  I need to stop and say here that a very, very long time went by between the third course and the sorbet, and then an even longer time went by until the filet and venison showed up.  At this point we were 2+ hours into the meal, many people

Venison

had left and it was not crowded in the least.  Service just ground to a snail’s pace.  Also, the original waiter (who was excellent) was not bringing the dishes, and the server who was obviously knew nothing about the food.  When asked what was on the plate I got nothing but blank stares.  Our waiter would then later come by and explain the dish.  These were problems, especially the slow pace at this point.

My venison was very good, with a blackberry sauce and some wilted greens.  It was not hot however.  Not cold, just not hot.  Cheri’s filet suffered the same fate.  Her’s also suffered from an extremely heavy smokiness that permeated

Cheri's filet

the dish and drowned everything else out.  Neither of us enjoyed it, as it was one of the worst filet mignon preparations we had ever experienced.  It also seemed a little dried out, as it had been sitting under heat lamps for quite a while.

Finally we arrived at dessert.  Mine was sour cherry sorbet over Maraschino cherries.  This was too much cherry, especially for someone who is not really crazy about cherry flavor to begin with.  Alongside that was a fine cannoli, but just a cannoli.  I left my dessert on the plate.  Cheri received a gigantic bowl of the very excellent and decadent chocolate ice cream, and she graciously shared.  This was some seriously good ice cream.

We left hours and hours after we arrived, with mixed feelings.  Much of the meal had been quite excellent.  Some was below par, and the horribly slow pace between the last few courses sort of ruined the evening.  We would probably try this again if we were staying for two nights, but I would not order the tasting menu again due to time considerations.  If we were staying for one night we would go to The Bistro in Antler Village, next to the winery.

Not great overall, but not bad.  Not cheap overall, but not super expensive.  You should probably try it yourself, but I’d give it 3 out of 5 for a rating.  My wallet’s not out, but I might consider trying it a second time.

A votre sante!

Cedric’s Tavern

Here’s the last of our restaurant reviews from last month’s trip to The Biltmore Estate, in Asheville, NC.  You can read about the winery at Biltmore here, and the overall trip  review here.  All of the restaurants are on the estate proper, so they are an integral part of the trip and a big factor in our overall impression of the place.  That overall impression was very good, and we look forward to going back at some point.

Cedric’s is named after the Vanderbilt’s St. Bernard, who was the patriarch of a small herd of St. Bernards that roamed the place.  It’s located in Antler Village, a small shopping area which also houses a small museum and adjoins the winery.  Think brew pub (and it is one) kind of vibe, as it is lively, with a lot of high top areas and televisions.  It’s kind of homey as well though, and we really liked the feel of the place.  This area can get crowded some days, and this seems to be the favorite stop for lunch.  We were looking at a twenty minute wait for a table, but fortunately there was a spot at the bar and we settled in there.

Overall the menu has a nice selection of brew pub fare, with Cedric’s beers, Biltmore wines and a full bar.

Part of the bar area

Cheri ordered a gin and tonic and I had a Cedric’s IPA, which was quite good, pretty typical and not too hoppy.  When we sat down they brought out a jar of home made, fresh dill pickles, and these were really tasty.  They were crisp and bright, and were gone in a second.  Maybe we were hungry.

Lunch was a Spring Vegetable Tart for Cheri and Fish and Chips for me.  Cheri’s tart was pronounced excellent, and it came with pickled carrots and lettuce salad on the side.  I’d have to say this was the first time I’d ever tried a pickled carrot.  The fish and chips was also quite good, with a large piece of lightly

The vegetable tart

battered cod that was cooked perfectly and was not greasy at all.  Clean plates ruled the day here.

This is a good choice for lunch or dinner if you are visiting Antler Village.  Really

Fish and Chips

your only other choice is the Bistro next to the winery, which is more elegant and more expensive, but also very good.  You can read that review here.  We’ll come back to Cedric’s if we visit the estate again.  Our wallet is out here.

A votre sante!

 

 

Restaurants from the Christmas 2013 Disney World Trip

Todd English’s bluezoo

This is the last, and somewhat overdue, review of the restaurants we visited during our recently past Christmas holiday.  Todd English’s bluezoo is located at the Dolphin Resort on the EPCOT lagoon.  This area is probably our favorite place to stay at Disney World, as you have direct access to two parks from this spot without getting in a car or on a bus.  That is a big plus.  The resorts in this area also sport some of the best restaurants to be had while visiting the mouse, and the Boardwalk area is also worth a little fun time as well.

We were a little uncertain where to eat our last night at the parks, and were contemplating just

The palm tree lane

going into EPCOT and getting some fast food (very unlike us).  Alex suggested bluezoo, and they happened to have an open reservation for 7:00, which we took.  While we waited for the reservation time, we strolled to our favorite bar in the area, at the Boardwalk Resort, and had a few drinks and a family poker game.  This was a great way to pass an hour or so, and while I lost big it didn’t matter.  We were also not playing for real money, so it really didn’t matter.

The area was beautifully decorated for Christmas, with the palm trees lining the lane between the Dolphin and Swan all lit up in color changing lights.  After a very pleasant stroll (the

weather was great) we found ourselves at bluezoo.  We did have to wait a few minutes, but were then seated at a nice table in the back of the restaurant.  The ambiance here is trying to create an under the sea feeling, and it works.  Lots of shimmer and blue colors add to the effect.  Predictably the menu is seafood heavy, but there is something for everyone here.  That included our sometimes vegetarian, who managed to do just fine.

The wine list is very good, with lots of reasonably priced selections as well as some big hitters. CIMG2337 There was a $1600 magnum of Opus One available, but we didn’t bite.  I had some prosecco as I was going straight seafood. Alex had a 15 year old Nikka Yiochi scotch, an interesting Japanese single malt (amber and slightly sweet, with a little smokiness).  Appetizers included a simple Margherita Pizza, done well with a nice homemade crust and tangy sauce, as well as a Bibb Salad.  The bread was ciabatta and focaccia, and both were warm and served with a fennel butter that really had nice, subtle anise flavors (and I generally don’t like anise).

The main courses were a grilled Mahi Mahi with a crab dijon topping, the two pound butter poached lobster, the vegetable cassoulet and then both Alex and I opted for the Spicy Rubbed Swordfish over Taso risotto.  No one complained.  Cheri’s Mahi Mahi was perfectly cooked and the dijon sauce was wonderful.  The lobster

Make up oysters

came shelled, with a sculpted lobster of veggies and rice underneath it.  Quite a beautiful plate there.  The swordfish was also perfectly cooked, and the tasso risotto was not overdone with a nice hammy quality that accented rather than overpowered.  My only complaint was that one of the four littlenecks that came with my swordfish was empty!  Not a huge deal but still something that shouldn’t happen.  To make up for it they brought out three complimentary blue point oysters, so I was perfectly happy.

CIMG2343 CIMG2341 CIMG2340

Dessert featured an array of truffles from the dessert chef, who apparently has won twice at the Pastry Olympics.  They ranged from amaretto, passion fruit, pistachio and rasberry to Grand Marnier and coffee, plus a few more.  We nibbled on these for a while and they were excellent and fun.  Add in some coffee and a glass of tawny port and the night ended well.

Service at bluezoo was, and generally is, excellent.  Tony, our head waiter, was informative and really knew the menu front and back.  This was a quality dining experience from start to finish and we will return again when we are in the area.

Truffles!

Highly recommended.  Our wallet is out when we are near bluezoo.

