Strategically placed on Manayunk’s main drag, Cooper’s Wine Bar, 4365 Main St., is an almost-alter-ego-like expansion of Jake’s Restaurant, which has been an area favorite since 1987.
The establishments share a wall, a kitchen and chef Bruce Cooper, but Cooper’s exudes a more dimly lit, upscale charm compared to the bright, local arts-heavy décor of Jake’s. And the menu does all it can to carry out that vision.
First off, know that Cooper’s is serious about its wines: For every dish, there’s a first, second and third wine recommendation to accompany it, and staff will regale you about the origins of said wines if you are inclined to inquire.
Given that the space lends itself well to intimate conversation, it’s no surprise that the small plates were, for the most part, something to talk about — finely crafted comforting dishes, even if at times they exercised a certain amount of restraint when they could have gone over the top.
It’s easy to see why the lobster potato perogies ($12) are a house favorite, delightfully crispy and savory. We expected the lobster to dominate, given how well the caramelized onion and brown butter sauce married themselves with the star of the dish, and we can’t argue with the results.
The tuna tartare ($16) had some pleasantly unexpected flavors thanks to the inclusion of grapefruit and potato gaufrette. The portobello mushroom soup ($8) was hearty and satisfying. The grilled hangar steak ($14) brought the most thunder in the flavor department with a lovely chimichuri and safrito sauce.
The only dish that truly fell short of expectations on the small-plates menu was the shrimp spring rolls ($12), which is a serious letdown considering how much people love shrimp and egg rolls. Marrying the two should be the easiest thing in the world, right? But once you got past the diabolically hot (ouch!) and crispy coating, it was soggy and unremarkable on the inside. We appreciated the sauces on the dish, a choice of either blackberry or apricot, but otherwise we felt like we could get better results from a street vendor for half the price.
Things quickly got back on track when we sampled one of Cooper’s fine pizzas. The portobello mushroom and shallot pizza ($16) was thin and crispy with just enough goat cheese, truffle oil and thyme to make it sing with flavor. (That’s saying something, considering how bored we have become with mushrooms of late.) Now we kind of want to go back and try all of their pizzas. Damn!
The entrée dishes were solid as well. The pan-seared sea scallops ($26) were perfect, with welcome textures and flavors provided by red quinoa, shaved Brussels sprouts, apple, butternut squash and a cranberry gastrique.
Cooper’s dessert menu obliterated our resolve to keep our New Year’s resolution, hitting us with our personal sweet kryptonite, key lime pie ($8). It would have been enough on its own, but the raspberry-ginger whipped cream and crème anglaise really put it over the top. What’s worse (for our resolution), there were at least three or four other equally fun-sounding dessert items we would have been happy to try if key lime pie wasn’t in the equation.
All in all, Cooper’s is a solid companion to Jake’s, and offers chef Cooper more opportunities to show off his widening range of skills.
Larry Nichols can be reached at email@example.com.