Category Archives: cocktails

Slane Irish Whiskey – a new go-to!

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Besides its beauty and historic value to Ireland, Slane Castle is known for two important things: being home to the distillery that makes its layered, balanced namesake Irish whiskey and for regularly bringing thousands of people together to enjoy soaring music concerts held on the Slane Castle grounds in Boyne Valley in County Meath, Ireland.

Slane Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and music are fitting combination when you think about this: Making whiskey and creating music have a powerful common bond – they both seek a perfect balance. Each art/craft is constantly experimenting with components and layers to bring a harmonious new distillation/composition/performance into fruition.

And the good people at Slane know that an important Irish tradition it is to share your whiskey with others in a warm and welcoming atmosphere. They recently set up such an event at a charming Chicago speakeasy-type bar, Storyville, 712 N. Clark St., where the salty, deep-fried and other Cajun comfort foods served family-style are reminiscent of the best of New Orleans fare, and marry perfectly with Slane’s Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and each of its components.

Representatives from Slane set up the intimate tasting experience and invited attendees to test their blending skills. Tastes of Slane Triple-Casked Irish Whiskey and of the distillations from each of the three barrels that make up the flagship brand’s flavor profile – which includes tasty notes of caramel, red fruits, baking spices, and toasted oat. The first distillation comes from a virgin oak cask – no other liquor aged in that one – American oak medium char milled wood. The second, called “Seasoned,” is from a lighter barrel like the type Jack Daniels is aged in. And the third taste is from a sherry cask. They all tasted delightful, but the combination – the “triple-casked” combo – was especially satisfying.

Savory beignets with crawfish sauce were perfect with the first sips of the whiskey itself, and then more sips of the three cask-fellows that make it up. Next sips were with a big plate of poutine fries covered in cheese and drizzled with sauce. More food followed – Cajun shrimp pasta, Muffeletta, Jambalaya… More whiskey sipping. And then: the blending contest. Attendees were challenged to be a blender and to approximate the taste of Slane flagship Irish whiskey. Using straws, tiny samples of each distillation were to be mixed until you got as close as you could to the original. (I was surprised and delighted to win the competition!)

You can find Slane in Chicago at Binny’s and many indie liquor stores. ~$25/750ml. For best sipping results: Create an intimate shared experience with friends/loved ones to enhance the pleasure. If you’re tasting by yourself, try lighting a baking spice candle…

P.S. In honor of the 40th anniversary of their first rock concert. the distillery has found the perfect balance for its new Slane “Special Edition” Irish Whiskey. In this expression you’ll find similarly complex flavors along with extra vanilla and a slightly higher ABV. Great in cocktails like Jitterbug and Irish coffee. But oh, it’s a sippin’ whiskey, too, for sure. ~$37/750ml. Availability is limited. Check with your favorite liquor dealer.

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The Dalmore 14 Scotch whisky – exclusively in Chicago

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To be labeled Scotch whisky your creation must be made in Scotland and be part of a broad category that embraces a wide array of flavors – from the smoked-peat versions from Islay and the Glenlivets of Speyside, to the Highland malt whiskies like those from The Dalmore.

What makes a great Scotch whisky? Time, more than anything else, says Gregg Glass, Master Whisky Maker & Blender at Whyte & Mackay. He came to Chicago recently to introduce the latest expression from The Dalmore distillery: The Dalmore 14 – a beautiful whisky with cocoa, candied citrus, nutty, and slight cinnamon flavors. It’s a new expression of how the Mackenzie family continues to exercise its passion for creating old-school Highland malt spirits in styles and flavors even non-expert consumers can really appreciate.

We Chicagoans are privileged to be the first – and right now, the only – place in the U.S. where you can buy this particular expression. Contact Binny’s for help buying a bottle of The Dalmore 14.

The Dalmore was a pioneer in using age statements to differentiate Scotch whiskies from each other – a new way to indicate quality. Generally, the longer a whisky is aged, the more complex and rich its flavor can become. The Dalmore sources its barley from right around the distillery, far north and east of Highland. Gregg says he grew up 5 miles from the distillery, so it’s like home for him. He talks about how barley varieties and water can change the ultimate flavor of whiskies, but it’s how the combination is aged that makes all the difference.

To start with, the first stuff right off the still is pure spirit  – theirs is clear in color with notes of citrus and cocoa and a staggering 68% alcohol content. You don’t want to drink this by itself. But it is the beginning of the journey to becoming a fine aged whisky. In fact, says Gregg, 60-80% of a whisky’s flavor comes from the type of casks used to age it and the time and conditions under which it matures.

