Thursday, January 29, 2009
OK maybe not quite but it seems to me as if designer tacos are all the rage. Twice this past week I have enjoyed tacos at Goose Island and LEYE's very own Hub 51 and this morning I received an email from a friend about C-House's $9 2 tacos and a beer promotion on Wednesdays and then later on in the day, I read the post in Chicago Magazine's Dish about the May opening of a Chicago version of Mercadito, a NY based chain of taquerias. Reel Club and Shaw's (both LEYE owned restaurants) also have tacos on their menus. Reel Club serves $1.50 fish tacos M-F from 3-6 pm and Shaw's offers 2 lunch time taco platters for $14. I'm also hearing rave reviews about Randy Zweiban's spiced rubbed ahi tuna tacos at Province (I still have to make my way over there). And of course you have your tried and true places like Frontera Grill, Salpicon, De Cero and Carnivale.
Tacos have always been a reliable, comforting and satisfying way to tackle hunger without having to fork over a ton of cash. You can customize them with sauces, vegetables, cheese and whatever else suits your fancy and no two bites are ever the same. I have always been particularly fond of the $3 steak tacos at El Burrito Mexicano located underneath the Addison "L" stop. It was a favorite late night snack for me and my former roommate after a long day at work. Our favorite taco maker was this behemoth we nicknamed "Big Poppa" who vaguely resembled Horatio Sanz. We always giggled like school girls when we saw him manning the grill since he was a big guy and he did not believe in skimping on the steak. We took our tacos home, parked ourselves in front of the TV and ate as we zoned out to an episode of Elimidate. Oh, those were the days. Tacos do indeed provide a lot of comfort when you need it.
Of course, these new tacos are nothing like El Burrito Mexicano or La Pasadita tacos. Just as designer cupcakes resemble nothing our mothers ever baked for us, designer tacos offer their own unique spin on a comfort classic. Perhaps we will see exotic ingredients like pork belly, goat, oxtail or duck and unique condiments like curry wasabi foam (OK, I made that one up but I bet you didn't expect to see creme brulee cupcakes either).
I love tacos so I'm very excited about this recent trend and in the spirit of all things wrapped in a delicious corn tortilla here are two taco-rrific wine picks.
2007 Naia Las Brisas - Spain $10
a lively, crisp and zippy blend of Verdejo, Sauvignon Blanc and Viura. This is perfect for fish tacos served with limey salsas.
2006 - Cantina Valpantena Valpolicella Ripassa Torre del Falasco $14
I would describe this as a baby Amarone. The new wine is fermented or re-passed (ripasso) over the pressed raisinated skins of Amarone. This process imparts a slight rasiny flavor to the wine. The robust, black cherry and fig flavors would be great for steak tacos but the acidity will still play well with lime and tangy cheese.
"My boyfriend is taking me to Schwa tonight for my birthday. Would you recommend a couple bottles to bring?" - Anonymous
Wednesday, January 28, 2009
This is not really a wine related post but this made me chuckle and I just had to share. The floral company Epoch is not beating around the bush and wants to know how far do you want to go this Valentine's Day. They are offering clueless guys and gals four separate floral arrangements based on price and how far you want to get with your significant other.
I've never purchased flowers from Epoch but their location at 615 N State (I guess they have two locations) is fused together with a bakery succinctly called PIE. When we first went in, I was not sure what was going on - pies, flowers, both? Hmm....? We purchased a blueberry pie, took it to a friend's house and the four of us nearly polished off the whole thing - it was so unbelievably good! I know it sounds strange to have flowers and pie in one location but the pies are great so I don't ask questions. They also offer cookies, bars and ice cream. Charles is very good about giving me flowers which of course makes me happy but if he showed up with a fresh baked item from Pie and a bottle of late harvest dessert wine - well that would be a grand slam! Here's a run through of the 4 arrangements Epoch is offering.
I received a couple of emails from readers asking how Charles and I transport our wine and stemware to BYOB establishments and I am more than happy to share.
If we are bringing just one bottle and no glassware then I use my giraffe purse. It's such a great conversation piece.
If it's a relatively small group then we use our very James Bond-esque wine suitcase. It neatly accommodates 2 bottles of wine and 4 pieces of stemware and up to 4 bottles of wine without the stemware. I found it at International Wine Accessories for $15. I love it so much I actually gave it as a gift to a few our friends for the holidays.
If we are meeting a large group of friends and we know we are going to go through a ton of wine and glassware then we will bring out the Party Pack. It's literally called that. We needed some cheap stemware for this very purpose and found a pack of 18 at Costco labeled as such for $18 bucks. If it breaks or we lose one - who cares? We transport the wine in a wine carton and then use the same carton to haul the dirty glassware back home. It's all zip zip and very easy to do.
