Thursday, September 27, 2012

Finger Lakes 2011 Vintage Riesling Launch

Finger Lakes 2011 Vintage Riesling Launch

The Finger Lakes 2011 Vintage Riesling Launch is a celebration of the release of 2011 Rieslings from twenty Finger Lakes wineries September 4-30, 2012. A group of wineries, tradespeople, and bloggers will be conducting a virtual tasting of 8 Finger Lakes Rieslings tonight, 8:00 p.m. - 9:00 p.m. EST. The virtual tasting will stream live via USTREAM and utilize Twitter for communication (follow along with hashtag #FLXwineVT) between the winemakers/winery representatives and the media. The USTREAM channel can be found on - tune into the show called Finger Lakes Wine Virtual Tasting Series_2011RieslingLaunch. Hope you can join us!

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Epic Restaurant, Chicago

"Industrial and refined, contemporary and traditional. Epic merges these elements with subtlety and spirit. Filling a void in Chicago's Food and Beverage scene, EPIC is a single venue where guests can enjoy outstanding food in a dramatic dining room or relax on a roof terrace with great views of the city, and hang-out late into the evening in a hip and energetic lounge. A restaurant of epic proportions, Epic is led by acclaimed Executive Mark Pollard, who offers an award winning Contemporary American Cuisine, ranging from a raw bar to classically inspired entrees. Epic’s distinct dining areas allow for several dining options. A casual lounge menu, cocktails and 15 wines by-the-glass will be offered in the first floor lounge while a multi-course dining experience awaits on the second floor dining room. And Epic’s 3,000-square-foot rooftop, a destination unto itself, offers spectacular city views, specialty cocktails and a rooftop menu."
Another opportunity to try out a restaurant via food and wine pairings, we were excited to try out Epic Restaurant, based on their online menu, gallery, and description. We knew it would be sleek and sophisticated, but I wasn't too certain about the food, as the menu is not vegan friendly -- barely vegetarian friendly, definitely not their focus. I'm always eager to see how much a chef is willing to work with his/her clients and, happily, I brought along my omnivore partner Laima, who is willing to try all those dishes I do not. :) One other oddity regarding their menus -- no wine menu online....very strange.

Epic Restaurant Chicago

From the beginning, we were not disappointed. Epic Restaurant stands out with its aggressively modern design, starting with the exterior. The very contemporary, almost hard-edged design is evident throughout the space, from first floor (bathrooms) to fourth (rooftop deck). Stairs going every which way (with an elevator for those requiring assistance), what could be a cavernous space is instead divided into more comfortable, human-sized spaces. An upstairs dining loft, overlooking the main dining area, can also be used for large group get-togethers. The front of the building is top to bottom glass, so plenty of natural light gets in, with views up and down the street of a variety of movement, from people to vehicles to the clouds in the sky. Two places I would have liked to have more light were the bathrooms and the stairwells, both on the noir side of comfort.

The rooftop deck is a mix of South Beach and SoHo, yet retains its more friendly Midwest edge, making it a very appealing space to lounge, have an alfresco meal, or hang out with friends and explore what the bar has to offer in the way of drinks.

We got seated, and proceeded to have an amazing dinner with, once again, insightful and thoughtful wine pairings -- there wasn't a single misstep, beyond one that illustrated how masterfully this meal had been planned. Really amazing job by the manager, Jason Finn!

Epic Restaurant Chicago Food Collage

Course 1: Potato Gnocchi with lamb sausage, swiss chard, and fennel butter (mine without the sausage), paired with the Gruet Blanc De Noirs NV (New Mexico), really a tasty pairing. We had started with glasses of Louis Bouillot 'Perle D'Aurore', a sparkling rosé (Cremant de Borgogne), which was also complementary -- in both wines, the bubbles and acidity played off well to the lushness of the butter and texture of the gnocchi.

Course 2: Heirloom Tomato Salad, with an amazingly deft vinaigrette, paired with the Bieler Pere et Fils 'Sabine' Rosé 2011 (Provence), which might just be one of my favorite rosés ever! Amazing balance, deeply flavored, yet a refreshing dryness that cut through the dressing with assurance. Here's where the misstep comes in. Our server accidentally brought a Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay (planned for Laima's halibut dish that was substituted at her request with Braised Short Ribs) -- while the wine was perfectly fine on its own, it did not go well with the salad, perfectly illustrating how superior Jason's choice of the rosé was.

