Here's The Jist:

As a Drink Editor I receive a lot of requests for restaurant, bar and nightlife recommendations. So I started a blog to chronicle Chicago's social scene which eventually morphed into New York's drinking and dining scene. After years in Chicago, I'm now a full time resident of NYC, the East Village to be exact. Look forward to sharing the latest and greatest from the wine & spirits world, straight from the Big Apple.

Monday, July 27, 2009

The James Hosts Party for MCA artist Justin Cooper

The James continues to recognize unique artistic pursuits in Chicago with the Justin Cooper Artist’s Reception onThursday, July 30 from 5 to 7 pm. This distinguished fete toasts the weeklong Justin Cooper Vay Kay Performance Series at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, taking place immediately following his performance that evening.

 The James currently features a Justin Cooper photograph installation, courtesy of Monique Meloche Gallery, throughout the lobby and will celebrate Justin Cooper as the guest of honor for this exclusive evening of art, featuring complimentary “Cooper-tini” cocktails made with Bacardi Dragon Fruit, spiced apple and lime, topped with a champagne floater and garnished with a fresh apple. Complimentary hors d'oeuvres will also be served from David Burke’s Primehouse Chef Rick Gresh. The James’ extensive wine, beer and cocktail selections will also be available for purchase.

Reservations are not required and all are invited to mix and mingle while enjoying delicious food, drinks and the art of Justin Cooper. 

This party will take place in The James lobby, located at 55 East Ontario.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Do-It-Yourself Liquor Infusions

From the Green City Market to the small organic farm stands that pop up on weekends in neighborhoods, fresh produce is everywhere. For all of the Cheeky foodies out there who are dreaming up news ways to use locally produced food, try experimenting with liquor infusions.

Whether you’re hosting a summer dinner party and need a unique pairing to your fresh tomato salad (try basil-mint infused vodka) or if you’re on the prowl for the perfect hostess gift for a friends’ weekend cabin (strawberry infused tequila), homemade infusions are simple and can be great gifts. I’m heading out to an East Coast beach party in a couple of weeks and plan on making a vanilla bean vodka so smooth it can be served on the rocks or with a splash of lemonade. It’s a great nightcap for a relaxed Hamptons bonfire.

And the best part is that you don’t have to have any spirits experience to infuse.

Below are my top three picks for homemade infusions this summer. And if you simply can’t bring yourself to infuse at home or if you’re strapped for time, pop into Binny’s or Sam’s and pick up a bottle from 267 Infusions. The brand is my go-to for fresh flavors in a pinch.

A couple rules of thumb:

  • When infusing vodka, rum and tequila, use a moderately priced, mid-range spirit like Smirnoff, Bacardi or Sauza. The natural flavors of the herbs, spices and fruits will offset the alcohol notes and will round out the spirit. You can certainly use Ciroc or Corzo, but their nuances won’t be fully appreciated when mixed with fruit flavors.

  • Budget a week for the flavors to seep into the spirit.

  • Use the freshest ingredients possible (no frozen and thawed fruit).

  • The fruit will continue to ripen while in the spirit, so err on the side of unripe versus over-ripe.

    Mango Rum

    Ingredients: Two ripe mangos, 1 litre of white rum

    · Cut length-wise into crescent shapes and put into large mason jar.

    · Store air-tight mason jar in cool area of kitchen for at least a week. I’ve found that a week is an adequate time for the sugars and flavors of the mango to seep into the rum.

    · You have the option to serve the rum as is - with the mangos still inside - or you can use cheesecloth and strain the rum into a fresh container.

    Fresh Strawberry Tequila

    Ingredients: Two handfuls of full, nearly ripe strawberries,1 litre of Blanco or Gold tequila

    · Wash strawberries and drop whole berries into large jar.

    · Store air-tight mason jar in cool area of kitchen for at least a week.

    · The best part about whole berry infusions is that the berries become so drenched in tequila that they can be taken as a shot, or they can be used as a garnish to a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

    Organic Basil-Mint Vodka

    Ingredients: Fresh, whole leaf basil, whole mint leaves, 1 liter of vodka

    · Drop whole basil and mint leaves into vodka. Do not cut or crush.

    · Store air-tight mason jar in cool area of kitchen for at least a week.

