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MP3: New Foals "Orient," G.e.R.M. remix
MP3: New Kaiser Cartel "Ready to Go"
Beyond Earth Day: Great Wines for Sustainability
Bannos Rolling Back Prices to Celebrate Heaven on Seven's 30th
LOLLA 2010: Gaga, Strokes, Arcade Fire, Devo, Mavis Staples, Erykah Badu, Phoenix, MGMT, XX, Hot Chip, Jimmy Cliff...
Longman & Eagle Brunch Debuting New Cocktails
Can You Taste the Blood in Your Mouth?
Fun with Words ... Really?
Remember When Music Was Exciting?
Details Names Paul Kahan's Salsa Best in U.S.



May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
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August 2009
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May 2009


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MAY 02, 2010
MP3: New Foals "Orient," G.e.R.M. remix

Foals_ Can't wait for the new Foals album, Total Life Forever, to be released digitally in the U.S. on May 11? Get a taste for what's to come with this brilliant G.e.R.M. remix of the first single "The Orient." Foals first album, Antidotes, was driving, pulsing and fast-moving, with energetic ups-and-downs, punchy drums and plucky guitars. "The Orient" shows the Oxford, U.K. band moving in a more introspective, mature direction. 

Listen: The Orient

And when that teases you to the point you need more, check out snippets of the full album on Foals' website (click the album cover under the "music" page once your in the site to access songs).

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APRIL 27, 2010
MP3: New Kaiser Cartel "Ready to Go"

Fans of the Kaiser Cartel can rejoice in the news the band is releasing a follow-up to their well-received debut, March Forth. The boy/girl harmonic/melodic duo of Courtney Kaiser and Benjamin Cartel will drop Secret Transit on June 8. The album was produced by Matt Hales, better known to music fans as Aqualung, so don't be surprised to hear his piano-driven poppy sound incorporated. If the first single, "Ready to Go," is any indication, this album should be a fun one for the summer. The email I just got said the album is "darker and more experimental," but this sounds pretty much the opposite. I guess we'll have to wait until June to hear the rest but for now, enjoy "Ready to Go."

MP3: Ready to Go

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APRIL 23, 2010
Beyond Earth Day: Great Wines for Sustainability

Earthday  We all want to do our part to help the planet (except maybe that guy who just tossed his McDonald's bag out his car window) by changing out lightbulbs, using non-toxic cleaning chemicals and eating more locally grown food. We don't just have to be good on Earth Day. Everyday should be Earth Day. And you can add drinking certain wine to your do-gooder checklist.

Many wineries from France to California to New Zealand have been growing grapes more sustainably and using organic or biodynamic methods to maintain their vineyards. If you're concerned about the food you put into your body, you'll likely appreciate that organic growers do not use pesticides and other harmful chemicals throughout the wine production process. Both organic and biodynamic growing allows for more natural elements to flourish. And while selecting a 100 percent organic wine may not be as easy as, say, finding a bottle produced with organic grapes, which only requires 70 percent of the grapes be organic, more and more are popping up. 

Continue reading "Beyond Earth Day: Great Wines for Sustainability" »

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APRIL 12, 2010
Bannos Rolling Back Prices to Celebrate Heaven on Seven's 30th

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Lunch in the Loop just got a little more affordable: To celebrate the 30th anniversary of his original Heaven on Seven restaurant on Wabash in Chicago, chef/owner Jimmy Bannos is rolling back the prices on all entrees at that spot to $7.95 in May. "I want to thank my customers for their loyal following for the last 30 years," Bannos said. "And in these [tough economic] times, I want to give them a little gift."

That little gift can add up to a whole lot of fantastic New Orleans-style grub. Dishes like the Mardi Gras jambalaya, the Southern fried Louisiana soft shell crab salad, Southern fried oyster po' boy and Bannos' favorites: the chicken andouille sausage gumbo, the etouffee and "any of the po' boys."

Continue reading "Bannos Rolling Back Prices to Celebrate Heaven on Seven's 30th" »

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APRIL 05, 2010
LOLLA 2010: Gaga, Strokes, Arcade Fire, Devo, Mavis Staples, Erykah Badu, Phoenix, MGMT, XX, Hot Chip, Jimmy Cliff...

