Wine Guy at The Tasting Room

As many of you know, I am not just a wine writer, but a Sommelier and Wine Consultant.  I am happy to announce that recently I signed The Tasting Room as a client!  I'll be working on their wine and beverage menus, along with training the staff to offer you the best experience along with suggestions to fit your taste.

All the wines have been changed, and we're now offering eleven different Flight tastings along with over 35 wines by the glass.  This is a seasonal menu, meant to give you the best wines to fit with what looks to be an amazing Autumn!  We're also featuring small batch, craft and cult wines, some of which you'll have a hard time finding anywhere else.  The bottle list is currently under construction, though we do have some great wines like Bryant Family Cabernet Sauvignon and Kistler Chardonnay. 

Along with the bottle list, our beer, cocktail and liquor offerings are also in the process of change, and we plan on offering many local craft beers, artisanal cocktails and liquors/liqueurs.

Make sure to stop by to check out the list along with Chef Marc Kuckenbecker's nouveau-American cuisine and small plates.  It proves to be a great pairing!

Keefer's Restaurant Chicago 10th Anniversary

I was recently notified about one of Chicago's great restaurants, Keefer's, enjoying their 10th Anniversary. Named for brothers/partners Glen & Rich Keefer, the restaurant is located on the bottom floor of the Amalfi Hotel and is one of the great steakhouses of River North. To celebrate the anniversary, they'll be offering free valet, Sunday three-course prixe fix supper for $25, and $10 weekday lunch specials.

I was also invited to come and try out the menu & wine list, which turned out to be an overall good experience. I had been to Keefer's in the past, but had only been in the bar area. This time I went in the dining room, which had cozy seating, but seemed airy and almost too open- I think it had to do with the extremely high ceilings.  Our server came promptly and we started off with Dampierre Grand Cuvee Brut NV Champagne, a great wine to begin your meal with and an excellent choice to have by the glass on any wine list, especially for $14. We started off with a couple of appetizer recommendations from our excellent server which went very well with the Champagne: grilled calamari & Nantucket Bay scallops. The great thing about the calamari was that they were cooked perfectly and still had a fresh sea taste to them, along with the char. The scallops are a seasonal item, and were small, sweet and rich- look for them at the beginning of November through to year's end.

I really enjoyed perusing the Wine List- they have many interesting picks though they could be a bit more worldly, especially with Chardonnay (14 out of 15 selections from California). There is some redundancy with styles & prices for varietals as well, but overall I liked the selections for a steakhouse. I spotted what I wanted right away- the 2005 Woodward Canyon Estate Red Reserve. A great wine at without a high markup. I didn't even have to ask for a decanter before the server was on it. One more small problem is we found out Keefer's does not have temperature controlled storage for it's wines, which is disappointing for two reasons: red wines should be served around 65 degrees plus most of the selections should be stored properly.

For dinner I chose the lamb chops which were crusted in dijon, herbs and garlic, which added great flavor to a perfectly cooked medium rare. There was a sauce served underneath the chops which I did not recognize and didn't add much to the dish. With meat dishes you should order sides, which are large enough for two. I ordered the mushrooms (shitake & cremini) and Hogan's peas, which were fresh, sweet and creamy, though I would've preferred the bacon to be cooked fresh with a bit of soft fat- it came hard and overcooked. Overall, delicious, especially with the wine.

Dessert was an easy pick- apple tart a la mode & warm chocolate cake. If the other desserts are as good as these then you can't go wrong! They contrasted eachother with vanilla & cinnamon apple fruit flavor against dark full-on chocolate. Plus they make a perfect espresso.

Overall: impeccable service, high quality menu from Executive Chef John Hogan, a wine list with good picks and affordable prices, and dessert which'll make you want to go do it all again. I would!

Italian Delight at Vivo Chicago

My wife & I were overdue for a date night so dinner and a few drinks on the town seemed like a great idea. We met up at Sweetwater Tavern & Grill for a cocktail and then it was off to Vivo for some fun with Italian.

It was my first visit to the restaurant and it is visually appealing. The outside has a small patio covered by a black awning and the dark wood and colors continue indoors giving the place a very romantic atmosphere- perfect for a date! We were greeted immediately at the host stand and sat on a nice table for two.

Our waiter, Erik, was the type which is best- knowledgeable about theCalamari Grigliati menu and wine list, timely and friendly, plus he knew the best times to approach. We started off with some drinks, heard the specials and ordered the Calamari Grigliati- woodoven grilled calamari served with mixed greens and tomato. The squid was very fresh and flavorful and instead of having grill char like most places, had a wood-smoked flavor. It was also served with a slightly spicy tomato sauce which added to the experience.