Once they’ve distilled the pure spirit, they put it into bourbon casks that give touches of vanilla and honey. For The Dalmore 14, the next stop is hand-selected casks from Pedro Ximenez sherry. I can tell you for sure that the Old Fashioned cocktail they sampled for media, made with The Dalmore 12, was excellent – just a hint of sweetness, and the handsome chocolate truffle-on-a-pick that garnished it was a rich, creamy surprise. How did chocolate happen here?

The Distillery staff, Gregg said, receive from 60 to 600 items to assess each year from companies that want to pursue a partnership with them. Recently they found a company they quickly recognized shared The Dalmore philosophy of using the finest ingredients to make a superior product that’s then showcased with the finest packaging. And now they have a strong relationship with Vosges Haut-Chocolat, a Chicago company that makes extra-rich, creamy chocolate truffles – the dark chocolate and orange are remarkable and the pairing with the whisky is genius.

The chocolate makers went back and forth on which characteristics of the whisky they wanted to bring out in the truffles they include in The Dalmore 14 Collection. The only way for you to find out what they decided is to buy a bottle and a box and sit down with no agenda other than to taste and enjoy all that lusciousness blending together in your mouth.

And for a great place to pair your whisky with food, you can start by ordering your whisky at Momotaro in Chicago’s West Loop. Even if you didn’t already like Japanese cuisine, you’re likely to become a fan after eating here. Gregg’s team collaborated with the chefs at the restaurant to build the delicious Old Fashioned cocktail and to choose just the right dishes to go with the flight of Scotch whiskies. From the delicious sea-salted edamame, the salad of crisp baby greens with sparkling citrus dressing, and the generous cuts of very fresh sashimi, to the super-juicy grilled strip steak with crispy edges, they put on a feast worth indulging in. Altogether, some pairings are made in heaven. Enjoy.

The Dalmore 14 Pedro Jimenez Cask Aged Scotch whisky. ~$90.

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Join the cast in #ARecipeforDisaster !

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Chicago Chef Rick Bayless – famous for his PBS television series Mexico: One Plate at a Time with Rick Bayless, and for his several iconic Chicago restaurants – has co-written with the creative team at Windy City Playhouse a super-energetic, immersive comedy about the passion, pitfalls and insanity of the restaurant business as lived out one evening at a fictitious joint called The Contumacious Pig.

It’s called #ARecipeforDisaster and it’s just rollicking good fun. Laughter. Serious action. Behind-the-scenes scheming. Good food.

Not giving away the menu, but the wild mushroom soup veloute-style was rich and utterly delicious. Well, the second version anyway. I won’t tell you what “accidentally” happens to the first version (which isn’t bad anyway). Unassuming, shy, insecure Sous Chef Julian is called upon to replace the Head Chef who’s disppeared this evening. He and the restaurant team go through one calamity and near-disaster after another as the Head Chef and the long-awaited whole pig continue to fail to show up, and then, yes, the Health Inspector, bumptious and slightly randy, unexpectedly comes to visit.

Rick is really good at playing the insecure, shy sous chef, stumbling from missed opportunity to mishap. The two extraordinarily conceited influencers that are part of the play openly express their hots for all the men as the two ladies loudly brag about their number of followers while wandering as if they own the place through the mock-up restaurant where you, as audience member, are yourself seated as a mock influencer. All the other actors are marvelously animated, and they make you feel their characters truly care about each other. Not surprisingly, there’s a happy ending to this fun farce.

Other food for the evening includes items like a creamy, fresh lemon pasta dish with freshly picked herbs (lemon verbena, parsley, cilantro, basil) and a magisterial dish of Potatoes Dauphinoise with a touch of Thai – a nice chance to see how Rick is reaching across the globe to incorporate new influences in his dishes.

Cash bar before the play. Then a little cocktail and two small wine pairings go with the food for the ticket price. Only a few chances left to enjoy this delight at the Windy City Playhouse above Petterino’s. Tickets here through April 24 on W, Th, F, Sa and Su.

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Domingos Soares Franco brings J.M. da Fonseca wines to Chicago’s avec

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailDomingos Soares Franco, the tall, handsome, silver-haired winemaker of Jose Maria da Fonseca wines, came to Chicago recently to share three of his rich, elegant reds and two of his exquisitely multi-layered Moscatel aperitif/dessert wines with a beautifully paired selection of foods at avec, 615 W. Randolph. Attendees enjoyed a stellar experience of some of the many wonderful wines that Portugal has to offer.