A votre sante!
Todd English's bluezoo on Urbanspoon

Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar

It was Christmas Day, the parks were really crowded and we felt the need for a little refreshment and relaxation.  Lunch at the Coral Reef had been good, but after three hours of crowds we felt the need to sit.  On a whim we strolled back to the Italy Pavillion and poked our heads into the Tutto Gusto Wine Cellar, which is a little wine bar attached to the Tutto Italia restaurant we had previously dined at.  You can read that review here.  Since we enjoyed the first experience, why not try again?  To be honest I expected the place to be jammed and to not get seated.

It turns out they had a table for five so in we went.  The atmosphere is very much wine cellar, with lower lighting and a large wine bar.  There’s a small alcove with comfy chairs and couches.  Refrigerated racks line

one wall.  I really liked it.

The wine list is good and, as you would expect, Italian.  All the major wine regions of Italy are represented.  There aren’t 20 choices of every varietal, but there is at least one or two of everything.  You can get an Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino, a Pio Cesare Barolo, a Gaja Remnina Brunello or, if you’re so inclined, a $431 bottle of  Sassicaia.  You can order a white from Friuli of maybe something from Veneto.  There should be something for everyone here.

We suggest you consider the wine flights and try something new.  They have a six wine flight

that really crosses a lot of ground, or many three wine choices.  We opted for two different flights, the “Powerhouse Reds” and “From the Hills of Piemonte”.  One of the wines, the 2009 Mirafiore Nebbiolo happened to be in both, so it was fortunate that it was an excellent wine and we didn’t mind trying it twice.  Here are the tasting notes:

2010 Mirafiore Langhe Nebbiolo – this is a classic Nebbiolo, with elegant flavors, medium body and nice length.  It’s less complex than most Barolo’s or Barbaresco’s, but since it it from the larger Langhe DOC it is going to carry a significantly lower price tag than the DOCG wines.  It’s really quite good.

2010 Lucento Luce Super Tuscan – this has medium body and is a deep red color.  The Cabernet dominates the blend and the wine is long and quite tannic.  It’s not my favorite but it’s not bad.

2011 Primaterra Primitivo – rustic as you would expect, but carrying some good fruit with cherry noticeable.  There was some anise as well.  This has a medium body and is also a deep red in color.  There’s a little phenolic quality in the background leaning toward some type of cleaner, which was not great, but it is really in the background.  I just noticed it at the very end.  I would decant this and give it a chance to blow off the phenolic hopefully.

2010 Batasiolo Gavi Cortese – this is a very delicate white wine, with light body and some light citrus flavors.  It was good but a little too light for my tastes.

2009 Batasiolo Barbera D’Alba – this had nice bright fruit with cherry coming though clearly.  It’s medium bodied and very long.  The flavors are rich and persistent.  We really liked this one.  I would definitely buy it.

One interesting thing about Tutto Gusto is that they have beer as well, and Alex tried one of their beer flights, one of

which was actually brewed with wine grapes.  This turned out to be delicious, with a champagne quality and a slight sweetness.  All in all this was very interesting, and inc

luded an ancient Etruscan ale and a chestnut ale.

There is a food menu available and we ordered the Calamari, which was excellent.  Then we added a Tiramisu, and that was also excellent.  There are lots of other choices as well, including antipasti plates, full entrees and paninis.  You could certainly eat lunch or dinner here as well.

This is a great place to spend an hour or two and to try some new Italian wines or beers.  We would definitely return again, so our credit card is out and ready for action.

 

The Coral Reef

Here’s another restaurant review from our recent family trip to Central Florida, this time the Coral Reef located at Walt Disney World’s EPCOT Center.  While not directly connected, the restaurant is in the same building as the Living Seas exhibit,  and you need to walk around the right side of the building as you approach to get to the Coral Reef.  This is the only sit down, full

The entrance hall

service restaurant in Future World, and it’s a good one.

Since it’s in the same building as a gigantic salt water aquarium, they manage to make use of that splendidly with large glass viewing ports at the front of the restaurant, with all the tables in terraced rows that provide sort of a stadium effect.  Many of the tables are clam shaped banquettes which provide everyone with a more or less front view of the marine life.  Colors are soft, with lots of blue and silver, and the whole effect is a soothing, calm feel which is great when you come out of the hectic park outside.  You can relax here.

The menu is centered around seafood, as you would expect.  There are other options as well, and everyone in a party should be able to find something.  We ordered Grilled Mahi Mahi with Jasmine rice, lobster bisque, crab cakes, a lobster oriechetta dish, a chicken cesar salad and a vegetarian chicken with veggies and black rice.  The chicken cesar was a good chicken cesar and not much more to say there.  The other dishes were all quite excellent.  Even the vegetarian chicken was pronounced delicious (which was a soy based protein that tasted like chicken!).

I had the Mahi Mahi and it was really outstanding.  It was perfectly grilled with a subtle lemon sauce.  The rice and veggies were tasty and served in a nicely sized portion, which let me clean

my plate while not feeling full.  Everyone else did the same.  There were no complaints here, as service was also well executed and our waitress was friendly and efficient.

The wine menu is pretty decent with some reasonably priced options.  They also have a full

bar and a selection of specialty drinks.  Alex ordered the Blue Glowtini.  As you can see it is aptly named, and excellent according to his report.

If you’re looking for a place to get out of the parks and have a quiet lunch without actually getting out of the park then the Coral Reef is a good choice.  Combine good food and service with excellent ambience and you have a winner.  The prices are reasonable here, but it’s not counter service so you’d expect to pay between $20 – $30 a person with a drink.

We’ve been several times now and have not had a bad meal.  I know it gets mixed reviews from some but for us it has always meant enjoyable food and a relaxing hour.  It’s on our go to list at the Mouse House and our wallet will be open next time.  Recommended.

Tutto Italia

We recently got the family together at Disney World over the Christmas holiday and stopped in at Tutto Italia  for dinner our first night.  The restaurant is located within the Italy pavilion at World Showcase in EPCOT Center, and replaced the previous sit down restaurant a few years ago.  Tutto Italia has a charming and soothing atmosphere when you walk in, with tables nicely spaced and positioned to provide a sense of

The main dining area

privacy during your meal.  The menu has classic Italian dishes and may be the first one I have ever read where I can say I would order absolutely everything printed on it.  Another noticeable element of the restaurant was the abundance of wait staff, and that presented itself throughout our meal.

We settled in and ordered a bottle of the 2010 Banfi Chianti Classico Riserva, which had nice tart cherry flavors and good body.  The wine is young and the tannins  are noticeable but not severe.  It complimented our appetizers well.  This was pretty classic Sangiovese.  Those appetizers included a cold salad of squid, octopus, shrimp, potatoes, red onion, capers and garlic, a wedge Cesar salad and fried calamari.  I had the cold seafood salad, or the Insalata di Mare, and it was excellent.  The others enjoyed their appetizers as well, and I can personally attest to the calamari being quite good.  We were off to a good start.

For entrees we ordered a second bottle of wine, this time a 2010 Tre Brancaia Super Tuscan which brought a wild

Wine 2 – the Super Tuscan

berry nose and palate with the Cabernet in the blend taking center stage.  It is young and long, with an approachable tannic structure that promises a long life ahead.  This held up well to the dishes which were the Bistecca, the polenta with meatballs and short ribs, the shrimp risotto and sole with white asparagus.  All the dishes were enjoyed.  I do have to say that the steak was originally brought rare after being ordered medium, but they immediately fired another one and it was perfectly cooked.

Dessert included chocolate gelato, double espressos and limoncello, all decadent and delicious.

