Now, you don't really think I would use this very public forum to tell you everything there is to know about me or my family, do you? But within the constraints of personal privacy and consistent with community standards of good taste, here are some things I find interesting that you might want to explore further:
located in a former Friends Meeting House on bustling Rt 130 in Cinnaminson, NJ,
is our latest "find." Faced with the daunting task of locating a quality
restaurant for an anniversary luncheon on a chilly, rainy, June 3, I remembered
a Craig LaBan review I read in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Not one to award
kudos lightly, Mr. LaBan praised the talents of Chef Alex Capasso,
particularly his fish dishes. So, since I love fish and enjoy restaurants
in old homes, I thought, "let's try it!" My wife, daughter, and I were
not disappointed. We were greeted amiably by owner Robert Recchuiti who
escorted us to a lovely little dining area that was probably once a comfortable
living area or office for the advertising agency that formerly occupied the
building, although we would have preferred the bright, windowed sun room located
at the rear of the house. With few customers late on a Tuesday afternoon, they
had apparently consolidated all service in this one area. Using my "house bread
measure" as a food quality indicator, Max's past the first test with some very
crusty, very good panne rustica accompanied by a delicate dipping oil. While
Max's is a little pricey for dinner, you get a very good deal at lunch with
their $25 per person prixe fix menu, which includes an appetizer and/or pasta,
an entre, and dessert. Max's is a BYOB, so we were surprised to see a
climate controlled closet filled with wine next to our table. Our waiter
told us that's where they store the wine of their regular customers. I
thought, it's a good sign if foodies are committed enough to leave their
wine behind. Judy had a garden salad. I mocked her a little because
it looked somewhat ordinary, but the smoked bacon and dijon dressing raised it
to another level. It was one of the more memorable dressings I had ever
tasted. I had an outstanding butternut squash, chicken stock soup and
Adrienne had pillows for gnocchi. But for me the gold standard was the grouper
over risotto I ordered as entre, delicately broiled and topped with lovely
champagne reduction sauce. Adrienne's tuna was pleasantly pink and tasty.
The one area where Max's could improve is in the dessert department. There
desserts are made off-premises, and while they were good (I had a tart-like
tiramisu, Judy a lemon mousse and Adrienne a Napoleon), the restaurant could
benefit from the addition of a budding and talented pastry chef. All in
all, the meal was outstanding. We will return again and again. BTW,
we opened a '99 LVC Full Moon Zinfandel we purchased in the Livermore Valley.
A real winner! 602 Route 130, Cinnaminson , NJ, 856-663-6297.
OCTOBER AT THE EASTERN SHORE
|TORTILLA PRESS is a new BYOB located at 703 Haddon Avenue in Collingswood, NJ. Tortilla is a creation of the former owner of the Sensational Cook of Westmont. That little building around the corner from Cook's Liquors on Haddon Avenue has graduated some great successes, including Severino's and the current Patissere d' Manille. Tortilla is a fusion of Mexican and American styles of cooking (their tag line is Mexican influenced American cuisine). The Sunday afternoon Judy and I ate there, grilled pork chops topped with a peach chutney was one of their specials. Judy had a lovely chicken wrap with sides of salad (great lemon sage dressing) and sweet potato fries. The Guacamole is made fresh every day. The chef is still playing with seasoning, afraid that his customers might shy away from salty and hot, but he promises to spice up the condiments in the days ahead. Desserts are from Classic Cake, but Tortilla is searching for something special. I suggested the Virtuous Woman, but he may make his own desserts in the end. The bill for two came to $24.95 because we arrived before the 4:00 PM luncheon cut off. My $8.95 pork chop special became a $13 dinner platter when the clock struck 4:00 PM ... still a bargain. Our server graciously offered the dish to me at the luncheon price since we arrived 5 minutes before the cut off. The decor shows no evidence of the breakfast restaurant that used to occupy this spot. An interesting copper-clad counter and orange walls with white table cloths help give the room a South of the border air without sinking into Tex-Mex predictability. rev. 8/19/02|