Tuesday, January 27, 2009
Jean Iverson's BYOB Chicago lists nearly 250 BYOB restaurants, most with no corkage fees, over 80 BYOBs with corkage fees of $15 or less & over 60 fine wine stores in the city and suburbs. It's a great resource that I turn to time and time again.
Speaking of BYOB restaurants - my most recent RedEye column, Bottle Service, which has now moved from Saturday to Wednesday, offers a few BYOB points as well.
Published January 21, 2009
Call ahead: Phone the restaurant in advance to confirm their BYOB policy and to inquire about any corkage fees (anywhere from $5-$15 per bottle).
Do your homework: Print out the online dinner menu--this is especially helpful for fine dining BYOBs--and take it to your favorite retail store. They will assist you with selecting the perfect wines for dinner.
Price point: Purchase wines at a slightly higher price point, and take advantage of enjoying them in a restaurant without the wine list markup.
Equipment: Invest in a wine tote with an ice pack, and leave the plastic bag at home. Provide your own stemware because BYOB restaurants don't always have the best--or, sometimes, enough wine glasses. Bring a wine opener because you don't want to chase down your waiter to get the next bottle open.
Here are my recommendations on what to drink with popular types of BYOB restaurants:
ASIAN - Seven Daughter's White Wine, California - $14
Off-dry fruity flavors put out the heat of spicier dishes while the crisp, clean texture is light enough for sushi.
INDIAN/MEDITERRANEAN - Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina, Italy - $17
This rich and refreshing white from Campania is a lemony complement to tangy dips and spicy marinades.
LATIN - Maquis Lien Red, Chile - $17
This well-structured, dark berry-flavored red is an ideal accompaniment for steaks, adobo and mole sauces.
Friday, January 16, 2009
Rayun is made by Alvaro Espinoza from organic grapes grown in the Rapel Valley, an area with the famed Colchagua Valley located in the center. Alvaro is widely recognized as one of the leading winemakers in all of South America. He is known for his dedication to organic and biodynamic viticulture. His work at Rayun is essentially an extension of what he's done at his world-class estate Antiyal and at Emiliana Orgánico, Chile's foremost organic winery—that is, to find the right type of vineyard that best expresses the personality of each wine grape.
Global production and consumption are both expected to rise with total production expected to grow by 3.83 percent from 2008-2012 to slightly over 3 billion – 12 bottle cases. World consumption is to grow at an even quicker pace — 6 percent — over 2008-2012, reaching 2.8 billion cases.
Now for the really big surprise! The people who will be doing most of this drinking are not who you think meaning they’re not Europeans, who traditionally consider a meal without wine equal to sacrilege. The report predicted that none other than the United States would dethrone Italy to become the world's biggest consumer of non-sparkling wines by 2012. In 2007, Italy overtook France, its wine-producing neighbor, to claim the title, buying 299 million cases. Based on past and current trends, U.S. consumers would buy a total of 313 million cases in 2012, surpassing the Italians. Americans are already spending more on wine than any other nation. In 2007, the U.S. invested nearly $22 billion in wine purchases.
The downturn in the economy has changed somewhat the price point of the wines US consumers are seeking out. Retailers across the country are reporting an increased demand for value wines under $20, some say even $10 while sales of high end wines are softening. Rather than purchasing one $50 bottle of wine, consumers are more likely to pick of 5 wines at $10 each. This trend could be a reason for the increase in total cases purchased by US consumers.
The demand for wine is also expected to increase in emerging economies such as China and Russia, whose consumption levels are soon expected to overtake that of Spain, another nation historically associated with wine, the report said. In Russia, expenditures on wine nearly doubled between 2003-2007 and are expected to reach nearly $6.5 billion by 2012.
The growth of US wine consumption is further boosted by the drinking trends forecast for the Millenial Generation (born between 1980-2000). According to John Guillespie, President of the Wine Market Council, the millennials are the future of the wine industry, and their numbers are increasing as younger members reach drinking age. They are the most optimistic about the economy and their wine consumption continues to rise. Millennials take nearly three glasses per occasion, compared to 2.41 for generation-Xers and 2.13 for baby boomers. The report shows that millennials overwhelmingly associate wine with fun times. Millennials are also significantly more likely than older generations to purchase wines costing $20 or more, and they visit wine bars more frequently than those in older age groups.
Monday, January 12, 2009
Chardonnay is heavier in weight and flavor than Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. General flavors include apples, pears, tropical fruits, butter and vanilla.
