My Kind of Town, Chicago is…

Last week Chicago hosted the NRA Trade Show… no not the gun guys. This NRA is the National Restaurant Association and I guarantee this show blows away anything the other NRA can come up with, no pun intended. On top of discovering a bunch of new products, services and companies in the market, I was able to once again experience all that Chicago has to offer an everyday foodie and wine geek like myself, and man is it a lot!!

Chicago is one of those All American cities filled with lots of history, beautiful architecture, warm and hospitable people and fantastic culinary venues. They have everything from your local burger joint (like the Weber Grill), to a wine a based restaurant offering various flights of wine and cheese (Bin 36) to some of the best Steakhouses in the world (Chicago Chop House and Gibson’s to name a couple). This trip we hit up a few gems hidden in the Windy City.

Fans of Spark’s Steakhouse in NYC are not going to want to miss Gene and Georgetti’s Steakhouse in Chitown. While there is an Italian fare option available here, it is a good old fashioned Steakhouse loaded with perfectly cooked cuts of beef, delicious sides and a very reasonably priced wine list filled with all the Napa Cabs you would hope to see. It also has that same Goodfellas vibe that adds just a hint of danger with your meal… so if someone asks you to take a walk outside don’t be so quick to get up.

The Brazilian Steakhouse chain Fogo de Chao delivers a wonderful dining experience on all levels. It all starts with high quality beef and poultry sliced and served right at your table, and plenty of it. Add a kick ass salad bar, huge wine list and a restaurant enclosed by a custom wine cellar and you come up with a winning culinary combination.

If steak is not your thing, make Shaw’s Crab House the first stop on your list. Here you’ll find some of the best and freshest fish in the city. Try starting out with the cold seafood/shellfish appetizer paired with the Feudo di San Gregorio Falanghina…killer combo!

One of the most fun and energetic places in town is right around the corner from the historic John Hancock building, Bistro 110. It’s got that French Bistro look, feel and menu but with all the energy of Chicago. The Short Rib entry makes a great table appetizer to kick things off, and the Shrimp and Scallops over polenta in their green peppercorn sauce may be the winning dish of the trip. Lots of local and international selections on the well priced wine list, especially from the Rhone area of France.

While these are a few of my favorites, there are so many fantastic restaurants in Chicago that it’s hard to go wrong. As a New Yorker, Chicago is really a city worth visiting as it has so much to offer people of all ages. Just tons of energy and style, but with the warmth and charm that NYC can sometimes lack. I’m already looking forward to going back!

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Looking for a close weekend getaway made for wine and food lovers… head to The Berkshires!

For as long as my wife and I have been together, we always try and take a winter trip to Lenox, MA in the Berkshires. Aside from the picturesque landscape, its old world charm and close proximity to many ski resorts and spas, it is also ideal for the Westchester foodie and wino!

 We like to stay at The Birchwood Inn which is a classic Colonial B & B built in the 1700’s. There are fireplaces in most of the rooms and it’s walking distance to the town of Lenox. The Innkeeper Ellen is definitely the hostess with the mostess. Not only does she make you feel comfortable and at home, but she can cook up a mean breakfast that will leave you satisfied until dinner!

Just down the road in Lenox there are a number of dining options to choose from, all quality! There is everything from a Wine Bar (Alta), an upscale Italian Steakhouse (Prime), a Spanish tapas joint (Firefly), a couple of traditional Italian restaurants (Café Lucia and Frankie’s), a classic style cafe (Church Street Café) and a lively French Bistro, Bistro Zinc.

The menu at Zinc is French in nature, but not too aggressive so that it is still very approachable to those who are not fans of the hardcore French fare. The French Onion soup and Mussels were definitely the highlights for the apps. For the entrée I went with the Steak Frites. I asked for it rare and it came it basically mooing (NICE!!), and my wife said the Grilled Salmon was the best she had ever had….literally!

The wine list is obviously French in nature, however it’s small enough not to be overwhelming yet has enough variety to be appealing.  We ordered a bottle of 2005 Chateau Garraud Lalande de Pomerol (a Merlot based Bordeaux) which was outstanding!! In a store that bottle goes for about $28-35 if you can find it. The full bottle was $60 and the half bottle was only $28. Most of the wines were only about 2 to 2 ½ times what you would pay for it in the store, which has value written all over it.

I am focusing on Bistro Zinc as we have eaten there a couple of times and really enjoyed it. However the food and wine value is found throughout the Berkshire restaurants, including all the ones mentioned above. If you are looking for a real historical place to check out, you can hit The Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge. Built in 1713 it is filled with history,  friendly staff and an option of eating in a classic dining room or a tavern that looks like it hasn’t been touched since it opened. Their burgers and sandwiches are delicious and they serve beer crafted by the local Berkshire Brewing Company which makes for a tasty combo.

Even though it’s outside of Westchester, Trattoria L’Incontro in Astoria is definitely worth a visit.

This past weekend we celebrated my Father in Law’s 65th birthday at a wonderful Italian Restaurant in Astoria, Trattoria L’Incontro. It is a little out of the way for those living in Westchester, but if you find yourself in Queens looking for a great place to eat without breaking the bank….this is it!

This is the third time we have been in their private party room in the back of the restaurant, and it never disappoints. All of their dishes are made with very fresh and quality ingredients. The food tastes so homemade you would think there was someone’s old Italian Grandma cooking in the kitchen.

On top of the authentic Italian menu (with the homemade pasta dishes definitely being my favorite), they have a rather large, Italian based wine list. Italian wines can be confusing, but we have gone the inexpensive route in choosing the wines for our parties, and have enjoyed what we drank every time.

For this party they poured a Bonterra Charonnay as the white option, an organic wine from Mendocino, CA. It is really drinking well and $30 a bottle was a very fair price (it usally runs about $12-16 in the store). For the Red they poured a Tuscan Sangiovese that I was not familiar with, but it paired nicely with the penne in a fresh tomato and basil sauce.

Lastly, what makes dining here such a pleasure is the service. From the Managers down to the Bus Boys, everyone goes out of their way to ensure that you are enjoying your experience at their restaurant. And if you are looking for a glass of wine before or after dinner, they own the wine bar right next door! Very cool joint with a lot of wines by the glass to choose from. For more info just check out the link below….

http://www.trattorialincontro.com/