Bubbles and Champagne

We are in the finals of the soccer world cup and Holland is playing Spain. I’m the only person dressed in our national colour, orange, surrounded by 60 Spanish Red Devils in a bar in San Sebastian, Spain. I am convinced our national team will win and take the bet on a Dutch victory. Two hours later… I walk disillusioned out the door into streets surrounding myself with a jumping, singing, Spanish crowd. The next day I pay off my lost bet by taking my Spanish girlfriend to a chic restaurant. The good thing is at least I am still in charge of choosing the wine. ‘Champagne por favour’, but its not because I had to celebrate something. It’s like Napoleon once said: “I drink Champagne when I win, to celebrate…and I drink Champagne when I lose, to console myself.” That night in Spain… I needed a glass of Champagne.

Cork Image (photo-credit Jean-Paul)

We associate these magical bubbles with celebrations, romance and luxury, but have you ever questioned where the bubbles come from and why they taste so damn good?  It actually all happened by accident. The famous bubbles in Champagne were all but wanted and winemakers actually tried to find ways to get rid of them. Champagne is one of the coldest and most Northern wine regions in France. Initially, they tried to produce wine like the famous wine region of Burgundy. However, because of the low temperatures in wintertime the fermentation would stop, without having finished completely. When it was time to bottle the wine in spring, it would still contain sugar and dormant yeast and when the temperatures would rise again, the wine in the bottle would spontaneously start to ferment… again. The result was a ‘vin pétillant’ as the French call it. England was at that time the biggest market for French wine. The 17th century British nobility enjoyed this ‘default’ bubble wine so much that the French started to focus on making bubbles instead of trying to get rid of them.

Champagne Bottles

Champagne (photo credit: Jean-Paul)

You probably know that a Champagne bottle is much heavier and stronger than a normal wine bottle. This is necessary to resist the enormous pressure formed in the bottle by the second fermentation. In a champagne bottle the pressure can be as high as twice the pressure of a car tire. In the 17th century the quality of glass was not as high as it is nowadays and it was very common to lose 20-90% of the harvest due to exploding bottles. Cellar workers at that time would wear iron masks, and often would be missing a couple of fingers due to previous explosions. However, with the industrial evolution came a solution; the glass produced by charcoal fired glass factories was of much better quality than those by wood fire. Furthermore, the technique of the second fermentation was improved.  Instead of leaving faith to nature, the sugar required for the second fermentation was precisely dosed.

Nowadays, grapes are pressed and the juice is fermented in large stainless steel tanks. When all the sugar is converted into alcohol, a precise dose of sugar and yeast is then added. This mixture of wine, sugar and yeast is put into bottles and sealed with a crown cap (the ones used on beer bottles). A second fermentation occurs in the bottle; happily, exploding bottles have become an exception. The yeast will die off when all sugar is converted into alcohol. The bottles with yeast deposit are aged for a minimum of 1.5 years. The aging on the yeast deposit is very important for the quality of the bubbles (size and persistence) and the aromas of the wine (butter, toast and cream). After the aging we get to the ´remuage´ in which the bottles are turned steadily into a horizontal top down position, all yeast deposits will now be near the crown cap.  The neck of the bottle is frozen after which the bottle is opened. The frozen yeast deposit flies out because of the high pressure in the bottle. The last step is to add the ‘liqueur d’expédition’ which contains wine, cane sugar syrup and some secret ingredients depending on the champagne house. This secret ingredient can be brandy or port, and I know of some adding an extract of tea. The bottle is filled up and the famous champagne cork is placed on top.

Champagne (photo-credit Jean-Paul)

There are bubbles and bubbles… Champagne is probably the most famous sparkling wine in the world, and also the most expensive. However, there are many alternatives. In Europe almost every country has its own bubbly: there is Spumante from Italy, Spain has its Cava, the Germans have their Sekt. In the US the production of Champagne style wines increased rapidly in the last decade. Even the famous Champagne houses like Roeder, Moet & Chandon and Taittinger opened wineries in the US. I think there are still many opportunities left in the US for the production of great bubbles. There are sufficient areas to grow good grapes and the US has a big group of enthusiastic sparkling wine fans to be supplied with some more bubbles.

