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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

2005 Chateau Mylord Bordeaux

Were you there when they opened Chateau Mylord?
Were you there with they sniffed and sipped Chateau Mylord?

Ooooh ooooh oh oh, sometimes, it causes me

To tremble...tremble....tremble....

Were you they drank Chateau Mylord?

Why did I buy this bottle? That joke, my friends, that joke. Don't bother writing me hate mail.

Forest floor, clove, and cherry on the nose., funk, spice, cinnamon, clove, cherry, super ripe strawberry, quite tannic and harshly acidic.

The tannins flex their muscles on the finish.

The second day brought out tobacco and spice on the nose. The acid has subsided a bit, but the fruit has faded too. Lots of earth, cigar, tobacco, bell pepper, with very bold tannins. The finish is all brown spice – nutmeg and clove.

Nothing over the top exciting but on the second day this is a pretty typical, cheap, classic style Bordeaux. Not a bad bottle for ten bucks.

Monday, May 26, 2008

2006 Gabbiano Chianti

I was perusing our archives and was shocked to see we've never reviewed the regular ol' Gabbiano Chianti. You know the drill with this one, six bucks or so, available everywhere wine is sold.

Strawberry and earth on the nose.

Interesting – this is one of most Pinot Noir like Chianti's I've had. In fact, screw cheap Pinot Noir, grab this. Chocolate, earth, even a bit of cola, and cherry.

Earth, anise, and chocolate on the finish.

I've been a believer in Gabbiano for a while – in fact, it holds a special place in my heart as Gabbiano Chianti is the first bottle of wine I ever bought (my thoughts at the time “that label is bad ass!”). A decent bottle of wine that's a steal and a half at the price.

Lynfred Winery Tasting – 5/18/08

The other day Fran and I did a tasting at Lynfred Winery. Lynfred is a winery in the Chicago suburb of Roselle...they don't have vineyards, so grapes are brought in from California, Michigan, or several other areas depending on the grape. Tastings are seven dollars and you get seven tastings. Here's our notes.

2006 American Chenin Blanc
Pear and cantaloupe on the nose. Fruity, but not sweet, nice acid, unripe melon, grapefruit and tangerine on the palate. Some floral notes and what I'd call a “specialty melon” like muskmelon on the finish.

2006 American Riesling
Sweet smelling with tropical fruit. Not to sweet but not nearly enough acid, orange zest and tropical fruit. Tropical finish with papaya coming through.

N/V Sweetheart White
This is a fairly common style of wine you'll find in Illinois, often made with Niagra grapes – imagine a white version of Concord grape wine. Grape jelly and cotton candy on the nose. Grape jelly and maybe some canned peaches on the palate. The finish is, you got it, more grape with some floral notes.

2000 American Zinfandel
Basically no nose. Cherry and raspberry, with smoke, nicely balanced, definitely not a fruit bomb, oak and Italian spices come through as well. Most oak and smoke on the finish.

2005 American Petite Sirah
Black fruit, leather, and cigar box on the nose. Disappointing in it's lack of palate structure – almost no oak to speak of, lots of ripe dark fruit – blackberry, plum, black cherry, but just not enough happening to make it interesting. A berry finish. This may go well with chocolate.

2005 American Cabernet Sauvignon
Oak and plum on the nose. Cherry and vanilla mostly, black fruit, and a touch of sweet oak. Some menthol on the finish but it fades fast though some coffee notes linger.

N/V Cranberry Wine
Fruit wine is fruit tastes like cranberries and is a bit sweet. This would work fairly well with Thanksgiving dinner.

While I can't say May's tasting menu was thrilling, I do think if you're anywhere near the area that you should take a trip to Lynfred.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

2006 Cycles Gladiator Cabernet Sauvignon

We had this producer's Pinot Noir a while back and it was fine, but I figured for $6 this might be worth a gamble.

A bit of cough syrup on the nose – cherry flavor.

I hate to say it – it tastes like cough syrup too. Artificial cherry, a bit of fake sugar syrup, no tannins to speak of, I get some vanilla, but nothing in terms of oak.

A syrupy feel on the finish and that's about it.

Well, I suppose it depends on how much you like cough syrup. While I wouldn't recommend drinking five ounces of cough syrup if you're not sick, should you have a craving, a glass of this will suit the bill.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Schwa report - 5/15/2008

Today was Fran and my four year wedding anniversary – since our second year we've decided to not exchange gifts and just split a fancy pants dinner. “Technically” our anniversary dinner was had in January at Avenues, but I was able to acquire a reservation at Schwa on the actual date so why not? The restaurant is fairly dark and I doubt flash would be appreciated, so forgive the quality of the photos.

