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Posts Tagged ‘chicago’

Although the two previous days in Chicago were spectacular, from the perspective of The Beer Wench – the third evening was “la piece de resistance.” (For those of you who did not grow up spewing out French sayings, I’ve attached the definition …)

pièce de ré·sis·tance n. pl. 1. An outstanding accomplishment: “The bison is an evolutionary pièce de résistance, the result of thousands of years of genetic development under the toughest weather and geographical conditions” B.J. Roche. 2. The principal dish of a meal.

Monday brought yet another day of prowling the floor of the NRA show – indulging in countless foods such as gelattos, chocolate truffles, gourmet cheeses, lots of artisan breads, pizzas, soups, dips, sandwiches, more cheeses, more chocolates, more breads … and every type pf cuisine you could imagine. On top of all that food, I also had the opportunity to have lunch with the Illinois Restaurant Association. We were served a lovely salad of fresh greens, yellow raisins, toasted pine nuts, a huge brick of goat cheese and a balsamic vinaigrette. The main course was Chicken Marsala over basil orso pasta. Surprisingly (for it being meat) … I gobbled down the dish. To finish it off, we were served a rather large individual apple tart, finished with a thick cinnamon whipped cream and fresh berries.

NOW ON TO THE IMPORTANT PART.

Once again, we left the show to embark upon yet another culinary tour of Chicago. This time the cuisine was mainly beer.

First Stop: The Gage, a restaurant and tavern situated on Michigan avenue directly across from Millenium Park. Newly opened, The Gage is known for its upscale comfort food, fine wines, boutique beers and whiskeys in a sultry and vintage decor.

I ordered a glass of Sauvignon Blanc — but before I could enjoy it I was stolen away to meet two very important people in the world of beer. Both are with the country’s leading importer of fine beers — Merchant Du Vin — and are known nationally (if not internationally) for being beer connoisseurs. In fact, both also serve as beer consultants to hotels, restaurants, bars and the like.


Merchant du Vin sets the strictest standards for the beers that bear our importing label. All Merchant du Vin beers are “authentic”—meaning they are naturally made, without chemicals, additives, or preservatives (sometimes referred to as “adjuncts”). Secondly, the beer must be an outstanding representative of its style, and produced by a brewery of superb reputation. As a result of these standards, Merchant du Vin’s benchmark breweries appear on nearly every list of the top beers in the world.

After listening to me rattle on about my beer blog and passion for beer, the younger of the two beer gurus (a local Chicagoan) found it pertinent to give me a proper beer tour of Chicago. Of course, I could not resist, and so my coworker and I piled into his car for a most memorable beer experience.

Second Stop (although the first of the beer tour): Clark St. Ale House. Unfortunately, we could only srounge up enough meter money for a half an hour – so our time here was brief. My beer of choice was the Southern Tier IPA, which was served in a pretty small Brandy sifter. During the first half of its consumption, the beer was too cold to really embrace its true flavor. My beer guru companion informed me that the whole point of the brandy sifter was so that I could warm the beer in my hands. By the time I reached the end of the glass, the beer reached a desirable temperature and was quite enjoyable.

While at Clark St. Ale House, I had the opportunity to purchase “The Beer Enthusiast’s Guide to Chicago.” Although it is slightly outdated, the content of the guide was extremely well organized and helpful. Unfortunately, it is very rare to find and I was extremely lucky that I could procure a copy. And the icing on the cake? The bartender informed me that the author of the guide was none other than my beer guru companion sitting next to me. How about them apples?

Third Stop: Goose Island Brew Pub – Clybourn. Now, if being given the beer tour of Chicago by one of its most renowned beer connoisseurs wasn’t awesome enough already – at Goose Island we were accompanied by one of the world’s leading writers on beer. (Names will be added when permission is granted).