I find it a pity that most Champagne is bought and consumed in the last two weeks of the year. I like bubbles too much to wait all year. I was infected by the bubble-bug thanks to a winemaker-friend that was producing the best bubbles in South Africa. We once drank 7 bottles of Champagne in a weeks time. Nowadays, I drink less champagne, although, you don’t have to give me much of a reason to open a bottle. As Madame Bollinger of the homonymous Champagne house once told a journalist. “I only drink Champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I am not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.” I can live with this description, cheers!

Share

What’s New in Chicago

I don’t know what it is about airports, but shortly after throwing all my valuables in a bin and shimmying through a metal detector my stomach starts to grumble and I suddenly realize I’m starving.  For some reason a day of travel also includes ravenous hunger.  Thankfully, travelers at O’Hare will have more options to fill their hollow bellies with before take off.

Who: Rosemarie S. Andolino, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Aviation, Manolis D. Alpogianis, Owner of America’s Dog and Elie W. Maalouf, President & CEO, HMS Host/Wicker Park Sushi and Seafood Bar guided by sushi chef Susumu Shibata.

What: America’s Dog, a hotdog stand providing regional hotdog and sausage preparations (i.e. Chicago Dog, Maxwell Street Polish, Milwaukee Dog, Atlanta Dog or Santa Fe Dog, and more) and Wicker Park Seafood and Sushi, a chic spot to sip some sake while trying some sushi that reflects Chicago’s cultural diversity.

Where: O’Hare International AirPort

Terminal 1, C Concourse: America’s Dog

Terminal 2: Wicker Park Seafood and Sushi Bar

When: Oh… its open now for all you holiday travelers!

Why Stop By: Because business kept you so busy you’re about to leave Chi without tasting a Chicago-style hot dog… or maybe because you’re heading to Cleveland… but you really wish you were flying to Japan!

Share

A Taste of Korea

Japchae- Sweet Potato Noodle

At 5:40pm, stuck in bumper to bumper traffic, I couldn’t help but ask myself why anyone in their right mind would leave the city for dinner?  As I shook my fist at the cars on the road ahead of me, G finally managed to get onto the free way and off we went to Woo Lae Oak restaurant in Rolling Meadows to learn more about the Korean Cuisine Globalization Project, a tasting event hosted by the Consulate General of South Korea in Chicago.  Apparently, some 0f the premier Korean restaurants in the area reside in the suburbs to serve the large Korean population that lives outside the city.  It’s here that we had a chance to taste the beautiful plates presented to us by their new chef, Tae Jin Park, and learn about the many health benefits provided by Korean cuisine.

Our tasting started with a sweet pumpkin porridge, and progressed into marinated beef short rib wrapped in daikon, a stir fried noodle dish called Japchae, and Gujeolpan, a dish that originated  in the 14th century consisting of a thin wheat cakes that you fill with thinly sliced vegetables, beef and abalone and dip in a spicy sauce.  As we were beginning to fill up, plates of Dukbokki, Bulgogi and an amazing spicy mushroom soup, that was indeed quite spicy, arrived at our table. My husband attempted to fight off the spice but I could already see beads of sweat forming above his brow as he sipped more and more of the flavorful broth.   We completed our meal with a dessert, a thick, sweet, cinnamon tea that is considered to aid in digestion.

Gujeolpan

This was quite possibly the most elegant Korean dining experience we have had in Chicago and it exposed a more sophisticated way of presenting dishes than we are accustomed to in our usual Korean spots. I’m excited to see what the new chef will bring to Woo Lae Oak’s menu and maybe, just maybe… I’ll be making a trip out to the suburbs more often. The Korean Cuisine Globalization Project is a brilliant idea to bring people together and educate them about a cuisine and culture that deserves more recognition.

