Chicago Sun-Times
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Story and photos by guest blogger Seanan Forbes


Ah, the U.S. Open: tennis, sunshine, some of the world's top athletes, stars watching athletes, people watching stars watching athletes . . .

Wherever there are masses, there will be shops, attractions, distractions, kiosks, advertisements and, of course, food and drink. If you're craving an over-boiled hot dog and a watered-down soda, then here's a tip: Don't go to Tony Mantuano's wine bar.

Rita Garza, senior director of corporate communications for the United States Tennis Association, says, "The U.S. Open is the greatest sporting event in the world, and food should go with that." According to Garza, the wine bar is "the most magical place you can be on the ground."

As of this year, there are two wine bars. Like temporary art exhibits, they are not here - or there - to stay. "None of this existed two weeks ago," Mantuano observes, "and it'll all be gone in five days." Mantuano-on-'break'-with-texting.jpg

Steve Paluck, line cook at Terzo Piano ("line cook extraordinaire," Mantuano murmurs) is in New York working in Mantuano's pop-up restaurant and enjoying a rare treat: watching people respond to what he's prepared.

"The people who come to this wine bar are blown away . . . They're sitting in a hallway, but it's turned into something luxurious," he says.

He's speaking of the club-level wine bar. Indoors, away from the sunshine, it is cooler but smaller than the original. The crew doesn't have much room to work in. The patrons would have space to sprawl, if only more of them would stay away. They don't. They come in thirsty hordes. Hungry, too. They tear into bread rubbed with tomatoes and draped with jamon and Manchego. They eat shrimp sauteed in olive oil with garlic, jalapeno and potatoes, flamed with ouzo. The taste takes Mantuano to Greece - "Santorini, like I'm on a yacht somewhere."

Patrons can't know it, but they're tasting a Mantuano travelogue. Chicagoans are savvier. Anybody who's eaten at Spiaggia knows that it's where food from all Italian regions comes to plate.

by guest blogger Seanan Forbes

"If I were going to be an inanimate object," Francisco Guedes says, "then this is what I'd want to be." As he speaks, he indicates a bottle of Aveleda Casal Garcia.

Given Guedes' ebullient energy, it's hard to imagine him as anything inanimate, but it's easy to understand his choice. Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Branco is a lively wine. Its taste shoulders the edge of sparkling; it's that kind of bright. Casal Garcia - NV.jpg

Guedes is Aveleda's brand ambassador, but he's also a member of the family. That doesn't mean he's biased; it means he's a little bit in love. Clearly, though, this is a household where affection doesn't outweigh a desire for perfection. Any wine that's going to represent Aveleda is going be good - and any wine that makes a Guedes dream of being inanimate is going to be exceptional.

In Portuguese, "vinho verde" means "green wine" and the wine does have a pale green tint. The region where it comes from is lush.

"It's almost like Ireland," says Leslie Sbrocco, author, wine expert and founder of Thirsty Girl. The name, then, is a reflection of both terrain and wine - but, Sbrocco says, "It really is about the freshness and brightness that the wine has."

Those characteristics might be unexpected. For many people, the standard equation is Portugal plus wine equals port: thick, rich dessert wine that spins dreams of cheese plates.

The assumption is understandable. As Sbrocco observes, "Portugal is a very small country." It's easy to presume that a small place has only one style. Portuguese cuisine varies from region to region, however, and so does the wine.

"Vinho Verde is not far from where Port originates," Sbrocco says. "Even though they're close geographically, they couldn't be farther apart on the wine scale."

Port's perfect for autumn; Vinho Verde is made for summer. It cries for salads, grilled shellfish or ceviche. Rick Bayless makes an all-but-revered ceviche. The recipe's adaptable enough to let the market lead.

Whose Vinho Verde should you try? Go for that bottle of irresistible brightness. "Aveleda's an iconic producer in the Vinho Verde region," Sbrocco says. "Talk about a perfect warm-weather wine: That's it. Poolside or beachside, that's the wine that I would grab."

Ceviche recipe after the jump.

Who doesn't love a deal? Correction: who doesn't love free or close to free stuff?

Because it's Wednesday - just because - here are three dining deals worth noting:

1. Free whiskey shots at Longman & Eagle, 2657 N. Kedzie, this Friday from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. That's right - 11 a.m. If you need a reason to imbibe at 11 a.m. on a Friday, it's the tavern/inn's way of announcing they're now open for lunch.

2. The $3 happy hour (4:30 to 6:30 p.m.) menu at Elate, 111 W. Huron. Yes, there is a "with-purchase-of-a-drink" clause. But we're not talking quaint bar bites - we're talking full-size menu items, including the burger, which is normally $12.

