Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bill James Responds

A must take opportunity from the Freakonomics guys, a blog response-cast with Bill James, baseball guru and RedSox advisor. Have a look and chime in with a question by all means, there are several good ones already.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Corky Yes, Park West no, the Red Rooster a Decent Option

Our ill friends bagged out, so we held 4 tickets to the Chicago Blues Reunion concert at Park West last Saturday eve. The lineup included Corky Siegel, we stayed for 8 songs (since we were standing, no seats available), including Corky's I want you / hate you and a few others shown on the link. There was a young woman singer who filled in who was great, she sang a song for Koko Taylor who was in the crowd. Overall a great concert for blues fans, though I really don't like the venue since most of the seats are either reserved or you must get there by opening time (1 1/2 hours before the start). Go if you must for a great concert, but I prefer other locations.

As for dinner beforehand, we enjoyed a true cafe environment at the Red Rooster Wine Bar and Cafe, overall a B experience. The food was yummy, mussels very tasty, chicken crepes for the wife well enjoyed, and pork au poivre (pork loin encrusted with pepper and a great milky savory sauce). We each had a glass of passable red wine because the beer list sucked - I think the waiter mentioned 4 macro beers, Miller, Heineken, etc. so I passed. A C- for beer. But the food makes it a nice stop.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The Boys were Back in Town

Wow, what a time we had. It happened to be St. Patrick's Day, and a bit chillier than we wanted, but the old guys can still have some fun. I just turned 50 as you may know, and my dad was in town for funeral purposes :(. Before he went back we had a day to revisit his old town, (not Toronto, but Chicago), and we were joined by slightly younger (ha by two days!) Uncle Tom, both close to 75 now.

We parked under Grant Park, now pricey at $24 over 4 hours or more, but very convenient, and met Tom at the Chicago Cultural Center, formerly the Chicago Public Library, and quite an architectural gem. A great place to start on a walking tour around the Loop. We grabbed a cup of coffee in the nice little cafe there, then walked through a great exhibition of photos entitled, "Chicago Landmarks Before The Lens", detailed black and white pictures of Chicago landmarks from Sullivan et al.

As we headed out toward Millennium Park, we were handed a brochure on a Classical Mondays Concert starting upstairs in 3 minutes! We strode up to see a Chicago Opera Theatre Young Artists Recital including Stauss, Saint-Saens, and Debussy very well done by the young singers.

By now famished, we headed down Michigan Avenue to a location I knew was there, but had not tried yet. The Gage. A newish gastropub restaurant since early 2007, I was looking forward to seeing the menu and beer list. It is a great addition to the location here, but could use some improvement.

No problem with the food or the space, quite large but comfortable. Since it was St. Pat's Day, the special was corned beef, which we all had, and it was fine. Sliced very thin, with a milky sauce on toast. After I had the last bite I realized that the sauce was a horseradish sauce. Hmm, very little of it I guess, not spicy at all. Otherwise, a solid dish, and those around us seemed happy, and very busy it was.

The draft beer list, shown in the booklet Libations menu, is quite weak, especially in comparison to other liquors. Plenty of wines, including bubblies, well selected whiskeys, even a port or two. Because of St. Pat's the beer taps had extra Guinness taps, but even the regular list needs an upgrade. Witness that within a selection of 10 different taps, they include Miller Light, Blue Moon (a Miller dog), and Fat Tire (OK), the Irish trinity of Guinness, Smithwicks, and Harp (all below average Macros), Heineken (meh), Paulaner Weiss (decent but for winter?), and Affligem and Stella from Belgium. Stella is a Belgian wannabe, a pale lager rated a C+ on Beer Advocate, while Affligem, a strong blonde Pale Ale, maybe the best of the bunch.

The bottle list is much better, with 12 true Belgians, 5 from Unibroue, a couple of Ayingers, and a half dozen good American craft beers. The prices are quite high, with Guinness on tap at $7, and most bottles a dollar or two higher than elsewhere, must be the cost of doing business at 24 S. Michigan, and the immediate scarcity of competition.

We each had a Black and Tan with Harp on the bottom (no Bass around), whatever that's called, well done and warming. Then it was off to our tour of Millennium Park. Amongst Cloud Gate and the funky band shell, we saw the special exhibition by Mark Di Suvero of 5 large sculptures with involvement. Very raw and symbolic. Then back to the Cultural Center for warming before my uncle separated and we headed in the car to the airport.

Would love to do it again boys, hopefully soon.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Quoted by the Session Host

I recently reviewed the New Glarus Organic Revolution for the March version of "The Session", a monthly cooperative blog compilation on a certain type of beer, and the host quotes me here (scroll down). There are many other interesting blogs to read cited as well. Enjoy.

Monday, March 10, 2008

Birthday Bash - Yes My 50th :)

Thanks to all who made my birthday a memorable occasion, especially my "guardian" and wife Teresa (thanks for driving dear). All I really asked for at the half century mark was great friends, great drink, and food to match. To the participants there, I stated (and to you others out there I befriended who could not be there), you have all elevated my life.