Share

Chicago Food Planet Food Tours

Every year seems to progress at a rapid rate and before you know it the summer is gone and winter has thrust its icy self upon us. For five months we had been too busy to attend one of the many tours Chicago Food Planet offers, so I was very happy that on a beautiful fall day we finally found ourself free to meander through the Gold Coast, Old Town and Lincoln Park on the Near North Food Tasting and Cultural Walking Tour.

It had been a difficult decision in determining which tour to attend, both the Chinatown Tour and Bucktown/Wicker Park Tour intrigued us, but since we practically live in Chinatown and have been to all of the awesome spots on their Bucktown/Wicker Park Tour we opted for the Near North tour, hoping we wouldn’t get lost in the Viagra Triangle .

Our day began when we promptly found parking on State Street and made our way towards Ashkenaz Deli where we met our group and sampled a Vienna Beef Pastrami Sandwich with a homemade Russian dressing made of beets.  Unfortunately, as we were building our own sandwich we also realized we had only paid for two hours of parking for a 3 hour tour.  We followed our guide toward our next stop, where we were excited to see my little car parked right outside. At the Tea Gschwendner we learned about the health benefits of tea and the variety of options available, warming up with a cup of our own.  My husband went to put some more time on the meter as we made our way to the next stop, The Spice House.

The Spice House

So many spices...

We are particularly fond of The Spice House.  Mostly because it was originally founded in Milwaukee and when I was living there we spent many an evening running out to get beautiful star of anise, black cardamom pods, and za’atar when we couldn’t find them anywhere else.  Needless to say everyone on the tour loved it and the interesting information our wonderful guide shared with us.

Our next stop was Old Town Oil, which reminded me of an artisanal shop in San Sebastian that we had visited this summer.  If it wasn’t for the 6 bottles of Spanish olive oil and sherry vinegar we had lugged back from Spain we would have bought some here.  Then we continued on to The Fudge Pot to sample some sweets and learn about the art of making fudge.  Our next stop was Delightful Pastries where we tried some fresh pierogies before our long walk through the neighborhoods, past a certain Playboy’s former mansion and into the Lincoln Park neighborhood where we completed our tour with deep dish pizza at Bacino’s.

We had an awesome guide that made sure we had fun on our tour and learned about the history and food of the neighborhoods.  It was an excellent excuse to travel through Chicago by foot stopping to sample various treats that I would normally pass by.  Although, the food tours are on holiday till April when the weather makes travel through the streets more bearable, we are looking forward to trying another tour next spring.

Share

Interview with Jean-Luc Naret, Director of the Michelin Guide

Jean-Luc Naret Speaks about the Chicago Guide

We had the opportunity to sit down with Jean-Luc Naret, shortly after the release of the Chicago guide.  He is one of the most influential people in the food world, and we were very excited to hear what he had to say about the guide, the departure of Laurant Gras, and the role of food blogs… Below is our interview… enjoy!

Chicago Fare: Why did it take so long for Michelin to come to the United States?

Jean-Luc Naret: We started in France and went across Europe for more than 100 years. I took over the committee 7 years ago and actually asked myself that same question. Why the Michelin Guide had never been outside Europe.  I think mostly because, from Europe, we only had done European Guides, and we used to do country guides. So when you do the United States if you look at the country, obviously, it would take years and years to do, and a millions dollars to put together.  So I looked at it a different way, I said why aren’t we actually going there and creating a different sort of guide… a selection for a city, and thats exactly what we’ve done… and I came 6 years ago to New York and started to really look at how we could design the best guide.  So we designed exactly this guide you have for New York, then San Francisco, LA, and Chicago. I think we went very fast since we’ve been in the United States. It is the fifth edition of San Francisco, the sixth edition of New York, and first edition of Chicago, and definitely more to come…  But our inspectors are off this week; they will be back next week and start to evaluate the restaurants for next year.

Chicago Fare: Wow… that’s quick.