Some folks have posted incredibly detailed reviews on a Chicago food message board so I'm stealing some of their descriptions.



(red grapefruit with honey sorbet and chamomile agar atop a cold glass "ice cube")

The first thing I thought was “refreshing” - a burst of citrus.

stone crab, bananas, celery, coriander

(Crab, both “straight” and pickled, accompanied by a slice of dehydrated banana, batons of celery, celery root and a celery root puree. cube of brioche injected with hot banana liquor)

I like crab and this was solid – the interesting part was the cube which when you put it in your mouth and bite down on had a creamy banana explosion.

beer cheese soup, chimay, pretzel

(cheese and beer made by a Belgian monastery, accompanied by a tiny pretzel ball and dill pickle puree and a dehydrated mustard chip)

The mustard chip was just that – the pretzel ball was unbelievably good, and the beer cheese soup was so good it was probably the most unhealthy thing I've had in years.

pad thai

(Traditional noodle dish with a peanut puree and jellyfish as the "noodles")

You wouldn't think anything of this if they didn't tell you the “noodles” were actually strips of jellyfish. The peanut sauce was excellent, but just traditional – the jellyfish tasted a bit saltier than say, a rice noodle, but I'd say this was more a novelty (though an excellent and delicious one)..

arctic char roe, pumpernickel, lemon, rutabaga

(Tiny slices of pumpernickel, candied mustard seeds, and miniature balls of rutabaga with the roe on a Meyer lemon puree, all accompanied by a rutabaga juice shooter)

This one....I took about twenty minutes on this dish alone. Every bite and sip was an explosion of flavor. I'd say this was the highlight of the meal.

quail egg ravioli

(off menu: ravioli with cheese and brown butter with a quail egg yolk in the middle)

In a word, rich. I'm not a fan of eggs but this absolutely worked.

pine cone

(sea urchin ice cream on a maple syrup flavored tuile with some pine essence)

Thankfully this did not have much taste of sea urchin. There was, if I remember correctly, a lavender gel in the middle of the cone that was extremely intense. Good stuff.

kona kampachi, galangal, lime, maple

(three slices of kampachi accompanied by lime gelee, a galangal crisp, and a maple foam, batons of salsify, and tiny slices of (pickled?) daikon sprinkled with cayenne)

True story: a chef we had not previously seen delivered this plate to our table and I momentarily thought he must have been working around a hot oven and forgot to wear deodorant – there was a strange funky odor lingering the air. It wasn't him – it was the dish. Once that initial shock wore off, this wound up being pretty good. The fish was excellent and tender and the maple foam was sweet and light.

morels, nasturtium, lamb brains

(small cubes of lamb brains accompanied by morels and a mushroom foam)

Yes, lamb brains – the three little pods are brains, they amount to about half, so between the two of us we ate one whole brain. A little bit crispy on the outside, and a somewhat custard like middle. It was strange...I'm in no rush to have brains again.

antelope, butternut, white chocolate

(a rectangle of butternut squash separated antelope prepared two different ways: tenderloin sous vide and a stewed ragout. Accompanied by white chocolate mousse and macadamia puree)

Up to this point, I thought this meal was fantastic though I wasn't sure if it lived up to the hype – this one sold me. A small square of butternut squash as fine, the white chocolate foam was good, but the antelope – unfreakingbelievable. The ragout had a sort of stroganoff feel, and the sous vide was just unique. Incredibly good and venison like – I'd go back for this.


(A tiny slice of savory cheesecake made from Humboldt fog blue cheese with black truffle ash atop a graham cracker crust).

Pungent and thensome. If you don't like blue cheese, forget it.


(Parsnip custard, maple syrup and lavender foam. Dabs of passionfruit and candied sweetbreads)

I am a fan of sweetbreads but they so do not work candied – imagine a candy coated piece of meat...the first bite is “that's interesting” and the rest is “this is sick.” The parsnip custard was great and one of those liquids was an icewine reduction which was amazing.

There you are!

Okay, here's what you gotta know about Schwa.

Reservations are a pain in the ass to get. Seriously. I left three voice mails and got no reply, called many times to reach a full voice mail box and finally got through with a bit of luck and cunning. If you're flexible, the trickiest part is getting to talk to a person about the reservation, but once you do you can almost certainly get something. The fact that it's so difficult turns a lot of people off – others will tell you it's part of the experience.

No waitstaff, no host or hostess – the waitstaff are the chefs. The head chef, Michael Carlson works the room, but if you expect exceptionally polished, borderline snooty service, forget it – expect to be asked something like “how are you cats digging the food?”

If you get in, and are dining, you can't talk them into opening the reservation book – people tried and failed.