Do-It-Yourself Liquor Infusions

Do-It-Yourself Liquor Infusions

Spiked Milkshakes and Ice Cream Cocktails

Pie is out. Crème Brulee is passé. And that chocolate molten lava brownie cake? Hasta la vista, baby.

There’s a new player in town and it comes with a little bit of heat. A little bit of edge. Enter the spiked milkshake and the ice cream cocktail. Yes, ladies, now two of our favorite things in life - sweets and spirits - have gotten married and they just made a baby.

At C-View (166 E. Superior), Executive Pastry Chef Toni Roberts is introducing her brand new C-House Shakes. They’re sweet, creamy and made to order. If you’re a chocoholic, opt for the Super Dark Chocolate Malt ($6) and add in a liqueur of your choice. I recommend adding a healthy dose of Kahlua or Starbucks Coffee Liqueur to your rich chocolate shake. Frangelico is a hazelnut liqueur that will complement the chocolate notes and will lend a layer of nutty texture to the shake. For an Italian twist, add Disaronno Amaretto, a liqueur flavored with herbs and fruits soaked in apricot kernel oil.

For those who prefer something a bit lighter, the Strawberry Lemon Shake ($6) is your ticket. Transform the fruity shake into a spirited sipper by adding a touch of limoncello or a splash of St. Germain elderflower liqueur. There are an abundance of light, organic liqueurs available that are fantastic complements to sweet, summer drinks. My new favorite line is Thatcher’s Organic Liqueurs, a collection that is distilled in Michigan and distributed throughout the Midwest. Another creative addition to the Strawberry Lemon Shake is a splash of VeeV, an acai liquor that has become the new “It” girl of the mixology world.

The milk shakes include your choice of two toppings – whipped cream, brownie crumble, butter pecan, malt powder and shaved milk chocolate. To add even more decadence, you can top on more ($2 additional) “Crushed Candy Bar Toppings” from the C-House dessert menu.

Tizi Melloul (531 N. Wells) has just turned ten and what better way to celebrate the anniversary than with a tasty treat. For an interesting take on a classic, cool sorbet, try the Spiked Sorbet, made with refreshing pomegranate sorbet drenched in Red Sangria and served in a wine glass with a splash of soda. And the Creamy Creation is an inventive spiked dessert that is made with your choice of ice cream (homemade mint chocolate chip, movie butter flavored popcorn or vanilla bean) and then is topped with a SVEDKA Vodka Citron, a splash of 7 UP and a hint of bitters. With a revamped menu that includes Mediterranean inspired small bites and refreshing summer cocktails, Tizi Mellloul is proving to be an under the radar River North gem. It’s a trifecta with their new Crescent Menu (which includes seasonal specialties like herb goat cheese stuffed peppers and bacon wrapped dates), $3 Martini Mondays and an outdoor summer patio where you can sip on Safi Sangria or vanilla-infused Ali Baba Lemonade.

When the work day is over and you’re ready to play, it can be tough to decide where to go for a sweet summer treat. After all, Chicago is home to some uber fabulous outdoor patios, lounges and restaurants. So where does one go when faced with a drink dilemma? A cocktail conundrum of sorts? To C-View and Tizi Melloul, of course.

Spiked Milkshakes and Ice Cream Cocktails

ROOF at the Wit Opens

The weather was gloomy and rain was in the air, but I had a new black dress from Bloomingdales and nothing was going to stand between my date with Roof at the new hotel, theWit (201 N. State). Sure my impossibly straight hair was falling flat from my attempt at hot rollers that morning and I may or may not have broken a strap on my sandals, but it was nothing a hair tie and a couple of cocktails couldn’t cure. And cure it did. Roof was so fun that it could turn an eternal pessimist into Elle Woods.

I hopped onto the express elevator and zipped up to the 27th floor (past the chic guest rooms and past Screen, the multimedia private viewing room where Game 4 of Lakers/Magic was being screened) and was greeted with floor-to-ceiling glass windows and a cool palette of charcoal, black and ivory. It was sensory overload as I got off the elevator because I was so consumed with taking in the space - the vaulted ceiling, the seven-foot tall double sided fireplace, the plush lounge chairs and gasp! is that a glass-enclosed table for eight resting on a plank extension? - that I wasn’t quite sure if I was to go to the left towards the smorgasbord of food or choose my own adventure and opt for the right where a bevy of good looking people were mingling.

