The first annual Windy City Wine Festival, featuring tastings of more than 200 wines, demos by local chefs, and seminars on pairing wines with food, takes place at Daley Bicentennial Plaza (Columbus and Monroe) this Saturday and Sunday. For more information see windycitywinefestival.com. Below are three of our critics' favorite places to bring their own bottles.
5401 N. Broadway
Adria Mare sounds Italian, but it's owned by a Croatian couple, Denis and Nadia Bajramovic, whose aim is to bridge the small distance between the northern extremes of Italy and Croatia. On the menu "coastal Adriatic" translates to a variety of aquatic edibles and the usual pasta suspects: penne, spaghetti, and four different risottos. The meal my girlfriend and I shared was superb, and lovingly prepared from scratch. We began with a tart, smoky, garlicky black-olive pate served on lightly fried pieces of wheat bread. Then came cheese tartlets, innovative little bread packages filled with feta, boiled egg, and tomato and drizzled with a preparation of olive oil, red wine vinegar, and mustard. An enormous portion of seafood risotto teemed with practically everything that swims, scuttles, or glides through the sea. The dish was creamy, with a bite, and tasted of the ocean without being fishy. The tuna steak wasn't quite as good: an unlovely piece of gray fish that tasted fine, but only due to the creamy sambuca sauce it was served with. We ended with the dolce du jour, a mountainous piece of carrot cake. The only problem with this otherwise pleasant Edgewater spot is the decor, strongly reminiscent of Red Lobster circa 1975, before that chain went the family-dining route. Fishnets cover the ceiling, buoys hang on the walls, and the bar is festooned with little models of ships. It seems like a small thing, but I suspect this may be the main reason Adria Mare is not packed to the gills. The food deserves an audience. --Chip Dudley
Speakeasy Supper Club
1401 W. Devon
Over the last two years Jody Andre (Tomboy, South) has turned Speakeasy's cavernous Devon Avenue space into a comfy, reliable neighborhood spot where the friendly staff is as much of a draw as the eclectic American food. The permanent BYOB policy, which can really help keep the tab under control, can't hurt either. The three rooms--bar/smoking section, dining room, and cabaret--are white-tablecloth classy, but the atmosphere is casual, with black banquettes lining bordello-red walls. Chef Tiffanie Hicks left in July, but her replacement, Kevin Bednarski, is doing fine with what's still basically her menu. Appetizers include tempura-battered artichokes in wasabi hollandaise, chicken pot stickers, and a "duet" of smoked salmon and refreshing tuna tartare with toast points and assorted garnishes. My friend's crock of French onion soup was just OK; it could have used a dash of salt, and the Gruyere on top was as brittle as creme-brulee crust in spots. In a typical twist, the signature Speakeasy salad with bacon and Gorgonzola is dressed with crunchy nuggets of garlic granola in lieu of croutons. Entrees are divvied up into half courses and main courses and include tweaked standards
like mint-and-pistachio-encrusted lamb chops, bouillabaisse with a saffron-tomato broth, and vegetarian risotto with cremini mushrooms, Roma tomatoes, asparagus, and Parmesan. The half courses, explained a sweet and attentive waiter, are "normal portions" (about five ounces of protein plus a couple of sides) while the main courses are "American size." My half course of seared sea scallops was delicious--three firm disks in a lemon beurre blanc surrounding an island of garlic mashed potatoes topped with a tuft of sauteed spinach--and given the various starters I had already tossed back, didn't leave me hungry. But at $20 the price per scallop seemed pretty steep. My friend's beef tenderloin, with similar sides, was a dollar cheaper and significantly more substantial. Dessert was a rich chocolate creme brulee, spiked with chiles and served with fresh strawberries and two dense curry truffles. As he dropped off the check, the waiter quipped, "How did you like my spicy balls?" --Martha Bayne
2301 W. Foster
At this Ravenswood restaurant, Luis Perez applies French bistro cooking techniques he learned under Jack Jones (as chef de cuisine at Jack's American Blend and Bistro Marbuzet and sous-chef at Daniel J's) to the Mexican food his mother cooked when he was growing up. Perez says he's been "experimenting with different ways to combine ingredients." Dorado's short menu offers unique takes on Mexican favorites like roast pork (his version is a thick tenderloin, rosy and tender and served with a guajillo cream sauce) and delicious combinations like crunchy almond-crusted trout laced with satiny coconut cream sauce and caramelized plantains, a lovely contrast of earthy and sweet. For dessert there's one of the richest flans around and a moist, light tres leches cake. The typical entree is priced in the midteens, and the place is still BYO--consider bringing a light-to-medium-bodied red wine (like a pinot noir) or even a full-bodied white, like a Condrieu from the Rhone Valley or a Riesling from Wachau, Austria. --Laura Levy Shatkin
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/Joeff Davis.