A Night at City Winery Chicago

I was excited to see another wine bar hit the Chicago wine scene.  I've been to City Winery for drinks and tastings, but never had the opportunity to have dinner. I'm kicking myself for not being on Twitter fast enough to learn that Prince was performing a late night show at City Winery a few weeks back.  That's an interesting perk of the space - City Winery has a solid performance space, making for a fun night out of dinner and a show.

City Winery is a large, airy two-story building with brick walls, wooden tables and a large wine storage room full of wine barrels- excellent design for the concept.  I sat and looked at the menu: full of small plate options like bacalao fritters (salt cod), duck tacos and daily crudo, my first choice. 

Raw Scallops and Stone Fruit

The daily crudo was comprised of thinly sliced scallops with stone fruit and tobiko- a very tasty dish with the velvety scallops enveloping the sweet peaches and salty fish eggs.  Round two brought the wild mushroom flatbread, which was good, aside from being  70% bread and little goat cheese.  Next, the seared scallops were very good- seared on the outside making them sweet with the pillowy inside. Solid dish.

There are some things on a menu that catch your eye and Street Corn was one of them.  I had visions of elote, Mexican Street Corn, with cheesy, buttery, spicy, salty, creamy, citrusy sweet corn.  I was disappointed to see that this particular Street Corn included simple sweet corn, with bell pepper and lime juice. If you are accustom to the street corn you may sample from Maxwell Street Market on Sundays, City Winery puts on their own modern twist.  

Since it is a wine bar, I decided to try their house wines.  On the whole, I was unimpressed.  For one, I thought that they were a bit pricey at $12 a glass, considering they bypassed overhead costs like bottling and middlemen.  Second, they did not have the quality for the price tag, as the Riesling and Pinot Noir I tasted just had no length or intensity.  I suggest you go with wines by the glass or bottle selections as there are plenty of great options like Domaine Sigalas Santorini Assyrtiko, Littorai Pinot Noir and something special like the 1978 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (by the glass!) I was treated to.

Dessert was hard to choose from, as the selections looked so good.  I went with the cheesecake and it was tasty, but the consistency was odd, almost gelatin-like. 

On the whole, I think City Winery may want to refine their menu and either adjust their house glass prices or work on the quality.  

However, the space is amazing for groups, concerts or just hanging though and I would put it on 'must-do' list for Randolph Street.   Check it out.


   * my dinner was provided by City Winery Chicago

Wine Bars in Review: Webster's & D.O.C.

This past weekend I was in the mood to hit a couple of Chicago wine bars, so my wife and I got dressed up for a night on the town.  Chicago is an amazing city, especially when you're out on a summer night- the city is so alive with people enjoying the weather, neighborhood festivals, restaurants and lakefront.  You can feel the energy of thousands of people out for food, drink and fun!

Our first stop brought us to the godfather of Chicago wine bars- Webster's.  Located on west Webster Avenue just east of Clybourn, this two-story building has been pouring wine since 1994.  The scene is candlelit with loud folksy music and customer banter.  We moved past the long bar and were seated by a hostess.  I took my time with the enormous wine list (40+ wines by the glass, 500+ by the bottle) and noticed many great selections from just about any wine region you'd like to try, including off the beat and path places like Switzerland, Finger Lakes NY, Sardinia, Slovenia, Greece, Lebanon, New Mexico and Virginia.  They have amazing French and Italian selections, which is essential to any wine list given those country's histories. 

After perusing the menu, I decided on a sparkling wine from Valle d'Aosta, a small region between Switzerland and Piedmont, while my wife went for a cava and a cheese plate.  I was a bit disappointed that the cheese came before the wines or the plates, but was able to get over it after tasting the Mont St. Francis and Wildspitz cheeses.  I also figured out that they gave us the wrong 3rd cheese and charged us for their most expensive cheese plate ($20) as well.  First off, I know my cheeses and their prices, and find it hard for any establishment to justify charging that much for 3 cheeses.  Secondly, they should try harder to get the order correct.  All of those factors led us to pay and out the door to try a different wine bar.

