Shaw’s puts the OYSTER in Oyster Fest 2016

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7 on the half-shell
7 on the half-shell

It’s Oyster Fest week, people! Shaw’s Crab House Chicago is making this week a real standout on the calendar with multiple events honoring the king of bivalves, the oyster.

Yesterday, for example, author Cynthia Nims and Shaw’s invited press and industry pundits to hear about the amazing things she learned about oysters in writing her book, Oysters: Recipes that bring home a taste of the sea. Guests were treated to a wide variety of oysters made with recipes taken from her book and lovingly prepared by the oyster expert chefs in Shaw’s kitchen.

The event started with a sinus-cleansingly-hot wasabi oyster shooter and went on with a tray of oysters on the half shell from various regions of the US. These included the delectable small Olympia oyster from Puget Sound, several with Japanese names (and origins) from both East and West coasts, one from New Brunswick, Canada (very close to the Prince Edward Island known for its mussels) and one large, flat variety from Casco Bay Flats in Maine. The Olympia was a favorite.

Next on the menu came steamed-then-chilled Shigoku oysters, one dish made with a super-fresh and original mix of watercress, cilantro, Asian pear, candied pecans in an orange vinaigrette that was simply delicious. Another covered the oysters in a sake-ginger butter sauce full of flavor.

Next course was a trio of hot oysters – one baked with leeks and thyme, another gratineed with kale, and a third grilled and covered with a bright green arugula-almond pesto. Meanwhile Cynthia regaled guests with stories of how oysters filter the water in which they live and how their taste is profoundly affected by their environment, somewhat in the way wines are heavily influenced by their terroir. She said in all her years of food writing she’s rarely seen the passion and the partiality of oyster lovers in fans of other food groups.

Check out other oyster-related events at Shaw’s here and get ready for their huge Oyster Fest, on deck for tomorrow, Friday September 30, 3 to 10pm. Rain or shine the fest is on – and Shaw’s stands ready to help you enjoy it no matter what. They’ve purchased 1000 rain ponchos to pass out should the weather decide not to cooperate. Whether you join the teeming crowds, or you purchase the new-this-year VIP seated/service option, come on down and thrill to the live music, the great food and fun crowds at Shaws Chicago Oyster Fest 2016.
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Fogo de Chao – meat-and-more-lovers paradise downtown Chicago

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New for fall butternut squash and sweet potato soup
New for fall butternut squash and sweet potato soup

The front corner window of Fogo de Chao Brazilian steakhouse, at 661 N. LaSalle and Erie Street, contains a large open fire pit. And when the attendant inserts giant skewers of meat into several evenly spaced holding slots, it means – as it does in Brazil – that this restaurant is now open for business. And that’s one way you know that Fogo de Chao is serious about meat. Went in to try several new menu items for fall with a view to telling you about them.

Yes, as the menu indicates, this place is all about the meat. But the warm mini popovers they serve as soon as you sit down are murderously good – and the little floury gems are even more irresistible with bits of cold butter (you have to ask for that). Had to restrain myself – knew there was a barrage of meat coming soon. But first, the beautiful Market Table and Feijoda Bar.

Vegetables, legumes and grains galore – gorgeous with color, shine, freshness, contrast. Just beautiful, and tastes as good as it looks. And here they sneak meat into even the new-for-fall endive pear salad – peppery bacon complements the lightly dressed fruit-greens-onion combo. For the kale salad, raw leaves are massaged with a dressing just puckery enough to offset the slightly bitter green. A colorful tabbouleh salad is chock-full with fresh herbs and onion and just touched with oil. The carrot and green bean medley – deliciously fresh, lightly dressed, studded with sesame seeds and cooked a pointe – tastes of the garden.

The special new-for-fall blackberry cocktail, Blackberry Azedo, is made with fresh blackberries muddled with mint and shaken with Hendrick’s Gin, Crème de Cassis (black currant liqueur), and a house-made lime sour. A drink with delicate blackberry flavor minus the harassment of the seeds – pinkish purply color, lightly sweetened, topped with a fresh mint leaf. The server couldn’t quite get why I was asking to have the cocktail as dessert. Would’ve been a nice finish to the meal. But it didn’t go amiss, either, as an accompaniment to the food.

When you’re seated for the full meat-lover’s dining experience ($52.95 any night of the week), you’re given a little cardboard coaster that acts as your signal to the waitstaff that you’re ready to quit eating salad and start eating meat. When you turn it from red (salad) to green, they start bringing huge skewers of many different meats and combinations of meats that they slice off for you. And it’s nice that you can call upon any server – everyone in the dining room works as a team so you always have someone nearby who can assist you with questions or requests.

