2011 Top 10 New & Notable and Top 10 Best Value Restaurants

Wine Dinner

wine dinnerHosted by Riccardo Curabastro, this 5-course reception and dinner will highlight the wines that have made Franciacorta a top wine destination. April 23rd, 6pm. $95

Spring Mixology

sangriaLearn everything you ever wanted to know about Sangria. This hands-on class includes a light lunch and sampling of the finished product! We will discuss the history of sangria, making custom ice cubes and much more! April 11th at Noon. $50

Easter Brunch

easter brunchJoin us Easter Sunday for a pre-fixe limited choice three course menu. A children’s a la carte menu will also be available. 10am-2pm $35

Hanging with the Chiliwoman is Hot Business!

by Christine Tully Aranza

IMG_1701More than two years ago when we were just starting to source plants for our greenhouse we found the seed suppliers ( Johnny’s & Seed Savers have become favorites) and greenhouses (Yay Richter’s) that would supply our starter plants. One of our true finds, was The Chiliwoman. One look at the list of peppers available on her site and we were truly hooked. A humble, diminutive women who shows her true passion as soon as you start talking Chilis with her, she has collected a catalogue of seeds that is anything but humble. Located in a college town (Bloomington, IN) she has enlisted professors, chefs and other adventurers to bring back a phenomenal variety of seeds from the four corners of the earth.

Beginning early in the season she plant what will be come a capsicum tour de force that soon springs forth a dizzying array of seedlings. We visited her in early may to pick up our order of two dozen Padron Peppers & two dozen Piri Piris. Once we entered her greenhouse however it became instantly clear we would be leaving with a lot more. The hubs did some quick math and he estimated she had about 16,000 seedlings happily growing in the Indiana sun.

The interesting thing about Chilis is that they all come from one wild species that is native to Central & South America and perhaps dating back as far as 7000 BCE, there is evidence of chilis in ancient Mexican and Aztec cultures. All coming from the same base plant leads to a certain uniformity in the look of the seedlings. They don’t reveal their true variety until mid to late season when the plants begin to show their personality and the most dramatic phase happening in the late season, when they fruit and show off with a brilliant array of shapes, colors & textures. Only then do they begin to hint at the wild variety of flavors they bring to cuisine around the globe. If you like the spicy stuff though chilis are a fascinating addition to any garden and relatively easy to grow. If you have a prolific source for seedlings you can tailor the plants you grow to your palate.

The name pepper is a bit of a misnomer thanks to Columbus who thought he had discovered black pepper a highly prized & expensive spice at the time. From there Spanish and Portuguese ships spread the cultivation of peppers throughout Europe. No doubt the heat known as Capsicum is what confused him.
Obviously, there is an expanse of chilis used in the cuisines of India and Asia as well although less is known about their evolution. In fact trying to research some of the varieties we grew this year for origin and culinary use, especially those from Asia & South America proved a challenge. The definitive chili resource book has yet to be written.

Getting back to our visit to Susan a.k.a. the Chiliwoman. As soon as we cast our eyes on her jewelbox of chilis, I asked her to put together two flats of her favorites for us to culitivate. She happily obliged and set about creating a fantastic set of flats. We divided the spoils which included varieties from the seven continents and grew some at home, some at the farm, gave a few to a fellow passionate gardening and restaurant guest (she reciprocates often). All of the plants were amazing healthy and prolific.

At the restaurant we are growning the Piri Piris (for hot sauce), Padrons(for tapas) and some Tomatillos (just cause we love them)! At home we have Korean variety such as Ku Chu, Chinese varieties; Kentang, Mongolian & Szechuan, Thai Yellow, mild Spanish Piment Mesa (yellow & red), Ferehozen Paprika and South American varieties Del Aqua, Chaco & Permavehla – cute little peppers that look like mini Butternut Squash and have a medium heat.

We have begun harvesting and added them to dishes at the restaurant, jarring, pickling, drying and grinding. How great to have our own paprika, fresh ground from our own plants! The Chiliwoman’s plants were all amazingly healthy and fared very well. Needless to say we are completely hooked and plan on expanding our chili program & research in the next growing season, our request list for 2014 is only growing now.

The great thing is you can access her plants too. If you like to road trip, it’s worth the trip. Call first or drop an email, she does a lot of local markets and events during the season. If you can’t make it she takes email orders & ships too. Hard to believe one gal can pull this off every year but she does. Susan you are one of our culinary heroes. Check out the site you won’t be sorry you did and come on in to sample some of what we have been doing with our spoils.

Ever Wondered about Ribero del Duero, Wonder No More

Some Famous Ribero Producers

Some Famous Ribero Producers

So you’ve all heard of Rioja by now, but what about her kissing cousin the Ribero del Duero? Lucky for you I am one to kiss and tell. Rioja has emerged as Tempranillo’s marketing agent extraordinaire. Though, to the northwest, in Ribera del Duero, 1/3rd the size of Rioja, a long awaited story is finally being told. While attending a recent seminar & tasting of these historic wines I was inspired to share their story with you.