Sadly, or should I say, wisely, I chose the food.

Roof has an Italian-inspired small plates menu created by Executive Chef Todd Stein and as a precursor to our full dinner at State and Lake, we nibbled on a light menu sampling. Funghi Pizza made with roasted oyster mushrooms, smoked mozzarella and thyme and Bianco’s Pizza decked out in parmesan, pistachios and rosemary were two of my favorites. The mini Grilled Lamb Burgers with minted cucumber dressing and tomato marmalata were the perfect size, ideal for sharing with friends over a cocktail.

And speaking of cocktails, Roof has an eclectic selection of European wines and a gourmet cocktail program, one in which this drink writer thoroughly enjoyed.

The space is really quite stunning. It’s as if there are all of these nooks and crannies that you could see yourself claiming to be your spot. There are two outdoor terraces: one that has a P. Diddy white party Miami vibe and the other that has a more Hamptons chaise lounging chair feel. The interior is warm and inviting, begging for conversation and a crisp glass of wine.

As the clouds subsided and the Chicago skyline could be seen in all her glory, it was down to the floor level for dinner at State and Lake where we sampled a wonderful display of appetizers, small plates, entrees, beer, wine and, of course, dessert.

State and Lake is a great place for a pre-theatre dinner and drink (go for the Louisiana BBQ shrimp with cheddar bacon grits and a glass of white), a casual beer with an old friend (small plate of baby back ribs with far east sauce and cashews paired with one of their 16 beers on tap) or a dinner with the girls (lemon sage roasted chicken with fingerling potatoes and a bottle of Klee, a pinot noir from the Willamette Valley).

Once summer weather decides it wants to show up in Chicago, I’ll be the first to round up the troops and head up to Roof and dine at State and Lake. Then again, if bad hair and drizzly weather didn’t stop me from this night, unseasonably cold weather has nothing on me.

P.S. Cheeky is looking forward to Cibo Matto, the Wit’s yet to be opened restaurant. Get excited.

Summer Wine Dinner with Solaire

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a beautiful dinner at the Signature Room on the 95th . Truth be told, I’ve only been to the Signature Room once before (gasp!), and similarly, it was for a liquor launch party. But this dinner had a subtle sophistication that only comes when a brand isn’t trying too hard to impress.

They’re confident. They know they’re good.

To celebrate the Solaire by Robert Mondavi Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon selections, guests were greeted with a crisp glass of the aforementioned white. For a girl who swears by her favorite red wine, I was thrilled to discover that the notes of the Chardonnay weren’t overly oaked, or too intense. I greedily asked for more.

From our north side scenic view, the sun set and the lights of Wrigley Field illuminated. Ginger Zee, the charming (and so cute!) meteorologist from NBC 5, spoke to us about the unique climate of the Santa Lucia Highlands in Monterey County, which is on California’s Central Coast. It was a clever concept. Ginger was the official host of the evening and throughout the dinner, in tandem with Solaire winemaker extraordinaire, Rick Boyer, she spoke to the unique climate of Central California and Rick commented on how the weather patterns affect the natural growth of the grapes.

As our first course came out, Rick, who has a degree in Plant Science and has made a name for himself for serving as chief winemaker in several well-respected wineries, spoke about the Bianchi Bend Vineyard (located in the Santa Lucia Highlands) and how the climate allows him to produce cool weather grapes such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling. It’s in the Bianchi Bend Vineyard that the Chardonnay is produced.

Ginger then explained that every morning, by10:30 am, the fog around the Santa Lucia Highlands lifts as Paso Robles (south of the highlands) begins to warm up. This allows the vines to have a couple of hours of great sunshine before the land cools. The ebb and flow of warming and cooling results in a desirable, long, slow growing season.

As the main course made its way to the table, Rick and Ginger highlighted the characteristics of the Cabernet Sauvignon that was perfectly paired with my roast chicken. South of the Santa Lucia Highlands in Paso Robles is the Pine Creek vineyard where warm-weather grapes such as Cabernet, Merlot, Cab Franc and Malbec grow. What separates the two vineyards is the intense sun and heat. Pine Creek is about 15 – 20 degrees warmer in the summer and this temperature allows the grapes to ripen and develop into chewy wines. From these grapes you can expect dark berry notes like blackberry and boysenberry.

