Category Archives: Chicago food and drink

Bubbly and chocolates still perfect for Valentine’s Day

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Photo by Jasmine Waheed on Unsplash
Gal/Pal/Valendtine’s Day. Photo by Jasmine Waheed on Unsplash.

Another of our country’s manufactured holidays coming up tomorrow. But who cares if somebody made it up to sell greeting cards? It does make a nice opportunity to celebrate the love and friendship that make life worth living. And even though it’s a cliché, champagne/bubbly and chocolates will never go out of style as a gift to light up your friend’s/lover’s eyes.

While we have in the past been only mildly enthusiastic about most of the Prosecco we’ve tried, that’s not so anymore. Mionetto brand has us embracing this bubbly as we do champagne. Their expressions of Prosecco are all made with organically grown grapes and are full of flavor. We tried their Prosecco DOC Organic and found it much to our liking, and by the way, you can buy some of these at your local Binny’s or Target. Here are a few of their expressions:

Mionetto Prosecco DOC
Mionetto Prosecco DOC

Mionetto Prosecco DOC Organic. The grapes for this wine are from a certified organic winery in the town of Vazzolo in the hills of Treviso. The winery practices organic farming techniques and grows the grapes without synthetic chemicals and fertilizers. 100% Glera grapes are harvested in the second half of September. Primary and secondary fermentation takes place in temperature control stainless steel. This one is verified separately to ensure purity. It’s bright yellow in color with delicate notes of elderflower and green apple on the nose. On your tongue, the winemaker says you’ll notice an explosion of green apple, pineapple and orange with a refreshing crispness from delicate bubbles. Perfect with cheeses such as Gorgonzola along with dates or figs, or with prosciutto and melon. We love this wine!

Mionetto Prestige Organic Prosecco DOC Extra-Dry
Mionetto Prestige Organic Prosecco DOC Extra-Dry

Mionetto Prestige Brut. Made from 100% Glera grapes from the province of Treviso, an area renowned for high quality Prosecco, this sparkling wine offers a luminous straw yellow hue and stylish mousse. The palate is marked by aromatic notes of honey and white peach. For stocking stuffers, you should start with Mionetto’s signature mini bottles ($4). The classic ribbon beautifully displayed across the bottle means there’s no need to wrap. You can even customize with a notecard displayed around the bottle’s neck. SRP ~$14 750ml / $4 Mini 187ml.

Mionetto Prestige Rosé Extra Dry. This deeply luscious sparkling rosè is the result of soft pressing of red grapes. The wine offers a peach blossom luminosity accompanied by a fine, lively perlage. Intense fragrances of violets, raspberries, strawberries, and wild flowers make a perfect pairing for your holiday table. Serving this cuvée with a grilled turkey breast or fish (or a variety of fish on the Feast of Seven Fishes) is sure to be a recipe for success.  SRP ~$14 750ml / $4 Mini 187ml.

Mionetto Luxury Cartizze
Mionetto Luxury Cartizze

Mionetto Luxury Cartizze DOCG. This elegant Cartizze boasts luminous golden tones and delicate beads of tiny bubbles. A majestic, multi-faceted bouquet releases seductive impressions of apple and pear alongside notes of citrus and glazed almond. On the palate it is crisp, well-balanced, and elegant. The perfect gift for anyone special in your life! SRP ~$45.

And just for fun, think about getting your gal/pal/valentine a prettily decorated and beribboned box of Fannie May Double-Dark Chocolate & Sea Salt Pixies. We totally love the dark chocolate on top and the crunchy pecan pieces and chocolatey caramel inside these gems. But if you love milk chocolate, they come that way, too.  Order from Fannie May’s own Amazon store, or find your nearest Fannie May store if you want to surround yourself with the aroma of fresh chocolate while you drool over all the choices for your gal/pal/val or just for yourself. And because you can buy Fannie May and Mionetto in your local establishment, it’s not too late for tomorrow.

