Still Making the Dough: – Chicago’s Northside Bakeries and Pastry shops are thriving during Covid

“They’re closing shops in the U.S. and the U.K,” Jeanne co-owner of Le Macaron French Pastries in Chicago’s Lincoln Park neighborhood, said pointing to an empty Le Pain Quotidien across the street on Armitage, where a depressingly giant “For Lease” sign hung over the front window. Competition with other chains and the cost of maintaining a large space were too much for the Belgian chain.


From traditional to unique flavors at Le Macaron French Pastries – basil, raspberry, cassis and coconut macarons © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Since the stay-at-home order began in March of this year, Chicago’s French bakeries and pastry shops have faced a daunting challenge. The deadly pandemic has brought social life to a near standstill. There are no more parties, baby showers, weddings, happy hours, concerts or any large social gatherings that were big business. With restaurants barely operating, wholesales are down, according to Pierre Zimmerman of La Fournette, a charming, rustic bakery on North Avenue in Old Town. However, he still supplies Wholefoods supermarkets.

Vanille Pâtisserie specializes in authentic French pastries with a quirky flair. © Spirikal for WhereNYC

The effects of lockdown have also plunged neighborhoods into a lethargic state with fewer customers venturing out in search of warm, buttery croissants and coffee. Bakeries are not alone in this struggle. The New York Times reported that nearly a third of small businesses will permanently close. Among those the worst hit, are those in the hospitality and catering industry.

For Le Macaron French Pastries, Le Pain Quotidien’s closure has also hurt its business. Both shops shared customers, having a mutually beneficial relationship.

“People would often come here from across the street or vice-versa,” Jeanne explains. Originally from Normandy, France, she and her husband, Julien, opened Le Macaron in 2018 serving exquisitely made French macarons and desserts.

A seasonal wild berry and milk chocolate mousse at Le Macaron French Pastries © Spirikal for WhereNYC

For those looking to escape the stress with life during Covid-1  9, Le Macaron French Pastries is a sanctuary of delicious treats à la française. People can savor familiar favorites such as coconut and pistachio macarons as well as seasonal newcomers. “To keep our clientele coming back, we focus a lot on seasonality,” she says. During the hot summer, customers can enjoy refreshing gelato macaroon sandwiches, summer cakes and a decadent banana foster. “Our efforts are to maximize the selection of desserts for our clients.”

The ultimate summer treat: A gelato macaron sandwich at the Le Macaron © Spirikal for WhereNYC

For now, Chicago’s local artisanal bakeries pastry shops carry on with remarkable resilience, sticking to what they know best: quality and a little creativity.

La Fournette and Vanille, a French pâtisserie with locations in Lincoln Park and the Chicago French Market, are bringing the chic French café experience to the family home, revamping their takeout menu to include more wholesome and colorful options.

La Fournette classics include a rustic Alsatian Langhopf brioche © Luc Zimmerman / La Fournette

La Fournette has gone down the classic route with new pre-fixe family menu options. It has also added huge buttery Viennoiseries, or luxurious, buttered fluffy, croissants, and Alsatian buns known as Mauricettes with comté cheese and tartes flambées.

Founded in 2002, Vanille continues to delight familiar favorites. Customers can delight with a not-too-sweet tiramisu, an ethereal chocolate mousse and glazed fruity cheesecake tartelettes at reduced prices to go.

Mousse au chocolat at Vanille © Spirikal for WhereNYC

“Despite the hardships on our business, we are enjoying using this time to connect with our customers, get creative and produce whimsical treats that we hope provides some respite to those who receive them,” says Sophie Evanoff, President of Vanille.

Its Chicago Strong menu certainly takes the cake for originality. It includes a selection of quirky themed desserts including: a “Dr. Fauci Stud Muffin” and a “Springtime with Lori Cake” – a tribute to Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot. The quarantine special called the “Comfort Pack” with a cheeky “Toilet Paper Cake.”

