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Sunday, February 23, 2014

2012 Two Lads Rose Showdown. Reserve vs. Regular.

Two Lads is perhaps my favorite when they released a "reserve" version of their rose - one of their best wines - I was curious to see how they compared.    I could think of no better way to spend a Sunday than crack both open and do a side by side tasting.

First though - the lighting is deceptive here, these wines are darker than they look in the photo.    Second, both of these wines (and it is worth repeating that this is true for most whites and roses) suffer greatly from being overchilled - keep them in the fridge, but pull them about 45 minutes before drinking.   

The regular rose goes for $19 and the reserve goes for $34....pricey for roses (but I stand by the fact that if you are budget conscious, you should drink less better wine versus more crappy wine).   Anyway - how different can they possibly be?     The answer:  way more than I expected.

The regular has some strong acid which gives it an almost effervescent feel.  Pear dominates with some green apple candy, floral (I'm leaning chamomile) and blood orange notes as well.   It's punchy, sharp, flavorful - great to go with something like BBQ or spicy food.

The reserve is all about refinement.  It's mellower, more balanced, but still bold in body.  Honestly, it's more like a red winethan anything.   Blackberry, black cherry, red apple, a bit of mint, and some brown spice hit the palate.   The finish lingers for some time with deep rich plum notes.    It's definitely more of a subtle wine that demands attention - I could see it pairing with something like a filet. 

Which is better?   For those who want definitive opinions, I have bad news.  They are so different they are not really comparable, so I have no answer.    If you want something bright and zippy - more in line with a Sauvignon Blanc, go for the regular.   If you want something closer to a red, but a bit lighter - the reserve is the way to go.   

Saturday, September 07, 2013

The Lobby at The Peninsula - 8/24/13


Let me tell you a secret.

One of the best restaurants in Chicago is located in a hotel lobby.   Literally.    Now, it's The Peninsula lobby, a comically expensive hotel...go ahead, check out their site, look up room prices for a night and tell me you didn't think "did I accidentally ask for a week?   Nope, that's the one night rate!  

Anyway, here's the funny thing.....that place?   Its restaurant is among the top bargains of Chicago fine dining!   Seriously.

The tasting menu is slightly different than many places in that it's not set - you can give input.   The sole request we gave was that one course had sweetbreads......

Amuse bouche


Bread service


Salad #1 - featuring summer squash


Salad #2 - featuring artichoke


Foie gras




Grilled octopus






Palate cleanser of lemon sorbet and passionfruit gel


Cheesecake ice cream, roasted peach, granola, almond cake


Chocolate and and chocolate with some more chocolate


You may not be able to tell, but the amount of food here was.....substantial.  The photos do none of these dishes justice, but you get the idea.

If I was forced to create a list of "favorite places" - there are an array of factors....quality of food and service, value for what you get, and my desire to return.     I don't have a #1 place and a #2 place...I have a group of three or four "these are the best in Chicago" - and The Lobby is there.   Amazing all around.  

what to do?

This blog has been sitting here for a while frequently lingers in my mind....what to do with it?      

Part of me debates just hitting "delete."    

Here's the thing, we don't even drink much wine anymore (we've been in a "cocktail phase" for a few years now).   One of the things about "getting into wine" is you develop a taste for wine, you learn what's good, and the reality is most "really" good (especially red) wine is over $20.  That bottle will last an evening, perhaps two, but realistically one.

For $20, I can buy a liter of Kirkland brand bourbon that will last two weeks.   On it's own?  Not ideal.    Mix a bit of sugar and some bitters...basically all you need.

By no means am I "anti-wine" or anything, we grab sparkling wine all the time, cheap Italian bottles when pasta or pizza is on the menu, chenin blanc with oysters (though a martini with a twist really does the trick as well), blah blah blah.  

The reality is, after years of the blog, this is my takeaway:

A great red wine?   Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet.  $25ish.   Look no farther.

A great sparkling wine?     Go to L Mawby's website, choose the sweetness level you like and go from there.     

A great rose?   Pushpin.  Not sure if it's private label Whole Foods or not but I've only seen it there, but it ranges from $6-10 and when it goes on sale for $6 I grab multiple bottles.  

A great white?   Fetzer Gewurztraminer, you'll get change back on a $10.

There.  That's it.   All you need to know.   There's more out there of course and I'm all for experimenting, but I guess we're in a rut....

So, all that crabbiness aside, every so often I encounter things worth sharing.    So, we'll see...    This blog is's not a "wine blog" as much as it's a "food and drink" blog, but that's how it was going anyway......      

