Because of its unique soil and warm climate, the Oakville region of Napa Valley produces some of the most highly coveted California Cabernet Sauvignons, including cult Cabs such as Opus One and Silver Oak. The 2003 Franciscan Cabernet Sauvignon hails from the same region, and it drinks as well as its $150 celebrity cousins. But the difference is that you won’t have to apply for financial aid to buy this wine.
The Franciscan is actually a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon (89%), Merlot (10%) and Petit Verdot (1%). Most California Cabs are blended; winemakers often blend in other wines to enhance the depth and complexity of their Cabs. But a winemaker must use at least 75% Cabernet Sauvignon to use the varietal on the label.
On the nose: At first, the nose is slightly hot; you can smell the alcohol. So I’d recommend decanting this wine, or just letting it sit in the glass, for about a half hour before drinking. Once you do, you’ll be treated to the Franciscan’s wonderfully complex aroma of dark fruit, cedar, cloves and tobacco.
On the palate: This is a big wine. Rich, fleshy, intense and full bodied. You’ll discover black currant, plum and dark cherry flavors with notes of chocolate and coffee. The influence of 18 months in French and American oak give the wine a subtle hint of toasty caramel. Tannins are abundant in Oakville Cabs. The Franciscan, true to form, has firm tannins, enough to allow it to continue to improve for years to come. The acidity is light, and the finish is short.
On the wallet: Oakville Cabs, as I noted above, can be notoriously expensive. Throw into the mix that 2003 was an exceptional year for California Cabernet Sauvignon and it starts to look like this wine may be out of your price range, right? Wrong. You can get this wine here in Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, for a mere $23.99. A terrific value for those who love Oakville Cabs and for those who want to experience them for the first time. It’s tough to find a wine this good at this price, so stock up now.
On the table: This wine is perfect for socializing outside on a cool autumn evening. With food, it would go best with heavier meats—such as filet mignon, lamb and duck—or blue-veined cheeses.
August 27, 2006
August 23, 2006
The Water Works Restaurant and Lounge has been one of the most anticipated restaurant openings of the year. So, I was looking forward to dining there as soon as possible, assuming I could get in.
That’s what I heard when I called for reservations. A gentle way of saying they’re booked. But Water Works appreciates that the way they say it matters. Good service is more than filling your coffee cup six times a la Mr. Pink. The devil is in the details, and these days one of those details is language. There’s a difference between a restaurant whose servers ask, “Have you finished enjoying your meal?” when they’re looking to clear your plate and a restaurant whose servers ask, “Are you done working on that?” Restaurants with good service appreciate the difference. And so should you, especially when you’re dropping serious coin for dinner. For that reason, hearing that Water Works was “fully committed” was oddly refreshing. The servers at Water Works also practiced this level of professionalism; they were attentive, knowledgeable and already comfortable in their routines.
But hearing “fully committed” doesn’t mean you can’t get a table at Water Works. Here’s a tip your hotel concierge may not yet know: the 80 intimate, waterfront seats outside on the mezzanine with a spectacular view of the sunset are available on a first come, first served basis. In other words, the best seats in the house can be yours without a reservation. There is a rub, however (there always is). Two actually, but they’re small. First, you’re exposed to the elements. There are no umbrellas on the mezzanine; they would ruin the view for those inside who have reservations. So, if it rains, you’re going to get wet. If it’s hot, you’re going to sweat. Lights, too, would ruin the insiders’ view. A friend of mine who dined there at night noted that it was difficult to read the menu by candlelight. Second, some of the tables are very small. Although our entrée plates fit on the bistro-sized table, not much else did. Edward Doherty, the Director of Operations at Water Works, explained that the outside tables originally were limited to the Meze menu. Small plates; hence, small tables. But patrons kept asking for the full dinner menu, and they wisely relented. Doherty confessed that the small tables weren’t working, so look for an adjustment to be made, if it hasn’t been made already.
Although the wine list is short, it is respectable and very reasonably priced. It covers the popular varietals; however, I would like to have seen a few more mid-priced wines. For example, the 2004 Quivira Sauvignon Blanc, Fig Tree Vineyard ($28), which we ordered, was the least expensive Sauvignon Blanc on the list. However, the next least expensive Sauvignon Blanc jumped to $50. The Quivira is actually a blend of Sauvignon Blanc (88%) and Semillon (12%). It has a wonderful grapefruit and melon aroma, and the fruitiness found on the nose carries through to the palate. The Semillon, which marries well with oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc, adds a touch of richness and complexity to this summer-time potable.
There is more to experience at Water Works than the sunset. Chef Adan Trinidad (formerly with El Vez) has crafted a Mediterranean-themed menu that is accessible, reasonably priced and ambitious. For starters, we decided to split two appetizers and a salad. First, we had the Grilled Halloumi Cheese with Roasted Hot Pepper and Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($7). For those unfamiliar with this Greek cheese, here are two things to know: (1) it has a high melting point, which means it is perfect for grilling; and (2) it’s salty. When I grill Halloumi, I top it with tomatoes soaked in olive oil; the tomato helps to balance out the saltiness. That’s just how I roll. Water Works, though, served their Halloumi with a roasted hot pepper sauce. The sauce was subtle and did not provide the balance you get with tomatoes. At the same time, however, it was zesty, refreshing and emphasized the basic elements of the Halloumi.