And here it is folks. Lollapalooza's 2010 Lineup. Grant Park, Chicago. August 6-8. Get your tix now:

Soundgarden, Green Day, Lady Gaga, Arcade Fire, the Strokes, Phoenix, Social Distortion, MGMT, Jimmy Cliff, Hot Chip, the Black Keys, the National, Spoon,  Devo, Cypress Hill, Cut Copy, the New Pornographers, Erykah Badu, Slightly Stoopid, Grizzly Bear, Gogol Bordello, Chromeo, Wolfmother, Yeasayer, X Japan, MUTEMATH, Metric, Dirty Projectors, AFI, Mavis Staples, Matt & Kim, the xx, Drive-By Truckers, Blues TravelerEdward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, the Temper Trap, Jamie Lidell, Frightened Rabbit, F Buttons, Deer Tick, Blitzen Trapper, Stars, Raphael Saadiq, the Cribs, Minus the Bear, Switchfoot, the Walkmen, Mumford & Sons, Wild Beasts, Rogue Wave, Los Amigos Invisibles, the Big Pink, the Dodos, Hockey, Cymbals Eat Guitars, B.o.B, Dawes, Warpaint, the Antlers, the Soft Pack, Rebelution, Balkan Beat Box.

Wavves, American Bang, the Ike Reilly Assassination, Company of Thieves, Nneka, Harlem, the Constellations, Miniature Tigers, Mimicking Birds, the Kissaway Trail, HEALTH, Javelin, the Morning Benders, Foxy Shazam, Violent Soho, Royal Bangs, NEON TREES, Freelance Whales, Semi Precious Weapons, Dan Black, The Band of Heathens, Dragonette, My Dear Disco, Shawn Fisher, Neon Hitch, Skybox, The Ettes, Jukebox the Ghost, These United States, MyNameIsJohnMichael.

2ManyDJs, Empire of the Sun, Digitalism, Perry Farrell, Tiga, Felix da Housecat, Rusko, Erol Alkan, Kaskade, Flosstradamus, Wolfgang Gartner, Joachim Garraud, Mexican Institute of Sound, Caspa, Peanut Butter Wolf, Dirty South, NERVO, Cut Copy (DJ Set), Beats Antique, Steve Porter, Didi Gutman of Brazilian Girls, Ancient Astronauts, Ana Sia, Team Bayside High, Dani Deahl, FreeSol, DJ Mel, BBU Vonnegutt, Only Children, Lance Herbstrong.
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APRIL 01, 2010
Longman & Eagle Brunch Debuting New Cocktails

Bloody-mary


While it's no surprise that hot Logan Square spot Longman & Eagle will debut brunch this Easter Sunday starting at 10 a.m., with incredibly sounding dishes like house-smoked salmon with creme fraiche; sunny side duck egg with duck confit; omelet of morel mushrooms; smoked catfish cakes and waffles with plum compote (all courtesy of that crafty chef Jared Wentworth), the other good news is they'll roll out some delicious cocktails to pair with the rustic fare.

L&E is known for its extensive whiskey and bourbon list as well as having a sweet craft beer selection (I enjoyed an Allagash White last night), for brunch they're introducing a trio of Bloody Marys: The Larry, The Mary and The Maria, with whiskey, vodka and tequila, respectively. They'll be rimmed with house-crafted bacon salt to add an extra little savory zing to each sip. Plus, they're offering an "adult" Horchata, a play on the Mexican cinnamon rice milk, but this will include Sailor Jerry's spiced rum.

It should be a good Easter indeed.

[*note: image used just to whet your palate; not the actual Longman Bloody Mary lineup.]

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MARCH 31, 2010
Can You Taste the Blood in Your Mouth?
There's gonna be even more sexiness on True Blood this season. Is there a VILF in your future?

VILF

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MARCH 29, 2010
Fun with Words ... Really?
"What 6 letter word beginning with S would be the same if it started with Th." This is the question posed by Will Shortz on Sunday on Weekend Edition on NPR. We are sitting at Passover Seder with my entire family trying to figure this out and are hitting a dead end. There are clues online about bagels and food and that kids would like it. Anyone have any ideas?
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MARCH 26, 2010
Remember When Music Was Exciting?

Bloc_party_1 I was listening to Bloc Party's "Helicopter" a few minutes ago and was immediately drawn back to early 2005 when music was more pure. When the Internet still allowed for musical darlings to rise above the shit and become discovered. When bands like Bloc Party and Arcade Fire and Arctic Monkeys and Lily Allen and Clap Your Hands and Annie were actually discovered. And the music was exciting. So much so that people who were tied in to music burbling up on the Internet knew where to tune in to hear the really exciting new music.

