Japanese shochu meets dinner at Izakaya Mita Aug. 22

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Try out a new Japanese liquor, shochu
Try out a new Japanese liquor, shochu

Chicago has been welcoming a new phenomenon in drinking lately: the Japanese izakaya. A prime example is Izakaya Mita, a cool little spot at 1960 N. Damen at the corner of Armitage. They are proud of educating Chicagoans about Japanese cuisine and, particularly, about Japanese intoxicating beverages. Their latest offering, called SHOCHU 101 and taking place Monday, August 22, is a special izakaya-style dinner designed to introduce us to Japan’s distilled spirit, shochu.

Guests can choose from two different shochu flights, Fundamentals of Flavor and Expressions of Technique, to enjoy with Chef Toshi Motegi’s unique dinner set prepared to compliment your explorations o fthis native distilled beverage. While you’re imbibing and eating, Tona Palomino of Tenzing Wine and Spirits will guide you on your journey through one of Japan’s most interesting beverages. Reservations required. Call 773.799.8677 or online at www.izakayamita.com.

The menu for the evening, which is available all night, includes the following dinner set with either or both shochu flights, as well as a complimentary welcome shochu-based cocktail called a chuhai.

Izakaya-Style Dinner Set – $16
Sake Nanbanzuke – salmon served nanbanzuke style; deep-fried and pickled with onions and a sweet soy vinaigrette, served chilled.
Nasu Dengaku – seared eggplant with white and black miso glaze.
Menchi Katsu – panko-breaded and deep-fried ground beef croquette, served with tonkatsu and ketchup.
Shochu Flight 1 : Fundamentals of Flavor  $13
This shochu flight is designed for guests to sample the differing flavors of four of the most popular styles of shochu: sweet potato (satsuma), rice (kuma), barley (iki), and brown sugar (kokuto).

Isanishiki – Hakutake Shiro – Nadeshiko – Jougo

Shochu Flight 2 : Expressions of Technique  $18
This shochu flight is designed for guests to sample some of the unique techniques that are used in shochu production: Aging, Cask-Strength, Awamori, and Unfiltered.
Kakushigura – Kuradashi – Shimauta – Jakunbaku
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New brand for National Lemonade Day August 20

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This image shows a whole and a cut lemon.
Real lemons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wouldn’t it be fun to drink real lemonade – just juice from real lemons, sugar and water – without going to all the trouble of cutting, squeezing, measuring and stirring to make it? And then standing out in the hot sun waiting for some poor motorist to take pity on you and buy a glass? Oh, wait, that was when we were 5…

Natalie's Natural Lemonade for #NationalLemonadeDay
Natalie’s Natural Lemonade for #NationalLemonadeDay

A lot of packaged/bottled lemonades on the market today have preservatives, additives, fake sweeteners, HFCS or GMO ingredients.  Now – though not exactly low-sugar (27 grams) or low-carb (29 grams) – there is a brand that comes in a bottle with only those 3 natural ingredients – and includes 20% natural lemon juice (as opposed to a typical 2-4%). It’s from Natalie’s Orchid Island Juices (see below for where to get them in this area), and here are two fruity – one lightly spirited and one non-alchoholic – recipes you can make with the lemonade. Get thee hence and sip on #NationalLemonadeDay.

Lemonade Sparkler Recipe by Cafe Johnsonia

Blackberry
Blackberry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

32 oz Natalie’s Natural Lemonade
8 oz St. Germaine (elderflower liqueur)
1 qt sparkling water or club soda
1 1/2 cup fresh blackberries
2 large lemons, thinly sliced
Crushed ice
In a large pitcher, stir together the Natural Lemonade and St. Germaine. Add 1 cup blackberries, 1 sliced lemon and a few cups of ice. Add enough sparkling water to fill pitcher to the top. Fill glasses or jars with ice, add a few blackberries and lemon slices to each glass. Fill with lemonade, and serve immediately.

Frozen Blackberry Lemonade by Trendy Mom Reviews

8 oz Natalie’s Natural Lemonade
4 oz fresh blackberries
8 oz ice
Pour Natalie’s Natural Lemonade into a blender Add the frozen blackberries. Add ice. Blend at high speed until well blended. Serve promptly.

