Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Three Ramen Places near the Chicago Loop

Ramen is a noodle soup dish, consisting of noodles served in a meat broth, with a variety of toppings. Originating in either China or Japan, ramen has few rules, and nearly every restaurant that serves it has its own variation of ramen. There is nothing better than a really good bowl of ramen. I go into the city once a week to the office, and have started searching for good ramen near the Loop, where I work. 

Here are three options, near the Loop, two in River North and one just south of the Loop.

Slurping Turtle (River North)

Slurping TurtleSlurping Turtle Ramen

An almost more Scandinavian than Asian space, with lots of white furniture and minimal decoration. Sit at booths, a communal center table, or at the bar like I did. I had the Tonkotsu for comparison purposes (most of the ramen places seem to have it on their menu): simple not too salty broth, enough to cover most of the other ingredients. Thin, angel hair like noodles, super soft pork, baby bok choy a nice touch but fell flat for me, but the pickled mustard greens and braised woodear mushrooms saved it for me, wish there were more of the pickled radishes. Adding chili paste was an improvement for me, but on the whole, this is a pretty well seasoned dish. $14.


Slurping Turtle on Urbanspoon

Ramen-San (River North)

Ramen-San ChicagoRamen-San Chicago

Tonkotsu Ramen: strong miso taste to broth, which had a nice weight and texture to it. Simple looking soup with molten egg, green onions, Chashu pork and....nori, though I asked for it to be left out. Actually not bad. Noodles reminiscent of the dried noodles you'd buy at the grocery store, maybe a bit chewier. Pork a bit chewy with some nice fattiness to it. Overall a good bowl that would be improved with more noodles and toppings and a bit less broth (if it matched the photo on their website, it would be much better). A Lettuce Entertain You restaurant. $14.


Ramen-San on Urbanspoon

Saucy Porka (South Loop)

Saucy PorkaSaucy Porka Ramen

Located in a small storefront, there is minimal decorating and also few seats. You either luck out, wait, or take the food to go. Simply called Pork Ramen Soup, this is markedly different than other restaurant's offerings. Toppings include jalapeño peppers, bean sprouts, fresh basil, cilantro, and green onions. Lots of pork and noodles fill the smoky broth, which is decently seasoned and a bit spicy. Unorthodox to be sure, but a tasty version nonetheless. $9.


Saucy Porka on Urbanspoon

Who have I missed? I have 3 more on the list to try.

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Friday, March 27, 2015

Wine of the Week: The Heritage Vineyard 2012 Zinfandel

This month's Wine Studio continued its Zinfandel theme with a virtual tasting of the most recent of the Zinfandel Heritage Vineyard Project wines. What's the project?

Heritage Vineyard 2012 Zinfandel

The Zinfandel Heritage Vineyard Project is located within the University of California, Davis’ Viticultural Station in Oakville and was established in 1995 with a collection of rare and famous Zinfandel vine cuttings. Each year since 1997 the Zinfandel Advocates and Producers (ZAP) selects a distinguished winery member to craft a unique Zinfandel vintage from the Heritage Vineyard. For 2012, the winemaker chosen was Chris Leamy, of Terra D'Oro Winery (wholly owned and operated by the Trinchero family).

Tasting Notes:
Bright red berries, spices, dusty minerals, bit of earth and wood, and vanilla aromas, with much the same on the palate; light-bodied for a Zinfandel, but decently round mouthfeel, lingering finish; cork closure; SRP $40.
This would be a most awesome vertical tasting if it could be put together!

This wine was provided for tasting purposes - all opinions are my own.

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Thursday, March 26, 2015

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Chicago

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Chicago

If you're a Chicago history buff, you'll immediately recognize the site of Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House - the old Esquire Theater. Originally, the cinema (built in 1938), had a single auditorium with over 1,400 seats, was then converted to a six-plex in 1988 (a shame), and ultimately closed in 2006 (double shame). Del Frisco’’s occupies three floors of the Esquire Theater - its interior was designed to preserve the landmark theater’s historic architectural elements, which it does nicely. I can still picture the old concession stand (the food is better now) and using the old escalators to get upstairs also brings back many memories. The closing of the Esquire was a harsh blow to Oak Street and it went into decline, but it seems to be reviving, which is kind of nice in a nostalgic way. Kudos to Del Frisco's for not only using the space in a thoughtful manner, but also giving folks a reason to go back to Oak Street.

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Chicago

We got a full tour of the restaurant by Michael Taylor, Del Frisco’s wine director, who is justifiably proud of both the restaurant and its incredible wine collection. Del Frisco's has been recognized as a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence, their second-tier award, created to give special recognition to restaurants that clearly exceed the requirements of the Award of Excellence. These lists typically offer 350 or more selections, along with superior presentation, and display either vintage depth, with several vertical offerings of top wines, or excellent breadth across several wine regions. This is clearly evident at the restaurant, with a 4 story wine tower dominating the space (and suspended from the ceiling rather than adding to the floor load due to the great weight!), and wine cellars lining almost every available wall on each level. One private dining room actually has 2 glass walls that do double duty as wine cellars. Impressive for sure.

