Category Archives: cocktails

3 new consumable ideas for you

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From time to time, we are privileged to review food or drink products that interest us. This week we’re happy to introduce you to a brand of all-natural nut butters, a line of slightly exotic seasonings, and a new line of drink-enhancing cordials for mock- or cocktail time. Love to hear your feedback on any of these you decide to try.

Crazy Richard’s Nut Butters are made without the usual oil, added sugar and salt. Our experience was that the peanut butter tastes more like pure nuts than others we’ve tried. The texture seemed a little drier as well. Crazy Richard’s butters come in traditional jars and in single-serve carry-along or lunchbox pouches. Try it in Extra Creamy or Crunchy Peanut Butter, Almond Butter, or Cashew Butter. The new Peanut Powder is convenient for ramping up protein in smoothies, and for baking or cooking. And they’ve just launched their new frozen snack line, Wholly Rollies – Frozen Protein Balls. But if you decide to buy online, be sure to compare prices. We found dramatically different pricing on different sites. For example, Amazon was three times more than Walmart. So do your due diligence.

Crazy RIchards butter prices - all over the place
Crazy RIchards butter prices – all over the place
Loved the flavor kick from Pereg in this slow cooker crustless pumpkin pie
Loved the flavor kick from Pereg in this slow cooker crustless pumpkin pie

Pereg Natural Foods makes a wide variety of unique food products. We recently agreed to sample a couple of their distinctively different seasoning blends that work either for sweet or savory. We found both of them complex and pleasurable in their own ways. We used the sweet blend as part of our seasoning in our favorite slow-cooker dessert/breakfast/snack recipe for no-crust pumpkin pie. It gave the dish a slightly exotic touch that went perfectly with the normal pumpkin-pie-spice-mix of cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cloves (or allspice). We also liked it quite a bit mixed with cottage cheese sweetened with a good sprinkling of powdered stevia. What an easy way to have an exotic but healthy dessert without cooking!

Plain cottage cheese tasted like dessert with Pereg
Plain cottage cheese tasted like dessert with Pereg

The savory mix gave a little mystery to the slow-cooker chicken we rubbed with it. We highly recommend trying these seasonings if you like to give your cooking a little pizzazz without a lot of work – and without a lot of extra sodium and sugar. Pereg hawaij retails for about $5.99. Available at kosher food stores, independents, health food and many chain stores (ACME, Albertsons). And check out some of their other healthy products like pasta made from quinoa. Love that idea!

Sōm Cordials are hand-crafted with exotic botanicals, tropical fruits, local Oregon berries. They’re called cordials because they’re concentrated. You use them as flavorings to mix zero-proof “mocktails” or to create luxurious regular cocktails without having a closet-full of bottles for special liqueurs. Flavors include Ginger, Cranberry, Tangerine, Oregan Berry, Thai Basil and Pineapple. Conceived and perfected by a chef who loves Thai cuisine. Mix one of these with plain or even flavored sparkling water and you’ve got yourself a complex, layered treat. If you want a kick, they mix beautifully with real spirits, too. We did one with 3 parts raspberry-lime sparkling water, 1 part Tub gin (really good gin, by the way) and 1 part Cranberry. Wow. You’d have thought we had a professional mixologist hiding in the kitchen. Read more here.

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River Roast chef freely shares expertise

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RIver Roast Executive Chef Cedric Harden
RIver Roast Executive Chef Cedric Harden

Surprised and delighted to learn that River Roast, 315 N. LaSalle St., offers cooking classes. Well, more like cooking demos because you get to watch rather than participate. Besides the beautiful and eclectic decorations in the space, the great view of the river and the delicious foods you get to eat, one of the most positive things about these sessions is the fact that you get to ask River Roast Executive Chef Cedric Harden any cooking question you want (preferably related to the dish he’s preparing right in front of you – when you sit at the bar, which we highly recommend), and he gives you the straight dope  from his extensive professional experience.

Chef team Cedric and Eric
Chef team Cedric and Eric

Attending a recent class felt like the most fun you can have in downtown Chicago on a regular Saturday afternoon. That day Chef Eric Lees, Chef de Cuisine at Spiaggia, a sister restaurant in the Levy Group of fine establishments, was on hand to assist. He and Chef Cedric put on a truly down-to-earth demonstration of what it’s like to invent and to execute an original dish.

Chef's beautifully imagined surprise appetizer
Chef’s beautifully imagined surprise appetizer

It was pure pleasure watching the construction of the spring greens salad at this Cooking with Spring Ingredients session. Oh, and before the first course, the chef surprised us with an appetizer that wasn’t on the menu – a lovely concoction of salumi slices, wedges of fresh fig, and fresh arugula nestled atop a creamy puddle of locally made burrata. Delicious. Back to the spring salad. Have you heard of using shaved raw asparagus along with steamed asparagus tips together in a salad? It’s a cool idea that works very well, especially when dressed with a lovely handmade Green Goddess dressing. The freshness of all the flavors and the whole combination made all the students’ tongues happy. And that was just a single one of the many interesting ideas and tricks the chef gave his guests. He shared his knowledge generously, from talking about where to learn knife skills to explaining why and how to salt the water for pasta (you’ll be shocked to hear what he suggests!).