I should make mention of the excellent focaccia bread and fresh green olives that started the meal.  The olives were huge and Cheri called them sexy.  She didn’t seem to be able to stop eating them.

The Insalata di Mare – half gone as this was huge!

 

Overall this was an excellent meal and a wonderful way to start our trip.  Tutto Italia is a relaxing environment with excellent service and quality food.  We spent the better part of two hours there and never felt rushed, unheard of at a Disney park restaurant.  Our credit card is out and ready for use there should we return to EPCOT Center in the future.  We heartily recommend it.

As a spoiler they have a sister wine bar attached to the building and it too is excellent.  We’ll review that separately.

 

Narcoossee’s at the Grand Floridian

Here’s another restaurant review from our recent Disney excursion.  This one is for Narcoossee’s, located at the beautiful Grand Floridian Resort on the grounds of Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida.  Narcoossee’s has long been one of our favorite restaurants on the property, however this trip sadly changed that opinion.  We have always loved the atmosphere here, with great service and excellent food to go with it.  Since the restaurant sits on the Seven Seas Lagoon with a bird’s eye view of the castle in the Magic Kingdom, it is also a great place to eat during the nightly

The Grand Floridian at night

fireworks show.  The restaurant pipes in the music from the show and also will stop service if you prefer so you can go outside with your drinks and watch from the deck.  It’s fun, and they have it orchestrated to a tee.  This time we had appetizers and then went out for the show.  When we sat back down our entrees were on the table within five minutes.  The service really was excellent.

The food was not though, and it was not just one person who thought so.  I ordered the ribeye steak, and I’ve had

You might see fireworks!

many ribeyes, some good and some not as good.  This one was bad, and I probably should have sent it back.  While you expect an certain amount of fat in a ribeye, this steak was 50% gristle.  I literally left half of it on the plate because it was inedible.  Three people ordered filet mignon, with one getting it with a lobster tail.  No one thought the filet to be anything better than OK.  The lobster tail was not really top notch either, being a little tough.  I also found my steak and the accompanying veggies to be overly salted, and not just by a little bit.  They were seriously over salted, and it dominated all the other potential flavors.  The filets suffered from the same fate.  At least the steaks were cooked properly.  Overall presentation could have been better on the plates as well.  The steak dishes looked kind of clunky and the tuna dish was all over the place.  Here’s some pictures:

Mediocre Surf and Turf

 

The bad ribeye

The wine list here is pretty good, and there is a decent selection by the glass.  We stuck to a couple of reds by the glass which were decent but nothing to

write about.  We also skipped dessert.  There was a general sense of let down after the meal as we had been looking forward to it and it just didn’t live up to expectations based on previous experience.  Unfortunately, should we return to Disney World in the near future, we will not be dining at Narcoossee’s again.  Maybe we just caught them on a bad night.

I’d rate the overall experience good as we saw the Magic Kingdom fireworks and had an excellent waiter, but you’re here for the food.  Narcoossee’s is not inexpensive either, so you really do expect better.  Our wallet is closed.

****************************************************************

L’Osteria in Cranston, RI

1703 Cranston St, Cranston, RI 02920

(401) 943-3140

We’ve mentioned L’Osteria before in our ramblings, and were just there again this past Saturday night.  It is a small, cozy Italian restaurant surrounded by others in the Knightsville section of Cranston.  L’Osteria is our favorite of the bunch.  We’ve been there thirty times or more, and have no plans to stop any time soon.  Why?  Let me count the ways.  First there is atmosphere, and we love the cozy, quiet feel on weekdays as well as the more boisterous bistro feel on Friday 0605131800dand Saturday nights.  Second there is service, and the waitstaff is attentive and very experienced.  They might make a mistake on a busy night but they’ll recognize it and fix it, and that’s all you can ask for.  Third is the food, which is flat out delicious and incredibly consistent, and I’m talking over ten years of being consistent.   Lastly I’ll mention the value, because I think it is very fairly priced, and they almost always have restaurant.com certificates available to even make it more of a value.  It would rank as one of our favorite restaurants, right up there with Gracie’s and Mill’s Tavern in Providence.  They are very different.  If I had to pick one special dinner it would be at Gracie’s.  But we go to L’Osteria far, far more often.

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You might meet Mario, the owner, on any given night as he stops by to say hello.  Jack, Janice and Terry have been serving food and drink for a while and all know their craft well.  I don’t know the chef’s name, but whoever it is they are excellent.  The menu is extensive with many classics and some twists.

Setup for a large party.

You won’t find the ubiquitous veal or chicken parmesan, but you will find veal or chicken a multitude of ways.  Cheri’s favorite is the Chicken Puttanesca.  My favorite veal is the Saltimbocca, with a little prosciutto and mozzorella and a divine sauce.  They’ll generally give you a veggie and mashed potatoes as sides, but you can order double veggies (which we do) or a pasta side as well.  There are times I just make something up and they’ll sort of do it, but with the numerous specials and regular items it is unlikely that will be necessary.  Another favorite of mine is the Seafood Tagliatelle, but I have them put it over linguini instead.  If they have the lamb chop special always get that as it is an amazingly thick chop and well prepared.  Any time they have a steak special you can’t go wrong.

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There’s a small bar but it is well stocked and Terry makes a pretty mean Cosmopolitan.  The wine list is not extensive, but it has a fairly good variety and there are a lot of reasonably priced choices in the $28- $45 range.  The Wente Cabernet Sauvignon was a good choice this past weekend.  At the high end of that range we prefer the Cesari Mara Valpolicella Ripasso, which is an excellent wine and very consistent vintage to vintage.  You can spring for almost $100 to get a Col D’orcia Brunello, but that is as big as it gets.  It’s not about spending a lot here, it’s about having a great meal.

The desserts are excellent as well, with the Tiramisu one of our favorites.  Our son loves the Torta Della Nona, which has a delicate lemon flavor and is a great way to finish a savory meal.  They’ll whip up a cappuccino or expresso, or regular coffee, to finish off the night.

You’ll need reservations on a Friday or Saturday night, as the restaurant is very small.  This past Saturday it was fairly quiet until about 7:00, but they were booked out, turning people away, and the crowd rolled in at 7 and filled the place.  If you go Tuesday thru Thursday you can usually walk in.  They are not open on Sunday or Monday.

After so many visits I can honestly say I’ve never had a bad meal at L’Osteria.  We’ve had a dirty glass here or there, and had to wait on busy nights, but that is something you’re going to run into everywhere once in a while.  Here you’re always going to run into excellent food in a cozy atmosphere and friendly, knowledgeable staff.   We’d rather go here than any place on Federal Hill in Providence.

Our credit card is out and is used frequently at L’Osteria.  This is our regular haunt.

A votre sante!

 

The Oak Room at the Copper Beech Inn in Ivoryton, CT

The Copper Beech Inn  |  46 Main Street, Ivoryton, CT 06442  |  Local: (860) 767-0330  |  Toll-free: (888) 809-2056 |

Website: http://www.copperbeechinn.com/index.html

We were on our way back from the Greenwich Wine and Food Festival and needed some dinner, so we took a short detour off of Route 95 to Ivoryton and stopped at the Copper Beech Inn.  This has been one of our favorite destinations in this neck of the woods for some time, and we have both stayed at the inn and dined in the restaurant several times.  In the past the food has always been good.  That was when they had both the formal dining room as well as Brasserie Pip.

The bar area

Now they have opened up a bit more space in what used to be the brasserie and have renamed the area as the “Oak Room”.  Basically the bar area is twice the size it used to be, which is good as it is a beautiful, copper topped bar.