Then things got crazy. MySpace exploded. And every band vied for our attention. To the point that there was no longer a filter. Then everything became indie rock. There were no lines drawn, just blurred. The most obscure bands that could play the Pitchfork fest were raised up so fast that before they could ever cross over and become uncool they were already pushed aside. There's only so much weight that indie cred can hold. There's only so much plaid and so many ironic haircuts out there to maintain a scene. In 2005, music was fresh. It was the second calling of the new wave. White Stripes and the Strokes paved the way. This second-second wave built up an incredible base. They brought us into this new space. And then it became overcrowded.

Now, in 2010, we're at a crossroads. We're ready and open for the next vibe. I didn't go to SXSW this year and was told that I missed nothing. There were no standouts. Nothing was exciting. It's time for music to break out and get creative again. Is it that there's nothing to motivate behind? Yes there are wars but do they really affect us on a daily basis? Yes, gay rights should be a non-issue but is that going to motivate politically charged rock? No. We need someone to be bold, to make waves. Don't be derivative. Be original. Do something that knocks us on our asses. Surprise us. Because most other things are just really damn boring. I want to be excited. Excite me!

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MARCH 25, 2010
Details Names Paul Kahan's Salsa Best in U.S.

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Details magazine's April issue names Paul Kahan's Salsa Verde, which he serves at his Wicker Park hot spot, Big Star. Best of all, Details shares the recipe so you can make it at home. Feeling like adding a little heat to your day? Start with some serrano chiles.

Paul Kahan's Salsa Verde recipe: (after the jump)

Continue reading "Details Names Paul Kahan's Salsa Best in U.S." »

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2004 Chateau de Rhodes Gaillac—a Rustic Red

ChateauRhodes Last night I dug into my wine fridge and grabbed a bottle I've been intrigued by for some time but kept overlooking when I'd want to open something. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact I didn't really know much—if anything—about it. While I love Rhone varietals, and rich Pinot from Burgundy, have tinkered with Bordeaux blends, and have even spent some time exploring the vastness of the Gamay grape from Beaujolais and the Loire Valley, I am on a never-ending quest to learn about French wines. There are a number of appellations within regions that produce many varieties of wine. And this one, the Chateau de Rhodes, is no exception. It hails from the Gaillac wine growing region in southwest France, which was first cultivated back in Roman times and was then known for producing exceptional sparkling wines. These days, Gaillac produces both reds and whites and some grapes are pretty obscure.

The majority of this wine is Syrah (55 percent) while 33 percent comes from a regional grape called Braucol. I looked it up and it's known by a few names, including Fer, which is the French word for iron. Apparently when used as a grape, Fer (or Braucol) refers to the hardness of the vine and winemakers use this grape to add richer color and a more robust flavor. The last bit (just 12 percent) comes from Cabernet Franc, and when that finally shows up, you know it arrived.

Continue reading "2004 Chateau de Rhodes Gaillac—a Rustic Red" »

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MARCH 17, 2010
Michael David Winery 2007 6th Sense Syrah

6thsensesyrah Michael David Winery sure has an interesting sense of humor. Many of their wines are named for sins, intuition and other things of higher power. But what strikes me is that while they are attempting to be cute while injecting humor into their winemaking and marketing process, to me it just seems a little odd. Fortunately for them, a lot of their wines, which hail from Lodi, Calif., are pretty damn tasty.

Last night, we popped open a bottle of the 7 Heavenly Chards, which I liked, but didn't love. Its nose had a slight eucalyptus scent and the palate had balanced acid with some pineapple. But something about it reminded me of the chicklet I'd get from the dry cleaner when I'd go with my mom when I was about six years old. I don't know why but as soon as I smelled and tasted it, that random sensory memory came flying out at me. We drank it with some spicy seafood stir fry (the wild caught shrimp were super crisp and the sea scallops had a nice sweet essence) and the wine worked fine. Like I said, I wasn't bowled over by it.

Tonight, however, the 6th Sense Syrah really impressed me. At first, for about 30 seconds, the nose didn't tell a good story. But then it opened up quickly and some really nice blackberry, cherry and spice came up from the glass. The dark and inky wine shows the richness of the Lodi Appellation. It's silky and velvety with nice earth, smoke and jam on the palate that intermingles with deep, dark berries—and for about $17, it's a great buy. But again, going back to the oddness that Michael David uses to separate themselves from the pack, there's a poem on the bottle recounting the six senses with this being the last line: "I sense with my mind, a thought so unkind, I’m trapped six feet under in a bottle of wine." What? Are there dead people buried under the vines? I really hope the grapes aren't being fertilized with old family members who used to farm the land ... but I'm sure I'm reading too deeply into this. Like I said, good thing their wines have some spunk!