River Roast cooking class's fabulous chicken entree with rich pan sauce
River Roast cooking class’s fabulous chicken entree with rich pan sauce

Included in the price (~$65) you’ll be served a number of small cocktails/wines throughout the class. Just enough to give a pleasant buzz on a sunny Saturday afternoon. But it’ll undoubtedly work just as well on a cloudy one.

The winter series of cooking demos is finished now, and we are eagerly awaiting word on the new series. This is one of the most delightful ways to spend a Saturday afternoon that we can imagine. A bit of spirits, a lot of delicious food, and a generous helping of professional knowledge – a win-win in anybody’s book. Have already told friends about how much fun this was, and we can’t wait to get the new schedule.

 

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Spirits to lift your spirits this Chicago early spring

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Time to think about some spirits to uplift yours! Here are some news notes from three such companies: Rush Creek Distilling is a local distiller that’s just generally lifting spirits around town and for buyers online. Maker’s Mark is uplifting the spirits of sports/Chicago/Cubs fans and bourbon lovers across the land. and Bacardi is uplifting the spirits of women – and that spreads to everyone! Consider lifting yours with a few of these.

Rush Creek Distillery
Rush Creek Distillery

Rush Creek Distilling makes small batch releases of really nice vodka, gin and whiskey. The company is located in Harvard, Illinois, so it’s a kissing-cousin Chicago institution. The vodka and gin are both distilled from grain, so the flavor is unique. The American Gold and the Trophy whiskies are lovingly, slowly distilled. All the Rush Creek spirits are made using pure spring water and local grains. Plus, the distillery sounds like a beautiful and unique place to visit – artisan-designed and built to exemplify the spirit of craftsmanship. Book a tour and make a little vacation of it. They love to promote a spirit of adventure – even have an Adventurous Spirits Club you can join.

Recently Chicago welcomed Rob Samuels, grandson of the founder of the iconic bourbon Maker’s Mark, as he celebrated his company’s partnership with the Cubs. He met with media, Cubs people, club owners, and others as part of inaugurating the new Maker’s Mark Barrel Room, one of the private clubs for season ticket holders that’s opening in Wrigley Field this season. He highlighted key points in the history of Maker’s Mark, including how Bill Samuels, Sr. used to bake bread – and translated some of what he knew there into the beginnings of the famous bourbon. He also invites everyone to make a reservation at Star Hill Provisions, the on-Kentucky-campus full service restaurant and bar, with Chef Newman Miller offers authentic local cuisine with locally sourced ingredients – some coming from distillery employees’ own farms. There you can learn more about the deep and proud connection between horse racing and bourbon and about out how dramatically bourbon has increased in popularity in just the past decade.

Bacardi, one of the country’s premier spirits makers, kicked off its second annual Spirit Forward Women Empowerment Series April 1st in Chicago. Now they’re on the way to LA (April 23), then New York.  Experts from hospitality, fitness, finance and entertainment will celebrate female leaders and entrepreneurs, especially the hospitality industry. Attendees will learn from panels, networking opportunities, hands-on workshops and more, designed for all genders, race, cultures and geographies. The theme this year is “originality,” and high-level industry speakers will address how it informs everything from the creative process to problem-solving bigger issues in the hospitality industry.

 

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Bobby’s adds upscale dining in Lincoln Park

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Bobby, Augie and Tim Arifi, owners of Bobby’s Restaurant Group – following in their father’s restaurateur footsteps – have been successful for 6 years already with North Shore hotspots Bobby’s Deerfield and Cafe Lucci in Glenview. Now they’ve opened a second Bobby’s location in the new ELEVATE residential building at 2518 N. Lincoln Ave. When one of the developers – himself a frequent diner at their Deerfield location – sought an elegant restaurant to fill the structure’s main floor, he called on them to create this upscale eatery and bar and thus add to the sophistication of this trendy area.

The restaurant’s two-story wall of glass looks out onto the popular stretch of Lincoln Avenue between Fullerton and Diversey, known for its abundance of friendly, unassuming bars and eateries. The lighting inside the new Bobby’s restaurant is beautifully subtle and inconspicuous yet perfectly highlights the well-spaced tables, the bright original artwork on the walls (including the custom giant portrait of Bobby’s dad) , and the elegant decor of the bar and the dining area. On the left as you enter is a long inviting stretch of comfortable stools along the bar. One large TV screen behind the bartender’s area is kept quiet enough so that diners are not distracted. For drinkers and diners, Bobby’s bar features 150+ wines by the bottle, 30 wines by the glass and 120+ boutique spirits. They keep their wines in a special refrigerated unit that’s set a little colder than usual for reds, so if you like yours at room temperature, order early, or plan to hold the bowl of your glass in your hand for a bit.