Since we like bars we sat there.  Everyone was very friendly, and we settled in for a nice meal with a cocktail up front.  On the food side we decided to share several items to get a better feel for the Chef’s approach and decided on oysters on the half shell for me and lobster bisque for Cheri as starters, as well as some calamari.  As an entree the halibut sounded intriguing, so we added that.

The oysters were maybe the best I’ve ever had, but that means they sourced some nice fresh oysters as this is not a cooked item.  Still, two thumbs up on the oysters.  The bisque was good, but there was something about it that didn’t really register until later.  The calamari was very lightly battered and crisp.  It was also pretty much

Hallway high tops

devoid of flavor except for a high amount of salt.  The marinara was somewhat acidic and not pleasant.  We ate a bit but left most of this on the plate.  I went back to it a few times but it didn’t change, and was still salty and flavorless.  They get one point for perfectly frying it, but take away a bunch for everything else.  The marinara would return to greet us later that evening unfortunately.

Still there was the halibut, and that was perfectly cooked and swimming in a broth that tasted like a salt lick.  The salt overpowered everything else and we could not eat it.  So in the end we had a few oysters and some lobster bisque.  Afterwards we realized what had been off with the lobster bisque. Can you guess?  It was too salty!  We shared our displeasure with the waiter, and they took the halibut off the bill, but needless to say we left very hungry.  Later that night both of us had heartburn problems, something very rare for me.

This is not the same chef we have experienced previously.  Based on the meal we had, there is little chance we will return anytime soon.  It’s unfortunate, because we really did like the place, but this was not good.  It has a very nice atmosphere, and is a good place for a drink.  That’s about all we can say based on these dishes.  We might have just drawn the unlucky straw and hit a bad night or even a bad couple of plates.  You never know.

The inn does sport some beautiful rooms, complete with fireplaces and large soaking tubs.  It’s generally not cheap, but sometime you can catch a special deal.  If the restaurant has gone down hill then it loses a bit of its appeal to us, as we loved to hole up in the evening with a a good meal and after dinner drinks on premises.  Everything changes eventually.  Maybe it changes back.

So our wallet is closed for the foreseeable future.  If they have a great stay over special we might give it another try later next year.

 

Two Restaurants in Lenox, MA

ALTA

ALTA

34 Church St  Lenox, MA 01240

(413) 637-0003                      Website:  http://altawinebar.com/

The food at Alta was very tasty and represented creative dishes well presented.  One issue was heat however, with Cheri’s fish not quite as hot as she would have liked.  My dish featured seared scallops which were perfectly cooked, however they were placed on a cold artichoke pesto that seemed to suck the heat out of the scallops.  I think the play of hot and cold would have worked well,  had the scallops stayed hot.  unfortunately they were pulled to lukewarm.  Everything was delicious however, and simply putting the pesto on the side might fix this issue.  Maybe some kind of clever insulating layer, as simple as a piece of lettuce, could keep the temperature difference intact.  We shared our comments with the owner and he seemed to take the constructive advice to heart.  Keep in mind these are relatively minor issues.  We very much enjoyed our meal and will return to Alta if we visit Lenox again.  This is a restaurant on the edge of being truly excellent.  Tidying up a few loose ends should do it. We recommend Alta. Our wallet is open when we’re in the area.  You can visit their website here.

 

Bistro Zinc

Bistro Zinc

56 Church St  Lenox, MA 01240

413-637-8800                             Website: www.bistrozinc.com

Bistro Zinc is also on Church Street right down from Alta.  The atmosphere is clean and modern in both the main dining room as well as the bar.  We had stopped in at the bar the previous night for a cocktail and an appetizer.  Both we good, and thus we went back to see if dinner was at the same level.  Our reservations were early, at 6:00 due to a show that night, so we were quite alone in the dining room when we started our meal.  The room slowly filled up during dinner.

Service was excellent, and we really have nothing negative to say about any aspect of our dinner.  Cheri had the Beef Bourguignon, and I had the Steak Frites.   Both were well done, nice and hot, and served quickly.  While the dishes at Zinc tended to be a little less adventurous than the ones at Alta, the overall experience is very good and we recommend the restaurant if you are in the area.  Another Lenox restaurant where our wallet is open.  The bar is also a great place to stop in for a cocktail and an appetizer.  Try the duck spring rolls.  Their website is here.

 

Tastings Wine Bar and Bistro

201 Patriot Place • Foxboro, MA 02035 • 508.203.WINE(9463)

Website: http://tastingswinebarandbistro.com/home/

Recently Cheri and I were at Patriot Place, and we stopped in at Tastings.  This restaurant and wine bar is located right across from CBS Scene at the top of the giant stairs.  We’ve looked at the menu before, and were a bit apprehensive as it sounded very nouveau cuisine, which is not something we always like.  Still, we were armed with a Restaurant.com gift certificate, and how bad could it be?  Fortunately for us it was anything but, and we thoroughly enjoyed the restaurant, the wine and the surroundings.

CIMG1966When you walk through the entrance to Tastings you enter a warm atmosphere with lots of wood and a surprisingly larger footprint than you might think.  There is an ample bar area as well.  Throw in the patio that can be exposed to the outside in nice weather, or wrapped

Looking out from our table

in a heavy clear plastic walls with heaters in colder times, and there are a variety of places and settings within the single space.  We sat right on the edge of the inside space, looking out at the stadium through the open patio.  This was, needless to say, a very nice day and the patio was open and popular by the time we finished our meal.  Overall we really enjoyed our location though, as it was a bit more detached from the people going by while still enjoying the outside feel.  I don’t really think you can go wrong here.

An inside view

Now for the menus, as both the food and the wine menu offer a variety of choices.  Since this was a wine bar we thought we would sample a variety and both of us chose a wine flight.  I ordered the Big Boys flight and Cheri had the Spanish Armada.  While mine had the more unusual offerings Cheri’s was by far the better of the two, especially if you like bold reds.

For food we ordered and shared the Calamari, a Market Salad and the Steak Frittes.  There was some excellent foccacia bread as well as an amuse bouche.  The amuse bouche was a raw fig slice with summer squash,

Th amuse bouche

creme fraiche and chervil.  This was really good and extremely creative.  The Calamari was unlike any I have ever tried before.  It was breaded and quick fried before

The calamari (left) and salad (right)

being finished in a saute pan with pesto and pistachio, then served over a sauce that was essentially a very upscale egg salad.  It all worked wondrously and I loved it.

The Market Salad had a champagne vinigrette, greens, some small peach chunks and hot pepper slices.  I’m  not a huge fan of fruit in dishes, but Cheri really liked it.  Finally, the Steak Frittes was tasty and perfectly cooked, which is all you can ask for in steak frittes.

All in all this was an excellent meal.  We will definitely try Tastings again, and recommend it.  We’ll put some wine tasting notes up on the Tasting Notes page.  Here are a few spoilers:

2010 Volver Tempranillo (La Mancha, Spain) – 15% alcohol and a little hot for me, but Cheri loves these high alcohol big boys and this was no exception.  It was excellent with the steak.

2011 Zerran Garnacha (Catalonia, Spain) – the best of the night.  This is big and lush with deep, dark fruits and some pepper on the finish.  Long and full bodied, Cheri had requested I buy her some of this!

2010 Domaine Skouras “St. George Nemea” Agiorgitiko (say that 3 times fast!).  This is from Argos, Greece and is very unusual.  There is a candied fruit quality to it but it is not over the top.  It’s vibrant ruby red with medium body and a long, complex finish.  You haven’t likely had anything exactly like this before.