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MARCH 11, 2010
Napa Cellars 2007 Merlot: Spice, Cherry, Berries Oh My!
Napacellarsmerlot  I just poured a glass of the Napa Cellars 2007 Merlot. I never know what to expect with Merlot, since it's a grape I fell out of love with when I started really exploring wine about five years ago. But Merlot has definitely been making a comeback and this wine, with grapes generally grown in the cooler southern part of Napa, has a lot going on. When I first poured it, I got scents of spiced cherry, menthol and vanilla. There was something about it that reminded me of wintertime and the holidays, almost like someone was brewing up a batch of mulled wine in my glass. When I tasted it, it kept going. The finish on this medium tannic wine was long and robust. I captured cherry and blueberry with clove, spice and some bark (for as weird as that sounds; there was just something really natural and earthy about it). It's a wine that would do well with food, something with interesting spices, maybe Asian or Greek, but definitely pizza and pasta. And speaking of which, I'm off to pop a 'za in the oven to go with this bad boy. If you find this wine nearby (oddly, the winery's website is still selling the '06 even though this was released in November), it should sell for around $22, which for a 2007 Napa Merlot, is a pretty damn good price.
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FEBRUARY 13, 2010
La Posta Cocina: Fantastic Malbec

LaPostaThe other night we had dinner with friends at Nightwood through an offer from my iPhone app foodie. Nightwood, in Chicago's Pilsen neighborhood, is the newest offering from the owners behind Lula Cafe, one of the city's most celebrated independent spots.

Nightwood, like a number of other top restaurants partnered with foodie, offers unique specials you can only get through the app. This night, we took advantage of the fantastic make-your-own, three-course prix-fixe meal for just $35. Nightwood has a menu featuring seasonal ingredients and strives to work with as many local producers as possible to get their produce and meats. Because we ordered various items (beef stew, whole trout, roasted chicken) we wanted a red wine that was balanced and could possibly complement everyone's meal. We landed on a perfect bottle: La Posta Cocina 2007 Malbec from Mendoza, Argentina.

This Malbec/Syrah/Bonarda blend was smoky with plum and dark berry notes. It's complex and sophisticated. And really well balanced. Best of all its a great value; it was $35 on the list at Nightwood so I can only imagine how cheap this winner is at retail. I'm definitely going to seek this one out. 

UPDATE: I did a quick search and found that Chicago wine superstore Binny's has the 2008 for $13.99.

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JANUARY 17, 2010
What to Drink for the Globes? La Crema Pinot!
We were about to sit down and watch the Golden Globes. I wanted to pick something that matched the cosmopolitan yet humorous and lighthearted glamour that is the Globes and grabbed the 2008 La Crema Pinot from the Sonoma Coast. It's a tasty treat, light and easy with lots of sweet cherry, complex layers and a hint of spice. Ok i'm gonna go watch and drink and post more later.
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This Winter Stay Warm with Big California Reds

In late 1999, I moved to San Francisco to be with my partner, but also to fulfill a dream of living in California. It was everything I thought it could be and more and it was in SF that I was truly exposed to incredibly fresh produce and food prepared with sustainable ingredients. Most of all, however, it was where I began my love for delicious wine and the start of my wine education.

For various reasons, in 2003 we left our Northern California paradise and moved back to Chicago. Don't get me wrong, I love Chicago (it is my hometown), but I despise winter and being bitterly cold. I ask myself (and pretty much anyone who will listen) why I ever left California. I really don't know the answer, but at least each year as the temps drops to unbearable points, I can at least take solace knowing that I can open bottle after bottle of big, warm, jammy California red wine to snuggle up with and keep me warm.

Below are some of my favorites and others I've discovered in the last few months. Many are available locally, but others you may have to search around online or visit the winery's website. Either way, it'll be worth the hunt.

D&S_red  Let's start with something a little local. D&S 2006 Proprietary Red is produced by the guys behind Bin 36 restaurant--Dan Sachs and Brian Duncan, hence the D&S. Yes, there is a line of Bin 36 wines, but this one is pretty special. This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Petite Sirah, Petite Verdot and Merlot is intricate and layered and reveals itself the longer it's open. It starts off with subtle fruit and soft tannins with blueberry and violet notes. The longer it breathes, the jammier it gets. Raisin, leather and darker red fruit come through. It's great bottle to pair with red meats, chicken and even pasta in red sauce and is available at Bin 36 for $26.95 or at select Whole Foods.

Continue reading "This Winter Stay Warm with Big California Reds " »

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OCTOBER 06, 2009
Respecting Marriage: My Advocate.com Commentary

Yesterday, an article I wrote for Advocate.com, the leading LGBT news magazine, discussing why at this point in time it's ridiculous for people to see treat gays as second-class citizens. The following is an excerpt and you can read the rest of the article by clicking the link below.