The menu, which honors the original restaurant’s signature dishes while adding some designed specifically to appeal to Lincoln Park tastes, is surprisingly eclectic. We received a small plate of bread to munch on while we waited, along with a nice little crock of garlic-paste/butter combo. Our server Milosh was happy to also provide individually wrapped pats of regular butter on request.

Bobby's duck wing appetizer
Bobby’s duck wing appetizer

Appetizers like Smoked and Roasted Duck Wings – surprisingly large bones tipped with savory duck meat that’s bathed in an excellent spicy Thai sauce – vie for attention with traditional items like Mussels in either white wine or tomato broth – meaty morsels delicious with the intensely flavored wine broth reduction.

Bobby's scallop appetizer
Bobby’s scallop appetizer

Be sure to ask for extra bread to soak that up with. Appetizers include several other seafood items like Salmon Pastrami (served with herbed cream cheese and potato pancakes, NUM!), Shrimp Bobby (washed with egg, cooked with lemon, butter, paprika and grilled vegetables) and Scallops (with cauliflower/potato puree), to name a few. You may want to come back multiple times to try them all.

We were pleased to meet Bobby himself when he came out to welcome us and encourage questions, as he did with each table of guests that arrived. He explained that their relationships with their seafood and other suppliers are paramount and that they always order just enough of the best and freshest. They’d rather run out of something than have it left over, he said, so they plan carefully.

The baby Kale and Quinoa Salad came lightly dressed with an understated lemon emulsion that complimented the mix. The Australian lamb chops, prepared in the Greek manner with lemon, garlic and oregano, were spectacular – meltingly tender and cooked precisely medium rare – succulent and perfect, even for my companion who normally prefers well done. Four slender long-bone chops stood stacked dramatically, bone-ends up, over a small heap of Vesuvio-style garlicky roasted potato wedges that were lip-smacking good, even reheated the next day. The vegetable of the day was a combination of carrots cooked al dente and broccoli florets drenched in garlic buttery goodness that went perfectly with the main course. Specials of the day included roasted branzino and swordfish entrees.

Bobby's tiramisu with a twist
Bobby’s tiramisu with a twist

Desserts were inviting. We sampled the Key Lime Pie – a most satisfying layered delight with a just-tart-enough filling and a topping that tasted like a cross between lightly sweetened, beaten egg whites and whipped cream. Deliciously smooth and creamy. The Tiramisu was quite unusual. The intense crosshatch of chocolate and red berry drizzles on top almost overwhelmed the delicate coffee-infused mascarpone fluffiness underneath, but it certainly gave a unique touch to this popular sweet.

The wine selection was excellent. We tried several reds by the glass – Angels and Cowboys red blend from Sonoma, a Priorat blend from Spain, and a Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, all of which were delicious in their own ways ($13 and up). Clearly their wine director has taken great care putting this extensive list together.

The night we dined was only about their third week after opening, so we didn’t expect perfection. Luckily, Milosh was very friendly and when he didn’t have an answer for us, he readily went off to find it elsewhere. After the second time he asked if he could remove our bread plates, we inquired if this was a restaurant policy and he said yes. So don’t hesitate to ask, if you prefer to have your bread plates remain.

Bobby’s at ELEVATE is a relaxed yet elegant place to get some rockin’ good food and wine or drinks. Come in your sparkles and furs or your business casual. We look forward to it becoming another  cornerstone of higher-end dining in Lincoln Park.

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Broken Barrel Bar – new chef-driven sports bar in Lincoln Park

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You’ve heard of Chicago beef sandwiches. You’ve heard about the Philly cheese steak. Now prepare yourself for the sandwich that combines the best of both and takes it all to a new level. It’s called The Broken Brisket Dip sandwich (more on this below), and the only place you can find it is at the Broken Barrel Bar, 2548 N. Southport. It’s just one of the resident chef’s innovative ideas for bringing good old every day bar food to new heights – and making gluten-free and vegetarian souls smile.

The Broken Barrel Bar is a brand new Lincoln Park spot that promises to become a favorite destination for those who love to eat, drink and watch sports. Owner Luke Johnson of Wine Not Hospitality said making people feel comfortable is what it’s all about. From the extra-large, well-padded U-shaped booths inside, to the stepped natural-wood booths and stadium seating in the outdoor space, the arrangements are perfect for big parties, yet relaxed for smaller groups and couples. Another thing Luke does to enhance the bar’s spacious yet cozy ambiance is partner with local artists to create whimsical wall art. The whole restaurant/bar is ideal for large groups – family, friends, or work pals – to hang out together. Game day, let’s-get-crazy day, or just relaxing time, you and your whole gang will feel welcome.