It’s also interesting to note Rick’s barrel selection for the two wines. Because each barrel produces a distinct flavor, he balances the wine by using three specific barrels:

· Billon (soft and textural barrel, gives off a fat feel in your mouth)

· Dargaud and Jargle (structural barrel that preserves acid, makes the grape more lively in your mouth)

· Mercier (aromatic barrel, brings out a coasty-smoky flavor)

He moves the wine from one barrel to the next so the wine takes on a little bit of each. It’s a harmonious, homogenous blend.

We nibbled and chatted, sipped and discussed. And as the evening progressed, I reflected on how refreshing it was to enjoy a wine and then shake the hand of the winemaker whose vision steered its creation. Rick Boyer was warm, intelligent and his love for the land, the grape and the end product shined through.

For your summer entertaining needs, this wine guru gives Solaire by Robert Mondavi a big thumbs up.

Head to Binny’s to pick up a bottle of the Chardonnay and/or the Cabernet.

Cinco de Mayo Cocktails

Say buh-bye to sloppy tequila shots, greasy quesadillas and a-thousand-calories-a-pop Margaritas. This Tuesday is all about celebrating Cinco in style.

I’m convinced that the Skinny Girl Margarita is the best thing to have come from the Real Housewives of New York and I’m excited to say that Chicago has found the boyfriend to the infamous SGM: Adam Seger’s Look Better Naked Margarita which combines partida reposado, all organic açaí-agave-rosemary-egg white. It’s the perfect cocktail to kick-start the warm weather months.

For those of you that may have heard of Nacional 27, but are yet to pay homage to the Latin-American food Mecca, I may hit you.

No really. You need to go.

And with the inexpensive invite to join us next week, there really isn’t an excuse.

If you’re new to the mixology scene, Seger’s cocktails are award-worthy. In fact, the guy is award-winning. Unlike most mixologists, Seger is a Certified Culinary Professional (CCP). It’s no wonder that he has the ingredient obsession of a chef. In addition to using specialty and boutique liquors for his drinks, he also sources artisan products, such as organic agave syrup from Peru and he creates other syrups and mixes in-house, including Sangria, Tres Leches and Horchata. And for those with a serious sweet tooth: Seger makes his own maraschino cherries.

Guests have a choice of white, red, guava or passion-ginger Sangria, which is made with house-infused wine, fruit, liqueurs, spices and brandy. True, this is a Spanish drink, but, ahem, calling all history buffs, who was it exactly that first settled in Mexico?

And with Tuesday’s Cheeky party comes all-you-can-drink Margaritas, and we’re not talking about too sweet, over-processed sugary mixed margs.

These are artfully-created, innovative displays of cocktail craftsmanship.

The Breakfast Margarita blends Sauza gold, Amaretto di Saronno, Navan vanilla liqueur, orange marmalade and egg whites, while the Signature Margarita consists of Cazadores reposado, Bacardi anejo and Grand Marnier. The Luxe Margarita mixes Corzo añejo, Grand Marnier centenaire and hand squeezed lime.

If you’re looking to step out of the box, opt for the Five Citrus Cazuelas. Built in a sixteen ounce pint glass, this cocktail harmoniously blends oranges, lemons, limes, ruby red grapefruit and Mexican sweet oranges. A pinch of Hawaiian pink salt is added to the fruit mixture and is then topped with an ounce and a half of rum, Silver tequila (opt for Corzo) and Fresca.


The $1,000 Mint Julep

It’s known as the most exciting two minutes in sports and as all of you racing aficionados know, the Derby is the first leg of the United States Triple Crown of Thoroughbred Racing and is followed by the Preakness Stakes then the Belmont Stakes. But if you’d rather sit and look pretty in your big ‘ole Southern hat - then, boy, do we have a drink for you.

On May 2nd, Woodford Reserve bourbon will offer a tribute to jockeys with the world’s most exclusive mint julep cup. A collection of 99 sterling silver cups plated in 24-karat gold – a select few adorned with diamonds and signed by Triple Crown-winning jockeys - will be made available for purchase online until April 28th and must be picked up by the buyer at the Kentucky Derby next Saturday, May 2nd.

