I’m going to tell you a story about my super fun weekend in Philly that shamelessly consisted mostly of eating & drinking vino. I was heading to the land of cheesesteaks on Saturday to take my level 1 exam for the Court of Master Sommeliers. It was a 2 day introductory sommelier course: 8 am – 6 pm on Sunday, 8 am – 4 pm on Monday + a 45 minute, 70 question multiple-choice exam. The extremely in-depth course ended with a champagne toast where they announce those who pass (if your name isn’t called you quickly chug the champagne and run out of the door). The class covers literally everything there is to know about wine. A typical exam question would be…”what is the soil type of Château Mouton Rothschild winery?” You’d then have to remember that Château Mouton Rothschild is an estate in the village of Pauillac, in the AOC of Médoc, in the region of Bordeaux, in the country of France. And know what kind of soil is in Pauillac, whether it’s limestone, schist, clay, chalk, granite, gravel, slate, etc. This exam has been hanging over my head for the past 4 months, so to say I was relieved when my name was called is a HUGE understatement. Now I can watch Netflix without feeling guilty that I’m not spending my free time studying about wine regions.
I dragged my momma with me to Philadelphia – she kindly agreed to come even though she knew I was going to be in class for basically the entirety of both days. She got to explore the city, go to Reading Market & City Hall, and helped me “study” (aka taste) for my exam. We also got to go to some amazing restaurants – and now begins a trilogy of Philly eats.
The first night we visited Bank & Bourbon inside the Loews hotel on Market Street. We walked in and went straight to the lounge area – the dining room was packed. We got a nice table with a great view of the open kitchen and were immediately greeted by Kelsey. My mom said at the end of the meal that Kelsey was the best server she’s ever had – knowledgable, attentive, and very friendly. We had their cheese plate to start – I really love cheese. We paired it with a bottle of old vine zin from Steele Vineyards in Lake County, CA. As we were enjoying our wine & cheese, I was witness to the hustle and bustle of Bank & Bourbon. All of their staff walked with a purpose. The open kitchen perfectly showcased the talented chefs busting out fan favorites like roasted cauliflower salad, an impressive whole fish presentation, and pie for two. The pie caught my eye as soon as I sat down – ginormous portion, served in a cast-iron pan, with a very generous scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t order it at the end of my meal – I just couldn’t fit anything else in my tummy. For my entree, I enjoyed the honey brined Duroc pork chop with pickled red onion, mustard greens, and a parsnip puree. The dish was fantastic – the pork was juicy, red onion vibrant, mustard greens barely cooked, and parsnip puree reminiscent of your grandma’s mashed potatoes. They also cut the pork off of the bone and slice it for you – pros – 1) it makes you feel like you’re a kid again having your meat cut for you by your mom at the dinner table 2) you can eat the pork quicker – less work for you. The only complaint I would have is that there were not enough of the sides in comparison to the protein. I still had 4 bites of pork left, but no red onion, greens or parsnips with it. Other than that, the dining experience was flawless and I will definitely be back next time I’m in the city. Did I mention Knob Creek makes a bourbon especially for this establishment? Bank & Bourbon challenges the stereotypes that are hotel restaurants.
After blind tasting 22 wines and having to deduce the vintage, varietal & region of each wine, my mom and I went to Vintage Wine Bar in Midtown. Naturally. Kelsey from Bank & Bourbon recommended this cool, artsy spot, so we decided to have a drink here before our dinner reservation Sunday night. The atmosphere was spot-on with hundreds of bottles on display and ready to pour, exposed brick, and a dramatic chandelier made from wine bottles that looks like it came straight off of Pinterest. We were right in time for the last night of Philly Wine Week and ordered wine + cheese flights. I sampled Vintage’s selection of Italian wines + cheeses and my mom chose France. We shared everything, commenting on how each cheese complemented the wine, and I practiced the deductive tasting method I had learned in class that day to guess what wine I was sipping on. That’s considered studying, right?
After Vintage, we walked to Old City for our dinner reservation at High Street on Market. I had read multiple articles about this place and knew that I had to see what all the hype was about. Homemade breads + pastas by Chef Eli Kulp, locally sourced ingredients, contemporary pairings, and a laid back vibe was what I was expecting. We walked in 15 minutes early and our table wasn’t ready yet, so we grabbed a drink at the restaurant next door – Fork. Fork also happens to be owned by the same restauranteur as High Street, so we knew we were in good hands. Once our table was ready, we were guided through the back of the 2 restaurants and popped back out into the other dining room of High Street on Market. Unfortunately, my mom and I weren’t too hungry after our trip to Vintage. The “eat everything in sight” mentality that we had had since she arrived in Baltimore on Friday was starting to subside. We decided to share an appetizer & an entree. Will waited on us and was very helpful. He explained everything to a T and knew all of the ins and outs of each creative dish his culinary team had prepared. He recommended the brussel sprouts, which were to die for. My mom and I were blown away. The sprouts themselves were roasted to perfection. The smoked goat yogurt provided the perfect amount of tanginess and creaminess. And the grilled purple cabbage added great color and char to the dish. Throughout our dinner, we were wonderfully spoiled with complimentary small plates from the kitchen. First, they brought out their potted shrimps & a lobster crostini, then a much more substantial dish of the angry crab spaghetti (it tasted like a crab bomb in your mouth + was centered around perfectly al dente housemade pasta). It was pretty cool to be treated like VIPs and added a crucial element of surprise that every diner looks for when they go out to eat. Everything was delicious, so fun to eat, and we got to experiment with new flavors and combinations. We also ordered the daily bread board and the cauliflower caramelle with sweetbreads. I had never had sweetbreads before (they are the pancreas of baby cows…yum). But they essentially tasted like chicken nuggets – the perfect explanation that Will gave us. The breads on the bread board were hearty and made with lots of interesting whole grains. We finished the night off with a chocolate mousse and rolled ourselves back to our hotel room. It was without a doubt one of the best dining experiences I’ve had. If you’re in Philly, you need to go to High Street on Market tonight.
The next morning, I woke up at 4 am to finish cramming for my exam. 12 hours later the test begun! I will be signing up for the level 2 exam in a few months and will hopefully have the chance to go to another cool city and wine & dine to my heart’s content.