Blueberry and strawberry cheesecake at Vanille © Spirikal for WhereNYC

For those on a off-rhythm remote schedule, bring it home with Vanille’s “Take And Bake” menu. There are breakfast casseroles, croissants and a sinful chocolate chip skillet topped with a scoop frozen custard, all of which the customer can easily reheat at home.

Even as Coronavirus infections are up in Illinois, Le Macaron and French bakeries like La Boulangerie in Ravenswood and Logan Square continue to expand. Le Macaron has opened a second location in Schaumburg, Illinois, near O’Hare International Airport. “It was in the making before Covid,” Jeanne says. And La Boulangerie recently acquired Gepperth’s Meat Market, a specialized butcher shop in Lincoln Park, where it sells mushroom and Lorraine quiches and breads along side quality meats.

Vanille’s chocolate Macaron cupcake blends a little Americana with classic French macarons.

Still the toll of Covid-19 has been tough, and everyone has had to scale back. Fewer people are venturing out. And less customers mean less business. Many bakeries have cut their hours, including La Fournette, which operates daily from 7AM to 2PM only.

The lack of clientele and uncertainty of Covid-19 has also led to permanent changes. Vanille closed its Hyde Park location in March of this year.

And evenings are no longer as bustling. The usual night strollers looking for a sweet finish to their meals are no longer stopping by, according to Jeanne of Le Macaron.

With indoor dining mostly suspended, Vanille, La Fournette and La Boulangerie only offer patrons limited summer outdoor seating. Once the season changes, that, too, will disappear. And there is also the daily business of following the Illinois State guidelines for the prevention of Covid are both continuously evolving and challenging

La Fournette in Old Town, Chicago © Spirkal for WhereNYC

Maintaining social distancing, plexiglass shields on counters, directing the flow of customer movement and constant sanitizing, the bakeries keep adapting. La Fournette has even installed new contact-free payment devices, in an effort to stop the spread of Coronavirus.

Despite the hardships, Chicago’s artisanal bakeries have been determined to thrive and serve their loyal clientele who continue to support them. “A part from a few days of adjusting, our business is still going strong, thanks to our local clients,” Pierre says.

Yinka Shonibare: A Tale of Today at the Driehaus Museum

Some strange, beautiful sights have been spotted at the Driehaus Museum.

An absurdly vibrant, feast that only the likes of the Mad Hatter would have hosted. Six headless mannequins lounge around the table wearing beautiful African-inspired patterns, enjoying wine, oysters and quail eggs and a colorful headless waiter serves a feathered peacock on a platter. With matching flowers and upholstered chairs, the patterns are meticulously coordinated.  Strangely silent but full of noisy vibrancy, frozen in a moment in a time long ago, the dining room has suddenly come alive in this decadent display.

And in the library around the corner stands Big Boy – a giant, headless mannequin underneath the the skylight with a multi-pattern, colored jacket that Oscar Wilde might have sported. 

The Driehaus Museum located in Chicago’s River North is a homage to the Gilded Age, the period following the Civil War. Formerly, a show house for the Nickersons, a wealthy, influential family, which made its riches in the distilling industry and later the Chicago Railroad. The mansion has a new resident boldly changing our perspective of history.

Shonibares Big Boy, 2002 © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Like a mercurial time bandit, celebrated British artist Yinka Shonibare has invaded the Driehaus, rewriting the Victorian era in his latest installation. At first glance, it seems a humorous depiction of the latter 19th century with the use of vivid African textiles or presenting himself as the main character in the photo exhibits of scenes from classic Victorian age novels: Picture of Dorian Gray and Diary of a Victorian Dandy.

But Shonibare takes the viewer through multicultural historical journey.

“Fabricating history inbreeding race, class politics,” according the Driehaus, illustrates the artist’s interests in the Gilded and Victorian eras. The latter intertwined with artist’s Nigerian roots.

It seems unlikely that Shonibare, a man of African descent, would have been as wealthy as Dorian Gray, the artist.  His invasion of time, however, has inserted his own story into the narrative. 

Shonibare’s Boy on a Unicycle, 2005 ©Spirikal for WhereNYC

Yinka Shonibare as Dorian Gray © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Casting himself Dorian in the photo series on second floor, Shonibare gazes seriously into a mirror instead of an aging portrait, reflecting on his own mortality. (The artist had suffered a life-threatening illness at the age of 18.)