Where to buy Natalie’s Orchid Island Juices in and around Chicago:

  • Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Markets (Chicago)
  • County Fair (Chicago)
  • Eataly (Chicago)
  • Fresh Thyme (Joliet, Fairview Heights, Crystal Lake, Deerfield, Mt. Prospect, Naperville, Downers Grove, Chicago)
  • Peapod (Online) (Chicago)
  • Restaurant Depot (Chicago)

P.S. This is a woman-owned company, and they make a bunch of interesting juices like beet-orange, grapefruit, honey tangerine, tomato and more. Check ’em out.

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Never too late to celebrate National Prosecco Day

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Riondo names National Prosecco Day
Riondo names National Prosecco Day

Wouldn’t you know we found out just a little late that this year Riondo Prosecco designated August 13 National Prosecco Day to celebrate the sparkle of summer. This sparkling wine from Italy recently surpassed the 4-million case mark in sales (according to Impact Databank). So it makes sense that this charming wine should get its own national day of recognition. Some say no other beverage defines the Italian philosophy of la dolce vita – the good life – quite like the young and fresh sparkler called Prosecco

 
It’s got an elegant mousse (bubbles) and a touch of sweetness, delighting with light-bodied, refreshing aromas and flavors of white spring flowers, citrus fruits and green apples. Pair that with a wallet-friendly price tag and you’ve got a fun drink for everyday, party or not.
About Prosecco:
  • It can only be produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions of Italy
  • Prosecco is no longer the name of the grape; it’s the regional designation, protected since 2009 by regulation. The name of the grape was changed t
    o Glera, and

     that grape must account for at least 85% of all Proseccos which might also include any of these native varieties: Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera Lunga and international grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio

  • Prosecco’s effervescence comes in several levels. While iconic Proseccos are sparkling, versions can be made in sparkling (Spumante) or semi-sparkling (Frizzante) and even as still (Tranquillo) wines
  • It comes in 3 levels of sweetness — Brut (driest), Extra Dry, Dry or Demi-Sec (sweetest).
  • Even though Prosecco makes a quintessential before-dinner drink, you can pair one of its varieties with almost any menu and/or use it in an array of cocktail recipes.
English: Cans of prosecco.
English: Cans of prosecco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

#NationalProseccoDay is the hashtag if you share on social media.  And while you’re tweeting, sip a glass of Riondo Prosecco Spago Nero. Based on a review sample we tried, Riondo’s premium version can make you feel like it’s a special day any day. This super premium sparkling wine features Riondo’s signature string closure. Grapes: 100% Glera. Alc 10.5%. SRP ~$14.00

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Nando’s Peri-Peri cooking good and doing good

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Chicago Fire soccer stars will “take over” the grills at the new Nando’s in the SouthChicago Fire Player at Nandos Loop on Saturday July 30, delivering succulent PERi-PERi chicken to hungry fans. Nando’s will pay it forward by donating 100 percent of sales to the Chicago Fire Foundation, which improves the lives of disadvantaged youth in and around Chicago. 


Nando’s PERi-PERi, the South African-Portuguese restaurant known worldwide for its spicy flame-grilled chicken, has just hatched its seventh Chicago-area restaurant. The newest Nando’s is located at 1005 South Delano Court, in the Roosevelt Collection in the South Loop.

“Nando’s is thrilled to partner again with the Fire to warm up Chicago,” said Burton Heiss, CEO of Nando’s PERi-PERi USA.  Since opening in Chicago in spring 2015, Nando’s has raised more than $100,000 for local non-profits.

“It’s wonderful to see a company like Nando’s invested in this city to join with the Chicago Fire Foundation to give back to the community,” added Chicago Fire Foundation Executive Director Jessica Yavitz.

Playing With Fire
Chicago Fire personalities scheduled to appear at Nando’s include general manager Nelson Rodriguez, midfielders Matt Polster, Michael Stephens, Joey Calistri, Drew Conner and Alex Morrell, defender Patrick Doody and goalkeepers Matt Lampson and Patrick McLain. They will turn up the heat at Nando’s in South Loop with player appearances from 1:30pm to 7:00pm CT on July 30. The restaurant is opened from 11am to 9pm that day, with all sales throughout the day going to the Chicago Fire Foundation.