Jean-Luc Naret: It’s really an annual selection… And as soon as the guide is out, we try to give them a week off, and then we start again with the selection.  A lot of restaurants just opened, such as Henri and Avec, as an example, that we had a chance to taste before, but that we could not taste again because of the fire… and we couldn’t include in the guide.  For the next year, we will try to see what is new, what could be added to the selection, and what, with existing restaurants in the guide, has the potential for stars. There are quite a few restaurants that didn’t make it this year, that will make it next year.

Chicago Fare: When the Michelin Inspectors go to the restaurants, what is their criteria for a consistent restaurant?

Jean-Luc Naret: The first thing is that they look at the restaurant like a regular guest. They look at the ambiance, the decor, the service, whether they’ve been welcomed, the way they’ve been treated, and after they look in the plate.  The ingredients, if the chef mastered the flavors, if he made sure the ingredients are perfectly cooked, if there is too much flavor, or not enough. They are really looking at the consistency across the menu.  You could have a great signature dish, but you have to be very good on everything you offer.  Then the inspectors rank everything dish by dish, and explain exactly why it should be returned to, not to be returned, a bib gourmand, or 1 ,2 , or 3 stars, and we do that for every dish and then an inspector will come later in the year and follow it again.

Chicago Fare: How many inspections are completed?

Jean-Luc Naret: We have multiple inspections, every restaurant in the guide has been seen twice.  But in the case of the Michelin Stars, of course, it has been seen more than twice because we make sure. For example, as in the case of Grant, we went 10 times to Alinea, to measure consistency… and for 10 times it was 3 stars, from top to bottom it was fantastic, but its really just a matter of consistency, you just really have to be consistent.

Chicago Fare: What about Chicago?  There are a lot of cities you could have gone to…

Jean-Luc Naret: We knew when we started in New York, and actually I came here before New York, to tell you the truth. I came here because at that time I didn’t know whether I was going to acquire a new committee or to start from scratch.  So I came here, and actually stayed here in Chicago, 7 years ago. At that time Graham Elliott used to be the chef here [The Peninsula Hotel], and so actually, in a week, I started to evaluate the restaurants here and I was like wow…  I was quite amazed with the potential, but New York was the right place to start.  Then the next year we did San Francisco, and then the year after we should have done Chicago.  But because we already had a team in California, we thought lets do LA, and then because of the recession we said, maybe we should wait a bit…  And I know every year Chicago was coming to us, saying “Well… when are you going to come?”  And that’s it!  We came 2 years ago and we definitely had a great selection for the past 18 months.

Chicago Fare: What’s next? What is the next city?

Jean-Luc Naret: Well there is definitely a lot of new cities, there is plan of developing at least a new city every year or two. There is some great potential in the US, and great potential in North America and in South America too, you see, I see America as a whole.  Now on the otherside we have Asia… I’m on my way to Hong Kong next week, and we did Kyoto months ago, our 2nd edition.  And Tokyo will be our 4th edition, and we have Hong Kong’s 3rd edition.  And there will be a new city that we will announce as well.   Europe first, Asia, then Australia and we could even go to the otherside to India. I’ve been to India, I think there is great potential there, but we will see what exactly will happen.  There is a lot of development, a great plan of development, I saw that seven years ago and I’m very happy that some other people will continue to carry on the flags around the world with Michelin.

Chicago Fare: What kind of effect do you think the Michelin Guide will have on Chicago?

