Saturday, December 17, 2011

Coltello Ristorante Italiano - Crosswicks, NJ

For the second year in a row, I have held my holiday party at Coltello Ristorante Italiano in Crosswicks, NJ, and based on tonight's performance, you bet we'll try to book Coltello again next year!

We had a party of 42 tonight, and Chef Dominic and the Coltello staff had us. set up at one HUGE table down the left hand side of the restaurant.  The setup was perfect, with 2 large round tables at either end, and rectangular tables joining the two down the middle.  The festivities started with the Commander making some a few statements, and then we were on our way to yet another one of Chef Dominic's incredible meals.

The first course of the evening was a Spedini alla Romana, a thin, pan fried mozzarella that is breaded, with an anchovy and caper sauce served family style.  Everyone LOVES fried mozz, and this was a great way to set the tone for tonight's meal.  The mozz was fresh, and fried to a crispy golden brown, and the anchovy sauce paired with the capers gave it some great flavor.  Everyone ranted and raved about this, and I am guessing that half of our people wouldn't have touched it had they known it was an anchovy sauce!  But what they don't know, won't kill them!  ;-)

The second course was a flatbread, topped with an aged cheddar cheese, prosciutto, and a sunny side up egg.  The flatbread itself had the perfect texture, with a nice crunch on the outside, with a soft chewy center.   I'm not sure if Chef Dominic makes the bread in house, but it sure tastes homemade!  The cheddar had great flavors, and the prosciutto was perfect...not too salty, and not bland at all.  This is the kind of prosciutto that I could snack on all day long.  I was a bit worried that people may not understand the sunny side up egg, but I found it to be an awesome element, and innovative.  The ones that didn't understand why the egg was on here just don't get it, but what a genius take this was for Chef Dom to come up with this.  This was absolutely awesome!

Needless to say, the appetizer plates were clean and crumb less, and and there was no shortage in portions.  Chef Dominic sent out a lot of food, and for the price what we paid for this party, I could not be any happier.  You just cannot get the quality of food at the price as we are tonight.

Next course was the salad course, with a fancy green salad of mixed greens and a house made balsamic vinaigrette. Again, served family style, and a huge helping of salad for the entire table.

From here, we went onto the pasta course, and Chef Dominic did not skimp once again, and pulled out all the stops.  I was actually walking around making sure all our personnel were enjoying themselves, and if it wasn't for the Commander filling my plate, I would have missed out as these giant bowls went fast.  This was a Rigatoni Carbonara, with pancetta and caramelized shallots with a Parmesan cream sauce that was to die for.  Again, delicious, and again, there were no leftovers here anywhere on the table.

For entrees tonight, Chef Dominic came up with 4 choices for us.  The first, and the entree that I could not pass up was a marinated flank steak with a jalapeno chimichurri sauce with grilled fingerling potatoes.  All I have to say about this is AWESOME!  The steak was cooked to a perfect medium rare/medium, and was juicy and tender.

This was so good in fact that many of us in the office were craving it the following morning, stating how good it would be with some eggs for breakfast.  This was perfectly seasoned, and the chimichurri added such great flavors, but this would have been good on it's own.  This is definitely an entree that I will order again, and I hope that Chef Dominic decides to leave this on the menu as it is such a great entree.

Some of the other entree selections tonight included a salmon dish with roasted corns and scallions.  I was actually hoping to get a bite of this from someone, but unfortunately, there was nobody near me who ordered it, and when I did finally make my way around there restaurant, there wasn't any left to be found.  From one person I talked to that had it, they said it was one of their favorite salmon preparations ever, and that the salmon was fresh and cooked perfectly.

We also had the option of a chicken marsala, with wild mushrooms, and a marsala wine demi-glace.  This is a staple in any Italian restaurant, and Chef Dominic does it right.   Again, everyone who had this enjoyed it, and enjoyed the freshness of the mushrooms, and the flavors in the sauce.

Finally, Chef Dominic also prepared a pork tenderloin, with wild mushrooms and a truffled demi-glace.  Again, the pork was flavorful and juicy, and once again, the plates were clean!

By this point of the evening, the rest of the restaurant had been turned over, and all the tables had been reset and filled.  In talking with my Squadron, everyone had been having an enjoyable evening, and there wasn't an empty stomach in the house.  The food was absolutely amazing, and everyone could not have been any happier...and many said that they will be back often.