Seven Chicago Restaurants…and Counting
Nando’s moved to Chicago in spring 2015 and has quickly opened five restaurants in the city, plus locations in Naperville and Oak Park. The newest Nando’s is located at Roosevelt Collection between W. Roosevelt Rd. and W. Harrison St. at 1005 S. Delano Ct.

Nando’s has built an intensely loyal following, from London to the Loop, by providing fresh food in a relaxed atmosphere with friendly service. Nando’s is known worldwide for its succulent PERi-PERi chicken, marinated for 24 hours, flame-grilled to perfection, and basted to the customer’s preferred flavor and spice.

Every Nando’s is painstakingly designed and completely unique, with earthy textures and bright colors that reflect its sunny African-Portuguese heritage.  The new Nando’s in the Roosevelt Collection is no exception and features a panoramic view of the Loop skyline. With thousands of pieces of original works of art that are a constant reminder of where the restaurant came from, Nando’s has become the largest collector of South African contemporary art in the world. In the United States alone, there are more than 600 pieces of original African art in Nando’s restaurants.

 

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Osteria La Madia

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Update: As of March 25, 2017, Osteria La Madia is closed. The owners are now focused on building their Firecakes brand.
Osteria La Madia, 59 Grand Ave., sits in the heart of the red-hot River North section of downtown Chicago – a great place for drinks and unique appetizers. Or try their handmade, wood-fire-grilled pizzas or a full meal from among entrees that include fresh seafood to short ribs and housemade pastas with a variety of proteins. Several salads on offer range from a selection of greens with unique dressings to a full-meal version of Ahi Tuna Nicoise.
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The bar and a small seating area form a cozy spot at the front of the divided space. Then a line of booths leads down a short path to the main two-level, large, airy dining area set with varying size tables and comfortable chairs. And the wood-fire grills are centered at the back of the space; it’s cool to watch the pizzas being made behind the protective glass shield. The overall effect is of a room that’s spacious with cozy areas. The decor is unobtrusively simple yet modern with a truly comfortable ambiance.
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Osteria La Madia's fabulous Spinach cheese fondue
Osteria La Madia’s fabulous Spinach cheese fondue

Our server happily recommended favorites when we asked. She especially recommended the Spinach & Taleggio Fondue appetizer. Picturing something oozing with oily cheese, we hesitated but decided to trust her – she said it is the restaurant’s most popular appetizer. We were amazed when she brought out a platter with a huge slab of puffy, clearly-wood-fired, pita-type bread that dwarfed a small crock of beautifully smooth and creamy-looking green sauce drizzled with truffle oil. The proper approach, she explained, was to rip off a piece of the bread, place it on your individual plate and spoon some of the green stuff over top. Wow, it was really good. Would never believe it was spinach – rich with the velvety consistency of heavy cream without betraying the slightest hint of iron, as spinach can sometimes do, or greasiness, as melted cheeses often do. The truffle oil dribbled on top gave the fondue extra pizzaz. The Sardinian bread was made of the same dough they use for their pizzas, several of which we’d tried and enjoyed on an earlier visit. They offer a wide variety of unique pizza toppings and offer several of them at bargain prices during their bar-only happy hour (currently 4:30 to 6:30 M-F). Excellent way to slake your thirst and gratify your hunger after work.

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Our other appetizer, the mussels in a tomato onion broth was simply scrumptious. The mussels perfectly cooked, the broth deeply flavored with stock and tomato and just a hint of spice. I couldn’t resist mixing some of the dark, rich, red broth with some of the spinach fondue. It turned out to be a fabulous flavor combination, although mixing the colors green and red results in a not-too-attractive shade of grayish brown. I didn’t care; it tasted SO good.
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The heirloom tomato salad was in season and just delightful. The bright range cherry tomatoes were super sweet and tasty. And the thick slice from a giant red tomato reminded us both of the tomatoes our fathers used to grow. Hard to get much better than that. The burrata was gooey and creamy and good.