The new-for-fall butternut squash and sweet potato soup was creamy and satisfying – perfect for when fall finally arrives in Chicago. And since in Brazil butternut squash is a winter staple, they’ve created a unique salad of it roasted with cinnamon and honey and then tossed with cranberries and feta.

Okay, first slice of meat, recommended by the server, is the super juicy bottom sirloin off one of the giant skewers. Good flavor – fire-roasted with only salt for seasoning, you really get the flavor of the meat. Which may be all you need. Or maybe you’ll like it dipped in the horseradish sauce or one of the other half dozen choices (BBQ, steak sauce, chimichurri, hot sauce, mint jelly for lamb). Sides that come with both meat and fish options include garlic mashed potatoes (super light and airy if a bit salty), fried bananas, and polenta cut in French-fry-style prisms, deep-fried and dusted generously with Parmesan. Wanting to see what the chef would do with fish, we also requested the baked sea bass option ($34.95 a la carte at dinner, $42.95 as full dining experience – or you can order just the Market Table and Feijoda Bar for $28.95).

Back to the main show. Next tried a slice of top sirloin rare. Then a slice of prime sirloin (juicy, good, rare and salty). Both very nice. They are able to slice it off the skewer – you prevent the meat from falling by grasping each cut in a small pair of tongs provided to you for that purpose – in precisely the doneness you want. Impressive. Did not partake of the bacon-wrapped chicken, the pork chop, the chicken and sausage, pork ribs or lamb skewers, but they all looked good. Easy to see why a lot of hungry guys like this place!

The grilled chicken breast was somewhat dry inside but with a tasty char on the outside. It was the perfect chance to use one of the sauces to enhance the taste experience.

While waiting for the sea bass (it takes about 20 minutes to prepare), notice that Fogo has a separate good-sized bar area in addition to the giant dining room. On this early Thursday evening a crowd has already gathered. As the minutes go by, the dining room gets even fuller. The meat-bearers wander freely among the diners with skewers of juicy animal flesh. This grilling technique is the Brazilian steakhouse way, and it’s known there as churrasco. 

The sea bass arrives – cooked perfectly. Lightly crisp on the outside, exuding lovely juices with every tender cut of the fork, and sitting on a bed of large spears of asparagus cooked al dente. The server even brings on a new set of warm sides as the others have grown cold waiting. This Fogo de Chao chef certainly has skills in all areas, and the team is on top of service.

Just after 7 pm, and the place is getting really crowded. What a draw – unlimited amounts of meat, almost-cooked-to-order for one price. For serious meat lovers this beats all to hell the price of a traditional a la carte steakhouse experience. Fogo de Chao is open for lunch (except Saturdays), closed for a bit, then open for dinner each day. And check out the Fogo sampler bites at happy hour (4:30 to 6:30) in the bar only.

Visit the the very bottom of this web page for pricing on all lunch/brunch/dining options

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Good value rich red wine – Vin de Pays du Vaucluse 2014

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Français : Vin de Pays du Vaucluse (France)
Français : Vin de Pays du Vaucluse (France) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It comes from Domaine de Fanouillet and it’s just delicious. It surprises your nose and mouth with “aromas …redolent of wild flowers, strawberry jam, clove and slate.” says VinChicago. “The palate echoes these notes and continues on with more robust elements of leather, pine needles, white pepper, spice box and with supple tannins, bright acidity and a wisp of smoke.” But don’t worry, even if you can’t “get” all those tastes, you’re probably going to love this wine.

And at only $10.99 a bottle, Vin de Pays du Vaucluse 2014 is a big value. Honestly, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a red wine so much for so reasonable a price. Anyone who loves dry, medium-body red wines with their food – whether it’s a burger, a ragout, or a piece of sturdy fish – will be very pleased with this French red blend wine.  And the quality is such that you can be very proud to bring it as a host/hostess gift. Check it out on VinChicago’s website.

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DMK Fish Bar home run menu items

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Fish Bar menu from DMK Restaurants
Fish Bar menu from DMK Restaurants

Have loved DMK Burger Bar at 2954 N. Sheffield ever since it opened several years back. Been meaning for a long time to get to their Fish Bar around the corner and finally did this weekend.