Fannie May Pixies come in milk or double-dark chocolate
Fannie May Pixies come in milk or double-dark chocolate
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New Russian River Valley contender – Dutton-Goldfield Winery

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Beautiful expressions of Pinot Noir by Dutton Goldfield
Beautiful expressions of Pinot Noir by Dutton Goldfield

New wineries are birthed all the time these days, what with global warming making climates around the world noticeably warmer. And for vintners in California, the vast selection of terroirs makes it easy to make many different expressions of grapes grown there. Recently received samples from a new contender that’s breaking out with multiple beautiful expressions of luxury Pinot Noir wines. Can’t go wrong with these lovelies.

Dutton-Goldfield Winery, located in the heart of Russian River Valley in CA, makes wines with the brightness of fruit, complexity, structure and balance you’d expect from grapes grown in this cool coastal neighborhood.
The partners, Steve Dutton and Dan Goldfield, each came to winemaking from a completely different direction – Steve from farming and Dan from chemistry – but their partnership has manifested itself beautifully in their work with their now-over-80 vineyards comprising 1000 acres. They grow many different grapes and make small quantities of many different varietal wines, but they specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their Pinot Noirs comes in multiple expressions each year to represent all the different vineyards they own. See the full list of current Dutton-Goldfield releases here. Their Chardonnay is a delightful treat, as an aperitif and with meals. The DG Wine Club is a way for members to connect with the history and knowledge of the founders and to guarantee their own supply of DG’s single-vineyard, limited production wines all year. Below are winemaker notes on some of their new releases with links.
Pinot Noir 2017, Azaya Ranch Vineyard, Marin County. Black raspberry, plum and Bing cherry aromas with undertones of thyme and sandalwood. The palate shows boysenberry, blueberry and raspberry, with cinnamon and nutmeg notes. Perfect with earthy dishes. 360 cases produced. SRP ~$62.
Pinot Noir 2017, Angel Camp Vineyard, Anderson Valley. Aromas of dusky plum, with back notes of brambleberry and sandalwood, along with violet floral accents. In the mouth, sweet plum and wild berry fruit are underlaid with black tea, peaty earth and spice box. Round and soft tannins and a creamy finish complete this elegant wine. Serve with earthy foods. 364 cases produced. SRP ~$62.
Deviate Pinot Noir 2017, Sonoma Coast. Bold aromas of black cherry and black raspberry, with accents of tobacco, thyme and licorice along with violet floral notes. Mouth-filling with rich brambly berry flavors. Drink now or let it unwind, in the glass or the bottle. Black raspberry with black tea notes. the firm tannins carry it to a long, sandalwood-laced finish. Intense wine that pairs well with bold flavors like beef, hot peppers, lamb stew, duck curry or peppery cheeses. SRP ~$72.
Pinot Noir 2017 Docker Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County. Deep and layered. Aromas of black cherry, blackberry, sandalwood, and peaty earth with a base of tobacco and black tea. Taste sweet blackberry and boysenberry that lead in waves to the long, creamy finish. Pair this robust wine equally sturdy foods like ribs, sausages or cumin lamb kebabs or creamy, tangy cheeses like herbed goat cheese or young pecorino. 402 cases produced. SRP ~$68.
Pinot Noir 2017, Dutton Ranch/Emerald Ridge Vineyard, Green Valley or Russian River Valley. The nose alerts you to this wine’s intensity with packed aromas of blueberry, blackberry, raspberry and cherry, rolling like waves after each other. Then berries and cherry compote join sandalwood, cinnamon and a sweet-earthy beetroot on the palate. Firm round tannins are ready now but will keep broadening with time in the bottle. Put this on the table with rich dishes – lamb or game birds with herbs or mushrooms, or with tangy cheeses like manchego. 671 cases produced. SRP ~$68.
01Incidentally, this is only a sample of the selection of beauties from this winery. Explore the Dutton Goldfield website and let your tastebuds tingle as you make your selections. These people do a great job.
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3 book reviews: cauliflower magic, kitchen tips, and dog nutrition

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The books in this collection may make strange bedfellows, but each one is enjoyable, informative and fun in its own way. Did you know you can make pizza crust with cauliflower? Read on for more amazing and interesting tidbits.

