Category Archives: cheese

Chez Moi – a remarkable French restaurant in Chicago

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Country French with be-feathered crystal chandeliers
Country French with be-feathered crystal chandeliers

Okay, I have not tried every French restaurant in Chicago yet. But people have been asking me for years what’s my favorite restaurant in Chicago and, up ’til, now I’ve not been able to name a specific place. Have had many, many pleasant experiences, some exceptional (hello, Chef Lee Wolen and Boka). But last Saturday my friend and I were both overawed with the food, the ambiance and the service at Chez Moi, 2100 N. Halsted.

If this meal was indicative, Chef Dominique Tougne is doing an extraordinary job of bringing authentic French cuisine to our city. Friend and I both felt we might easily have been in a small bistro in or outside Paris, soaking in the candlelit warmth, the darkly dramatic artwork on the walls, and the feather-encrusted crystal-drop chandeliers. The dark-and-thick-crusted bread with butter was good – and hard not to eat more of. But we knew we were truly in the presence of French food artistry when we tasted the first dish – Black Truffle Quiche.

Quiche. Okay, you’re probably thinking heavy egg-cream concoction baked atop a heavy pastry crust with maybe some bacon and cheese in it. But that is decidedly not what you get from Chef Dominique. This dish is an ethereally light custard, kissed with seared foie gras and set snugly in a feather-light pastry crust that almost melts into and becomes part of the custard. Topped with a tiny nest of greens, and surrounded by a puddle of rich port wine reduction, this quiche will take you into a realm quite beyond the ordinary. And it was rich enough for us to share and feel content.

The Qualidou, said to be “either a larger appetizer or a smaller entree” size, combined half a confit quail, thinly sliced seared duck breast and foie gras, accompanied by thinly sliced sauteed mushrooms, all in a generous pool of concentrated wine sauce. With all these intense flavors, we had no trouble splitting this and feeling satisfied. And I love the fact that they give you a spoon with every dish that has a sauce. Let us respect – and savor – the sauce!!

When the onion tart appetizer arrived, we were surprised at its size – generous enough for 3 people. And, oh the pastry crust! Flaky and layered richly with butter, it made a fabulous base for a nice combination of onion, bacon and creme fraiche.

Our server explained that the Gateau Breton de Solidou is a shortbread cake. Well, who knew? This incredible dessert had tender crustiness and richness in equal measure. The butter flavor was extravagant. The sauce was heavenly, and the vanilla ice cream (house made) made the combination exquisite.  Could eat this for breakfast, lunch or dinner and need nothing else.

Chez Moi offers a small but obviously carefully curated list of beers, cocktails, liqueurs, and French wines. The by-the-bottle listings yielded several options under $50. We selected the French Malbec and, after it breathed for a few minutes, it made a nice pairing with our meal.

Chef offers a prix fixe menu selection all week, Sunday through Thursday – three courses include a salad, then your choice of entree (hanger steak, roast chicken, seared salmon or roasted vegetables) and tiramisu for dessert. Check out the rest of the menus here. We cannot wait to come back again. In fact, this place is tempting me to eat out much more often than I usually do. Exceptional experience. Will let you know if next visits measure up.

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Indulge and learn – thanks to Villa Maria NZ wines

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Villa Maria wines evoke visions of New Zealand’s North Island – rolling hillsides, misty mountain tops, lush fields and clear, easy-flowing rivers. These are beautiful wines from a beautiful country. And what a great idea to compare NZ wines with like types from California and France. A good way for Americans to really feel/taste/experience the differences and similarities.
Luxury white wine comparison
Luxury white wine comparison

Villa Maria winemakers recently invited trade and press to do just that at Chicago’s Tavern on Rush; they organized a comparative tasting of six elegant white wines, only two of which were their own, one French and the rest top-selling American Chardonnays. Just sitting at the table with professional sommeliers and the owner/original winemaker himself, Sir George Fistonich, and listening to Nick Picone, Villa Maria’s current head winemaker, was an educational adventure as well as a tasting treasure.