On the eve of its 40th vintage in 2020, the seasoned winemaker  shared some tidbits about his 200-years-in-the-business family’s processes and philosophies:

  • Jose Maria da Fonseca makes one million cases each year – 60% reds, 25% whites, 5% Moscatel, and the rest roses. They make a blend every two years. They carefully follow the same formula each year in order to keep the style consistent. And then, as with fine Port wines, the winemaker must decide which blends will be declared vintages. Soares has been in charge of this critical part of the vineyard’s approach for several decades. And now he is encouraging the people with whom he works – some for 10, 30, even 50 years – to take this responsibility. He said they finally agreed to try – and he’s proud to say they made the last blend perfectly.
  • In regard to climate change, he said it is inevitable – but that there is no guarantee whether in the end we will cool down and warm up.  His advice to all winemakers is, if the climate heats up, don’t change the vines. Change the clones. He and his team, for example, use 12 clones of a single grape – and these clones give the best chance for the winemaker to control conditions.
    Soares is not a fan of “blockbuster” type wines – the kind many Americans are trained to find most desirable. He said his team will make wines that cater to that market segment, but he prefers more subtlety, for example, by using less and less oak in his vinification.
  • Moscatel wines can remain in the bottle indefinitely because you can just put the cork back in after it’s opened. Because of the way it’s made, the wine cannot oxidate any further, and it cannot become vinegar because of the high alcohol content. Domingos said that though it’s legal to use caramel to adjust color and sweetness in Moscatel wines, some do so because some consumers tend to prefer a darker color. Your secret to knowing whether caramel has been used to enhance color is to hold your glass over a piece of white paper and look for a green rim on the wine. That is a sign of the genuine wine without color enhancement.

Alambre Moscatel de Setúbal 20-year-old. 100% Moscatel de Satubal grapes grown on the Setubal Peninsula. Silky mouthfeel, layered aromas of orange peel, citrus, apricots, nuts, dried figs, and almonds, leading to a whiff of cigar box. Complex and rich. Alc 18.4%. SRP ~$70.

Alambre Moscatel de Setubal 40-year-old. 100% Moscatel de Setubal grapes grown on the Setubal Peninsula. Like all fortified wines, brandy is added at precisely the right moment to halt fermentation at its ideal stage. Then this wine is aged in used oak. SRP ~$150.

Jose de Sousa 2017. Made with Grand Noir (98%), tinicaderia (22%, and Arogones (akin to Tempranillo) 20%. Soares ferments a small portion of this wine in clay amphora before resting it for 9 months in French and American oak casks. Akc 14.5%. SRP ~$20

Periquita Reserva 2017. Made from Castelo 56%, Touriga Nacional 22%, and – Soares’s favorite – Touriga Francesa 22%. Fermented 7 days with full skin contact, then aged 8 months in new and used French and American oak barrels. SRP ~$15.

Domini Plus 2015. Made from 96% Touriga Francesca and 4% Touriga Nacional. Fermented in the traditional manner with full skin contact, then rested for 10 months in new French oak casks. SRP ~$45.

Established in 1834, family-owned José Maria da Fonseca (J.M. da Fonseca) is one of Portugal’s best-known and most historic wine producers, with vineyard holdings in the country’s most important wine regions, including the Douro, Vinho Verde, Setúbal and Alentejo.J.M. da Fonseca has been owned and managed by the Soares Franco family for seven generations. Father and son team Antonio Soares Franco, Sr. and Antonio Maria S. Franco, Jr. stand at the helm, together with chief winemaker and vice president Domingos Soares Franco (brother and uncle, respectively, to Antonio Sr. and Antonio Jr.). Domingos holds the distinction of being the first Portuguese national to graduate in fermentation sciences from California’s U.C. Davis. He couples a modern perspective with a respect for Portuguese tradition in all his winemaking initiatives. Domingos will celebrate a personal milestone with the year 2020, which will mark his 40th harvest.

The J.M. da Fonseca winery, located in Azeitão on the Setúbal Peninsula just south of Lisbon, welcomes visitors year-round. Guests can tour the original 19th century estate and cellars, and enjoy a wine tasting and a stroll through the tranquil gardens which surround the estate. No visit is complete without a tour of the impressive Fernandes Soares Franco winery, established in 1999 and inaugurated in 2001 by the President of the Republic. Although this state-of-the-art winery is entirely computerized, it maintains time-honored methods of winemaking dating back to the early 1900s.