|A LITTLE CAFE, 856-784-3344, Maryann Cuneo Powell's little Voorhees restaurant on White Horse Road. When last we visited this spot about three years ago, we unqualifiedly recommended it as a wonderful value. Now I am a little more hesitant to emphasize the "value" proposition with entrees in the $25 - $30 range, and appetizers at $12! The food is still excellent, but I am questioning whether it is $35 per person excellent. Lunch is a better value. 9/25/02|
|NOTE - RAMONA'S IS OUT OF BUSINESS A ND HAS SINCE BEEN REPLACED BY LITTLE TUNA AND MOST RECENTLY TRE FAMIGLIA. Occupying a spot formerly inhabited by Marcos and Food for Thought, this tiny restaurant on Haddon Avenue in Haddonfield offers Latin-inspired cuisine from Luis Laura, A Dominican Republic native. Together with his wife, Ramona, a public school librarian, the duo provide an warm, personal, and authentic food experience. When it first opened about a year and a half ago, Luis featured Tapas-style dining. On our most recent of three visits to the restaurant, the Tapas theme had been dropped in favor of poquenos and grande dishes, which seems to suit local diners better. Luis makes a point of talking to the patrons to determine their satisfaction and to look for recommendations on new dishes or seasonings. On a Tuesday at 5:30 visit recently, there were so few diners we were able to spend a considerable amount of time talking to Luis. We learned, for example, that he loves writing poetry ... which he credits for linking him to Ramona. We also learned that a classical guitarist performs on Saturday evenings. This particular night we ordered the pork loin with mashed potatoes and eggplant, beef and broccoli, a fried cheese salad, and a wonderful, wonderful shrimp and corn chowder. Luis also sent a plate of maduros to our table, compliments of the house. The servings are plentiful and accompanied by home made fruit muffins with guava butter. Come hungry! 9/25/02|
|RED LANTERN. Northern Chinese cuisine is relatively new to South
Jersey and based on the number of persons in the restaurant on a
recent Thursday (10/25/01) this restaurant is very likely to succeed. The first thing
you will notice is the Chinese red and pumpkin painted walls. Serve is
friendly and food is unbelievably cheap ... especially fro lunch.
BYOB, 480 East
Evesham Road in Cherry Hill near Olive and next to Starbucks.|
|CALYPSO CAFE. Waterfront dining in South
Jersey? Yes … and good views
and good food to boot. Tucked
away on a side street in Riverside, right off Moorestown/Bridgeboro Road,
you will find this riverside dining café hard on the banks of the Rancocas
Creek. This remote and quiet,
restaurant is pretty un-outstanding inside, so don’t go if you unless you
plan to eat on the awning-covered patio.
The only traffic is on the river. Small craft even douse their engines as they pass. Arrive around 6:30 PM so you can enjoy the fading light and watch as the sun sets behind the trees. On a recent October visit we had the added enjoyment of watching the rising harvest moon reflected on the water in all its orange glory.
COUNTRY STORE, Birchrunville, Pennsylvania. What a happy discovery
in rural Chester County. Located in what was once a
General Store and Post Office (the 1898 era P.O. is still active), this
eatery run by French-born Francis Treciak will please the fussiest of
palates . Even Craig LeBan of the Inquirer
gave it three stars. According to LeBan, Treciak's restaurant lineage
includes Monte Carlo Living Room, Tacquet and most recently, Provence in
Haverford. The menu changes daily. The Saturday we visited I had
hoped to order the pheasant served over polenta, but alas, it was
unavailable that night. So I and two friends opted for the Chilean Sea
bass wrapped in pan-fried potatoes, the presentation of which suggested
large, artful fish scales. It was served piping hot in a burgundy
reduction sauce and it was delicious. Judy opted for the half
duck with French lentils and sausage as an accompaniment.