Cali’Flour Kitchen by Amy Lacey. You don’t have to be on a keto kick to want to eat fewer carbs. Lots of us have found that cutting carbs is the only way to trim off a few pounds. Amazingly, cauliflower has come into its own as a substitute for refined carbs, and many people have found they actually like it a lot. This book is all about showing you more ways to use the hard white vegetable to make bread-like stuff like pizza crust, but it also has unique recipes for using cauliflower to make soup, Buffalo appetizers and even chips to make your nachos with. We love cauliflower just steamed with a sprinkle of fresh grated Parmesan, so this collection of recipes is intriguing enough to make us want to start making cauliflower rice and cauliflower meal to sub for rice, bread and flour and then go from there into unexplored territories. Their subtly flavored recipe for creamy cauliflower soup beckoned (beautiful pictures throughout the book), and we ended up happy we made it. ~$13 on Amazon.

Last-Minute Kitchen Secrets: 128 Ingenious Tips for survive lumpy gravy, wilted lettuce, crumbling cake, and other cooking disasters, by Joey Green. Light-hearted treatment of legitimate solutions for many common mishaps in the kitchen and around the house. Nicely laid out – easy-to-read labels, color used effectively. You may know some of the tried-and-true solutions already (e.g., vinegar to kill odors). You might be surprised at some of them (salt to get rid of athlete’s foot). You may even find you already have some of your own solutions you like better. Wherever you fall on the spectrum, the book is fun, simple to read and contains nuggets almost anyone may find useful – or at least entertaining (applesauce for a facial). A fun gift for college students or newlyweds who are new to housekeeping. ~$16 on Amazon.

Yin and Yang Nutrition for Dogs: Maximizing Health with Whole Foods, Not Drugs, by Judy Morgan DVM and Hue Grant (not the movie star). If you have a dog, chances are good that s/he’s a beloved member of your family, and you want only the best for him/her. That may include buying pricey toys and/or specialty dog foods. But you may be surprised to learn what Author Judy Morgan says. She is a certified veterinarian who carries a flag for cooking your own animal’s foods. This book is somewhat of an expose; it says the pet food industry in general is lying about what’s in its food and how those foods are made. She has observed in her practice that dogs and cats are increasingly suffering from inflammatory diseases that can be directly tied to the poor quality of the food they’re consuming. The logic is compelling. The recipes sound delicious – and you know they’re good for your pet because the author is a nutrition-oriented vet. The book is nicely laid out. As of this writing, Amazon claims the book is not available because of a quality problem with the publisher’s file, but it should be again. ~$10 for Kindle version. ~$30 in paperback.

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4 fine spirits to cheer you on in 2020

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Yep, it’s freakin’ cold out there. So this is a good time of year to enjoy fine spirits – straight up, on the rocks or in cocktails, either before or with meals, or as after-dinner nips to round out your dining experience. If you haven’t tried spirits in a while, the options listed below give a good place to start experimenting. We tried all of these recently when we received samples. Very nice ways to bring a little warmth and joy to our dark winter nights.

Maker's Mark Bourbon
Maker’s Mark Bourbon

Maker’s Mark Bourbon. This small-batch bourbon whiskey is produced in Loretto, Kentucky by Beam Suntory. 90 US proof, it’s sold in squarish bottles sealed with red wax. Instead of rye, this bourbon is made with red winter wheat along with corn and malted barley. You get to try it when you take a tour of the distillery or when you take the American Whiskey Trail and/or the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Check out the Maker’s Mark website for info on Maker’s Mark 46, Maker’s Mark Wood Finishing Series 2019 Limited Release, and other expressions you might like. SRP ~$30. And by the way, Maker’s Mark is partners with Chicago’s own Cubs team.

Gentleman Jack Tennessee whiskey
Gentleman Jack Tennessee whiskey

Gentleman Jack. This Tennessee whiskey is double mellowed for superior smoothness. Its exceptional balanced oak flavor is highlighted with notes of caramel and vanilla, all inspired by the founder of Jack Daniel’s. Visit the website for some beautiful images, more about the distillery and the other expressions like Old No. 7 or Single Barrel Select. There are recipes and even a video with their Master Distiller showing how to taste whiskey and what you can expect from Gentleman Jack. SRP ~$28.

