Craig LaBan: The dish on top Philly wine spots

During my recent interview with Philadelphia Inquirer restaurant critic Craig LaBan, I made a point to tap his opinion bank for first-string, wine-leaning destinations in the area so I could share the bounty with you, my fellow vins votaries. Following is his response to my question, “Are there wine spots worth calling out in the city?”

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LaBan: “The BYOs are kind of a blank slate. They’re only as good as the wine you bring. There are definitely restaurants that are wine-friendly. You can almost spot them by the crowd that shows up and the bottles…people are drinking there. Go to Bibou…it’s classic French cooking, it’s perfect for a great wine. But I could just as equally go to Kanella for Greek food and bring a great Mediterranean wine or Koo-Zee-Doo and bring a fantastic Douro. You go to an Italian restaurant like Monsù in South Philadelphia where he’s serving up Sicilian food. That’s kind of fun because Sicilian wines are just starting to happen. You use these places as a source of inspiration to explore a new region…Matyson is sort of your new American contemporary restaurant (and) their food is very wine friendly.

Savona Restaurant, Gulph Mills

In terms of restaurants that are doing a great job with wine, there are different ways to look at it…If money wasn’t an object I would definitely be hanging out at Osteria, for example, (because) they’re so connected to the wines of Italy. You’ve also got Le Virtu…then you have places like Fork that have always done a very good job of doing a contained wine list of very good choices, mostly Old World things. Barbuzzo did a good job. Fish restaurant…they’ve gone after interesting wines to go with their cuisine.

If you want to go nuts, Savona has the best wine cellar in the region. Melissa Monosoff is a phenomenal sommelier, she’s like an encyclopedia. There’s the steak houses that are so predictable but that’s where you get your verticals of Screaming Eagle, and if you really want a Kosta Browne you can find it at Union Trust or Del Frisco’s. Whether or not they keep that bottle properly climatized is another story. There’s a lot of salesmanship and marking up in those places that I often find leaves a bad taste in my mouth.”

I haven’t been to some of the new wine bars. I haven’t been to Jet, for example. I’ll be real curious to see what Aimee Olexy is doing over at the new Talula’s Garden. She has a sommelier background and a real love of wine…which will be very interesting because Stephen Starr has always had adequate wine lists, not exceptional wines. It’s never been his forte…The (Jose) Garces restaurants do a good job, especially the ones focused on Spain, you know, Tinto and Amada…but, again, they’re not shy about marking it up just because they can.

And don’t forget about La Famiglia and La Ristorante Panorama. They’re easy to forget because there’s so much competition now but those are great places to get an education on wine. So many glasses to choose from (at Panorama).”

VIDEO: The Douro Expedition #18 – Part 1