Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Geja's Cafe, Chicago

About 25 years ago, when I started drinking wine, one way I used to educate myself was a wine club called A Taste of California, a monthly shipment of a white and red with supporting explanation and food pairing suggestions. The man who started this wine club, John Davis, also owned (and owns) a fondue restaurant, Geja's Cafe. It was really neat to visit the restaurant on the occasion of their 48th Anniversary and to bring this story full circle from that simple beginning of my wine journey to today.

John Davis founded Geja's Café in 1965 on Wells Street in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood, moving to the present site when the neighborhood grew too rough (not that Lincoln Park was that much better in those days, hard to believe as it is). Often voted "Chicago's Most Romantic Restaurant," Geja’s has been the site of 132,750 first dates, 16,124 engagements and diners have enjoyed over 306 tons of cheese fondue and over 917,500 bottles of wine over its forty-eight year existence. Adding to the history are longtime employees, some with the restaurant for 30 years. Obviously they are doing something right!

Geja's Cafe

The first impression one gets on entering this lower-level restaurant is that is is very dark - while working our way back to the bar, we were hoping there were no steps (happily, there are not). While the eyes do adjust to the darkness, I wish they'd lighten up the restaurant just a tad, if only to make it easier to see the food and for photos.

Geja's features different types of wines or regions during the year - we were lucky to visit while Rosés from around the world were on the menu. I had my first sparkling Malbec Rosé (excellent!). Wine is definitely important to this restaurant's experience, with many available by the glass. Beyond the Rosés, we ended up trying several others with dinner, including a Torrontes, Riesling, and Zinfandel. Winemaker dinners are also an option, so check their calendar for those, they sound like a great time!

Geja's Cafe Food

Geja's makes dinner easy; their four-course Premiere Fondue Dinner includes a cheese fondue appetizer (one type of cheese, no choosing necessary), Geja's salad, assorted fresh vegetables and eight classic dipping sauces with the veggie oil fondue (or veggie broth, but...), followed by a flaming chocolate dessert fondue (with marshmallows to toast!). The most basic option features tofu and vegetables, with beef, chicken, shrimp, and lobster available as well. Tofu, being a neutral protein, is a lot of fun to try with all the dipping sauces, while Laima suggests the beef tenderloin (nothing wrong with the others, that was her favorite, along with the mushrooms). The simplicity of the menu allows one to relax and focus on the experience rather than worrying about which cheese might be the best option. (If I owned a restaurant there would be no menu, just a prix fixe menu with limited options, so this is right up my alley.)

It's difficult not to enjoy dinner at Geja's -- cooking your own food, sharing this communal meal, leads to conversation and laughs and more. While it doesn't seem like a lot of food, we ended up feeling very sated (hard to push the plate away, even with dessert forthcoming). One of the benefits of Geja's location is its proximity to Lincoln Park and the Lake Michigan lakefront path. Before dinner we walked through the Lincoln Park Zoo and Conservatory (both still free), with digestion after aided by a walk over to North Avenue Beach. Such a great perk.

Geja's is celebrating its 48th anniversary with a series of special events the week of Sunday, June 30th through Thursday, July 4th, as well as offering its traditional anniversary discount (48% off all food bills this year) during the 5-day Anniversary Celebration. Geja’s will also host its fourth annual recipe contest and third annual poetry challenge. Prizes include dinners for 6 with premium wines. Nice.

Geja's Cafe IS romantic, from the restaurant ambiance to the shared meal. Date nights don't get much better than wine, cheese, chocolate, and a significant other.

Geja's Cafe on Urbanspoon

Geja's Cafe on Foodio54

More information can be found on the Geja's Cafe website, Twitter, and Facebook.

Disclaimer: This meal was comped for review purposes -- all opinions are our own.

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