Speyburn 10 Years Old
Speyburn 10 Years Old

Speyburn 10 Years Old Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This single malt offers a classic Speyside experience with its medium-bodied, delicate and fruity character with a long, smooth finish. With its excellent characteristics and its reasonable price point, Speyburn makes a great hostess gift for friends, family or co-workers. Speyburn 10 Years Old exhibits the distillery character and house style – the soft spirit marries with the gentle oak influence to create a perfectly balanced and approachable dram. At ten years old, the quality of this Speyburn is still identifiable before the wood takes front stage. SRP ~$30.

Caorunn Scottish Gin
Caorunn Scottish Gin

Caorunn Scottish Gin. Handcrafted in the Scottish Highlands by Gin Master Simon Buley, is a specialized gin that’s infused with five locally foraged Celtic botanicals along with six traditional ones in the world’s only working Copper Berry Chamber. Rowan Berry, Dandelion, Coul Blush Apple, Bog Myrtle and Scottish Heather are harvested within walking distance of the distillery and come together to create a wildly Scottish spirit in a modern London Dry Gin style. The result is dry and crisp with an aromatic, fruity taste, a floral touch and a long dry finish. Mix with a premium tonic and garnish with red apple slices for a perfect (and festive) drink or mix up any number of traditional or creative cocktails. SRP ~$35,

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Mandrarossa wines shine at Two Restaurant in Chicago

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Mandrarossa wines at Two Restaurant
Mandrarossa wines at Two Restaurant

Sicily is in the business recently of making Americans become increasingly aware of the changes and improvements in Italian winemaking, especially in Sicily since establishing SiciliaDOC, their oversight consortium for quality. This past December Alberto Antonini, long-time consulting winemaker for Sicily’s Mandrarossa Winery, hosted a small group of trade and press at an intimate wine tasting and luncheon at Two Restaurant to showcase some of its excellent wines.

Alberto is among the most influential consultants from Italy with over 20 years’ experience working with some of world’s top wineries. Since Mandrarossa’s inception in 1999, Alberto has worked closely with the winery’s head winemaker and agronomist to identify the top estates within Menfi’s micro terroirs to produce Mandrarossa’s premium line of estate-bottled wines, all imported by Palm Bay.

Mandrarossa Nero D'Avola
Mandrarossa Nero D’Avola
Mandrarossa 100% Grillo
Mandrarossa 100% Grillo

Alberto shared two new expressions from Mandrarossa that represent the deepest level of research and selection to date, “Terre del Sommaco,” a 100% Nero d’Avola grown on limestone soils over 1000 feet asl, and “Bertolino Soprano,” a 100% Grillo grown on limestone soils nearly 500 feet asl. Designated “vini di contrada” or “single territory wines,” these limited production offerings have been crafted to show the purest expression of their respective grape varieties and territories. Additionally, Alberto shared a selection of current releases from Mandrarossa, including expressions of indigenous and international varieties alongside a carefully designed menu.

The wines were paired beautifully with hand-picked courses selected by owner Yamandu Perez and the two chefs at Two Restaurant, a unique eatery situated in West Town at 1132 w. Grand. Its rustic decor and communal tables make for a casual but chic environment in which to enjoy the unique creations that combine American tastes with the many other influences Perez was exposed to during his career –  born in Santiago, Chile; raised in Cuba, France, Uruguay, and Alaska. Having Perez join in the luncheon together with the warmth and friendliness of Alberto and his team made for a very enjoyable experience.

Sun-drenched cleanup after Mandrarossa lunch at Two Restaurant
Sun-drenched cleanup after Mandrarossa lunch at Two Restaurant

If you’ve never been to Two Restaurant, you may want to put it on your to-do list to sample the creations of its two chefs, Executive chef Tom Van Lente and chef de cuisine Kevin Cuddihee. And if you’ve never tasted these lovely wines, you won’t go wrong by giving some of them a try.

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5+ wines to help you wind your way through winter

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Winter is a depressing season for many. But looked at another way, it’s a time full of joy and promise. In the beauty of the magical sky and clouds. The stark beauty of the naked branches braving the wind, sparkling with ice or outlined with pristine snow. And of course, the joys of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s celebrations. Even if the gray skies get you down sometimes, light some candles, get out your good china, and grace your table with one of the many marvelous wines made to the highest standards, crafted with decades and even centuries of winemaking experience. And who says champagne and bubblies are only for the holidays? Here are a few ideas.