Our wallet is out and open, and we will go back.  I’m not sure we’re regulars yet though.

 

Milagro Cafe

142 Water St.Stonington, CT 06378          (860)-535-8178Website: http://www.milagrocafect.com/

Milagro

Milagro’s (from Urban Spoon)

Milagro Cafe serves modern Mexican food in a cozy and charming atmosphere.  The inside seating area is tiny, with maybe 6 tables and room at the bar for four or five.  In the warmer months they have an outdoor seating area as well as it seems quite popular.  Open for both lunch and dinner they serve some of the best Mexican food we’ve had in the New England area.  They also have a great selection of tequila.

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Inside seating

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Alex at the bar and tequilas!

We stopped in during our recent winery day for lunch.  When possible we always sit at the bar, and it was open.  Alex was with us and he and I both ordered the Crispy Shrimp Tacos (of which there were only 3 orders left).  These were crispy fried taco shells holding shrimp, lettuce, peppers, onions and assorted goodies with an excellent sauce.  They were quite tasty.  Cheri had chicken enchiladas and pronounced them excellent as well.  The tacos came with a carrot and red onion slaw that was really, really good.  They serve their entrees with rice and black beans (or refried if you prefer).  I’ve never had anything here I didn’t like a lot.  My only complaint was that I could have used one more of the shrimp tacos.  Alex felt the same.

For tequila, this time Alex ordered an El Tesoro de Don Felipe.  It was golden in color with a deep, complex flavor profile.  It was definitely a tequila, but smooth as well as strong.  We’ve had some of the more complex tequila’s that almost start to taste like scotch.  Not this one.  It was great and we’ve actually tried to find a bottle since then to no avail.  We have found some more expensive El Tesoro’s, but not this particular one.  We’ll keep an eye out.

Our wallet’s open and the credit card is out whenever we are in the area.  It’s hard to find good Mexican food around Rhode Island and Connecticut.

Montreal Restaurants from the Grand Prix Trip

Pacini

1262 rue Saint-Denis / Montreal, Quebec / H2X 3J6

Phone: 514-842-9139
Fax: 514-842-2569

Website: http://www.pacini.ca/qc/

Pacini’s is a chain and they have several restaurants in Montreal and the surrounding area.

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Pacini’s on Rue St Denis

They serve a very nice Italian dinner menu and are also open for a full service breakfast, which was really handy.  We found the food delicious and the prices very reasonable.  At dinner I had pasta with red sauce and a nice piece of halibut on top.  I have to say the red sauce is about the best I’ve ever had.  Alex had a big bowl of pasta as well and enjoyed it.  There were all the usual suspects with a few nice twists on the menu.  The wine menu was limited but adequate, and they offer different glass sizes in most restaurants in Montreal.  You could get a 3 oz or a 6 oz pour, as well as carafe’s and full bottles.  I found the 6 oz pour far superior to the 3 oz.

At breakfast Pacini’s serves traditional eggs (eggs benedict comes in several varieties), as well as other staples such as french toast.  Their prices are very reasonable and it was pretty crowded, but not overly so.  Waitstaff were all very friendly and bi-lingual.  That was one nice aspect of the city, everyone seems to speak french and english, certainly everyone in the service industry.

Our wallets open, and we would definitely go back for breakfast.  With the number of restaurants in Montreal it would be a shame not to try some new ones, but this is a good establishment with excellent food and reasonable pricing.

Komiko

Address: 1246 St Denis St, Montreal, QC H2X 3J6, Canada
Phone:+1 514-985-3000

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Also on Rue St. Denis is Komiko’s, a Japanese restaurant which is very popular and generally very crowded.  We showed up one night without a reservation and they were able to squeeze us in, but just barely.  If you go I suggest you call ahead.  What makes it so popular in our opinion is the format, it’s an all you can eat for one price establishment.  It’s all made fresh to order, not a buffet.  They’ll give you a menu and you circle what you want, and you can re-order as many times as you like.  One thing to keep in mind though, they charge you a dollar for every piece of food you leave on your plate, so don’t order the farm right out of the gate!  The idea is to start slow and then re-order as you like.  This is not a meal to rush through.  The portions might throw you off as well.  When you order one calamari ring that’s what you get, not a plate full as we would be accustomed to.  It’s very fun and the food was good, from the rolls to the nigiri sushi, sashimi and cooked items.  Garden salads and desserts are also on the menu.  If this seems a little too adventurous for you they also have a regular menu with dinner entrees and bento boxes.  We would definitely recommend it.

Our wallet is open if we’re in the mood for sushi, which was fresh and good and never ending.  Throw in a Kirin Ichiban and I’m pretty happy here.

 

 

DeWolf Tavern in Bristol RI – April 2013

The DeWolf Tavern Restaurant | 259 Thames Street | Bristol, RI 02809 | 401.254.2005

http://www.dewolftavern.com/

We met some friends at DeWolf Tavern in Bristol, RI for dinner last week, which also happened to be the start of Newport Restaurant Week.  I had been for lunch once, and Cheri had never been, so dinner was going to be a new experience.  The restaurant is right on the water, situated in an ancient building that has been wonderfully restored.  I really like the ambiance here.  Downstairs is more of a tavern/pub feel and upstairs more fine dining.  The menu is very good, as is the wine list, but it is not inexpensive.  Since it was restaurant week and we ordered from that menu this might be a little unfair, as the portions tend to be smaller during those events.  It was a prix fixe offering for $30 per person, which included an appetizer or salad, entree and dessert.  All four of us took this option.  Offerings we had included:

Appetizer – spicy grilled shrimp, salad and soup of the day (seafood chowder and tomato)

Entree – seafood stew, hanger steak

Dessert – assorted house made sorbets and ice creams.

Cheri and I each had a drink and I added a glass of red wine.  Our food was good (the broth on the seafood stew was to die for), but there were some misses in the overall presentation here.  They brought out some sad sliced baguette and some sadder oven baked corn bread sticks.  This seafood stew screamed for a big hunk of grilled bread to sop up the broth.  That would have made the meal, as there was too little actual seafood and I was forced to leave all that broth for the waitress to take away when she cleared.  Cheri’s steak was OK, but not great, and actually too rare considering she ordered it medium.  My appetizer was good but again too small, with four medium shrimp served.  Dessert was good, as we all got ice cream or sorbet.  Service was not great either.  Somewhat slow and a few times almost forgotten.  The drinks took a long time to arrive, and one time I saw the waitress coming to take our food order only to stop short when she realized she hadn’t brought the drinks yet.  This was followed with an excuse about there not being enough clean martini glasses.

So, to summarize, I love the ambiance upstairs – it has a great feel to it.  The food was tasty.  There wasn’t enough of it, the bread was pretty sad, and the service was somewhat lacking.  Considering we still left $120 on the table for two of us during restaurant week, I would not call this good value.  What  I would suggest is you go sometime OTHER than restaurant week and give it a fair evaluation.  We will.  It is worth going back to, just to see if it is down a notch during the event.

The wallet’s half open here, but it will be a while before it comes out completely.  There are too many other restaurants to try.  I left hungry.  Fortunately the company was good and we got to spend some time with friends.

 

Pizza Class at Geppetto’s on Federal Hill, Feb 21, 2012

Cheri and I went up to Federal Hill this past Thursday for a grilled pizza class at Geppetto’s in Providence.

Geppetto’s Grilled Pizzera
57 Depasquale Square
Providence, Rhode Island 02903
p: (401)270-3003 f: (401)228-8241        Website

We picked this up on a Groupon and it looked like fun.  It was.  It was also not exactly what we expected , but we had a great time, some good food and met some nice people.  Here’s how it went.