Housemade ricotta-stuffed tortellacci with summer vegetables and truffle shavings
Housemade ricotta-stuffed tortellacci with summer vegetables and truffle shavings

Our entrees: scallops were nicely seared without being overdone, while the side dish of farro was a bit salty; the housemade ricotta-stuffed pasta and vegetables were all good individually without feeling quite melded in the overall dish. In any case we enjoyed both dishes, and they went perfectly with the fine, light red wine our server recommended from among the nicely rounded list of wines by the bottle and by the glass (priced as 4oz, 7oz and full bottle portions). A shared dish of strawberry gelato along with an after-dinner liqueur put a mellow ending on a nice evening. We’d gotten there early and by the time we finished, the place was hopping with diners, including several large families sharing a meal together.

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The whole experience was lovely, with wonderful service in comfortable surroundings. We’d recommend visiting Osteria La Madia any time; check their hours of operation here. In case you don’t want to fight traffic or pay through the nose for parking, get to La Madia in a snap via the 156, 36 or 22 buses or the Red Line (Grand/State station). It’s a short walk from any of those lines. You’ll feel welcome while you’re there and leave feeling glad you came.

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And by the way, the same folks who operate La Madia also operate the top-rated Firecakes bakeries. If you like donuts, do not fail to visit one of their locations. Hint: We highly recommend the coconut cream-topped cake donut. And La Madia recently started offering brunch on Saturdays and Sundays (10 – 3pm) and guess what? You can feast on Firecakes donuts there in addition to either their prix fixe brunch or lots of variety priced a la carte.
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The restaurant provided a meal to facilitate this review. All opinions are strictly those of the writer.
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Steadfast, From The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, Opens Today

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Steadfast, From The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, Opens Today

WHO: Steadfast…
WHAT: … the highly-anticipated new concept from Chicago’s Fifty/50 Restaurant Group, opens its doors today welcoming guests to experience the chef-driven concept inside The Kimpton Gray Hotel (opening soon).  Presenting a dining room reminiscent of old Hollywood glamour and beautifully composed food and beverage programs, a new dining adventure now awaits, all with The Fifty/50 Restaurant Group’s special touches.

Steadfast showcases food done by no one else in the city at this price point, with elegant, vibrant salads, small plates, and entrées at a value.  Executive Chef Christopher Daviesand Executive Pastry Chef Christopher Teixeira showcase seasonality and creativity through collaborated New American cuisine, incorporating Mediterranean and Portuguese influences.  Fried Chicken Skins, Chocolate Covered Foie Gras, Smoked Oxtail Croquette, and other playful bites begin meals.  Sharable items and larger plates showcase Smoked Sweetbreads, Carrot Salad Pave, Chicken Ballontine, and Cioppino, and for the table, Whole Roasted Duck, Butter Poached Maine Lobster, and Cote en Boeuf.  From the pastry kitchen, diners find a selection of house-made breads and indulgent desserts like crème brûlée with yuzu gelée, and elevated s’mores with coconut cream.  An exhibition kitchen invites guests from every seat in the house to personally connect with the culinary team, and a charcuterie room with windows allows guests to peek in.

Behind the bar, Beverage Director Benjamin Schiller and Bar Manager Tomasz Sasset the tone of Steadfast’s progressive cocktail menu incorporating the regional flavors of the cuisine throughout. Highlights of the spirits program feature progressive drinks incorporating big and bright flavors and remarkable presentations, one of Chicago’s largest antique whiskey collections, tableside drink options, and more. Shannon Hill-Sancheztakes the role of Sommelier, establishing a global wine program.

The intimate restaurant showcases a bold design reflecting the historical building’s classic revival style architecture.  Integrating original elements with custom-built components, the opulent space includes separated dining areas each boasting its own vibe.  The 100-seat dining room includes a series of chef’s tables, bar seating, a 14-seat, pre-ticketed tasting room, and a 16-seat patio.  Bespoke furniture with dark, plush accents and sleek marble, rich woods and lacquers, gold accents, and a zinc bar tie together the gracefully styled space.

Steadfast is open for lunch and dinner, with breakfast launching later this summer. More information and reservations may be found by calling (312) 801-8899.