Respecting Marriage

With the introduction of the Respect for Marriage Act, gay and lesbian couples moved one step closer to marriage equality in America. The big question: Will that be enough to really effect change in places where gays are still ostracized and treated as second-class citizens?

The bill, introduced in the U.S. House on September 15 by Democratic representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York, Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and Jared Polis of Colorado, seeks to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. In an interesting twist, Clinton is a major backer of the new bill, saying, "Throughout my life I have opposed discrimination of any kind. When the Defense of Marriage Act was passed, gay couples could not marry anywhere in the United States or the world for that matter. Thirteen years later, the fabric of our country has changed, and so should this policy."

To read the full commentary, head to Advocate.com.

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SEPTEMBER 30, 2009
Hearty Boys' new spot Hearty to feature upscale comfort food, classic cocktails

Heartyboys

The Hearty Boys just keep on surprising us, don't they? Earlier this year, the original winners of "The Search for the Next Food Network Star" started serving brunch in their catering/HBTV studio space in Lakeview. Now they're taking things up a notch by opening their new restaurant, Hearty, in the same space, at 3819 N. Broadway. The menu promises to showcase upscale comfort food where they'll reintroduce dishes they grew up with, but adding a modern twist.

SomethingGlorious spoke Hearty Boy Steve McDonagh, who said he initially had reservations about opening another restaurant, but after seeing the popularity of their Sunday brunch and realized the the dearth of restaurants on that stretch of Broadway, they decided to give it a go. And go they will: their new website, featuring the new menu. just went live.

McDonagh, along with his life-and-business partner (and chef) Dan Smith , will close the space Oct. 21 and reopen for business following a bit of redecorating on Nov. 4. 

Continue reading "Hearty Boys' new spot Hearty to feature upscale comfort food, classic cocktails" »

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SEPTEMBER 23, 2009
Chicago Gourmet Chefs Dish on Tastings to Preview Event

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With Chicago Gourmet coming up this weekend, local foodies are all a-twitter about the impending gastronomic event. Last year, the site flowed with plenty of wine from around the world, but the food was surprisingly scarce. The focus was misdirected and lots of attendees ended up getting pretty hammered without any food to soak up the wine.

This year's event, taking place in Millennium Park Saturday and Sunday, already seems to be shaping up to rival some of the country's top food and wine weekends, including Aspen's Food & Wine Classic and the South Beach Food & Wine Festival. With nearly every major Chicago chef represented, it seems like it's going to be a culinary orgy.

Continue reading "Chicago Gourmet Chefs Dish on Tastings to Preview Event" »

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SEPTEMBER 18, 2009
Norwegian Pop Princess Annie to Return with More Electropop Magic

Some things are worth the wait and that officially includes the very-long-awaited sophomore album from Annie, who took the indie pop world by storm in 2005 with her debut, Anniemal.

The new album, Don't Stop, picks up where the first left off, but shows the Norwegian singer/DJ's musical growth. Annie has been working on the album for three years, picking up new sounds and influences along the way. She again works with collaborators Timo Kaukolampi and Richard X but also taps producer Paul Epworth (Bloc Party, Primal Scream) and Franz Ferdinand frontman Alex Kapranos. SomethingGlorious got the advance and can't stop listening. 

Continue reading "Norwegian Pop Princess Annie to Return with More Electropop Magic" »

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SEPTEMBER 16, 2009
Paul Kahan's Honky Tonk Tacos
Whenever the team behind avec and Blackbird kick off a new project, the rumors swirl. Last fall, news broke that the guys—Donnie Madia, Paul Kahan and Eduard Seitan, along with Terry Alexander and Peter Garfield of the Violet Hour—took over the legendary and much-loved Pontiac space in Bucktown. Construction and renovations soon followed and while many hoped the sprawling front patio would emerge for summer, the rehab work is still going on, but is progressing at a steady clip. And the wait is almost over. 

Recently, Time Out Chicago revealed that the still-unnamed spot will focus on tacos. SomethingGlorious just discovered that this new space, which is on target to open in late October barring any issues, will primarily be a bar with a walk-up taqueria (no exterior door, just a window) and will feature about 10 items on the menu, according to Executive Chef Paul Kahan. Kahan, who embarks on a SoCal "research and development" trip this week, said that he was inspired when he "ate something and loved it." The food will focus on al pastor tacos, much in the vein of Santa Barbara, Calif.-based Super Rica Taqueria, of which Kahan is a big fan and says has the best tacos he's ever eaten. While Kahan will pull inspiration from his time working alongside Rick Bayless at Frontera Grill, he wants to experiment with "fun food that tastes good," like eventually having fried chicken and mole—which is something I can definitely get down with.