Seating available inside or out – it was a bit too loud and hot inside we can climbed onto one of the unusually proportioned picnic benches outside (the bench seat is set a little closer-in than average). Rolls of paper towels dot the tables in lieu of napkins. The menu’s interesting, ranging from fresh oysters, Seared Tuna Salad and Head-On Prawn Salad to tacos, sandwiches (including po’boys), entrees, and some smaller items called “Crispy.” I realize only now that the menu did not contain any variety of French fries – and I didn’t even miss them. We really liked the of taste of the wine-of-the-day, Squandra Rosato rosé, and ordered a bottle ($27).

Paper towel roll on stand
Paper towel roll on stand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ordered the seafood special of the day and got two nicely seared, very large scallops served with a little pile of crispy-bacon-lardon-studded Brussels sprouts. Very good. Companion raved about the fried shrimp po’boy ($12) – said it was one of the best sandwiches she’d ever tasted, and the shrimp were entirely ungreasy. A good-sized helping of out-of-the-box-colorful cole slaw was big enough to share.

A favorite for us both was the small plate of Crispy Lemon Rings ($5) served with crispy slivers of onion and slices of jalapeno. Absolutely delicious. The tempura-type breading was barely-there and deep-fried, well, crispy but not greasy. The lemon slices, skin-on, melted into something quite tasty and not at all puckery. This might be a dish I’d want to get with whatever else I order here next time.

And there will be a next time. Soon.

 

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Gluten-free veggie-rich muffins now at Costco

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Garden Lites choclate veggie gluten-free muffin
Garden Lites choclate veggie gluten-free muffin

While we know how important they are to celiac disease and other sufferers, gluten-free baked goods have in the past mainly made us look elsewhere for treats. But we agreed to try a few samples from Garden Lites because they were also said to be rich in vegetables.

So glad we did. The chocolate zucchini edition tastes pretty rich as well as feeling almost as good in the mouth as a flour-based muffin might. A little less so for the Blueberry Oat version, but still very enjoyable. We ate

Nutrition in Blueberry Oat version
Nutrition in Blueberry Oat version

them straight out of the freezer – heating is recommended to bring out the best flavor – as mid-morning stave-off-starvation snacks. Both were definitely satisfying as regards both taste and to feeling virtuous about the nutrition. Vegetables are the first ingredients listed on all their versions (e.g., zucchini and carrots are first in the list for the chocolate one).

Garden Lites has just introduced these to Costco in the Midwest in boxes of 20. Keep them in the freezer. They’re individually wrapped so no worries about re-sealing the package after opening. Happy to recommend them as healthier satisfying snack alternatives.

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Experience virtual Louisville KY at Binny’s tonight

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English: Montage of Louisville Ky
English: Montage of Louisville Ky (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We have relatives who live in Louisville, KY so we’re happy to give the city a little boost here. Check out a few points of interest.

Spirits Boom: The bourbon continues to flow in Possibility City. Angel’s Envy’s downtown distillery will open this fall; in addition, moonshine purveyors Lucky and Kentucky Peerlesshave begun distilling their spirits in downtown Louisville.

A Neighborhood for Everyone: Whether it’s bar hopping in Nulu, savoring culinary creations in Butchertown or taking in Germantown’s deep European ties, there’s distinct character waiting to be discovered in each of the city’s many neighborhoods.

Refreshed Museums: The Speed Art Museum reopened this year, debuting a new building and expanded exhibits following a $50 million renovation. The Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft also reopened recently, offering an in-depth look at the region’s folk art.

BOURBON, BLUEGRASS & BASEBALL. Binny’s Lincoln Park is hosting an evening of Kentucky-themed cocktails and Southern-inspired hors d’oeuvres tonight, with live bluegrass music by Hickory Vaught and Bourbon education from expert Bernie Lubbers, Heaven Hill Global Whiskey Ambassador. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and the Louisville Slugger Museum will also be in attendance, providing a series of experiences for guests.

Binny’s Beverage Depot
1720 N. Marcey St.
Thursday, September 8, 2016
5 to 8 p.m.

 

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Luce della Vite – luxury wines from Italian-American partnership

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Gold sun logo for Luce luxury wines
Gold sun logo for Luce luxury wines

Luce della Vite Montalcino is the name given to the providential partnership put together back in the ’90s between Frescobaldi and Robert Mondavi wineries – across the sea from each other, and each home to some of the world’s most highly praised wines. These two master winemakers joined together and decided to ignore the DOC/DOCG regulations and create their own magic. The resulting Luce della Vite wines are remarkably elegant and refined, each bottle emblazoned with the fiery gold sun logo that is a modern rendition of the sun design chosen by Margot Mondavi from the emblem on the front of the altar in the ancient church built for the Frescobaldi family in 1493.