Course 3: For Laima, Braised Short Ribs (topped with braising sauce with broccolini, cheddar grits, pearl onions, and a horseradish cream alongside), while I got the Mushroom-Farro Risotto (with English peas, roasted corn, hazelnut verjus, and dry jack cheese). For this course, Jason pulled out a big gun, pouring a SuperTuscan, the Capezzana 'Monna Nera' 2007, an inspired choice that stood above and yet mated perfectly with our respective entrees. Not a sipping wine, this was deep, dark, and mysterious, proudly marrying its provenance with an assuredness and poise that few wines could match.

Epic Restaurant Chicago Dessert Collage

It didn't stop there, as along came dessert, featuring coffee and espresso, along with some goodies from Pastry Chef Jessica Ellington. Our dessert was made up of a selection of house sorbet along with a chocolate ganache cake (with sour cherry chocolate chip ice cream and creme fraiche). The sorbet was a surprise as a dessert (I usually think of it earlier in the meal, as a palate cleanser), but the sorbets really complemented the wines that were paired with our desserts. The wines we had were the Novus Ordo 'Limitata Serie' 2010, a late-harvest Chardonnay from Argentina, along with a 10 Year Tawny from Taylor Fladgate (Portugal). Each wine would have been a pleasant dessert on their own, but were improved by the skillful pairing with the desserts. Next time we'll definitely make sure to try the S'Mores Tart, with the delectable sounding toasted marshmallow ice cream!

While wine was a star of the show, the food certainly didn't lag. The Chef created some wonderful dishes, barely missing a beat to make existing pieces vegetarian/vegan. Everything we ate was fresh and full-flavored, with the Farro Risotto the star of the show to me, incredibly dense and filling, while balancing flavors and textures, yet complementing the wine rather than fighting or overshadowing it. From the rosemary potato bread brought to the table to the skillful dressing on the salad to the simple yet elegant desserts, the food was the equal to the amazing wines chosen for us by Jason. While the wine would not be necessary to fully enjoy the dinner we had, it certainly provided a counterpoint and addition to the food we enjoyed.

Service was good, though slightly uneven, with several pauses between courses -- nothing onerous, though noticeable. This was more than made up for by the friendliness and charm of the service, with everybody from the manager to the waitress to the busboys working with a cheerful manner, eager to please and doing their jobs with skill. One thing we both noted was how much both the manager and waitress knew about the wine, yet there was no pretentiousness in their presentation, simply the sharing of facts and experiences.

We got to the restaurant just as it opened for dinner, so it was quiet at first, which is to my liking, as I can take photos unmolested and without explanation. After several hours of wining and dining, the space was nearing capacity, yet the noise never got above a dull roar, allowing for conversation. If you want to mix and mingle, head there later rather than sooner, but if you're interested in a more intimate tête-a-tête, get there early and relax through your meal in quiet comfort.

More info can be found on the Epic Restaurant website, by liking on Facebook, and following on Twitter.

Epic on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: This wine tasting meal was comped for me for review purposes, courtesy of Epic Restaurant. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the restaurant a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Tuesday Tasting: The Big Kahuna Wines

With the popularity of Trader Joe’s 2 Buck Chuck (Charles Shaw line of wines), it was inevitable that other chains would follow suit. The Tesco Company, from England, started The Big Kahuna brand of wines in 2007, I believe (it’s hard to get much info on the brand). Tesco owns the Fresh and Easy chain of grocery stores in the United State, where The Big Kahuna wines are sold – locations are in California, Nevada, and Arizona.

Fresh and Easy The Big Kahuna Wines

The Big Kahuna wines we received included Chardonnay, Tempranillo, Crisp White (made from Airen grapes) and Cabernet Sauvignon. From the labels, you might think these are Australian wines, but in reality, all grapes were sourced from Spain. All are non-vintage (as is typical for this price range), meaning that the grapes used could have come from a variety of vintages, usually done for consistency.

We enjoyed all 4 of the bottles, finding the wines to be fresh-tasting, uncomplicated, and lively. Decent acidity and good balance were nice extras we weren’t expecting. These all tasted just fine on their own, and were a nice complement to a variety of summer dinners.