The overall concept will take people back to Bakersfield, Calif., in the 1950s where people like Merle Haggard and Buck Ownes birthed honky tonk music, where migrant Mexican workers inspired food and where you could get a good, cold beer for $1. The space will have a square center bar and a number of booths, and while the bar will serve vodka, gin and run (only one of each, and I'm happy to report the vodka of choice is Tito's from Austin, Texas), the spirits program, curated by Violet Hour manager Michael Ruble, will focus primarily on tequila, beer and hard-to-find, lesser-known American whiskey (bourbon, rye, etc). Beers will be cheap and will come in both seven- and 12-ounce draft pours, so people can get a quick beer and taco or tostada (maybe even a shot of whiskey) for about $10.

Think the crowds at avec and Publican are crazy? Wait till this joint opens this fall. This will likely become the new hipster Mecca, but instead of it being only a summer spot, the interior allows for hanging throughout the winter. Rack 'em up, boys.

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SEPTEMBER 01, 2009
Dining and Drinking with Gaja

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Gaja_gaia I recently had the pleasure of having lunch with Gaia Gaja, daughter and heir to the famed Gaja Wines estate founded in 1859 in Barbaresco, Italy. Gaja wines are first rate and are considered some of the best Barbaresco in the world, consistently rating above 90 points (usually more than 93) from Robert Parker and the Wine Spectator. After tasting a few of their newest releases with Gaia at NoMI restaurant at the Park Hyatt in Chicago, I understand why. Gaia was in the U.S. meeting with various people in the wine trade to help keep the Gaja name flowing. She was a wonderful hostess—engaging, entertaining, funny and incredibly knowledgeable about her family's history and wine.

This wasn't my introduction to Gaja, mind you. I've known about and have had some of their wines in the past. But getting to taste these during a one-on-one lunch with a member of the family was a real treat. Gaia, one of three children to Angelo Gaja (the current owner and innovator), is a fifth-generation wine producer of her family's treasured wines. During a lunch overlooking Chicago and Lake Michigan, Gaia and I tasted through the 2005 Barbaresco, 2004 Rennina and 2004 Sugarille, the last two both from the Gaja's estate in Montalcino, Pieve Santa Restituta. Angelo Gaja acquired this estate, named for the small church located in the heart of the estate, in 1994 to help grow the Gaja name throughout Italy. By adding these two Brunello di Montalcino wines (both 100 percent Sangiovese), they now have bragging rights to even more of the best wines coming from Italy.

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AUGUST 10, 2009
Salute! Raise a Glass to Italian Wines
When many people think of Italian wine they think of Chianti Classico, but truth is, there are about 1,500 grape varieties in Italy--more than any other wine growing area in the world. Some, like Sangiovese (the grape grown in Chianti, which is a region and not a grape), Nebbiolo or Primitivo, are widespread and well known. Others are grown in small batches and produced by mom-and-pop growers who may only make enough wine for themselves and their friends and family.

Learning about Italian wines can be a heady undertaking, but if you grasp the basics, much of what you need to know falls into place. Many of the wines are named for regions or towns where they are produced, like Brunello di Montalcino (which is made of Sangiovese Grosso and grown in Montalcino in Tuscany) or Barbaresco (which comes from the Nebbiolo grape but is produced in the town or Barbaresco in the Piemonte region).

One way to dive into Italian wine is to drink a whole bunch of it. But to have some fun, I thought it could be interesting to compare some Italian wines to others you might be familiar with. I don't mean these are an exact match, but are similar in style and body and give you an idea of what to look for based on what you already like to drink.

TignanelloIf you like a meritage, check out Super Tuscans, which are often blended with Sangiovese, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and other Bordeaux-style grapes (like a meritage). These wines were first produced in the late 1960s and early 1970s after winemakers created wines that didn't fit within the DOC (Denominazione di Origine Controllata) or DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) classifications set forth by the Italian wine governance. One winemaker in particular, Piero Antinori, whose family has been producing wine in Tuscany since the 1300s, created the first truly robust Super Tuscan in 1971. This was Tignanello (available at Binny's), and today is considered to be one of the best wines produced in Italy, if not the world. Since then, Super Tuscans, once considered mere table wines, have gained much respect around the world.