Palmer & co. Brut Reserve
Palmer & co. Brut Reserve
Palmer Brut Reserve and IGT Modus Toscana, both from Palm Bay Importers
Palmer Brut Reserve and IGT Modus Toscana, both from Constellation Brands

Champagne Palmer & Co Brut Reserve NV. This, the vineyard’s flagship expression, is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, including many doses of reserve wines. Four years aging on the lees in a maze of deep, chalky cellars 60 feet below ground gives the wine its refinement and aromatic complexity. Enjoy aromas of citrus, pear, and apricot with notes of hazelnut and buttery brioche. A perfect balance of succulent and substantial depth with a delightful freshness that will help make all your occasions sparkle like it’s the holidays. SRP ~$60.

Ruffino 2016 Modus IGT Toscana. This delicious red blend is from the notable wine-making brand, where they consider the Modus – which in Latin means “method” or “the way” – a contemporary way of expressing Tuscany with this blend of three of the most respected grapes in the world of wine. As a result, you’ll enjoy refined texture and red fruit aromas from the Sangiovese and smoothness and delicate notes of berries and mint from the Merlot, along with structure and elegance from the Cabernet. And it all comes together in a gorgeous, rich, deep color. This is a total winner for us fans of big reds! SRP ~$26.

Chateau Lassegue label
Chateau Lassegue label

Lassègue Saint-Émilion Grand Cru 2011. A classic red beauty. Renowned vigneron Pierre Seillan and his son Nicolas harvest fruit (Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon) from their south by southwest-facing hillside vineyards to produce Lassègue, which has become known for its simple elegance, striking balance and rich complexity. The 2011 is an austere, full vintage, with notes of ripe blackberries and aromas of leather, baking spices and graphite. This polished wine features a velvety softness with silky tannins that move in crescendo towards a pressingly long finish. A classic expression of Saint-Émilion, Lassègue offers both brightness and sophistication to grace your table any time of year. SRP ~$65.

Charles Heiseick brut reserveCharles Heidsieck Brut Reserve. Excellent champagne – a sophisticated blend that incorporates up to 40% Chardonnay and Pinot Noir reserve wines and sports a lively perlage with an elegant and refined palate. The texture, say the winemaker notes, is like “a crisp layer of nougatine on a velvety cream pastry, filled with plump red plums and ripe cherries.” Lush with finishing notes of praline and vanilla. Fabulous! SRP ~$50-60.

Trentodoc Altemasi Brut Millesimato 2013. A beautiful 100% Chardonnay bubbly with a persistent foam of fine bubbles that ‘s made using the traditional Metodo Classico from grapes grown in the Trentino region of Italy. Complex, highly refined nose with luscious fruity notes of citrus and peach. Dry, pleasantly crisp on the palate with a good, well-balanced structure. A nice aperitif and/or an excellent accompaniment to seafood pasta dishes, salmon and lighter white fish. SRP ~$42.

Kosher wines

Yatir Kosher wines for all year long
Yatir Kosher wines for all year long

Yatir is a well-recognized maker of red and white Kosher wines that are just what the doctor ordered for Kosher celebrations. Kosher wines used to be thought of as bad quality, but modern versions that use traditional winemaking techniques have proven that idea a long-gone myth, according to Adam Montefiore, an expert on Israeli wine and Kosher wine, who wrote on the WineFolly blog on the subject of Kosher wine quality and the difference between Mevushal or non-Mevushal (eligible or not to be poured by non-observant Jews and others). It’s a good article for learning what Kosher wine is and isn’t, and exactly what is different about the process. Meanwhile, Yatir makes wines with many traditional grape varieties you’ll recognize. Read their concise descriptions to help you choose one or more from their portfolio: Yatir Syrah, Yatir Amasa Red Blend, Yatir Cabernet Sauvignon, Yatir Forest Red Blend, Yatir Viognier. Watch the little videos with some of the wines, too. Very upbeat music and brief fun discussions with the winemakers! SRPs range from ~$25 to ~$70.