Our next stop brought us east to D.O.C. Wine Bar on Clark and Wrightwood.  It has a great open and cozy look with a fireplace and skylights.  They have open seating and we only had to wait a couple of minutes for a spot to free up.  I dove right into their wine list and noticed it a bit smaller (under 100 selections) and more value based with many bottles listed under $50.  My wife wanted to stick with the sparkling, so I suggested Graham Beck Rose, and I went with a red blend from Bolgheri in Tuscany.  We also took a look at the food menu which was small but nice as well with artisan cheeses, bruschetta, charcuterie and small apps.  They have a great deal with pick 4 for $16 and we tried a Manchego, Gruyere, mushroom/goat cheese bruschetta and porchetta.  We liked the whole experience and the staff was helpful and had great personality. 

I would go back to both places, though I would watch the servers and the bill at Webster's more closely.  Webster's is still an old favorite with both an outstanding wine list and small menu.  D.O.C. has a bit more personal touch and charm and I urge you to keep up on their monthly wine/food tastings- there's always something great going on!

Fleming's Steakhouse & Wine Bar

WCWG with Curtis Nordeen of Fleming'sI recently was invited to a wine dinner at Fleming's Steakhouse & Wine Bar in River North and was quite impressed with their wine selections and food quality.  It's at a great location, just west of Michigan Avenue on East Ohio Street, with two levels of options.  On the first floor is the wine bar featuring the "5 for 6 'til 7" menu, which is 5 cocktails, 5 wines by the glass and 5 appetizers priced at $6 each until 7pm.  Upstairs is the kitchen, dining room and rooms for private events.  And the most impressive thing I found was the Fleming's 100: 100 wines available by the glass, with 30 of them being priced $10 or less! 

Our wine dinner featured some new and exciting menu items including RoastedPeppercorn Steak Mushroom Ravioli, Lump Crab Louis Wraps, Tillamook Bay Petrale Sole, Two-Peppercorn Steak with F-17 Sauce Lobster Bake(17 ingredient house steak sauce), Beef Wellington, Lobster/Seafood Bake and Molten Lava Cake.  These were also paired with two excellent wines which, while they weren't an ultimate pairing, did an great job of being versatile: 2007 Sanford Santa Barbara County Chardonnay and 2006 Frog's Leap Rutherford Merlot.

Here's a bit of footage I took of one of their private dining rooms along with an interview from Chef/Partner Jerl Griffin:

There's lots of great things happening at Fleming's this month and next including a $39.95 three course prix fixe menu, a Caymus interactive dinner, wine Tuesdays with 25% off Fleming's 100 bottles & free corkage, and "Opening Nights" every Thursday in September where they'll bring you into the Fleming's 100 by opening 20 bottles for you to taste for $25- and you'll also receive a $25 dining credit if you stay for dinner!  A lot of value at a steakhouse.

Chicago 3 MediaFor extra coverage be sure to check out my interview with Chicago 3 Media and Jennifer Fernicola-Ronay.  It was a good time with good food and good people.  Special thanks to Chef, the Fleming's staff, Operating Partner Curtis Nordeen and Kurman Communications.

Windy City Wine Guy in Seattle

On the wharf by Waterfront Seafood GrillIt was my first trip to Washington and I wanted to let Seattle give me all that it had.  Being from Chicago, I have the priveledge of being surrounded by some of the world's best restaurants, great lounges and bars, music, concerts and an awesome view of Lake Michigan.  When I go to a new city I seek its best aspects and try to live a full experience.  I was only going to be in Seattle for two days so it was time to live it up a little.