That being said....

The chefs are all friendly and seem genuinely excited about the food. Chef Carlson was on top of the room, our water and wine glasses were never empty and meal was paced perfectly.

The food is top notch...among the best in Chicago, but almost certainly the most laid back, relaxed, and unpretentious atmosphere.

Finally, they are BYOB – which, in my opinion, is a great thing – when you look at the wine markups at most restaurants that $35 bottle you can bring from a shop would've easily run you $100 if it was on a wine list.

I'd recommend Schwa especially since when you consider they don't have a wine program, this is the best (relative, mind you) deal in terms of ultra high quality food in Chicago. Be patient and don't let the reservation process drive you nuts – you'll be glad you did.

2005 Louis Jadot Gevrey-Chambertin Burgundy

I snagged this Burgundy for about $32 at Costco to bring to Schwa. While I did not take notes at the restaurant, we only went through about half the bottle, so here it is, about five hours after opening. Thankfully in Chicago, when you buy/bring a bottle of wine at a restaurant and don't finish it, you are allowed to let the restaurant recork it and bring it home as long as it's properly sealed and in the trunk.

A big nose – raspberry, earth, cola, and cherry.

Lots of acid, lots of fruit, lots of earth – well balanced, but by no means mild. A fair amount of zing, some interesting soda notes – cola and root beer – some cherry and raspberry, nothing in terms of oak really, but some nice spice and a black tea sort of tannin structure.

The finish is all overly steeped black tea with a bit of pomegranate or maybe cranberry.

As I've mentioned in the “about us” - we like Burgundy but we're nowhere near the point of being experts nor are we anywhere near the tax bracket where that would even be possible. I personally really like this bottle, I think it's great with food or on its own, but I'm sure there are Burgundy freaks who will tear me apart so I hesitate saying much more than this is an excellent bottle at a fair price, distinctly Burgundy and solid all around.

Monday, May 12, 2008

N/V Bouvet-Ladubay Brut Rose

So the closest World Market to our house is going out of business – odd because there were always people in their shopping (and buying). Sadly their wine is not on clearance, but I grabbed this one for thirteen bones anyway.

I get nothing on the nose.

A little bit of white bread, some strawberry, a bit of toast, well in the background are some tropical – papaya, pineapple, guava? - notes.

A clean finish which doesn't linger at all.

The way sparkling wines go is if a bottle goes for under $15 and has no explicit flaws then I'm happy – this one is great at the pricepoint. Superb for sitting on the balcony in the summer.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

2004 Ceja Vino de Casa Red

This was nine bones at the local shop. It's a somewhat unusual blend of Pinot Noir and Shiraz.

A little bit of tart cherry on the nose.

More tart cherry on the nose, some strawberry, a bit of white pepper, a touch of oak, not much in terms of tannins but a solid amount of acid – this begs for food.

Cherry and a little bit of oak linger on the finish.

The second day really brought some power to this one – black and red licorice on the nose. More pepper, more fruit, more alcohol, more acid – a bit of bell pepper, some Twizzlers, bing cherry, ripe strawberries, and the sweet oak is presenting itself with a bit of tobacco. Big acid and more licorice on the finish.

Nine bucks? This is one of the steals of the year so far. Not terribly complex (though no quaffer) the first night, but the second day this just came to life. I hope I can find more as this will definitely be worth a revisit.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

2004 Juno Shiraz

This was given to me by a friend of mine and I figured I'd pop it open. Will it be better than one of the worst movies I've ever seen which shares its name? Let's find out.

I smell all sorts of black pepper, oak, and smoke in this.

Plum, black cherry, blackberry – all sorts of black fruit – with black pepper, oak, and spice.

The finish has some alcohol burn and some lingering raspberry.

Day one of this was a Friday, we didn't get to the bottle until Monday – that's three days versus or normal one – how does it hold up?

Spice and blackberry on the nose.

Interesting – dried raspberries, figs, and prune, the spice has disappeared and there's virtually no tannin, or oak for that matter though there is some smoke smokiness.

A bit of black pepper is creeping through on the finish as well as some prune and fig.

No complaints at all – a solid bottle and one I'd gladly snag on my own.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Frontera Grill - brunch 5/3/08

Those who know me are most likely sick and tired of hearing about my love of Frontera Grill. I've been to many fantastic restaurants over the years, but the one we keep heading back to is Frontera. Fran and I were hitting up a symphony last night and figured it would be fun to head down early and get a late lunch at our favorite spot. Sadly – Saturday lunch is actually brunch – a “meal” I loathe – take the worst part of breakfast (eggs, eggs, and more eggs) and leave out the best parts of lunch (for example, things without eggs) and you have one craptastic meal. Luckily, Frontera has a couple lunchy things available so we gave it a shot.