WHERE: 120 W Monroe St.
Chicago, IL 60603
WHEN: Steadfast is open seven days a week, Monday through Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.
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The Chicago Restaurant Examiner

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Welcome to the ChicagoRestaurantExaminer.com online magazine. Follow us as we report on the culinary scene around town – news from chefs, restaurants, bars and more.  New menus, happy hour goodies, wine dinners and specials galore.

We are gradually uploading material from 8 years of archives from the former Chicago Restaurant Examiner site. It’s an ongoing effort that usually takes a backseat to current news. Which means you’re getting the scoop on recent and upcoming happenings in Chicago Restaurant news!

Open the door to Chicago's rich culinary scene
Open the door to Chicago’s rich culinary scene
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Loire Valley wines spring to the fore at Sepia

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Sepia sets a gorgeous table for #SpringtoLoire
Sepia sets a gorgeous table for #SpringtoLoire

#SpringtoLoire was the name of a recent presentation by two reps from French Loire Valley wineries. Isabel Moreau from Monmousseau and Juliette Monmousseau from Bouvet Ladubay explained the intricacies of the flavors in a broad selection of delightful white wines from this region that flows along the valley of the Loire River in France. Characterized by fruity complex aromas and crisp, palatte-pleasing tastes, the wines were professionally paired by sommelier Arthur Hon and served in the beautiful surroundings of the elegant private dining space of Sepia Restaurant, 131 N. Jefferson. Attendees learned about several dry and sparkling selections and enjoyed them with small plates of delectable creations by Sepia Chef Andrew Zimmerman and his team.

Velvety rich spring-onion-potato soup, handmade spinach pasta served with smoked trout and crispy fresh pea shoots, salmon grilled to exquisitely juicy perfection, to name a few. Plus a fabulously tender and succulent slice of breast of chicken served with sausage bread pudding and two sauces in a dish that was reminiscent of Julia Child’s most outrageously good poultry recipes. Dessert was a luscious pear-ginger-rum tart with a dollop of creme fraiche ice cream. All gloriously flavorful and perfectly paired with the floral, fruity elegance of the AOC Loire Valley whites.

The Loire Valley, known for its magnificent chateaux and rich history, runs through the heart of France and contains 5 distinct wine regions – Pays Nantais, Anjou, Saumur, Touraine, Centre-Loire – each with its own characteristics of grapes, appellations and styles. The wine-growing regions dotting the Loire’s banks feature no less than 4,000 wineries, 170,000 acres of vineyards and 61 appellations of origin, thus making the Loire Valley the third largest French wine making region. Producing 380 million bottles per year – be they red, rosé or white, still or sparkling, dry or semi-dry, supple or sweet – the Loire Valley is also France’s leading producer of white wines and ranks second for rosés. The region as a whole exports 68 million bottles every year to 157 export markets.

Notable among the wines presented at Sepia were:

  1. Saumur brut, Bouvet Ladubay, sparkling NV with the soup
  2. Quincy blanc, Philippe Portier 2013 with the salmon
  3. Saumur blanc, Domaine Guiberteau 2014 with the chicken breast (~$20)
  4. Vouvray Moelleux, Domaine du Petit Coteau, l`Etoile 2010 – a sweet style with the tart – Lovely! (~$23)
  5. Bonnezeaux, Domaine Rene Renou, Les Melleresses, 2000, also with the tart – Gorgeous! (~$32)

If you love white wines, consider one or more of these for your next fine meal. You will not be disappointed.

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Antonio Rallo talks to Chicago about Sicilia DOC and making wine

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Alberto and Antonio bring Chicago the news about Sicilia DOC
Alberto and Antonio bring Chicago the news about Sicilia DOC

Antonio Rallo, winemaker at Donnafugata Wineries is a tall, slender, handsome man who is currently president of Sicilia DOC. He came to Chicago recently to share news about Sicily’s passionate rededication to consistently high quality. He spoke fervently about the new consortium of Sicilian winemakers, Sicilia DOC. As of 2012, he said, every winemaker on the island banded together to form Sicilia DOC—a rare case of consensus in Italy, where winemakers tend to be fiercely independent.