Disclaimer: This wine was sent to me for review purposes, courtesy of Fresh and Easy. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the wine a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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Monday, September 24, 2012

Vintners Hall of Fame

Culinary Institute of America Vintners Hall of Fame

Did you know there existed a Vintners Hall of Fame? I didn’t, until recently, and there is one, though this one relates to the wine world of California.

The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) has dedicated the historic Barrel Room to celebrate the men and women who have been responsible for the growth and world-wide prestige of the California wine industry. Each year, during the Annual Vintners Hall of Fame Induction Celebration, inductees are selected by a panel of over 75 national wine writers, critics, and historians.

Each spring, the college holds a Celebration of California Wine and Food, including a very special Wine and hors oeuvre's Reception, Induction Ceremony, and unique Celebrity Chef Walk-Around-Dinner. Proceeds from the event help to support the Vintners Hall of Fame and contribute to scholarships for the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the CIA at Greystone.

2013 inductees include Merry Edwards, Frank Schoonmaker, Cesar Chavez, and Robert Parker. “This year’s inductees represent a broad spectrum of the wine world, and demonstrate how people from vastly different backgrounds and professions have influenced the quality and perception of California wines,” said CIA President Dr. Tim Ryan. The official induction of the 2013 Vintners Hall of Fame honorees will take place on February 18, 2013 at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, in St. Helena, California. Previous inductees have included luminaries such as Randall Grahm, founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard (2010 Inductee), Carole Meredith, UC Davis Professor Emerita and co-founder of Lagier-Meredith Winery (2009 Inductee), Joel Peterson, founder of Ravenswood Winery (2011 Inductee); Charles Sullivan, wine historian and author, Paul Wagner, Vineyard & Winery Management and Warren Winiarksi, founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars (2009 Inductee).

About The Culinary Institute of America: Founded in 1946, The Culinary Institute of America is an independent, not-for-profit college offering bachelor's and associate degrees in culinary arts and baking and pastry arts as well as certificate programs in culinary arts, Latin cuisines, and wine and beverage studies. The college has campuses in Hyde Park, NY; St. Helena, CA; San Antonio, TX; and Singapore. In addition to its degree programs, the CIA offers courses for professionals and enthusiasts, as well as consulting services for the foodservice and hospitality industry. For more information, visit the CIA online at

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Saturday, September 22, 2012

Pinstripes Bowling Bocce Bistro - Grand Opening Oakbrook Terrace, IL

Laima and I were lucky enough to be invited to the Family and Friends soft opening Friday night to celebrate the opening of the Oakbrook Terrace location of Pinstripes! Though the evening was cool and wet as a storm passed through the Chicagoland area, spirits were high inside the restaurant.

Pinstripes Bowling Bocce Bistro Oakbrook Terrace

House wine Canyon Road was being poured (choice of chardonnay, pinot grigio, merlot, or cabernet sauvignon), as were a multitude of beers. I tried each of the varietals and enjoyed each one.

While we bowled a few games, we also noshed on a variety of flatbreads and bruschetta with two topping options. That pretty much filled us up, but there was plenty more food upstairs. Prime rib was being hand-carved and Flintstone-sized ribs were the other meat option. We saw shrimp and pasta salad and roasted corn and lots of other goodies. We couldn't pass up the dessert buffet - ice cream, brownie, and cheesecake for me, ice cream and chocolate-covered pretzel for Laima.

Pinstripes Bowling Bocce Bistro Oakbrook Terrace

If you read my review of Pinstripes in South Barrington, you remember how much we enjoyed ourselves. The architecture and feel of this Oak Brook location take Pinstripes one more step into the future, improving and expanding on their tried and true pattern. Whether shopping at the mall or looking for brunch, lunch, or dinner in the western suburbs, head over to this new restaurant for food, drinks, and fun.

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Friday, September 21, 2012

Friday Funny: Meditation, Relaxation, Wine

Meditation, relaxation, wine

"I've learned to use meditation and relaxation to handle stress...just kidding, I'm on my third glass of wine."

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Roka Akor, Chicago Wine and Food Pairings

Inspired by flavors, textures and fresh ingredients from the menu, DMAC Architecture designed Roka’s Zen-chic space with natural and reclaimed materials and an emphasis on craft and creativity. The immense restaurant is split into unique areas that are unified by natural materials including wood, rocks and old nails. The main dining room includes a sculpture composed of repurposed nails that DMAC commissioned as a large-scale pavilion over the open robata grill. The bathrooms were conceptualized as walking into an idealized forest where mesquite wood poles make the rectangular-shaped space. The bar, a centerpiece of the restaurant, features rounded chocolate leather and wood bar stools and includes a live-edge walnut top over a black slate base. The back bar wall is made of white limestone and flanked by horizontal bands of rustic raked poplar. Two tiger marble communal tables stand next to the bar and provide a natural break between the bar and lounge areas.

