Category Archives: fine dining

Everest celebrates Shakespeare with prix fixe pre-theatre menu

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

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

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

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

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Eat haute and help inspire new chefs – Charlie Trotter Project

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Chicago always inspires
Chicago always inspires

Eat at a gourmet restaurant any day between today, Thursday August 17 and Sunday August 21, select a Charlie-Trotter-inspired menu item, and know that proceeds will benefit the Pillars of Excellence Mentor Program of The Trotter Project, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that seeks to inspire, train, and provide opportunities for aspiring chefs and hospitality professionals.

Special thanks to United Airlines, the official airline partner of The Trotter Project that will donate $1 for every Choice Menu Bistro on Board item sold on all domestic flights, August 17-21, 2016.

Stay up to date with menus and new restaurant additions to Charlie Trotter Day: follow @TrotterProject on Twitter and @TheTrotterProject on Instagram, LIKE us on Facebook, and join the conversation with #CharlieTrotterDay. And go visit one of these fine restaurants in the city:

  • A10
  • Acadia
  • Ampersand Wine Bar
  • Appellation Wine Bar & Restaurant
  • Balena
  • bellyQ
  • Swift and Sons beautiful private dining area
    Swift and Sons beautiful private dining area

    Brindille

  • The Bristol
  • Formento’s
  • Goddess and the Baker
  • GreenRiver
  • GT Fish & Oyster
  • Intro
  • The Lobby at The Peninsula Chicago
  • mfk
  • MK the Restaurant
  • Naha
  • Salero
  • Swift & Sons
  • Taus Authentic
  • Yusho Hyde Park
  • Yusho Logan Square
    * All restaurants are in Chicago
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Chicago meets Mullan Road Cellars at Swift and Sons

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Dennis Cakebread for Mullan Road Cellars
Dennis Cakebread for Mullan Road Cellars

It’s unusual to find a winemaker – someone whose name is already associated with a justly famous brand – setting out to create another completely different brand. But Dennis Cakebread, long associated with his namesake wine brand Cakebread Cellars, came to Chicago recently to introduce and promote his new wine brand, Mullan Road Cellars out of the Columbia Valley, WA area.

Dennis undertook to showcase his new products at hot new restaurant location, Swift and Sons, 1000 W. Fulton Market in West Loop. This Boka Group affiliate undertook to open for lunch – they don’t usually – to help Dennis Cakebread showcase his new wines along with a few from Cakebread. Dennis takes a warm and folksy approach to touting his products; it was a pleasure hearing his stories about the winemaking life.
The Cakebread Chardonnay a 2014, a 4-star beauty, went perfectly with the butter-poached king crab leg set off with a dribble of miso sauce and a slice of preserved lemon.
Then came a couple of slices of roast chicken – gorgeously succulent and tender – with succotash and bacon lardons, served with an extraordinarily lovely Pinot Noir from Cakebread. We give a rare 5-star rating to this Two Creeks Pinot Noir 2014. The wine is available retail at around $40 and, for the times you choose to spend that much for a bottle of wine, this would be a great one to invest in.
Mullan Road Cellars red blends 2012 and 2013
Mullan Road Cellars red blends 2012 and 2013

Next, a narrow but thick slice of medium-rare, firm-textured rib roast came out accompanied by chanterelle mushrooms in a bordelaise sauce. For this course Dennis presented two Mullan Road Cellars reds blends, from 2012 and 2013. Their typical  blend is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc.  The 2012 was delightful; Wine Spectator gives it 90. The 2013 tasted somewhat tart at first, but smoothed out after it breathed for a while. It’s certainly a wine worth watching. Both vintages are on the market at a retail price of around $45, give or take.

Those who stayed to sample the Blackbottom Pudding dessert – multiple layers of black cocoa crumble, baked dark chocolate mousse, milk chocolate pudding and white chocolate sorbet – raved about it afterwards. From the description, that dessert alone sounds like enough incentive for another trip to Swift & Sons.
Mullan Road Cellars’ biggest distribution for export so far is in Canada, with the Caribean second in line, then Korea, Japan and Hong Kong. Look for more from this brand. And Swift and Sons did a stellar job with the pairings to create a memorable occasion.
Swift and Sons beautiful private dining area
Swift and Sons beautiful private dining area