Saturday, April 07, 2012

N/V Chateau Chantal Celebrate

Anytime I find a Michigan wine around these parts, I tend to snag a bottle because the state puts out some great stuff. We are going to the Traverse City area in a few months, so when I saw this, I grabbed one figuring it would help me decide if a revisit to Chateau Chantal was warranted. This goes for fourteen bucks at the winery.

Watermelon and red apple candy on the nose, plus some cherry (candy and otherwise).

Basically, the palate is exactly like the nose - watermelon, red apple, and cherry candy with a bit of real cherry...concentrated cherry.

Cherry candy dominates the finish.

If it wasn't my only option, I can't say I would have grabbed this since, on principle, I tend to avoid wines sparkling wines that call themselves "Champagne" when they aren't - but I'm very happy I did. I like this quite a bit - I look forward to checking out the tasting room again.

(I used to score, I'm not comfortable doing that anymore, at least at this point....we'll see.)  

Tuesday, March 06, 2012

The Wrath of Kahan 2 - Chicago, IL - 3/5/12

A few weeks back we visited Publican Quality Meats, Blackbird, and Avec.   Last night, we visited Big Star and Violet Hour.   I'm thinking we need to get to The Publican sooner rather than later to complete the Kahan empire.

Frijoles Charros


Perhaps the greatest taco ever....roasted portabello mushrooms, kale, queso fresco.


We got a taco al pastor, a pork belly taco, and a taco de papa con rajans.


Special of the day was a turkey torta.


After dinner, we hit up The Violet Hour.....the place is, in a word, dark.   Here's what I could do.

Salt Cod Croquettes, Aioli, Cilantro, Lime, Spanish Paprika


The left is a Slow Realization (Tito's, Lemon, Plymouth Sloe Gin, Cherry Bitters) and the right is a Blue Ride Manhattan (Wild Turkey 101 Rye, Carpano Antica, Noilly Prat Dry Vermouth, Laphroaig Scotch, Peach Bitters).  

Also consumed but not photographed was a Woolworth Flip (Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Carpano Antica, Cynar, Whole Egg, Root Beer Bitters) which tasted like a cocktail version of a root beer float.  Also, a Winter Sazerac (Rittenhouse Rye, Pierre Ferrand Cognac, Rothman & Winter Apricot Liqueur, La Muse Verte Absinthe, Peychaud's Bitters).   Everything consumed was absurdly awesome.

A lovely way to spend an evening.   

Friday, February 24, 2012

The Wrath of Kahan - Chicago, IL - 2/24/12

I kid with the just seems every few months I jump on the scale and start screaming like Bill up there...why?    My diet (and budget) was doing really well except then I had to stop by a Paul Kahan establishment and eat myself silly.

Today I did not stop by a Paul Kahan establishment. I stopped by three. It would have been five, but Fran put her foot down.

So here we are.....the first meal was at Blackbird.  The $22 Restaurant Week menu.   One does not need to rush out to Blackbird for Restaurant Week because there is always a prix fixe for under $25.

Octopus confit appetizer -


The RW menu say sturgeon, but I swear this is salmon....


Duck confit -

The menu seems to be accurate with this, so I'll cut and paste:    bittersweet chocolate cremeux with cashews, butternut squash and bergamo

We've been to Blackbird many times in the past....this meal only reaffirmed something I've long thought:   Blackbird is, as a restaurant, the best in Chicago.  Period.   On a budget?  Go for lunch.   Not a budget?   Tasting menu at dinner.

I say "as a restaurant" because other places (Alinea, as an example), might be "better" but they're more "experiences."   Look:   Blackbird is to Iron Maiden as Alinea is to Gwar.   Gwar might be a better "show," but you can travel around the country seeing Maiden multiple times a week and leave every night satisfied.

(I have not traveled around the country seeing Maiden multiple times a week, but I'm throwing this out there to convince my wife that such an idea is an ideal summer vacation.  You know who else would be cool to travel around and see a lot?  Alice Cooper.  You know who's opening for Maiden on their Summer 2012 tour?    Oh yeah.)


We finished lunch comfortable...not really wanting more food, but being open to it....we decided to walk over to the brand new Publican Quality Meats which is a deli which offers sandwiches for dine in or to go.  We decided to split the "better than a gyros" - a gyros made with pork belly instead of lamb.  I ordered it as "we're going to share it" and it was brought out cut in unexpected, and very pleasant, plating.  Kudos.

How was it?   Well....I don't want to knock anyone else, but another famous Chicago chef (who I am also a fan of) opened a casual sandwich shop a while back.   I think Kahan went to that place a few times, saw everything he did wrong, took notes, and made sure not repeat them.