Sangiovese grapes in a vineyard of Montalcino,...
Sangiovese grapes in a vineyard of Montalcino, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luce della Vite wines must be made with Sangiovese grapes, either alone or with Merlot. The Sangiovese grapes grow in the flinty soils at higher altitudes of the estates and the Merlot grapes thrive in the lower areas in soil that’s a special clay mixed with volcanic ash. Unlike many other wines, Luce wines are blended before being put into barrels so that their flavors can be fully integrated during aging. The wines have been such a success that in 2017 Luce will be launching its own separate winery.

 Luce della Vite 1994, Merlot & Sangiovese – Only the second vintage to be made, this blend of Sangiovese and Merlot has a deep ruby ink color – bright, aromatic and highly extracted flavors display notes of raspberries, spices, violets and dried herbs. Complex nuances of roasted mocha and vanilla linger in the background. Elegant in structure with fine, well-balanced tannins and a long finish. Despite its low acid, its greatest potential will come with proper aging.
Luce della Vite 1999, Sangiovese & Merlot – This year was a particularly good harvest in Tuscany and especially in Montalcino. Wines from this vintage are delicate and refined with silky tannins and low acidities, but enough structure that they can age for many years. Luce 1999 is a dense ruby color with ripe aromas of dried plum and blackberry and hints of tobacco leaf, tanned leather, cinnamon and clove. Well-integrated tannins support the aromas and blend into a velvet-smooth savory and herbaceous wine that happens to be one of proprietor Lamberto Frescobaldi’s favorites.
Sangiovese grapes on the vine
Sangiovese grapes on the vine (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Luce della Vite 2012, Sangiovese & Merlot – Almost ideal weather conditions after heavy spring rains brought this vintage to a 5-star completion. Dark ruby in color, it offers a forceful, complex and rich bouquet of remarkable depth with notes of wild blackberry and blackcurrants, with delicate hints of spicy clove and black pepper in the background and additional impressions of black licorice and balsam to complete the profile. This is a full-bodied wine with ripe tannins that yield velvety softness in the mouth, accompanied by a trailing aromatic expression with a hint of smokiness throughout its lengthy finish.

Luce della Vite 2013, Sangiovese & Merlot – Just released, the color of this wine is intense and impenetrable, the bouquet elegant and complex. Vibrant aromas include cherries and raspberries with spiced notes and delicate floral undertones. Well-balanced and fresh with persistent aromas, the tannins are silky and refined with a well-defined the structure and no sharpness at all.
The following Luce wines are made bear the luxury Italian designation Brunello (which may partly explain why Lamberto Frescobaldi named his dog Brunello – read his interview here).
Luce Brunello 2008, Sangiovese – Only 5 acres were planted for this wine in a year with the rainiest spring in ten years and below-normal temperatures early in the year, followed by an extra-hot and sunny summer through September. Perfect conditions for ideal ripening times, especially Sangiovese grapes. This wine’s deep ruby red color is accented with garnet highlights. Its bouquet has mellow aromas of blackberry, current and blueberry along with notes of violet and citrus and a lively spiciness starring fresh tobacco, cocoa, leather and star anise. Medium body with a persistent finish  and a fine and elegant tannin texture.
Luce Brunello 2009 – A deep garnet red color, this wine releases a variegated bouquet of blackberry, blackcurrant, balsam and black licorice with notes of iris and sweet violets. You may notice, too, notes of charred oak, clove, roast espresso and dark chocolate. Fresh, yet  rich and full-bodied, it has velvety tannins and a long finish. Powerful yet  elegant.
Luce Brunello 2010 – It is rare to be able to find a bottle of this top award-winning wine. A dark garnet red, this wine boasts an elegant yet dense bouquet of sweet violets, blueberry, blackcurrant and black licorice with touches of rosemary blossoms and notes of oak toast. A deep and well structured wine with velvety tannins and a very long finish. Perfect with red meats.
Luce Brunello 2011 – Just released in 2016, this wine is a deep color with light garnet lights, has a complex bouquet ranging from black fruits like sour plums and spices to tobacco and tea leaves. The complexity continues on the palate by starting soft and coming into balance with a strong tannic texture. Pairs well with steak.
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