The end of January is a time of celebration in our house.
Every January 27, Julie knows I’m going to take her out for her birthday dinner. Each year I try to find a new place for my wife and I to enjoy a romantic evening in her honor.
This year, that place was the Folino Estate Vineyard and Winery.
Folino Estate opened in the fall of 2015 on a sprawling tract along Old Route 22, just off the Krumsville exit of Interstate 78 in northern Berks County.
Pulling up to the building for the first time, you would never know that it is just a little more than a year old. It was built to resemble a historic estate in Tuscany, and it accomplishes that.
Even the lobby, the Piazza Folino, feels like something out of an Italian street scene, complete with sidewalk-style tables and chairs.
The restaurant, though, feels exceptionally modern. From the large fireplace in the middle of the dining room to the open kitchen, Folino Estate does well to avoid clichés.
The menu is distinctly Italian, but it is definitely not clichéd either. Folino Estate features some wholly unique offerings that you won’t find on the menus at Berks County’s other Italian restaurants.
Italian onion soup is just one example. I’ve enjoyed many a cup of French onion soup, covered in melted gruyere cheese. But this was different.
For one, there was no melted cheese on top. Instead, mozzarella and fontina cheeses were melted on toasted Italian bread pieces that took the place of croutons in the soup.
Did it remind me of French onion? Of course. But it was different, and I enjoyed this Italian twist. The soup, itself, was a little salty, but I enjoyed it, especially the addition of the mozzarella.
Julie’s appetizer was the tomato and fresh mozzarella, a typical caprese salad with the unexpected addition of a mass of olives.
For most guests, pairing dinner with a glass of Folino’s own wine is a highlight. For me, a non-drinker, I decided to take my wine in my food.
Drunken pasta sounded like nothing that I have ever tried. The tagliatelle pasta was infused with red wine, giving it a purple hue. It was also cooked in red wine, with olive oil and roasted garlic. Our waitress made sure to ask, “Do you like red wine?” because the flavor was going to be ever-present in this dish.
And it was. The pasta was delicious, holding the distinct flavors of red wine throughout. I also especially enjoyed the shaved pecorino Romano cheese that topped the dish, adding a sharp, salty note to the dish.
I added chicken to the dish only so that I would have a protein. It didn’t add much except to make it a little more filling.
Julie is not one for wine pairings, either. She orders whatever wine she likes, and she really liked her glass of moscato, fruity but slightly dry so it wasn’t too sweet.
Her meal was a pair of crab cakes with Brussels sprouts and red potatoes.
The crab cakes were almost all meat with just enough filler to hold them together. The red wine dijonaise sauce perfectly complimented the fresh cakes, one of which she saved for later.
In my opinion, the best thing on her plate was the Brussels sprouts in pancetta jam. They featured big chunks of salty pancetta (almost bacon) and a sweet jam that was just perfect.
We couldn’t stop there – we were celebrating, after all – so we took a look at the dessert menu. Our waitress suggested to order off the specials because they are always incredible. Among the specials was baklava, Julie’s favorite. So there was no doubt what we were getting.
The baklava was served warm and the nuts and honey filling oozed out from the start. Dark chocolate shavings were a nice addition to the dish, melting in your mouth with the flaky pastry.
It was a memorable ending to a memorable birthday meal.
At the end of the evening, our final total was $70, a very reasonable price for three courses and a glass of wine.
Folino Estate provided quite an experience, exactly what we were hoping for on this special occasion.
Happy birthday, Julie.
Folino Estate Winery & Vineyard
340 Old U.S. 22
Kutztown, PA 19530