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Sippers’ Sanctuary
Cosimo’s passion is wine—just don’t underestimate the food.

THE SCENE: Entering through the rear entrance of Cosimo, the new wine bar and restaurant in Frazer, is a straightforward experience with little fanfare. The industrial feel of the staircase gets an artsy boost from the eye-catching bamboo-like planking on the steps and landing.

Stepping into the bar, the look is punched up by a more intricate combination of vinyl planking and grayish-green and copper Centiva tiles, which are designed for the kind of wear and tear management hopes Cosimo will experience as word spreads. Made of dark wood, the horseshoe-shaped bar seats 22. And there are high-tops and booths for 60—a subtle hint that the wine bar is a choice place to take in the Cosimo experience.

If you make it to the dining room, you’ll find a light and airy space with skylights and two gas fireplaces. Sage, copper and black dominate the color scheme, popping up in different combinations—sage walls, solid copper and striped banquettes, mosaic-style wallpaper (in the bar area), copper-colored tiles above the fireplaces and decorative wood accents.

 


Contemporary but hardly flashy, the overall décor soothes with its subtle blend of textures and colors—a flowing combination of tasteful flooring, mellow hues and dark woods. The sense is that each area has its own theme and that, much like the food and wine selections, the design’s intent aims to provide an eclectic experience befitting whatever mood customers might be in. Comfortable but not overly intimate, the space feels more “everyday” than “special occasion,” and better suited for groups than couples. The private lounge (pictured above) is cozy chic and inviting.

THE FOOD: Recently installed executive chef Steve Delaney (pictured below left) (Café Chicane, Dilworthtown Inn, Ritz-Carlton Naples Beach Resort and Naples Grand Resort) shows panache with an appealing blend of Asian, Caribbean and Italian flavors and a globally inspired menu that is, as he puts it, “simple, healthy and explainable with a twist.” His experience at the Ritz-Carlton’s Grill Room is the muse behind the Island-style dishes. (The restaurant’s namesake is Cosimo I de’ Medici, once the Grand Duke of Tuscany, but don’t expect a heavy dose of Italian ingredients.)


Delaney’s commitment to preparing everything “from scratch” might not be perceptible on the menu, but the deeply flavored “bar b que” pork tenderloin and tuna togarashi punctuate his commitment to—and affinity for—experimenting. An oversized bowl of onyx-hued black bean soup was satisfyingly smoky, with bits of roasted pork and a dollop each of mango salsa and lime cream. A dash of salt brought up the flavor of the beans. A little heat and a more al dente feel to the beans would render this dish pretty close to perfect.

The pan-seared “jumbo lump” crab cake looked to be mostly back fin. But it was free of filler, and the key lime aioli and ancho chili oil were zesty embellishments. The chicken-fried rice spring rolls had a light, crisp wrapper and a robust miso dipping sauce, but would’ve benefited from a little higher ratio of chicken to rice. The fried calamari—lightly battered, flash-fried and served with a spicy apricot sauce made with apricot nectar juice, brown sugar, Sriracha sauce, crushed red pepper, garlic and ginger—were tasty but, due to their petite size, inconsistent in tenderness.

When our entrées arrived, we realized we had underestimated the chef. The dishes were visually appealing, artfully arranged on oversized white restaurant china (wine is served in Schott Zwiesel titanium crystal stemware). The showstopper was the tuna—seven ounces of sashimi-grade

yellow fin encrusted with powdered nori and a myriad of dried spices and cut into three large triangles, their centers a sinful shade of crimson. A mountain of rich coconut jasmine rice, baby bok choy and ponzu sauce were more than worthy accompaniments.

The generously cut Angus New York Strip enticed with its flawless medium-rare center and zesty seasonings. Still, it was a bit tougher than expected.

We swapped the halibut for the salmon, since they’d run out. The fish was moist and meaty, served with a subdued carrot-ginger butter. The creamy spring pea risotto actually had petite fava beans, which added a nice bite.

Four enormous U-10 scallops, seared and served alongside a modest amount of exquisitely balanced polenta and charred tomato vierge with minced truffles, made an impression. But the real winner was the pork, served with sweet potato-onion hash and broccoli rabe. Smoky and succulent, with a lightly charred exterior and pink core, the meat gets its intense flavor from Delaney’s Caribbean jerk brine, which it bathes in for 24 hours.