Broken Brisket sandwich - irresistible
Broken Brisket sandwich – irresistible

Broken Barrel Chef Bryant Anderson is all about presenting his unique take on smoked meats and pickled accompaniments that lift the barbecue bar a notch beyond the ordinary. That Broken Brisket Dip sandwich is stuffed to overflowing with perfectly tender chunks of pot roasted beef (not paper-thin slices) studded with tiny pepper slices in the house-made giardiniera and sitting atop of a generous layer of cheese melted onto both sides of a good-sized hunk of Italian-style bread. All of that is bathed lightly in the chef’s smoked meat juices and served with a side dish of same for dipping. And, oh, you’re going to wanna dip. I mean, I seldom eat beef – and almost never Chicago’s Italian style beef because that razor-thin-sliced meat’s too dry for my taste once it’s reheated in the sauce – and yet I nearly finished this big sandwich. And I made sure I took home the small chunk I had left, too. It was delicious even straight out of the refrigerator the next day.

Delictable, piquant lamb tacos - irresistible
Delictable, piquant lamb tacos – irresistible

Another standout sandwich is the Guajillo Lamb taco – guajillo-pepper-marinated hickory-smoked lamb shoulder chunks, served in warm corn tortillas and topped with house-made, sweetly pickled red onions and dollops of super creamy, just-sharp-enough goat cheese. Again, though I’m neither a lamb nor a taco aficionado, this sandwich was mouth-wateringly good. I’m kind of embarrassed to admit I ate this whole thing, too.

Some of the sides are right up there, as well. The crinkle-cut sweet potato fries ($4) actually taste like and have the mouth-feel of real sweet potatoes; my companion could not stop eating them. The medium thin regular French fries ($5) are nicely browned and not greasy – and I AM a French fry aficionado. Chef says since Lincoln Park has a high percentage of vegetarians, they’ve chosen to honor that eating style by offering dishes like the Nachos, interlaced with roasted brussels sprout leaves, pickled onions, pickled radishes – all house-made – plus jalapeños and a jalapeño cheddar sauce on top of the sprinkled cheese. We had asked for the sauce on the side, but the dish would have come together better with it on top – and with even more of it, ‘cuz it was good!

Then there’s a selection of wings – gluten-free, by the way, because they are fried crispy but not breaded – that come with your choice of dry rub or several unique BBQ sauces: Buffalo, Garlic Buffalo, Honey Habanero, Chili Maple, Sticky Curry, Hell Raiser Hot, or their biggest prize winner, Bourbon BBQ. Try these with a side of Mac & Cheese with smoked cheddar and two toppings ($15), Fried Plantains, a Cheesy Cauliflower Gratin ($6 – could have used a bit more cheese intensity), or a side of nicely roasted Brussels Sprouts ($6).

Oh, yeah - whipped cream and deep-fried yeasty dough puffs!
Oh, yeah – whipped cream and deep-fried yeasty dough puffs!

The mini donut dessert was exceptional. Freshly made, hot-out-of-the-fryer donut puffs, placed in a pretty circle around a dish and interspersed with puffs of whipped cream, all drizzled with chocolate sauce and served with a dish of house-made triple berry sauce in the middle. Big enough for two and irresistible – even if you’ve already chowed down on your main dishes.

The wine list is a truly carefully curated selection that includes a couple of whites, a single Cabernet, a single Tempranillo, Malbec and so on. These are obviously well chosen to appeal to a range of discerning palates, and the ones we tasted were more than satisfactory. Wine glass prices range from $9 up. Well chosen, delicious wines. And for beer lovers of tappers, tall boys and bottles, you’ve got choices. And of course, there is a full bar and a nice selection of custom cocktails.

I suspect that if I lived in walking distance, this place would become a regular haunt. It’s so friendly and cozy, even with the dozens of TV screens that will keep you company even if you’re alone. And which, by the way the night we were there, we noticed they kept turned down until the Chicago Cubs (next year!) game came on. Go here and get your game on. Drink and eat. A nice example of the best in Food and Drink in Chicago.

P.S. They start serving weekend brunch on Saturday November 3! Check these options out:

  • SMOKED LAMB BENEDICT. Fresh baked biscuits, slow-smoked lamb shoulder, creamy hollandaise sauce, two over easy eggs, maple-sriracha drizzle & micro cilantro $14. OMG, that lamb from the tacos is FABulous.
  • HANGOVER BREAKFAST SANDWICH. Hickory brisket, fried egg, Merkts cheddar, arugula, chipotle mayo, crispy onions, toasted pretzel bun, choice of side $13. Oh, my. It’s lunchtime as I write and I think I need one of these right now.
  • CROISSANT FRENCH TOAST. Orange-buttermilk batter, homemade triple berry sauce, fresh croissant, whipped cream $12. Dessert for breakfast!!!
  • And what’s brunch without the booze?! Broken Barrel Bar will be pouring their house-blended BLOODY MARY, served with Hank’s Vodka and chef-pickled vegetables $9. Or try “WE’LL TAKE A BOTTLE”  – a bottle of bubbles with fresh orange juice $30.