Jean-Luc Naret: [We] definitely create, I mean everytime we come to a new city, we create a lot of noise, and a lady last night said you put a big storm on Chicago for the past few months. Everyone was trying to evaluate, trying to see, and speculate about who was going to get stars and everything. You know the Michelin Star is an important factor, but is not the most important factor.  People are are not buying the guide for a Michelin Star. Its easy, you could just look at well… Yelp.  Or… any other place and you will see that.  We are really well known around the world for the Michelin Stars, but really the people in the city are really buying the guide for all the other reasons, for all the restaurants under $25, the restaurants of Bib Gourmand, for everything that is selected. Its really difficult to pick the right restaurants, and we really make a selection of… in our point of view, the 342 best restaurants in the city. And this will definitely continue to grow.  So next year I’m sure there will be more restaurants in the guide because we are going deeper and wider, and I’m sure there are restaurants that didn’t make it this year that will definitely make it next year because they will improve.  We are going to widen the selection… we are going a bit more to the suburbs as we started to do, but we really will concentrate on the city of Chicago, so we will go north, west, south and we can’t go east cause of the lake… but we will go to all the other parts and create.  And what we have seen is the level of gastronomy improve… because, its interesting, we are not local… we’re not a national company, I mean we are in America, but the point of view is global, people tend to see us as the only developed benchmark, so they measure against each other, and obviously everyone in Chicago is very proud, and now the thing is… how can we beat San Francisco and how can we beat New York?  So I’m sure the level of creativity will improve. What you can see here is the difference between creativity and avant guarde cuisine on one side and the other side is very incredible good restaurants with hotdogs, pizza, and a basic food in a sense, but done in a very nice way that make this city, a restaurant destination.  It is definitely why the Michelin Guide was brought here and this is the reason that we will see in the coming years more and more restaurants in the Michelin Guide and more and more stars.

Chicago Fare:  Do you prefer Chicago Deep Dish Pizza, or Chicago Style HotDog?  Or Both?

Jean-Luc Naret: Well actually I like both, but actually… this week I was not able to eat either of those, I only ate tacos at Big Star, I love Big Star.  And yesterday I went to Mexique which was fun and last night we went to Publican. So lunchtime, I will try to do that today.  I only spend a few days here at a time, so its always a pleasure to be here, and my inspectors just make sure I go to certain places that they know I will like, because I follow their advice as well.

Chicago Fare: Did you know what was going on with L20 before you announced the stars?

Jean-Luc Naret: We didn’t know, of course, but at the same time, you know, we aren’t looking at who’s behind the stove, we’re looking at what’s in the plate… but it was really based on the inspectors who had been their a couple of times. I went, personally myself, twice. Once, Laurent was cooking, and the other time he was not cooking.  For me it was at the same level. Obviously it’s never good when a chef is leaving, because the team might start changing, but this restaurant will be evaluated very, very soon, and then we will see next year if they maintain the level to maintain the 3 stars, or if they don’t maintain the stars.

Chicago Fare: We heard you’re leaving...

Jean-Luc Naret: Absolutely, I’m thinking at the end of the year.  I am retiring, its nice to retire about fifty.  I’m turning 49 so I will be 50 next year, but I mean… retiring means doing something different.  I have been doing that [directing the michelin guide] for seven years and I had great past 7 years of my life.  And before that I used to be a hotelier for 20 years.  I decided to take this over 7 years ago and I said I would do it for a span of 3-5 years, and I’ve done it for 7 years, so I have two years extra. And now I’m ready for a new a challenge.  It should be fun.

Chicago Fare: Where do you see blogs, yelp, and all these different sources of food information fit in?

Jean-Luc Naret: The more people that are talking about food the better it is, because we are all about one specific thing. We are saying… how can we make sure that people like going to restaurants more, talking about restaurants, talking about food, and having more channels doing it, like the Food Network, Iron Chef, Top Chef, Master Chefs.  There are a lot of things around the world where people tend to focus more on food now and the more we are the better it is.  I imagine a food blog is like a food review… or food critic.  Someone you follow.  So if people are listening to your advice and if they like your advice they will follow you, if they don’t like your advice they will follow someone else.  Because that is your personal point of view.  That is one side…. critics, bloggers, and then on the other side you have yelp… and that is everyone’s opinion and then in the middle is Michelin…We are really saying, we have different inspectors, that go at different times. They aren’t food reviewers, they aren’t bloggers, they are people who love and are passionate about food and the only thing is we give the advice, but we have multiple inspectors and inspections… and each has different opinions but they are all helping make a Michelin selection.  But there is no one that could replace another…. The more we are the better it is.

Chicagofare: Is Michelin trying to incorporate the Internet?

Jean-Luc Naret: Actually we do… In Europe we are doing a lot, but we haven’t done this here yet.  In Europe we have an application on the I-phone, we are everywhere with viaMichelin.com, a great website, and the selections are available in 6-7 different languages. We do the same in Japan, but a different format with maps, and here we are starting to see what will be the future for digital. Today we are selling books, but it could be that we aren’t selling books in 10 years, we have to find how we will provide selections differently.

Share

Thanksgiving Menu 2010

Turkey Rub

Turkey Prep and Random Roasted Pumpkin

I know I promised our interview with Jean-Luc-Naret, but I’ve been seriously distracted with my favorite holiday of the year. Thanksgiving is tomorrow and G has been prepping his menu.  As always this means I’ll be chasing down gizzards inside our organic turkey, mashing potatoes till my arms are sore, and burning my fingers tips, while my husband runs around the kitchen delegating tasks to various family members. Here’s what’s in store:

Indian Spiced Turkey

Fennel, Apple, and Spicy Pork Sausage Stuffing

Cranberry Chutney

Green Apple Chutney

Truffled Mashed Potatoes

Roasted Acorn Squash in Sage Brown Butter

Green Bean Casserole

Homemade Pumpkin Pie with Vanilla Bean Ice Cream

Vanilla Ice Cream with Pumpkin Syrup and Pumpkin Seeds

Homemade Cherry Pie

Share

2011 Michelin Guide Chicago

Michelin Guide Chicago, Grant Achatz

Mayor Daley and Jean-Luc-Naret congratulate Three Star Chefs Grant Achatz and Laurent Gras

The 2011 Michelin Guide Chicago was released Tuesday November 16th, one day early due to an overzealous foodie who leaked the results on Yelp for the world to see.  And although its release didn’t go exactly as planned, the chefs still received a personal call from Jean-Luc Naret, the charming French director of the guide, to confirm their stars. However, I can’t help but think that just like the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, everything is a little more exciting with a little bit of scandal.

On Wednesday November 17th, on what had been the expected release of the guide, we found ourselves anxiously awaiting our cab to the Chicago Cultural Center to celebrate the first edition of the Michelin Guide Chicago and the recently starred chefs.   As time ticked on, and still no cab… we quickly hopped in my car and sped off arriving just before the mayor.  As he spoke with the higher ups of Michelin, we casually made our way around the dimly lit hall with beautiful Tiffany’s stained glass domed ceilings stopping to congratulate Shin Thompson of Bonsoirée, Michael Carlson of Schwa, and Grant Achatz of Alinea.

Bibendum

The Michelin Man Dessert. Yum!

During one of the several speeches that evening, Mayor Daley made a point of thanking Michelin for their commitment to Chicago and truly recognizing it as global city.  Despite the critics upset about who they think should have gotten a star or which chef shouldn’t be compared to another, it is important to recognize the diversity of Chicago’s culinary options and the significance, as a city, of being recognized by the Michelin Guide.

Expect more to follow including our interview with the head of The Michelin Guide, Jean-Luc Naret.  You will find the list of restaurants with stars below.  We’ve been to about half of the Michelin Star restaurants thus far, and are looking forward to exploring the others!

Three Stars

Two Stars

One Star

Share

2011 Chicago Bib Gourmand Selection

A certain famous, white, fluffy, Michelin Man, often associated with tires, was lingering in the streets of Chicago, spray painting his likeness on sidewalks outside of 46 lucky restaurants. You’ll find the list below, but here’s a little history that might explain why the tire guy you see on TV just so happens to be a food connoisseur.