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Chicago

The room is a designer's dream, with a variety of chairs, benches, and booths spread across two floors, with cool lighting throughout. There is no single unifying element in the decor (besides wine everywhere), but somehow it all works together. We really felt that eating there felt soothing and luxurious and any other adjectives you can come up with that mean comfortable. This is not a place to go for a hurried meal, but rather a place to lean back, enjoy the food and wine, and let the world go by outside.

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Chicago

When seated, an enormous wine menu is also offered, but put yourself in the hands of the staff - a restaurant doesn't become a Best of Award of Excellence winner without educating its staff on the ins and outs of the offerings. I'd like to see more of the wine offered by the glass, but I realize it doesn't always make sense financially to a restaurant. That being said, get a glass of the Del Frisco labeled Cabernet Sauvignon, vinified by Robert Foley from Howell Mountain grapes - a great location and a great winemaker.

Foodwise, we chose from the lunch menu, though the dinner menu is also available for lunch. We started with onion rings (simply enormous and a giant serving, really tasty though not as good reheated the next day) and the Cheesesteak Eggrolls (with a Sweet Chili and Mustard Sauce, which I enjoyed though Laima did not). Laima followed that with an Iceberg Wedge Salad, something I've never understood but she, and countless others, really enjoy. For entrees we had the Filet Medallions (with Scallion Mashed Potatoes, Thin Green Beans and a Lemon Butter Sauce) and the Prime Ribeye Milanese (with Baby Mixed Greens, Roasted Red Pepper, Tomato, Orzo and a Basil Garlic Dressing). Laima ordered the Medallions medium, while I opted for medium-well on the Ribeye, but both came out closer to medium-well, due to the cuts being on the thinner side. Still very tasty, but if you want rare meat, opt for something thicker. Everything we got was unique, not as expected, and very, very tasty - we'll need to go back and explore the menu some more.

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Chicago

No dessert menu, but an enormous lemon cake was offered and accepted, along with a molten chocolate cake with raspberries and ice cream. Nicely done on both.

As an aside, we weren't too sure about the waitresses' outfits - miniskirts, fishnet stockings, and other casual stylings were slightly jarring when juxtaposed to the soothingly luxe design. Maybe that's what the majority of diners expect in a steakhouse? Didn't really affect our meal, in the grand sense, but was a bit perplexing.

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, Chicago

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House is a cut above the rest of the steakhouses we've visited in recent memory. The historic location, outstanding decor, emphasis on wine and extremely tasty food,  make this a destination location, not just a place to get something to eat.

Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House on Urbanspoon

This meal was provided for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

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Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Poderi Arcangelo Winery

Several weeks ago, I got to (briefly) attend a Tuscan wine tasting in Chicago. Since I could only swing by, I narrowed my tasting down to a few varietals I had not tasted before, Ciliegiolo and Vernaccia. Ciliegiolo is traditionally used in blends such as Chianti, but a winery at the tasting, Il Lebbio, had it as a bottling on its own - definitely lived up to its name, "Cherry."

Poderi Arcangelo Winery

Vernaccia di San Gimignano was a revelation to me. I love finding a new white varietal that has a uniqueness to it. My favorite of all the wines I tasted was the Poderi Arcangelo Vernaccia di San Gimignano DOCG Basic (they also have a Selection Terra del Lago, blended with Chardonnay, which I thought took away some of the uniqueness). 100% organic, a huge plus in my book, this varietal was not blended with anything and really shone on its own.

Poderi Arcangelo sits between the towns of Certaldo and San Gimignano, in the Tuscan hills. The land around Siena is naturally suited to the production of the finest olive oils and wines such as those that the Mora Family has been producing for years in their farming estate Poderi Arcangelo. The vineyards of Poderi Arcangelo cover 23 hectares of land, about 250 metres above sea level, at about 5,000 plants per hectare. The cultivation is strictly organic as no synthesis chemical products, like herbicides and insecticides are used. Agronomic interventions such as husking and a careful management of the land, ensure improved results. Varietals grown include, for the white grapes: Vernaccia di San Gimignano, Chardonnay, Trebbiano and Malvasia and for the red grapes: Sangiovese, Merlot, Colorino, black Canaiolo and Cabernet Sauvignon.

Poderi Arcangelo Winery Farmhouse

They are also a destination, with a Tuscan farmhouse inn providing lodging for a visit to Tuscany. Poderi Arcangelo Agriturismo in Tuscany is the result of the renovation of 3 old Tuscan farmhouses dating between 1600 and 1700, re-created maintaining the characteristics of the original style and creating an elegant oasis. They also produce an organic olive oil onsite, which is, as many of us know, a great accompaniment to a good glass of Tuscan wine. Should I find myself in Tuscany, I definitely plan on making a visit here.

