|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
- Pizza and Beer: FlammenkÃ¼che (Alsatian flatbread with onions, fromage blanc and bacon) and Kronenbourg
- A Sandwich and a RosÃ©: Pan Bagnat (similar to Nicoise salad) with a glass of Provencal RosÃ© wine
- Wine and Cheese: a French red with your choice of cheese, with salad and toast
- Moules MariniÃ¨re: mussels in white wine with tarragon and leek, served with Dagan cider from Normandy
The Chairman's Selections, wines displayed front-and-center in dump bins and often tagged with hype-building ratings from Wine Spectator or Wine Enthusiast, offer decent value and affordable new tastes to wine drinkers stuck in a PLCB store before dinner.ï¿½ A case of Merryvale Merlot 2005 branded with the Chairman's seal of approval caught my eye on a recent pre-BYOB foray to the Wine & Spirits store at 232 W. Girard Ave (215-574-1268).
Merryvale is a big-ish Napa Valley winery deservedly famous for its Cabernet Sauvignon, especially bottlings from the Starmont vineyard. I'd never had a Merlot of theirs, and picked the 2005 vintage up based on its high rating (90 out of 100) and appealing price ($19.95).ï¿½ï¿½ Merlot has suffered tarnish to its image in the last decade, the butt of wine snob jokes from dinner parties to Miles' memorably neurotic rant in the film Sideways.ï¿½ The worst Merlots, the plonk that earned an entire varietal such scorn, are soft, flabby fruit juices that offer no depth or structure. This Merlot, however, defied such generic stereotypes.
2005 was a weird year in Napa, as Merryvale's Web site notes:ï¿½ "The 2005 harvest was one of great extremes. A very wet spring provided a lot of potential for a big harvest of very juicy fruit. A fantastic Indian summer resulted in long hang times allowing the grapes to mature at a leisurely pace giving us outstanding character and added complexity."ï¿½ 100 percent Merlot from vineyards in the Carneros and Oak Knoll Districts of Napa Valley underwent extended maceration on their skins and 18 months in French oak barrels (37 percent new).
The finished product poured inky purple, with sharp vegetal notes on the nose. This is no Cali sweet fruit bomb -- dark plum, cherry and cocoa lead, with toasted and sharp edges of cigar tobacco.ï¿½ The finish lingered on the tongue, dry and smoky.ï¿½ It would make a welcome addition to a slow-braised dinner, or with duck glazed in fruit sauce.ï¿½ The PLCB Product Finder can aid you in finding a bottle -- today's search revealed 50 units at the Girard Ave. store where I first saw it.
|Photo l Michael Persico|
Moxie, that 19th-century soda superstar, stole the whole food sidebar this week, pushing out other sugary worthies stocked byï¿½ The Franklin Fountain.ï¿½ Since Moxie's noble lineage and herbaceous, medicinal flavors ate up my entire word count, scope the expanded, soda-centric Q&A below from Ryan Berley, who owns Franklin with brother Eric.
Meal Ticket: How do you find these obscure/old-fashioned sodas?ï¿½
Ryan Berley: We've traveled the country visiting old soda fountains & confectioneries.ï¿½ While on the road, we're always looking for and asking about regional sodas.ï¿½ Glassbottlesoda.org has a list of the bottlers for most of them. We buy pallets direct from the bottlers and have them shipped to us.
MT: Do you drink them yourselves?
RB:Yes, we do.ï¿½ I like to have a soda with my lunch.
MT: Have you considered looking for "original" recipe sodas, that are made with sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup?
RB:We always are looking for sodas that use sugar instead of corn syrup, as that was the original way. However, corn syrup has its place in modern cooking and is actually less "sweet" that sugar so it works for certain recipes.ï¿½ Corn syrup is not inherently evil as many have made it out to be. We do sell a Mexican-made Coca-Cola which uses cane sugar, and our fountain Dr. Pepper syrup comes from Dublin, TX where they are the last bottling plant to use cane sugar in the original way.
