As a result, Mike and I had been e-mailing back and forth, swapping restaurant recommendations and offering travel advice. We worked out that we were both going to be in Chicago at the same time so agreed to meet at Bin 36 for their annual Fall Harvest Wine Blending event.
Bin 36 is a restaurant, wine bar, cheese bar and market located in central Chicago. Annually they have a wine tasting and blending event. For the price of $40 admission there is unlimited wine tasting, a lesson in wine blending and a chance to design and order your own unique blend with personalized labels (which makes great Christmas presents) and unlimited finger food. My palate for red wine is not yet fully developed so whilst I enjoyed trying the wines, the food was the star. There was truffled popcorn, three cheese mac & cheese with truffles, assorted cheeses, assorted charcuterie, dips, breads and crudités.
Most people at the event were ordering bottles of their signature blends but there was no way for me to take the bottles back to Australia so I had to pass.
After the tasting, we headed for dinner at Avec; a restaurant that I had wanted to try. I had seen it on No Reservations and understood that it was highly popular in Chicago for its style: focus on the food and good company and ditch the white tablecloths and stuffy service. The food is served family-style so it was perfect to go to as a group. I loved the restaurant; it was laid-back and casual. The setting was communal style and the food was divine. I will be definitely trying to copy their dishes for my next party.
oven-roasted shishito peppers with pickled feta
Good smoky flavour, slightly spicy but not too overpowering with the feta nicely complimenting the peppers and providing a cool element.
chorizo-stuffed medjool dates with smoked bacon and piquillo pepper-tomato sauce
The hands down star of the menu and since I located the recipe on timeoutchicago.com, it will be one the first things I cook when I return to Australia. They were smoky, spicy and sweet and absolutely morish. The first couple of orders were demolished in such record time we had to immediately reorder another few servings.
deluxe focaccia with taleggio cheese, ricotta, truffle oil and fresh herbs
OK, put cheese and truffle together in just about anything and I am happy. What surprised me most about this dish however, was the quality of the focaccia; crispy on top but still fluffy in the middle. Again, we were fighting over this as can be seen by the photo. By the time I got my camera out, it was pretty much gone.
atlantic salmon with sweet corn, market tomatoes, soy beans and mojo de ajo
Perfectly cooked salmon, nice flavour, tasty but not overly memorable.
whipped brandade with garlic bread and chives
Wow – full of fish flavour without being overly fishy and wonderfully creamy. The crispy garlic bread was the perfect crunchy base for the gooey warm brandade. This is definitely my favourite preparation of salt cod.
chitarra pasta with parmesan and mushroom bolognese
This dish was real surprise. The pasta was thick and toothy, perfectly cooked. The star of the dish, however, was the bolognese. The mushroom flavour was meaty and earthy and as the mushrooms were finely diced, the texture was pleasant and reminiscent of ground beef rather than slimy mushroom.
wood-oven roasted pork shoulder with roasted baby carrots, black rice and basil pistou
Unfortunately by the time this dish arrived, most of us were full but the pork was fork tender and the flavours melded well together.
Mike and his friends were very kind and welcoming and it was great to meet another set of foodies from the other side of the world.