Il Bagatto SuperTuscanThe wine list is a decent size and half is comprised of Italian wines from up and down the boot. I knew more tomatoes were in my future, so I decided to go with a Toscana wine, as they have bright acidity, good weight, fruit and tannins to pair with. I selected Fattoria Scopone's Il Bagatto from Montalcino, a blend of 40% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Merlot, 10% Sangiovese and 10% Petit Verdot. It was everything I'd hoped for plus dark fruit, oak spice, vanilla and a great length. I'd do that again.

Next I was trying a special appetizer, Burrata with fresh fruits and speck, salt cured and cold smoked Italian ham. The Burrata was very creamy and delicious, and the fruit paired nicely. My wife tried the Arugula salad which she also enjoyed. The thing I liked about this course is there was no hurry to take our main dish order or hurry us along with our meal.

We did eventually move on and I decided on the Linguine Nere alla Polpa di Granchio which is freshLinguine e Granchio octopus ink infused pasta combined with lump crab meat and spicy tomato sauce. The pasta was soft with homemade texture and the sauce had such fresh crab aroma and flavor- definitely a good dish. My wife tried the Gnocchi Gratinati which were soft and full of cheese richness. Both dishes had us leaving with leftovers.

We finished up with some espresso and an after-dinner drink, but we received the wrong chocolate dessert- a double chocolate cake which ended up being a nice end to the meal. We finished our drinks on a tour upstairs in their private party space which can be rented year-round for special events. There's a full bar, TVs, colorful furniture- a real classy place to have a party.

Overall, I was very pleased with the evening. Overall a very romantic spot with great service, good food, different wine selections, clean bathrooms and nice private event space. Like I said before, I'd do that again.

*Disclosure- this meal was compliments of Vivo Restaurant.

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!

All Arizona Wine List at FnB Scottsdale

This is an all Arizona wine list I encountered at FnB Restaurant in Scottsdale.  Arizona wine is hard to find outside the state, but very very good.  Most of the wine comes from the Sonoita AVA in the southeastern part of the state, which is located at very high altitude (4500 feet) and surrounded by mountain ranges.  There's not alot of rainfall, but the soil retains water well and irrigation is also involved.  The varietals mainly consist of French Bordeaux and Rhone grapes, with some Italian mixed in.  All in all, I loved the wine I tried, the Canelo Hills Sauvignon Blanc and the Dos Cabezas Red Blend.  If you're in town for spring training baseball (White Sox in Glendale, Cubs in Mesa), make sure you check out this restaurant and some Arizona wine!

Michelin Stars Wheel into Chicago

Chicago is about to receive it's first ever Michelin Guide ratings and I'd be hard pressed to find anything more overdue.  This city has long been a culinary and eating mecca, not to mention having great spots for wine, beer and beverages.  The Michelin Guide has been around for about 100 years and highlights top restaurants and chefs.  Now that we've taken a bite into the coastal bias, let's get into our award winners:

3 star: Alinea, L2O

2 star: Avenues, Charlie Trotter's, Ria

1 star: Blackbird, BOKA, Bonsoirée, Crofton on Wells, Everest, Graham Elliot, Longman & Eagle, NAHA, NoMI, Schwa, Seasons, Sepia, Sixteen, Spiaggia, Takashi, Topolobampo, TRU, Vie

While the Michelin Guide has yet to be released, these results were made available through a Yelp poster leak which is currently under investigation.  In addition to the awards above, 46 other restaurants have received the Bib Gourmand Award, given to those establishments which offers good value (two courses plus a glass of wine or dessert for under $40, not including tax or gratuity).  Some of these include: Belly Shack, De Cero, Gilt Bar, Girl & The Goat, Hopleaf, La Creperie, Lula Café, Mado, Nightwood, The Purple Pig, Riccardo Trattoria and Taste of Peru, to name a few.

All of these establishments represent fine food, great beverage, excellent service and years of hard work which have become known and respected.  Congrats to our Michelin Stars and Bib Gourmand winners!


BYOB at Park Grill

One of the best places to visit for locals and tourists in the city is Millenium Park.  There's so much to see and do, from the Jay Pritzker Pavillion to the Cloud Gate (the Bean!), that can be enjoyed by families, loners, couples, etc.  This spot holds a special place in my heart because I proposed to my wife on the Ice Rink just over 3 years ago (obviously she said YES!). 

I also enjoy visiting the Park Grill, a cozy spot you can relax with good food, drink and a view of the rink.  We also ate there just after my wedding proposal and have sat in the same booth every visit.  I recently found out there is no corkage fee on Sundays and Mondays, making it a great BYOB spot on those days!