Next, we had the Meatballs with Roasted Eggplant and Smoked Yellow Tomato Puree ($7). The sauce had a light, mild spice and the eggplant added a comfortingly hearty texture. The meatballs were made with lamb (if I recall correctly) and were very tasty. My only criticism is that the meatballs appeared to be just a tad underdone.
Our last starter was the Arugula Salad with Wine-Poached Pears, Pine Nuts, Goat Cheese and Champagne Vinaigrette ($8). The salad was elegant. I love goat cheese and pine nuts, probably a bit too much. So, I was disappointed that in this dish they were merely decorative accents. But I suppose this style of presentation is appropriate for an elegant salad. The vinaigrette was strikingly tangy. Acidity heightens the flavor of food. But here, for some reason, the vinaigrette seemed to compete with and subdue the meatiness of the arugula. The pears were candy-sweet and, of course, fit well with the vinaigrette.
For the main course, I had the Pan-Seared Black Bass with Saffron Infused Tomato Broth, Yellow Split Peas, Confit Tomato and Braised Leeks ($24). The bass was cooked perfectly. A red sauce can be tricky with fish; it has the potential to overpower a lighter fish like bass. Fortunately, though, despite its dark, rich appearance, the broth was actually quite light with a delicate, peppery background flavor. The broth did not add the dimension to the fish that one would expect given its bold color, but it did provide a smooth transition to the savory yellow split peas. The braised leeks were rich and delicious, yet they did not seem to connect with the rest of the entrée.
My wife had the Grilled Tuna with Creamy Fava Beans and Kalamata Olive Vinaigrette ($25). The tuna came in the form of medallions, which may not be the best way to present this dish. The center of each medallion, properly, was rare. But the edges, troublingly, were well done. The creamy fava beans were fresh, addictive and cooked to perfection; it was hard to keep my fork off my wife’s plate.
Stuffed as I was, our server talked me into dessert. But, then again, she did know the magic word: chocolate. More specifically, Warm Chocolate Truffle Cake with Candied Cherries, Manouri Ice Cream and Fresh Crème with Nutmeg—a steal at $9.00. This dish is notable not only for the way it tastes, but for the way it is presented. Here, Pastry Chef Chad Durkin (formerly with Susanna Foo) provides you with refined materials (cake, crème, ice cream and two fruits—tomato and cherries), allowing you to combine flavors on your own to construct each bite. Participating in the dessert changes the way you eat. The tomato/cherry combo is a Greek thing, apparently—acid and sugar. I get it in theory, but the tomato just didn’t do it for me. The warm chocolate truffle cake and the crème with nutmeg, on the other hand, were sinfully decadent.
The sun was setting and the last bite of dessert was still ghosting around on my palate. A server looking to clear asked, “Have you finished enjoying your meal?” Indeed, we had. And so will you.
Water Works Restaurant and Lounge
640 Water Works Drive
Philadelphia, PA 19130
August 16, 2006
August 10, 2006
The Wall Street Journal reported today that wine fraud is on the rise. (See “Swell or Swill?,” subscription required.) Wine fraud is a form of counterfeiting—“bogus bottles bearing some of the most prestigious labels.” Detection has become more difficult because now the fraudsters actually put half-decent wine in the bottles bearing their fake labels.
Fortunately, U.S. winemakers have been largely untouched; counterfeiters usually target historic labels and wines that are in vogue.
To combat the problem, winemakers are experimenting with placing holograms into the wrapping that seals the cork and embedding microchips in the labels.
Most of us aren’t buying the type wine that people want to counterfeit. Nevertheless, here are two easy ways you can protect yourself, or at least look cool at a cocktail party:
- Check the cork. A lazy counterfeiter may simply remove the label from a bottle of low-grade wine and replace it with a fake label bearing the name of a prestigious winemaker. To detect this type of fraud, check the cork for the name of the winemaker and compare it to the label. If the two don’t match, you know something screwy is going on. That’s actually why the server presents you with the cork after he or she has opened the bottle; it’s old school ceremony left over from when wine didn’t have labels. Oh, and by the way, don’t sniff the cork. You’re not going to learn anything from doing that. If the wine is tainted, you’ll know by tasting it before you accept the bottle.
- Educate yourself. Spend some time learning about the types of wines a counterfeiter likely would target. As high-end wines become more available on the Internet by the bottle (including via Internet wine auctions), you may decide one day to splurge and buy an expensive bottle of wine for a special occasion. Knowing that the wine you’re considering may require closer scrutiny will be helpful. Even if you don’t plan to splurge, appreciating wine is a cerebral experience—learning about it is just as much fun as drinking it. Well…maybe not AS fun….
August 09, 2006
In this week’s issue of City Paper, Drew Lazor ranks the Top 5 Philly Food Blogs.
PhilaFoodie (i.e., yours truly) captured the No. 3 slot. Foobooz and Holly Eats take the top two spots, while Messy and Picky and Minor Gourmandry round out the remainder of the list.
The rankings, of course, are unofficial pending the outcome of urine tests to detect elevated testosterone levels.
Many thanks to City Paper and to Drew for the No. 3 slot and his kind words.
Photo via CityPaper.net