My first night I checked into the Roosevelt Hotel, an older building with nice sized rooms and central downtownSatay at Wild Ginger location making it easy for me to walk to my targeted restaurants and bars.  I walked to Wild Ginger, an Asian Restaurant with a reputation for making great satay.  If a restaurant being busy is a good sign, this place would be great- there was quite a crowd for a Tuesday evening.  When I'm in town alone, I like to dine at the bar because there's always someone to interact with.  The bartender's name was Nathan and he clearly had a grip on the action.  He knew his drinks and the menu very well.  I started with two satay- a Thai Chicken and a Young Mountain Lamb, and a Hitachino Nest White Ale (an awesome Japanese whitbier).  Both satay were extremely tasty, accompanied by sticky rice, pickled ginger cucumbers and their own sauce.  The wine list is exceptional with great selections by bottle or glass (which is dispensed by the Enomatic system), and a separate cellar list with over 2000 selections they've collected over a 20 year span.

Purple Wine BarI wanted more to try, so I went to Purple Cafe and Wine Bar, a gorgeous two level building surrounded by windows.  The wine list was full of great choices, with very interesting glasspour options: I went with Tenuta Sant'Antonio Scaia Rosso, 100%Small plates at Purple Corvina varietal from northeast Italy.  Good fruit, light/medium body and cedar box spice.  The menu was full of small plate options and I settled on three:  Housemade Toulouse Sausage, Mimolette and Roasted Garlic White Bean Crostini.  I loved the chance to try a little of this and that while sampling the wine list.  After all these small options it was time to turn in and get ready for another day.

On Wednesday I checked out and met up with the WBC or Bust group at the site of my new hotel room, the Renaissance, before we departed for Woodinville, which I will touch on in my next post.  When we returned that afternoon, it was time for a beer tasting hosted by Charles Finkel himself at Pike Pub & Brewery.  We tasted a lineup of their beers like the Pale, IPA, Kilt Lifter, Naughty Nellie and XXXXX Stout before we moved onto a tour.  I wish we had time for the menu, Roasted Snails in Phyllobut we had to get ready for the Waterfront Seafood Grill where we were in for aBraised Short Rib coursed wine dinner with tasty items like roasted snails, seared scallops and braised short rib.  There was also some killer wine being passed around from producers like Andrew Will and Nota Bene Cellars, both of whom make stellar Syrahs and Owen & Sullivan Winery.  This was an outstanding dinner from a spot with an uncomparable view.

In my visit to Seattle I had a small piece of what makes the city so great and I still have so much more to see.  If you get a chance to visit then make sure to take advantage of it and try to visit the places I mentioned.  If you live there then be proud and let us know what I missed, which places are your favorites and why- share the wealth!

Coming up- Woodinville & Chateau Ste. Michelle, Yakima and Walla Walla.

Current News: Juicy Wine Company, Drinks Over Dearborn

A whole lot going on with the Chicago wine scene right now (as always!) and here's the latest scoop on two places: Juicy Wine Company and Drinks Over Dearborn.

Juicy is supposedly close to being sold according to co-owner, Rodney Alex.  They've been in operation for about 3 years now on 694 N. Milwaukee Ave., and will be sold to current manager Chris Dunstatter and friend Chip Dudley.  A remodeling is in order, along with a new name, more selections, earlier retail sales (11am) and a parking lot patio.  They will also be applying for a 4am license.  Good luck to the prospective new owners and Rodney on his new venture: a Juicy wine project in Anderson Valley.

As for Drinks Over Dearborn, owner Kyle McHugh is starting his 500 Benjamins or Bust campaign.  The establishment has been open for about 1 year on 650 N. Dearborn, 2nd floor, and due to our current economic instability, is in a bit of their own.  McHugh is seeking 500 customers willing to open an account with at least $100 and is giving the following benefits:

  • 5% discount on merchandise

  • 10% off classes

  • special events/offers for the 500

On February 27th there will also be a live 24 hour webcast telethon featuring Kyle and his wife, along with friends and volunteers performing and manning the phones.  If this works, it will give Drinks Over Dearborn enough operating capital to operate for 6 months and have a real shot at making it past the economic woes.  If not, Kyle has vowed to return the "Benjamin" pledges and close shop on March 5th.  If you are a fan of entrepreneurs and see the value in supporting a small shop which features over 400 hand selected items and classes, then jump in on the fun, lend a hand and your Benjamins!