We decided to go to the Park Grill for dinner this past Sunday for our 2nd anniversary dinner.  So we called a babysitter for Liljana, grabbed a bottle of wine and headed out.  We normally have Dom Perignon for our anniversary drink, but I mistakenly forgot to stock a bottle, so it was time to dig into the stash.  Since Blagica was in the mood for red wine, I decided on Colgin Cellars Cariad, a Bordeaux style blend from Napa Valley comprised mainly of Cabernet Sauvignon, with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.  It's not an easy wine to find (I bought mine from a liquidation sale), but you could try to get on their ordering list, though it's running 3 years behind!

The Park Grill was steady as always.  They have a very good menu featuring local fruits, vegetables, pork, beef and chicken, along with wild caught fish.  Service is very knowledgable and attentive, though they seemed thinly stretched as it took around ten minutes before we were initially greeted by our server.  They feature a very good cocktail list, beer selection and bar menu, along with $5 food & drink choices in the bar area every Thursday from 5pm-close.  Their wine list is a bit pedestrian, with many of your usual suspects, but I see alot of value choices like Newton Chardonnay ($50), Babich Sauvignon Blanc ($39), Peter Lehmann Shiraz ($36), and Chateau Labat Haut Medoc ($48).

All in all, another satisfying experience, made even better with our own wine.  Make sure to take advantage of their Sunday/Monday BYOB and enjoy the Millenium Park fun!

Piccolo Sogno: The Little Dream

IMG_1222Since last summer, I had been meaning to take a trip to one of Chicago's best new restaurants, Piccolo Sogno.  Many accolades, including Chicago's best outdoor dining, have been given in such a short amount of time.  My wife and I were finally on our way to enjoy some Italian food!

Piccolo Sogno means "small dream" in Italian- a vision created by co-owners Chef Tony Priolo and Ciro Longobardo.  The space is very smart, located on the southwest corner of Halsted and Grand.  We entered from a small valet controlled parking lot (free for lunch, $6 for dinner).  After we were greeted at the host stand, we were escorted past the busy wall bar, around the corner to our table.  The room is painted lively blue, with intimate tables bookended by an open kitchen and the entrance to the outdoor patio.  We were presented with our menus and the wine list, and we dove into our studies.

Now for a bit of background.  I worked with both Tony and Ciro at Coco Pazzo Restaurant for three years.  It was there I saw Tony grow into a great chef, with his many trips to Italy, working, learning, and creating natural, authentic, and fabulous Italian cuisine.  His winning staple is Italian imported food and ingredients accompanied by local meat and produce.  Ciro was a very likeable and professional General Manager and host, who I always shared a great connection with: he grew up where my family emmigrated from, Napoli.

It didn't take long for Tony to stop by the table for a visit.  We talked about his new restaurant, our current happenings, and old times.  Even though he was busy running the line in the kitchen, he seemed to make his way to almost every table to chat with guests.

The wine list is very impressive- an all Italian selection of over 400 bottles.  You can find values from all over "the boot", with some of the most moderate restaurant pricing in town.  From classic lighter styles like Valpolicella, Barbera, and Piedirosso, to the heavy hitters like Barolo, Amarone, Brunello, SuperTuscans, and Aglianico.  Glass pours were numerous- over 40 choices, ranging from $4 on up.  I really wanted to start with the sparkling Aspirinio, a wine I've only tried once at A16 in San Francisco, but it was off the list.  So we started with a sparkling Pinot Nero rosé from Veneto, which was crisp and fruity.  We later moved to a bottle of 2006 Maculan Brentino, a blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, also from Veneto.  This wine worked well through our meal, as it had supple tannins, floral notes, and rich dark fruit.  The long flavor winded down with a bit of oak.  A steal at $38.

Now for the meal.  We were immediately presented with an amuse-bouche of truffled potato croquets and soft house-made breads.  We wanted to share many items, so we could experience most of the menu.  To start off, we had to try the pizza napoletana style- thin crust, cooked in a wood burning stone oven, topped with fresh ingredients.  Verdict: this is as close as you can come to Napoli in Chicago.  The thin, crisp and doughy crust was topped with fresh cheese, olive oil, and arugula.  We also had the Burrata con Culatello- thinly sliced prosciutto topped with Burrata, a cheese from Puglia made from mozzarella and cream.  The combo of the melt in your mouth salty pork with the creamy cheese is amazing.