P.S. Might want to try the bar, too. Cold Storage, attached to the Swift and Sons’ space, offers appetizers, entrees, and a nice-looking seafood station along with a full bar.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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What is “rich” food?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And finally, “pure or nearly pure” could refer to the intensity of a single flavor, as in soup base that is rich with beef flavor or a dessert composed of several items (e.g., crust, filling and topping), all flavored with lime, or with vanilla.
And then there’s umami, the so-called “fifth taste.” Discovered after centuries of belief that there were only the classic four: salt, sweet, sour and bitter.  Umami is defined generally as “savory, related to lip-smacking, rich tasting.” How about some triple-cream brie cheese? Surprisingly, people of good will today still disagree as to whether umami is a legitimate classification. But why not? It fits. It’s a concept missing from the other four, so it makes sense as a category. But I doubt it will ever have the rich, multilayered connotations of the “r” term. I mean, “rich” even feels umami on your tongue, doesn’t it?
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Holiday gift guide for baby boomers – 4 edible ideas

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As Baby Boomers, we mostly feel like we don’t need any more “stuff,” yet we still might like to buy presents for friends or relatives who are in the same boat. What to do if you simply must buy something?

For people who have everything, or simply don’t want or need anything else, giving a food-related gift is just the ticket to express your gratitude, appreciation or love. Truly, you can’t go wrong with food. It’s dear to the hearts of every one of us – especially at this time of year… “ ) Here are a few ideas to consider.

OpenTable Gift Card

Let 'em dine and think of you!
Let ’em dine and think of you!

No, you don’t eat it, but this instant-gratification gift gets your giftee into a place she’d will want to eat. OpenTable Gift cards let you or the recipient personalize the gift precisely to taste – you pick her favorite restaurant or let her make the choice. Ideal for foodie friends and relatives who love new dining experiences. When you purchase an OpenTable gift card (available in denominations starting at $10), pick from the list of 180 restaurants in and around Chicago – or if she lives elsewhere, pick from more than 2,000 restaurants in 30-plus cities. The gift arrives via e-mail, and your giftee can either print it out and redeem it at the restaurant (good any hours the place is open), Or she can just show it to the server on her mobile device. The full amount of the gift is deducted from her final bill (remember to tip on the original amount!). Talk about convenience, and no fees – every penny of your gift counts.

Choose from several nice designs and put in a short or long personalized message. Then either send it right away – I love that it comes instantly into her inbox – or set the specific date you want it to arrive. And the fact that you can just carry it on your cell phone or tablet makes it super convenient – no coupons to forget or misplace. Every year OpenTable is becoming a bigger and better player in the food/restaurant space; this gift card idea beats the generic gift card all to heck.

Mrs. Prindable’s chocolate and caramel confections

Crisp apples, gooey chocolate and caramel
Crisp apples, gooey chocolate and caramel

If you love caramel apples, try one of these beauties. Mrs. Prindable’s uses deliciously crisp fresh apples and coats them with thick, softly chewy caramel and nuts, or stripes them with caramel and dark and milk chocolate, and decorates them to fit the season – e.g., beautiful Christmas or Hannukah trimmings. Their Chicago-style nut-and-chocolate-covered toffee makes a timeless, seasonless gift. You can order basketsful of Mrs. Prindable’s chocolate and caramel goodies of any size, starting at $29.99. Even if you’re watching the budget this year, you can still surprise your giftee with a box of four chocolate-covered caramels for $5.99 or a pack of three chocolate-and-caramel-covered pretzels for $7.99 – though if you don’t want to pay shipping [$10.99 for that $5.99 item), you can pick up your order in Mrs. Prindable’s Factory Store, 7425 Croname Rd in Niles. While you’re there, check out the dark or milk chocolate Nut Clusters, the Truffles and the endless combinations of boxed delights. These goodies are beautifully packaged in beribboned packets and boxes. The apples I tried arrive still cold from refrigeration, so don’t worry they won’t hold up with shipping.

GODIVA chocolates

GODIVA - synonymous with luxury
GODIVA – synonymous with luxury

The name speaks for itself. Visit one of the Chicago-area GODIVA boutiques (three in downtown alone) or order online. Below are a few to consider for a sublime holiday indulgence:

  • Holiday Ballotin ($50 – 36 pcs) – The GODIVA signature assortment of classic Belgian chocolates (caramels, ganaches and pralines) presented in the gold box tied with a red ribbon.
  • Limited Edition Holiday Chocolates & Truffles Collection ($50 – 12 pcs) – All-time favorites mixed with limited edition holiday chocolates and truffles like Gingerbread, Eggnog and Raspberry Linzer Torte.
  • Signature Truffle Gift Box ($50 – 24 pcs) – Select from the full truffle line, adorned with a red ribbon.
  • Hot Cocoa Gift Set ($20 – 12 pkts) – GODIVA cocoa packets (three milk, three dark and three caramel).

