It’s likely that, at some point in your life, you’ve been to the kind of restaurant where the server asks you flat or sparkling? The reference is to your water choice, specifically, bottled water.

Before it became so trendy to drink water – and again, bottled water – the question might have seemed somewhat pretentious.

Water ? Well, I’ll have mine in a glass, thank you. With ice cubes. I’m an American.

In fact, it wasn’t so long ago that we could drink water straight from the tap for free. Now, soft drink purveyors are making sportswaters (Propel) and juice companies are squeezing flavor into water (Tropicana Fruit Squeeze). Water is fruit sparkling (Aquafina), vitamin-fortified (Vitamin Water ) and electrolyte-infused (GlacierSmartwater). Oxygen has been added (OGO), and one even has caffeine (Water Joe).

Water has become such a hot trend and point of obsession withdrinkers that in some cities, restaurateurs are steering the trendin their favor.In Philadelphia, the Water Works Restaurant and Lounge (www.thewaterworksrestaurant.com) features a water bar, which offers 19 varieties with prices ranging from $4 to $50 a bottle.

The best-selling one, Bling H20 (www.blingh20.com), also is the highest-priced. It is a flat water that comes in a Swarovski-crystal-decorated bottle. Clearly, it’s the name and thebottle that attract imbibers to reach into their wallets.

Even though this water thing is a trend mainly in big cities likeNew York, Paris, Tokyo and Montreal, it has crept into Hershey at the Hershey Lodge. Two of the lodge’s restaurants, Hershey Grill and The Forebay (on the second floor), offer a water menu to complement dinner. The menu was developed for the lodge in January 2006 by Anura Dewapura, the executive assistant manager and food and beverage director.

Dewapura, who has lived in Sri Lanka, England and the Netherlands, and is fluent in five languages, came across a water bar when he worked in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and translated the concept for Hershey.

Voss, which has one of the highest recognizability factors, is the lodge’s best seller. It is from Norway and considered among the purest waters in the world. The beverage is taken from a virgin aquifer in the forests of central Norway, the source protected and untouched under ice and rock for centuries.

Over a delicious dinner at The Forebay, we tried four waters from amenu of 14 options. We started with a new addition, Cape Karoo, a flat water from Africa. Cape Karoo has a pH of 7.2, the same as the human body. The water tasted clean and clear.

For the appetizers of blue-cheese-stuffed olives, walnuts, cashews and house-baked potato chips with dip, we moved on to a sparkling water from Germany called Apollinaris. I used Sauvignon Blanc to cleanse my palate (makes sense, right? You use water between wine tastings). The Apollinaris has a high natural carbonation, which was a delight on the tongue. It was discovered accidentally in 1852 during an attempt to grow grapes for wine in the Eifel region.

A highlight of natural carbonation is that it doesn’t lose its bubbles. My last sip was just as refreshing as my first. If you can’t finish the bottle in one sitting, there’s no need for a fancy bottle cap. We went back to flat for our crab cakes entree and opted for Fine’, a Japanese water found in natural water with a volcanic origin.

This tasted crisper than the first flat, Cape Karoo, which had since become warm. For dessert, which was a relative of apple pie, we tried another sparkling, the Vichy Catalan from Spain. This had more pronounced bubbles and a noticeable sodium taste. It was interesting but did not render nearly the party that Apollinaris had provided.

It was certainly easier to taste a difference between sparklingwaters than it was between the flats. The minerals and magnesium that occur in the waters truly do create individual tastes. But you have to prepare your palate and think about it.

As with wine, you can pair specific waters to your food choices, though this isn’t a prepared option at the lodge.

Last month, we were given bottles of the Wattwiller from France with the rum and chocolate pairing during Chocolate Covered February. This is a flat water in a funny bottle (we felt sillydrinking straight from the wide container, as if we were drinking liquor from the bottle) but the taste was great. Clear and crisp -this one was fabled to have a soul. It also appears on The Forebay’s water menu.

Waters at Hershey Lodge cost $5-$6. They also are available for conferences and private parties at the lodge. All of the bottled waters we tried came in glass bottles, some sopretty that they could serve as flower vases. The glass is used not merely for aesthetic reasons, but to preserve the water‘s taste. The average grocery store bottled waters tastes are influenced bythe plastic they come in. The exception to this is Fiji artesian water. The company developed a special plastic bottle that does not influence the taste of its water

For a great resource on premium bottled waters and links to buy inthe United States, visit http://www.finewaters.com. If you’re a restaurateurinterested in developing a water menu, subscribe to The WaterConnoisseur newsletter at finewaters.com or e-mail Michael Maschaat michael@finewaters.com.

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Bonjour!

In culinary school and getting ready to trade the writing life for the cooking life. Or not. Might do both. At the moment I'm a feature writer for The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. My name is Pat Carroll.

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