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Chicago's Grand Cru

By Amy Lively Jensen
& W Peter Hoyne

Lovers of gastronomy, wine enthusiasts and serious foodies converged on Chicago and the Harris Theater rooftop in Millennium Park September 22nd – 25th. Enthusiasm ran high as participants savored the epicurean artistry of the city during the 15th Anniversary of Chicago Gourmet. The Illinois Restaurant Association along with Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits were the founding sponsors with proceeds benefiting the Illinois Restaurant Association Educational Foundation.

Titled ‘Creating a Stir” this year’s four days of late summer festivities was inaugurated with Taco & Tequila on Thursday with 13 competing restaurants. Celebrated chef, author and restaurateur Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo XOCO and Bar Sótano anchored this venue of gourmet tacos coupled with tequila and mezcal spirits. Nearby were mariachi musicals and mojiganga performances.

Pleasure-seekers gathered on Friday for the Annual Hamburger Hop as Chicago’s elite restaurants competed for recognition as Chicago’s quintessential hamburger. Stephanie Izard of Girl and the Goat, Little Goat Cabra and Duck Duck Goat hosted this sought after event. Chef Kwame Onwuachi accepted the People's Choice Award with his rendition of a truffle burger with Taleggio smoked cheese, romaine and shaved truffles on a potato bun. Chef Corey Grupe of Burger Federation was acknowledged as the Judge's Choice with his “Little Miss Figgy” burger. The esteemed judges included acclaimed food critic Phil Vetell, Marion Brooks of NBC 5 Chicago, Sylvia Perez of Fox News 32 and others.

The Late Night Gourmet after party coordinated music and specialty cocktails at TAO, Asian Bistro and Nightclub.

The VIP Grand Cru tasting commenced on Sunday with two sessions under the tents of the Harris Theater rooftop. People savored culinary Chicago’s dining inspirations with a high end selection of wine and craft cocktails from the portfolio of Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. Live music enhanced the tasting.

During the evening session, owner Tony Priolio of Chicago staple, Picolo Sogno Restaurant, presented a black truffle and celery root flan, which paired nicely against the fresh stone fruit flavors of the Louis Roederer Collection 242 Champagne. This finely crafted Champagne is layered with warm, freshly baked biscuits, ripe Fuji apples and golden Bosc pears.

Dominique Leach of Lexington Betty’s Smokehouse presented an offering of everything wagu featuring Wagyu steak dogs with her signature barbecue sauce and Chicago fixings. Sourced from a family-owned farm in Wisconsin, this was the introductory release to the Chicago market. The flavors were nicely balanced by the stunning 2019 Justin Isosceles red blend from Paso Robles. The recently released Justin Isoceles, crafted by winemaker Scott Shirley and is dominated by Cabernet Sauvignon. This bottling is an opulent, red fruit driven blend with ripe crème de cassis, Morello cherries, sweet oak and a touch of baking spices.

Esme restaurant with their 90’s nostalgia menu, showcased a presentation of Flaming Hot Cheetos made with cavier and onion soubis. This offering was easily cooled and balanced by the freshness of the 2012 Henriot Millesime Vintage Champagne.

The 2017 Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard Chardonnay accented with a honeyed core of citrus fruits and lemon meringue balanced nicely with the flavors of a Lobster “Choux” presented by renowned French chef and owner Daniel Boulud. His presentation of Maine Lobster, tarragon aioli and celery struck a high note when accented by the Hyde Chardonnay.

Other noteworthy achievements from Southern included the cellar worthy 2018 Stag’s Leap “Cask 23” Cabernet Sauvignon, the lush and silky 2020 Caymus Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and the exotic Double Diamond Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon. This under the radar wine is the second label from Schrader Cellars in Napa Valley. The evening concluded with an energetic crowd which was beaming and looking forward to 2023. For more information on Chicago Gourmet 2023, visit https://www.chicagogourmet.org.

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