The six wines were set out in pairs to be tasted parallel with each other. Notes on the first pair:
  1. Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay 2014 (Napa Valley). Grown in clay soils and aged 1/3 in new oak, this wine shows many layers of flavor and gives taste sensations all around the mouth. California chardonnays are generally heavier than French versions, Nick said. Adjectives for this wine included low-oak, semi-dry, slightly dusty with lots of minerality. He said California wines tend to stay in the 13 plus-or-minus percent alcohol range.
  2. Rombauer Vineyards Chardonnay 2014 (Carneros). A best-selling wine in this price category. Light, almost translucent with toffee, butterscotch and vanilla notes. It’s aged one-third in American oak, which is rich in lactone, the compound that gives vanilla hints and a slight sweetness, according to the winemaker. This, he said, makes this wine very popular in the U.S. where it’s often served as an aperitif and not with food. Alc 14.5%
The second pair were both Villa Maria Chardonnays, which Nick says are more comparable to white burgundies than to American chardonnays:
  1. Villa Maria Keltern Vineyard Chardonnay 2014 (Hawkes Bay). They started making this wine in 2002, when it used to be a bigger wine with more oak made of 100% Chardonnay grapes grown in red clay soils in their flagship vineyard. Mature wines now are all fermented with 100% wild yeast. Nine months in French oak barrels; the wine has a hazelnut sweetness from the lees. They make only 500 cases of this for the entire world. You may not be able to buy a bottle of this at your local retailer, but it gives you an idea of the superb quality being produced at Villa Maria. Loved this one – top rating.
  2. Villa Maria Taylors Pass Vineyards Chardonnay 2011 (Marlborough). This wine is completely different but has a similar fruit ripeness and freshness and acidity like a white burgundy. It’s grown from Malbec vineyard in an area with a big diurnal swing (day to night temperature range) and known for its Sauvignon Blanc. All that gives the wine “a touch of green fruit, a bit of brininess, even a hint of grapefruit. The wild yeasts give it a smoky sulfide taste – like striking a match,” said Nick. “We like that in a burgundy,”  Again, only 500 cases of this are made for the world. Ditto on finding this at Binny’s.
The third pair made an interesting contrast, one a California Chardonnay and the other a French white:
  1. Far Niente Chardonnay 2014 (Napa Valley). This pair is the most expensive of the six wines. Napa has a warmer climate than Carneros, which greatly affects the wines grown in each region. This wine is aged 60% in new French oak, so has a nutty, toasty, buttery flavor, much more subtle and very Burgundian in style. Especially high quality – top rating.
  2. Joseph Drouhin Meursault 2013 (Burgundy). This one comes from a cooler climate and is grown in slate soils with more minerals. It’s not as rich as some of the others; rather it has high acidity and great freshness with a slightly briny taste of oyster shells. Delicate, slightly lighter, drier, very good for pairing with foods.
Villa Maria gorgeous Reserve Cabernet
Villa Maria gorgeous Reserve Cabernet

These are luxury category wines; suggested retail prices run between $35 and $60.  And look for more premium and luxury wines from Villa Maria – like their fabulous Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2009. And in case you fall in love with one or more of their wines and want to learn more, pick up a copy of the book, The Winemaker: George Fistonich and the Villa Maria storyIt’s an extraordinary tale of how one visionaory man built a worldwide business that parallelled the growth of the New Zealand wine industry. He’s dedicated all of his energies to the pursuit of excellence in winemaking. And you’re sure to enjoy experiencing the end results with a Villa Maria wine in your glass.

The story of George Fistonich and Villa Maria
The story of George Fistonich and Villa Maria
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Last-minute SuperBowl food and drink ideas

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SuperBowl Sunday is reputedly one of the biggest television viewing days of the year in the United States. I’m guessing that might depend on which teams are playing and how big the rivalry is (Wikipedia gives interesting biggest-TV-audience stats here).

And for sure, this is also a day people tend to say the hell with the diet. So whether you’re making stuff at home, or heading out to let someone else do the cooking and cleanup, here are a few last-minute ideas for your enjoyment and edification.

Like to keep the dirty dishes to a minimum on SuperBowl Sunday? Try Nuvino wine in portable PreservPak pouches. Comes in Chardonnay, Malbec, Red Blend, and Sauvignon Blanc. If you don’t drink ’em all up at the party, they’ll keep fresh up to 18 months. Just think of all the glasses you won’t have to wash.