IMG_1214Next, we went with the Insalata Barbabietole, which came out in gorgeous presentation.  Locally grown beets topped with shaved fennel, greens, and ricotta, surrounded by citrus oil.  This was a pleasant, clean, and delicious salad.  We also had the Griglia Mista, a mix of grilled seafood surrounding greens.  There was not much seafood, and the baby octopus was a bit scorched, but the calamari was crisp with light char and big sea flavor.

For pasta, we split the Gnocchi di Spinaci, small spinach and potato dumplings in a sauce of herbs, sundried tomatoes, IMG_1215and mushrooms.  The care in the house-made pasta was evident, as they were soft and subtle with each flavor hint.  The sauce was so fresh, I could not help but scoop every drop up with bread.

IMG_1219For our secondo piatto, we went with the Porchetta alla Romana.  This is a very authentic and simple dish from Lazio, of pork rolled in olive oil and herbs, wrapped with Pancetta, and wood roasted.  It was sliced, accompanied by roast potatoes, and topped with pan drippings.  The smell was so intensely delicious, we received comments from the table next to us, commending us on our selection!  The palate matched the bouquet- rich and flavorful. 

IMG_1221On to the sweets.  For chocolate lovers, go for the Torta con Gianduia.  It is a warm flourless chocolate cake, with an oozing center, accompanied by hazelnut ice cream.  The Millefoglie, IMG_1220meaning "thousand leaves", is a multi-layered puff pastry, encasing a chocolate chip custard- almost tastes like cookie dough.  This is a "do not miss" dessert!

I highly recommend coursing your meal at this restaurant.  You will be able to experience all the authenticity they have to offer.  Also, the food quality to price ratio leaves the consumer in a huge winning situation.  This spot will be pleasing Chicagoans and tourists for years to come!

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!

Birthday at Spacca Napoli

night1Another birthday is coming up and my wife decided to help me indulge in my heritage with a trip to Spacca Napoli.  They make pizza in the traditional Napoletano style: wheat flour, thin crust, with fresh ingredients cooked in a wood burning oven.  We heard so much about it from friends and reviews, so we took a drive up to try it out.

Almost everyone loves pizza, but you can never truly appreciate it until you have the best, which is made in its 190px-traditional_pizza_from_napoli1home- Napoli.  Very good pizza is made elsewhere, but it's at its best in southern Italy.  On a visit there, I asked "Why?".  Many did mention the wheat, but all said it was the water.  Only natural spring water is used to make the dough.  I will always remember the pizza there, with every establishment making the most perfect crust, amazing sauce, and fresh ingredients.  The picture to the right is of a typical pizza made in Napoli.

Now on to Spacca Napoli.  My wife and I walked in and were seated promptly.  Our server was peppy and announced the specials before retrieving a Peroni for me and some Prosecco for my wife.  Our appetizers were then brought to us- a Bufala Mozzarella salad with ripe red tomatoes and very large leaves of delicious basil drizzled with olive oil, and an Insalata di Mare- calamari, shrimp, and cuttlefish with chopped celery.  The dish was a bit flavorless and not quite as fresh as others I've had.  Our server pressed us about four times for our pizza order (it seems as though they are coached to "turn and burn" the tables), and we finally gave it after ordering a bottle of Cantina del Taburno "Fedelis" Aglianico.  Aglianico is the special red grape of southern Italy.  It can create big bodied, fruity, earthy, long lived tannic wines.  This one was satisfactory with ripe dark plum and espresso flavor accompanied by slightly grippy tannins, but with a medium minus length and finish.  They give small drinking cups with all wine, and while I believe this is taverna style, I also think if you order a bottle you should be given proper stemware. 

oven1Our pizza came out VERY fast- I believe in less than five minutes!  This usually does not bode well, and did not in this case.  The crust was soft and tasty, but had more than a few burn marks, which affected the flavor.  The middle was still a bit rare.  I attribute this to two factors: 1) Pizza not left in long enough, away from the flame, and 2) the sauce.  Tomato sauce should be rich, thick, and deep red.  This was not the case, as it was thin and not very flavorful.  Also, the small amount of basil used was thrown together instead of lovingly place atop the pizza.  Plus, the mushrooms atop my wifes pizza were definitely not quality.  They seemed to be drowned button mushrooms, while I would have used fresh cremini as an ingredient.