Amy’s Candy Bar – Candy made by a trained French pastry chef

Bly a pastry-maker turned candy artist
By a pastry-maker turned candy artist

Just in time for the holidays, Hyde Park welcomes a pop-up Amy’s Candy Bar store, 1546 E. 55th St., to go with the original Lincoln Square location, 4704 N. Damen Ave. Hand-crafted confections at the new store include Orangettes (dark-chocolate dipped orange peel), almond toffee covered in dark chocolate and sea salt, meringues, and signature caramels dipped in dark chocolate and sprinkled with a new variety of gourmet salts.

Storeowner Amy Hansen graduated from the French Pastry School and trained under renowned chocolatiers Regis Bouet and Lionel Clement. Her handmade treats are made with premium ingredients including European-style butter, organic cream, Madagascar vanilla, Belgium chocolate, and fresh fruit purees. The OMG Bar – hazelnut praline sandwiched between salted caramel and milk chocolate ganache – had Food & Wine Magazine hailing Hansen as a “candy making genius,” and named hers one of the five best candy stores in the country.

Amy’s Candy Bar in the Hyde Park Shopping Center (612.269.0970) is open Tuesday-Sunday from 11-7. Lincoln Square is open Monday, 3-7, Tuesday-Saturday, 11-8 and Sunday, 11-6. For more info, visit amyscandybar.com.

 

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Eating out Thanksgiving Chicago 2014

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English: Oven roasted turkey, common fare for ...
English: Oven roasted turkey, common fare for Christmas and Thanksgiving celebrations. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lots of people don’t like to cook, let alone put the Herculean effort in to cook a traditional American Thanksgiving feast. I used to spend days preparing – and oh, how we loved to enjoy! These days, my son-in-law does most of the work (we travel to Cleveland), while I usually sous-chef the carrots and green beans and hand-strip the fresh herbs from their stems for his delicious stuffing.

In case you aren’t up for cooking and aren’t going to a house where someone is, here are a few places you can go to get your Thanksgiving eating game on:

  • Brasserie by LM, 800 S. Michigan, is offering a $35 prix fixe menu, available on Thanksgiving Day only. The menu includes a choice of appetizer, entrée, side dish and dessert. Here’s the mouth-watering menu:

Appetizer – Roasted Chestnut Soup (truffle oil and chives) OR Bitter Green Salad (escarole, radicchio, frisee, bleu cheese, pomegranate pom vin)

Entrees
Roasted Turkey Roulade – stuffed with chestnuts and collard greens with sweet potato mash and turkey gravy OR
Fried Ham Steak – bacon and Brussel sprout hash OR
Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto – sautéed whitefish, pecan and sage brown butter

Sides – Green Bean Casserole OR Buttermilk Biscuits OR Turkey Stuffing with Cranberry Sauce
Desserts – Apple & Cranberry Cobbler OR Pumpkin Pie OR Cheese Plate

  • Troquet River North, 111 W. Huron in the Felix Hotel, is offering a holiday themed special with a French twist. Their Roasted Turkey Sandwich is topped with cranberry compote and Brussel Sprout slaw and is served on a croissant alongside hand-cut sweet potato frites ($14). The special will be available Monday, November 24 through Sunday, November 30.
  • The Brixton, 5420 N. Clark St., closed Thanksgiving Day, has a special on Tuesday, November 25; Wednesday, November, 26 and Friday, November 28, Chef Kevin McMullen’s Confit Turkey Leg is served with cranberry aioli, house stuffing and fried sage ($9).
  • Maxwell’s at the Club, 500 N. Kingsbury St. inside the East Bank Club, offers traditional Thanksgiving dinner from 1 to 7 pm. Reservations are a must. Parking lot available. Check out my review. If their other food is any indication, you’ll very likely enjoy your holiday vittles here.

 

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Sapori Trattoria – a Lincoln Park/Lakeview gem

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It’s a pleasure to dine at a restaurant where the food, the service and the ambiance come together seamlessly to make a memorable evening. And that’s just what happened recently at Sapori Trattoria, 2701 N. Halsted, close to the border of Lincoln Park and Lakeview. Our party of four arrived at 5 pm for an early dinner and were delighted to feel immediately warm and welcome on a cold Saturday night.

Needing time to study the many Italian-named dishes on the menu, a couple of us found the house Cabernet Sauvignon (Fox Brook 2005) was quite good and made a nice pre-dinner cocktail at a very reasonable $6.50 a glass.

Besides the regular menu items you can find online, the evening’s menu carried an entire column full of “Featured Items” from starters to multiple pasta entrees (including the pumpkin ravioli one of us ultimately ordered), and a number of meat dishes (including Vitello Osso Bucco and the Duck Leg Confit).