On this particular March 7th eve we met at the Maproom for several pops before braving the 4 block walk in 20 degree weather to Cafe Matou.

Several folks who made it to the Maproom loved the De Proef La Grande Blanche, a strong Wit beer at 7.5% abv. Delicious, my wife said it was too poofy for me (she liked it), but I loved it, great Wit flavor, nice body, great aperitif. A solid A here. We also tried the Surly Two, kind of a Porter with cranberries. Very strong, distinctive and interesting, a B+. Had to try the Two Bros. Hop Juice as it was the cask conditioned ale. Very smooth, nicely hoppy, not spicy but grapefruity, and strong, another local solid imperial IPA, give it an A-, not sure it would score this high if not on the cask. Finally, the smoky Fastenbier from Schlenkerla, an unfiltered smoked Lenten beer - a strongish lager with nourishing yeast left in the beer meant to help with Lenten fasting. This was really well done, smokiness nice, try some bacon with this beer, nice body, minimal hops and very malty, a solid A.

Cafe Matou offers a new menu daily, and our choices included several fish, meats, soups, and bistro appetizers. We tried the chicken offering, duck, swordfish, and all artfully prepared with few leftovers. Muscles appetizer was very nice, and desserts didn't disappoint, returners we would be even without considering the bar offerings.

Which were great, including 6-7 wines by the glass, we had a nice bottle of 2004, some Cab/Merlot from France, very solid. But the beers stood out, a small selection of mostly Belgians and a few micros, dominated by the small (11.2oz) bottles of Gouden Carolus Noel. Now this is an A+, among the world's best beers, never seen it in a small bottle before, and they priced it at $9 here, I suppose it would run close to $6 in a shop so not a great markup. But was it the beer of the night? Knocked a few of us out, it did. Nice Framboise offered as well.

Just super choices, overall we know the Maproom is one of Chicago's best beer bars, and lets give Cafe Matou an A, good food, drink, and modestly priced.

Rarely do libations reach the level of discussion, camaraderie and friendship we had there. I wish you all could have joined us.

Friday, March 7, 2008

New Glarus Organic Revolution

Today I join "The Session", a group of bloggers who, on a monthly basis, comment on the subject of a specific style of beer. Today for the March 2008 version it's organic beer. I have not had many organic brews but among my favorites is New Glarus' version is called Organic Revolution. My bottle consumed yesterday was obtained in a six pack of 12oz bottles in January, and I believe it was produced in late 2007. Now this is a nice beer, I'm not sure it's a revolution, however.

OR is an American Pale Ale ("APA") with organic hops from Germany and organic barley malts from good old Wisconsin. Unfortunately, you can only find these beers in Wisconsin, maybe Minnesota. I am not sure but believe this beer is above 6% abv.

It is a light colored slightly hazy yellow with yeast still in the bottle. A decent head that goes away fast. Smell is a bit spicy with an expected level of malt backbone, does remind me of their Spotted Cow, though this is less sweet and more hoppy. Finishes dry and an easy drinker with a lively mouth feel. Give this a solid B as a nice organic beer, not quite a session beer as the abv puts it above that level.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Durty Nellies in Palatine

What used to be considered a "dive" in suburbia has gone upscale. You can even bring the kids and have a B+ bar-type dinner. The owner is a veritable beer lover, and he stopped by to check on us, always a good sign.

Apparently this spanking new looking location opened in Dec 2003, the old one was divey for sure (and was torn down in 2004). Always considered a rock music center for the NW suburbs, not known for food. It has two levels and the upstairs was closed on a recent Saturday eve for a private party.

Lots to offer on the menu, our dinners came quickly including an above average fish and chips (tastier batter than most, and solid cod), Belfast bombers (three nice little burgers), and the
shepherd's pie (needed some catchup, otherwise solid), all well enjoyed.

As for the beers, a long list is provided, and posted on the website. In addition, our perky waitress was knowledgeable. On her recommendation I had the Two Bros. Northwind Imperial Stout, very smooth, lacking big coffee or chocolate notes but an easy / smooth drinker at 7.5% (B rated), and the wife and I split a bottle of Founders Blushing Monk, quite refreshing, not overly sweet (listed in the menu at 9.5% abv, the bottle said 12.3%!!), a B+. We were shied away from the St. Louis (Belgian) Kriek suggesting it might be a bit sour for us.

Now, as for the list itself, the beers are nicely organized by type, and on the back by bottles vs tap. As noted, while some of the selections are marked limited, others are marked "coming soon". Alas, my first choice Sierra Nevada BigFoot, fell into the latter category and was not available. As this is a February list I cannot fault the logic (other than it was March 1 on our trip), and they do need to move onto new seasonals. As an example, on tap we had several solid American Stouts, proper for the season (a cold February at that).

On the downside, the bottle selection is hap hazard, many macros available for the bailout (our neighbors were drinking bud light or some such). But it's hard to complain, most likely the best list I've seen in this region of Chicagoland. I will certainly be going there again.