My first beer: Reserve Imperial IPA 9.0% ABV “At Goose Island, we live and die by hops. With our Imperial IPA, we pushed the hop limit to the extreme. We took three of our favorite hops, Tettnang, Simcoe and Cascade and balanced their spiciness with tons of malt… then we added more hops and more malt until this beer was exploding with citrus aromas and flavors… you’ll smell the hops from a yard away. What will surprise you is how drinkable it is. Served in a Tulip.” The Beer Wench gives it two thumbs up!!!

My second beer: Saison ‘08 6.5% ABV “Brewed by our Fulton brewers here at LPB, Saison is a Belgian-style farmhouse ale traditionally brewed in the cooler months for summer consumption. The Saison strain of yeast works at warmer temperatures and produces unique fruity and spicy aromatics with slight tart character.” This was the first time that I had ever tasted this particular style. The Beer Wench takeaway? It definitely has a unique earthy (manuresque) characteristic. According to Wikipedia, “what truly makes saisons unique is the fermentation which is closer to a red wine fermentation. Taking place at temperatures upwards of 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius), these ales are incredibly phenolic; peppery, floral, often reminiscent of the spice found in a bordeaux wine.” As a lover of bordeaux wine, my palate is inclined to prefer saisons as well. I look forward to further exploration.

Food wise, we enjoyed the fresh baked pretzels (cheddar jalapano and regular) as well as the sausage and cheese plates (complete with artisan bread and olives).

Fourth Stop: The Map Room, “A Traveler’s Tavern: Don’t Get Lost.” Traveling with “celebrities” definitely has its perks. Especially traveling with beer celebs on a beer tour. At the map room, my coworker and I were given a personalized no holds bar beer tasting led by the pros.

And here are the beers … (drum roll please):

1. To drink, we all started out with the De Ranke XXBitter … aka “a really f*ing hoppy beer.” Delicious. It got better as the night progressed and the beer became warmer.

2. Saison Du Pont, “a barnyard ale. Brewed in spring to last throughout the summer in order to fuel the workers.” We used this beer to cleanse our palate and jump start the tasting. Once again, I’m very intrigued by the Saison style.

3. Lindeman’s Gueze Cuvee Renee, “ Possibly the oldest beer, Gueuze, or Geuze, (pronounced “GOO-za”) is unseasoned, wild-fermented wheat beer. The brewers blend aged lambic and younger lambic, to taste, and a bottle refermentation occurs after capping. It is highly coveted by gourmands in Belgium who lay it in their cellars like wine. Golden color, cidery, winey palate; reminiscent, perhaps, of bubbly dry vermouth with a more complex and natural flavor. Style—Gueuze Lambic.” Source: Merchant Du Vin.

Numbers four and five were tasted side by side, as they are different variations of the same style from a brewery called Westmalle. “Bottle-conditioned Dubbel and Tripel Trappist Ales brewed by the Abbey of Westmalle, one of only seven Trappist breweries in the world. The monastery is located in the village of West Malle, Province of Antwerp, Belgium, and was founded in 1794. Both the Dubbel and the Tripel are considered by many tasters as the benchmarks for the style. Westmalle Dubbel was first brewed for consumption within the Abbey around 1836; Westmalle Tripel was introduced in 1934.” Source: Merchant Du Vin.

4. Westmalle Trapist Tripel Ale, ” Glowing orange-gold color, herbal aroma, and complex flavors that meld rich malt sweetness, warmth, hops, and powerful drinkability.” Source: Merchant Du Vin.

5. Westmalle Trapist Dubbel Ale, “Brown-amber color, subtle dark-malt aroma balanced by Belgian yeast character. Deeply malty, with a subtle and dry finish that hints at tropical fruit.” Source: Merchant Du Vin.

6. ORVAL, “Brewed and bottle-conditioned at Orval monastery founded in the 1100s in the pastoral Belgium countryside. Fermenting three times with three different malts and two types of hops give great character and complexity. This vintage-dated chardonnay of the beer world can be cellared up to five years. Sunset-orange color; a fruity and slightly acidic bouquet, firm body, profound hop bitterness, and long, dry finish.” Source: Merchant Du Vin.