There is a beer on tap by Three Floyd's called Ham On Rye that I think may be an's tastes like, well, a ham on rye in beer form.   I didn't like it, but I respected it, and therefore I must recommend you try it.   Drinks are stupid reasonable with bottles of wine (including the very nice Chateau Grand Traverse Ship of Fools) available for dine in at $5 above retail.  .


We wandered, had some coffee, and hit up Avec for dinner....

Chorizo stuffed dates are one of the things Avec is famous for and rightfully so - I've eaten dinner at Avec with a group, we've finished, ordered coffee, people have had dessert, and me?   Another order of dates for dessert.   The photo is of two, an order has four....


White anchovies on charred flatbread with cucumber and cilantro....


Roasted mussels in ancho chili broth with bacon, kale, and fingerling potatoes.


Cafe avec....a shot of espresso and a shot of armagnac.  There are two "must haves" at avec...the chorizo dates and this.


vanilla semifreddo with blood orange gelee and "magic shell"

And there you have day it's going to happen, we're going to hit up every single Kahan place in one day, it will be awesome, and I will end the day full and ten pounds heavier, and it will be worth it.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Next / elBulli - Chicago, IL - February 15, 2012

We've been on hiatus for a while....I have been thinking about starting this thing up again and I can think of no better return than with a review of Next.


Thanks to a bit of luck, we got the hottest ticket in Chicago, the elBulli menu at Next. Submitted for your consideration, a photo essay of the meal. My advice - if you have tickets or if you are planning on trying to get tickets, STOP READING NOW. DON'T READ ANYTHING ABOUT THE MEAL! Go in blind, let it be a surprise. Seriously.

Alright? If you're not going, if the notion of spending that much money on a dinner or if the hassle of getting in don't seem worth it to you but you still like looking at food, check it out....

The year listed is when the dish originally debuted at elBulli.  
The name of the dish is from the menu we were given.
The commentary for each dish is proof I can never been a food writer.

(As of 2/16, this post is a work in progress)

2004 nitro caipirinha with tarragon concentrate
    (sorta like a margarita ice)


2000 hot/cold trout roe tempura
    (fascinating - breaded/fried roe - who knew?)


2003 iberico sandwich
   (perfect in its simplicity)


1991 coca of avocado pear, anchovies, and green onion
   (sigh, one of the best things, great ingredients)


2005 spherical olives
   (strange - liquid olives encased in skin used to cover pills...or something)


2001 golden egg
   (no idea)


1998 chicken liquid croquettes
   (crazy, explosion of chicken)


2007  black sesame spongecake and miso
   (slightly chocolatey, very unique)


1997 smoke foam
   (a conversation course, interesting, a glass of foam that tasted like a campfire)


2003 carrot air with coconut milk
   (self explanatory - crazy)


1997 cuttlefish and coconut ravioli with soy, ginger, and mint
   (the cuttlefish is the pasta on this one, plate licking good)


1992  savory tomato ice with oregano and almost milk pudding
   (tomato ice...fascinating, powerful)


2001 hot crab aspic with mini corn cous-cous
    (aspic made with agar agar so it was served warm)


2000 cauliflower cous-cous with solid aromatic herb sauce


1988 suquet of prawns


1998 potato tortilla by marc singla


1989 trumpet carpaccio


1987 red mullet gaudi
   (art on a plate - scoff if you must)


2007 nasturtium with eel, bone marrow and cucumber
   (perhaps the greatest thing I've ever eaten)


2000 civet of rabbit with hot apple jelly
   (a worthy follow up to bone marrow)


2009 gorgonzola balloon
   (a balloon made of gorgonzola....)


and consumed as much as it could


1999 foie gras caramel custard
   (flan made with liver...I like liver, I don't like flan, I don't like this)


1996 spice plate
   (raw spice served on a lime pudding, I think)


the key to the spices
   (the spices were not in order, we were supposed to arrange them, but we were never told the!)


2009 mint pond (plate)
    (A bowl with a thin layer of ice)


2009 mind pond (prepared)
   (with the mint, sugar, and something else all broken up....a palate cleanser basically)


1997 chocolate in textures


2010 chocolate donuts
   (more ridiculous)


1993 creme flute and 1989 puff pastry web


2004 the farewell
   (three waving gloves, only one bowl had dessert)


2004 passionfruit marshmallow
   (the hidden dessert - delicious)


There you have it.

Is it worth the cost?   Yes.
Is it worth the hassle?   Yes.
Did I think it would be?   Hell no.