If you like to make your own finger foods for the party, here’s a new product, Just Mayo, that lets you make healthier versions of your favorite Super Bowl dishes. It’s non-GMO, gluten-free, soy free, dairy-free, lactose-free, and cholesterol-free product and comes in sriracha, chipotle, and garlic spreads (burger toppers, anyone?). You can get it at Safeway, Whole Foods Market, Walmart, and select Costco locations. Recipes at http://www.hamptoncreek.com/just-mayo/recipes/

A few quick notes on SuperBowl specials around town:

  • Commonwealth Tavern, 2000 W. Roscoe St., has brunch from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. with $6 bloody marys and $12 mimosas. $5 stadium cups, $15 Miller and Coors buckets, $4 Tecate cans, $5 Lagunitas drafts, and $10 themed food specials created by Chef Donny Farrell. Hold your spot ahead 773.697.7956.

  • Compass Bar, 433 W. Diversey offers a $10 Super Bowl Chili Frito Pizza along with 200 different beers plus line cards and prize giveaways each quarter.

  • Lottie’s, 1925 W. Cortland, has a Half-Time Competition. Kick a field goal to win a $250 prize. Meanwhile enjoy the game on multiple screens, drink up $4 Jameson, $15 Miller and Coors buckets, and dig in to a $15 party platter (14-inch cheese pizza and bucket of wings and tots).

  • LM Restaurant Group:
    Brasserie by LM, 800 S. Michigan Ave. Bratwurst with Fries and a Miller Lite $10
    Troquet River North, 111 W. Huron. Troquet Burger with Fries and a Miller Lite $10

  • MAK,1924 W. Division has BOGO wangs on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 1. Crispy fried with a sweet and spicy sauce, get in all sizes, to go, dine-in & delivery.

  • ROCKS Northcenter, 4138 N. Lincoln, and ROCKS Lakeview, 3463 N. Broadway, $20 Bud Light Towers + 50¢ Wings. Plus discounts, raffles and giveaways.
  • The Pony, 1638 W. Belmont, has a free Jameson’s half-time competition – kick a field goal to win a $250 prize. Deals on Jameson, beer buckets and a $15 Punxsutawney party platter (16-inch Clydesdale grilled cheese plus wings and tots).
  • Tavern on Little Fort, 4128 N. Lincoln, has a Chili Cook-off starting at 3 pm, with judging at half-time. Prizes are as follows: $200 cash (1st place), grill set (2nd place) and Coleman picnic chairs (3rd place). Bring your own crock-pot with your best chili. Ten bucks buys any patron a “judgeship” and the right to enjoy chili samples, wings, sausage, dips, chips, and veggies. $3 domestic specials, $5 microbrew drafts, $4 well drinks and $4 Fireball shots.

 

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Remembering James Beard – and welcoming JBFoundation awards to Chicago this year!

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English: A cranberry jello salad made in a rin...
English: A cranberry jello salad made in a ring mold. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I first heard about James Beard back in the 70s when I was just beginning to feel like a serious cook. I spent a lot of time reading cookbooks and a significant amount of time making recipes that sounded delectable—and doable without too many single-purpose pieces of equipment or exotic ingredients. He was one of my original inspirations—as he was to the entire nation of U.S. cooks back then who’d been raised on Jello salads and heavily mayonnaised vegetable and/or fruit combinations. The man even inspired my ultimate hero, Julia Child.

Then I had a chance to see the guy in person. He was a huge man—I think something near 300 pounds. But then, Beard was born a huge baby—some say 13 or 14 pounds, so he came by it honestly as well as by indulging his passions for food. The day I saw him he was making – I will never forget it – a Swiss Cheese Salad. As if cheese isn’t salty and fatty enough, I thought, he’s going to put dressing on it! I think there were some chopped green onions and a few other things in there and some Dijon mustard in the dressing, but I don’t recall any greens in the ingredients. Yes, it was a salad made almost exclusively of shredded cheese—top quality, of course. Gruyere, no doubt. Take out the greens and this is somewhat like the recipe as I remember it.

