Successfully avoiding the orgy out front, we took a seat on the patio. It was mildly chilly, but propane heaters kept things comfortable. I'd liked this place when it was Tante Louise, but was more impressed by its current incarnation as the Cork when a menu arrived and 75 percent of it proved to be the wine list. Cheese choices accounted for most of the appetizer portion; I couldn't help but look around for Michael Palin telling John Cleese that they didn't have any Brie or Venezuelan beaver cheese. Most of the cheeses listed were varieties I'd never sampled but knew of from TV -- just as my knowledge of opera and classical music comes from "The Rabbit of Seville" and other Bugs Bunny cartoons. The food section, while varied, was obviously meant to do no more than complement the wine selection. All in all, the menu seemed to be saying that if you go for volume rather than vintage and didn't particularly enjoy Sideways, you don't belong here.
Still, the staff was exceedingly helpful in pointing out wines they might actually drink and not use to scrub toilets; if you went with a lesser wine, they still made you feel good about it. I firmly believe that I could have ordered a bottle of Cisco and our waiter would have commented, "Excellent choice, sir." For the uninitiated, Cisco is about a 300-proof adult beverage that's a total sleeper buzz, since you go from judicially sober to comatose in a matter of an hour. Not that we weren't warned both times we drank it; the bottle clearly states "This is NOT a wine cooler."
But nor were we drinking wine coolers at the Cork House. My first selection arrived in the largest wineglass I'd ever seen, and the message in this glass was clear: You are not walking out of here without a buzz.
Or alone. Whether it was the Cork's cozy setting, the patio trees strung with white lights that always remind me of Disney World, or those big glasses of wine, odds were good that if you came with an attractive person of the opposite sex, that person would be waking up the next morning wondering if you still respected him or her. There are few certainties in life, but in the Institute's considered opinion, the Cork House comes as close to a guaranteed happy ending as you can get.