Countdown to 2009

Featured this week: Champagne for dummies, New Year’s Eve places to be,
and a Winter Thyme cocktail recipe.

Now that you’re almost done all that shopping and wrapping, it’s time to look toward the next big event on your calendar: New Year’s Eve. I’m not necessarily one to go out on the town for the big night, but luckily for you, my inbox got hit with a few last-minute flyers, and even some tips on how to handle the bubbly. If you’re not sure what kind of champagne to serve, or to deliver to an eager hostess, my buddies Rob and Bob at Ardmore Wine and Spirits Shop will surely have some inside scoop on the hottest vintages and bargains. So give them a call, and tell them I sent you: (610) 645-5010. Personally, I’m a big brat, and I favor Veuve Cliquot in all shapes and sizes …

Champagne 101

Tips for the champagne challenged, from our friends at Bertolini’s in KOP.

» The only sparkling wine that can legally be called champagne must come from the Champagne region of France.

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» When serving champagne or sparkling wine, it should be chilled to about 45-49 degrees, which enhances both the taste and the fragrance.

» The best way to chill a bottle of bubbly is to fill a champagne bucket halfway with water and ice, and let the bottle sit in it for about 30 minutes. You can also place a bottle in the refrigerator for an hour or two, but don’t leave champagne or sparkling wine in there any longer than that.

» Never chill a bottle in the freezer. If you forget it’s there, you’ll have a nasty surprise when you find that it’s exploded. A messy cleanup job is nothing to celebrate.

» The French novelist Colette said it best: “Champagne is not drunk, it is savored. It must not be drunk too greedily. It should be enjoyed with restraint in single glasses, with thoughtful, well-spaced sips.”

» Champagne is best served in long-stemmed flutes. These narrow glasses are ideally suited to concentrate the wine’s aroma, and they enable you to better observe and admire champagne’s distinctive bubbles and sparkle. Unlike the bottle, the glasses should not be chilled.

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» To open a bottle of sparkling wine or champagne like a pro, hold the bottle by the neck (or place it on a table), being certain that the cork is not pointed at anyone. With your free hand, loosen the cage covering the cork. Once this is loose, slowly and gently twist the bottle (not the cork) while pushing down slightly on the cork. Though you are pushing down on the cork, you will feel it begin to push back on your hand as it releases itself from the bottle. The goal is to hear a small whisper, not a loud pop.

The Winter Thyme Lemon Drop served at Bertolini’s in KOPFor Non-Bubbly Fans

A Winter Thyme cocktail from Bertolini’s.

Winter Thyme Lemon Drop
(Serves 1)
• 1 ounce Caravello Limoncello
• 1 ounce lemon juice
• 1 ounce Absolut Citron
• 1/2 ounce Monin simple syrup
• 2 small sprigs of fresh thyme
• Sugar, for rim

To make:
• Put one sprig of fresh thyme in the bottom of a mixing glass, then add Limoncello, simple syrup and lemon juice. Muddle lightly to release the oils in the thyme.
• Add Absolut Citron and ice. Shake 15 times (no, we’re not kidding).
• Wet the rim of the glass with the unused lemon to moisten, and dredge in sugar to rim the glass.
• Pour liquid into chilled, sugar-rimmed glass. Use second sprig of thyme as a garnish.

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Got Plans?

It’s not too late to put a little fizz into your New Year’s night. There are numerous restaurants at the ready with tricked-out menus and libations to help you ring in the New Year with a full belly.

» The Inn at St. Peter’s Village is serving a five-course meal in both the main dining room and on its banquet level. The first seating is at 6 p.m. and costs $100 per person; the second is for late-night revelers and begins at 9 p.m. (The second seating includes wine with each course, plus music and dancing.) For a peek at the decadent menu, go to

» Rumor has it that Kaya’s Cuisine in Havertown is doing a special five-course dinner for $50-$55 per person. Stay tuned for more details, or give them a ring at (610) 446-2780. Visit

» Conshy fave Gypsy Saloon will serve its eclectic Italian a la carte menu and festive holiday specials to help you get in the mood. On the menu: cedar-wrapped salmon, pretzel-encrusted pork chop with apple sauce, and filet mignon with portobello mushroom, braised fennel and red wine reduction. Open seating will be offered from 5:30-10 p.m., followed with live music by Grace at 10 p.m. (No cover charge.) 128 Ford St., West Conshohocken; (610) 828-8494,

» Just down the street, sib Stella Blu will be wooing patrons with its own a la carte menu: dressed-up comfort fare like grilled filet mignon (with a choice of chef Ralph Pallarino’s specialty sauces); porcini-dusted salmon with grilled asparagus and tomato fennel cream sauce; its signature lobster mac ’n’ cheese; and a bounty of New Year’s Eve small- and large-plate specials. Open seating is available from 5:30-10 p.m. 101 Ford St., West Conshohocken; (610) 825-7060,

» For a more lavish French- and Italian Riviera-inspired spread, Savona is a great option. Sophisticated ambiance and decadent dishes—such as lobster fettuccine with wild mushrooms, edamame and exotic mushroom nage; and Dover sole with pine nuts, asparagus, artichokes, scallions, sweet peas and lemon butter—will be on the menu, along with a seven-course chef’s tasting menu for $98 per person. Open seating is available from 5-11 p.m. 100 S. Gulph Road, Conshohocken; (610) 520-1200,