 

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5 unique food and drink ideas – 2 snacks, 3 beverages

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We are always looking for new drinks, treats, snacks and desserts that set our tongues a-tingle and our imaginations aflame. Ran into a few such items recently and are happy to report so you can add them to your repertoire if you like.

Chocdates for snacks or dessert
Chocdates for snacks or dessert

Chocodate makes snacks that pair healthy sweets like Arabian dates, almonds and coconut together with a light, soft chocolate layer in individually wrapped little bites you can take with you anywhere. Each treat is 56 calories, and the wrapped goodies have a fairly long shelf life (about a year), which means you won’t have to throw any away if you decide to ration them for your weight’s sake. They come in coconut-chocolate-date, milk or dark or white chocolate, or in a package of assorted. SRP ~$5 for ~3.5 ounces. Tasty, not-too-sweet snack.

Donnafugata Floramundi
Donnafugata Floramundi

Donnafugata has successfully paired a delicious wine with fine art in its Floramundi 2016. It’s a refined Cerasuolo di Vittoria with a flowery soul. Complex, fresh and full-bodied, this red has intriguing aromatic depth and a fruity and flowery bouquet that is pleasantly spicy on the palate. With the 2016 harvest, Donnafugata reached its goal of launching production in Eastern Sicily in the Vittoria area – the only DOCG of Sicily. Made by blending Nero d’Avola (70%) and Frappato (30%), this lovely wine pairs beautifully with first courses and grilled meats. Or try it with red tuna steak, roasted amberjack or other fish baked in the oven, or with gourmet pizzas. The Floramundi label shows the fantastic figure of a woman giving gifts of flowers and fruits. The picture represents a dialogue between two souls: the elegant and sophisticated Floral Liberty, an art style found everywhere in Vittoria, and the tradition of Pupi Siciliani (Sicilian Puppets). SRP ~$30.

Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey
Gentleman Jack Tennessee Whiskey

Gentleman Jack, double-mellowed Tennessee whiskey, from the makers of Jack Daniels. We just missed National Whiskey Sour day (August 25), but a nicely crafted cocktail is just as delicious any other day. So, for your edification, these guys have come up with some excellent sour recipes. Incorporating items like fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and flavors like peach, cucumber, ginger beer, Chambord and more, these four recipes are sure to please any whiskey-cocktail lover. Check ’em out here.

Michelles Maccs are fabulous for Kosher holidays, too!
Michelles Maccs are fabulous for Kosher holidays, too!

Michelle’s Maccs, by FreshBakedNY. These rich, delectable confections bear little resemblance to the typical meringue-disks-with-a-filling most of us know as macaroons. Before she started the business, inventor and former chef/sous chef Michelle Goldberg had been making these for years, both at home and for friends and family in The Hamptons and Manhattan. These eggless, flourless, gluten-free versions consist of an incredibly dense filling of thickly shredded coconut, sugar and, well, who-cares-what-else, all enrobed in a thick layer of Belgian chocolate: Simple White, Simple Dark or Simple Milk chocolate were the initial versions. Then later she added some other flavors that could knock your socks off: Peanut Butter, Chocolate Chocolate, Mango, Salted Caramel, Key Lime, Amarena Cherry, Orange Zest, Espresso and Banana Walnut, all available from the company website. The Pina Colada in white Belgian chocolate is hauntingly habit-forming.

P.S. Mich’s Maccs are not for dieters – each treat has 200+ calories. Delicious, and so rich you can eat just half of one and still feel like you’ve indulged. I had one for breakfast the other day and my mouth didn’t give a darn about nutrition – just love the chewiness of the tightly packed, thick shreds of coconut! These goodies come in boxes of assorted flavors or in little single-flavor tubes of four. Perfect for coffee-and or dessert. Irresistible. They’re calling my name from the refrigerator right now…

Alessandro di Camporeale “Donnata” Nero d’Avola Sicilia DOC 2014. Deep, dark and delicious, this 100% Nero d’Avola wine is light-bodied with ripe cherry and sweet spice on a background of soft, silky flavors. It pairs nicely with rich tomato and cheese pasta dishes as well as with roast poultry and meats. Can’t be sure what price you’ll find it for – we saw online prices ranging from $9 to $20, so search carefully.