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Zingarelli showcases fine Chianti Classico wines in Chicago

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If you’re old enough, or you watch enough 50s- & 60s-era movies, you may remember Chianti as the generally low-end wine that came in those straw-covered bottles we used to put candles in and let the wax drip down the sides. But over the last several decades, as has happened in other countries like Spain and Argentina, winemaking standards have changed dramatically in some of the vineyards in that region of Italy. In particular, Rocca delle Macìe by Famiglia Zingarelli is turning the Chianti Classico region into the home of some of the best Italian wines you’ll have the pleasure of trying.

Zingarelli team with guest (center)
Zingarelli team with guest (center)

Sergio Zingarelli, estate owner and two-time president of the Chianti Classico Consortium, brought a nice selection of these beauties to Chicago at The Walton Room by Rosebud Restaurants, 188 East Walton. The format was a vertical tasting of Rocca delle Macìe Riserva di Fizzano Chianti Classico Gran Selezione. This historic cru is made from grapes grown in a single vineyard at the Zingarelli family’s Fizzano estate in Castellina in Chianti. The family purchased the Fizzano estate in 1984 and has long produced Riserva di Fizzano according to the strictest standards. Today, Riserva di Fizzano is bottled under the “Gran Selezione” DOCG, Chianti’s highest expression.

Sergio Zingarelli welcoming guests to The Walton Room
Sergio Zingarelli welcoming guests to The Walton Room

The presentation began with a group of six stellar vintages of Riserva di Fizzano: 1995, 1999, 2005, 2011, 2013, and the recently-released 2015. This formal, seated tasting was followed by a luncheon expertly paired with four additional wines from Rocca delle Macìe: Chianti Classico, Chianti Classico Riserva and two vintages of Sergio Zingarelli Chianti Classico Gran Selezione – a second example from the Gran Selezione category and the result of a careful, long-term replanting project at the family’s Le Macìe estate. The Walton Room chef’s choices to pair with these wines were perfect foils for some of the richest Italian red wines we’ve ever tried. I’d put the following reds in the upper realms near Super Tuscans and Barolos, so consider some of these when you want to impress your guests who like earthy, deep red wines with their feasts!

Zingarelli vertical tasting
Zingarelli vertical tasting

This vertical tasting of Rocca delle Macìe’s historicu cru wines was inspiring. The wines are made with grapes grown in the Fizzano estate vineyard, which extends across 35 hectares of sandy, pebbly soils that are perfect for intensifying the fragrances and elegance of Sangiovese. Some of our 5-star favorites among these delicious wines:

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Cooper’s Hawk alights in downtown Chicago

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Owner McEnery welcomes trade & press in the new downtown party room
Owner McEnery welcomes trade & press in the new downtown party room

Landing with a great rush of wings, Tim McEnery’s 41st Cooper’s Hawk Winery location has landed in the dramatic, three-story space that used to house Del Frisco’s Steakhouse. After turning down a restrictive contract for the first downtown Chicago location he wanted, and waiting nearly ten years for the right space and terms, McEnery knew when he heard Del Frisco’s was leaving, that the time was right at last. The design incorporates many of the high-end, dramatic features from the original steakhouse and makes a gorgeous venue for celebrations, happy hours, wine tastings, special dinners and private parties,

Cooper's Hawk introduces a new rich steak platter
Cooper’s Hawk introduces a new rich steak platter

At this new Flagship location, CH is doing a few things differently. CH executive chef Matt McMillin has introduced five new dishes to the traditional 110-item, scratch-made-seasonal-ingredients American fusion menu. The new menu items include several mains and a dessert. 1) Shrimp & Scallop Risotto – studded with sweet corn, asparagus, peas, and spinach, and accented with Parmesan and white truffle oil. 2) Miso-Glazed Chilean Sea Bass stands proudly on its own with accompaniments of roasted maitake mushrooms and broccolini with soy lemon butter. 3) Gnocchi Carbonara features pancetta, chicken, sage, and peas in a garlic Parmesan cream sauce. 4) 25-oz prime bone-in ribeye, served with butternut squash and spinach gratin, blistered tomatoes and crispy potatoes (we would’ve liked the potatoes to be a bit crispier). 5) A dessert – Lemon Ice Wine Cheesecake – is an ethereally light dessert served in a toasted Graham cracker crust with macerated berries on top. Lovely. And the night we were there we got to try one of the brand’s go-to desserts: The Cooper’s Hawk Chocolate Cake – a killer dessert made with Valrhona chocolate, hazelnut ganache and vanilla ice cream and topped with a rosebud of whipped cream. SO good. Check out their other desserts here.