Proceeds from the Woodford Reserve $1,000 Mint Julep Cups will benefit The Permanently Disabled Jockeys Fund and The Robby Albarado Foundation.

When owners of the $1,000 Mint Julep receive their glass, they will enjoy a mint julep featuring a unique set of ingredients from around the globe: sugar cane cut and crushed by hand from Sainte Marie in the Reunion Island of France; Turkish mint grown near the Euphrates River; ice made of water from an aquifer in the wilderness of Central Norway; and a small batch of the Master Distiller’s personal selection of Woodford Reserve super-premium bourbon.

For those of you who can’t make it to this year’s Derby, pop into your local Binny’s and pick up a 2009 Limited Edition Woodford Reserve bottle that was designed by former jockey-turned-artist, Tom Chapman, for your own Derby viewing party. And for all you cheeky chicks looking for a local par-tay, check out the below:

Via Ventuno (2110 S. Wabash)

Housed in the former Room 21 space in the South Loop is Jerry Kleiner’s latest creation. Next Saturday, May 2nd from 4 – 6 pm, Via Ventuno’s bar area will celebrate with Chef Jim Kilberg’s special bar menu and Derby-themed cocktails. Bluegrass and Dixieland jazz will set the sounds of the soiree as you sip, smile and swirl.

Expect Benedictine Tea Sandwiches with Ramps, Deviled Eggs, Oyster Po’ Boys with Remoulande and Fried Okra with Truffled Honey, all of which are only $5 each. Sip on the Belle of the Ball ($8) which incorporates peach-macerated bourbon, cognac, absinthe, muddled brown sugar and bitters or go for the Red Means Go ($8) made with Blackstrap Navy Rum, Amaro, Blood Orange, Pomegranate Molasses and ginger beer.

The Pony (1638 W. Belmont)

Aptly named for the Kentucky Derby, the Pony is hosting an event benefiting the local charity, Equestrian Connection, which maintains horses as a therapeutic outlet for children and adults with disabilities. From 1:30 – 5:30 pm, as guests nosh on Southern style comfort food like biscuits and fried chicken, they can donate money and “bid” on their favorite horses from the Equestrian Connection (photos will be on display) - the one with the most money will be named the Derby “winner.” For $40, patrons can take advantage of the open bar and sip on classic mint juleps.

Limited Edition Woodford Reserve, 2009

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Organic Spirits

Cheeky girls love a good party and, let’s be honest, we also love a great drink. At your next soiree, go gaga over green and substitute a regular vodka for organic and swap your splash of soda for an organic liqueur.

But, Stephanie, I don’t know what places in the city offer organic-inspired drinks and I’m clueless as to what brands are out there.

Well, silly, I’m here to help.

Square One Organic Vodka is my go-to organic vodka when I’m out on the town. What makes the vodka green?

Founder, Allison Evanow, started at square one (pun intended) to create the purest vodka that this palate has ever tasted. Pristine spring water from the Teton mountains and organically certified North Dakota-grown rye are used to create a spirit with such clarity that Square One doesn’t need multiple distillation. It emerges through a single pass in the distiller with its unique flavor profile intact. But the ingredients are only half the battle. The Square One bottle reflects the brand’s eco-conscious philosophy. Notice that the bottle isn’t frosted (ahem, like so many other brands that will remain nameless). That process calls for the use of serious chemicals and the Square One label is printed on paper made from bamboo, bagasse and cotton, all sustainably grown and renewable fiber sources. And once the bottle is empty, the label easily peels off so it can enjoy a second life as a vase or other container.

Insider Tip: Allison was in town recently and spilled the beans: They’re launching Square One Botanical, a unique organic spirit that is 45% abv and infused with eight organic botanicals - pear, rose, lavender, chamomile, lemon verbena, coriander, rosemary and citrus peel.

Now that you’ve got your base liquor, try incorporating a secondary flavor such as LOFT Organic Liqueur. The first U.S. liqueur to be USDA certified organic, LOFT is the brainchild of a 20-year vegetarian, Lisa Averbuch, who wanted a flavorful organic spirit to go with her favorite veggie meals. Her mission was to save people from the synthesized flavor and bright neon colors found in your typical ‘tini. Being organic means that LOFT is produced without chemical pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, bioengineering or ionizing radiation. There are no additives, preservatives, artificial coloring or flavorings - which means that the orange tint you see in the LOFT tangerine bottle is derived from the natural fruit flavor. Their portfolio includes lavender, lemongrass, spicy ginger, tangerine, blueberry and raspberry.

Two of the LOFT liqueurs - the Lemongrass and the Spicy Ginger – won medals in the San Francisco World Spirits Competition (the Olympics of the liquor world), so expect great things from the brand.

LOFT is only available in West Coast restaurants and venues for now, but you can learn more about the brand here and order your bottles online here.

Once your bottle arrives, try the Almost Purple Haze, a fantastic recipe that can easily be executed at home. Mix and shake 1½ ounces of LOFT Lavender, 2 ounces of Square One Vodka, ½ ounce of fresh squeezed lime juice, a dash of bitters and then garnish with an organic lime wheel.

Eager to explore what Chicago has to offer?

Organic Hot Spots:
· Sepia…go for the Salty Dog made with Square One
· Butterfly Social Club…THE organic place in Chicago
· Crust…some of the most diverse organic drink selections
· Drinks Over Dearborn…Kyle McHugh stocks great organic wines
· Crimson Lounge…VeeV , a sustainable acai spirit, has a strong presence

Friday, July 10, 2009

The "Al GRESHco" Feast at David Burke Primehouse

This past Wednesday, I dined al fresco, or should I say, Al GRESHco at David Burke’s Primehouse. What? You ate fresh vegetables, fruits and fingerling potatoes at one of Chicago’s best steakhouses?

I sure did.

But there was foie gras and baby goat, so it wasn’t completely sans meat.

Every Wednesday, Executive Chef Rick Gresh (hence, Al GRESHco) heads to Chicago’s Green City Market farmer’s market with his culinary team to shop and talk to the farmers and purveyors, selecting the fresh, local and sustainable ingredients for that evening’s Al Greshco menu, handwritten by the chef. Depending on the season and what the market has to offer, this creative four-course dinner menu changes weekly, ensuring all new and never before tasted dishes from Chef Gresh every week.

The Al Greshco Feast begins at 7 pm every Wednesday and is hosted at the communal table on the al fresco patio at David Burke’s Primehouse. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t cooperating the night I attended so we dined indoors, amidst the well-heeled first-daters and businessmen.

Chef Gresh personally served all of the courses and provided interesting information and stories on all of the market dishes throughout the course of the evening.

We started with epi and roasted garlic with a side of mixed greens and homemade salami, paired with Mionetto Prosecco. Then it was on to my favorite dish of the night: fresh scallop and porcini mushroom fritters with grilled zucchini ribbons and red wine beets. With the second course came the most delicious wine of the night, the Marti Fabra Garnacha from Costa Brava, Spain. Tender foie gras and baby goat ravioli closed out the main dish courses and vanilla Bavarian mousee with strawberry filling and lady fingers topped off the meal.

One of the more intriguing drinks of the evening was the Amaretto Black Tea with a large whiskey soaked strawberry floating in the middle. I took one bite of the strawberry and was in heaven.

When Chef Gresh came out to say his goodbyes and thanked us for joining him, he slipped me a white paper bag. Pour moi? A to-go bag filled with a dry-aged Porterhouse? A fresh Caeser salad (which they make tableside by the way)? I glanced inside the bag and saw an old-fashioned Ball jar with a silver cap and a piece of faded yellow masking tape on the lid labeled, “berry jam.”

“It’s homemade berry jam that I made. It’s from the fresh raspberries, blueberries and blackberries that I picked up at Green City Market,” Chef Gresh said.

My night was complete. I will now dine Al GRESHco every morning with my toast.


Chef Gresh is embracing the social media phenomenon. Signing up for Al Greshco reservations are available exclusively through Chef Rick Gresh on Facebook or Twitter. Guests must friend Chef Gresh and simply inquire about Al Greshco to get added to the list. For all of you Rick Gresh fans out there, here are his social media links:

Facebook and Twitter.