I was impressed by his flavor-is-everything-and-devil-take-the-consequences attitude towards fat in recipes—this at a time when fat was just beginning to be vilified as the culprit in America’s obesity epidemic. Nowadays, fat versus sugar is the debate that continues to spark hot contests.

Chef Beard was also the guy who gave me my forever-remembered proportions for homemade vinaigrette—one and a half tablespoons of wine vinegar to six tablespoons of olive oil. The memory of seeing him that day is still precious. I can’t imagine how thrilled I’d have been to see Julia Child in person. But at least I got—and still get—to admire her from afar via her many television appearances.

And now I’m thrilled for another reason. I’m proud that the James Beard Foundation, founded to honor that amazing guy, is holding its prestigious JBF 2015 awards ceremony for the first time in Chicago!! Monday, May 4 at Lyric Opera, both the Chicago and the national winners will be celebrated at a grand party.

Read more and find insights on food at the James Beard Foundation’s blog Delights & Prejudices.

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What is “rich” food?

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Taste of the Danforth
Grilling makes most meats taste richer. Taste of the Danforth (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Richness. How do we experience that in regard to food? What does it mean to say a food is rich? The dictionary says the word relates to a multitude of qualities besides possessions (wealth). Something rich is said to “have high value or quality, or to be well-supplied or endowed.” How about a food rich in history? Potatoes, for example. The seven-year-long Great Famine in Ireland in 1845. Or tomatoes – carried from South America in the late 16th century to all parts of the world and once thought to be highly poisonous.

But, no, that’s not what we mean when we say a food is rich. Perhaps the grapes are rich – have high quality and thus can produce the best wines. Yeah, but that’s more about the qualities of the grapes and not so much about taste, which is what we’re mainly talking about in a cookbook (which I happen to be working on and which inspired this post).

The dictionary goes on. “Magnificently impressive, synonym: sumptuous.” Oh, yeah, I can see that applied to a lot of dishes – Beef Wellington (filet of beef wrapped in pastry), anyone? Or “vivid and deep in color.” Yes, a rich red tomato. A deep, rich browned crust on your ribeye. Okay, we’re getting there.

Merriam Webster continues, “having a strong fragrance.” Yes! Think about fresh-baked bread. About the aroma of pot roast on a cold winter’s night. Rich, for sure. Here’s one: “having abundant plant nutrients.” Okay, although we do use the phrase rich in nutrition – and perhaps strict vegans might use it in that sense – vitamins are not usually what we’re thinking of when we speak of the richness of a meal. Here’s one: “highly seasoned, fatty, oily, or sweet.” Indeed, this meaning is often used pejoratively – “That’s too rich for my blood,” someone will say of a dish loaded with butter or sugar or one sitting in a pool of rich wine reduction.

English: Crème brûlée prepared using a torch.
These are BIG dishes of lush creme brulee – but the browned-sugar coating isn’t rich enough yet.

And the last few from the dictionary: “high in some component” – again, this leads us to think of non-taste-related phenomena such as, for example, cholesterol, though we could use it to refer simply to taste itself. I like the mystery and subtlety of this definition: “meaningful, significant.” Yes. I can feel this one when I speak of a meal that is rich – including taste and sensation but layered perhaps with some emotion like love, happiness, contentedness. Another one, “lush” seems suitable for rich, silky, creamy foods like ice cream or crème brûlée.

And finally, “pure or nearly pure” could refer to the intensity of a single flavor, as in soup base that is rich with beef flavor or a dessert composed of several items (e.g., crust, filling and topping), all flavored with lime, or with vanilla.
And then there’s umami, the so-called “fifth taste.” Discovered after centuries of belief that there were only the classic four: salt, sweet, sour and bitter.  Umami is defined generally as “savory, related to lip-smacking, rich tasting.” How about some triple-cream brie cheese? Surprisingly, people of good will today still disagree as to whether umami is a legitimate classification. But why not? It fits. It’s a concept missing from the other four, so it makes sense as a category. But I doubt it will ever have the rich, multilayered connotations of the “r” term. I mean, “rich” even feels umami on your tongue, doesn’t it?
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Early 2015 restaurant news – burgers, soup, salumi and more

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Acadia's new featured wagyu beef 'shroom burger
Acadia’s new featured wagyu beef ‘shroom burger

Acadia, 1639 S. Wabash in the South Loop, recently launched a new version of the Acadia Burger, one of the bar menu’s most popular items. The 6-ounce wagyu, brisket and chuck burger, created by Chef Ryan McCaskey, is topped with a mushroom ragout and Gruyere Grand Cru cheese and served on a sesame bun. It’s served with pickled cauliflower and hand-cut fries seasoned with house-made lemon pepper seasoning (containing over 20 ingredients) and foie gras butter. Sounds like a fascinating combination – and the fries look cooked just right.