I also brought plenty of wines to be shared with the table, and some of the selections went over very well.  Some wines to note that were enjoyed by many included a 2007 Stefania Haut Tubee, 2009 Congruence Zinfandel, 2009 Stefania Chardonnay Chaine D'Or, 2007 Curran Grenache Blanc, and a 2005 Stefania Uvas Creek cabernet sauvignon.  All of these showed very well, and even the non-wine drinkers enjoyed them.  That being said, how can you not absolutely LOVE the fact that Coltello Ristorante is BYOB friendly?

From here, HUGE helpings of cannoli's were brought out to the tables, along with coffee.  The shells of he cannoli's were crunchy, and the filling was sweet and creamy and delicious.  Though already stuffed, I forced myself to eat one, and it hit the spot.  It actually drank really nicely also with the zinfandel, so I was a happy camper.

At the end of the evening, I have no doubt in my mind that we threw the best holiday party within the Wing, and we were truly blessed to break bread with our Air Force family tonight.  Our squadron was lucky enough to be joined with our Wing Commander and Command Chief, and all had a great time.  People ranted and raved about the menu, the atmosphere, decor, etc.  We couldn't be happier, and we hope to have Chef Dominic and the crew at Coltello Ristorante host us again.

I have said it before, and I will say it again.  Coltello is hands down the best Italian restaurant in this part of New Jersey, and when I need a go to Italian restaurant, Coltello is the place!

On behalf of our entire Squadron, we cannot thank Chef Dominic, the entire staff at Coltello, and the Conti family for all of the support they show for the United States Air Force.  For what we paid per head for tonight's dinner, there is absolutely no way any restaurant could match the quality of cuisine that we had tonight, and we are all truly grateful!  Thanks a million for your support Coltello Ristorante, and we look forward to spending many more holidays with you!  Thank you for being such good friends, and know that your generosity is second to none!  Cheers!

Coltello Ristorante Italiano
460 Main Street
Crosswicks, NJ  08515
Phone:  (609)298-6128

Photos compliments of:
| r media photography and design | | rashad pleasant | phone:  202-642-6642 |



Saturday, December 3, 2011

Top 10 North American Wines

Though this is not my Top 10 list for 2011, I wanted to talk about my Top 10 Wines from the United States.  These wines are wines that I buy year in, year out, and with the current economy, I am not buying much at all.  That being said, here are the producers who's wines and mailing lists I will stay on.

I will however note though, that due to the staggering of releases now, there are 2 of these wines that I now buy locally, so I can pick them up when I have the funds, versus buying them off the mailer.  As much as I would rather buy winery direct, sometimes, I just cannot afford to do so with other mailing lists coming at the same time.

Here are my Top 10 Mailing Lists that I will continue to purchase from so long as funds are there:

Curran:  Let me say that Kris and Bruno are absolute gems, and they have some of the best sales ever!  I mainly buy their white wines, and these are usually our wines of summer.  This past year, they ran a great deal with $11 bottles of their Grenache Blanc, Gewurztraminer, and Rose.  This could not be passed up!  I will also note that Bruno's pinot noir is a house favorite as well! 

Rivers-Marie:  Is there really anything else that needs to be said about Thomas Rivers Brown?  Definitely one of my favorite winemakers the last 5 years plus, and I buy all the pinot noir and Cabernet sauvignon that I am offered.  From his $25 Sonoma Coast pinot noir to his $75 Cabernet(s), they are all winners in my book!  This is my number 2 producer by volume in my cellar.

Kosta Browne:  Here is a winery that I have been buying from since the 2004 vintage, and when I am in the mood for a high throttle, new world, fruit forward pinot noir, this is where I turn!  Sure, sometimes I have to be in the mood for this styled wine, but when I am, these hit my sweet spot, and I absolutely love them.  I cannot however deny the fact that I was quite surprised when Wine Spectator named their 2009 Sonoma Coast pinot noir their wine of the year.  Congrats to Dan an Michael for their outstanding accomplishments with this winery.

Stefania Wines:  Hands down the number one producer in my cellar.  If you have had a glass of wine at my house, you have drank something from Stefania.  In my opinion, these wines are a great representation of the Santa Cruz Mountain Region of California.  Their cabs are my favorites in the lineup, but the syrah, pinot noir, and "Haut Tubee" blend are nothing to bat an eye at as these are also delicious.  They have also released 2 vintages of chardonnay now, which have both been outstanding.  If you haven't heard of them, I highly recommend them, and I still think that their cabs are worth twice the price.  Tell them I sent you!

Lillian:  I know, I am always talking about Lillian and Maggie Harrison, but what can I say?  In my opinion, this is still the baby brother to Sine Qua Non, and you can just taste the Manfred influence in these wines.  They are big, they are bold, and they are delicious.  Hands down one of my favorite domestic syrah.

Unfortunately, do to budgeting constraints, I no longer purchase these winery direct, but I do however pick up 3-6 bottles per vintage from Grand Cru Wine Merchants in Lake Forest, IL.  Craig is a great guy, and I like throwing some business his way.  He can usually get me a few bottles of the coveted Blue Label as well.

Congruence:  Now here is a wine you will probably never see in a store, and it is such a shame.  This is actually a Crushpad project, but winemaker Steve Eisenhauer definitely has his hand in these heavy, spending numerous hours working on blends, etc.  For me, his Cabernet is the shining star in the lineup, and Steve and I must have very similar palates, as these are made in a style that I love!  But you can also not forget about his zinfandel!  This is not your typical jammy, over extracted, high alcohol zin.  It is however balanced and smooth, and worth the $30 price tag.  Check out this winery, and I think you will enjoy it!

Bedrock:  Morgan Twain-Peterson is another innovator in my opinion, making great wines.  I absolutely LOVE his rose, which to me is made in a Provence style (though many will disagree).  It's OK though, the rest of us "understand it!"  But let's not forget Morgan's syrah, zinfandel, pinot noir, and sauvignon blanc, as these are also delicious.  And yes, he makes some great white blends, a Cabernet, and Chardonnay from one of my favorite vineyards, Brosseau.  Check out his wines, and you will not be disappointed!

Antica Terra:  I know, Maggie Harrison again!  And no, it is not the fact that Maggie and I grew up in the same hometown, it is the fact that she found a gorgeous property, worthy of growing amazing fruit, in the hands of an amazing winemaker.  Antica Terra is hands down my favorite Oregon pinot noir producer, with a few wineries quite a few strides behind.  Sure, you know how much I love my Thomas pinot noir, but these are a class above in my opinion.  From the rose, to the Botanica, to the regular bottling, there isn't one that we haven't enjoyed.  And for the record, the '06's are really coming into their stride right now!  This is also another wine that I pick up annually now from Craig at Grand Cru Wine Merchants.  I also have a few of these stashed in my parents cellar in Barrington, IL for when I go home to visit.

Fiddlehead Cellars:  One of my favorite producers in the Santa Rita Hill of California, Kathy Joseph is making some great wines.  From her sauvignon blanc to her rose to her pinot noir, these are always appealing to me.  I will admit that I really love her pinot with 5-7 years at least on them, but when they hit that time, they are wonderful, floral, and elegant.  But don't get me wrong, these wines open up nicely even in their youth with an hour plus of air in the glass or decanter.  Her sauvignon blanc is crisp and refreshing, and again, a great summer sipper.

Match Vineyards
:  Last but not least, I have to mention Match Vineyards.  Randy Sloan at Match only makes 2 wines, both single vineyard bottlings from Butterdragon Hill (St. Helena) and Baconbrook (Spring Mountain).  Easily 2 of my favorite AVA's, and these wines are again made in a style that I love.  Nothing over the top about them, nothing in your face about them.  They are not over-oaked, over-extracted, or over done.  These are just classic Cabernet, and a pleasure to drink!  Check these out too!

So that being said, that is my current Top 10 for affordable wines, that I can still consider (for now) daily drinkers, or at least wines that I wouldn't be afraid to open for friends.  Most of these wines are accessible, though some of the mailing lists may not have wait lists.  In the current economy however, more and more mailing lists are opening up, so it could never hurt to sign up.

So now that I have mentioned my Top 10, let's hear yours!  Also, stay tuned for my next installment to include:  Top 10 California Cabernet, Top 10 California Cult Wines, Top 10 Bordeaux, Top 10 Whites, and my Top 10 of 2011, which should be unveiled on New Years Day!  Cheers!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Avenue Restaurant - Long Branch, NJ

Night 2 with my buddy John from Chicago, and tonight he wanted to stay local in Long Branch to I took a cruise out to see what kind of dinner we could get ourselves in to.

We ended up walking over to Avenue, just a short walk down the boardwalk from his hotel.  And I have to admit, though I used to work just minutes from Long Branch when stationed at Fort Monmouth, I have never actually stopped in this town.  I am happy I did though.

Avenue is located in Pier Village, which is a gorgeous area.  The restaurant itself looks gorgeous, with a lot of windows, right on the shore, and it is open and airy.  Places like this however always have me skeptical as being tourist traps, with high prices, and mediocre food.  Unfortunately, this kind of fit the bill here tonight, but I will say that the wine list is worth mentioning, at least for high end bottles.

Are high end wines worth the price off of a restaurant wine list?  If you can afford it, sure!  But God knows that I can not, but I am sure many in this area can.  Regardless, the offerings ranged from Trimbach "Clos Sainte Hune" Riesling to Chevalier-Montrachet (2007 I think) on the white wine side, to Chateau Petrus (I forget what vintage but it was an off vintage at $1500) to an '82 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild ($4200).  They also had a few other first growths, but again, when you have these wines in your cellar, why pay restaurant pricing for them?  I am not that deep pocked unfortunately.

Even so, I had a decent Cotes du Rhone at $9 pre dinner, and then a decent glass of Burgundy with dinner.  Neither were mind blowing by any means, but what do you want for the price?  I've said it before, and will say again that I have spoiled myself for far too long with such great access to BYO's in New Jersey!

We skipped appetizers and went straight to the entrees tonight.  John ordered the Sea Bass, and this was served over almost a soup or broth of sorts, with what looked like Bok Choy, mushrooms, and other vegetables.  This also looked like it was garnished with an oil of some sort, but I don't know what it was.  He said it was OK, but he wouldn't order it again.

For me, there were many options that I considered.  I really wanted to try their take on Boeuf Borguignon, but I figured it would be disappointing, so instead I opted for the Braised Shortrib Lollipop.  Sure, it was big, but it was actually a bit fatty and tough, almost as though it was undercooked.  Perhaps cooking this longer would have melted some of the fat, but I don't know.  The flavors were OK, though it was a bit dry, and a bit bland.  For me, the highlight of the dish was the celery puree that was served on the side.  There was also a green of some sort, possibly collared greens or kale, but they were over cooked and extremely soggy.

Overall, the food was boring and bland, but the service was friendly.  This restaurant is overpriced in my opinion, but even so, it's not a bad place to stop for a drink.  I am guessing this place is packed in the summer time.  If I go back, it will just be for drinks, or maybe an appetizer at the bar.  Nothing to write home about.  Cheers!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

20 Manning - Philadelphia, PA

When my good friend John from Chicago said that he was going to be in Philly tonight, and heading to 20 Manning Grill for dinner, I couldn't resist not meeting up with him.  First, he is an old pal, and second, I have heard great things about 20 Manning Grill.

That said, I arrived around 9PM and loved the vibe of this restaurant.  I ordered a glass of Bila Haut - Grenache Blanc from Languedoc, FranceI absolutely LOVE Grenache Blanc, but I will say that at $12 this didn't do a whole lot for me. 

By the time I finished my glass, John had arrived around 10PM, and we sat for dinner.  I was absolutely starving, and we both ended up ordering the Steak Frites.

Before our dinner arrived I ordered a glass of cabernet off the wine list, and it was a Trefethan from the Napa Valley.  This showed a lot better than the French Grenache Blanc, with typical Napa Valley nuances, and paired pefectly with the steak frites.

The steak frites was a thin sliced 14 ounce rib eye, and they listed the name of the farm it came from on the menu.  Unfortunately, I don't remember the name of the farm, but at $25, this was a nice piece of meat, cooked to a perfect medium, and served over a bed of fries.  The fries were golden and crispy, and worked just fine for what I was looking for.  There was also a side of aus jus, but to be honest with ya, I didn't even taste it, and put it off to the side as the rib eye was delicious and flavorful.

Overall, I LOVE the vibe and 20 Manning, and if you happen to be hungry and wandering Rittenhouse Square, I highly recommend it!  It's also a great place to grab a late dinner just in case you get hungry.  The kitchen stay open until 11PM.  Check it out!  Cheers!

20 Manning Grill
261 S 20th St
Philadelphia, PA  19103
Phone:  (215) 731-0900