MT: Which is each of your favorite sodas?
RB: Mine is Moxie.ï¿½ Eric likes the "Hot" Blenheim's Ginger Ale, and suggests it with a splash of raspberry syrup.
MT: Do you blend any of the sodas with cocktails?ï¿½ I know you sell the Blenheim's Ginger Ale to Sassafras for a Dark & Stormy.
RB: Only in our off-time.ï¿½ I like the Fentimans Orange Jigger with a spash of Bluecoat Gin.ï¿½ And yes, the Blenheims is great in a Dark & Stormy or with Kentucky bourbon over ice.
MT: Besides a Moxie float with teaberry ice cream, do you have any other ice-cream soda pairing recommendations?
RB: Green River (lemon-lime) with Lemon Sorbet.ï¿½ Manhattan Special Espresso Soda with Chocolate Ice Cream. Try the Nu-Grape soda floated with Vanilla Ice Cream, also known as a Purple Cow, something our dad made for us as kids.
|Tuesday is Market Cocktail Day
at Chick's Cafï¿½
Chick's Cafï¿½ and Wine Bar will introduce their new high bartendress to Philadelphia next week at Weeping Phoebe's Debutante Ball, also known as Chick's Summer Cocktail Dinner.
Phoebe Esmon was hand-picked by former head bartender Katie Loeb (now at Oyster House) to enlarge the Chick's tradition of complex cocktails loaded with fresh produce and herbs. Every Tuesday, Esmon shops the farmers market for likely ingredients for her Market Day Cocktails, which recently featured a muddled blueberry, cilantro and jalapeno concoction of cachaca and lemon juice.
The dinner on Monday, July 27 will pair five of Phoebe's original cocktails with chef Jim Piano's Medi-inspired cuisine. Expect an aperitif made with house-infused chamomile and cherry blossom vodka topped with Prosecco; a Plymouth gin, cucumber and green Chartreuse elixir matched with Italian crudo; and a spicy rye whiskey, orange pekoe tea and muddled mint cooler accompanied by a Spanish-influenced barbecue plate.
Chick's promises "surprises, liquid and otherwise," as well as stand-up comedy from local John Conor. Tickets are $45 per person, plus tax and tip. And that spectacularly evocative name? The teary moniker comes from Esmon's cottage industry, Weeping Phoebe's Bitters.
|Photo l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
Flying Fish brewer Casey Hughes doesn't like wheat beers. The hazy yellow liquids are as popular as a prom queen and almost as insipid, largely owing to their lamentable lack of hops. "I wanted to make a wheat beer that I liked," said Hughes.
So Hughes, with Flying Fish owner Gene Muller, put enough Columbias, Cascades and Amarillos in their brand new Exit 11, the second offering in their Exit Series of big bottles, to combat the sweetness of wheat and produce a brew to satisfy hopheads. A grain bill split 50/50 between Belgian pale malt and American white wheat is magicked by the multiple hop additions into a light-bodied, citrusy and superdry summer ale.
With only 1,000 cases of the 25-ounce bottles and 40 kegs in the run, Exit 11 will likely sell through just as quickly as the debut beer in the series, the golden Belgian-style Exit 4. Speeding sales is the mini-controversy the Exit Series has sparked ï¿½ in the wake of a AP video piece, Mothers Against Drunk Driving interpreted the turnpike-themed labeling as promoting drinking and driving. Muller responded to M.A.D.D. in this Courier-Post article:
Gene Muller, who owns the state's largest craft brewery located in Cherry Hill, said the Exit Series beer was never intended to associate drinking with driving as suggested by an MADD official."Our families ride on the same roads as everybody else, so we're all very strongly against drinking and driving," said Gene Muller.
Visit Flying Fish's Web site to contribute photos, videos, ideas and testimonials for more Exit Series beers, an interactive brew-development process that Muller is quite excited about. "The ideas that have come through the site are amazing, innovative, and stamped front to back with New Jersey pride. They encompass everything we're trying to honor with these special beers."
