Wherein I break my own rule and review a chain restaurant. I know this does not really fit my criteria of a chain: there is one Wine Kitchen in Leesburg and they opened one in Frederick last month. If you have been paying attention to my twitter feed you would know this review was coming. First impressions were very good: the space is tastefully decorated in what I’d call semi-modern style with lots of wood and metal. Plenty of tables overlook Carroll Creek and in the other direction the open kitchen. There also was a private room which looked like it could easily seat twenty or so. When I was there is was still under construction.
The food was very good. I started with the butternut squash soup which turned out to be the highlight of my meal. Rich creamy soup with fried goat cheese balls and a drizzle of olive oil. I came close to licking the bowl on that one. I also sampled the sheep’s milk agnilotti, the heritage pork belly and the Border Springs Farm lamb flatbread. All three of which were delicious. I cannot stand overcooked pasta and I am happy to report that the agnilotti was cooked perfectly. The pork belly had a nicely crisped exterior and a juicy inside. The menu is not huge, but there is plenty to choose from.
Of course, like the name implies this place is about wine. The best way to enjoy this is get one of their flights. These are groupings of three wines, thematically tied together. They come in high quality glassware and each flight was accompanied by a little set of cards explaining the three different wines. I ordered the Italian Renaissance, which was the only flight that had both white and red wine. I had the white (Fuso Verdicchio) with the soup, which made for a terrific pairing. The other two were reds. The only down note was that I felt like the last wine of the flight, the Marabino Noto Nero D’Avola, was a little old and flat tasting. I always have a little bit of a concern about freshness in places that have a lot of wine by the glass available on the menu, yet just keep the partially full bottles out on the counter with the corks stuffed in them. On the plus side there are lots of interesting flights to try: Pinot Evil and a flight of three bubblies caught my eye.
The service was good and the lunch with appetizer, entrée and a flight of wine each came to about $40 each including tip. All of us agreed that it is well worth a return trip. On the way out we noticed a nice set of leather sofa surrounding a fireplace. That would be the spot to while away some time while sampling their wines!!
Il Porto reminds me of a good offensive lineman: just solidly doing their job over and over without much flash or fanfare. I’ve eaten at Il Porto twice in recent months and both times came away with the same attitude: good solid Italian-American comfort food. From the gnocchi, to the baked ziti, to the eggplant parmesan to the salmon picatta everything I have eaten or sampled there was good. Not sublime, not terrible, but solidly good. There is nothing fancy about their food; no avant garde foams or weird dishes, but what they do serve comes out just the way you expect Italian-American food to be. I was also very surprised how reasonable their prices were. Most entrees were in the $9-13 range. The other thing that really stood out was the service. It was impeccable both times we were there. The wine list is decent. They have a house red (which I did not try) and several wines by the glass. The only quibble I have is that they didn’t have many reds by the glass available. They did have a prosecco by the glass which was a pleasant find.
I also really like the ambiance of the restaurant. It struck me as one of those neighborhood places you find in Boston or New York. I think it’s due to the fact that when you look out the front windows all you see are trees and residences and no other commercial property. It really makes it feel like a cozy neighborhood joint, which is exactly what it is!
Il Porto: 200 South Market Street, Frederick, MD 21701-6527 Phone: (301) 620-7480
Drank the 2006 Domaines Schlumberger Riesling Les Princes Abbes with Easter dinner on Sunday. A good solid wine but didn’t blow me away, especially at $20 a bottle. Had a typical petrol nose with flavors of pineapple and kiwi. Very, very dry finish. I would rate it a solid 85. When I took the first sip after pouring I was really not impressed. As the meal wore one I came to enjoy it more and more. It really enforced what I’ve come to realize with Rieslings: they are truly food wines, especially the dry ones. What I mean by that is often when you just drink them by themselves they don’t come across as all that good. They don’t reach their full potential until you drink them with your meal. The food really seems to play off the flavors and harmonize some of the weirder notes that can be off-putting when they are on their own. What do you think?
For me a little oak goes a long way. I’m especially sensitive to the amount of oak in white wines as all too often the oak seems to overpower the flavors. Regular readers will know I have a strong dislike of the big, buttery, oaky California-style Chardonnay. As far as I am concerned if I wanted that much oak I’d just chew on a stick. So when I’m choosing a white I usually tend to gravitate towards to unoaked bottlings. If your palate is like mine I’d like to recommend the 2009 Tangent Paragon Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc. From the Edna Valley in California this wine looks away from the new and towards the old world. This is the second vintage of theirs that I have tried and I think this one is better than the ’08. Lots of tangerine and lemon flavors, all wrapped inside nice flinty acidity. Delicious and right what I am looking for in a white.
I paid $14.99 for this from the Frederick Wine House. I rate it a solid 90.
Just wanted to make quick post to let everyone know how I had a wine Sunday evening that we both loved. It was the 2009 Chateau Ste Michelle Riesling from the Columbia Valley in Washington State. I would call this wine off-dry as it had some sweet notes but definitely not too much. It looked as pale as water in the glass but the explosion of fruit was awesome with tons of peaches and apricots. The finish lingered on and on. A delicious wine and a really great value. I really enjoyed just sipping it on its own. We scored it an 89-90.
They make a lot of this so you should be able to buy this almost everywhere for about $10. Just make sure its the 2009. Also don’t confuse it their other Reislings: Dry Riesling and Harvest Select Riesling which I haven’t tasted.
Quick post: Gary V whose Wine Library TV widget has graced my pages for years did a review of a prosecco with a screw top (!?!). He says that more and more bubblies are considering screw tops. Has anybody seen any? To see the review go down to the WLTV link on the bottom right of the blog and go to episode 938.
To all those who inquired thanks! I am fine. Sorry for the light blogging. I’ve done a bunch of fun food and wine related things this Summer and Fall but just been too busy to write about them. Life just keeps getting in the way. I fully intend to let you guys know about some of them.
A few days ago Mrs. F and I had a rare childless evening. So we decided to try someplace new. Any place with wine bar in the title gets our vote so off we went to the Shab Row Bistro and Wine Bar on East Street in Frederick. This newer restaurant was once the tasting room for Frederick Cellars, but they split the building. Now Frederick Cellars has its facilities completely on one side and the new restaurant on the other.
The owners have made some changes and the eating area is stylishly decorated with muted earth tones, pictures by local artists and a zinc bar. They also have a four table outdoor dining area overlooking East street, but on the day we went it was just too darn hot to sit there. They are serving a limited menu right now, but their website indicates that they plan to expand it in the fall. We had a cheese plate, the crostini, a caprese salad special and the vegetable flatbread. Plenty of food for two moderately hungry people. The food was quite good. They have a nice selection of cheeses to choose from and the three spreads that came with the crostini were excellent. The flatbread was nice and I really appreciated that the vegetable topping had not been cooked into mush and was still crispy and flavorful. The service was also very attentive. They had about 40 wines by the glass and Mrs. F and I had fun picking and sampling a variety.
While I thought the food prices were a little on the expensive side the wine prices were excellent. Everything they had by the glass was available in 2 or 6 ounce pours and the wines by the bottle were really a good value. Most restaurants sell wine by the bottle for double or even triple retail. Shab Row’s prices were significantly less than that. Furthermore they have a wine store in the back and they will pour you anything there for a $9 corkage fee. I didn’t explore the wine store as we were having too much fun with the wines by the glass. Their website also lists their happy hour times which look worthwhile.
Bottom line: If you think of this as an excellent place to drink some wine with some decent finger food on the side you won’t be disappointed.