Chardonnay is the number one white wine ordered in the US and is currently the 6th most planted white grape in the world (In 2004, there were 443,000 acres planted worldwide). Chardonnay can cope with varied climates and is grown in many places like Australia, New Zealand, California, South Africa, South America, Eastern Europe, Southern France, and Italy. Part of the popularity of Chardonnay is due to its malleability and versatility from a winemaking standpoint. It can be used to make wines that are everything from light and crisp, oaky and buttery, bubbly & sparkling to sweet and syrupy. On its own, Chardonnay does not taste of much, being a neutral grape but this can be easily manipulated by where it is grown and the winemaking techniques employed by the winemaker.
Chardonnay’s homeland can be found in the Burgundy region of France where it is used to make such legendary wines as Montrachet and Chablis. The success of California Chardonnay was launched in the late seventies when a California Chardonnay beat a French Chardonnay in a Paris blind tasting competition. By the late 1980s, a sort of "Chardonnay-mania" developed as consumers fell in love with the oaky, buttery style. In the early 1990s, Chardonnay became the stereotypical drink of young urban women of the Bridget Jones generation. It became so well known, couples were naming their babies after it. In 2002 there were 52 British babies named Chardonnay.
By the mid 90’s tastes began to change as the market began drinking more red wine, and there was a backlash against heavy, oaky, New World Chardonnays in favor of lighter wines such as Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio. The "ABC" trend formed - Anything But Chardonnay. Despite the backlash, Chardonnay remains very popular to this day as winemakers adjust their winemaking style to produce lighter, crisper wines with less butter and oak.
Alcohol: Alcohol level (anywhere between 12%-15% or more) is an indicator of the weight and style of the wine. The more alcohol, the bigger and richer the texture and taste.
Malolactic Fermentation: When you see this on a wine label it means the wine will have an almost creamy sensation in your mouth. Malolactic fermentation is a process where the sharp acidity of a wine is converted to a softer acid, which results in a buttery taste in Chardonnay.
Wine Cooperage in action - the heavier the charring, the more toasty the flavor. American oak barrels cost anywhere from $250 to $350 each while French barrels fetch $600-$900 each. One barrel can hold 25 cases of wine. After 2 uses, the barrel can no longer be used to impart oak flavors and are deemed neutral.
Region: Chardonnay grown in cooler climates such as Burgundy, Northern Italy or the Pacific Northwest will have a crisper texture, higher acidity and flavors of green apples, lemons and tart citrus fruits. Chardonnay from warmer areas such as Napa Valley, Australia and Monterey County will be heavier and richer with flavors of baked apples, pears and tropical fruits. Warmer climate means more alcohol which means heavier texture and more tropical flavors.
Food pairing: lighter, crisper, non-oaked Chardonnays pair well with vegetarian dishes, salads, seafood of all types, especially oysters. Heavier, buttery Chards pair well with cream based dishes, anything served with drawn butter and breaded items.
Saturday, January 10, 2009
If you are just starting out in wine or if you are looking for more personal service then I would recommend seeking out a wine shop where you can deal with the same person. Over time, this person will get to know your wine preferences and will become your personal sommelier. The likelihood of finding an individual as such is greater at a smaller, boutique store. Often times, this person will be the owner or wine buyer and it can't get much better than that.
A great example of a small boutique store is Drinks Over Dearborn in River North. It opened last November and is one of the best kept secrets in Chicago, literally. The store is located on the second floor of an office building on Erie and Dearborn. Aside from a small sign placed outside, nothing indicates there is a wine store at this location. Once they buzz you in, you follow a flight of steps to a little hidden gem which feels a bit like a speakeasy.
The store is owned an operated by Kyle McHugh, a mixologist, certified Sommelier, beverage journalist and President and Founder of The Boozehound. Kyle lives across the street from the store and felt the neighborhood needed a wine shop where customers could receive individual attention, take classes and have a forum for discovering new things. On a recent visit there, he turned me on to banana bread beer. The store is very much a "if you build it, they will come" sort of place. In addition to wine, he stocks unique, small batch spirits including locally made gin & vodka and specialty Bourbons, Tequilas, Whiskeys and liqueurs. Beer enthusiasts will be happy to know that the store features a wall of beer with over 100 different types of craft and artisan beer - no Miller or Budweiser. You can mix and match your own six pack! The wine selection is from across the globe and it's not all high end - there is a section devoted to under $10 wines. They offer weekly beer or wine tasting events and classes and the space is perfect for throwing a private gathering. They will also take custom orders, package and deliver, messenger or ship your purchases.
