I recently spent the better part of an awesome week in Chicago wearing two hats— the first being that of Betts and Scholl ambassador and the second, unexpectedly, my party hat. The weather was perfect (which I know is rare), and the lake looked sublime as always, but neither of these were material to my enjoyment of this fine town. Paramount to the fun was all of the great food, youth, energy and, unexpectedly, a dearth of pretense.
As a fellow who spends a fair bit of time traveling, I often find myself looking forward to my trips to either coast. I know that California’s bounty always provides nourishment, as does New York in its own self-assured, center-of-the-universe way. Sure, there are great eats everywhere and it is always a pleasure to bump into them as one roams the zip codes between 10000 and 99000. But, I must say that I was struck by the great concentration of energy and good times in and around Chicago.
In the a.m. hours of said trip (while most sommeliers are sleeping off the previous evening’s marauding), I spent some really good quality time with the retail community. Among many really cool, enlightened and hip retailers I met Craig Perman at his thoughtful boutique of a shop aptly called Perman. A little later while cruising along Milwaukee Avenue, I popped into the about-to-open Red & White Wines. Here are three guys building their own shop with their own hands from wood reclaimed from a century-old barn in Wisconsin. There were so many other cool shops where young, enthused folks are sharing their passions, but I would be remiss not to mention the coolest tasting I’ve ever done, which happened upstairs at Juicy and was set to Dr. Dre’s album The Chronic. That takes passion and inspiration—thanks Rodney!
Of course, one needs nutrition, and there is no better city in which to find yourself in need of such. I love the low-brow eats like the Weiner Circle, and I managed to scarf down a couple dogs. I also bumped into some of my favorite grub at Avec and Frontera Grill (Rick Bayless is perhaps the nicest chef ever) and was really impressed by the new Sepia. Again, young, fun, awesome aesthetic and, importantly, informed. Of course, Chicago is also home to Alinea: Grant Achatz’s place has had so many deservedly awesome things written about it so I won’t beat the horse. I do, however, have to say all of the good stuff is true, and I found that as great as all of the Burgundy was, it was the food that made my heart go pitter-patter.
We made many stops over the course of several days and encountered old friends while making many new ones. Champagne with the inimitable Kairos Cuilann des Rosiers at the Trump International Hotel & Tower is not to be missed as there is no one funnier in the wine business. Molly Wismeier is leading the coolest team of rocking sommeliers—four women at Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood. Consistent among all of this is the spirit of enthusiasm, energy, passion and a total lack of pretense. It was a stark reminder that however strong the gravity may be by the sea, the lake is the center of being grounded.
I’m off to France on Sunday and hope to report back on more than the rumor that they are putting breathalyzers in the bistros starting Jan. 1. Tres un-fun.
William Newell — Buffalo, NY — July 1, 2008 12:27pm ET
Michael Appleton — Moraga, CA — July 1, 2008 5:18pm ET
Dave Pramuk — July 7, 2008 2:23pm ET
Kyle Charles Ridington — July 8, 2008 7:38pm ET
Daniel Grotto — July 9, 2008 9:54am ET
Richard Betts — denver airport at present — July 12, 2008 10:09am ET
Telluride Bottleworks — Telluride, CO — July 22, 2008 7:31pm ET
Robert Mosher — Chicago, IL — July 24, 2008 2:05pm ET
Richard Betts — denver airport at present — July 25, 2008 1:28pm ET
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