Roka Akor Chicago Collage

Roka Akor, upon entry, is both eye-catching for the design, yet not threatening, as sometimes modern design can be. This is a welcoming open space (thought there are hidden corners). Interesting design and elements and oversized artwork that are also part of the design make for a contemporary feel while also retaining a sense of comfort. A clean design is matched by an overall cleanliness, including window ledges and bathrooms, each a notorious overlooked element.

Front and center is the Robata Grill, with its multiple layers allowing for a variety of grilled finishes, and based on a traditional communal grill where groups converged to eat together. Really exciting to watch the dishes being put together in the open, seeing the skilled knifework needed to trim the fish just so.

We met the General Manager Steve Tindle, who was also acting the part of sommelier for our dinner that evening. We gave him the unenviable task of pairing wines for our mismatched palates – my vegan proclivities balanced by Laima’s desire to try any and all of their sumptuous offerings. As Rob Holder, Roka Akor Director of Beverage for Roka Akor and Bombay Spice Grill, also a Wine and Certified Sake Professional, tweeted to me later about his effort: “Not easy at all! Some veggies don't play nice with wine.” With this herculean task ahead of him, Steve sat us down, told us a bit of his background and the restaurant’s, and we got started.

Roka Akor Chicago Shishito Peppers

Course 1: Robata Grilled Japanese Shishito Peppers with Ponzu -- paired with the Sauvignon Blanc, ‘Te Muna Road Vineyard’ Craggy Range, 2009 (Martinborough, New Zealand). The smokiness and vegetal elements of the peppers were nicely balanced by the acidity and pop of this wine, along with Sauvignon Blanc’s natural herbaceous qualities.

Roka Akor Chicago Sashimi and Golden Beets

Course 2: Salmon (Sake) and Big Eye Tuna (Mebachi Maguro) Sashimi for Laima, while I had Golden Beets with daikon -- paired with a Georg Breuer Riesling (Rheingau, Germany). Steve and I both confessed our love for the adaptability of Riesling, and this wine certainly strutted its stuff, the slightly oily texture and taste riffing off the saltiness of our respective dishes. The freshness of the fish was matched only by the fresh look of the entire presentation.

Roka Akor Asparagus Maki Roll and Roasted Pork Belly

Course 3: Asparagus Maki Roll for me (with ginger and wasabi) and Robata Grilled Pork Belly with Marinated Golden Beets for Laima -- paired with a Littorai Pinot Noir Savoy Vineyard (Anderson Valley, California). I like asparagus in rolls, though I would have preferred that they omit the avocado and wrap them in soy paper instead, but otherwise very good. The marinated golden beets were a tasty surprise to both of us.

Roka Akor Fried Tofu and Marinated Cod

Course 4: Spicy Fried Tofu with Avocado and Mixed Greens was my vegetable dish, while Laima enjoyed Yuzu Miso Marinated Black Cod with Pickled Red Onions -- paired with the Vietti Barbera d’Asti Tre Vigne (Piedmont, Italy). The Fried Tofu was crispy around the edges while chewy and soft in the middle, and the greens boasted a gingery vinaigrette (possible kiss of death for a wine). The Barbera stood up to it, also complemented the tofu, yet managed to find a way to match the cod – amazing! The pickled red onions were a surprise, and one of the many wonderful side bites we enjoyed throughout the meal.

Roka Akor Wagyu Beef and Mushroom Hot Pot

Course 5: For Laima, the meat course was the Australian Grade 10+ Pure Bred Wagyu Beef with Artesian Salts (a selection of 3 with wasabi on the side) and Japanese Wild Mushroom Rice Hot Pot with Black Truffle for me -- paired with a de Bardos ‘Ars Épica’, Tempranillo (Castilla Y León, Spain). To say that these two dishes were beyond luscious and decadent does a disservice to them. The earthiness of this wine was reflected so clearly in the beef, mushrooms, and black truffle that it almost seemed vinified specifically for our meal. Outstanding pairing.