The Michelin brothers originally gained fame and recognition for their tire company incorporated in 1888.  In the 1900’s, around the time of the Paris World’s Fair, they founded The Michelin Guide as a resource to the best restaurants and accommodations available along the travel route of motorists in Europe.  Through the course of time, the Michelin guide has become regarded as one of the preeminent food guides in the world.  The Bib Gourmand selections are the preview to the release of  next week’s highly anticipated first ever Michelin Guide Chicago.  The restaurants chosen for a Bib Gourmand award are the inspector’s favorites that are considered high quality establishments that offer a good value: a two course meal and a glass of wine or dessert for less than $40. While the selections are considered by many restaurants to be a tremendous honor, it does mean that famous restaurants like Frontera Grill, Publican, and the Girl and the Goat are now out of the running to receive even one Michelin star. Interesting…

Full list of 2011 Chicago Bib Gourmand selections(and where we’ve eaten thus far):

Ann Sather
Belly Shack
Bistro 110
Bristol (The)
Browntrout
Ceres’ Table
Cumin
deca
De Cero
DeCOLORES
Frances’ Deli
Frontera Grill
Gilt Bar
Girl & The Goat
Green Zebra
Han 202
Hopleaf
Jaipur

Kith & Kin
La Creperie
La Petite Folie
Los Nopales
Lula Cafe
mado
Mexique
M. Henry
Mixteco Grill
Nana
Nightwood
Opart Thai House

Otom Paramount Room
Perennial
Publican
Purple Pig

Raj Darbar
Riccardo Trattoria
Smak-Tak
Smoque BBQ
Spacca Napoli
Taste of Peru
Thai Village
Twin Anchors
Urban Belly
Veerasway

West Town Tav

Share

Food and Wine Pairing… Continued

Food and Wine from Chicago Gourmet

Wines have become rounder, sweeter in the last couple of decades. I call it the soft drink-effect: we are so used to sweet and easy-to-drink drinks that anything with high acidity and a bit of roughness is rejected by the ‘sweet’ consumers. Last week I did a small experiment with a couple of friends. I served them two glasses of the same red wine, in one of them however I added a tiny bit of sugar solution. You can guess the result: 4 out of 5 preferred the sweetened one (I was the one not liking it). I personally don’t like too sweet of wine, as I feel it becomes rounder and softer, but loses its complexity and its flavours often get masked.

The reason for this change toward easier to drink wine is that in many countries it is no longer a food product, but an alcoholic drink and luxury good. In the past wine was consumed over dinner or lunch. However, when you drink a wine on its own it seems to be much more acidic than when combined with food; and the tannins in red wine seems to be more astringent and dry.

The same dry Riesling can be too sour on its own, but refreshing with a dish. This is because the salt in the food diminishes the perception of acidity. This explains why food orientated wines are more acid than non-food wines. So we should select one bottle when drinking wine on its own and choose another when drinking wine with our food.

In my last post I spoke about food and wine pairing by intensity and the heaviness. This was all relatively easy, now we are really going to get into food and wine pairing; we are going to select the wine on flavour. We can do this by combining similar flavours or contrasting flavours.

Combining similar flavours is the easiest. For example we can combine a rich, fat, oaky chardonnay with a buttery sauced dish, and we can serve a sweet wine with our ice cream. Two similar tastes seem to harmonize with each other, instead of increasing the sensation.

  • A dry acidic Riesling with a sweet and sour dish
  • A smokey oaky wine with smoked fish or smoked beef
  • A sweet Sauterne or Tokaji with a chocolate cake
  • Match asparagus with a herbal Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand
  • An earthy Pinot Noir with Mushrooms

Combining opposite flavours is a bit trickier. We have to be more careful not to exaggerate. The best way to prevent failure is to choose a wine that is a bit lighter than the food.

  • Foie gras with a dry sparkling wine like Champagne, cava or American sparkling wine
  • Popcorn, yes, you read it well, with any sparkling wine
  • A fresh tart wine like Chenin Blanc, Verdejo or Txakoli with oily fish like mackerel, trout or sardines

Pairing wine and food is a game, you just have to follow a couple of rules to make it a success; furthermore you just have to try it to find out what your personal preferences are.