The previous version, based on Burger King’s Stacker, was recognized as one of Chicago’s best burgers by Thrillist, TimeOut Chicago, Zagat and others. Acadia expects the new version to be just as well-loved. McCaskey said the new version “was inspired by my family eating at Hardee’s on the way to my grandmother’s house in Iowa as a kid.” Clearly, the wagyu beef and Gruyere cheese alone push it several notches beyond the inspiration. To inspire yourself, check it out at http://www.acadiachicago.com/.

Quartino's house-made salumi
Quartino’s house-made salumi

Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar, 626 N. State St., invites you to help celebrate its 9th anniversary on Tuesday, January 6 at its Annual Wine Bash. From 7 to 9 pm, $25 at the door gets you samples of some of Quartino’s most popular regional Italian food and wine specialties like pizza, Chef Coletta’s house-made salumi, Polenta Fries, Veal Meatballs, and more. To drink, either rosso or bianco Antica wines or the restaurant’s famous White Peach Bellini (Prosecco and house-made white peach puree).

“The evening will highlight many of the items that have been on our menu since day one in 2005,” says Executive Chef John Coletta, “and that are still some of our customers’ favorite dishes.” Head up to the second floor when you get there (social media #LateOnState).

Kanela Breakfast Club’s loukoumades

Kanela Breakfast Club (locations in Old Town, Lakeview and Wicker Park) welcomes power breakfast meetings with free wi-fi and complimentary parking .  NATIONAL SOUP MONTH – all month any guest who donates a canned soup or non-perishable food item will receive a complimentary order of Kanela’s signature Loukoumades (Greek doughnut, lemon honey syrup and toasted walnuts). Donations will be made to a local food pantry. Not valid with any other offer or promotion, one per person.

National Blueberry Pancake Day – Wed. January 28. Every order of Kanela’s signature blueberry pancakes comes with a free first cup of Julius Meinl coffee. One per person.

 

Compass Bar, 433 W. Diversey in Lincoln Park, is now serving brunch Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Brunch items range in price from $3 to $11 and features items like the breakfast pizza,

Bloody Mary with Rhinelander Lager

classic breakfast, omelettes, French toast and more. $6 mimosas and $8 bloody marys made with CH Distillery Peppercorn Vodka. Pair with a 3 ounce Rhinelander Lager bottle for an additional $2. The complete menu is available HERE. The Compass regular menu specializes in wood-fired pizzas and beer lovers choose from 180 bottled and 20 draft options.

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Sparkling Italian wines and more from Veneto

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Provinces of the Italian region of Veneto
Provinces of the Italian region of Veneto (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fine wines in Italy are certified as DOC or DOCG (read more about 4 excellent whites and a red from Romagna here and some fun info here), and a great many of them come from Veneto, Italy’s biggest-producing wine region. The region exports 28% of its wines compared to only 5% from Emilio Romagna and 12% from Trentino.

Reps from Veneto brought several wines to Chicago recently via the Simply Italian Great Wines tour 2014.  Below are a few you might like to try:

Sparklings

Wine service pouring a glass of the Italian sp...
Wine service pouring a glass of the Italian sparkling wine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Prosecco DOC Extra Dry Selezione Raphael Dal Bo 2013 – from Raphael Dal Bo SRL.  Fruity, light (11% alc) and refreshing with a smooth finish and aromas of green apples and white blossoms. Excellent as an aperitif or with light starters, or to celebrate a festive occasion.  Some call this the “Swiss Army knife” of sparkling wines – good for most anything. (Price not available.)

