Drink, Eat and Discover
By Odyll Santos
had Chardonnays, Cabernets and Merlots with your fill of French,
fusion and other cuisines. You think youve left no bottle
uncorked, no food-and-wine combinations untried. But its
likely that theres something you havent seen yet.
Ever heard of the Gruner Veltliner, much less had it with Thai
food? In Chicago, you can take your pick of enlightening experiences.
Here are a few places that present unique wines, many times paired
with innovative food, in interesting surroundings.
The Royal Thai experience
In the melting pot that is Chicago, hundreds
of neighborhood restaurants serve Thai food, but less than a handful
offer upscale Thai cuisine, with wines to match. For years, Aruns,
the acclaimed Northwest Side restaurant of chef/restaurateur Arun
Sampanthavivat, was the only one. But another restaurant, Erawan, has garnered attention.
Opened in November 2001 in Chicagos trendy River North, Erawan is the creation of Anoroth "Noth"
Chitdamrong and Chef Art Lee, and restaurateur Ken Lim, who established
Malaysian restaurant chain Penang. Erawan offers
Royal Thai cuisine in a traditional Thai setting, its interior
modeled on Bangkoks palaces and shrines, a contrast to its
plain exterior. The seating area boasts imported teak wood décor
and 24-karat gold leaf paint.
Bangkok-born Chef Lee, who won praise for his previous restaurants, Thai Touch and River Kwai, is
a veteran of Aruns. At Erawan, he infuses
Thai dishes with European touches, using ingredients like foie
gras not found in Thai cuisine. Noth, who was born in Laos and
lived in Thailand, is a collector of wine. He was the wine director
at Aruns for six years.
Pairing fine wine with Thai food may sound unusual. But Noth aims
to change peoples perceptions of Thai food and hopes to
encourage wine lovers to go beyond the familiar Chardonnay or
Merlot. Erawans wine list, with over 100
bottles, changes constantly as Noth finds new wines. Austrian
and German wines dominate, as they work well with Thai cuisine,
but there also are bottles from France, Italy, Australia and the
Dinner may begin with a flute of light, clean-tasting Rene Geoffroy
champagne. Then the Gruner Veltliner 1998 from top Austrian producer
Nigl is poured. Made from Austrias most important wine grape,
it is a delicate, fruity white wine for an equally delicate, savory
first course of snowbird, Siamese and purple rose dumplings. In
the shapes of white birds, and purple and orange blossoms, they
are filled with herbed chicken and shrimp.
Another Austrian white, the Kracher Cuvee Beerenauslese 1999,
accompanies Erawans foie gras and chanterelle
shumai with caramelized shallot balsamic reduction and chili sauces.
Its lush sweetness balances the flavors of the dish, particularly
the heat of the chili sauce. Heavier courses like the crispy whole
red snapper with a chili-shallot sauce and prawn and pork in a
creamy, sweet red chili curry dishes that mix textures
and flavors call for a versatile wine, Noth says. He pours
the Los Carneros Pinot Noir from Robert Sinskey Vineyards in Napa,
California, a pleasing red marked by a natural acidity and pleasant
cherry and blackberry flavors.
Its Thai food taken to grand heights, with wine selections
that encourage exploration. Erawan, 729 North
Clark Street, Chicago, IL, 312-642-6888
Wine by appointment
Serious about enjoying and learning about
wine? Then make an appointment with Gabriel Viti.
Thats the way to get into Gabriels Wine Cellars in
Highwood, Ill., for a one-on-one chat with owner Viti, also chef/owner
of nearby Gabriels Restaurant. Viti seeks
to satisfy clients thirst for knowledge of the grape and
their search for rare bottles. In the Cellar,
he also gives them a place to enjoy wine and the conversations
that come with it.
Thats a mouthful worth savoring. At the Cellar, visitors have been known to smoke their cigars and drink wine
into the wee hours of the night, sitting by a huge antique Irish
wake table at the reception. From time to time, youre likely
to spot a serious client, having descended two flights of stairs,
searching earnestly for that $5,000 bottle for his collection.
While the Cellar offers rare bottles, it also
stocks many of the finest wines from major vineyards, with classics
like Mouton-Rothschild, and small-production wineries, such as
Kistler in California. Powerful wines like Cabernet Sauvignon
and red Bordeaux dominate the more than 7,000 bottles, though
more whites have entered the selection. While this may be a collectors
haven, prices arent always up in the stratosphere.