Nigeria was also a former British colony, and fabrics brought to the U.K. from Africa created a buzz among the country’s wealthy class. The outfits Shonibare uses for the mannequins reflects this. The African-inspired designs he uses ironically come Switzerland, Holland and the U.K. But rather that dismiss it as cultural appropriation, Shonibare believes they reflect Western Europes complex colonial history.

The Child on a Unicycle 2005 – is another headless surprise greets us by the stairs, sporting again the similar African patterns on 19th century-style clothing oddly blends in with the old Nickerson mansion. Like his other works at the Driehaus, Shonibare is not a cultural clash, but a personal journey of interwoven identities.

It is an odd journey, but Shonibare has given the 19th century a topsy turvy makeover by challenging us, as viewers, to rethink our understanding of the past. Western European and African histories are woven together, for better or indeed far worse, but both have influenced each other.

The exhibit continues through September 29, 2019.

Please visit the Driehaus for upcoming events.

Review: Driehaus Prost! Beer Culture and Chicago’s German Immigrants

Cover image: Metropolitan Brewery at the Driehause © Spirikal for WhereNYC

“It’s more fun to look at history through a lens of alcohol,” Liz Garibay, found of the Chicago Brewseum said raising her beer bottle to the audience.

Beer lecture and tasting at the Driehaus Museum © Spirikal for WhereNYC

We’re at the Driehaus Museum in River North for a lecture with Liz and Doug Hurst of local based- Metropolitan Brewery on the beer legacy of the German immigrants in Chicago. Their introduction of cold, crisp lagers and pilsners forever changed the industry.

For those unfamiliar with the Driehaus mansion on Erie and Wabash, its history dates back to the 19th century and is one of Chicago’s best museums devoted to exhibits revolving around the Victorian, Edwardian and Gilded ages.

The history of Chicago is “rooted in beer” explains Hurst. And the brewing industry dates back to the 1830s when Chicago was a fledgling township. There were only three main bars that stood by the forks of the Chicago River, and everyone drank British-style porters and ales.

The city of Chicago began to take shape. Waves of immigrants from Europe and elsewhere arrived including the Germans, among whom opened Chicago’s first brewery.  In the beginning, they produced mainly British ales, but by the 1840s, the demand for refreshing lagers grew as more Germans arrived.

Beer gardens began to spring up and cold lagers overtook the room temperature ales and porters. Chicago would even eventually open its first brewery school in 1872, a year after the Chicago Fire.

Pretzels, cheese et cured meats served for guests made a tantalizing display © Spirikal for WhereNYC

The city was seemingly on the cusp of a golden beer age with nearly 2,400 brewery projects. However, cruel backlash fueled by an unlikely alliance of the puritanical Temperance Movement and the anti-immigrant American, or “Know Nothing” Party, set forth to crush the brewing industry.  The city’s nationalist Mayor Levi Boone raised brewery licensing fees and restricted sales. The Germans along with other minority groups rioted.

Although Boone later lost in the next election, the beer industry never quite recovered because a series of setbacks. The second major blow was Prohibition. And even after 1933, the number of breweries continued to drop. The third, according to Hurst, was refrigeration and pasteurization, which the final coup de grâce to local  breweries as it became easier to transport cheaper, mass-produced beers from elsewhere. It wasn’t until the 1980s, when the craft beer revolution began with breweries such as Goose Island who introduced big, bold flavors.

As Garrett Oliver of Brooklyn Brewery once said, “Craft Beer is truth.” And more and more artisanal breweries began to surface, driven by a passion for genuine flavors. Today, there are 86 breweries in city, over a hundred in the Chicagoland area. While some have unfairly targeted lager as the watered-down enemy, Metropolitan Brewery has brought back robust German style beer with its Kölsch-style Krankshaft and Magnetron – an unusual dark lager.