Sicilia DOC intends to be a new force in the wine world with its many winemakers, one of whom, Alberto Buratto of Baglio di Pianetto, came visiting with Antonio. “Sicily has the biggest vineyards in the world,” said Antonio. In the small area around Trapani on the northwest segment of the island, he said they produce 3,500,000 hL (hectoliters) of wine every year. Surprisingly, despite Sicily’s 600 miles of coastline, the country has no vineyards in those areas. But since a mere 11% of the land in Sicily is flat—not good for growing grapes—they’ve got plenty of other space to do so. The island is home to 90 wine producers (where they crush and process the grapes), some of whom are also part of the 3000 vintners who grow their own grapes.

The soil of Sicily is so varied, said Antonio that it is said to “change from the width of one palm to another”—so the country can offer a great variety of wines. The climate is gentle for growing grapes—and makes it easy to grow organically. Summers are dry; in fact, May to September is generally completely dry, and since there is no water to irrigate with, winemakers instead reduce the quantity of grapes to conserve their resources. “Constant breezes help the grapes do their job and eliminate any concerns about mildew,” he said. “The island has the lowest-yield grapes and greatest amount of wine produced per hectare compared to any other location in Italy.”

Antonio and Alberto graciously showcased some of the DOC members’ wines. A few notables included Stemmari 2014 Grillo (distinctive lemony long-finish unoaked white), Planeta Rosé (fresh and fruity, perfect with almost any food), Baglio di Pianetto Ramione 2013 (blend of Nero D’Avola/Merlot with aromas of red berries followed by vanilla and licorice notes), and Donnafugata SurSur 2014 (100% Grillo with fruity and wild flower notes).

Antonio talked a little about Sicily’s multi-cultural history and the fact that Sicily has for centuries been a strategic location for armies on the move. Arabs dominated the area for 300 years. Next the Phoenicians, then the Romans, and then the barbarians, the Byzantines, the Normans, and the Germans. “The Greeks finally brought the concept of growing grapes to Sicily around 800 B.C.E.”

“Sicily is the highest producing area for wine in all of Italy,” he said. The DOC was formed in order to exert better control of the processes for growing and the quality of final products on the market, and the only DOC in Italy that is bigger is Prosecco DOC. A panel of tasters travels about the Sicilian countryside tasting wines in the facility and then tasting the same wines after they’re bottled and arrive in the shops and restaurants. The mission is to make sure the quality and flavor of each wine are consistent at each step with what originally went into the bottles. Anything labeled DOC undergoes this rigorous tasting and chemical analysis and must be certified.

The agriculture and artisanal production of grapes is in the blood of many winemakers. Each succeeding generation brings its own contributions of experience and expertise to the process. Antonio remembers going with his grandfather to the wine cellars when he was only three and a half years old. “I rode around on my little bike with an extra training wheel.” His family has been in the industry since 1851, and now the fifth generation is involved in all aspects of it – the business side, the law, the language, etc.

Antonio talked about how he, as a winemaker, tastes wines. “It might take seven hours to taste up to 300 wines,” he said. Starting with white wines, then old reds (in the barrel), they progress to new reds and then dessert wines. The tasters eat grissini (unsalted, crispy breadsticks) to help cleanse the palate. “After 100 to 150 tastes, it’s hard to tell the difference anymore,” he admitted. So they might taste from 9 am to 1 pm, then have lunch and continue tasting from 3 to 6:30 pm. “In the old days—say, 1975,” he said, “we might have had 35 people tasting a thousand bottles of wine, with five people washing bottles. Today, with modern machinery, three people can do 7000 bottles in an hour.” Staggering numbers, indeed. He said Italy is a constant source of innovation in winemaking machinery and that, in fact, France and Napa Valley often buy machines developed in Italy.

He went on to reveal an interesting trick of the trade. “All wines taste good with fennel,” according to Antonio. A common ingredient in Italian cooking, “that flavor makes even a bad wine taste better.” In fact, it is such a common ruse that people in the industry have made a verb of the word itself. Some give it to tasters because it clouds their ability to determine the real quality of the wine.

The Sicilia DOC wines are anxious to bring their goodness and complexity to the United States market. The consortium will exercise strict control and carefully record data for each Sicilia DOC wine via the Internet. For more information, watch for Sicilia DOC mentions on Facebook and Twitter and in advertorials in Wine Spectator and other American publications. They are intent on bringing the good news about Sicilian wines to the “passionate and demanding American public.”