Course 6, Dessert: Mango cake with brown rice ice cream and fresh mango -- paired with The Royal Tokaji Wine Company, Aszú 5 Puttonyos, ‘Birsalmás’ (Tokaji, Hungary). The mango cake had an interesting texture and taste, seeming very authentic, but paled, in my opinion, next to the amazing brown rice ice cream, topped with crunchy puffed rice. The fresh mango was a refreshing complement and echoed nicely the tones of the sweet Tokaji.

Our dinner was, in a word, inspired. To pick wines that matched my veganish courses while also complementing Laima’s meat and seafood dishes is downright extraordinary. Steve managed to do so perfectly each time!

Service was obtrusive, in a positive way, if that can be. Water glasses refilled, plates cleared, food presented and explained, every aspect was just so. Every question and remark was treated with respect, with team members returning to the kitchen to check on ingredients for us and to explain inspiration for dishes as well. The staff took great pains to modify dishes in order to make them as vegan as possible, often letting me know about the substitutions. Nicely done, all in all.

We met the Chef while awaiting our coats and, he admitted, while some do not look fondly on vegans and vegetarians, he enjoyed the exciting challenge. He and the rest of the cooks certainly were up to the task – I never felt slighted. Each gorgeous dish brought out for Laima was paired with something equally inspired for me as well. Each item also tasted incredibly fresh.

This is a restaurant where, upon entering, the design is one’s first impression. By the end of the meal, all we could think about was the outstanding service, wine, and food, and the glorious experience it all added up to – Roka Akor should be on your go-to list, at least once (though I’m sure you’ll want to go back, we certainly do).

For locations, reservations, and more info, visit the Roka Akor website, like them on Facebook, and follow on Twitter!

Roka Akor on Urbanspoon

Disclaimer: This wine tasting meal was comped for me for review purposes, courtesy of Roka Akor. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the restaurant a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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Restaurant Information

* Restaurant Name
Roka Akor | Chicago
* Overall
* Neighborhood / Cuisine
Near North Side
* Street Address
456 North Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60654
* Phone
(312) 477-7652

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Missouri's First Organic Grapes

Gascony Vineyards Certified Organic Chambourcin grapes
Gascony Vineyards Certified Organic Chambourcin grapes

"Gascony Vineyards in Gasconade County, Missouri, has brought to life the vision of owners, Tim Ley and Trish Hohn. According to Gascony's Facebook page, Ley and Hohn are working to "bring organic wine grapes to the State of Missouri. Using various techniques including new cultivars, organic pest and weed control, and research into pre-industrial, historic methods of viticulture, they are bringing back a way of life - naturally."

In 2008, Wenwood Farm Winery partnered with Gascony Vineyards. Laura Neese, owner of Wenwood, recently updated her blog: "There was a small harvest of Chambourcin grapes in '08, and we made the first wine from the vineyard, Simply Chambourcin. The certification finally came through in 2011, and this past Saturday, history was made in Missouri - the first Certified Organic Grapes were harvested.

This is an exciting time for Missouri wines!"

(From the Missouri Wine News)

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Tuesday Tasting: André Clouet Champagne

André Clouet
Brut Millesime Vintage 2002

Laima’s birthday was Friday and we were camping in Southern Wisconsin, so some decadence was definitely needed. This champagne certainly fit the bill. Berries, floral notes and a trace of minerality make for a tasty treat, with a matching aroma to make it a complete package. A luscious, creamy finish lingers, extending the pleasure. Ready to drink now, but should cellar nicely as well.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Charles Krug Winery’s Innovative Solar Energy System

Charles Krug Winery - Sustainability

The next step on the road to creating a fully sustainable winery for The Peter Mondavi Family is the installation of a 1.2 megawatt solar energy system. Blue Sky Utility,  a developer of comprehensive solar-powered renewable energy systems, is working with Bright Power, Inc. to design and install the system, which is scheduled to come online in December. Once completed, the system will cover more than half of all of the St. Helena estate winery’s energy needs.

The solar project is just one step in the greening of Napa Valley’s oldest winery, and the continuing efforts to steward the land while protecting and preserving Charles Krug’s important historical legacy are earning new respect for a family long identified with California wine.

To learn more about the renaissance of Charles Krug Winery, the Peter Mondavi family, and the legacy of Cesare and Rosa Mondavi, visit

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Untitled Restaurant, Chicago


Imposing, unmarked double doors mark the entry to this surprising venue, with stairs leading to its basement location under an ersatz wig store. It’s clear that much attention and money were lavished on the design and its execution—truly a luxurious dining experience. Very dark, befitting its underground site, which only emphasizes the variety of lighting present—especially impressive are the 2 bars, all aglow with bottles backlit.

Untitled Restaurant - Scenes


There aren’t many better ways to start a summer dinner than with a sparkling rosé, and we both happily indulged, me with a Schramsberg “Mirabelle” Rosé, while Laima opted for the Don Pat’s Pinkie Ring, a tart sparkling rosé-based cocktail. They were a good foil for the Caramel-Bacon Popcorn, an unusual snack available nowhere else that I’m aware.


For the meal, we opted to try a house specialty, the charcuterie and cheese platter, the Chef’s Selection of 3 for each of them. The Charcuterie consisted of Wild Boar Salami, Surryano Ham, and Finocchiona, while the cheese was An Asher (?) raw cow blue, a Hooks 7 Year Cheddar, and a sheep Dante, the last being our favorite, though they were all very tasty. Along with these we ordered a multitude of small plates, perfect for sharing (hence “American Tapas”). We were excited to try the Crispy Squash Blossoms (with truffle honey,farmer’s cheese, and piperade purée), but it was not available, as they are out of season. Bummer.

After the cheese and meats, out came the Salt Baked Baby Beets (with pickled golden raisins, goat feta, and pistachios)—really yummy, with a nice minty flavor which acted as an atypical sorbet. At this point I tried to order the Triennes Rosé, but stocks were low and a Treval (?) Rosé was substituted—even though it was quite dark for a Rosé, it had a refreshing tart flavor.

Laima’s Grilled Peach and Arugula Salad (with cured virginia ham, almonds,and goat cheese) was up next, along with the Goat Wonton (with blackberry sweet-n-sour sauce and pea salad), both of which she thoroughly enjoyed. To go along with these new dishes, she ordered a Carmel Road Pinot Noir. Roasted Broccolini and Grilled Hanger Steak (with red pepper béarnaise and arugula potato salad) were up next, so it was time to try the Michael David “Freakshow” Cabernet Sauvignon, worth ordering for the name alone (the taste is quite awesome as well).

Last up to bat were Grit Cakes, a breaded cream cheese fried bite (with tomato jam), along with Roasted Heirloom Carrots (with walnuts, currants, and pickled shallots). The Grit Cakes had an interesting texture, reminiscent of grittiness but not unpleasant—the creamy interior was a nice contrast as well. The Heirloom Carrots were perfectly cooked, with the prefect amount of snap left, combining perfectly with the walnuts and shallots, the currants adding a chewy component.

Though each and every dish had something going for it, my two favorites were the Grit Cakes and Heirloom Carrot dishes. Laima thought the Hanger Steak was the star, but couldn’t find much fault with anything.

Untitled Restaurant - Food Collage


As we prepared for dessert, we were treated to Paul Asaro  playing stride and ragtime piano, a nice surprise. He’s played all over the world with a cast of greats; his home base is Chicago, though, and when he is not on the road he is holding down the piano chair at Untitled. Very cool. Desserts were a Key Lime Tart and a Crème brûlée, paired with very tasty decaf and regular cappuccinos. The Key Lime Tart had an amazing crunchy crust and the thickest, goopiest custard we’ve ever had. The Crème brûlée, oddly enough, was cold, but, just as oddly, tasted really good and was a unique experience.


Sitting back on our banquette, tummies full and happy, it was a pleasure to reflect briefly on the meal with the piano tinkling in our ears. Looking around, the décor is inspired, with a luxurious look and feel, and retro and contemporary simultaneously. Nice. Bathrooms were spotless, as was the rest of the restaurant. Our only criticism is that the tables for 2 seemed a bit small for a meal that is supposed to be composed of many small, shared dishes. It was never really a problem, but it got crowded at times. I also felt the restaurant was a tad dark, though Laima disagreed--definitely hard to get good photos!

Chicago Architecture - Night

Walking out of the restaurant, it was great to perambulate around the block, crossing the river twice and seeing the beautiful lights of downtown surrounding us. Untitled is really a unique experience, in the very most positive sense of the word. The entry, the look and feel, and the food all have a one of a kind approach, resulting in an experience that can not be replicated elsewhere. Definitely search out this hidden gem.