7. Samuel Smith IPA, “The rich Samuel Smith strain of yeast at The Old Brewery dates from the early 1900s. Hops are hand-weighed by the master hop blender, and the brewing water is drawn from a well sunk over 200 years ago. First introduced to the U.S. market in 1978 by Merchant du Vin, Samuel Smith beers quickly became the benchmark ales for the emerging craft beer movement. To this day, they remain among the most awarded. All Samuel Smith beers are vegan products, registered with The Vegan Society. Samuel Smith’s IPA: A restrained maltiness and an emphasis on the aroma and flavor of hops from England’s finest vineyards.” Source: Merchant Du Vin.

8. Three Floyd’s Boheameth, “A massive American Barley Wine; caramel-sequel and hoppy appeals.”

Fifth Stop: Delilah’s, “one of the great whisky bars of the world.”

According to Center Stage Chicago, “Delilah’s owner Mike Miller is to whiskey what Hemingway claimed to be to bullfighting—an aficionado. He not only runs the bar with hands-down the biggest selection of whiskeys in the city (he advertises more than 300, and the specialty is, yep, bourbon), but has written scholarly articles and given lectures on whiskey around the country. From his resume, the uninitiated might think Miller runs a quiet, cigar-and-snooker type joint, but Delilah’s rocks. With DJ styles ranging from punk Mondays to play-your-demo Thursdays, the music is eclectic, and loud.” The owner spent the evening sitting at the table with us. As for beer, I savored a Samuel Smith’s IPA while having the opportunity to taste some truly exquisite Bourbon.

Overall, this was one of the coolest beer experiences I have ever had. It was my best beer experience in Chicago, by far. I am very excited to have important friends in the beer world and look forward to them playing mentor to me.

Thank you to all those people who made this night as awesome as it was, you rock!

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As I’m sure you can imagine, we were quite exhausted after the first evening in Chicago. Luckily, I was able to sleep in a little before hitting the floor at the NRA show. The show was held at McCormick Place — which consists of approximately 2.7 million sq. ft. of exhibit halls.

The show was absolutely ENORMOUS. The floors were full of booths upon booths upon booths of food vendors. There were dozens of cooking demonstrations and thousands of product samples in every direction. After eating the equivalent of my body weight in free food, Christian and I opted to leave the show early in order to soak in some Chi-town culture. The intention was to go to the Cubs game, however, I used my feminine wiles to convince Christian that The Art Institute of Chicago Museum was a better choice. (Although a huge fan of sports — baseball has no interest to me and I could care less about the Cubs).

After a few hours of enjoying art, we embarked up on yet another restaurant hopping adventure

First Stop: Quartino, “an urban Italian neighborhood restaurant and wine bar offering authentic regional Italian food and wine in a lively, welcoming atmosphere with attentive and personable service.” We opted to sit in the bar area, in lieu of the dinning room.

For Quarantino, Chef/Partner John Coletta developed a menu representing the best of Italy’s culinary regions. The small plate style menu, served in reasonable portions and designed for sharing, is perfect for large groups and adventurous diners ready for a unique experience. Christian and I had the pleasure of meeting and talking with John Coletta, as he was friends with the couple next to us and had joined them for a drink.

For my beverage, I chose a 1/2 carafe of 2006 Dolcetta D’Alba — while my Christian went with the Orangecello Martini (a twist on Limoncello). Food wise, we shared the Sicillan Eggplant Bruschette, Variety of Olives, Duck Prosciutto, Roasted Beets Salad with ricotta salata and walnuts, Tri Culour Salad with lemon and EVOO, and the Seared Sea Scallops with lemon and caperberries. We also had a generous supply of bread and olive oil throughout the meal.

Remember what I said in the previous post about going to the locals for advice? Well, as it turns out — the friends of the chef that were sitting next to us also happened to be food connaisseurs, specializing in the city of Chicago. They gave us a list of must see destinations and sent us on our way.

Second Stop: The Frontera Grill. All you foodies can just hate me now. Frontera Grill was the winner of the 2007 “Outstanding Restaurant” award at the James Beard Foundation Awards.