Shortly after we sat down, a tray of bread arrived – excellent flavor, with moist crumb and crispy crust. I’d noticed a small bottle of olive oil and a dish of grated fresh Parmesan cheese, but when I (a die-hard butter fan) asked for some, a dish promptly arrived with two large, cold, unsalted slabs thereof. A heaven-sent version of my go-to restaurant indulgence!

We shared one order of bruschetta ($6.95) around the table. A generous portion of homemade mozzarella cheese – freshly made, light and tender – was surrounded by shavings of prosciutto and chunks of marinated tomato on toasted slices of that lusty, crusty Italian bread. Another person ordered the Caesar salad – a plateful of crisp, crunchy romaine and some very good homemade croutons, all lightly coated with owner/Executive Chef Antonio Barbanente’s own delicately seasoned dressing – delicious but perhaps slightly overpriced for the quantity at $7.95.

It was rough going choosing our main courses; almost everything on the menu had its appeal. Ted, our server, answered our many questions – including whether the pasta is house-made (it is, except penne). He patiently explained the differences in various dishes and told us which were the most popular.

We finally settled on our selections. The Maple Leaf Farms Duck Leg ($25.95) was a classic duck confit preparation – salt-cured for two days and slow-roasted in its own fat, served with sweet potato strings and 48-hour duck gravy. The Cappellacci di Zucca ($21.99), pumpkin-stuffed ravioli in a burnt butter sauce with butternut squash, sage and pine nuts, was declared a winner. Vitello Paesana ($26.99), tender veal scallopini sauteed with artichokes and cherry tomatoes in a savory delicate wine sauce, was a hit, too. We all approved our samples from a side of homemade pasta – oil and garlic caressing every noodle in a nest of rich-tasting, homemade egg-dough linguine.

My entree was a huge chunk of perfectly pan-seared Chilean sea bass ($28.99) served in an aromatic sauce with lightly steamed fresh spinach, finished with roasted tomatoes, oyster mushrooms, and beautifully tender-inside, lightly crispy-on-the-edges chunks of roasted potato. Potatoes are another of the items by which I judge a restaurant – for example, undercooked is a disaster – and these more than passed muster. The only off note was finding a couple of gristly pieces underneath the fish. Homemade pasta with seafood? I simply had to try some. Ted graciously accommodated my request for half an order of Spaghetti alla Scoglio ($23.99). This lovely dish consisted of a generous helping of seasoned seafood (clam, mussel, shrimp and scallop), cooked juste á point and served on a bed of homemade egg spaghetti. The spaghetti was delicious on its own, but it was also enveloped in a mellow and flavorful sauce – the menu says the pasta is “sautéed in marinara.” Okay. The best marinara I remember tasting in a long time. And since I feel the same way after having eaten the leftovers for breakfast, I know it wasn’t just the wine and the company that made it taste so good!

Ambiance is wonderful at Sapori. I’m a sucker for tiny white lights, and here, just the right number of these Italian standbys pinpoint the overall subtle lighting (notice how dark all the pics are!). The place is built into what must have originally been someone’s home – certainly not a restaurant. Outside the small main dining area – which has two levels, thus adding to the sense of coziness and privacy – you’ll encounter a charming rabbit warren of hallways and small rooms tucked away in cozy corners, with extra doors in surprising places. A tiny bar graces the main dining area off the street entrance, and dinner is also served in what is probably another honeycomb of rooms we didn’t go up to see on the second floor. Ted said total capacity is about 250 – a surprise, given the intimate feel of the place, although a regular diner there tells me the noise level gets uncomfortably high at prime times.

Service was friendly, warm and professional. When one of our party complained to Ted after a first taste that the salt-cured duck was too salty, he apologized for not having explained the best process for consuming this dish – interspersing bites with the sweet potato accompaniment. He acknowledged he should have given this advice upon delivering the plate. Then, a minute after Ted left, the maitre d’ arrived to also apologize and offer to replace the dish with something else. Hard to ask for more than that. Later in the evening Chef Antonio came to our table and smiled as we expressed our enthusiasm.

The tiramisu dessert ($6.99) had a decidedly light touch. Crowned with a foam of whipped cream, the ladyfinger layers were lusciously fluffy. Delicious indeed, though I usually like mine a bit heavier – more custard and a tad more rum-coffee flavoring. Panna cotta ($6.99) was super-rich with cream and chocolate-hazelnut flavor. Though I didn’t love the slightly gelatin-y mouth feel of the dish, the drizzle of thin, dark chocolatey sauce on top was a definite enhancement.

Open every day at 4:30, Sapori Trattoria has been here since 2001. Where the heck have I been?

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

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

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

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

Whites

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

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

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

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

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

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

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