Story by Tiffany DuBois, photos by Eric Morales
This year’s annual Philly Wine Week was held from March 19th through March 26th. The official kickoff party, “Opening Corks”, was held at the Academy of Natural Sciences on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Sunday, March 19th. It was a wine lovers dream as more than 25 vendors were on hand to pour more than 100 unique and hard to find premium wines. Nothing like enjoying a good wine with T-Rex looking over your shoulder. And of course what always pairs well with wine? Cheese! Food was not in shortage as delicious cheese samples and light snacks were provided by several area restaurants and food markets. The museum was packed with wine lovers from throughout the tri-state area, sampling fantastic wines all evening, talking with the different wine vendors, while in the company of the museums dinosaurs and friendly butterflies. It was a fun and enjoyable event that should not be missed. It’s no wonder why it sells out quickly every year.
There are so many events throughout the week, it’s impossible to attend each one. Some are very laid back and just involve a simple wine or wine flight tasting to full course dinners, with each course paired carefully with a different wine.
Cooperage Wine and Whiskey Bar, located at 123 South 7th Street, offered up a laid back wine flight tasting with a slight twist. Participants got to vote for their favorite wine and at the end of wine week, the winning wine would be featured on their menu. Cooperage is a very welcoming, rustic décor restaurant offering Southern gastropub style fare, plus wines and whiskeys from around the world. Not to leave you in suspense, our vote for favorite red wine went to the 2014 Piccini Poggio Alto IGT, and favorite white went to Backstory Chardonnay. Just a quick note, if you like whiskey, you will not be disappointed with Cooperage’s selection.
Next up was dinner at one of our favorite restaurants, Amada. If you have never been to Amada, I have to ask, what are you waiting for? This Iron Chef Jose Garces owned restaurant puts a modern spin on tapas in a warm and cozy décor. I can honestly say we have never had a bad meal here, ever! From the moment you walk in, you are greeted by a friendly host or hostess, followed by incredible and detailed service from the wait staff. The food is just incredible, from the warm and savory sauces to the perfectly cooked seafood and meats. Every dish was a highlight, but the albondigas, lamb meatballs with shaved manchego in a light sherry sauce, literally brought tears to our eyes. Never before have we tasted lamb that was so tender and delicious. The wine selected for this incredible dinner was a 2013 Vi de Vila Bellmunt. This was an exceptional wine from the Catalan region of Spain. It was so smooth and velvety in texture, it brought more tears to our eyes when the last drop of this wine was gone.
A new day and a new wine week event to attend. Next up was a visit to Bistro Romano, located on 120 Lombard Street, and their event, “Corks & Consequences”. It was an evening of tasting, trivia and a chance for guests to win one of the delicious bottles of wine that was being featured this evening. We all had to pay close attention as the vendors would converse with us, offering insight to the specific wines, how they were made, where they were from, and then, trivia time. They would ask specific questions on topics just discussed to see who was paying the most attention. If you answered first, you won! Also offered was a delicious cheese and charcuterie board, donated by Di Bruno Brothers, followed by fantastic passed hors d’oeuvres by the restaurants incredibly friendly staff. The wine event was held upstairs in their beautiful bar section. I can’t stress enough how cozy and intimate this Italian restaurant is and they have a wine selection on their menu that is quite impressive. After the wine event concluded, we just had to stay for dinner. And are we glad we did! We both ordered the evenings specials, filet mignon and barramundi. Both were cooked to perfection and paired with a wonderful 2012 Glen Carlou South African Grand Classique. It was a blend of cabernet sauvignon, malbec, merlot, petit verdot and cab franc. All in all, it was a fun night of tasting and trivia, followed by a wonderful dinner. Bistro Romano has now become our favorite Italian restaurant. The décor, staff, food and wine were all spectacular.
Next on our wine week list was a blind tasting at the beautiful 5-star Rittenhouse Hotel, located at 210 West Rittenhouse Square. This event was very easy going. There were no set hours when it was held. You just went to the hotel, told them you wanted to participate in the blind wine tasting, and were escorted to their beautiful Library Bar located on the ground floor. We were joined this evening by our wonderful friends, Connor and Selena, who also happen to be our neighbors. The thinking was that four palates were better than two. Or so we all thought. This was not an easy challenge. The sommelier poured us a glass of red wine and we had to figure out from a list of 30 wines which one it was. If guessed correctly, you won a bottle of that wine. We didn’t win. We all had good guesses, or so the sommelier said. I think he was trying to be nice! Seriously though, he was incredibly nice and knowledgeable. In fact, the entire hotel and bar staff were incredibly friendly. It was a fun evening and the bar even provided us with a delicious charcuterie board.