When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When in the best restaurant, eat! And although we were full of Italian deliciousness — Christian and I could not resist the temptation of Frontera Grill.

Food wise, we went with the Trio, Trio, Trio: a sampling of Ceviche Fronterizo, Ceviche Yucateco and Ceviche Playero. ( Ceviche Fronterizo: lime-marinated Hawaiian blue marlin with tomatoes, olives, cilantro, jícama and green chile. Ceviche Playero: Baja bay scallops, Alaskan king crab, Honey Manila mango, Mexican papaya, pineapple and jicama with Oaxacan pasilla, grapefruit, lime and garlic (my personal favorite). Ceviche Yucateco: steamed organic shrimp and calamari tossed with lime, orange, habanero, avocado, jícama and cilantro.)

Throughout the evening we also enjoyed three orders of Taquitos de Pollo: crispy taquitos filled with chicken and poblanos, with homemade sour cream, salsa verde, añejo cheese and guacamole. Despite my chicken aversion, I gobbled these delicious treats down faster than they could be delivered (it was the fabulous guacamole that tricked me).

As for the beverages, margaritas were the choice drink of the evening. I enjoyed a classic margarita with fresh lime juice, citron liquor and blue agave tequila. Christian opted for more creative versions, including a bacon infused margarita and a margarita made with rhubarb (it was NEON pink — no joke). We both also indulged in shots of top shelf anejos tequilla with some people we met at the bar.

Apparently we lingered too long, because the couple we met at Quartino ended up stopping in too. They were shocked to hear that we had not made it to any of the other locations and demanded to show us around town — and how could we refuse? At that point, we were also joined by the president of the NRA of New Zealand as well. The five of us piled into a taxi to tour the town some more.

Third Stop: Carnivale: “a reflection of Latin culture and community, as explosive an passionate as the people themselves. The kaleidoscope of bright colors, salsa music and playful decor ignites the sense of being in a Latin house party, all in a unique Kleineresque setting.” The decor of Carnivale looks just as one would think it should.

While there, we ordered a round of Caipirihnas — the national drink of Brazil. Caipirihnas are made with cachaça (pronounced IPA: [ˌkaˈʃasɐ]), sugar and lime. Cachaça is Brazil’s most common distilled alcoholic beverage. Cachaça is made from sugarcane alcohol, obtained from the fermentation of sugarcane juice which is afterwards distilled.

Fourth Stop: Sushi Samba, a Chicago sushi bar. Unfortunately, we arrived there late on a Sunday night and the kitchen was in the middle of closing. We did, however, enjoy multiple orders of Sawagani, flash fried Japanese river crab as well as some more delicious Caipirihnas.

Luckily, Chicago closes down early on Sunday nights — because after Sushi Samba I’m not sure I would have been able to make it anywhere else. Tired and full of delicious food and drinks, Christian and I parted ways with the group and returned to the hotel.

Up next: Day Three

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Now, usually I only write about food when it has relevance to beer. However, I cannot resist writing about my experience at the National Restaurant Association Show this past weekend in Chicago. (Disclaimer: there will be much blogging about beer experiences as well. I had the honor of meeting and drinking with what I would like to call “beer celebrities”).

A last minute turn of events and really great people (including both of my bosses) made it possible for me to travel to Chicago for the NRA show this past weekend. As a result, I was exposed to some of the most extraordinary cuisine and beverages as well as particularly intriguing people.

To avoid overwhelming my readers with an excessively long post about each experience, I have decided to break my blogs down by the days. Unfortunately, I experienced too much food and beverages at the show itself to remember and record anything. My blogs will be about the experiences of each evening around the city of Chicago.

One thing I’ve learned from traveling is that the best way to tour a city is to do it through the eyes of the locals. They are the experts and can direct you to the best places in town. (Bar tenders and servers tend to be excellent sources of information!)

My colleague, Nate and I arrived in Chicago too late to visit the NRA Show on Saturday. Instead, we just went straight to meet up with our friend and potential client, Christian. Being very familiar with the city of Chicago, Christian was prepared to give us one whirlwind of a tour.