CH sommelier opens a bottle of bubbly with a sword
CH sommelier opens a bottle of bubbly with a sword

Besides the new menu items, the Oak St. Location will offer, as they do not in other places, selections of wines from around the world in addition to its own extensive selection. The beverage program is run by Master Sommelier Emily Wines (yes, that’s really her last name), who engages with guests and the brand’s nearly 400,000 Wine Club members to create unique experiences via education, immersive events, collaborative partnerships and curated lifestyle adventures.

Experienced CH General Manager Peter Ayoub comes to shepherd the new location after stints at Esquire Chicago and at the CH Palm Beach Gardens location in Florida.

If you’re a CH member, you’re probably planning your visit already. If you’ve never experienced the CH lifestyle or you just want to have some good food in a relaxed yet glamorous setting, hie thee to Oak St. and immerse thyself.

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Trattoria Gianni – authentic Italian on Halsted

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Trattoria Gianni arancini
Trattoria Gianni arancini

North Halsted Street in Chicago is well known for its excellent restaurants. One long-time spot is Trattoria Gianni, now celebrating 30 years tucked into its cozy space at 1711 and rubbing shoulders comfortably with some of the giant stars in that firmament such as the much-lauded Boka and Alinea.

We were able recently to sample some of Trattoria Gianni’s popular and enticing menu items. We could easily have made a meal with just the appetizers. My experienced restaurant aficionado friend said the tender Arancini Siciliani – deep-fried saffron risotto balls stuffed with Bolognese, peas and scamorza cheese – were excellent. Given her extensive travels around the world, that’s saying something. The rolled eggplant with herb-y goat cheese stuffing was very good, and the tomato sauce light and lovely. Very nice to know that all the pastas and the sauces are hand-made in house. The Rigatoni alla Nocerino, made with sun-dried tomatoes, mushrooms, olive oil, garlic, basil in a cream sauce, was outstanding.

Trattoria Gianni Salmon au Vini Bianco
Trattoria Gianni Salmon au Vini Bianco

All the other pasta dishes are obviously made with love, many presented with variations of the basic tomato sauce. The meatballs are classic – tender and juicy. The homemade pappardelle and tomato sauce, the seafood pasta (mussels, calamari, octopus, etc.) and several other pasta dishes made for pleasant eating. While the pumpkin ravioli was very nice, the crab-filled version hit an off note for us with the salt-heavy, canned crab in the filling. Pasta dishes range from about $16 to $20.

Trattoria Gianni roast seafood
Trattoria Gianni roast seafood

The restaurant offers whole wheat and gluten free pasta options, and you smaller eaters will be glad to know you can order half-orders of most pastas. Secondi Piatti (main course) options include duck, filet, chicken, pork, and seafood, all served with sides like vegetables, polenta or roasted potatoes, and all priced in the $23+ range.

All the care invested in these dishes, plus the comfortable surroundings, makes this a nice place to relax and indulge in some tasty Italian food and wines. When the weather is nice, remember you can enjoy your meal on the inviting patio, charmingly decorated with flowers and lights. During our visit, the owners were on site and carefully tending to their customers, and the overall service was friendly, efficient and warm. It felt just like what it was – an Italian family taking care of us.

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Unique spirits options to make your holidays shine

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Everyone who imbibes tends to have his/her own favorite spirit, whether they like it straight up, on the rocks, or mixed with some other beverage. There’s something satisfying about pouring a warming treat into a beautiful glass and toasting,  especially during the holidays. Here are a few suggestions to share either with companions around you or just to celebrate on your own.