She loved it. The salads that preceded dinner were creative and
flavorful, and my divers scallop soufflé was small but
outstanding. One of the group ordered the lobster bisque and
declared it superb. Because Cheese Cake Factory truffles
awaited our return to our friends' home, we passed on the desserts,
although the hot butterscotch cake, crème brule, and tiramisu were
tempting. Excellent coffee, by the way. The wait staff was
young, attractive, and friendly. Appetizer/salad prices were in
the $7.00-$8.50 range, and dinners were $20-$24. Birchrunville is
cash only, BYOB, and closed for lunch. Call 610-827-9002 for
BIRCHRUNVILLE COUNTRY STORE
This is Guillermo Pernot's Nuevo Latino restaurant in Center City
next to Bookbinders and around the corner from the Academy (211 S. 15th
Street). I took a group of faculty from Temple here to entertain a
guest from Arizona State University. The restaurant and the food
made quite an impression. The place is warm and romantic and the
service casual and friendly. For an "in" upscale Center
City restaurant, it is surprisingly relaxed and unstuffy. If you
come with a group, the maitre 'd will encourage you to order the chef's
pre-entree specials. Don't pass up this opportunity, though you
should be prepared to spend nearly $90 for the table. The sampler
includes delicate cerviche, smoked sea bass, exotic scallops, and
empanadas. The Chilean sea bass ($29) firm and flavorful, resting on a
bed of earthy mashed potatoes and swimming in a deep, rich wine
reduction sauce. I topped the meal with Bunuelos de Chocolate,
beignet-like pastries filled with melted chocolate and rum (I
think). Wonderful. A meal for 5 cost $355, including a
pitcher of Sangria ($28) and a wonderful bottle of Argentine Melbac.
A fair tab for a wonderful eating experience. 215.875.9895.
VILLA BARONE in Collingswood, NJ. A BYOB in the burb that aspires to be "The Friendliest Town in South Jersey". It's a hot little Italian BYOB that's been in business about two years. We went there on the recommendation of friend Flossy, a fellow sensory panelist who worked at Campbell's soup with Judy ... and you know those "super tasters" know their food, don't you? Great hearth-baked rolls, Russian salad dressing, and pillow-light gnocchi with Bolognese sauce. 753 Haddon Avenue, Collingswood, NJ 08108, 856-858-2999.
TRATORIA BARONE in the Barclay Shopping Center, Rt. 70, Cherry Hill. While this new restaurant (3 weeks-old at the time we visited) is not a true "favorite," I include it here because it is owned and operated by Vincenzo Barone, the same person who runs Villa Barone in Collingswood. We visited the Trattoria on a recent Friday night. Since we had called ahead for reservations, we were seated right away. The ambience at the new Barone restaurant is more upscale than the one in Collingswood, and the prices are slightly higher. We noted that a few items were missing from the menu, like the Tre Formaggio Misto we enjoy at the Collingswood Barone. Nor could we order Judy's favorite Russian dressing. Italian only is the order of the day at the Trattoria. However, we did convince our waiter, Alex, to ask Vincenzo to make the Misto salad, which he did gladly for his faithful Collingswood customers. Judy and I decided to stay with our favorite dishes: Chicken Parmiagana for her, Gnocci Bolognese for. The good news is that both dishes were as good as they are at Villa Barone. The bad news is we waited nearly an hour for them to arrive. Another distraction was the appearance of Toby, a sort-of hostess/greeter who wanders from table to table asking if everything is okay and explaining her association with Vincenzo. Judy and I found her presence a bit intrusive. My suggestion? Stick to Collingswood's Villa Barone.
