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NOVEMBER 01, 2006
Beringer 2002 Bancroft Ranch Merlot

Beringer A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to hop into the Beringer Winery Airstream that was tricked out and decorated by the editors of domino magazine. The Airstream is on a six-week tour in order to bring a little of Napa to urban masses. The day before the official Chicago stop, Beringer reps hosted members of the media and blogging community to enjoy select wine paired with food prepared by Beringer executive chef David Frakes.

I tasted four wines in all -- the '05 Sauvignon Blanc (light, herbaceous and tropical); the '04 Private Reserve Chardonnay (full bodied, buttery -- paired with amazing amaranth-encrusted shrimp in a curry sauce) and the '02 Private Reserve Cab (full bodied and more complex than a typical California Cab -- it reminded me of Cabs produced in Italy).

But the one I was most impressed with was the '02 Bancroft Ranch Merlot. Now, I know what you're thinking -- that merlot is passe and typical, but I have to tell you, it's coming back in vogue. This wine, produced at Beringer's vineyard up on Howell Mountain in Napa, was intricate and layered and was more tannic than most merlots. It had a deep purple color with a spicy palette and was lightly dry. The nose gave off essence of raisin and cherry but the taste is what got me. With hints of chocolate and a burst of dark berries, this wine is a winner.

If you're in LA this Sunday, the Airstream sets up shop at the West LA Farmers Market. Swing by for free wine and great food.

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OCTOBER 23, 2006
Wagamama Coming to the US


Anyone who has ever spent a semester abroad in London or even jumped across the pond for a long weekend with advice from friends has likely eaten a meal at Wagamama. The 14-year-old noodle-house chain, which now has 45 locations around the UK -- with additional spots in Australia, Dubai, Ireland, Turkey, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Denmark and Belgium, is finally coming to America. I first dined at the original Wagamama in London's Bloomsbury neighborhood shortly after it opened back in 1992 and went back to the Covent Garden space on this last trip. Wagamama still has the same cachet and fast-paced environment -- not to mention fantastic, inexpensive noodle, ramen, rice and curry dishes -- as it always has. The first spot is set to open in Boston's Faneuil Hall in early 2007 and when I spoke with someone at Wagamama HQ, she told me that Chicago is a very possible second spot.

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OCTOBER 02, 2006
Salty Dog Crisps

Salty Another great product I ripped into today was Satly Dog's Sea Salt & Cracked Pepper crisps. I'm a big fan of the same flavor by Kettle Chips, but something about the English variety was so much better. Where Kettle Chips have that crunch I love so much, they also overload the cracked pepper, leaving little other flavor than that (and what potato chip doesn't require some salt? Hey, I'm a purist). But Salty Dog's, with its cute packaging, won me over by having the perfect balance of crunch, salt and pepper -- with almost all natural ingredients.

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Innocent Drinks


Waiting for Westminster Abbey to re-open today (there was apparently a "special" service with some important governmental peeps), we trekked over to Buckingham Palace, where we stumbled upon the changing of the guard -- a very British sight to behold. On our way back, we stopped at London gourmet joint Eat -- a fantastic spot where you can get a variety of hand-crafted fresh sandwiches, salads, soups and coffee. Their branding is fantastic -- very clean and to the point. They're all about good food fast but doing it where you actually feel like you're paying for a quality meal.

In addition to their own delicious products, they also stock great juices made by Innocent Drinks. I grabbed the Lemons & Limes -- one of the best citrus drinks I've had ... ever. It's about 80% spring water, 12% citrus (basically one each squeezed lemon and lime) and natural sugar stirred in. Their packaging is straight-forward and the messaging is all about having fun. There was some silly story about monkeys who get the lemons and limes but the females all got pregnant and went on maternity leave, only to have the males tending to the work, then wanted to strike but got red galoshes and were sated ... you get the point. It's non-sensical, but whimsical. It's the UK's answer to Glaceau's Vitamin Water line -- but almost better because they seem all natural without any additives. In addition to Lemons and Limes, they have a variety of flavors, like black currants and magoes & passion fruits -- as well as a line of smoothies, which, when I was Harrods Food Halls (more later), I saw a little girl grab one and run up to her mum, begging for it. So it must be good.

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SEPTEMBER 13, 2006
Sabra's Roasted Red Pepper Hummus

Picture_4 It's a rarity that my home doesn't have a container of red pepper hummus in the fridge. So yesterday when my partner came home with a brand we'd never had, I was eager to dig in. Sabra's Fresh Roasted Red Pepper Hummus is likely the best store-bought RRP hummus I've ever had. Like the hummus you get in any Mediterranean restaurant, this package had the cluster of red peppers and olive oil gracing the middle, waiting to mix in with the surrounding chick pea goodness. And the result: near heaven. There's something about this hummus: is it the creaminess? the fresh roasted red pepper? an extra whipping of the chick peas? If your grocery store (and if you live near a Safeway or one of its subsidiaries, you'll likely find it) has it, I implore you to grab it along with some fresh pita and dare yourself to stop eating it.

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AUGUST 22, 2006
My Nespresso C190

N_c190_748_4 My Nespresso has a first name it's n-e-s-p-r. My Nespresso has a second name is e-s-s-o.

Ok, so not quite the Oscar Meyer song, but you get my feeling -- anything I want to sing about, I must love. And anything I've had for more than two years that I still want to blog about, I must really love.

My Nespresso C190 is one of the greatest things to ever come into my life. Not only is it stylish with its Titanium shell and curvaceous body, but it also produces a perfect cup of espresso with just the right amount of crema every time.