Ribera del Duero is known for Tinto (Red) & Rosado (Rose’) all from the Tempranillo grape. The DO (Domain of Origin – designation) here was established in 1982, though winemaking in this region reaches back to the mid-1800’s. Established producers like Tinto Pesquera, Pingus, Vina Sastre & the unorthodox Vega Sicilia all claim deep reaching roots in this DO, literally.

In Burgos, in the heart of this DO, expect beautifully integrated, high acid reds that express the more austere side of this food-friendly vinefera. the small production 2011 “Mibal” by Hornillos Ballesteros shows deep cherry tones & eucalyptus while 2008 Tinto Paesquera to the west expresses a more masculine tone of cedar & plum. Unknown-1

Then there is Soria, to the east. A region which caught my attention. Heret is a story of a terroir that hosts 100-125 year old pre-phylloxera root stock & un-grafted vines. Veterans that sit watchfully & tell stories which few can fathom. Stories which unfold ethereally on the palate. Two were well represented. First was the 2010 Antidoto, rusty brown & deep with woodland strawberries and mint tones that reflect 100yr old root-stock that pull from an uncommon place. The second, bigger & bolder, was the 2009 “Valdegatiles” by Atauta whose focus is letting you know it has aged for 16months in french oak with its baked fruit aromas & 125 year old lineage.

I linger writing this looking for a proper closing line. I look over my notes & see stars and side notations that just say “persue”.

Going South – Exploring the Evolving Wines of Southern Italy

By John Aranza

For years Southern Italy was on the verge of a bad reputation. You know, the kind of rep where you’re known for “getting around”. Quantity and quality do not always go hand in hand, so much of the wicker covered bottles heading out of Italy for many years were not the best. The market was there however and as a result many producers fell into the habit of lower quality wines to get the most bang for the buck….Later when Napa reds rose in popularity, again Southern Italy tried to compete with big – Cab forward wines that they felt would appeal to the international market.

But these times are a changing…..

There is a movement right now in the South to use this limited terroir how it was originally intended; high quality wines with perhaps lower yield, that have brought serious attention to the potential of this historic winemaking region.

Lets start with Frank Cornelissen. Starting with 200eu, he bought a small plot of land on Mount Etna. Now expanded to 8.5 hectares of sustainable vinyards, these wines are identified not by vintage but rather number. A minimal approach by an extraordinary vintner. At last weeks tasting we poured the Munjabel Bianco No. 8 (800 bottles total produced). A blend primarily dominated by Grecanico Dorato, it offers an incredible nose of caramel & nuttiness, this is a part of oxidation. Historically, this was always an undesirable quality in whites. However in natural aging where it is intentional the wines are different. The result of the all natural practice of amphorae aging with no sulphites added, nothing but the vocanic ash & minerals at work here produce some interesting wines. The winemakers aging this way believe they are getting back to the basics of winemaking. These wines are indeed limited though. Based on the yield. We had the opportunity to dine with Frank when he was last in Chicago and he remarked that this particular wine was limited because his horses broke into the 2hectare plot & ate a fair amount of that vintage’s ripened grapes!

Another producer we featured at our last tasting was Arianna Occupinti. She is one of a few new style winemakers in Sicily who has really put them back on the map. Last Wednesday at Wine Wednesdays we poured her soft yet expressive 2011 Frappato. Grown on 10 Hectares of stoney vinyards, this southern blending grape gets a homecoming crown in this very capable producers hands. Soft tannins & fruit are reminiscent of a Burgundy, but Sicilian at heart with a uniqueness all their own. Ariana took the vineyards organic, then biodynamic, and the resulting wines are stellar on the palate. Small packages do indeed deliver big things with altitude & attitude and an astute winemaker all combining to create this exceptional wine. Bravo!

Finally our journey took us to Puglia, for the 2005 Alberto Longo “Capoposto” which is driven by the Negro Amaro grape. Translated into “Dark Bitter”, this astringent Southerner must be in the right hands. In this case it is, delivering a lush and welcoming, mouth-filling wine. Deliberately light on skin contact, this old world vinefera is tamed by oak transforming this rough around the edges grape into a wine that is a formidable contender! Lamb, Short Ribs & other hearty fare come hither….we have a match for you!

Our next entry will explore this weeks tasting which focused on French whites. Up next week, join us for Sherries or join us in April for our next series of Wine Wednesdays. Always at the bar, always informal and always fun!