The Purple Pig Opening on Michigan Avenue: Cheese, Swine & Wine

For all of those interested in good casual food and wine, The Purple Pig will be opening tonight at 500 N. Michigan Ave, just across the street from my old gig, Eno Wine Room.  It looks to be in the perfect location to attract a large afterwork crowd, including those from the Chicago Tribune, NBC 5, National Association of Realtors, as well as conventioners, retailers and shoppers.  It has been in the works for quite some time now, and the collaboration between chef Scott Harris of Mia Francesca and both Jimmy Bannos Junior & Senior of Heaven on Seven has been long awaited.

The menu mainly consists of Mediterranean-style hot and cold antipasti, salads, smears, panini, charcuterie, and cheeses.  Pork is everwhere, in many different forms: pork neck bone, pâté, chorizo, pig's feet, tails and ears, pork shoulder and blade steak.  Olives, seafood, mushrooms, eggs, and vegetables are also highly prevalent in a large variety of differing dishes: Artichokes with salami, clams with rosemary, fried sardines, croquettes, meatballs, prawns, along with 20 different cheeses and 9 cured meats.

I look forward to reviewing their wine and beverage list in the future, which hopefully includes a large selection of Mediterranean and worldly wine, microbrews, and non-alcoholics. 

During opening week, they will be opening at 5 pm, and after January 4, will be open daily at 11:30 am.  They also offer late hours: open until 1 am Monday through Thursday, 2 am Friday and Saturday, and midnight on Sunday.  Check out the eat and drink starting now and into the New Year!

Client Spotlight: Catbridge Cellars Grand Opening

When: Friday, Nov. 20, 11am to 8pm.  Saturday, Nov. 21, 11am to 8pm.  Sunday, Nov. 22, 12am to 5pm.

Where: Catbridge CellarsAntioch.

If you live in or will be near the Antioch area, make sure to stop by Catbridge Cellars, where one of my favorite clients, Cathy Williams, has just opened shop.  It's a great combination wine bar and shop, which features wines made by environmentally conscious producers.  I recently selected and helped Cathy stock her venue with over 160 wines, almost all of them made with grapes grown organically and biodynamically, and all sustainably farmed.  There are fourteen wines available by the glass, like organic choices Pavi Pinot Grigio, St. Cosme "Little James Basket Press" Grenache, Clara Benegas Chardonnay, and Gouguenheim Malbec.  Cathy will also be opening special bottles and offering cheese for the event.

The shop is a small walk from the Metra North Central Service Antioch Station, and, if you are driving, is just off the Rosecrans Road (route 173) exit of I-94.

For more things to do nearby, there is also the PM&L Theatre, and David's Bistro, who's appetizer menu will be available in Catbridge Cellars wine bar as well.

Wine & Food Evolution at The Tasting Room

img_1012It was a leisurely Friday evening out on the town for the Windy City Wine Guy and wife, and we were on our way to The Tasting Room on Randolph.  It is located on the corner of Randolph and Ogden, with free parking in a small lot and plenty of street parking in front.  Randolph Wine Cellars is connected to the two floor Tasting Room, offering retail small production wine, beer, and spirits.  After passing by the storefront, we headed in to begin a tasting adventure.

We decided to check out the second floor and were amazed at both the breathtaking views of downtown and the coziness.  Exposed brick walls, dim romantic lighting, and puffy leather couches littered the hardwood-floored open space.  We were presented with menus, and were given time to look and talk.  We perused the menu, which included cheeses, flatbreads, small plates, fondues, greens, and desserts (including gelato).  After a bit, we decided on a sparkling Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) for my wife, Australian riesling for myself, and a Florentine flatbread.  Service was both prompt and unintrusive- we definitely did not feel rushed (other establishments- take note!).  We were also greeted by The Tasting Room Director, Nick Luedde, an old colleague of mine.  He is both a very knowledgeable sommelier and a charismatic host.  We shared a few laughs and then he left us to work the room.