ATRIO at 515 Bridge Street in Stockton, NJ (609-397-0042) is a restaurant that doesn't want us for lunch. On four or five separate occasions over more than two years, Judy and I have called to make reservations, but each time we were given a different story, from nothing vailable to closing in 15 minutes to we don't serve lunch. That complaint aside, it's worth the trip for dinner. Try the non-traditional crab cake appetizer and any of their soups. The reason to come here is the lamb chop. When we first started coming to Atrio it was a menu staple, but lately it fell victim to a menu change. We were told chef Ricardo Franco might make it available if you call a day or two in advance. Try it. It's worth the trip. BYOB. Note: Just a few feet away from the exceptional Phillips Fine Wines.
VEGGIANOS in Conshohocken is one of our current favorites. Veggianos serves Italian food in a casually elegant setting. Like most of our favorites, its a BYOB, but if you forget to bring wine, Sandcastle Winery, a less than spectacular Bucks County winery, has an outlet at the front of the restaurant.
In South Jersey, you can't beat NONNA'S or lunch. Located on Brace Road in Cherry Hill, across from Winner Ford, Vivian and Jean Fiorentino are the former owners of La Patissere Francais in Haddonfield and La Campagna in Cherry Hill. Try their pork sandwich, Italian wedding soup, crab cakes, or osso bucco. And don't miss their desserts. Also a BYOB.
And let's not forget GRAZIELLA'S on Haddon Avenue in Westmont. Graziella Iacovino taught me how to make great Italian red sauce (we used to say gravy), Mare e Monte, Roast Pork, and Tiramisu as good as her own. Our daughter, Adrienne, wrote Graziella's cookbook, La Cucina Semplice. While she serves a la carte dinners, we prefer lunch ... unless you go for one of their opera dinners. Lunch entrees run $5.95 for a wonderful pork sandwich to $14.95 for crabs and home made spaghetti.
TRE SCALINI ( 1533 S. 11th Street) and MR.. MARTINO'S TRATTORIA (1646 Passyunk Avenue) in South Philadelphia are two favorite BYOBs, while ROSELENA'S COFFEE BAR also on (1623 Passyunk Avenue) serves a refined Sunday Brunch.
RATS, Grounds for Sculpture, 16 Fairgrounds Rd, Hamiliton (609-584-7800).
DRY CREEK KITCHEN, This is Charlie Palmer's foray into California cuisine. The Kitchen is located in the newly completed Hotel Healdsburg in Sonoma County. Palmer also owns top-rated Aureole in NYC. The bright, windowed dining room overlooks Healdsburg square. The wine list is outstanding, with many very affordable California wines available. Each table can bring two bottles of Sonoma wine for free. After that, a $15 corkage fee of is charged for each .75 milliliter bottle. Judy and I split the Seared Sonoma Foie Gras resting in a peach soup base ($19). Though I seldom order chicken when dining out, I had a feeling about the caramelized organic chicken breast with basil, ricotta gnocchi, and spinach ($20), and I was not disappointed. The spinach was flavorful and moist, and the gnocchi were delicious, though the chef could have been more generous in the gnocchi serving size ... only 6 tiny morsels were present. Other entrees ordered by our group of diners included pan roasted duck, king salmon, lamb, and halibut. I wanted to try their desserts ( especially the cast iron griddled brioche with berry compote and pink peppercorn ice cream), but the group wanted to retire to the nearby home of my brother-in-law, so we will need to return another day for dessert. I question why it is necessary to have the whole table order the tasting menu when only one or two persons might be interested. At $60 per person, the tasting menu would have cost our party of ten $600! For reservations call 1-800-889-7188. 8/19/02
BISTRO DON GIOVANNI, 4110 St. Helena Hwy, Napa, CA 94558, 707-224-3300. What better way to start or end a tour of wineries in the Napa/Carneros area than to spend a warm, breezy afternoon at Bistro Don Giovanni. This is a fairly noisy, tastefully appointed, and largely al fresco experience ... very much "California style" dining. The hot items are pasta, pizza, and the frito misto. Oh, and don't forget the pommes frittes, served ever so trendily in a white butcher paper cone inside a wine glass. Their pasta sauces are unusual, tending more toward lamb Bolognese than beef. Prompt, attentive and friendly service. A bit on the pricey side for lunch, better for dinner because they have the same menu all day long.