Untitled on Urbanspoon

Check out the Untitled website,  like on Facebook,  and follow on Twitter.

Disclaimer: This meal was comped for me for review purposes, courtesy of Untitled. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the restaurant a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Château Margaux Bottle Closure Experiment

Screw Caps versus Corks

I’m interested in the debate of corks versus alternative closures. Synthetic corks I don’t like at all, but definitely appreciate the ease of screw caps. I was interested to read recently of a well-known estate that has opted to do their own experiment regarding this somewhat contentious issue. The director of Château Margaux, Paul Pontallier, trialled different ways to seal bottles of the famed Château’s wines over 10 years, recently revealing the results.
'In February this year, Paul Pontallier showed the results of a range of experiments at the Bordeaux property [Château Margaux] to the press for the first time in London. Among his trials, which concerned a range of winemaking and viticultural techniques, were a set of three reds from the 2003 vintage, and three white wines from the 2004 harvest, sealed under different closures – one natural cork and two screwcaps with different linings (Saratin and Saranex, the latter being more oxygen-permeable). Pontallier had also trialled wines under synthetic corks, but has decided not to show them, as the results were “catastrophic”. All the wines in the experiment were prepared in the same way.

The wines were made from vineyard parcels which would have been used for Pavillon Rouge and Blanc, and were served blind to a packed room of UK press. After each flight – one for red, and another for white – Pontallier asked for a show of hands to see which was the preferred wine.

For the red flight, a quick count of hands indicated the wine sealed under the Saratin-lined screwcap as the favourite, and Pontallier himself said that the wine aged under impermeable screwcap [Saratin-lined] was probably his preferred option: “Because I find the mouth softer.”

Interestingly with the white wines, the room voted for the first of the flight, which had been sealed using natural cork, and actually tasted the youngest and freshest, although it wasn’t markedly different from the third one, closed using a Saratin-lined screwcap. In both red and white flights, the wines under the more permeable Saranex screwcap showed elements of oxidation, and more forward, evolved aromatics than either the natural cork or less permeable screwcap.'
(Excerpt from an article that first appeared on The Drinks Business website)

I personally am a fan of screwcaps, due to their ease of opening and closing, and it is heartening to hear that the ageability of wine is not adversely affected by their use. I hope to see more of their use as time goes by. While cork will always have its proponents, these types of tests bolstering the use of screwcaps augurs well for the future.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Meatless Monday: BBQ Sunflower Tofu

BBQ Sunflower Tofu

1/2 TBSP sunflower seed butter
2 TBSP ketchup
1 TBSP tamari
2 TBSP balsamic vinegar
1 TBSP extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium garlic cloves, minced
1/2 TSP maple syrup
1/2 TSP dried oregano
1/4 TSP paprika (12 oz) package extra-firm tofu
Preheat oven to 375. (I actually did 425, as I was baking sweet potato fries at the same time.)

Whisk together all ingredients except tofu in a 9x12 baking dish. Slice or dice tofu and place in baking dish, flipping to coat tofu with sauce.

Bake covered for 20 minutes, flipping or stirring at 10 minutes. Bake 10 minutes more uncovered. Done!

BBQ Sunflower Tofu

This simple recipe comes from Let Them Eat Vegan!, is quick to make and tastes great. We doubled the recipe and I froze the tofu to remove excess moisture and sliced it for ease of serving. Next time I'll dice or smash it to make it more like sloppy joe topping, and add vegetables for more texture. We served this on toasted pretzel bread buns, with sweet potato fries and broccoli slaw for a classic home comfort meal. The entire family really enjoyed it, so it will probably make a reappearance, with the planned modifications.

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Rock and Roll Wine: KISS Army

An addition to my occasional posts on the intersection of rock and roll and wine.

From Celebrity Cellars:

KISS Army Collectible Wine Set

"The KISS Army Collectible Wine Set features two awesome bottles of KISS wine. The famous KISS Army crest is hand etched and painted right into a bottle of 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon, and the classic "Dress to Kill" commemorative label adorns a bottle of the incredible 2002 Cabernet Sauvignon.

Each limited edition KISS Army bottle takes three weeks to produce, is etched and painted entirely by hand, and comes with an Official Certificate of Authenticity. And each bottle of paper labeled DTK commemorative wine is collectible in its own right! This incredible set also includes a a specially branded KISS wooden collector box."