Prosecco DOC Extra Dry Ca’ Delle Rose 2013 – from Domus Vini SRL. Fresh, lively and fragrant (11% alc) with floral, fresh fruit hints of apple, pear, citrus and yeast. This one’s grown near the Dolomite Mountains so has more minerality than some. Great as a cocktail and aperitif or with light foods, fish and seafood, and creamy desserts. (Price not available.)

Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore DOCG Extra Dry 2013 – from Azienda Agricola Drusian Francesco. Fine and persistent on the palate with scents of green apple, pear, wisteria and white flowers. Drink as aperitif or with fish dishes (11% alc). Retails at ~$20.

White

Breganze Pino Grigio DOC Superiore Savardo 2013 – from Cantina Beato Bartolomeo da Breganze.  2013 was a good year for white wines in Veneto. This one is dry, crisp, fruity and fragrant with acacia blossoms and exotic fruits. (12.5% alc). (Price not available.)

Reds

Valpolicella Ripasso DOC 2012 – from Terredomini SRL.  Dry, velvety, with hints of baking spice, dark red fruits and tobacco, and an aroma of bitter almonds. Good with most anything: meats, cheese, pork medallions, veal shanks, etc. (Price not available.)

Venezia Rabosos Dell’ Arnassa DOC 2010 – from Castello di Roncade.  Full-bodied, pleasantly high acidity, with light wood notes and an aroma of vines with hints of mature red fruit and cherry. Goes great with the heaviest of meats such as venison, boar and duck. Retails anywhere from $15 to $25.

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4 white and 1 red Italian wines – Romagna Heart of Italy

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English: location of Emilia-Romagna in Italy
English: location of Emilia-Romagna in Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They’ve been growing grapes and making fine wines in Romagna in Italy since the time of the Roman Empire. All the wines from this area are DOC (Controlled Designation of Origin) or DOCG (Controlled and Guaranteed Designation of Origin) – designations granted only to the best certified quality wines in Italy.  Romagna produces about 20 million bottles of this certified wine and exports 35% of it to other countries.

Romagna is known for its deep, dark Sangiovese reds and many white wines – from dry to aged dessert types. Since most of the winemakers are very small, they needed to band together to promote themselves. So 250 small winemakers and 200 partner wineries worked to form Consorzio Vini di Romagna. They brought some of their fine wines to Chicago recently during the Simply Italian Great Wines tour 2014.  Below are four of their white wines and one red I recommend:

Whites

Romagna Italian whites and Sangioveses
Romagna Italian whites and Sangiovese reds – part of the Simply Italian Great Wines tour

4 stars Romagna Albana DOCG Secco Progetto I 2013 – from Leone Conti Societa’ Agricola. Lovely white wine, dry and warm with aromas of yellow fruit, golden apple skin, wet rocks, oak and vanilla. Good with starters, first courses of fish and roasted white meats. Four stars and a great value at ~$15. This wine won over a Sauterne in a blind taste test.

4 stars – Romagna Albana DOCG Secco I Croppi 2013 – from Celli SNC di Sirri & Casadei Societa’ Agricola.  Rich, round, fresh, elegant with aromas of yellow pulp fruit and scents of apricot and melon. Four stars and another great value at ~$15. Good with noodles, grilled fish and white meats.

4 stars – Romagna Albana DOCG Secco Alba Della Torre 2013 – from La Sabbiona S.S. Azienda Agricola. Dry, warm and harmonious, with a finish of burnt almond. This is a beautiful wine with intense fruity and floral notes and a whiff of peaches. Another great value at ~$15. Good for starters, fish, especially grilled fish, but really it would go well with your whole meal.

5-star beauty – Romagna Albana DOCG Passito 2010 – from Bissoni Raffaella Alessandra Azienda Agricola.  Creamy, slightly sweet, but rich and complex, with persistent tannins and aromas of apricot, dried figs, almonds, ripe dates and scents of rich fruit and spice mixtures. It’s a dessert wine, so go ahead and splurge at $45 retail. Serve it with almond pastries, and/or mature Pecorino or blue cheeses with honey or jam.