RMS BRANDY DISTILLERY, 1250 Cuttings Wharf Road Napa California 94559 (707)253-9055. This is one of our favorite places in wine country. True, it is a spirit, not a wine, but what do you use to make brandy? Grapes, of course. RMS has been making alambic distilled brandy on this site since 1982. What makes this going here special is a visit to the building where the barrels are stored for aging. Three percent of the brandy ... referred to as the "angel's share" ... evaporates annually. When you enter the building at the second floor level, you senses are overwhelmed by the aroma of this spiritual escape while Gregorian chant plays gently as background. If you come during the week you may be alone in this environment and find it difficult to leave. Be sure to pick up a box of their famous duet (usually on sale) of 7 year old brandy and Pear de Pear Liquor. Together they make a bracing but refreshing post-dinner drink.
DOMAINE CARNEROS, Highway 12/121 at Duhig Road between Napa and Sonoma. This is a Tattinger company, and as you might expect, champagne, or more properly, sparkling wine, is their business. This is a romantic spot featuring a lovely French-style chateau high on a hill. To get maximum benefit from this vist, arrive late morning, go immediately to the store, proceed to the balcony overlooking the Carneros valley and vineyards, and order a bottle of brut accompanied by their sampling of local cheeses (Laura Chenel goat, Sonoma Jack, etc), then sit back, relax and enjoy the view ... and the wine and cheese. The cheese plate and wine can accomodate 4 persons and it will only set you back about $40.
Normally we would have had more time to visit some other Carneros favorites like Viansa Winery & Italian Marketplace, Cline Cellars, Acacia, or Buena Vista, but time prevented us from stopping at some of these old haunts. They are well worth visiting, however.
LIVERMORE VALLEY. This is a wine producing area east of Silicon Valley and South of Napa and Sonoma that few outside the area know. It's surprising how many wineries you find traveling Livermore Road off Rt. 580. There's Wente, Concannon, Stony Ridge, and Elliston, for example. But we discovered a little "boutique" winery, very small production, called Retzlaff Vineyards, 1356 S. Livermore Avenue, Livermore, CA 94550, (510) 447-8941. All wines are estate produced. We sampled and bought wonderful a 1998 reserve wine, 80% Cabernet and 20% petite syrah ($32). They also produce a lovely white wine, Trousseau Gris, for under $10.
SONOMA SALUTE TO THE ARTS FESTIVAL. Here are a couple wine recommendations resulting from an afternoon of tasting. We had an excellent Zinfandel from Deer Park Ranch (1998?), which I had never had before, and two very good Pinot Noirs from Iron Horse and Le Crema.
Entertaining. Judy and I love entertaining. There is a history here. Way back in 1973, the Camden Courier Post featured our Easter dinner tradition in their newspaper. Pictured below left is the Bunny Bed made by Adrienne's grandfather William Kazmar. At right, Adrienne, Judy, and I prepare the Easter buffet.
Educational Technology. Technology is not
only my work but my passion. Ever since I began using 8mm movie making
as a supplement to teaching English at Gloucester
Catholic High School, I have been enamored of the potential to enrich
and enlarge teaching and learning through technology. A good starting
point for exploration is the
Bicycling. Not the motorized type. I love riding my hybrid racing/mountain bike through the streets of South Jersey early in the morning. I have been riding for the past four years ... usually to destinations like the River Park in Gloucester or the amusement park in Clementon, or, on occasion, Society Hill in Philadelphia. If you are a bike enthusiast, check out Bicycling.com.
Travel. Lately, our travels have been limited to Northern California, where a significant portion of our family is located, and Hawaii, where Judy's sister Karen and her husband Chuck maintain a lovely condominium on the Big Island. We celebrated the false Millenium at their island home ... and it was an unforgettable experience. Some photos from that trip will be posted on MyPhotos page soon. Next on the agenda? ITALY.