Retail stores like these are the unsung heroes of the wine business and I know this from experience. My first job in the wine industry was working as a sales clerk for the wine section of Nielsen Brother's Grocery Store in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California. For $10 an hour, I worked the 8 am - 3 pm shift and kept myself busy by dusting bottles, unloading cases, rearranging displays and of course helping customers. After working there for a couple of years I moved on to another wine store, Rancho Cellars, at the mouth of Carmel Valley. In both cases, we were the Dunder Mifflin guys who could not afford to stock a mammoth selection or offer bargain basement pricing but we made up for it with customer service. The owners wanted to provide a different shopping experience where our clients were not anonymous. We knew each of our customers by their first name, kept track of their tastes, called them when something special arrived and in general acted as their private wine concierge. The difference was like going into Home Depot and wandering around aimlessly for a light bulb and not finding any assistance versus going to the corner, family owned hardware store and getting exactly what you need with a friendly smile. Home Depot - you can do it, we won't help. As you can see, I have a special place in my heart for stores like Drinks Over Dearborn as I know firsthand what they are trying to achieve and accomplish. It's all about taking care of the customer.
Friday, January 9, 2009
All this talk about impeachment has put me in the mood for a peach flavored cocktail. A few years ago when the whole mixology movement was just heating up, I had an opportunity to attend a cocktail seminar given by master mixologist Francesco Lafranconi. Francesco is a very dapper Italian gentleman and I would describe him as the Marcella Hazan of cocktails. I had never really given cocktails much thought until this point as how hard is it to make a gin and tonic but that afternoon changed my life and I never looked at cocktails and bars the same way again. Francesco advocates using the freshest of ingredients and getting rid of anything shelf stable like pre-made sour mix or canned juices. He emphasized that bars are no different from kitchens and much of the same culinary principles and creativity can be applied when making cocktails. Francesco along with other notable cocktail masters such as Dale DeGroff, Bridget Albert and Tony Abou-Gamin have changed the way we drink for the better and have done much to bring back the art of the cocktail.
.5 oz Orange Liqueur (Grand Marnier works best)
3 drops TABASCO® brand Chipotle Pepper Sauce
2 teasp. peach chipotle jam
Juice of 1 lime
Thursday, January 8, 2009
No this is not a typo as in banana bread AND beer, it's truly banana bread flavored beer. The producer is Well's & Young's LTD from the UK. I found it at Drinks Over Dearborn, a fantastic hidden gem (it's located on the second floor of a River North office building and they buzz you in) of a specialty wine, beer and spirits store. Kyle the owner pointed it out to me and although I love banana bread I was skeptical about having a beer that tasted like it.
I have learned to never judge a bottle by it's fruit flavored cover so I gave it a try and I am happy to report that if you are a fan of bananas and more importantly banana bread, you will most likely enjoy this. It is not a dessert style as the beer is dry but it does taste freakishly similar to freshly baked banana bread. The hoppy and malty beer component contributes a honey, nutty and bread like flavor while the finish is fresh and fruity and not artificial tasting. The brewery even uses organic, fair trade bananas. It's really quite remarkable and worth paying a visit to Drinks Over Dearborn to get some of your own.
Tasting this beer put me in the mood for banana bread so I decided to make some. I love this recipe from the original Moosewood Cookbook from the 70's. It makes two loaves but it tastes so good, you won't mind having extra.
Pre heat oven to 350 degrees
1 1/2 cups melted butter
1 3/4 cups brown sugar
4 eggs room temperature
2 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp almond extract
grated rind of 1 small orange
2 cups well mashed, ripe bananas (about 4 medium bananas) soaked in 1 cup strong, black coffee (decaf is ok)
3/4 cups walnuts (optional)
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
3 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp nutmeg
2 tsp ground cinnamon
Sift together twice flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and spices
Beat butter and sugar in a large bowl until well combined. Add eggs on at a time. Add extracts and orange zest and beat until light caramel in color. The mixture will be slightly thick.
Add flour mixture and banana mixture alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with flour (flour-banana-flour-banana-flour). After each addition mix gently to combine, but do not beat or otherwise over mix - this toughens and dries a cake. Add nuts last. Generously butter 2 loaf pans and bake approximately 50-60 minutes.
Wednesday, January 7, 2009
- 1 oz Light Rum
- 1 oz Blue Curacao
- 2 oz Pineapple Juice
- 1 oz Coco Lopez Cream of Coconut
- 1 cup ice
Garnish: Cherry, Pineapple
Glassware: Highball Glass
Mix all the ingredients with 1 cup ice in a blender at high speed. Strain into a highball glass and garnish with fruits.