While some Chicago breweries such Half Acre have gone the IPA route, Metropolitan has chosen to resurrect the city’s Germanic roots. And the region’s beer makers owe a lot to the German immigrant community. As Hurst put it, “Whenever you drink a Chicago beer, realize you’re drinking a lot of history.”

Visit the Chicago Brewmuseum exhibition at the Field Museum through January 5, 2020.

Don’t miss Nigerian-British artist Yinka Shonibare’s upcoming exhibit at the Driehaus Museum, which opens March 2nd through September 29th, 2019.

Review: 2018 Food Loves Tech in Industry City Brooklyn

Cover image: Square Roots © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC
With an impending food shortage crisis, global warming and conflict, sustainability and innovation are a major challenge. Food Loves Tech, now in its third year, is a beacon of inspiration bringing science, global activism and creativity into the food industry. Its mission is to push boundaries and challenge our senses.

© Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

This year, Food Loves Tech came to Industry City, Brooklyn, one of New York’s booming neighborhoods. Vendors, chefs, farmers and innovators showcased everything from the sensible to the bizarre. From hydroponic gardens to crunchy insects, I found myself eating things I would have never tried before.
Jumping from booth to booth, I was particularly impressed by Square Roots – a Brooklyn-based urban farm that ingeniously uses less water and produces more. “Farmers are enough out there, but our goal is to educate more farmers to understand the good ways to produce the products, so we grow educated farmers,” the booth’s rep said. Square Roots offers farmers training to become sustainable and environmentally friendly. Through their educational program, farmers can learn to produce more crops, while wasting less.

Manna Fish Farms © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Other sustainable veggie growers included Whole Foods and local grocery supplier Gotham Greens, based in New York and Midwest Chicago, who greeted visitors with generous packs of vegetables to take home.

On the subject of sustainability, perhaps no other food gets a worst rap than fish. Depleted stocks due to high demand, overfishing and climatic change all have contributed to declining fish populations. Although farmed fish like salmon is another alternative, it remains the scourge of fine dining restaurants whose chefs generally opt for the higher-quality wild. Organic salmon producer Manna Fish Farms is looking to change that with a variety of locally raised fish and shellfish off the Atlantic coast of Long Island. Using natural methods and healthy organic fish food, the salmon is of higher quality.

There was more than just farming at Food Loves Tech. My tastebuds were set on fire with some imaginative dishes from two of New York’s locally-sourced, eco-friendly restaurants.

They included Union Square-based Almond ‘s roasted duck served on a bed spicy kimchi. And Danny Meyer’s locavore favorite Untitled dished out a delicious potato salad made from vegetables grown in its LED-lit planters.

Almond’s spicy duck kimchi © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

Now for the truly bizarre. Brooklyn Bugs really pushed the bar way out with scorpions and crickets, which I happily missed, but the cocktail shrimps seasoned with salty crunchy ants was surprisingly good. Definitely interesting, but would it end up on my dinner table? I can’t say. The sight of boiled shrimp covered with crispy black ants on anyone’s plate would be unsurprisingly off putting. 

Brooklyn Bugs © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

How many times after eating shrimps and ants have you thought, “Gee I’m parched.”? There were plenty of beverages to choose from including Bulleit Frontier Whisky who has been making good old fashioned Kentucky Bourbon since the 1830s. Fans of classic stouts would love Long Island Blue Point Breweryincluding the Good Reef Ale and an Imperial Stout, which was rare to see.
On a sweeter note, Coombs Family Farm presented its spray canned maple syrup. This is an innovative product, but its environmental mission of preservation really impressed me. Rather than use the traditional metal tube for extracting maple sap, Coombs invented a soft plastic one that doesn’t damage the trees.

Bulleit Whiskey © Kei Hayashi for WhereNYC

The Food Loves Tech expo is rare treat to meet some country’s most innovative and ambitious individuals behind America’s new food revolution. While some ideas may have worked better than others, I left feeling pleasantly surprised with what I tasted. There is no doubt that these innovators are changing the way we look at food and helping our planet at the same time.
Kei Hayashi reported for this article.

Review: Goose Island Tasting Matrix with the Barnyard Collective

Cover image: © Spirikal for WhereNYC

“What does it mean to be a cheesemonger?” Adam Moskowitz, founder of the New York-based cheesemonger  Barnyard Collective, can’t resist answering his own question. “I wish could have a TED talk.” Before the evening of cheese and beer, Adam warns us, “If you’re bashful, this will be a whack night.”

Fondue at Goose Island © Spirikal for WhereNYC

© Spirikal for WhereNYC

Goose Island Barrel House © Spirikal for WhereNYC

We are at the Goose Island Barrel House, an amazing event space with a stunningly beautiful interior with a long bar and medieval style chambers. There is a small demo kitchen in front of the rows of long wooden tables in the main room. I can’t help but eye the walls lined with rustic, wooden barrels. At the back, guests are busy helping themselves to cheese and free Goose Island beer.

For some, cheese and wine may seem a more fitting pair, but beer is also an excellent accompaniment. Like crackers or bread, beer is also is made of grains and has a yeasty note and a slight fizz that complements cheese brilliantly.

I fill my plate of cheeses from Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and Belgium and choose a light, but slightly hoppy Sofie pilsner-style brew at the bar in the back and settle down in my seat, ready to hear the lecture.

Adam Moskowitz of the Barnyard Collective © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Most Chicagoans won’t probably know him, but Adam Moskowitz is cheese-crazed lunatic and industry expert who has been in the business for his whole life. He’s a self-described turophile, a connoisseur of cheese and naturally is “most happy when (he) eats cheese.” His Barnyard Collective, located at the Larkin Cold Storage in Long Island City, Queens, regularly hosts cheese talks and tastings with some of the East Coast and Europe’s most innovative artisanal cheesemakers such as Mateo Kehler of Jasper Hill and Cultivo Creamery who share their knowledge with the cheese community. 

O.G. Kristal from Belgium © Spirikal for WhereNYC

“If you’re a cheesemonger, you are a shaman.” Adam begins. Much of lecture covers the basics: the four kinds of cheese: sheep, cow, goat and water buffalo, the three types of production: industrial, artisanal and farmstead – and a bizarre amount diagrams and geeky memes. After a long while rambling on the history of cheese, the four main ingredients and how cool it is to work with cheese, he suddenly says, “(Cheesemongers) help people connect to good memories.” He’s right.

The collaboration between the Barnyard and Goose Island itself was a beautiful mariage of refreshing beer and creamy, sinful indulgence. This is a memory in the making.

The O.G. Kristal aged-gouda style from Belgium on my plate is a winner with a beautiful finish and textures of salt crystals and melty cheesy flavor that goes perfectly with a glass of Sofie.

Cheese pairing plates © Spirikal for WhereNYC

This is comfort food at its best. My seatmate has opted for the Goose Island dark colored Parker Porter whose caramel and burnt sugar aromas make a wonderful match with the sheep’s milk. And finally, the other crowd pleaser is the Belgian Trappiste style pale ale Matilda. Its radiant, golden color and slightly hoppy, bitter note would be nice foil to a washed-rind cheese like Grayson or a French Muenster.

There were more pairings of cheese and beer following the lecture organized by one of the other cheesemongers including a wonderful Cabot Clothbound Cheddar from Jasper Hill and a melt-on-your palette goat cheese that I washed down with my glass of Sofie. The finale was Adam’s molten, pungent cheese fondue which we greedily drizzled on our plates of roast potatoes, veggies, bread and pickles.

Goose Island beer and delicious cheese @Spirikal for WhereNYC

We take our final sips, bites and exchange a bit of small talk as the evening concludes. If cheesemongers are puppeteers and cheese are the characters in a cheese shop theatre, as Adam put it, then the result is pure, perfect harmony. And tonight will be another nice memory.

For upcoming beer events please visit Goose Island.

Review: Ghost Bottle Night with Brewmaster Garrett Oliver at the Hopleaf Bar

Cover image: Garrett Oliver © Spirikal for WhereNYC

“I grew up in the matrix,” Brooklyn Brewery Brewmaster, author and beer lover Garrett Oliver jokes raising a beer glass. The audience takes the first sip of Brooklyn Brewery’s prototype, Chichicapa, named after a Mezcal-producing village and the brewery’s latest collaboration.

“You really can taste the Mezcal,” he said.

The Hopleaf Bar event room © Spirikal for WhereNYC

It is absolutely amazing if not weird. For fans of spicy cocktails, this is a must try. The chilled, crisp beer suddenly smacks you with a belt of smoky Mezcal heat. It stops me in my tracks. Even my seat mate seems baffled. “I can’t make out whether I’m drinking beer or spirits,” she tilts her head. Like an abusive girlfriend, it is addictive. Smokey, hot yet refreshing, I need another sip.

We are sitting upstairs at the Hopleaf Bar, a Chicago institution and Midwestern mecca to craft beer. Since its expansion over five years ago, the second floor regularly hosts tasting events, including a recent Chimay beer and cheese pairing.

Standing in front of a sold-out audience, Oliver introduces ten of the Brewery’s rare and obscure beers. He is gregarious, witty and has traveled the world and worked with breweries in England to Japan. “I’m 400 years old,” he laughs.

Garrett Oliver © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Undoubtedly Oliver is Brooklyn Brewery’s top ambassador, and even his name is as ubiquitous as craft beer itself, having hosted beer events at the Japan Society as well as having written The Brewmaster’s Table and contributed to the Oxford’s Companion to Beer. His passion for the industry stems in part of his time spent in Europe.

“I fell in love with beer while living in England and later with cheese when I went to France.”

The other part comes from the Brooklyn Brewery’s collaborations with industry experts worldwide. With their knowledge, the brewery has revived old techniques and put its stamp on new, conceptual beers. Or as he calls them, “Ghost bottles.”

Wearing his signature dapper hat and his bright white smile, Oliver begins with a philosophical explanation of the meaning of “ghost bottles.”

“(Ghost bottles) are like moons,” Oliver explains. Produced in small batches, they sometimes blossom or disappear just as moons do. Limited in quantity, they are not available in any liquor store, only for sampling.

Ghost Bottle © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Having between 10 and 12% alcohol, these beers are not for the fainthearted. I’m already feeling a bit dizzy after the third pouring. And remembering the steep staircase I would have to eventually use again, I decide to pace my drinking.

“Craft beer is the truth,” Oliver says while carefully distancing himself from the crazed American ultra-hoppy-till-you-break-tears pale ales, or APA. Brooklyn Brewery, according to Oliver, is not looking for punishing gimmicks or novelties. The brewery has gone a different, quirkier route than other craft brewers by conjuring up classic, comforting flavors with a twist.

Like the Chichicapa I tried, the brewery’s Improved Old Fashioned also messes with your mind in a good way. While you have the texture of beer, there is no denying the classic flavors of the rye whisky cocktail on your palette. If I were blind tasting, however, I’d swear I was drinking a refreshing Old Fashioned.

Oliver’s latest partnership with fellow kindred spirit and spicemaster Lior Lev Sercarz of La Boîte NYC is an ode to nostalgic Christmasy flavors and pleasant dried fruits. “Lior is a painter,” Oliver says adding that the beer is the canvas. Born in Israel, Sercarz’s love of spices came from the local street food. He has worked in some of France’s best kitchens before he came to New York to work for Daniel Boulud. He has since collaborated with the likes of Eric Ripert of the three-Michelin starred Le Bernardin and has travelled the world in search of the best spices.

Tripel Burner © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Their Belgian-style Tripel Burner may sound menacing, but it is a pleasant combination of black licorice, figs, pumpkin and nutmeg flavors.

Other favorites of the evening could complete a perfect meal or dish. Cloaking Device, Oliver admits was a geeky name, but this porter, brewed in red wine barrels, is a rich, dark ale with a chocolaty, yeasty note. It is surprisingly lighter than it looks but is unmistakably a porter. Its sweetness, he adds, would pair well with desserts and gamey meats or charred carrots in yogurt sauce.