Our flatbread came out, and was accompanied by a few friends: a caprese salad and a cheese plate, courtesy of Nick (all in the photo).  The flatbread had a crisp crust and was very tasty with Drunken Goat cheese, spinach, and carmelized onions.  The caprese salad was built in tower form, with fresh mozzarella stacked over sliced tomato (not as ripe as one would like) and basil.  A combo balsalmic vinegar/truffle oil emulsion was drizzled on the plate, and was absolutely delcious- its syrupy, sweet, truffled flavor led me to wipe the last bit of it from the plate with bread!  Their cheese plate (priced at $25 for five cheeses) was quite an ensemble.  It is presented on in-house, handcrafted cheese boards made from lacquered wooden wine cases (we had one from Chateau la Nerthe).  All five cheeses were delicious and accompanied by four types of artisan bread, roasted cashews, and dried cranberries.  We also tried an olive tapenade, roasted peppers, sundried tomatoes, and fresh green Sicilian olives.  It was a feast which needed only good conversation, time, and more wine!

We had some red next, my wife choosing a Portuguese Toriga Nacional based blend, while I went with my all time favorite Barbera, Rivetti's La Spinetta "Ca' di Pian".  The wine list is impressive, with over 100 wines available by the taste (2oz.), tasting flight (3x 2oz.), or the glass (6oz.), and a huge bottle list.  It is littered with many handcrafted, small batch wine favorites, offering great value for some killer wines.  Don't be afraid to ask your server or Nick for suggestions, because they know their product and won't steer you wrong.

There are also some great weekly and monthly deals to take advantage of.  Every Monday is half priced glass pours, while Tuesdays offer half priced bottles (originally priced under $99).  They also offer a $30 tasting every third Tuesday of the month, featuring 50 wines.  Also, look for their augmented menu, being released Monday, March 2nd.  It will include main course options like tupelo honey-sarsparilla soaked bone on pork loin, southwest seared ahi, air & water (pan seared duck breast and butter poached lobster tail), foie gras smothered grilled NY strip, piave brûléed jumbo sea scallops, grenache braised short rib sous-vide, mesquite kiawe smoked game hen, and pan seared monkfish, all priced between $20-32.  The small plates will spruce up a bit with miso rubbed bershire pork belly, ceviche, bacon wrapped and manchego stuffed dates, and NY strip bruschetta.  I can't wait!

Wine Bar at The Walnut Room in Macy's on State

iphoto_dining1During a bit of Christmas shopping, the Windy City Wine Guy and wife made a bit of time to enjoy some wine.  We chose to head to the Marshall Field Co. Building to check out The Wine Bar at the Walnut Room, now run by Macy's.  Being the Saturday before Christmas, the entire street and every building was packed with happy shoppers on both Michigan Avenue and State Street.  We moved up to the 7th floor and the Walnut Room was crowded with eating families and running children.  The Wine Bar is set off to the side- a 36 foot long oak table with communal seating.  We were able to snag a couple of chairs and started reading the menu.

The wine list contains 18 selections by the glass and 87  by the bottle.  They also have 6 different tasting flights.  A tasting flight is a small sampling of multiple items, usually in sets of three.  These flights are usually samples grouped into interesting categories- my wife had their sparkling tour, which included 3 samples of sparkling wine, and I tried the spice tour, 3 samples of bold and spicy red wines.  The flights are poured tableside into small pony glasses- not very optimal for sniffing your wine.  We also decided to munch on their Spanish cheese Sampler, a plate which included Cabrales, Arico, and Manchego cheeses along with bread, nuts, and olives.  They have four different cheese options along with a Valrhona chocolate sampling.

The atmosphere was nice, but did seem a bit like an airport bar in the fact that it was set off to the side and you are surrounded by all of the bustle of the Walnut Room.  There are nice and simple selections for food options and wines by the glass, which includes some favs: Gruet, Catena, and Bon Anno.  The bottle list has lots of variety and value- the prices are not marked up nearly as high as they would be in a restaurant or bar.  I did notice an absence of dessert wines on the list- no Port, Sherry, or late harvest selections.  I would also like to see a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, a bit of Alsace, and less typos on the list.

If you are doing some State Street shopping, give it a try.  Share a bottle and some cheese with family or friends and enjoy!