First stop: De La Costa, “an alluring new restaurant and lounge from celebrity chef Douglas Rodriguez.” Christian and his colleagues had eaten there the night before and he wanted to show us the unique concept. It is known for having one of the best ceviche bars in the city. The interior design was one of the most unique that I’ve ever seen — it looked like a set from Cirque Du Soliel, complete with marionettes. The menu looked absolutely delicious and I definitely drooled over the dishes being brought out by the servers. We sat at the bar, where I had a wonderfully balanced glass of Cabarnet that was recommended by the bar tender. The three of us shared a platter of fish tacos and then moved on to our second destination.

Second stop: Michael and Louise’s Hop Leaf Bar. Despite the name, this bar did not have very many “hoppy” beers available. In fact, the majority of beers were Belgians! The interior of the bar and the demographics of the crowd reminded me a lot of Bodega — mostly Young Professionals, with a few Baby Boomers mixed throughout. The Hop Leaf is a little bigger though, with two floors, and serves a rather unique array of cuisine. My first beer was Three Floyd’s Alpha King Ale, which was one of three beers available on draft upstairs (which is why we quickly found room at the bar downstairs). For round two, the boys went Belgian while I opted for the Lagunitas IPA. Food wise, we all shared the Sausage Plate, a variety of organic sausages w/ with bourbon pancetta white beans, and the Braised Frog’s Legs w/ salad of arugula, fennel, tomato, preserved lemon and basil oil. (Despite not normally eating meat, I actually tasted and ate many meat dishes in Chicago … as you will observe).

Third Stop: Relax Lounge aka The Pharmacy. Christian’s colleagues were finally able to catch up with us at this lounge bar. Personally, I automatically understood the concept. In fact, it is what drew me to the bar in the first place. Outside of the lounge was a medium sized neon green cross. Anyone who has been to Switzerland knows that the green cross = pharmacy. I cannot think of any better medicine than some good quality booze. The interior of the pharmacy was swanky with low lit candles. The men’s ad women’s bathrooms were connected by communal sinks — talking about keeping people honest!!

Fourth Stop: Green Zebra, one of the most renowned Vegetarian restaurants in the country. Upon arrival, I was tasked with selecting the wine — which was a delicious Piedmont blend. We ordered several small plate dishes to share including *Grilled Asparagus, Hudson Valley Camembert Beignets, Truffle *Citrus Glazed Halibut, olive oil polenta, Ramps, picked wax beans *Crispy Tofu, Thai basil, baby bok, Jasmine rice *Curried Potato Potstickers, cilantro lime sauce, fresh coconut *Slow Roasted Shittake Mushrooms, in crispy potato with savoy cabbage *Herbed Goat Cheese Ravioli, Green Garlic, asparagus, dill etc. The food was amazing. We also indulged in dessert … an ice cream of which flavor currently escapes me (caramel coconut sorbet?).

Fifth Stop: Pops For Champagne, aka “Pops.” Open since 1982 in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood, Pops for Champagne is the nation’s most acclaimed champagne bar and Chicago’s most elegant live music club. After getting a glass of champagne from the elegant wine bar, the group of us went and enjoyed some excellent jazz music in the club downstairs.

Sixth Stop: Fado Irish Pub, located in the heart of the restaurant district of downtown Chicago. Fado’s location in Columbus does not impress me in the least and I had a terrible food experience there. Chicago, however, was a different story. TALK ABOUT A TRUE IRISH PUB. The environment was so lively, complete with live music. I even ran into a real Irish guy (around my age) who was visiting Chicago. If an authentic Irish guy chooses this place as a destination during vacation, you know it has to be quality. True to stereotypes, the boys ordered us rounds and rounds of Guinness.

Needless to say, I slept the entire cab ride back to the hotel (which unfortunately was 30 min). My greatest regret was never taking any pictures. I suppose that is also a good thing, since it meant that I was too busy having fun!

Next up: Day Two!!!

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