Graham Beck Sparkling Wine - South Africa $16
I included this in my New Year's Eve sparkling wine post but the connection to Obama is too perfect so I'm including it in this post as well. In 1994 Graham Beck Brut NV was chosen as the celebratory drink at the inauguration of South Africa's first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela. More recently, after declaring his intention to run for president in February this year, Barack Obama took his wife, Michelle, to one of their favourite restaurants in Chicago. The sommelier recommended two glasses of Graham Beck Brut NV. The Obamas were so impressed with this bubbly that they ordered six bottles for election day. The corks were then ceremoniously popped to celebrate the election of the 44th American president before Barack Obama addressed the world at Grant Park.
Lynfred Cellars Seyval Blanc White Wine Illinois $16
Seyval Blanc is a American-French hybrid grape that produces crisp white wines often with a touch of residual sugar. I thought it would be appropriate to serve an Illinois wine to honor Obama's home state.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon Washington State $16
In addition to ushering in a new President we will also be welcoming a new First Lady. If Michelle Obama were to be described as a wine I would pick Cabernet Sauvignon: strong, classy, smart, sophisticated and graceful. So how about having one that one that includes her name?
Hope Estate Shiraz Australia $14
Hope - it was the theme of Obama's campaign so it seems only fitting to toast his inauguration with some hope in a glass.
Saracco Moscato d'Asti Dessert Wine Italy $14
I've seen numerous clips where Barack Obama talks about pie and he clearly loves it so if I had to pair a wine to his favorite dessert then I would pick a peachy, fruity Moscato d'Asti. This is a slightly sparkling dessert wine, low in alcohol from the Piedmont regin of Italy. It would be particularly tasty with Peach Cobbler.
Monday, January 5, 2009
To this day, Three's Company remains my favorite television show of all time. I started watching in kindergarten (don't ask me how my parents allowed me to) and have seen every single episode countless times and it just never gets old. There is something so comforting and nostalgic about those three crazy kids, the Roeper's, Larry and Mr. Furley. Three's Company was way more than just "jiggle tv" and misunderstandings with sexual double entendres. I count it as one of the greatest sitcoms ever devoted to gastronomy. It was only after I became involved with wine did I notice all the great wine and food references. The earlier episodes were set in the late seventies when Jack Tripper was studying to become a chef at Santa Monica Technical School. He was a true gourmand and hardly an episode went by without some reference to crepes Suzette, poulet a la brouchette, escar-got, 1967 Pouilly Fuisse and Grand Marnier Souffle. The cast frequently enjoyed wine while entertaining at home or at the Regal Beagle and if you look closely enough, the poster on their refrigerator is all about wine. If you want to know about fine dining during the seventies, just watch an episode of Three's Company.
A few years ago, I attended a signing for my friend Wendy McClure who had just launched her book The Amazing Mackerel Pudding Plan. The book is based on a set of Weight Watcher's recipe cards from the seventies that had belonged to her mother. The photos of the food are absolutely hilarious and Wendy's commentary is even better. I collect cook books of all kinds and her book inspired me to start a collection of older books - especially those produced between 1950-1979. The recipes and photos are a time capsule of the way we used to eat and they really show you how far we have come with cuisine and food photography.
This past weekend, I found two great new books for my collection. They are the sort of books I imagine Jack Tripper would have consulted in order to make dinner for Janet & Chrissy/Cindy/Terri or Greedy Gretchen.
The first is Betty Crocker's Cooking with Wine from 1974.
The second is Cooking with Wine - A Sunset Book from 1972.
This book features some really cool old school recipes such as Beef Bourguignonne & Chicken Veronique. What really caught my eye was a recipe for Baekeoffe, an Alsacienne stew that was on the dinner menu at Everest. This recipe does not call for bacon but the version I remember included it.
4 medium sized boiling potatoes (about 1 1/2 lbs), peeled and cut in 1.4 inch slices
2 lbs pork shoulder cut in 1 inch cubes
2 medium sized onions, thinly sliced
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 bay leaves
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 small bottle or 1 3/4 cups dry white wine
1/4 cup butter
Lightly grease a 3 or 4 quart casserole; layer in half the potatoes, top with half the pork; then add half the onions and half the parsley, 1 clove garlic and 1 bay leaf. Repeat with remaining potatoes, pork, onions, parsley and garlic, finishing with bay leaf. Sprinkle salt and pepper over all; slowly pour in wine and lay butter pieces on top. Cover and bake in a 375 F oven for 1 1/2 hours until meat is tender. The book recommends serving it with Rhine, Traminer or Gewurztraminer. I recommend Gewurztraminer, dry Alsace Riesling or Pinot Noir.