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Bring your appetite and relax at Nando’s Peri-Peri Wabash

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A restaurant with its own special vibe opened this summer at 22 S. Wabash on Jewelers Row near Madison Ave: the fourth Chicago location of Nando’s Peri-Peri. It’s a unique, partly self-serve but not fast-food place that specializes in delicious flame-grilled chicken with many different variations on the restaurant’s proprietary Peri-Peri sauce. The chicken is super juicy and the sauces come in shades of spiciness suited to almost any particular taste.

This place is a hidden treasure trove of delicious food served in a warm, cozy atmosphere – and it’s a great place to come when you’re hungry. You’ll notice from our pictures that we were obviously hungry; we couldn’t remember to take a picture of each course before we dove in and started eating!

Nando hummus - too good to wait
Nando hummus – too good to wait

The starter hummus benefited greatly when we poured the contents of the little bottle of Peri-Peri sauce served on the side for that purpose. Woke up the flavor of the spread and gave a nice spicy tang to the whole dish. It was served with crisp and uniquely cut vegetables – carrot discs, unusually shaped fingers of cucumber, thinly sliced strips of pepper, and little triangles of rich-doughed pita bread. Very tasty and nicely presented.

Nando peas 'n' chicken
Nando peas ‘n’ chicken

We both decided to go for the dark meat chicken quarter with two sides ($9.95 with two sides, $7.95 for just the chicken). Side choices included garlic bread – a delicious Portuguese roll nicely grilled in garlic butter – creamy smashed red potatoes, Machu peas – fresh crushed with mint and chili – and Portuguese rice. Pick your sides, then stroll over to the self-serve station and sample as many cups as you like of your choice(s) of Peri-Peri sauces, which come in a variety of hotnesses and include mild, garlic, wild herb, medium and hot. It’s a self-serve place for the most part, but helpful servers make the rounds on a regular basis. Our server that night was particularly willing to help – he got us napkins, extra drinks, and desserts, each with two spoons for sharing. We definitely felt taken care of.

The chicken was exquisitely grilled after having been marinated in their original Peri-Peri sauce, cooked to perfection, served up super juicy and just enough crisp in the skin to enhance the flavor beautifully. So tasty we found ourselves gnawing on the bones to mine the last of the juicy goodness. Our mashed potatoes and Machu peas and garlic bread were most satisfying. The Portuguese rice was quite mild until we kicked it up with some Peri-Peri sauce that brought it to life.

Nando makes its own Sangria
Nando makes its own Sangria

The choices of wines were impressive – two selections from South Africa, a couple from Portugal, and several others, as well as a sangria of the day and their regular featured red sangria, both refreshing and full of fresh fruit. My companion, who’s dined with sangria in Spain and Portugal many times, felt the big leaf of fresh basil in the mango sangria-of-the-day was an inspired touch.

The desserts were unexpectedly out of the ordinary. This visit we decided to pass on the custard tarts, a regular feature at Nando’s, so we could try some of the other options. From the super-moist carrot cake to the super-rich chocolate spoon cake, each served with a dollop of whipped cream, and the bottomless dish of frozen vanilla yogurt, we tucked in with vigor and didn’t quit until we had almost finished the three.

The place was rocking with Spanish/Portuguese music throughout the meal. It was just loud enough to liven the atmosphere without interfering with conversation. We thought they ought to pipe the music outside to let people know what a fun and delicious experience is on offer inside. The decor is fresh and original, using lots of natural wood with some unique decorating touches. Bathrooms are clean and cheerful, and benefit greatly from having the music piped in there as well.

Any time you are anywhere near State and Madison and you’re hungry, you will be very well satisfied if you make the trip over to South Wabash to meet the Peri-Peri staff and sample the menu. Friendliness and helpfulness were definitely the keys to the service kingdom at Nando’s Peri-Peri the night we were there. Sad to say, the restaurant is very hard to see from the street. No signage extends out onto or across the sidewalk. Perhaps they’ll remedy that soon, but in any case, this spot is well worth the search.

And don’t forget they have three other locations in Chicago: Clybourn, Lakeview and West Loop.

Nando’s supplied samples to facilitate this review; the opinions expressed are 100% those of the writer.

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