Continue reading "Salute! Raise a Glass to Italian Wines" »

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JULY 14, 2009
Irony 2006 Monterey Pinot Noir

Irony_pinotnoir So today being Bastille Day I wanted to do something to honor the storming of the Parisian fortress that was a major turning point in the French revolution in 1790. I had planned to crack open a bottle of French wine, but when I was going through my wine, I grabbed a bottle of Pinot Noir, a delicious Burgundian grape. But in a weird twist (ok, it really wasn't that weird) the bottle I grabbed was from Monterey County in California. Maybe call it ironic?

The Irony 2006 Monterey Pinot Noir may not be from France but it definitely is working to help celebrate the holiday. After sticking it in the fridge for about 20 minutes to bring its temperature down a bit, it took a few minutes to open and when it did, its cherry and raspberry nose was ready to go. This lighter wine is bright, silky and has a long finish with some cherry and chocolate notes. There's a bit of tannin on the tongue, but when paired with some non-smoked gouda on a buttery cracker, it softened up and everything worked really well together.

My partner is grilling homemade turkey burgers mixed with bacon, spinach, onions—and at this point, some sort of surprise. I tried to get it out of him for the purpose of this post, but he wouldn't give it up. Sometimes chefs can be finicky that way. But back to the wine.

I wasn't really too familiar with Irony until I got a couple of bottles a few weeks ago, and I'm really glad they showed up. The winery was started by brothers Chris and Jay Indelicato, whose grandfather planted vineyards back in 1924. The guys grew up working harvest, but their lives took them in a different direction when they got older, until they came back together to launch Irony. This Pinot was sourced from three different vineyards in Monterey: Arroyo Seco, San Lucas and San Bernabe. The grapes went through primary and then malolactic fermentation before being bottled in oak to age for eight months; the wine was then blended to create this vintage.

Check out the Irony website to find out where you can pick up their wine in your area. The suggested retail price is around $16 and, when compared with some French Pinots, it's a steal. This wine can hold its own against some Burgundian wines I've had. I'm looking forward to seeing how it pairs with this turkey burger surprise.

Vive La France!

[Update: the "surprise" was brie baked into the turkey burger. How do you like that? A little French surprise inside my dinner. And the wine was awesome.]

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JULY 08, 2009
Understanding German Riesling: It's Not All Sweet

Big_white_riesling_grapes Riesling is possibly the most misunderstood grape varietal in the wine world, especially when it comes to American palates. Ask your average wine drinker in the U.S. what they think of Riesling and they'll undoubtedly say it's sweet. In many instances they're right. But Riesling runs the gamut from super sweet dessert wines to bone dry bottles that you could even pair with a steak. Riesling, which can show peach, apple and pear notes, pairs with a variety of food from soft cheeses, pork and fish or sushi to spicy Thai dishes and Indian curries and more.

In May, I had a great opportunity to take a trip sponsored by the German Wine Institute to visit German wine-growing regions. Germany has 13 distinct growing regions, with most centered around or near the Rhine river. We spent four full days hitting three of those regions--Rheinhessen, Pfalz and Mosel--and learning all about the diversity of the Riesling grape, and let me tell you, it's diverse. Riesling, like most German wines, are classified by a number of things. With Riesling, the wine can be a kabinett (a more basic wine that tends to be drier), spatlese ("late harvest," and is sweeter), auslese ("select harvest," and even sweeter) and on to beerenauslese (a late harvest dessert wine that tends to be a bit more syrupy and sweet). The quality of the wine and whether it's trocken (dry) or suess (sweet) all depends on where it's grown and how long the grapes remain on the vine. And one of the more impressive qualities of the vineyards, at least in the Mosel region, is that many reside on very steep slopes, giving the grapes better access to sun, wind and other elements that help the them grow and produce more robust, juicy fruit.

Continue reading "Understanding German Riesling: It's Not All Sweet" »

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MAY 12, 2009
Clos de la Siete: A Nontraditional Malbec

Closdelasiete There's no question that Malbec has quickly become a favorite grape of American wine drinkers. The wine these Argentine grapes produce tends to be supple and rounded with soft tannins, allowing it to be drunk alone or with food.

I recently discovered a fantastic wine from Campo Vista Flores (just south of Mendoza, Argentina) that really knocked my socks off. The 2007 Clos de la Siete is predominantly Malbec (48%) but introduces a few other varietals to give it a real punch. The wine came to life by a group of seven Bordeaux winemakers (led by noted wine consultant Michel Rolland) who decided they wouldn't just do a Malbec. So they planted Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon as well and the result is a great bottle.

The wine is, to put it simply, big and bold. The tannins hit your palate just at the right place and leave a hint of earth as the wine goes down. But its dark and ruby hues make way for wonderful blackberry, currant, violet and cherry notes that you'll want to go back to again and again.