Share

Bonsoirée

I’ve always been incredulous of gourmet dining.  Perhaps its because dining out for my parents was a luxury, an event for the bourgeois, not for our family of six.  My dad worked hard to put food on our table and my mom did her best to provide balanced meals full of fresh fruits and veggies, meat and potatoes.  So when I go into a restaurant with gourmet fare I have very high expectations.  I mean, seriously, do you know how many heifers I could buy a hungry family in Africa with that money?  So… with that being said… Bonsoirée is responsible for my new affirmation that gourmet dining does not have to mean celebrity chefs, expensive wine lists, and pretentious waiters… Gourmet dining can be comfortable, seasonal and BYOB!

The Atmosphere:

Its a dark nondescript house-like structure with ample street parking.  Its only sign is the 2728 neatly posted above the door or by visual inspection through the windows. Upon entry I realized I had some how taken such large steps that I ended up in the middle of the dining room. I wheeled about awkwardly, hoping I hadn’t interrupted any diners, but the cozy space is conducive to conversation and no one had even noticed… except for the awesome waiter who casually told us to sit where-ever we pleased.  I felt oddly at home at Bonsoirée.  Perhaps it was the exposed cream brick walls,  but I felt more like I was invited to someone’s elegant modern home than a restaurant.  And considering their concept started in their apartments as an underground dining experience, I’m sure that feeling is quite intended.

The Menu:

Watermelon Tartare with Seaweed Salad

Bonsoirée has a variety of degustation menu options to choose from including a 4, 7, or 13 course tasting menu, underground dining, and a no-menu sunday dinner. We have had our eye on the underground dining experience for sometime, but instead had made reservations for the no-menu Sunday Dinner which mixes the finest worldly ingredients with seasonal ingredients from The Green City Market and The Logan Square Market. The ingredients are then placed on beautiful artisanal dishes from Japan.  Our first course was a bright and sassy seaweed salad of sorts including a tartare that just happened to be watermelon, pickled daikon, cauliflower, fava beans and beautiful dots of raspberry vinigrette on a bright white plate.  The fresh, bright ingredients reminded me of a modern art exhibit and though it looked beautiful I was so hungry I attacked the plate.

Scallop Motoyaki

The next plate was a motoyaki, a Japanese dish that usually includes an oyster in a mayonnaise sauce.  In this case it happened to be scallop and crab in an aioli.  Wow! I don’t think their are words to describe how wonderful or rich this small plate was. Our next course was a corn vichyssoise in a beautifully oversized bowl, with truffle and other fungi resting on its ledge.  It too was equally amazing in taste, a perfect balance between the sweet of the corn and the salty earthy flavor of its fungi accompaniments.   A fish dish was soon too follow, and while it looked beautiful in its hollow, oblong plate, it just wasn’t as exciting to my palate as all the other dishes.  At this point we were running low on our white wine, so I’d suggest two bottles for 7 courses as a red would have paired nicely with our next dish of lamb in a brilliant concord grape reduction with mashed potatoes.  The interlude between lamb and dessert came to our table in a small, dark and circular dish.  It was a trail mix that included a crunchy brussels sprout, spiced puffed rice and a plethora of other things that were absolutely fantastic when combined with the homemade yogurt served tableside. Our finale was a dessert of hazelnut ice cream resting on top of brownie crumbs with dots and dashes of banana bread pudding decorating the scalloped plate.

Our Thoughts:

Bonsoirée is the elegant modern dining experience that exceeded my cynical expectations and became the most enjoyable and creative meal we have had in Chicago in a long time. With each dish we became more impressed with the chef’s beautiful artistry and perfect flavor combinations.  And as the night and flavors progressed, I realized I thoroughly enjoyed not knowing what to expect next.  We can’t wait to return to Bonsoirée and try another tasting menu. I just hope they have returned from their dinner at The Beard House!

Bonsoirée | 2728 W Armitage Avenue | Chicago IL 60647 | 773-486-7511 |

Bonsoiree on Urbanspoon

Share