The Latham Hotel's restaurant is lacking in both food and drink.
You know the moment at the end of a date, that nanosecond between the time you decide to go in for a kiss and the moment your lips actually touch for the first time? The excitement, the nerves, the unfettered potential? That’s kind of how I get right before opening the list at a wine bar I’ve never been to.
Wine bars, after all, are places where there’s ostensibly been some sort of concerted effort to assemble a collection of bottles and glasses that pique our interest, maybe challenge us a bit. We’re certainly justified in expecting a few surprises along the way as we run our eyes down the columns of reds and whites, maybe a few things we haven’t heard of before.
But reading the glass list at Urban Enoteca, off the lobby in the Latham Hotel, was the equivalent of making out with a dead fish.
Rex Goliath Cabernet for $9 a glass? (It’s listed on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board website for $6.99 a bottle!) Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio? Clos du Bois Chardonnay, for the love of all that’s holy and good in this world? Calling the selection of wines by the glass here uninspired is about as serious an understatement as positing the idea that Kanye West is just a teensy bit egotistical, or that Rep. Todd Akin isn’t quite up to date on the latest research in female reproductive biology. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with these wines, but there’s also nothing terribly interesting about them, either—especially considering the fact that they’re being poured in a so-called “enoteca.”
There’s too much here that you can just as easily buy at your local state store, which violates the basic, tacit agreement that wine bars almost always have with their guests: You’ll pay a premium, but in exchange, you will have a chance to experience grapes and regions and styles that you otherwise may not have. Look at what Tria does so successfully. And Vintage. And, you know, virtually every other wine destination in the city worth going to.
So I ordered a Center City Sips promotional glass of cloying Diseno Malbec and delved into the menu itself. Surely the Italian-inspired food would come through in a way the depressing wine program hadn’t. Surely the port I’d find in this grape-y storm would be in the form of a plate of bruschetta, or a bowl of seafood stew.
Tomato-basil bruschetta, in the peak of one of the best local tomato seasons we’ve had in years, could have been so much more than the soul-crushing slices of bread barely covered by cubes of red and yellow tomatoes that actually arrived. Those few tomato cubes that were present were dressed with way too much vinegar and devoid of any apparent basil. When I asked about this—and I mean, literally, there was no green on the bruschetta at all—our waiter went back to the kitchen and reported to us that the tomatoes were marinated with basil in the olive oil, so they’re infused with it.
Because, apparently, that’s what you expect when the menu notes that the dish includes “torn basil.”
Roasted chioggia beets were about as riveting as one of those Mitt Romney renditions of “America the Beautiful” from primary season. Accompaniments of generic blue cheese creme, pickled shallots, a creamy pistachio vinaigrette and micro arugula were just as forgettable. Pommes frites were dry, and the aioli riding shotgun tasted awfully close to a spruced-up Russian dressing. Crispy parmesan chicken wings were a highlight, but that’s damning them with faint praise: I wouldn’t necessarily order them again, but given the context, the tension between the saltiness of the parmesan and the sweetness of the truffle honey, they at least held my attention beyond the first bite.
“Acquacotta” soup could have come from a high-school cafeteria. The broth was pleasant and well-seasoned, but the vegetables were softer than the Muzak version of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time” your dentist plays in the background of his office, and the grissini criss-crossing the top of the bowl should be read as stale reminders to not go beyond them, like some sort of carb-y police tape.
Worst of all was the “rustic stew of coastal shellfish.” It arrived practically trailing cartoon odor-lines, like those wisps of smoke that followed Pepe LePew in the old Warner Bros. classics. Bland halibut, well-cooked but virtually flavorless shrimp, “Maine lobster” that was little more that the occasional shoestring of flaccid meat—all that and more came to the table in a menacing bath of unexpectedly thick tomato sauce squiggled with a Day-Glo saffron rouille whose sourness was cause for concern.
Desserts were only better insofar as they weren’t actively off-putting. The flight of cakes arrived looking for all the world like the centerpiece at a cheap wedding, each glass cube filled with a different example of the kitchen’s ineptitude even in the realm of sweets. Carrot cake was more icing than actual cake, tiramisu was boozy enough to get you intoxicated just looking at it, and strawberry shortcake tasted like those Laffy Taffy bats I used to eat as a kid. The black forest cake was better, but didn’t nearly plumb the depths of richness that it’s supposed to.
As meals go, this one was upsetting enough to make me want to drink.
Just not here.
The Latham Hotel, 135 S. 17th St. 215.563.7474. lathamhotelphiladelphia.com
Cuisine: Italian and Italian-inspired
Hours: Daily, 6:30am to midnight
Price Range: $6–$31