Surprise is right. We have always been tepid fans of sweeter drinks, including even fresh-made-in-the-fall apple cider. But this drink has us making an exception. Hot Ruby is a rich red cider with cranberry and citrus flavors and spicy-warm aromas of cinnamon and cloves. It tastes really good by itself just heated up in the microwave, like any heart-and-hand-warming winter beverage should. Love the intensity of both the flavors and the spices.
But if you’re celebrating the holidays on the beach somewhere, Hot Ruby changes personality in the twinkling of an eye. Try one of their chilled cocktails like Ruby on the Beach, Paloma Rojo, or Bubbly Ruby. Check out all the neat recipes – both alcoholic and not – on the card in the photo. Just expand it so you can read the ingredients, or read ’em here. Intriguing combinations of flavors like coconut rum and Hot Ruby, or Hot Ruby and sparkling wine sound just delightful. This drink would make a fun party gift for your host/hostess or just bring a bottle or jar along when you next go visiting. Highly recommended. Buy it online because it’s not yet available in Chicago, but we hope it will be soon.
The spirits fates can be fickle. Remember the great vodka wars – Ketel One, Grey Goose, later Tito’s, etc. – “What does your vodka say about you?” Nowadays Cognac is the new favorite cocktail base for many bartenders and consumers. Sophisticated palates appreciate sipping it to enjoy the many subtle layers of flavors to be found in various iterations of the spirit, including in the gradations of VS, VSOP and XO.
Rémy Martin Cognac, for example – a name well-known among aficionados – recently set up pop-up “experiences” in major cities in the U.S., Chicago included. Titled “La Maison Rémy Martin,” the pop-up included 80 minutes of workshops and masterclasses in which consumers met and interacted with some of the world’s preeminent progressive thinkers from music, fashion, cuisine and art – for example, French Kinetic Artist Vincent Leroy who was commissioned to create a piece and to design the box featured at La Maison Rémy Martin experience. All the while participants learned about the process of making Cognac and got to blend their own. Cool, eh?
Curious about the new popularity of this spirit, we asked Mixologist Dan Rook of South Water Kitchen in Chicago a few questions about the phenomenon:
How would you explain the cocktail sensation going on in the U.S. today?
The cocktail Renaissance going on in this country lately has to do with the evolving tastes of the consumer. Nowadays people are much more informed about what they put into their bodies, even when it comes to cocktails. Many people now expect fresh juice in lieux of sour mix, all natural ingredients, and house-made custom recipes. It’s becoming the norm rather than the exception, and I’m proud to be a part of it.
What is it about Cognac that mixologists like and why is it becoming so attractive to cocktail lovers?
I think Cognac has always been attractive to cocktail lovers. Some of the best classic cocktails – Sidecar, Sazerac, and Vieux Carre’ – all call for Cognac. The more educated modern bartenders become about the history of the craft cocktail, the more often they’ll reach for a bottle of Cognac. Cognac is a form of brandy, and brandy has been a bedrock in cocktails for a long time.
Cognac is unique in that it is an appellation and can only be distilled in one specific place, using Ugni Blanc grapes from a handful of regions in France. That makes for a very specific flavor profile that can be mimicked, but not replicated. Of course, there is still some diversity within the variety of Cognacs, based on the terrior where the grapes are grown, how long it’s aged, etc. That exclusivity of region and production method is really what sets Cognac apart, providing bartenders with a unique flavor for their drinks that they cannot get anywhere else. One of my go-to premium mixing Cognac is D’USSÉ™ VSOP. It has a full-bodied, bold taste that’s versatile and adds a unique twist to classic drinks.
Are some generations more into this trend than others?
Younger generations today grew up with more options than ever before – particularly Millennials. Instant gratification is the norm now; everything is one Google search away. A side effect is that these tech-savvy consumers tend to be more aware of current options that help them make more-informed choices. As an example, we recently had an older woman come in for a Gimlet and specifically request Rose’s Lime juice – something we simply do not carry. I suggested she try it instead with fresh juice, and she was over the moon for it. For us as bartenders, it’s really about taking that first step with a guest without being pretentious.