Root Out Whisky. Yes, this whisky actually tastes like root beer! It’s surprisingly pleasant and easy to drink. Honestly, it’s so root-beer-y that at one point I was tempted to plop a big scoop of vanilla ice cream in the glass! A delicious and unique treat for any spirit lover. Root beer and vanilla flavors added to a 4-year-old Canadian blended whisky. SRP ~$26.

Alacran Tequila is a 100% Weber Blue agave tequila that tastes smooth and delicious on the rocks and or in a cocktail. Mix it with a flavored club soda or another favorite beverage for a simple-to-make cocktail with layered flavor. Alacran Tequila Blanco’s sleek, matte, soft-touch black bottle with the company’s logo makes a handsome, reusable bottle for your liquor cabinet. Priced at $42.00, it’s available nationally and online. Launched in the US in 2011, Alacran Tequila is sold at restaurants, hotels, bars, stores and online and is featured at celebrity and charity events around the world. Consider one of the Alacran products for the tequila fans on your list – black bottle, tequila reposado, tequila anejo, and more.

Four Roses single barrel whiskey
Four Roses single barrel whiskey

Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey is a classic expression with a nose of dried spice, pear, cocoa, vanilla and maple syrup. Sounds luscious, right? It is, indeed. And on the palate look for ripe plum and cherries – robust, full-bodied and mellow with a smooth and delicate but long finish. Straight up. On the rocks. In mixed cocktails. Any way you imbibe it, this is nice stuff. Gold medals and 90+ points in competitions everywhere for the past 10 years. SRP ~$45.

Sazerac, makers of Caribou Crossing Single Barrel
Sazerac, makers of Caribou Crossing Single Barrel

Caribou Crossing Single Barrel Canadian Whisky, the world’s first single barrel Canadian whisky, received a Gold medal at the prestigious 2019 New York World Wine & Spirits Competition. Adhering closely to his exacting standards, world-renowned Master Blender Drew Mayville of Sazerac selects each barrel for its ability to contribute to the whisky’s rich and complex flavor. SRP ~$50. Silver medals were also awarded to Royal Canadian Whisky and High River Canadian Whisky. Full results are published on the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition (NYWSC) website, www.nywscomp.com.

Angel's Envy bourbon - Wine Enthusiast LOVES it!
Angel’s Envy bourbon – Wine Enthusiast LOVES it!

Angels Envy is an excellent cask-strength bourbon finished in a limited number of carefully selected port barrels. This extra step is becoming common for many vintners and distillers to give their products extra depth and complexity, and it works really well. Angels Envy ends up with a slightly different finish each year due to the painstaking selection of barrels. Look for notes on the nose of black tea, apple and honey, toasted oak, ripe banana and apricot, along with toffee, butterscotch, peach, toast and vanilla on the palate. If you can’t identify all these, don’t worry. Just close your eyes and let the complex aromas and flavors penetrate your senses slowly. A delicious way to toast, accompany foods, or finish a meal. It’s available at Binny’s, but check here for where else to find it. SRP ~$50. And while you’re at it, check out their Angel’s Envy Finished Rye – finished in rum barrels.

Freeland spirits gin and whiskey
Freeland spirits gin and whiskey

Freeland Spirits of Oregon is one of the only women-owned-and-operated distilleries, and it’s  an interesting place to visit if you’re in that state near Portland. They offer tours of their distillery, complete with a flight of mini-cocktails. See the equipment they use and learn how they craft their delicious gin and whiskey. Their gin is crafted in small batches using a unique blend of traditional heat distillation along with vacuum distillation, which allows them to use fresh, Pacific Northwest ingredients. Fresh herbal essences of rosemary, mint and crisp cucumber lift the nose. Grapefruit and lemon peel brighten the brisk juniper and bold spice. Pink peppercorn, coriander and star anise mingle with 10 additional dried botanicals in the copper pot still. The description is almost poetical, and the gin is very pleasant, even if you’re not ordinarily a fan of that spirit, some versions of which can be overpowering, especially if, like some of us, you have nightmarish memories of way-overindulging in it once when you were young and foolish. They are always experimenting with finishes, so give it a try. And you might just fall in love with the unique design of the cool bottles they use to send their spirits out into the world. SRP ~$45.

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