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Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ruffino Presents: a Virtual Wine Tasting with Snooth

Ruffino Presents

Ruffino Presents was Snooth's first Virtual Tasting of 2015! With a history dating back to 1877, Ruffino is an iconic Tuscan winery that has always embraced a unique balance of tradition and innovation in their winemaking style. We learned about Chianti Classico and sampled the wines of this 138 year-old Winery. Master of Wine Christy Canterbury was joined by Winemaker Gabriele Tacconi in an hour long tasting session featuring the following fabulous Ruffino Wines:

  • Ruffino Chianti DOCG 2013 ($10)
  • Ruffino Aziano Chianti Classico DOCG 2012 ($14)
  • Ruffino Riserva Ducale Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2011 ($23)
  • Ruffino Riserva Ducale Oro Chianti Classico Gran Selezione DOCG 2010 ($33)



Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream
Ruffino Presents Video: http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/59755851

Suffice it to say, these are excellent examples of this region's wines and it was a delight to taste our way through the hierarchy. Gabriele Tacconi is funny and informative, with some good suggestions on pairings to go along with the wines (hint, you can't go wrong with ragú).

Wines provided for tasting purposes.

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Madison Craft Beer Week 2015

Madison Craft Beer Week 2015

Since its inception in 2010, Madison Craft Beer Week (MCBW) has promoted Madison’s thriving craft beer culture by sponsoring a ten-day (two weekend) festival that highlights Wisconsin’s regional brewing heritage and serves as a showcase for the Madison area’s breweries, restaurants, pubs, caterers, retailers, entertainers, and other businesses with ties to the craft beer community. 

Wisconsin’s largest craft beer week returns May 1-10, 2015 to celebrate its 5th anniversary! Over 80 different Greater Madison area restaurants, pubs and breweries will host more than 350 events as part of this year’s MCBW. Craft beer lovers will have the opportunity to choose from a multitude of events ranging from beer dinners and food pairings to beer history walks, beer 101 classes and brewery parties. 

This year’s “Common Thread” collaboration beer, an annual tradition for MCBW, will be made exclusively by female brewers in Wisconsin. “We are excited to highlight Wisconsin’s female brewers in this year’s Common Thread beer,” said Robyn Klinge, co-founder of Madison Craft Beer Week. “The craft beer industry is male-dominated, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t talented female brewers out there. Our goal is to bring this group together, shake up the image of what a craft brewer looks like and show off our brewing skills,” added Klinge.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Wine of the Week: Picton Bay 2014 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Picton Bay 2014 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc

Apparently vinified by the folks at Mount Riley Wines - their excess grapes are used to make this wine for Trader Joe's ($7.99). Love the twist-off closure, definitely a wine I'll be bringing along on picnics and camping (shhhhh...). Citrus, floral, grass, and starfruit aromas, classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, IMO. Melon, lemon, white floral and starfruit in the glass, with a touch of effervescence to liven things up. Slides down the throat like there's no tomorrow, definitely stock up if you have a TJ's nearby.

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

#WineStudio – Online Session XXII – Zinfandel Rising

Protocol Wine Studio

March's #WineStudio (Zinfandel Rising), starts tonight March 10, and runs through March 31, Tuesday's 9:00 ET. Join us on Twitter as we discuss, learn, and have fun with wine education. People showing up to tell us all about the Zinfandel experience:
  • Aaron Epstein (@LeMetroWine), Le Metro Wine Curator discusses why he chose Zinfandel.
  • Lynn Wheeler and Kenny Likitprakong (@hobowinecompany), winemakers at Hobo Wine Co, discuss raising a family and grapes.
  • Nathan Kandler (@nwkandler), winemaker at Precedent Wine, discusses the Evangelho Vineyard, one of the great old vine Zinfandel vineyards in California.
  • Chris Leamy (@TDOWineryChris), winemaker at Terra d’Oro Winery, brings us the 2012 Heritage Vineyard Zinfandel Oakville, Napa Valley.
  • Ian Blackburn (@beekeepercellar) talks about his new venture as winemaker and how each of his previous experiences has shaped the way he approaches winemaking with Beekeeper Cellars.
PROTOCOL #WineStudio presents an online twitter-based educational program where we engage our brains and palates! It’s part instruction and tasting, with discussions on producers, varieties, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food matching and what all this means to us as imbibers.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Wine of the Week: Rosemount Estate 2014 Shiraz-Cabernet

Rosemount Estate 2014 Shiraz Cabernet

According to Treasury Wine, the owners, the Rosemount family of wines was developed to make it easier for consumers to clearly identify each range – making it simple for consumers to trade up and down while staying loyal to Rosemount, no matter what the occasion. The grapes in the blend come from all over Southeastern Australia. We drank probably 6 bottles of this blend, and each bottle has been somewhat different, from a fruit-forward, luscious version to a thinner, more tart and tannic one as well. They must make a lot of this wine to get that much variation. In general, they all featured dark fruit, spice, cassis, and blackberry flavors into a dark cherry cola finish; most had a soft mouthfeel. At $8, this is a decent option for most dinners. Twist-off cap makes it a good choice for picnics and camping as well.

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