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8 wines and spirits to make Dad – and you – smile

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Not everybody consumers alcoholic beverages, but those who do may enjoy receiving something unusual on special occasions. Below are ideas for 8 beverages to consider giving for Father’s Day. Of course, if you don’t have a dad or a father figure to celebrate with, you can always consider giving them to yourself. Your friends will enjoy sharing!
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Wines to consider

Luxurious Italian red wines. Brunello di Montalcino, in Tuscany, is the home of the some of the finest, most robust and complex red wines Italy has to offer, all made with 100% Sangiovese grapes. Almost any wine from here will make a meal special or an evening with a friend or two memorable. Be aware that the “Rosso” expressions of this wine are the younger versions. They are often extremely high quality yet generally cost a great deal less – up to 50% less – than the more mature wines. Here are a few we sampled at this year’s US visit by the Consorzio del Vino Brunello de Montalcino, held in the gracious spaces of The Drake Hotel:
Brunello di Montalcino - home of fabulous rich Tuscany reds. Credit: Wikipedia
Brunello di Montalcino – home of fabulous rich Tuscany reds. Credit: Wikipedia
  • Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montalcino 2013. Made from clones of Sangiovese grapes grown on this 100% organic estate, this wine is generous and fruity as a result of a very dry, hot summer after a cold wet spring. Well balanced.  Alc. 14.5%. Affordable for a Brunello at ~$50.
  • Paradisone Colle Degli Angeli Brunello di Montalcino 2013. A family farm run by Concetta and her husband, who lovingly tended the soil, living solely on its produce and bartering eggs, goat’s milk and fruit in exchange for what they could not produce. This wine is fresh with high acidity, deep, rich color, dark berry flavors, a hint of lemon rind, and a beautiful balance. Alc. 15%.
  • Castello Banfi Brunello di Montalcino 2012. The vines this year were stressed with a very dry, cool spring followed by a huge heat wave in August, when there was no rain and no water reserves. But the winemakers really made hay with this harvest. This wine has great depth, while it’s fruity and floral and has a broad mid-palette.
  • One of the Rosso versions we really liked: Il Paradiso di Frassina Rosso di Montalcino DOC 2016 (organic). Only 8000 bottles produced, this is a younger version of the 2012 Riserva and the DOCG 2013. May be hard to find in the U.S. Only ~$20 rather than the $48 and $78 prices of the more mature versions.
Port wine. Cockburn’s has been a hallowed name in the business of making fine port wines for 200 years and counting. To celebrate this two-century history of innovative vineyard practices, they’re labeling their bottles with a commemorative seal so they look extra cool. Consider Cockburn’s Special Reserve Port, a rich, lush, fruit-forward deep red port with aromas of red cherry and hints of plum and strawberry. On the palate it’s lightly sweet, well-rounded with luscious red berry flavors. Pair it with nutty or chocolate desserts and with strong cheeses. Good for six weeks after opening. 20% alc. $18.
 
Spirits to consider
  • Tinkerman’s Gin is the new signature line of gins made by A. Smith Bowman Distillery. They’re already known for Whisky Magazine’s 2016 and 2017 World’s Best Bourbons, and now they’re introducing Tinkerman’s in three expressions: Citrus Supreme, Sweet Spice and Curiously Bright & Complex. The new expressions are the result of Master Distiller Brian Prewitt’s “tinkering” with combinations of juniper and various varieties of herbs, flowers, spices, fruits and vegetables. Each one brings a special touch to your cocktails and yet they’re smooth enough to drink on their own. 46% alc (92 proof). $29.99
  • Till Vodka came visiting Chicago this spring at the dark, almost speakeasy-styled cave of the city’s newest champagne and caviar restaurant, Marchesa. Till Vodka is born in the heartland – The Midwest we Chicagoans know and love. It’s that place where folks take hard work and craftsmanship seriously. Made with the finest local ingredients, Till is an exceptional vodka with a crisp taste and smooth finish, The distillers craft Till with one thing in mind: to make you proud of your heritage. Use their store locator to find Chicago retail locations (hint: it’s sold at many Binny’s stores). .
  • GEORGE REMUS® Bourbon introduced several expressions of its “King of the Bootleggers” bourbon at that same Marchesa event. Bourbon is a favorite of many guys, and this line of spirits is sure to have a type that will appeal to most any bourbon lover. Memorable rye-infused bourbons that dad – or you – may want to come back to again and again.
  • The Dark, made by Highland Park Single Malt Scotch Whisky. This delicious spirit matures in first-fill, sherry-seasoned European oak casks. The end result is a nicely balanced whisky loaded with flavors of dried fruits, cinnamon, toasted almonds, cedar wood, fruitcake and light peat smoke. Out in a limited release of only 4500 bottle in the US, look for it at your favorite retailer. SRP ~$300. @HighlandParkUS

    The Dark - just one of many to get for Dad - or treat yourself to
    The Dark – Scotch with a Viking Soul
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Mago Grill & Cantina – delicious discovery in South Loop

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We were invited to visit here recently after we’d heard about Mago Grill & Cantina‘s fun and creative take on combining traditional Hanukkah dishes with a Mexican flair. The location was a surprise – the sophisticated and beautiful shopping complex called The Roosevelt Collection (off E. Roosevelt Rd., next to the Target store and near Clark St. in the South Loop). But the food surprised us even more – so very, very good.

The space at Mago is expansive. Almost a suburban type ambiance – spacious, modern, colorful. But the food is quite a few levels above what you usually find in a typical suburban establishment.  Perfect for savvy sophisticated millennials, yet totally family friendly. The tables are set far enough apart that you have real privacy for your conversations. Ideal for ladies who lunch and want to shop at a few upscale shops afterwards, or for baby boomers looking to enjoy an excellent meal and some good conversation. The space is open and welcoming enough that almost anyone will feel comfortable.