And, by the way, the food at avec was worthy of note for its creativity. Small plates came in a wide variety that featured vegetables in a big way. First, wood-oven roasted beets with spring peas, quinoa tabbouleh and berbere pecans. Next, charred carrots with black harissa, whipped feta and crisp wild rice dukkah. Then chicken liver crostini with rhubarb mostarda and mint.

Next courses included salty, warm, crispy focaccia with taleggio cheese, ricotta, truffle oil and fresh herbs – num! – along with a gorgeous dish of wood-fired chicken with hummus, zhoug, green garbanzo and seed cracker fattoush.  And then came a small platter of delicious and unusual cow cheeses – St. Agur, Omorro, and Vento d’Estate. Desserts were 5-star for sure: vanilla bean cheese cake with candied pistachio and strawberry, plus a sweet mezze – “spread” – of caramel cashew squares, cinnamon sugar shortbread, and cacao nib biscotti, all delightful.

Executive Chef Paul Kahan’s team served up one delicious dish after another – all absolutely perfect accompaniments to the lovely wines. The quality of the food ingredients and the masterful presentation showed off the kitchen’s originality and its superior powers of execution as well as its ability to highlight the wines. Unquestionably a 5-star experience.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

5 summer pleasures for home and in Chicago restaurants

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailEvery nice day in summer is another great excuse to indulge yourself – after you work, do your chores and exercise of course, right? Everywhere you turn in Chicago – and online of course – another opportunity presents itself to help you get creative with your enjoyment. Here are just a few restaurant ideas and home cooking/drinking products to get you rolling:

River Roast is celebrating summer with their weekday happy hour Oysters & Rosé special. Every weekday from 3 to 5 pm enjoy a dozen oysters and bottle of Rose wine for $35. Sit at the bar or along the river soaking in the sun all while enjoying a refreshing summer combo that’s irresistible.

And while you’re dreaming about enjoying the outdoors, think about having friends over – or just treating yourself – and serving something unique and easy: Sangria in cans, the most popular product made by Round Barn Winery, located in the hills of Southwestern Michigan, complete with tasting room. A fizzy, lightly sweet version of the drink beloved by so many in Spain, this Sangria is a nice combination of fruit, dry wine and sweetness. Be aware of the calories, though. A single 12-ounce can packs a whopping 290 calories, so feel free to consider this dessert…

Oh, and if you’ve got your grill out and ready to go, here’s a spice company that puts together some really tasty combos to rub on your meat, poultry and even vegetables. Pereg Natural Foods offers classic blends that are made from fresh, natural, 100% pure spices, bringing more than 100 years of expertise and quality to the table. Get to know some of these Middle Eastern-style secrets when the grill heats up.

Pereg’s Koobah starts with baharat, a ubiquitous Israeli and Mediterranean staple, and then adds warm layers of cinnamon, allspice, rose, nutmeg, and cardamom for a complex finish. It makes an excellent dry rub for grilled or roast lamb, salmon, and chicken, sprinkled into burgers, mixed with hummus, or tossed onto vegetables (particularly corn on the cob and eggplant) before roasting. Use their Kabab seasoning to douse cubes of chicken, beef, or lamb liberally with Pereg’s hearty mash-up (paprika, black pepper, coriander, garlic, and cumin). Thread on skewers with vegetables of your choice, and grill over medium heat until fully cooked. Serve on warm pita bread with tahini and cucumber salad for an authentic version of Israeli street food. And check out their special take on Shawarma and Ras El Hanout plus some sweet mix seasonings.

Casati’s, the family owned, modern Italian restaurant – claiming  designation as home to the “healthiest pizza in Chicago” – offers Pinsa creations, which offer 90% less fat, carbs, and gluten than traditional pizzCasati’s, which is home to a new 42-seat, pet-friendly patio, will also offer 40% off specialty cocktails and wine during lunch. Owned and operated by Italy-native Stefano Casati, and run by Michelin Star Chef Christian Fantoni, Casati’s aims to bring light, fresh, healthy, and authentic tastes of Italy to Chicago’s Lincoln Park.

Carnivale Restaurant, 702 W. Fulton St. Things are heating up outside AND inside at Carnivale, where  talented chefs and mixologists have created a new Lounge menu that features a Charcuterie Tabla, Sliders, Carnivale Mai-Tai, Jackie’s Daiquiri, and much more! Lounge open: Monday – Thursday from 4-10, Friday 4-11, Saturday 5-11, Sunday 5-9. *Every Weekday, enjoy Happy Hour from 4-6:30pm.

Coming soon: more beverage ideas perfect for summer sipping.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail

3 new consumable ideas for you

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailFrom 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

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailTime 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

FacebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmailBobby, 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.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedinmail