Taste: Spirits: Drink Here Now: Ultimo/Brew

What: A gourmet coffee shop and craft beer store, all under one roof.

The concept: The coffee and beer scenes share similarities: a renewed focus on the craft of brewing, a desire for artisanal products, and a burgeoning popularity. Uniting the two, says co–owner -Aaron Ultimo, was “a perfect match.”

The coffee: A wide array of seasonal brews grown mostly in Central and South America and Africa.

The beer: Some 500 craft-brewed bottles that can be bought as mixed six-packs.

The space: Rustic industrial.

The genius: The disease and the cure, both in one convenient place. Buy your beer, then come back to alleviate your hangover.

Ultimo/Brew, 1900 South 15th Street, 215-339-5177.

Taste: Spirits: Red, Hot

“Ellen’s fanatical about 65 degrees,” my bartender at Fork said, handing me my $12 glass of barbera. He was referring to Ellen Yin, Fork’s owner, who insists that every red wine sold by the glass at her restaurant be served at proper drinking temperature. And according to the instant-read digital thermometer I’d borrowed from my kitchen for this wine-testing expedition, the wine was a near-perfect 63.8° Fahrenheit, a temperature that showed off its balance of fruit, aromatics and structure nicely.

It’s common knowledge that white wines should be served at cool temperatures, but red wines also benefit when served slightly chilled—right around 65°, as Yin prefers. But many restaurateurs don’t share her fanaticism: A surreptitious survey conducted with my trusty digital thermometer showed that even the most carefully selected and pricey reds by the glass at top-tier restaurants are served warmer than most pros prefer—that is, beyond the point at which the wines taste their best.  

At Amada, I drank a Ribera del Duero ($13) at 71.8°; at Amis, I sipped two wines: a Ca’ La Bionda valpolicella ($12) at 72.4°, and a rich Super Tuscan (also $12) at 71.8°. At Parc, I drank two: a Château Chabiran bordeaux ($12) at 75.8°, and a minervois from southern France ($11) at 75.3°. All these warmer wines had good fruit, but lacked balance—they seemed flabby and alcohol-heavy to me, which would have been remedied by a slight chill. Amis’s sister restaurant, Osteria, uses a temperature-controlled system for all its by-the-glass wines—why not here as well? Another spot that gets it right is Tria, the wine bar, where red wines are refrigerated to a precise 62° to 65°.

Still, the thermometer runs warm for red wines around the city more often than not, which means we’re missing out. Amada wouldn’t dream of serving its garlic shrimp at anything less than sizzling; Amis wouldn’t be content presenting lukewarm pasta con cacio e pepe. It would diminish the meal. Likewise, Philadelphia’s wine drinkers would be better served and get the value they are paying for if restaurants found ways to pour their red wines at cooler temperatures. Until then, I’ll just stick to trusty rosé, served recently outside at Parc on a beautiful spring day at a refreshing 45°.

Taste: Spirits: Spin the Bottle

If you’re a cocktail drinker in Philadelphia, times have never been better. And as a wine writer who has always enjoyed a cocktail as a prelude to dinner, my interest was piqued upon hearing that cocktails featuring wine were on the rise across the country, at venerable bars such as the Tar Pit in L.A. and Death & Co. in New York City.

So I headed over to the Franklin, with its maniacal focus on mixing nuanced concoctions, to challenge bartender Colin Shearn to invent a winefilled cocktail. We decided that sherry, the alluring Spanish sipping wine that already serves as a great aperitif, would make an ideal base. His mission: to create something new with this underutilized wine that would maintain sherry’s delicate nature.

Shearn started with a bottle of Pedro Romero Extra Dry manzanilla (from a well–regarded producer in the seaside town of Sanlúcar de Barrameda; available at select state stores). He said his goal was to be certain the other ingredients complemented — and didn’t overpower — sherry’s salty flavor. After a few attempts that yielded notquiteright concoctions, inspiration hit. Noting that sherry is sometimes aged in old American whiskey barrels, Shearn tried variations with bourbon, and found an affinity between the two alcohols. When he added Aperol — an Italian aperitif similar to Campari — for a touch of bitterness, an outstanding drink emerged: The nutty sherry was balanced by spice from the bourbon, with a hint of complexity from the Aperol. When I asked what he’d like to call this drink, he replied, “I leave that to you. That’s the hard part.”