» Nectar guests can choose between chef Patrick Feury’s special lobster menu, a NEW comfort menu or NEW tapas flights (chef’s choice of three small plates). Nectar’s a la carte menu will also be available, along with MiniTini Flights, yummy desserts-for-two, creative cocktails, and sake and wine specials. Open seating is available from 5-11 p.m. 1091 Lancaster Ave., Berwyn; (610) 725-9000,

» Dive into 2009 with Tango’s festive holiday food and drink specials. There’s no designated New Year’s Eve menu, but that means you can stick with your favorites from executive chef Sam Sheridan’s American Contemporary a la carte menu: Australian lamb chops with rosemary mint sauce; grilled rainbow trout laced with a toasted almond, caper, lemon and brown butter sauce; or roasted duck breast served with sun-dried cherry demi-glace.
And in case you’re wondering, the bubbly menu includes:
• Kenwood Yulupa Cuvée, $9/$42
• Charles Heidsieck Brut, $15/$95
• Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Collection: half bottles “Yellow Label,” $50; Brut “Yellow Label,” Rose, Grand Dame, $110 and up

Tango Bistro, 39 Morris Ave., Bryn Mawr; (610) 526-9500,


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» Stephen Starr has a hold on Philly’s restaurant scene and on New Year’s Eve festivities. Take a look (info dished by the fabulous Holly Dean, one of Cashman and Associates’ PR queens):  

• Ring in the New Year at Starr’s latest hot spot, Butcher and Singer. Enjoy classic cocktails served to perfection, house-butchered steaks and chops, and decadent desserts in a 1940s Hollywood-style dining room. With a Manhattan in hand and porterhouse on the plate, guests will enjoy the sounds of the Geri Mingori Band as they play old favorites from years gone by.

• “THE CRASH at Continental Mid-town” bash: Celebrate the end of a tumultuous 2008 and ring in 2009 with the Continental’s enticing menu of global tapas and one-night-only cocktails, such as the Nasdaqtini, Green with Envy and the Dow-Jones Margarita. Count down to midnight as New York City’s DJ Duane Harriott spins an eclectic mix to keep the party going into the New Year.

El Vez is the place for a New Year’s fiesta! In addition to its signature margaritas and Mexican classics, there will be a tequila toast at midnight and the year’s first Happy Hour from 11 p.m.-1 a.m. DJ Brendan BringEm will be spinning live as guests treat themselves to reduced-price margaritas, draft beers and light bites.

• Romantics seeking a more subdued, cozy New Year celebration should head over to Jones, where they can feast on American favorites like fried chicken and macaroni and cheese, then sip cocktails by a roaring fire. Party hats, noisemakers and a complimentary champagne toast provide an at-home feel—only better.

• At Alma de Cuba, guests can choose from three prix fixe options, including three courses for $40 at 5 p.m., four courses for $60 from 6:30-7:30 p.m., or five courses for $90 at 9 p.m. Beginning at 8 p.m., the first-floor lounge will come alive with the sound of Al Aguilera’s Salsa Band to keep everyone moving and shaking all night.

• For the ultimate in luxury, look no further than Barclay Prime, serving dinner from 5-11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. Guests can enjoy favorites from the a la carte menu, such as Kobe beef sliders, rib-eye steaks, butter poached lobster, as well as specialty items and a toast to the New Year.

• Have a Zen celebration at Philadelphia’s most celebrated restaurant, Buddakan. Guests will toast the New Year to the stirring sounds of DJ $mall ¢hange, while treating themselves to tasty Modern Asian specials and favorites like crispy calamari salad, aged beef and sesame-crusted tuna.  

• For a New Year that’s a cut above the rest, go to Morimoto for the region’s best Japanese cuisine. In addition to menu specials, chef Morimoto will serve an Omakase menu for $100 and a specialty truffle tasting menu for $150. The last reservation is at 11 p.m.—just in time to indulge as the ball drops.

• Celebrate the New Year in Parisian style at Parc, Rittenhouse Square’s newest hot spot. Indulge in such classic French bistro dishes as Moules Frites, Beef Bourguignon and Braised Lamb Shank, and explore Parc’s extensive wine list of French and American classics. Bonne année!

• The ultra-modern POD is the perfect spot to toast to the future. Enjoying an a la carte menu with creative specials, guests can elevate their experience by reserving the private pod for 13 for seatings at 5 p.m. and 9 p.m. Regardless of your seat, guests will be dancing all night long to the sounds of DJ Soulflower.

• Or take a trip to the Mediterranean with a meal full of the flavors of France, Spain, Italy and Morocco at Tangerine. A la carte dining is available from 5-7 p.m. The celebration seating with a prix fixe menu is available for $125 at 9 p.m. DJ Monk One will man the music for the evening, and belly dancers will complete the festive mood.

For more info on all of Starr’s restaurants, visit

» Check back next week for—well, I don’t really know. Let’s just say a New Year’s surprise!

Our Best of the Main Line Elimination Ballot is open through February 22!