Buy it online now for $13.95.

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JULY 24, 2008
Live Review: Coldplay @ United Center 7/23/08

The Brit Boys are Big But Are They Getting Bored?

The reviews from Coldplay's current North American tour have been mixed — by both critics and fans. People who attended the band's Viva La Vida July 22 tour stop in Chicago said the sound was amazing and that it was one of the best live shows they'd ever seen. Expectations were high for last night's show, and the sold-out crowd screamed every time Chris Martin said anything into the mic — even when being goofy and cheeky while saying some canned lines he likely says at every show.

The band came out strong, walking out to the instrumental "Life in Technicolor" and then launching into a rousing version of "Violet Hill," which led to "Clocks," where the band and audience were swathed in red light and penetrated with multi-colored lasers. They played possibly every track off the new album — "Strawberry Swing" was a personal highlight — but where were the songs from the first three releases? For a show that ran nearly two hours, the band played more of a blend of greatest hits: "Yellow," "In My Place," "Fix You" (which, in true Coldplay grandiose style, was layered and beautiful), "God Put a Smile Upon Your Face" (a cool remix version that was played on a small stage that jutted out into the crowd), "The Scientist" and "Politik," which again proved the band can fill a stadium with their now larger-than-life presence. A high point came when Martin announced they were filming a video for "Lost," which the band ran through twice — apparently something they did last night as well. The second run through was definitely tighter and more on point.

However, it would've been nice to hear more of a blend from all four albums (where the hell was "Talk" and "Everything's Not Lost"?) and at some points, it felt like Coldplay was phoning in the performance. "Speed of Sound" didn't have the energy of shows past. At times, Guy Berrymore — who couldn't be bothered for some reason to return to the stage for the surprise encore of "Green Eyes," despite Martin calling out for his longtime mate and carrying on anyway — looked like he'd rather be elsewhere. Same with Jonny Buckland. If Will Champion hadn't been such a rhythmic bruiser on the drum kit, he too, may have wanted to meet up with friends at a bar instead of being on stage. To that end, the nice thing about Coldplay is that, for the most part, they seem like they enjoy each others' company and like playing with each other — not an easy task for a major act on a worldwide tour. And this isn't to say the show wasn't fun, because it was. And they sounded great. But it would've been nice to hear them sound great on a wider variety of tunes. Hopefully they'll mix it up for the rest of the tour.

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JULY 16, 2008
Band to Watch: Sunfold; Check out new MP3

Sunfoldlogo If you want to round out your summer with some sweet, golden "wish I grew up in the '70s" tunes, pay attention to Sunfold. This North Carolina band, fronted by the not-even-legal-to-drink Kenny Florence and backed by members of Annuals, is set to release its debut, Toy Tugboats, on July 22. If the rest of the album is as catchy as this single, "Sara the American Winter," it's going to help keep things warm around these parts well into the fall.

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JULY 10, 2008
Live Review: George Michael @ United Center, 7/9/08

The '80s pop star proves he's still got it during this "farewell" tour

[Photos courtesy of Barry Brecheisen]

It only took 17 years, but George Michael finally returned to the big stage last night in Chicago -- and what a stage it was. Looking like a massive cascading waterfall, the multi-story-high LED backdrop—replete with light shows and now-vintage videos—flowed down to serve as Michael's stage and dance floor. The iconic '80s pop singer who has had more notoriety in the last decade for his sex scandals and drug busts put on a two-set, two-plus-hour show to a nearly sold-out United Center. Word has it that the previous show in Minneapolis only saw a half-full arena Michael allegedly played a half-assed show. Not the case in Chicago. He honestly seemed thrilled to be here and the crowd made him feel right at home.

Continue reading "Live Review: George Michael @ United Center, 7/9/08" »

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JULY 02, 2008
MP3 -- Bigelf "Money, It's Pure Evil"

When this song came across my desk (OK, my IM) about an hour ago, I couldn't believe the enormity of it. It sounds like it was made for a major arena circa 1977. L.A.'s Bigelf will drop their new album, Cheat the Gallows, Aug. 12 on Custard Records (Linda Perry's label). Check out "Money, It's Pure Evil" and listen for influences from the Beatles, Bowie, Pink Floyd — and even Lenny Kravitz (when he was still making good music). This album could be a big surprise this year — but I'm solely basing that on this one song (the tracks from their last album, which you can hear on MySpace, are decidedly heavier and darker a la Sabbath. Who knows, it could suck, but at least this song is cool). Apparently Alicia Keys is a fan. Random.

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