On to dessert.  We shared a tiramisu, which had a fluffy sweet mascarpone top over slightly over marinated savoiardi biscuits.  Our bill was brought to us before we could order coffee, but we did anyway.  Overall, we felt Spacca Napoli tries to rush you in for some pizza, and back out.  The dough is quite good, but the making of the pizza along with the ingredients make it fall far short of Napoletano style.  I love the wine list which is almost totally comprised of southern Italian wines.  Whites include Fiano, Greco di Tufo, and Falanghina, while reds of Primitivo, Aglianico, Nero d'Avola, and white and red Lacryma Christi are offered.  If you are in the neighborhood, try it out, but remember there are better options in Chicago.

Park Grill- Drink, Eat, Skate!

parkgrillMillenium Park has held a special place in many people's hearts since the turn of the century.  I have been going there since the beginning to enjoy the views, study while in college, and relax while on work breaks as a waiter.  I remember when most made fun of just about everything in the park, saying how much was spent, the ugly architechture, etc.  But, millions have fallen in love with the entire 2.45 acres of parkland, seen how funny we look in "The Bean", been "spit" at by the Crown Fountain, attended free concerts at the Jay Pritzker Pavillion, and skated for free at the McCormick-Tribune Ice Skating Rink.

There is also a restaurant, The Park Grill, which is a WCWG favorite.  I proposed to my wife on the ice just under two years ago, and we've shared dinner at "our" table numerous times.  Recently, we met up at the bar for appetizers.  The selection is very good- try the pork nachos, tempura shrimp, or crisp calamari.  We really love the Kobe beef burger- it is topped with gorgonzola cheese and comes with killer seasoned fries.

As far as the beverages go, they have a good selection.  Goose Island on tap is in house, along with one of my favorites, Anchor Steam, a San Francisco based brewery.  It has a rich amber color, hoppy yeasty scents, and a bit of citrus and nuttiness on the palate.  The wines are all low to mid range pleasers.  I moved to the Miner Family Viognier, which has fresh peach and apricot flavor, while my wife enjoyed the Babich Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  She really liked the ripe citrus flavor.  The key to value is to get a "quartino": a 1/4 liter flask (almost 9 oz.), usually about $3 more than the glass pour (6 oz.), and a significantly better value.  The bottle list is comprised of common favorites like A to Z, Elena Walch, Craggy Range, Saintsbury, Guenoc, Luna, and Penfolds.  If you are looking to "bling it up", you may want to look elsewhere, as this list is more geared toward frugal satisfaction.

So make your way down to Millenium Park.  Work up an appetite exploring or skating, then move to the Park Grill for good food and beverage!

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!

Wine Markup Taking Bite out of Diners

I am sure many of us have gone to a restaurant and, after recently browsing wine shop prices, were shocked after seeing the wine list.  I can hear it now- "Hey, I just saw that at Jewel for $8.99!".  Armed with that knowledge I am sure it not only turns off wine fans but also those willing to give it a try.  Well, there is nothing the WCWG can do to change it, but I can give you some tips (highlighted in red) on how to make wise choices, get the most bang for your buck, and even get around some of the rules.

Moving around a wine list is just like shopping in the grocery- get to know the products and the market.  I can tell anyone how much a can of beans or dozen eggs usually costs me.  Just a casual walk through wine aisles every time you shop can get you familiar with wines and producers.  Once you get to know the market you will notice many Chicago restaurants charge 250-400 percent of retail, though they pay wholesale.  That means a bottle which costs you $10 in the store will cost you $25-40 in a restaurant.  Wine lists are constructed to get the most money out of lower-end wines and a lower markup from higher-end ones.  Even then you may be paying $225 for a wine which retails at $100.  Plus by the glass prices are the biggest ripoff- most restaurants try to get close to retail price out of each glass! 

Now I'm not saying restaurants should'nt make money vending wine.  After all, they do provide all equipment, storage, training, glassware, etc. as well as some great food to go along with it.  But the prices are excessive and their biggest source of revenue and profit.  It is OK to pay the price but better (and more fun) to find deals.

Some restaurants will be offering wines at lower prices than usual markup.  This could be due to the restaurant wanting to eliminate inventory in order to sell a slow moving product or wanting to replace it for another.  When you know the market and find one of these you will enjoy it twice as much!

Look over the entire list.  You may find a varietal from an unusual place such as Sauvignon Blanc from Chile or an unusual varietal from a well known area, ie. Pinot Meunier from Carneros.  These wines could be the bargains.  Also check out restaurants which allow outside wine for a corkage fee but watch out- if they are charging $25 or more it is too much!  You can take that same $25 or more and apply it to one of their wines.  Also get a list of great BYOBs near your home.  You can enjoy their great food with your wine.  Some great BYOBs in the South Loop include Ma & I, Trattoria Caterina, and South Coast.

Have a great meal and good shopping!

(Image courtesy of Flickr)