The Cellar itself is neatly organized, with rows
of wine meticulously maintained. The temperature hovers in the
mid-50s Fahrenheit, the optimum level at which to store wine.
And speaking of proper storage, Gabriels also custom builds
home cellars, even stocking it with wine. The fee, usually in
the thousands of dollars, depends on your extravagance.
Theres often a prelude to a Cellar visit.
Appointments are usually scheduled around dinner at Gabriels
Restaurant, whose wines are sold at the Cellar. The
waitstaff, which undergoes blind wine tastings and weekly educational
meetings, pays attention to the smallest details (bringing fresh
bread throughout the meal, folding napkins neatly when a guest
is away from the table). Guests receive excellent service in the
mahogany-trimmed dining room.
The food is excellent, too. Viti has worked with French culinary
icon Joel Robuchon and Carlos Nieto of the classic suburban French
restaurant Carlos. At the Restaurant, Viti
blends Italian and French cuisines, with a style of cooking that
he describes as earthy and welcoming.
Dinner may start with a lobster martini, a refreshing appetizer
with mango, avocado, Osetra caviar and crème fraiche with
lime juice and cilantro. With light, dry Pommery champagne, the
dish shines. Pastas include the rich Crespelle, stuffed with taleggio
cheese and spinach. Its a rich dish that has become a favorite
for many diners.
Entrees present delicious combinations. Soft fillets of black
bass come with capers, olive oil and zucchini flowers, served
over fennel, with mashed potatoes. Lamb medallions are seasoned
with tarragon and olive oil, a hearty dish paired wonderfully
with a glass of zinfandel.
That all makes for a very full evening, and all of it worth the
satisfaction of a hearty meal with fine conversation, fine wines
and perhaps a cigar or two.
Gabriels Wine Cellars, 4 Temple Avenue,
Highwood, IL 847-433-0031
Gabriels Restaurant, 310 Green Bay Road,
Highwood, IL 847-433-0031
Finding fun in wine
At Bin 36, in the House
of Blues hotel, its all about having fun while getting to
know wine. Proprietors Dan Sachs, David Schneider and Brian Duncan,
who won praise for their previous restaurant Spruce, opened Bin
36 in 1999. Its motto: "Drink wine Live longer
Have fun." And guests have many chances to get into
the fun of wine, taking classes under "Bin School,"
buying wines from the Bin 36 Market, and of course,
sampling various types at tasting events.
At the relaxed café-style Bin 36 Tavern or
the casual fine dining space of the Cellar, guests have the opportunity
to try flights of wines, from the Bordeaux varietals flight to
Rhone reds, sparkling wines, American and Australian wines, and
world reds and whites.
The dining menu isnt to be ignored. The man in the kitchen:
Executive Chef John Caputo, whos as enthusiastic about wine
as Sachs, Schneider and Duncan. Caputo, who arrived in late fall
2001, seems destined for the job, having spent four years as executive
chef at Jordan Winery in California. Cooking for a world-class
wine producer, with a dining room set in a vineyard, gave Caputo
the chance to study the nuances of food and wine pairing. Besides
that, Caputos 20 years in California included work at restaurants
like Ondine and his own renowned Socca.
Chef Caputo takes his experiences with Mediterranean- and Asian-inspired
food in California to bring new dishes to the Tavern and the Cellar.
Dinner features appetizers like Prince Edward Island Mussels steamed
in a coconut milk-lemongrass broth and house smoked salmon with
ruby beet and goat cheese terrine, horseradish cream and watercress.
The menu provides several wine choices for each dish. For the
mussels, suggestions include fruity whites, like the Von Buhl
"Armand" Riesling 2000 from Germany and the Oxford Landing
Sauvignon Blanc 2000 from Australia. For the smoked salmon, choices
include European sparkling wines and the Icardi "Tabarin"
Barbera dAsti 2000, an Italian red with cherry and plum
Entrees include soy-braised black cod with shiitake and glass
noodle spring rolls with black bean sauce, both also paired with
the Von Buhl Riesling. Zinfandel spiced rotisserie pork chop with
chestnut and butternut squash hash and grain mustard chantilly,
is recommended with the silky red, J. Lohr Bramblewood Zinfandel
1998 from Lodi, Calif., or the Vega Sindoa "Cuvee Allier"
2000, a Spanish white with tropical fruit flavors.
Of course, diners dont have to stick to the recommendations.
Theres no hindrance to having the kind of wine you like. Bin 36, 339 North Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL,