I moved to Chicago in January 2009 from the San Francisco bay area (Berkeley to be precise) with the idea of trying something new and expecting to lose some of the things I had come to take for granted, namely, awesome food and tremendously good wine. After two months of living here I discovered that Chicago is actually a food destination city in its own right. In six months I had fallen in love with an amazing city (and an equally amazing woman).
Go Midwest Young Man
Just after my arrival, I set out on a quest to try a few of the extraordinary restaurants I had read about and I decided on Grant Achatz’s famed Alinea first. I am not here to write any reviews and I will gladly acknowledge that Alinea is a really special and memorable meal, but I have to admit that I was disappointed. I was disappointed because it was an event that I don’t really need to experience more than a couple of times in my lifetime. I was disappointed because one of the things I really love is spending a couple hours or more relaxing and talking over several courses of food and a few different glasses of wine with my friends and loved ones. A great restaurant for me is one that I can start a relationship with. A place I can go and know I will always get a wonderful meal. A place I can bring a couple bottles of wine that I can enjoy with my meal as well as share with the staff. A place I can develop a friendship with the people that work there.
The Good ol’ Days
I had that place when I lived in Berkeley, Ca. It was the venerable Chez Panisse. I ate upstairs in the café almost every single Monday for almost 5 years. I always brought a bottle of wine and dined alone half of the time. I could read a book and reflect over a leisurely dinner and then head home. Often times I would call the sommelier or the manager and asked if they felt like drinking any wine in particular. More than a few times I would bring 375 ml barrel samples of wine and seek the opinion of Jonathon the wine director. It was something I expected not to find here in Chicago.
A New Place to Call Restaurant Home
After about a year of looking I found that restaurant in the Elysian Hotel, Ria (and its sister restaurant Balsan) when I met my dear friend Randy for dinner. I brought a bottle of chardonnay that I helped make and the 2001 Chateau Hosanna. As Randy and I got up to leave 3 hours later, I knew had found my new spot. It was my new go to restaurant and I looked forward to good wine, good food and catching up with the servers, bartenders, managers and, of course, the wine director. I called it dinner 3 or 4 times a month for about a year-and-a-half until Ria closed last May. It was a sad day for sure because I had to begin my quest for another restaurant I could call “mine”.
Let the Search Begin
So here I sit on a cold early spring day. My better half is out town and I really wish I had a new place where I can walk in and catch up with the staff, have a nice meal, a great bottle and a good read.