These would be a fun addition to anyone's collection!

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Vintage Illinois

Vintage Illinois

September 15 and 16, Saturday: 11 am - 6 pm and Sunday: 12 - 5 pm, Vintage Illinois' mission is to raise awareness of and promote the Illinois wine industry as well as provide educational and marketing opportunities for Illinois wineries. Once again, unfortunately, Laima will be out of town on the weekend of the event, really bad luck the last few years. Located in Matthiessen State Park (which is located just two miles south of Starved Rock State Park), this is a beautiful area of Illinois and a scenic site to taste some wine.

The following wineries are participating in Vintage Illinois.

Alto Vineyards, Alto Pass
August Hill Winery, Utica
Baxter's Vineyards & Winery, Nauvoo
Berryville Vineyards, Claremont
Blue Sky Vineyard, Makanda
Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant, Chicago Suburbs
Fox Creek Vineyards, Olney
Fox Valley Winery, Oswego
Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery, Galena
Hailey's Winery, Byron
Hill Prairie Winery, Oakford
Illinois River Winery, Utica
Illinois Sparkling Co., Utica
Kickapoo Creek Winery, Edwards
Lasata Winery, Lawrenceville
Lavender Crest Winery, Colona
Massbach Ridge Winery, Elizabeth
Owl Creek Vineyard, Cobden
Pheasant Hollow Winery, Whittington
Piasa Winery, Maryville
Prairie State Winery, Genoa
Shawnee Winery, Vienna
Spirit Knob Vineyard & Winery, Ursa
Starved Rock Marketplace, Utica
Vahling Vineyards, Stewardson
Von Jakob Vineyard, Pomona
Waterman Winery & Vineyards, Waterman
Wild Blossom Winery, Chicago
Willett's Winery & Cellar, Manito

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Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday Tasting: 1985 Volnay Premier Cru Clos des Chênes

1985 Volnay Premier Cru Clos des Chênes

Joseph Drouhin owns this vineyard in the heart of Volnay, the soil of which is predominantly limestone and clay. The vines have been cultivated biologically since 1990, with biodynamics following soon after. We liberated this 1985 from my in-laws’ basement, and then stored it in our basement since (maybe a year?). Resulting taste is pretty amazing in that it has sat in their basement for approximately 20 years, then made the trip to ours with no resulting harm. Very dark, deep red color. A violet nose, common for these wines, along with some faint strawberry. Good tannin structure, with more floral and berry flavors in the mouth, with a lingering finish. Worth seeking out.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Let Them Eat Vegan!

let them eat vegan! book cover

Let Them Eat Vegan: 200 Deliciously Satisfying Plant-Powered Recipes for the Whole Family is a sort of return to the basics of vegan. Many of us have become accustomed to prepared vegan meals, utilizing meat substitutes and other processed products to replicate meat-based meals, albeit a bit healthier. In this cookbook, Dreena Burton shows how the basics (beans, nuts, seeds, whole-grains and whole-grain products, vegetables and fruits) can be utilized for everyday plant-powered eating. The recipes eschew white flour, white sugar, and also vegan cream cheese, sour cream, vegan meat, and other similar processed substitutes. Realizing there are a variety of diets and allergies in her audience, these recipes are wheat-free, some gluten-free, with options to amend as necessary.

With 200 recipes to choose from, there is bound to be something that will make everyone in the family happy. From breakfasts to appetizers to entrees to dessert, the options seem endless. It will be a pleasure to try these recipes out and share one on a Meatless Monday post! Options that jump out at me right away are “Smoky Sweet Potato and Black Bean Salad,” “Caribbean Fusion Stew,” “BBQ Sunflower Tofu,” and “Double-Trouble Chocolate Ganache.” Yummy.

Dreena Burton

About the Author: Dreena Burton is the author of four vegan cookbooks and an at-home mom to three girls. Her three previous cookbooks are The Everyday Vegan, Vive le Vegan, and Eat, Drink and Be Vegan. She lives near Vancouver, Canada. Read more and contact her via her website, plant-powered kitchen.

Disclaimer: This book was sent to me for review purposes, courtesy of the Da Capo Lifelong Books. I was not compensated in any other way for the review, was not obligated to give the book a positive review, and all opinions are my own. Some information in this review was taken from the company website.

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