115 Strafford Avenue
Note: 09/2004 - Restaurant now closed.
This worthy establishment has gone through several interesting identities over the years. At first it was simply The Strafford Inn, then The San Francisco, Chef Tell's, and now Villa Strafford. And if the quality of the cuisine is any indication at all, its current incarnation is destined to enjoy a long and happy life. My wife and I have chowed down here on numerous occasions, under a variety of circumstances, and we have nothing but the highest praise for the owner, the chef, the gregarious bartenders and restaurant's assorted minions.
Villa Strafford is a place for people who want to dress up& or dress down. But whether decked out in sartorial finery or more casually attired, you will still find the welcome warm, the service top-drawer, and the food eminently satisfying. This eatery may seem a bit stuffy on the outside -- what with the valet parking and swanky entrance -- but deep down it has the soul of a friendly and bustling trattoria. So have a libation at the cozy bar, listen to some cool jazz on the weekends, and settle in for a first-rate experience at table.
The food here isn't cutting edge, but it is comfortingly familiar and very, very good. Among the appetizers, the sautéed crab cake is a sweet, succulent delight adorned with garlic, olive oil and balsamic vinaigrette. The roasted red peppers and mozzarella are dressed with fresh basil and olive oil, and the baked oysters are spruced up with a savory spinach mornay sauce.
Pastas are also right on the money and may be ordered as either appetizer or entrée portions. The linguini puttanesca, tossed with black olives, capers, tomatoes and garlic, is a house favorite& as is the penne pasta in a hearty mushroom/sausage sauce. Of particular interest was a special of linguini with tomato/basil sauce. But what set this dish apart was the addition of tender morsels of boneless chicken breast fired up with Cajun spices. Just enough heat to make things interesting.
Carnivores can have a field day here. There's a 20-ounce center-cut Porterhouse steak jazzed up with caramelized shallots, a Black Angus New York strip served with a Jack Daniel's green peppercorn sauce, and a lovely filet mignon with roasted shallots and a Barolo wine demi-glace. There is also a roast rack of lamb seasoned with rosemary and garlic, and a luscious grilled veal chop presented with roasted pearl onions in a heady Merlot wine reduction.
If I had to choose my favorite in the meat department, however, I'd opt for the fresh calves liver gently sautéed with honey-glazed onions, bacon and an exceptional raspberry vinaigrette. The Wiener schnitzel accompanied by red cabbage and spaetzle comes in a close second.
Finny fare is also properly represented. From the set menu, for instance, you may order a delicious grilled swordfish with capers and a Dijon mustard sauce or grilled Norwegian salmon adorned with a pesto tomato sauce. But keep your eyes peeled for the daily piscatory specials. They are roasted whole, presented for your inspection, and then filleted at table. Recently sampled were a first-rate Dover sole and equally ingratiating red snapper. Both were escorted by downright yummy scalloped potatoes and a crisp vegetable medley of snow peas, green beans and carrots.
For dessert, be sure to try one of the wonderful selections from the dessert tray or the delicious homemade gelato& And top things off with a potent cup of coffee or espresso.
You will also find an excellent wine list -- of U.S., French, Italian and German vintages -- to complement your meal. Those in the mood to spend some long green might want to take a gander at the "Captain's List." Heading the parade is a superb 1989 Chateau Margaux priced at a mere $1,475. A bit more down to earth is a top-notch 1992 Trefethen "Library Reserve" Cabernet Sauvignon at $125.
For those on a more modest budget, myself included, there are also some very nice possibilities. In the Chardonnay department, we have a 1998 Sonoma-Cutrer "Russian River Ranches" at $41 and a 1995 Chateau St. Jean "Robert Young Vineyard" at $65. You will also find a first-rate 1998 Saintsbury Pinot Noir going for $58 and a 1997 Clos du Bois Cabernet priced at $37. Some agreeable vintages are available by the glass as well.
Depending upon the state of your appetite, and your predilection for pricey liquid libations, dinner a deux at Villa Strafford will undoubtedly set you back a C-note at the very minimum. Have no fears, however, as the food, service and ambiance are well worth the expenditure. Highly recommended.
The Artful Diner
Diner is an independent, freelance food writer. His latest review and an archive of past reviews for restaurants around the country and the world can be found on this site on the REVIEWS page.
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