I've become a big fan of the pods as well. There are about a dozen coffee varietals that Nespresso produces -- and I lean toward Decaffeinato Intenso when I want to lay off the buzz and choose either Arpeggio or Capriccio when I need a little kicker. Not sure what it is about these pods that I dig, maybe it's the purple and dark green casing they come in. Perhaps it's the blend of South and Central American beans or the Latin American Arabicas mixed with a touch of West African Robusta. But when I make my vanilla, nonfat latte in the morning (sometimes midday -- but not everyday, mind you), it is so easy and tastes so damn good every single time.

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AUGUST 17, 2006
May Street Market

Maystreet At dinner last night it dawned on me that, while I've claimed May Street Market as my favorite new restaurant in Chicago, I've never written about it. I've been there now four times -- for both lunch and dinner -- brought numerous people, including my parents last night for mom's birthday and have referred even more there. Time after time, I've not only had great meals, but also have heard from everyone I've sent there how much they loved it.

One of the biggest draws for me is Chantal Randolph, the restaurant's general manager and now partner, news she revealed to me last night. This woman is why going to dinner is wonderful. When you get greeted with a huge smile and are continuously delighted by her warm presence and her effusive discussions on the beauty of food, that's a dining experience.

But the other draw, obviously, is chef Alex Cheswick's innovative menu and gorgeous presentation. He graduated from CIA and has worked in the kitchens at Tru and Le Francais in Chicago as well as a couple of spots in Germany and Switzerland, influences that are definitely notable in the food.

By now, I've sampled nearly everything on the menu -- both spring and summer. Last night, I had pan sauteed scallops that were near perfection, served with purple rice, a dollop of pesto and so much flavor. The heirloom tomato salad was a nice light start, with the accompaniment of tomato ice a perfect touch.

An excellent menu staple is their signature lemon grass and carrot soup with black mussels and their mini burger trio of venison, seared tuna and beef with pomme frites is out of this world.

And their wine list -- carefully selected from vineyards around the world -- is so accessible, friendly and easy to navigate. While my dad wanted to venture to Italy for a barbera, I gently brought him back to Napa for, what else, the Joel Gott '04 Cab, which has a great blend of ripe cherry, sweet plum, a touch of chocolate with just a hint of dryness. It leans toward a Zin, which doesn't surprise me with Joel's love of that grape.

May Street is truly a wonderful experience. It's classy, comfortable and not over-the-top experimental like some other new spots in Chicago. It's a keeper.

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AUGUST 15, 2006
Joel Gott '04 Sauvignon Blanc

Joel Gott owns one of my favorite wineries in Napa. When I lived in San Francisco, I discovered that once a year, Joel releases a special Zin that everyone goes crazy for and it's pretty much snapped up and gone within a few weeks.

Being so impressed with the Zin (of which he has a few different varities), I was pretty easily convinced to try other wines he produces, including his Cab, which is rich, jammy and great with steak, lamb -- even a cheese plate.

Tonight, I cracked open a bottle of his '04 Sauvignon Blanc -- Three Ranches to go with parmesan-crusted tilapia, roasted potatoes and roasted asparagus that we made. The pairing was perfect. The light, grassy nose led to a slightly acidic, crisp start and a floral finish with a hint of tropical fruit, kiwi, melon and a little honey dew melon. It was a delight and a great bottle of white – in fact, Wine & Spirits magazine Gott's '02 one of the best Sauvignon Blancs around.

Joel Gott's wines are not readily available everywhere, but if you stumble upon any of them, I urge you grab a bottle -- or four. You'll be pleased you did.

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AUGUST 01, 2006
2005 Rioja Cune Rosado

Cune_rose It's once again a steaming hot night in Chicago -- earlier today when I got into my car, I kid you not the outside temp said it was 107 degrees. When I walked to my lunch meeting, I sauntered. It was too hot for my normal I-live-in-the-city walk. I felt like I lived in the south; I understood why people in hot climates move slower than the rest of us. You don't want to do anything too quickly -- all you do is end up getting hot and sweaty.

But back to the point. Tonight, for dinner, we made one of our favorite pizzas we find at Trader Joe's -- Maitre Pierre's Tarte d'Alsace, a flat-crust tarte made of ham, caramelized onion and Gruyere. Since it was so hot and we were eating light, we wanted a wine to complement and pulled out a bottle of 2005 Cune Rosado.

It seems like this summer has been the season of rose; it has once again come back in vogue and I'm so glad I'm jumping on the bandwagon.

This bottle, from Spain's Rioja region, initially had a strong sugary taste of sweet, sweet strawberries, almost reflecting its color. But after being opened just a few minutes, the 100% Grenache rose quickly became slightly tart and acidic, with a softened fruitiness that blended perfectly with the sharpness of the Gruyere. And it had some wonderful melon tones.

At only $7 a bottle, it was a steal well worth taking a chance on. You can pick it up from Sam's Wines and if your Spanish is any good, check out the winery's official site.

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Stags' Leap '03 Viognier

Last week, friends took us to dinner at Miramar, sister restaurant to Gabriel Viti's renowned upscale spot, Gabriel's, both in Highwood, Ill., about 30 minutes north of Chicago. To say that dinner was a gorge fest was an understatement -- and pairing the food with wine was simple, considering Miramar's healthy wine list. Before our entrees arrived, we had already polished off a bottle of French rose and a bottle of Deerfield Ranch pinot noir. Some of us were having fish for dinner and it was a beautiful night -- the French doors were open and a hot summer breeze was coming through. We wanted something refreshing and settled on the Stags' Leap viognier. I had no idea Stags', known for its cabs, did a white like this. It was slightly acidic with some well-balanced citrus, including lemon and nectarine, as well as some pear notes.  I tried finding it the other day at a local shop but had no luck. If anyone knows where to find this wine in Chicago, please let me know. And if you stumble upon it, grab a few bottles. You'll enjoy it.

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