3. Free cupcakes, every Monday in June, at more, 1 E. Delaware (below). Free. Cupcakes. No purchase necessary.

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By guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes:

Food Deadline Rum Balls.jpg When a top-shelf mixologist moves from the cocktail shaker to the mixing bowl, she brings the bar with her.

The proof isn't in the bottle; it's in the balls. (You know these: traditional rum balls made with crushed cookies and booze.)

The rest of us may be brave enough to change liquors or liqueurs, switching rum for whisky or grabbing that almost-empty bottle of coffee or hazelnut liqueur. That's not enough of a change for Bridget Albert.

Albert is the director of mixology for Southern Wine and Spirits of Illinois and the author of Market Fresh Mixology. She makes candies the way she does cocktails. "It's the way I do everything," Albert says, interrupting herself with laughter.

When creating a new drink, she starts with the base spirit "and then builds the flavors on top of that." She crafts what she terms "spirited balls" the same way: from the bottle out.

There are similarities between the glass and the ball. "It's kind of like a little shot," she notes, "because you're not cooking this, so you do get a little kick from these cookies."

Albert has been making spirited balls, every winter, for years. Not surprisingly, given her creativity in life and behind the bar, she wasn't satisfied with making the same thing every time.

She wanted to have fun and play with flavors, but keep it simple. "I started making variations on a holiday classic, keeping the flavors I would incorporate into a cocktail when making these spirited balls. For instance, Grand Marnier - orange - goes wonderfully with ginger." Out went the vanilla wafers and in came gingersnap crumbs.

What else? "I think chocolate and peanut butter could very well be a divine marriage," Albert says, her eyes bright and her voice happy. She makes dessert cocktails with chocolate and peanut butter liqueurs, and Nutter Butters meet chocolate liqueur in her spirit balls.

Does she have a favorite? "I do," Albert says happily. "My favorite is the rum. It's super easy to make and I love coconut - and I have to tell you, living in the Midwest in December, it is cold and miserable, so any time you can mix rum with coconut, whether you're eating it or drinking it, it takes you back to the islands for just a minute." A mouthful of the tropics. "Absolutely."

What do her friends ask her to make? She gets a lot of requests for the original, because it's familiar -- but, Albert adds, "it's fun to surprise your friends. A big favorite is the Grand Marnier and ginger, because ginger is hot right now to drink, and it's seen as something healthy, so when you can throw it in a cookie - boy, it's a natural hit."

Feel free to be playful when you make these. Albert is. She uses bar tools in the kitchen: a big plastic (easy to clean) muddler for mashing the mixture and a bar spoon for measuring. Don't have a bar spoon? Not a problem. Use a tablespoon instead. Albert's balls aren't only spirited. They're adaptable. Proof -- of a different kind -- is in the recipes that follow.

Just in time for this week's snowstorms, the takeout window at Big Star, the much-hyped Wicker Park taqueria by the Blackbird/Avec/Publican masterminds, has opened.

Window hours are made for nightcrawlers/late-risers: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. weekdays, 11:30 a.m. to 3 a.m. Saturdays and 11:30 to 2 a.m. Sundays.

Now if only we could satisfy our takeout lunch cravings at that other Mexican joint in River North....

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Rockit Bar & Grill this week is celebrating the bar food of bar foods: chicken wings.

Five different styles of wings (or really, five different sauces) will be on the menu this week for the first annual Wingfest: super spicy buffalo with a blue cheese dressing; sweet chile and lime (pictured above); pomegranate and port wine with a mango sauce; lemon-grilled with wild oregano, garlic and feta fondue, and, brace yourself, truffle butter-tossed with a foie gras gravy. The wings are $10 a dozen. And for dessert, strawberry milkshakes!

Higher wing prices notwithstanding, chef James Gottwald is a big believer in wings -- and in weeklong promotions that, to him, are kind of like their own holiday. The restaurant's early summer Burgerfest is going on five years now.

"To be honest, sometimes I get bored with the menu. We have the favorites we just can't take off ... or I'll be shot," he says. "These food celebrations keep me and my staff excited."

Gottwald talks like a wing aficionado. With their high skin-to-ratio, wings are "kind of like pork belly," he points out. And, mind you, we're not talking piddly 25-cent numbers. "I pay a premium for my wings, the big jumbo ones, no hormones, none of that garbage."

He soaks the wings in a brine for a good hour (1 cup of kosher salt per half gallon of water, for those of you wanting to try this at home) to season them. He then roasts the wings to render off the fat, and crisps them up in the fryer. (The Greek-style ones, by contrast, are grilled).

Mark your calendar: Gottwald already is planning a Mac 'n' Cheese Fest for January.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.



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