We had always heard good things about the hotel’s restaurant, Lacroix, so we decided to come back that weekend for their wine paring lunch. Lacroix is a beautiful restaurant that overlooks Rittenhouse Square. Once again, the food was amazing and I can’t rave enough about the restaurant staff and how wonderful and friendly each and everyone was. The attention to detail is what you would expect from a 5-star hotel and restaurant and they did not disappoint. The restaurants sommelier was so nice and knowledgeable. She has been working at Lacroix for about eight years. Lunch started out with a very shareable smoked rainbow trout rillettes paired beautifully with a French 2013 Melon Pepiere “Les Gras Moutons” Muscadet de Sevre et Maine. The trout was heavenly, smooth and delicious with avocado, pickled onion and accompanied with brioche. Next was the main course, a perfectly cooked roasted leg of lamb with farro, broccoli rabe and sauce verte. The wine selection again was perfect. Another French wine but a 2012 Cabernet Franc, Catherine et Pierre Breton “Beaumont” Chinon. Last but not least, dessert! It was a seasonal selection of petit desserts, paired with an incredible French 1994 Chenin Blanc, Moulin Touchais, Cote Coteaux du Layon. The desserts were beautifully prepared and consisted of a lemon Panna cotta, carrot cake and flourless chocolate cake. The Panna cotta and carrot cake were wonderful but I was not too taken with the flourless chocolate cake. Now here is a perfect example of how incredibly wonderful this wait staff treated us. When our waiter asked for our opinions of dessert, we said they were excellent, except the chocolate cake. To each their own, right? He said he’d be right back and brought out two more different petit desserts for us to try. That, my friends, is going above and beyond the already incredible service we had already experienced this afternoon. We have a list of our favorite restaurants in Philadelphia and Lacroix is definitely on it! Do yourself a favor. Don’t hesitate and give Lacroix a try. We heard their brunch is to die for and that’s next in the future for us to try.
To wrap Philly Wine Week up, we headed to Barbuzzo and their Mediterranean inspired three course Sunday brunch. They are located at 110 South 13th Street. The restaurants décor is very chic and inviting. Overall, the food was very good but could use a few minor tweeks in my opinion. The first course consisted of shared plates of a delicious and very moist blueberry- olive oil coffee cake , followed by a smoked trout tartine, then their early spring salad. The trout was delicious but came on a very thick cut of bread. If the bread was sliced thinner, it would have been perfect so you could taste the wonderful trout, avocado, cucumber and lemon dill dressing much better. Otherwise it was perfect. The spring salad was very good but maybe could have used a citrus fruit as an accompaniment to help balance the bitterness of some of the salad. The coffee cake was again was perfect.
For the second course, we chose the steak and eggs, and the fattoush. The steak unfortunately was the coldest food on my plate. The eggs and oregano potatoes that also came with the entrée were very hot and delicious. The steak, although seasoned well and tasted great, needed to be a lot warmer. The fattoush was good but overloaded with too much lettuce. For those who are unaware of what fattoush is, on their menu, it consisted of grilled chicken breast, cucumber, radish, seared haloumi, shaved beets, grilled stone fruit, toasted lavish and a lemon sumac dressing. Sounds lovely, but it tasted more like a chicken salad. The chicken was cooked and seared perfectly but there was way too much lettuce and unfortunately all the other wonderful accompaniments got lost in there.
The final course was two lovely dessert options, a mini salted caramel budino or their seasonal sorbet. We ordered both and they were absolutely delicious. As for drinks, the mimosas we ordered with brunch were also made perfectly and tasted great. Overall, the brunch was very good and it was enough to make us want to come back to Barbuzzo for dinner in the near future. The staff were extremely friendly and attentive during this very busy Sunday brunch. I also have to thank one of the owners for listening to my concerns and being very positive and grateful for my suggestions.