Which cognac-based cocktail do you recommend for newbies to the spirit? Or does it matter – since expertly crafted cocktails sometimes mask the strength/sensations of the main spirit?
Rather than mask anything, expertly crafted cocktails should showcase the flavors of the main spirit in a balanced and appropriate way; that’s how I approach it. I think the perfect Cognac-based cocktail for a newbie would be the classic Sidecar. It’s very easy to make, very well balanced, and always seems to please. My go-to build for it is 2 oz D’USSÉ VSOP Cognac, 3/4 oz of fresh (always fresh) lemon juice, 3/4 oz of quality orange curacao, shaken, up, in a half sugar rimmed cocktail coupe.
Among classic cocktail recipes with Cognac, which are your 3 favorites:
My favorites are The Sidecar, Sazerac and Vieux Carre’, all of which pair well with the unique flavor profile ofD’USSÉ VSOP Cognac.
2 oz of D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
1 part triple sec
3/4 oz of freshly squeezed lemon juice
3/4 oz of quality orange curacao
SERVE: Shake and strain all ingredients into a sugar-rimmed coupe glass. GARNISH: Lemon peel and a sugared rim. TIP: To create a unique take on the Sidecar, substitute the triple sec with ¾ part of Giffard Framboise to create the D’USSÉ™ Framboise Sidecar.
1 ½ oz D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
¼ oz Absinthe
Half a tea spoon demerara sugar
Three dashes Peychauds Bitters
SERVE: Rinse a chilled old-fashioned glass with the absinthe, add crushed ice and set it aside. Stir the remaining ingredients over ice and set aside. Discard the ice and any excess absinthe from the prepared glass, and strain the drink into the glass. GARNISH: Lemon Peel.
1 part D’USSÉ™ VSOP Cognac
1 part rye whisky
1 part NOILLY PRAT® Rouge Sweet Vermouth Dash Peychaud’s Bitters
Dash Angostura® Bitters
½ part BENEDICTINE® Liqueur
SERVE: Combine all ingredients, stir and pour into a glass of choice. GARNISH: Lemon peel.
Every change of season is a good excuse to broaden your repertoire of wines and spirits. And, hey, it’s finally fall in Chicago (well, except for those 72-degree days). To warm yourself in cooler temps, consider these unique beverages to help you enjoy the glorious November weather: a fabulous red wine born of a partnersip, a cognac finished in bourbon casks, a plummy gin, a light prosecco (with punch recipe), and a ‘fiery’ red wine finished in whiskey barrels.
“Collaboration” ***** is an absolutely stunning red wine that we would happily drink with anything – from rich cheeses and hearty stews and roasts, to pork, sturdy fish like salmon and, well, just about anything. For serious red-wine lovers, it might even work as an aperitif with appetizers just because it’s so complex and rich and delicious. This wine is the remarkable result of a cooperative effort (thus, the name “Collaboration”) between Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants and Buena Vista Winery. And the catch is, you can’t buy it in stores, and you can only buy it online if you are a member of theCooper’s Hawk wine club.
Here’s what the winemakers have to say about it: “A rich, deep wine loaded with aromas of blackberry, blueberry, cherry, plum and baking spices, it has firm and well-rounded tannins and an exceptionally long finish that can stand up to any beef dish. Beautiful to drink now, it’s expected to age well for another four to six years.”
Jean-Charles Boisset, who added Buena Vista to the Boisset Collection in 2011, says Collaboration “makes the wine world vibrate and brings a transcendental vision to people’s emotional style, taste, and senses… This wine is about power and a vortex of energy that has never been felt before.” We actually don’t think that’s too strong a statement. Visit www.buenavistawinery.com.
Cooper’s Hawk is a unique combination of restaurant, winery, Napa-style tasting room, and artisanal retail market with 24 locations throughout Illinois, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia, and Wisconsin more on the way next year. They partner with some of the best grape growers in the world to craft the highly praised Cooper’s Hawk wine collection. And they have a wine club that offers exclusive wines, events, and privileges. CEO/Founder Tim McEnery first opened the company in Orland Park, Illinois in 2005. Visit www.chwinery.com. Must be a wine club member to purchase Collaboration.
Martell Cognac, the oldest of the great cognac houses, recently announced the launch of Martell Blue Swift, the first-ever Martell VSOP finished in Kentucky Bourbon casks and packaged in a beautiful bottle. Engraved on the bottle, Martell’s iconic swift emblem represents the legend behind the brand. This bird is famous for flying exceptionally long distances, crossing the Atlantic Ocean twice a year, and the story goes that Jean Martell was guided by the flight of a swift on his original journey from the island of Jersey to Charente. Martell was the first to ship its cognac barrels from France to the United States and now, more than 230 years later, they’re still doing it. This new and unique Eau de Vie de Vin is a product that is born “When Cognac meets Bourbon.” SRP ~$50.
TuB Gin‘s Hoppy Plum gin. This unique hoppy, fruity gin with plum spirits came out on November 1 as a limited 4-month release from Peach Street Distillers, the folks known for using crisp, local ingredients in their spirits. And this one is a really special spirit that starts out with their renowned citrus-forward gin and is then married with Palisada Plum Eau de Vie and macerated Colorado hops. The end result is a hoppy, softly spiced spirit so smooth you could even drink it straight. If you do, the flavor explodes in your mouth and the aroma opens your nose, and the whole experience warms you, lifts your spirits and sets your tongue a-tingle. A great surprise gift for the spirit lover who likes to expand horizons.
Astoria Prosecco DOC is a classic brand from Italy that comes in a cut-glass bottle that’s lovely enough you might even want to re-use it. Semi-dry with a crisp taste and generous bubbles, you’ll notice pear, apple and floral notes. It’s a light, easy-to-drink wine for a toast or to pair with appetizers or a light main dish or even with desserts. And if you’re still grilling – it’s not snowing yet, right? – whether it’s burgers, steak, chicken or fish, consider this flavorful punch from Astoria Wines. It combines their Prosecco DOC with lemonade and just a few other ingredients. It’ll let you and your guests hang onto the feeling of summer. SRP varies ~$8 to $12.
Lemonade Prosecco Punch
4-6 cups prepared Lemonade
1/3 cup citrus vodka (regular is fine, too)
1 pint blackberries (or your favorite berry), frozen
3 sprigs fresh mint
1 750ml bottle Astoria Prosecco DOC, chilled
Stir lemonade and vodka in a gallon pitcher or punch bowl. Add berries and mint. Let the berries macerate for an hour or more. The longer it sits, the more the blackberries and mint infuse the flavor. Add the Prosecco, stir gently and serve over ice. Store leftovers tightly covered in refrigerator for up to 2 days.
Crafted in California and put up in bottles emblazoned with a raging-flames-inferno label, each batch of Apothic Inferno undergoes a time-intensive, barrel-aging process. The barrels – cut, shaped, and bound by steel before being charred with flames – were first used to age whiskey for a few years prior to becoming the home of Apothic’s new red blend. Some palates may find the strong whiskey “soul” of the resulting red challenging; others may embrace it wholeheartedly. If you’re one of the latter, order some soon as quantities are limited. In any case, try it with a hearty meat dish and some whole grain bread to stand up to the flavor. Check for it in your favorite restaurants in Chicago. SRP ~$16.
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.
It’s officially open: The Rabbit Hole bar and restaurant, 1208 N. Wells St., right off Division St. in Old Town. It’s a small storefront with a roomy interior and a stage for live music. The walls, painted to make you feel like you’re following the White Rabbit down the hole in Alice in Wonderland, and the many craft and draft beers, whimsical cocktails and wines are an invitation for you to go ahead and fall in.
On opening night they had a live band for karaoke. Seriously. If you are a wannabe singer, singing with real musicians behind you and the words in front of you has to be – as the saying goes – the most fun you can have with your clothes on. And on top of that, they serve elevated bar food that includes sharable appetizers, hearty salads, “grabbers” (otherwise known as meat-heavy platters), and an assortment of sides. Chicken Wings come with your choice of house buffalo, shogun sweet chili, Chef Diablo’s habanero or pomegranate BBQ, served with tri-colored carrots, jicama, house made ranch or bleu cheese. Other items: marinated Steakhouse Minis, The 1951 Burger, Queen of Hearts salad, and Jabberwock Angus Sliders. Try starting with Candied Slab Bacon – thick cut, Applewood smoked slab bacon, grilled and glazed with maple syrup.
And what fun that they have games – like large-scale Pictionary – you can play with your friends any and every night of the week. The Rabbit Hole has set a goal to become the new favorite go-to spot for everyone in the ‘hood. It’s certainly off to a grand start.
Craft and draft beers include 24 beer taps and a host of canned and bottled brews. Cocktails by beverage director Carlos Guerra have memorable monikers like the smoky White Rabbit on a Dirty Mule with Mezcal, ginger beer, lime juice, Jägermeister, and grapefruit juice, or the delicate yet complex Tweedle Rum with rum, rye, coffee vermouth, coconut, Fernet Dogma and cinnamon, to name just two.
A sports-friendly bar, with ten large screen TVs, it also serves as a distinctive backdrop for the viewing of any game. Live Band Karaoke on Wednesday evenings beginning at 9pm.
At the new Knife restaurant, 4343 N. Lincoln Ave., Chef Tim Cottini is bringing the Chicago steakhouse concept to a new edge with totally re-imagined dishes that incorporate farm-to-table freshness in meats, seafood and vegetables. Love their Lobster Bisque! Read more details and preview the menu here.
But Knife doesn’t stop at the food. Also not to be missed are the ethereally creative cocktails designed and named by Knife mixologist Anthony Muenger and served with flair, along with a generous supply of his entertaining personal stories and light-hearted humor. So, first, come in for a visit and sit at the bar. Revel in the feel of a unique, sensually rounded-on-all-edges marble bar top, shaped like a giant italicized “L” and set an an angle to the handsome bar wall. Let your eyes wander from the blood-red accent wall to the details of the smoothly swirled wall adjoining it. Makes you feel bathed in color and texture.
Looking to create a downtown feel in Chicago’s Northcenter neighborhood, Knife will offer many Wine Enthusiast-recommended wines as well as a collection of unique and fantastically named cocktails (derived, says Mixologist Muenger, from terms in the Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows). Ask him to show you how he uses a port hole infuser to soak various fruits in a lavender-infused German rye whiskey. The resulting cocktail, called Enouement, matures and changes as you pour from the infuser throughout your dinner, eventually transforming itselftowards the end of the mealinto an amari-type digestif.
Muenger saysChef Cottini accepted the offer of the whiskey people’s barrels to age Knife’s own steak sauce in – so look for that unique treat with your bone-in ribeye. Another of his unique cocktails is his sour-style version of Clover Club, served with a bit of raspberry and Roobios tea. The Ellipism cocktail has tiny house-made spheres of Remy Martin VSOP cognac floating in a delicious mix of house-made orange liqueur, lemon and bitters. $13.
In short, Knife is a hot new contemporary seafood and steakhouse where you can celebrate with unique food and drink in Chicago. Whether it’s a special occasion – or just Wednesday night – you’re bound to find something to delight your tastebuds.
Chicago’s beloved Joffrey Ballet is putting on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet at The Auditorium Theatre, October 13 through October 23. So Chef/Proprietor J. Joho (bio) of Everest Chicago, 440 S. LaSalle St., has imagined a Shakespeare-inspired pre-theatre menu worthy of Julius Caesar and reflecting the cooking trends popular in Rome in the time of Apicius. And you will love the views!
Prepare to be charmed and delighted first by Everest’s regular amuse bouche – a trio of delicious bites that on opening night consisted of a tiny pewter cauldron of artichoke soup with basil oil, a refreshing emulsion of yellow pepper with cucumber gelee served in a spoon, and a small marinated scallop topped with a dab of American roe. Especially flavorful, all.
Next, a server – many servers played a role in making the evening as pleasant as possible – brought a tray of breads around, and we were invited to pick slices of the types we liked. Given that in our house, bread is a treat reserved for eating out, we picked more than one to try. And were delighted to see the silver salver brought to the table with a sizable and seriously thick slab of cold butter – oh, the joy. It looked like there was room underneath to put ice chips to keep the butter cold. We could not have been happier, until we put some on and bit into the bread. The weight and texture and flavor were so satisfying that we could easily have made that into a full meal at some other time. Absolutely delicious. Hard to stop eating.