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  • Geppetto’s on the hill
  • The bar area inside Geppetto’s

We arrived a little early and had a nice glass of wine next door at Cafe Dolce Vita.  Getting there early is good because, if you are already not aware, Federal Hill is not an easy place to move around in and park during dinner time Thursday thru Sunday.  This day was no exception.  I dropped Cheri off right at Geppetto’s and got lucky with a good spot two blocks away.  When we finally got to Geppetto’s we were the first people there, and found out there were twenty in the class, which led to more wine.  It was about 7 PM when we started the class, which was 15 minutes later than the scheduled time.

You don’t go back in the kitchen during this class.  They set up twenty stations on tables out front with bowls, ingredients already measured out, and a pizza pan.  Everyone stands at a station and the pizza chef goes through the ingredients with you.  She was very informative, and actually gives you a lot of information about some little aspects that can make the difference between a successful dough and something less than that.  Then you mix your ingredients and knead your dough.  Stress relaxation is an unexpected side benefit, because you have to knead it pretty good.  Then you split it into four sections (three of which you will take home) and spread one onto your pan.  The goal is about an 8-10 inch circle with even thickness.  You can’t go too thick because this is going on the grill without a pan to support the bottom.

Not everyone actually makes a complete pizza, some people get to do parts of it.  The chef picked two doughs as the best and pulled those forward.  Mine happened to be one of them (I believe the word she used was “perfect”).  Whoever has their dough picked gets to choose who will top it, so I of course picked Cheri. She made a barbecue chicken pizza with the other dough getting a more traditional marinara and pepperoni treatment.  These are the only two pizzas that get grilled from the class, and everyone gets a taste prior to dinner.  The chef grills one on an electric grill in front of you and the second goes in the back for gas grill cooking.

Once the pizzas are done everyone moves to the bar area so they can set the tables for dinner, which only took a couple of minutes.  Dinner, I must say, was quite tasty.  It started with some excellent calamari, fried with banana peppers and very tender.  This was followed by penne in a pink vodka sauce that was also excellent.  Grilled pizzas  in two varieties came next; one was the barbecued chicken flavor we had made and the other was a tomato pesto.  Neither Cheri or I was crazy about the pesto pizza, but we’re not generally pesto people.  Dessert was excellent Tiramisu.  Coffee, tea and all other non-alcoholic beverages are included.

We were there for over two ours and it went by fast.  We recommend the experience, but you should realize you won’t be in the kitchen.  You will get to take home three dough balls, which we used the following day to make traditional pizza in the oven.  They worked great.  A recipe card for the dough is also yours to keep, and we will use ours again.

Our wallet’s open.  We’d go back to just try the menu and have a drink.  This would be fun in the warmer months as Depasquale Square starts to heat up.

 

Restaurants In and Around Winston-Salem North Carlina.  Dec 24-28, 2012

We took a quick trip to Winston-Salem NC over the Christmas break to visit family.  While the weather was pretty miserable, we did have a god time and managed to get out to a few area restaurants. There were some hits and some misses, as usual.  Here’s a selection.  If you’re in the area go to Bernardin’s, this was excellent and a great value in fine dining.

1.       Bernardin’s Restaurant at the Zevely House

901 West Fourth Street    Winston-Salem, NC 27101                                         338-725-6666          Website

UPDATE August 2013

We were in Winston Salem again in August 2013, and we have to say our experience was not nearly as good.  The service was still excellent, but the food was mediocre to not very good.  This was unanimously agreed upon around the table. Several of us left quite a bit on our plates.  I don;t think we’re going back the next time we’re in town.  What difference.  Supposedly the chef hasn’t changed.

Christmas 2012

The food highlight of our recent travel day was Christmas Eve dinner, which we celebrated at an excellent restaurant right next to downtown Winston Salem: Bernardin’s.  This is located in an old house, the Zevely House, and has kept it’s small rooms with their individual fireplaces, creating a series of small dining rooms. You can visit their website here.  When you walk in you are in the bar/lounge area, which has a couple of small couches in front of the fire and a smallish but well stocked bar.  We had a nice table for five in the front parlor.  Some drinks to settle in led to ordering dinner, and this is not easy as the choices are many and all sound wonderful.  That doesn’t even include the specials.

We ended up with caesar salads for two of us, and a goat cheese napoleon for Cheri.  All were good.  Dinners consisted of grouper, shrimp and scallop pasta, salmon and one of the specials – the kangaroo in Indian Tandoori sauce.  Everything was great, especially the kangaroo (in my opinion since I had that).  Dessert was homemade chocolate ice cream, which was also excellent and not overly chocolaty.  All in all this was a great meal.  When you consider the service was outstanding and the atmosphere impeccable we have found a regular place to dine when we are in Winston Salem.

The menu here is outstanding and there is something for everyone, and the specials offering was equally impressive.  I would like to try almost everything, so we’ll have to make this a regular stop anytime we are in Winston-Salem.  Elegant, relaxed dining with great food and impeccable service is something I can’t get too much of, and did we mention the prices are VERY reasonable?  The wine list is not overly long, but is well thought out and there are a couple of fairly heavy hitters on it if you are so inclined.  You can drop in excess of $100 on a bottle of Opus One, Far Niente, Cakebread and Caymus cabs – to rich for our blood but if you’re so inclined it’s there.  The Bordeaux offerings were very limited as the Cabernet and Cabernet Blends list is pretty centered on American wines.  There are some nice representative offerings from around the world in other categories.

One way to know a restaurant is excellent is to see how the guess the check game goes at the end.  Our son loves to do this, and we invariably take guesses as to what the total bill is.  At Bernardin’s all five of us guessed too high, some by a lot.  Clearly this restaurant presents great value.  We highly recommend it.  The credit card is out and we’ll be dining here on every trip.

2. The Bistro at Childress Vineyards

1000 Childress Vineyards Rd        Lexington, NC 27295

336-236-9463             Website

After an uneventful flight and rental car pick up we stopped on the way from Charlotte at Childress Vineyards in Lexington, right off Exit 89 from Route 52.  This is a very beautiful property, the only drawback being the proximity to the highway.  It is also a relatively newer property, being built as a winery and restaurant from the ground up.  The restaurant, The Bistro, serves good food in a nice setting, with all glass walls looking out over the vineyards.  In the summer they have music and plenty of space to picnic.  All the wines are from estate grapes.  You can take a tour and then a tasting in their beautiful tasting room and store.  It really is a spectacular building and grounds.  The vineyards themselves are equally pristine.

We stopped for lunch first and Cheri had a crab cake and salad.  She pronounced both excellent.  Alex and I split some Calamari and then we both had Richard’s Roast Beef sandwich, with Fontina, Caramelized Onions, Hot Pepper Jam, and Au Jus dipping sauce on Ciabatta Bread.  This was also excellent.  We’ve eaten here twice now and both times it has been good.  No wine was consumed at lunch however as we had to do a tasting right afterward.  Obviously all the wine offerings are Childress wines.

Overall we like this restaurant for lunch if we are passing by or are at the winery.  We would not make a trip specifically to eat at the Bistro, but if you’re planning to go visit the property I would plan the trip around lunch and eat here.  Prices are reasonable and the servers are very friendly.  The menu us not extensive but has plenty of options.  Our wallet is open for this one, but only when we’re in vicinity.