It was fun perusing the menu – both the Hanukkah specials and the regular items. We greatly enjoyed the homemade taco chips with three types of salsa – mild, medium and really hot (made with sesame seeds). Our server Ageo was most helpful explaining the menu and making suggestions. We tried a few things specifically at his recommendations and they were excellent.

For starters we tried, at our server’s recommendation, the empanadas. Excellent choice. A delicious crust with a great deal more character than most we’ve tasted before. The shrimp empanada was especially flavorful – tasted like shrimp of the highest quality roasted to perfection. Crispy turnovers served with frisee, queso cotija and crema Mexicana, in a choice of ground beef picadillo with chimichurri, chicken tinga with roasted tomato salsa, or tequila shrimp with habanero salsa. And you get to choose one each of two choices. Lovely!
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Mago Camarones en Chile
Mago Camarones en Chile

The Camarones en Chile was nicely roasted shrimp in a savory poblano pepper sauce, served with special chunky mashed potatoes and a huge pile of roasted poblano peppers, all bathed in a succulent brown sauce. Delicious.

Another shot of the beef rib with mole - num!
Another shot of the beef rib with mole – num!
 The short rib – a regular menu item – was dressed up for the Jewish holiday. Tender, richly browned and served with a rich, thick, dark mole sauce and a chunk of grated, seasoned plantain that was fried crisp and tasted amazingly good. As a side, the chef prepared potato latkes and added cilantro to honor Hanukkah and give them a Mexican touch. This dish smelled and tasted so good that my granddaughter came home from school and immediately consumed the leftovers.
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Mago coconut flan
Mago coconut flan

The flan of the week was coconut – incredibly thick and not too sweet and loaded with coconut, drizzled generously with rich caramel sauce and topped with a big beautiful pile of whip cream and a strawberry. It was served in a huge dish dusted with powdered sugar. No problem polishing off this gem all by myself.

This was one of our favorite recent restaurant meals  – and so surprising for a weekday lunch. Felt like a 4-star dinner. Mago Grill & Cantina is well worth a trip for its creative approach to blending cuisines and its commendable attention to the details of execution that take dishes several notches above the usual.
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Mago Grill & Cantina is located at 1010 S. Delano Court East. The place is a breeze to get to. CTA buses and trains are a short walk away. And if you drive, no need to fight downtown traffic hassles. Take Lake Shore Drive to Roosevelt or the Dan Ryan and pull right in. The shopping mall has ample underground parking – no need to stress on that score either. Go here. We will be back with friends very soon to try more dishes on the menu.
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Whisky and 5 fun Chicago holiday events 2017

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We’re on the brink of the holiday season with Thanksgiving only 2 weeks away. The holidays rank high among the many good reasons to break out the fine spirits. And so, of course, now is a grand time to stock up on your preferred whisk(e)y – Scotch, bourbon, et al. – to enjoy in front of the fire or the candles or the television, or whatever strikes your mood that day.
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Some of our favorites include Japanese Hibiki Harmony, beautifully blended, light and layered with flavors from Beam Suntory ($80), Tullamore D.E.W., a delightful and smooth Irish whisky ($44), and Glenfiddich’s array of excellent Scotch whiskies which include, among many others, the Experimental Series with Project XX (twenty), India Pale Ale Cask, finished in ale barrels and great paired with ale – talk about a classy boilermaker! ($70), and its most recent star known as Glenfiddich Winter Storm, 21-year-old Scotch finished in ice wine casks – the heightened candied sweets and oak flavors of Glenfiddich complemented by mouth-watering tropical fruit notes and underlying wine notes ($240).

And see below an opportunity next week to pair some well-known Kentucky whiskey brands with some delicious meats. And then check out a few other fun holiday events coming up.
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Texas de Brazil Churrascaria gets into the spirit with delicious Kentucky Bourbon Dinners offered at their Chicago place at 210 E. Illinois, on Wednesday, November 15 – and at their Schaumburg location on Tuesday, November 14. The special four-bourbon, three-course dining events pair Jim Beam and other whiskey brands with the restaurant’s unique menu, begin at 6:30pm Cost $95 per person, inclusive.
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Guests at the Kentucky Bourbon Dinners will be welcomed with a Maker’s Mark Mango Mint Julep before being invited to experience the salad area which includes over 50 freshly-prepared salads, soups and side dishes to be paired with the Basil Hayden served neat.  The main course includes rodizio-style service of freshly-grilled cuts of meats carved tableside from skewers by costumed gauchos and paired with Knob Creek served neat. And for a truly sweet conclusion to the evening, the Jim Beam Vanilla will be paired with a slice of pecan pie a la mode. Tickets available here.
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Saturday, November 18, 9 to 11am, bring the kids for Breakfast with Santa at both Texas de Brazil locations. The events benefit Ronald McDonald House Charities of Chicagoland and Northwest Indiana (RMHC®-CNI).  In Chicago, the fundraiser coincides with the annual BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival in its location just steps from the famed boulevard. On the same morning, suburban supporters can dine at the Texas de Brazil at Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg. Special Santa  breakfast menu, children’s entertainment and gifts, and a surprise visit from Santa. Tickets $35 for adults, $20 for children 3-12 years of age, and $3 for those under 3. All children must be accompanied by an adult. Tickets for either location: www.RonaldHouseChicago.org/breakfastwithsanta.
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TrEat Me Fest goodies
TrEat Me Fest goodies