Death Rides a Pale Horse

Serves 1


1 1/2 ounces Pedro Romero Extra Dry manzanilla sherry
1/2 ounce Old GrandDad 114 proof bourbon
1/2 ounce Aperol
1/2 teaspoon simple syrup
2 dashes orange bitters
2 dashes absinthe

At least one hour before mixing drink, place a cocktail glass and a 16ounce mixing glass (pint glass) in refrigerator to chill. When ready to mix drink, fill the mixing glass with ice. Combine all ingredients and stir briskly until drink is very cold. Strain into chilled cocktail glass.

Dispatches From Dave: Brauhaus Schmitz

Although I wasn’t exactly feeling the lack of a German beer hall in my eating-out portfolio, I loved the new Brauhaus Schmitz from wife/husband owners Kelly Schmitz and Doug Hager. Drank a wonderfully smoky Hecht Schlenferla Rauchbier, which was dark and lively, and ate bratwurst and apple sauce. Looking forward to more of chef Jeremy Nolans’ flavorful food — next up for me is the spicy slow–cooked sauerbraten.

718 South Street; 267-909-8814; brauhausschmitz.com.

Dispatches From Dave: Savona Redux

After 12 years, Savona has been reworked by owner Evan Lambert and his team into a regional Italian spot with a modern vibe — including an expanded bar for dining and an outdoor patio, some chill music, and two menus: casual (pizzas, pastas, and Tuscan classics such as baby chicken cooked under a brick) and a refined menu of top-end cooking from chef Andrew Masciangelo. Lambert has evolved Savona for these times: I call it “casual excellence,” Lambert calls it “affordable luxury.” Either way, its tasty food!

Dispatches From Dave: The Franklin Mortgage and Investment Company

Took the folks out after dinner at Parc for some top–quality cocktails at The Franklin, Philadelphia’s newest faux–speakeasy-style bar, located on 18th Street in the old Bar Noir space. What an improvement! Here we sample two superb cocktails: the Pirates Slave and the Penicillin. Cocktails at their best!

Dispatches From Dave: Ooka Sushi in Montgomeryville

Newly opened Ooka Sushi, a modern, ambitious 210–seater improbably located in a renovated Blockbuster Video on a busy stretch of Route 309, is the fourth venture from brothers Lenny and Benny Huang. The brothers have been quietly raising the suburban sushi bar — hiring Morimoto chef Shuji Hiyakawa and bringing on two Center City wine veterans (Michael Wirzberger and Sky Strouth) to develop a sushi–friendly wine and cocktails list. Highlight of this meal: superb sashimi — kanpachi, aji, and Japanese red snapper.

Dispatches From Dave: Inside the Kitchen at Mercato

I particularly enjoy Mercato in the warmer months — outdoor seating and open windows expand the space — and its combination of casual and quality hit the mark. In this video, chef Mackenzie Hilton, working in the tiny, tiny kitchen, takes me through the preparation of calamari with basil pesto and, on the side, a refreshing salad of radicchio, cannellini beans, pepperdew peppers, and scallions.

Dispatches From Dave: Inside Oyster House

Here’s a quick look at the new Oyster House on its opening night, featuring some deft shucking by one of the chefs. The space is a sophisticated modernization of the old Sansom Street Oyster House, with an L-shaped oyster bar and overall good vibe! Looking forward to an oyster sampler, some cherrystones, and a Victory beer.

Dispatches From Dave: Zahav Hosts the Restaurant Club

Zahav, the number-one restaurant on the 2009 Philly Mag 50, hosted the second Restaurant Club dinner on Tuesday. Eighty lucky (and fast-dialing) RC members enjoyed a four–course feast culminating with braised lamb shoulder and Turkish wedding saffron rice. In this clip, chef/partner Michael Solomonov shows me how the lamb is cooked — and I get a taste.

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