But we had to stop with the bread eventually so we could enjoy the rest of the Shakespeare Menu. First course, Great Lakes wild whitefish, braised in garum and lovage, was a creamy yet flaky fish, cooked just right and served on a bed of tender, meat-broth-infused lentils. An unusual combination that worked well.
Second came an au naturel capon fricassée with Roman herb seasoning, served with chickpea panisse and sautéed romaine. The chicken was intensely flavored and the sauce had a slight hint of what we thought might be vinegar and/or pickling spices. Light and tasty poured over the chicken and the romaine. The panisse was creamy inside and very slightly crisp on the outside and made a nice neutral accompaniment to the richly flavored capon.
Fromage Blanc Bamboloni “Roman Beignet” served with a compote of dried fall fruit and pistachio and a touch of honey. The deep-fried spheres of dough were crispy outside and tender inside, and the delicate cream on the side had barely a hint of sweetness.
Optional wine pairings ($29) coordinated nicely with each dish. The sommelier chose the following for the fish, Château Villa Bel-Air, Sauvignon Blanc, Graves 2014 ~ Bordeaux, France; 2) Lemelson “Six Vineyards” and for the capon, Pinot Noir 2013 ~ Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Make your reservation between 5 and 5:30 p.m. and enjoy the unique prix fixe three-course menu with complimentary parking for the evening. Your server will make sure you are on time for the performance! Call 312-663-8920 or visit www.everestrestaurant.com for more information.
What: Shakespeare 400 Chicago: Culinary Complete Works – Pre-Theatre Menu
Where: Everest, 440 S. LaSalle St.
When: October 13-23, 2016
Who: You and Chef/proprietor J. Joho and members of the professional staff at Everest
The Kimpton Gray Hotel, 122 W. Monroe St. at LaSalle, is the newest upscale lodging option in the heart of the Chicago Loop’s legal and financial district. Located on the second floor, the lobby – known as “The Living Room” – welcomes guests with coffee, tea and muffins in the morning and wine and cheese receptions each evening. Naturally, the Wi-Fi is free. The huge arched windows, framed with floor-to-ceiling black velvet draperies with gold headers, let in natural light and spotlight views of bustling Monroe and LaSalle Streets.
Just off the lobby guests can join locals for lunch, dinner, drinks and more in the bar and restaurant Vol. 39, so named because it refers to the legal volumes that fill the bookcases surrounding the eating area. Handsome lighting and luxurious seating arrangements are perfect for intimate meetings, whether business or pleasure.
The new hotel is the dramatic result of a complete rehabilitation of the former New York Life Insurance building, originally built in 1894. A sweeping marble staircase leads from the entrance to the second floor lobby – graced with the sound of a jazz quartet at the grand opening. Many of the hallways in the 15 floors are still lined with the original marble. At the grand opening designers made dramatic use of lighting – electric, multi-colored, candles, spots and more – to showcase decorations and finishes. A large section of the meeting room space was strikingly decorated with candles and complementary yet completely different items to hold candles and flowers.
Besides Volume 39, guests and locals can select breakfast, lunch or dinner available at Steadfast, the restaurant and bar located at 120 W. Monroe and situated within the main floor of The Kimpton Gray. Its menus offer unique items like duck liver mousse crostini and a laminated brioche sandwich with Serano ham, Manchego, quail egg and caviar.
The presidential suite was beautifully appointed with sleek modern fixtures in a gray/white/black theme and was, well, presidential in its grandeur – easy to picture a president relaxing there. Other size rooms and suites were equally handsome though somewhat smaller, of course. On the 15th floor the rooftop restaurant/bar BOLEO offers a menu with a South American flair and a comfortable place to take in some unique views of downtown. The grand opening featured a hot-tempo video/DJ combo and soulful trumpet by Kafele playing along.
Elegant. Understated. Service-oriented. Kimpton always does a great job. And now The Gray is a new top pick among the Chicago Loop’s eat-drink-and-stay choices.
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.
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.