TrEat Me Fest, offers new ways to eat and pamper yourself. Sunday, December 3 (two sessions 11 to 1pm or 1 to 3pm) produced by Social Power Hour is back for a one-day festival at Concord Fifty+Five. Prepare to relax and treat yourself with samples from companies that offer treats, eats, drinks and pampering services. The current vendors included for the ultimate TrEat Yourself are as follows: (more to be announced closer to the event date): Knife & Tine,Bai Drinks, Spiritual Center, Getaround, Your Father’s Toffee, barkTHINS, Essa Dora. $25 ticket gets you samples and two cocktails. Purchase tickets at Eventbrite.

Dovetail Brewery wood and leather crafts for sale
Dovetail Brewery wood and leather crafts for sale
Dovetail Brewery’s Second Annual Holiday Market, Saturday, December 16, 12 to 7pm. Check out craft artisans selling a variety of goods in Dovetail’s upstairs barrelhouse loft (1800 W. Belle Plaine at N. Ravenswood; 773-683-1414). Artisanal goods range from wood and leather to brown soap to original artwork. Shop until you drop, and then take a seat downstairs in the taproom and recharge with any of Dovetail’s highly praised beers including their Holiday Bock. The Holiday Bock is stronger than your typical lager, with a robust malt character, a darker hue and a slight candied-fruit sweetness. Enjoy snacks from the bar and from favorite Chicago food truck Bruges Brothers. In addition, Sausage König will be selling sausage baskets and currywurst.
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Carnivale adds raw bar to its exotic food-drink-music mix

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Invited recently to experience Carnivale, we walked into the large venue at 702 W. Fulton St. in Chicago’s trendy and bustling West Loop. Immediately colorful lights inspired our vision and energetic Latin-fusion music warmed up our party parts. We got the definite feeling we were going to have a good time – and the goal of their staff members seems to be just that: do everything they can to make sure a good time is what you have.

What’s a party without music and live entertainment? At Carnivale scantily clad acrobatic artists perform at strategic locations around the dining area, including a long-blonde-haired mermaid waving her tail while suspended in a net above the tables and painted hard-body entertainers executing feats of skill or gyrating to the music.

The food and wine and cocktails are carefully curated. Our knowledgeable server, Jorge, who is also the restaurant’s sommelier, offered expert guidance in choosing dishes from the dinner menu and beverages that perfectly complemented them.

A new addition to Carnivale’s offerings is its extensive raw bar. Jorge recommended the raw-bar-for-two ($50) – a delightful collection of seafood goodies including poached shrimp, crab claw and half-lobster tail – cooked just right and served with several interesting sauce options in addition to fresh lemon. This dish – possibly one of the best values on the menu – was served dramatically in what looked like a professional toolbox that you open from the middle, the long way, to stepped sides. Nestled in the ice on the bottom were three dishes of Carnivale’s delicious and unique ceviches – generous for two to split. Hard to decide which we liked the best: shrimp,  blue crab, or mixto (shrimp, calamari, octopus and a delicious combination of slightly exotic touches like preserved lemon, sweet potato, cilantro and more).

After such a generous starter, it made sense to split Jorge’s next recommendations: the dry-aged prime ribeye ($49) and Hook’s cheddar potato gratin. Meat was nicely grilled and flavorful, though somewhat chewy, with a succulent wine reduction on the side. The potato gratin made a nice pairing. Good thing to split those, because the dessert Jorge suggested was irresistable – the Chocolate Dome ($9), made with white and dark chocolate mousse, strawberry sorbet and fresh strawberries. It was so visually appealing and so incredibly mouth-watering, most of it was gone before the photo got taken.

Since you can’t eat everything on the menu, when you visit Carnivale be sure to look around at other tables. See if you can spot a cotton candy dessert (complete with housemade caramel corn) or even one of their signature cotton candy cocktails. It’s just one more way to liven the party up. And don’t forget their Latin-inspired fusion brunch on weekends. And by the way, they have lots of space for private events – a great place for companies to put on a party or for you to put one on for friends and loved ones.

Whether you’re in the mood to party, or you want to get into the mood, Carnivale clearly stands ready to turn on party mode at all hours every day of the week. Contact them here for reservations or to find out more.

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