Chef Matt & The Kitchen Crew Visit Spence Farm

by Matt Saccaro

Feeding the heirloom pigs at Spence

As soon as we arrived at Spence farm, I was reminded of a farm described by Michael Pollan in his book ‘The Omnivores Dilemma.’ Pollan describes the ideal farm and a farmer primarily concerned with raising healthy animals, nutritious vegetables and sustainable practices to ensure that his farm would remain strong and viable for years to come just like generations before him; an alternative to the industrial feedlots and chemical laden produce that tend to fill grocery store shelves. Spence farm operates on these principles and we were fortunate enough to see it for ourselves.
After meeting Marty Travis, his son Will and wife Kris who now operate Spence Farm, I was struck by their passion for their work and the sense of responsibility to the fields, forests (they are foragers as well) and animals that that ultimately provide the food that lands on our plates. Like the farm Pollan writes about, Spence farm doesn’t rely on one item to sell every year, but constantly evolves to grow what works best on their land but also what their customers are asking for. “Diversify,” Marty will say again and again, driving the point that chefs and farmers should work together. If there is something you want them to grow, they plant it for you.
Our day began with some chores. The animals needed to be tended to, so we let the chickens and ducks out of their houses to roam around the farm (they were out and about the entire time we were there). Next we fed the pigs, an adorable breed called Guinea Hogs. This breed was originally from Guinea, Africa and was brought back from the brink of extinction in this country through the efforts of small farmers willing to raise heritage breeds of pig. We discussed the raising and breeding process as we moved the pens to different sections of the pasture so the pigs could graze on fresh vegetation.
The pasture is surrounded by four different varieties of cornfields. We tasted some of the baby corn right off the stalk. At that point, the corn is sweet and the inner leaves and ‘corn silk’ are all edible. When the plant matures, the kernels will be harvested and ground into cornmeal.
Adjacent to one of the cornfields is their wheat field. Spring wheat and Winter wheat are harvested to provide restaurants with whole wheat berries and wheat flour which they mill in one of their barns.
Our next move was into the woods. The farmers were very happy to have found some mushrooms growing on dead tree branches after a recent and very rare rain this summer. They had harvested several pounds of oyster and chicken of the woods mushrooms. We went back in for more and found some more oyster mushrooms, but also searched for a fruit called the ‘paw-paw’ indigenous to the Midwest and Northeast. Since it was such a hot dry summer, the trees suffered resulting in a low yield, but was still managed to shake about 10 lbs. of fruit off of the trees.
From there we walked through the fields where the farmers are growing several different vegetables this year, including kale, bok-choy, several varieties of potatoes and heirloom tomatoes, including one variety from the Galapagos Islands that can be traced back to Darwin’s expeditions to the area.
I am proud to work with these farmers. We are able to off our customers heritage breed meats and varieties of vegetable unavailable anywhere else. Passionate and thoughtful cooking will always come from our kitchen, but we must understand that it starts on the farm.

Bringing News of Verjus to You!

As promised, while we finish our repairs, we are going to the source to find the very best of what is going on out there and bring it back to you this fall.  Our first trip was this past Monday we headed up to Hickory Creek Farms  for their Verjus celebration.  Fortunately, it was one of those rare below 90 degree days and only about 90 minutes from Chicago, in other words, the perfect day trip.  Indeed it was.


What is verjus you ask?  Good question, verjus (translated literally – greenjuice is the very first pressing of grapes during the season).  It can also be done with sour fruits such as crab apples.  Historically it was used in Western Europe in the Middle Ages, it is also found in Syrian Cuisine.  As what you ask?  Think vinegar substitute (heck it is really an unfermented vinegar — could certainly be fermented in a a barrel or cask of your choosing).  In cooking it can be used when a mild acidity is called for.  It is similar to a little citrus juice although the flavor is a bit rounder.


Beyond the obvious uses, our hosts (including Beverly Malen) encouraged us to try Verjus Cocktails from Adam Seger  including a fantastically herbaceous Rooibos, Verjus & Rum Punch w/ sour cherries and herbs, a Gin, Verjus & Ginger Beer Cocktail w/ fresh thyme and a Verjus Manhattan w/ Rye.  Important to note: all the spirits were from the fantastic newcomer to the local spirits scene, Journeyman.  They are located in Three Oaks a very short drive from Chicago and well worth the visit.



Palazzolo’s Sorbetti


After a nice covered trolley tour of the vineyards we returned to a tasty feast of goat, which had been roasted by Chef Leonard of another West Suburban local fav, Marion Street.   A feast under the apple tree was accompanied by the wines of Hickory Creek as well as some wines from a Long Island vineyard that may make an appearance on our fall list.  The meal finished with a little crushing of the grapes and a verjus sorbetti from Palazzolo’s Gelato.  The result was a delicious and refreshing alternative to the more traditional lemon or lime flavors.



So the versatile verjus reminds us that everything old is certainly new again.  We have one question for you?  Do you verjus?  Well if you want to try check out the very brief recipe below and let us know if you have new successes of your own using this interesting acid.


How to Make your own Verjus:

Note/Disclaimer: you need a lot of grapes to attempt this.  Figure about a pound and a quater of green wine grapes for one cup of verjus.  Try Midland or call a local winery to see if you can acquire… with the very dry summer it may be a more difficult task then usual.


You will need a food mill (wine press is great if you have one), fine strainer, grapes, mason jars to store the juice.  First stem the grapes as much as possible, then run through the food mill in batches.  Then pour through a fine mesh strainer to catch the rest of fruit (you will still have a little sediment on the bottom).  You can strain directly into sterile mason jars or a spouted container useful for mixing cocktails or into a punchbowl for immediate serving.  As with most things food related it is best used fresh but will hold for up to 6 mos if you add citric acid and a little sodium metabisulfate.  If sulfites disagree with you this is probably not something you want to do.


Happy pressing!