3. 6th and Vine Wine Bar

209 West 6th Street         Winston-Salem, NC 27101                                                             (336) 725-5577                 Website

Serving an excellent selection of wines, 6th and Vine has all the vibes of a great wine bar.  There is a long bar, tables up front , in back and in several cozy alcove type settings as well as a small wine shop.  We started with a couple of different wines, the 2010 Concha y Toro Gran Reserva Malbec and the 2010 Santa Christo Garnacha.  These were two of the 24 reds available by the glass (there were also 21 whites).  Both were good and very different, with the Concha y Toro full bodied and sporting deep fruit flavors and the garnacha medium bodied with cherry flavors.  We would probably buy both of these.  We followed that up with a 3 wine tasting, selecting 2011 Santa Luz Pinot Noir (very complex for an inexpensive pinot and delicious), the 2011 Line 39 Petite Syrah (somewhat closed but good fruit and will get better – somehow we always like Petite Syrah and need to drink more of it) and the 2010 Vinaceous “Red Right Hand” Blend (also closed down, but almost completely with some acid and length, but nothing here appealed to us).  We finished with a glass of the Ramon Bilbao Crianza 2009.  We almost always like Rioja and this was no exception , with pretty classic Rioja flavors even though it was 100% Tempranillo – somewhat unusual.  I would drink this all day long – overall it is a very nice wine.

So the wine went well, as we tried six different wines during our two hours there, and the bartenders were great.  Unfortunately we needed some food too and this did not go well.  We started with a crab cake for Cheri while I tried the tuna special (seared ahi with a hoisin  sauce).  Cheri pronounced the crab cake poor, with more breading than crab and a sub-par sauce.  My tuna was downright terrible.  There was a streak of sinewy like stuff running through the middle of it.  When you order a piece of tuna you should be able to cut it with a fork never mind a knife.  I couldn’t cut it with either.  The hoisin sauce tasted like it was right out of a bottle.  We gave them a second chance with a custom flatbread order, a simple Margherita Pizza.  This was passable, but chunky with a tasteless crust.

While we enjoyed the wine and the ambiance, we would absolutely not eat here again.  It’s too bad, it really has a lot going for it.  It was also somewhat busy for a Thursday night, so maybe we just got an unlucky streak.  If you are in the neighborhood and try it hopefully you’ll have better luck.  Our wallet is closed.  They had a great vibe, good wine selections and an excellent menu, but just didn’t deliver quality food on any of the three items we tried.  We would go for a drink.  If I get hungry I’ll probably stick to a salad or a burger.

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Restaurants In and Around Kennebunkport, ME.  Nov 9-12, 2012

For our inaugural entry on the Food page we’ll be reviewing the restaurants we hit on our recent trip to Kennebunkport, Maine over the weekend.  This had lots of positives and a couple of minuses, but overall it was pretty good.  We got an unexpected jump start on the weekend when the inn offered a free third night, so we loaded up the truck and we rolled on up to Maine Friday night.

You can read the blog overview here, and the more detailed travel piece here.

Since we’re about to enter our first restaurant reviews, it’s appropriate to go over what our rating system will be.  As is the case with our wine ratings, to us it really boils down to value and whether it was worth the price and we would go again.  So here is the rating scale.  Also as in wine we might love a very expensive restaurant, feel it’s worth the money, but still only go occasionally due to budget constraints.  We’d still go back though.

The Restaurant Rating Scale:

Wallet Closed – we wouldn’t go back.  Not very good and certainly not for the money.

Wallet Half Open – some good and bad – we’d give it another shot.

Wallet Open – definitely go back – depending on price either often or occasionally.

Credit Card Out – this place is great – we’d be regulars.

So with that said, let’s take a look at some; there are a lot more we have to go back to try!

1.       Old Vines Wine Bar and Tapas Restaurant

173 Port Road         Kennebunk, ME 04043
(207) 967-2310        Website

To summarize – we loved this place.  This was our first stop Friday night after a long three+ hours of traffic and travel.   We were hungry and thirsty, and we were not disappointed.  Old Vines is both a wine and a cocktail bar, and on both counts they present something out of the ordinary.  The atmosphere is warm and inviting.  It’s not huge, and was quite crowded when we got there, but we managed to grab a couple of seats at the bar.  It was also not quiet, but rather boisterous in a good way, like a Bistro or Trattoria with a good crowd on hand.  Everyone seemed to be having a good time, so we sat down.

This is not where you go for a big three course dinner, but the food choices are varied and you can easily fill up.  Everything is a little out of the ordinary.  Let’s start with the wine list, which had 12 reds by the glass and nearly as many whites.  However there was not a single Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot or Shiraz on that list.  You could try a Carignan from Sardina (which we did – check out the wine tasting notes from the trip here).  How about a Pinotage from South America?  There were wines from Spain, France, Italy, California, Oregon and other places.  Clearly they want you to try something new, which is great.  This philosophy carries over to their mixed drink list, which was 23 drinks deep just on the printed list and of which I had heard of maybe 5 and tried one previously. I’m fairly certain they’ll go another hundred drinks deep if you ask for something. The menu clearly states that “Our cocktails are hand-crafted and made to order, they take a little time to be served.  Thank you for your patience”.  This was dead on as we watched the barkeeps prepare some of the lavish concoctions, and they did take time.  The bartenders were obviously knowledgeable and professional.

So we ordered some Duck Prosciutto, Coppa (Air Dried Pork Shoulder), some Manchego Cheese and another we had not tried, called Opus 42 I think (it was late – I was tired).  With all of this came a bowl of toasted crustinis to make little sandwiches with.   Very delicious.  We paired these with the 2007 Sella & Mosca Carignan and  the 2008 Epiphany Gypsy Red Blend.  The Carignan was perfect with the meats, with a sour cherry and acid backbone that cut through the fat.  The Epiphany was big and hot, and by that I mean really high in alcohol.  At around 15.5% for me it was too much, but Cheri liked it very much.  She called it her “port”.  After this an Arugula Salad completed Cheri’s meal, while I had a great grilled ham and cheese sandwich (yes, more fat AND cured meat).  We left happy and full.

As it turned out on Sunday we were looking for somewhere to get a drink, and after finding a very unappealing sports bar in Kennebunk, we found ourselves driving past Old Vines again.  We went in and it was empty since they had just opened.  This was a quiet experience.  A few people came in, but it was very subdued compared to Friday night.  Just as enjoyable however.  We got to talk at length with the bartender, who was actually practicing a new mixed drink when we sat down.  As I said, these guys take this stuff seriously without being pretentious.  This was named an American Beauty, involved two of my favorite things (cognac AND port) and was delicious. I need to find a good recipe and make them at home.  Anyway – on this day I felt like whiskey and had a Maker’s Mark, while Cheri tried the 2011 Pinotage from Mooiplaas Wines, Stellenbosch, South Africa and followed that with a glass of the 2008 Xabec Carignan/Grenache blend from Montsant , Spain.  Both good and very different.  Tasting notes here.

Summary: Glasses of wine from $8 to $13.  Cocktails in the same range.   Bottles of wine run from $25 to $70.  Small plates and assorted cheeses, meats and sandwiches from $5 to $18 (with the $18 being the lobster Panini and the exception in price).  Great atmosphere.  Feels like you’re hanging out with your best friends and all is right with the world.

Our rating: The credit card is out – we’d definitely be regulars if we lived in the area.  Highly recommended.

 2.       Hurricane Restaurant

29 Dock Square  Kennebunkport, ME 04046
(207) 967-9111         Website

This was our choice for lunch on our first full day in Kennebunkport.   It’s right on the main drag in town and has a good view of the estuary if you snag a window table in the dining room.  We got lucky with the window table and were able to watch the tide come in.  Even with showing up at 2 in the afternoon for lunch the place was jammed.  The menu is varied and has a lot to offer, including some local offerings like a Yellow Tuna Burger and Maine Shrimp Fried Rice.  Seafood tended to dominate, but this is the Maine shoreline here.

So we went with the theme.  I ordered a split of Prosecco to go with my half dozen oysters and a Caesar salad.  Cheri also got the Caesar, but hers came with a half lobster.  Everything was very good.  The salads were appropriately dressed, not swimming or dry. They gave you a choice of anchovies, and they were full anchovies which was nice.  Dessert was locally made ice cream, a scoop each of chocolate, coffee, vanilla and Maine strawberry.  All excellent.  I will say the service was slow, very slow, but the waitress acknowledged it and apologized, and it became kind of a running joke.  We were in no hurry anyway and the place was very busy.

You know a place is good when time flies by, and before we knew it we had been there an hour and a half.  I really didn’t even realize how much of a wine oriented establishment it was until we started to leave.  Then I noticed that there were five or six large format bottles hanging around on various counters and bars, including an Imperial of an Australian Shiraz I’ve never heard of.  Who doesn’t like large format bottles?  (I do, and there’s a little more about that here).  They also had a string of Wine Spectator Awards of Excellence spanning 2004 thru 2011.  I’d like to go back sometime and really peruse their wine list.

All in all a very enjoyable lunch.  I suspect dinner is very good too.  We left about $75 on the table including tip.

Our Rating: Our wallet is definitely open.  For lunch it’s probably closer to regular status, but we didn’t get to experience dinner there.  Highly recommended.

3.       One Dock at the Kennebunkport Inn

This was not good. We went for happy hour and Cheri had maybe the worst glass of wine I’ve tasted in five years.  We didn’t get a good vibe either.  A little more on the travel blog here, but we wouldn’t go back.  In fairness we did not eat here, so we’ll pass on that as we can’t have an informed opinion.  Cheri described her wine as tasting like “feet”.  Of course we had a very pretentious woman next to us commenting on how rude we were to send back the wine and switch to something else.  I’d bet the farm she had never tasted it.

Our Rating: didn’t like happy hour but didn’t eat here.  Just based on the vibe we would have our wallet closed and not return.

4.       The Cape Arundel Inn

208 Ocean Ave
Kennebunkport,  ME 04046        207-967-2125      Website

What a spot.  Right on the water with an overlook of the Bush Compound across part of the bay.  Multi-million dollar real estate on both sides.  A beautiful Inn looking out over the Atlantic.  Of course all of this hits you in daytime.  When we went for dinner it was pitch black and we couldn’t see the ocean 20 feet away.  You can hear it though.

The inn is beautifully lit up at night.  The dining room is romantic, with nice soft lighting and a cozy feel.  The wait staff was impeccable throughout the dinner, and they have that great sense of attention without being overly attentive.  We actually didn’t order a bottle of wine as I got a Cosmo, so Cheri had a glass of Sangiovese.  I really should have known better.

For appetizers Cheri had the Pumpkin Soup Special and gave it two thumbs up.  I had the Frisee aux Lardons, salad with bacon and a soft boiled egg, which was also excellent.  If it had been twice the size it would have been a fine meal in itself.

The main course was about to arrive when we realized we needed more wine, so we ordered a half bottle of the 2010 Honig Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa.  This was young, and just screamed cabernet at you with great fruit on the nose and the palate.  Quite yummy.  Just as we started in on the Honig dinner arrived.  For Cheri the Filet Mignon, for myself the duck breast over spiced polenta.  We both enjoyed these very much.  The only issue with the whole meal was that my duck was just a smidgen overcooked, but still very good.  Overall it was an excellent dinner and a great place to spend a couple of hours.

Entrees ranged from about $25 to $40.  The wine list is extensive with a little bit of everything, especially a nice selection of cabernet sauvignon.  There’s some big  hitters on the list but they’re not ridiculously priced, although they are much more than we would spend on a bottle of wine.

Our Rating: the wallet is open.  We’d go back.  This is a little out of the price range to be a regular, but on occasions it certainly works.  We left $215 on the table with two drinks and a half bottle of wine, including tip.

5.       Azure Café

This was in Freeport, and we stopped in for a late lunch after doing some outlet shopping.  First impressions were not good,  It  just lacks any kind of atmosphere.  There was a sad little bar right in front of us that looked like it was not used.   We had a small table for two and ordered lunch.  Cheri had a salad with grilled chicken.  The restaurant had a special Maine Seafood thing going for lunch, the Freeport Sea Grille, with fish and chips, and since I love a good fish and chips, I went with that.  They also had “award winning” chowder so why not?  We should state here that the restaurant is Italian, so maybe that’s where we went wrong.

Anyway, Cheri’s salad was marginally OK and small.  The chowder was tasty but kind of lukewarm.  My fish and chips were pathetic.  This is the saddest plate of food I’ve ever been served in a restaurant.  There were a handful of shoestring fries and a small piece of fish on a plain white plate.  It looked like it had fallen over and they had thrown the fish and fries back on the plate but forgot the tarter sauce and coleslaw, or maybe the lemon wedge.  It could have used anything.  Very disappointing and not very appetizing either.

The waitress was a little annoying as well.  She asked if everything was warm, and if everything tasted really good.  It was barely, and it didn’t.  We can’t really blame her though, she didn’t put these meals together.  At least I hope not.

Our Rating: the wallet is closed.  No atmosphere and bad food.  It wasn’t cheap either, that dismal plate of fries and some fish was $15 at lunch.

6.       Grissini’s Italian Restaurant

27 Western Avenue     Kennebunk, ME 04043
(207) 967-2211    Website

We had dinner here our last night, after stopping in again at the Old Vines wine bar for a drink.  It was recommended by the bartender, who also told us that the downstairs Grotta was a good option, especially in the late fall and winter.  We strolled into the Grotta and were the only ones there at first, so we grabbed a nice high top near the fireplace. The feeling was very warm and cozy, and the main restaurant upstairs was similar.  Add in a bottle of a nice Super Tuscan and we were in for the long haul.  The wine was the 2008 Bolgheri Rosso from Michelle Satta, and it was very good.  We paired that initially with a pizza margherita for an appetizer.  The pizza was excellent, with a thin crust and chopped fresh basil.  Things were going well.

For the main course Cheri had a half plate of Tortiera di Melanzana, a layered eggplant that came with a side of pesto and spaghetti.  One of the nice aspects of eating in the Grotta is you can get a half plate of almost all the dining room pasta dishes.  I think they exclude the lobster though.  Cheri loved this.  She declared it ‘worth the calories’, which is high praise from her.  I ordered a staple for me, which is a bowl with pasta, a spicy sauce, and a whole bunch of shellfish.  Theirs was called Arabbiatta.  It was delicious.

Dessert was, quite possibly, the best Tiramisu we’ve ever had.  It was still firm, you could pull off the individual lady fingers, but it wasn’t dry.  Really well done.  Pair that with a good cup of coffee and it was an excellent meal.  The waitress was top notch too.

We left $143 on the table including tip, with a bottle of wine, a pizza for an appetizer and a dessert.  Not bad at all.  Very reasonably priced.  Especially considering the wine was $42.  You could get out for less, but why when you’re on vacation.

Our Rating: the wallet is certainly open and the credit card might be falling out.  We would certainly eat here fairly regularly if we were in the area.  This was a very enjoyable meal all around.