The whimsical house-made desserts (pictured above) are grouped as samplers, categorized to indulge your craving du jour. A deconstructed carrot cake arrived as two scoops of moist cake nestled alongside a dense cream cheese foam and raisin walnut compote. The chocolate sample—a melodious mix of pot de crème (made with 60 percent bittersweet chocolate, lending a drier flavor), miniature chocolate tart, a truffle and a brownie made with ground chocolate paste—delivered a satisfying dose of cocoa.

THE EXPERIENCE: Cosimo’s relaxed, unpretentious vibe is evident right from the start. As with most new restaurants, management aims to be visible. Upon our arrival, we were immediately greeted by the owner and shown to our table. The servers readily accommodated our party’s scattered arrival and drink ordering, along with a toddler’s special request of shrimp scampi with rice.

Still, service was spotty throughout the meal, which was surprising for a slow Monday night. But all the staffers showed a fair level of familiarity with the menu and weren’t shy about making suggestions. At one point, we went from one server to three, which caused a bit of confusion as to whether we were supposed to be ordering our wine from one person and food from another.

Then something happened you wouldn’t expect from a restaurant that promises “a journey you’ve never experienced unless you’ve lived in Napa Valley”: We received two incorrect wine flights—which also happened to be the most expensive on the menu and were red, as opposed to the white we ordered. By the end of the night, this gaff had become a running joke between the staff and our table.

Wines are numbered and served on a paper place card to help tasters keep track.

But alas, our server got a few glasses mixed up when placing them on the cards, so we didn’t always know what we were drinking.

THE SKINNY: Despite the heavy emphasis on wine, Cosimo’s culinary offerings shouldn’t be overlooked. The internationally inspired menu is set to change every two weeks, in keeping with the plan to change up the wine menu just as frequently.

Cosimo’s concept is built around the simultaneous enjoyment of wine and food, yet no pairing suggestions were offered by our server. A slow night would seem like the perfect opportunity to talk about wine director Jason Whiteside (CSW) and the restaurant’s distinct wine preservation and dispensing system, which affords guests a selection of 40 wines by the glass—many of them typically offered only in bottles. Hipping us to the concept was kind of an afterthought. The wine list, how flights are served and pairing suggestions should be better explained to enhance the overall experience.

The international wines are grouped primarily by whites and reds of similar taste and body (not by varietal), sequenced from lightest to boldest. Flights vary from three to six wines in a grouping and don’t appear to allow room for mixing and matching outside the preordained sets. Flights and singles can be ordered in 1.5-, three- and five-ounce portions. Of those we sampled, many were drinkable, diverse and refreshing. But, surprisingly, few were standouts that left us eager to seek out a bottle. Great wine aside, Cosimo brings a notable level of innovative and reasonably priced cuisine to a sorely neglected stretch of Lancaster Avenue. What some might read as a lack of polish in service, others might welcome as pleasantly un-affected.

Novice wine drinkers looking to expand their horizons will be at ease among more seasoned oenophiles, as will those who prefer a chilled martini or draught beer.

Cosimo has been up and running for less than six months and has already amassed an enthusiastic following. Although the bar was quiet during our visit, it’s easy to envision a lively weekend crowd. Its uniqueness and location combine to make it a natural choice for Main Liners seeking a casual meal at the bar, a relaxed three-course affair or a sampling of such notable pours as Duckhorn Merlot ($26, five ounces; $130, bottle), Domaine De Chevalier Blanc ($19.25, three ounces; $154, bottle) and, for real thrill seekers, Pennfold’s Grange Shiraz ($20.25, 1.5 ounces; $325, bottle).

Continued focus on wine instruction and dinners highlighting Delaney’s skills should help transform this already popular neighborhood haunt into a destination whose appeal extends further east—to those who undoubtedly have the same fondness for wine as Mastroianni and Whiteside do.

E-mail comments to associate editor Dawn E. Warden at dwarden@mainlinetoday.com.

 


DETAILS: Cosimo Restaurant and Bar
Location: 209 Lancaster Ave., Malvern, (610) 647-1233
Cuisine: Contemporary international fusion
Prices: $16-$29
Attire: Jeans to business casual
Atmosphere: Upscale but unpretentious wine bar with a heavy focus on wine education and appreciation
Hours: Lunch Mon.-Fri. 11:30 a.m.-5 p.m., dinner Mon.-Sat. 5:30-10 p.m.
Extras: Private dining room; wine tastings, workshops and dinners