Look for Exit 11 at local Philadelphia bars, or pick up a bottle at both Foodery locations; 837 N. Second St., 215-238-6077 and 324 S. 10th St., 215-928-1111
|All signs point to happy hour.|
Get your mind right with City Paper's Moveable Feast weekly happy hour.ï¿½ Our inaugural Feast kicks off this Thursday at Eulogy, with complimentary appetizers and specials on Belgian beer from 5-7 p.m.
The Feast will float to a new location each Thursday -- look for us next week in GHo at Ten Stone.
CP's Moveable Feast, every Thursday from 5-7 p.m. starting June 11, citypaper.net/moveablefeast
|All photos l Felicia D'Ambrosio|
|Infusions in the works|
Flavored liquor is not my thing. You can keep your APeach, APear and Cherry Bombs; I like to chew my sugar, not mainline it.ï¿½ Prejudiced as I am, the words "apricot-peanut bourbon" markered across a homey glass jar behind the bar at Fairmount stalwart London Grill sent my brown-liquor antennae spinning.
London Grill bartender Adrian Cane, former cook at Josï¿½ Ramon Andres' D.C. tapas temple Jaleo, is the man behind the apricot-peanut bourbon, as well as a spicy hibiscus- and cucumber-infused tequila. Other bartenders, as well as bar manager Cristina Tessaro, owner Terry Berch and chef/owner Michael McNally concoct their own infusions, as well ï¿½ the housemade lineup comprises dozens of choices. "I love how interested everyone is in this," said Berch. "We wanted them to be involved in this process and they have come up with amazing things."
The kitchen is integral to their whole-house approach to developing a cocktail list. "Sous chef Jason Lemon and I have meetings all the time, about what seasonal ingredients I can use for infusions," said Cane. "I talk to him about what liquors to cook with and we share ideas."
Chef McNally's Italian-style blood orange and grapefruit-cello is intensely floral, with a harmonious balance of sweetness and citrus; the beguiling potion begs to be mixed with a bit of Prosecco for a glam breakfast drink or apertif. Both this infusion and his classic limoncello cannot be rushed ï¿½ they infuse for at least two months to develop their full flavor. "We don't sell anything until it's ready," said Tessaro. "Everything is tasted throughout its stages and checked."
Though the neutral base of vodka makes it a natural for infusions, the London staff does not limit their creativity. Berch has a violet gin in the works, which will be the base of a Pre-Prohibition classic, the Aviation. Mint and lavender from London's garden are making their way into a new infusion now.
|Bartender Adrian Cane|
Cane explained the trial-and-error approach to doctoring up booze. "The apricot-peanut bourbon was an experiment. We used dried, un-sulphured apricots and ï¿½ this is important ï¿½ dry-roasted unsalted peanuts," he laughed. "That could have gone badly had we forgotten the unsalted part." The mixture was left undisturbed for a few days, until Cane noticed the peanuts had released a significant amount of oil into the alcohol. At that point, he removed the nuts to keep them from from dominating the flavor. After infusing for a few weeks, he decanted the jar in front of me to offer a sample.
The spirit's hard edges had been erased by the softness of the peanut oil, with an underlying sweetness from the apricots. It was lovely, a perfect way to transition brown liquors into the warmer seasons. "I think I'll make a Apricot-Peanut Manhattan with it," said Cane. "With peach bitters, and leave out the vermouth because it's already a little sweet." He also pondered an Apricot Julep, muddled with fresh apricots, the bourbon and a little club soda.
"You don't have to add sugar to these infusions," noted Tessaro. "The flavors are intense and don't need it."
Other summery potions include the James Bond Vesper, a blend of grapefruit-citrus gin, Finlandia grapefruit vodka and Lillet, and the Pink Pepino, a vibrantly hued martini of hibiscus-cucumber tequila, PAMA liqueur and a float of sparkling wine.
"You guys have quite the cocktail program," I marveled to the beaming staff.