We started with appetizer platter: Entremés Surtido: appetizer platter of cheesy quesadillas, crispy chicken taquitos with sour cream, tangy ceviche tostadas, crunchy jícama salad and guacamole

Starting with the bad: The quesadillas look like empanadas – they're good, but mostly bread and filled only with a mild cheese and ultimately are lacking just a bit of oomph. The taquitos had a cheese or cream topping had a strange earthy taste that was not working for me. The good? The ceviche is among the best we've had, the jicama salad was an exceptional blend of spicy, sweet, and crisp, and Frontera's guacamole should really only be tasted rather than described.

I had the Red chile-marinated Maple Creek pork (pastor style), with charcoaled pineapple, slab bacon and red onion, two salsas, frijoles charros, guacamole and homemade tortillas. An exceptional blend of spice, sweet, and savory. I've worked my way through the different varieties of tacos at Frontera and I'd say the pork and the mushroom blend are the best. Do note: the photo is the filling, and you make your own tacos.

Fran had a breakfasty enchilada dish of steak and eggs. She found it to be quite spicy but not overwhelmingly so (when and if their website updates the menu, I'll update the description).

Brunch doesn't seem to get the presentation focus which they give to dinner so these photos don't do them much justice.

The food at Frontera is consistently excellent – the menu almost completely changes every few weeks so it's hard to recommend any one thing as it probably won't be there next month. I can honestly say in our many times eating there, I've never had anything I did not like – I've had a few things I didn't love, but that's minor - overall this place is one of the best places in the city, and easily the best in it's price range (lunch entrees for under $20 a person, dinner for under $30).

I think one reason why Frontera succeeds is because the chef, Rick Bayless is frequently present – he's been there more than half times we have keeping an eye on things – that being said, even when he is not present the food and service are still top notch.

Frontera, however, is not without its flaws – I find them to be barely worth mentioning but these are things a lot of people complain about so here's your caveat.

First – they do not take reservations (technically they take a very limited number of reservations, but every time I've attempted to acquire one they are booked). This is an extremely popular place and it is not uncommon to show up 10 minutes before they open to see a long line of people wrapped around the block and then get quoted a two hour wait. I've found their wait estimates can be somewhat exaggerated, but it's not unusual to have to wait for a couple hours to get in at peak times. Also - don't be shocked if you look in the restaurant to see it's half empty and get quoted a wait - this is done to avoid overwhelming the kitchen..

Second – service is relaxed – some may call it slow – I would probably not hit up Frontera if I had some place urgent to be within 90 minutes. I'm sure you can let them know you were in a rush and they could accommodate you, but I wouldn't risk it. If you're only going out to eat, or spending the meal relaxing after a busy day, it's an outstanding place. There is a reason we went to a late lunch rather than early dinner when we had some place to be at 7:30 pm. I would personally not call it “slow” - the way I see it, if you don't have enough time to sit and enjoy a well prepared meal with high quality ingredients, eat here at a different time.

Third – it's loud. Very loud.

To me, all of this is forgivable but the bottom line is if you want a quiet, sedate place where you
can walk in and be out the door in 45 minutes look elsewhere.

So, there you are. Frontera Grill is easily one of the best restaurants in Chicago and it's well worth a visit.

N/V Greg Norman Estates Sparkling Chardonnay/Pinot Noir

I wanted something reasonable and sparkling – what else is new? This was $15 at the local shop and I'm not sure if I've encountered Greg Norman wines before – in fact I had no idea this guy was a tennis player (or golfer?) so there ya go.

A clean, white bread nose.

A little bit of berry, plus some mild citrusy notes, with a fair amount of red apple. Fairly simple really.

Red apple on the finish.

Not bad, but $15? Meh. Very little going on – for half the price you can grab a similar quality Spanish cava.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

2006 The Show Cabernet Sauvignon

This goes for about $13 – I've seen this bottle around and finally decided to grab one. I didn't even realize this was a Three Thieves product until getting it home.

Green pepper and spice on the nose.

Nicely balanced – a bit of oak, a bit of spice, and some nice fruit. Cherry, blueberry, blackberry, plus a bit of oak, spice including the slightest bit of anise and dash of cinnamon.

Some oak and berry notes linger on the finish.

On the second day, more funkiness comes out – chocolate and bell pepper – and the fruit fades just a bit. Lingering cocoa really comes through on the finish and lasts for sometime.

For $13 this is a solid bottle. It's extremely well balanced and has enough going on to well be worth the price. It's quite good the first day, but I think it actually morphed into something a bit more interesting on the second. Go for it.