One red I recommend is the Romagna Sangiovese Doc Superiore Riserva Nonno Rico 2010 from Azienda Agricola Alessandro Morini “Poderi Morini.” Delicately soft, smooth and fresh with notes of thyme and oregano along with scents of plum, cherry, vanilla and licorice with a finish of ripe rose. Doesn’t it just make your mouth water? A good value at ~$20. Serve with filet of beef or other rich meats.

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Merano Wine Tour at Eataly attracts a crowd

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A group of Italian makers of fine wine came to show off their creations at the first-ever tour of the winners of the Merano, Italy Wine Festival competition. Held from 6 to 10 pm at Eataly Chicago last week, it turned out to be a very popular event.

Almost all the wines I tasted (I’m a red fan) were utterly beautiful – full, rich, deep flavors and long finishes.  (Where I give prices they come from my Vivino iPhone wine app, so may or may not reflect actual retail where you shop.) A few of my favorites were Cantina Tollo Riserva Cagiolo Montepulciano d’Abruzza 2009 (so delicious I wanted to sit down to dinner immediately with close friends and share intimate secrets, I found prices from $56 to $19 so shop around), Cantina Tollo Colle Secco Riserva 2009 (lighter but still deeply flavorful – drink alone or with food, $29?), Riserva Montigi Pinot Noir 2011 ($25), Terlaner Classico 2013 (good value if you can get it for $19), Vignetti di Spessa Friuli Colli Orientali Schioppettino 2011, and Serafini & Vidotto Phigaia After the Red 2009 ($23).

Italian appetizers included several creative takes on bruschetta including one with sauteed mushrooms, one with pepperoncini and a few others. A dish of fine olive oil sat ready for dipping thick slices of crusty, hearty multigrain bread. Tasters also lined up for a small buffet lined with crisp vegetables – endive leaves, peppers and so on – with a bagna cauda (anchovy) dip, plus meatballs and more, and a huge vat full of chunks of Parmiggiano Reggiano. All strikingly good-tasting.

Next year I hope will bring a larger space to accommodate the many enthusiastic attendees – with at least a few places for older and tired-feet-after-work folks to sit down. These wines were excellent and can only improve when tasters have room to move. I dream of the day when wine tastings will reliably give, here and there, a place to set something down. It’s a real trick balancing a plate, napkin, camera/phone, pen and wine-rating book while swirling and sipping!

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New cheeses from grass-fed cows come to Chicago

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Many cheeses at the supermarket
Many cheeses at the supermarket (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grass-fed is the new mantra for healthier eating. You restaurant-goers and shoppers can find grass-fed meats, eggs and dairy in various locations around Chicago. Now you can also find a new brand: Grassfields is local and makes cheeses with raw organic milk from grass-fed cows raised to the highest animal welfare standards in the U.S. and Canada.

Look for the brand at some 20 stores and restaurants across the city, including Eataly, Bin 36, Longman & Eagle, West Town Bakery, Bangers & Lace, and the Dill Pickle Food Co-op. Grassfields’ nine varieties of cheese are made and aged on its 250-acre dairy farm, near Coopersville, MI.

Matt Reilly, Manager of Salumi and Formaggi at Eataly, says “Understanding what we eat is the only way to develop healthy relationship with our food. As a cheese monger, my goal is to know and build a direct trust relationship with both the producer and my customers. …I am happy to encourage my customers to bring [Grassfield cheeses] home to their families.”

Antonio RamÍrez, Cheese Director at Bin 36, says his customers agree: Grassfields’ cheeses are “unique and unexpected. “…Grass feeding produces added flavors and sweetness, makes the flavor more interesting, and keeps animals happy and healthy. Happy cows make happy cheese…”

For a full list of stores carrying Grassfields Cheese visit www.grassfieldscheese.com. For retail enquires, contact Luke Meerman on (616) 997-8251 or email grassfieldscheese@gmail.com.

About Animal Welfare Approved
Animal Welfare Approved (AWA) standards, policies and procedures are available on the AWA website. AWA’s Online Directory of AWA farms, restaurants and products let you search by zip code, keywords, products and type of establishment. AWA has also launched AWA Food Labels Exposed, a free smartphone app guide to commonly used food claims and terms, available from the App Store or Google Play. A free printable version of Food Labels Exposed is also available for download atAnimalWelfareApproved.org.
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