"We're a little under the radar," said Tessaro. "It's a speakeasy."
London Grill, 2301 Fairmount Ave., 215-978-4545, londongrill.com
Wednesday, June 3 marks the kickoff of Center City Sips, the annual Wednesday happy hour that generates drinking dollars for dozens of restaurants during theï¿½ summertime slowdown.
Devised by the evil geniuses at the Center City District and the Central Philadelphia Development Corporation, Center City Sips is going into its sixth season of discounted intoxication.ï¿½ $4 cocktails, $3 wines and $2 beers set up the brain and belly to consume some half-price apps and hopefully, stick around after 7 p.m. for dinner.
Though the list is padded with plenty of cheesy venues, a few cool kids are taking part in the promo.ï¿½ Snag a prime patio table at 1225 Raw Sushi & Sake Lounge to best soak up fruit-infused sake and half-priced spicy tuna rolls and shrimp shumai, or try out the rotating craft beer feature and chef's specialsï¿½ at Vintage Wine Bar & Bistro around the corner.
Jose Garces' half-Peruvian, half-Cantonese baby Chifa just earned three shiny bells from Grand Arbiter LaBan; use the Sips discount to sample the popular pork belly buns with hoisin glaze, pickled daikon & carrot and togarashi mayo paired with a spectacularly cheap Allagash White.
Center City Sips, every Wednesday between 5 and 7 p.m. at participating restaurants, June 3 through August 26; centercityphila.org
|Photo l Michael Persico|
At a recent press tasting of McGillinï¿½s 1860 IPA Test Batch brewed by Stoudt's, some beer wag confidently announced that "Philly is an IPA town."
True enough.ï¿½ Philly is awash in world-class brews, and India Pale Ale is the quintessential craft style.ï¿½ The first breakout craft beers to gain national attention were pale ales; Sierra Nevada set the standard.ï¿½ The bright,ï¿½ hoppy pale ales were everything mass-produced industrial lager was not: sharp, floral, biting and big.
Tastes for hops increased exponentially as drinkers were introduced to new microbrews, propelling the "extreme brewing" trend and creating demand for almost painfully bitter beers.ï¿½ Even traditionally hop-averse Belgian brewers began rolling out styles based on American IPAs.
Thus, many craft beer drinkers got their start on hops and are now looking for new flavor experiences.ï¿½ Barleywines, imperial stouts and weird fusion styles are getting the dorks chattering on the heavy side, while drinks writers likeï¿½ Lew Bryson and brewers, both local and farther afield (Gordon Grubb at Nodding Head, Jean Van Roy at Cantillon), champion milder, low-alcohol "session" beers.
That said, a great IPA will always get the taps flowing and tongues wagging.ï¿½ The most talked-about recent IPA entry to local barrooms is California's Bear Republic Brewery Racer 5.
The multi-medal winning brew has been around since 1999 but only became available in PA over the winter. Bear's Web site calls Racer 5 "a base for showing off the unique floral qualities of two Pacific Northwest hops, Columbus and Cascade." Columbus is a high-alpha acid hop typically used for bittering; Bear Republic uses it instead as an aroma hop in Racer 5.ï¿½ Though distinctly bitter, the brew is full-bodied and way smooth. At 7 percent ABV, a pint packs a memorable punch and accompanies spicy Mexican and classic American barbecue fare with style.
Tasting Notes: This 12-oz. bottle poured hazy old gold with a substantial, sticky head that left deep lace behind. Nose is flowers and bread.ï¿½ Hops dominate the flavor, but malt from the all-American grain bill stands up behind the grapefruit. A resinous, almost musty undercurrent keeps the whole thing working together.ï¿½ One of the best American IPAs I've ever had.
Racer 5 is seriously recommended.ï¿½ Look for it on tap at local beer bars, or pick up a sixer at Total Wine in Cherry Hill for $11.99.
Total Wine & More, 2100 Route 38, Cherry Hill, NJ; 856-667-7100, totalwine.com
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