“Beers are like humans,” Oliver concludes. “(They start as) cute babies to (become) awkward teenagers.” What matters most is structure, balance and elegance when making beer. The goal is not too produce superlatives but conjure memories and take you on an international journey. While “local is great,” he says, it is “spectacularly limiting.” “The inspiration (of Brooklyn Brewery) comes from far away.”

For upcoming tasting events, please visit the Hopleaf Bar.

Review: Taste of Terroir · Provence: More than just Rosé! with sommelier Ms. Dany Saint-Pierre

Cover image © Spirikal for WhereNYC

There are few things in life that conjure a perfect mid-summer evening than a gathering of friends in Provence sipping wine and enjoying the breathtaking scenery. The South of France has it all; Mediterranean climate, scent of wild herbs, delicious food and some of the world’s iconic wines such as Châteauneuf du Pape and Gigondas. Deeply rooted its soil, Provence’s winemaking tradition dates back nearly 2500 years when ancient Greek settlers planted the first grapes.

Left to right: Whispering Angel rosé, Clos Ste-Magdeleine de Cassis and the red Terre d’Ombre Baby Bandol © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Bringing a little sunny Provence to a cold, rainy Chicago, sommelier Dany Saint-Pierre recreated her own Provençal wine experience for guests at the Alliance Française in Chicago. During of which, she led us through a masterclass showcasing a group of delicious French wines that will bring a little Southern France magic at your next dinner party.

Seated before us is tantalizing display of goat cheese, sliced baguettes, olives, slices of lemon and toasted almonds – each of which will pair with the wines.

“Pairing intensity of flavor is an art,” Ms. St-Pierre begins. While it really depends on your taste, Ms. St-Pierre has some useful tips.

If serving a dish, for example, with a higher acidity such as salad vinaigrette or a fresh seafood or light canapé, a fresh rosé is a good place to start. The popular Whispering Angel from Château d’Esclans, is a “complex rosé,” explains Ms. St-Pierre as the guests take their first sips. It contains up to five grapes, and like most rosé, keeps for up to two years. It is accessible, which editor Lauren Buzzeo of Wine Enthusiast once described Whispering Angel as a reliable, affordable rosé for any occasion, retailing at $20 a bottle ($19 at Binny’s). It is also slightly sweeter and fruity. If you’re after a dryer punch with a cleaner finish, try Château d’Esclans’ rebellious Rock Angel or Château Puech-Haut Prestige 2017 from the neighboring Languedoc region 2017 for $18 also at Binny’s.

The star of the evening. Clos Ste. Magdeleine de Cassis 2015 © Spirikal for WhereNYC

The star of our evening class was the Clos Ste-Magdeleine 2015, a beautifully balanced white wine from the seaside village of Cassis. If there was ever wine made for seafood, it’s this one. The Clos Ste-Magdeleine would balance beautifully with grilled fish, eggplant or a fresh ceviche. Comprised of four grapes including the herbal Marsanne and Clairette, the wine has an incredible, pleasant texture with floral and spicy aromas.

Neither too sweet nor dry, “it is perfect with an oily fish like sardines,” Ms. St-Pierre said. As I take my second sip, I notice the wine actually becomes pleasantly sweeter when paired with the salty almonds and citrusy lemon.

The 2015 is pricey, nearly $30 a bottle at Plum Market Wine Chicago but totally worth it. Unique and unlike a Sauvignon Blanc or Chardonnay, it has its own flavor. And like the Whispering Angel, always serve it well chilled.

An evening of sipping delight © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Its owners aren’t descended from the ancient Greek settlers, but the Zafiropulo family left Greece in the 19th century and settled in Marseille. Four generations later, they are still producing this lovely wine.

The Baby Bandol pairs brilliantly with chèvre and olives. © Spirikal for WhereNYC

Finding an ideal red wine for your summer meal is not an easy thing and sometimes even “risky” – as Ms. St-Pierre explains. The medium bodied Terre d’Ombre 2015, or Baby Bandol from Domaine de Terrebrune is a winner. For $20, it is a great wine that can be enjoyed through the year. “Leave it to decant 20 minutes before serving, or you may keep it in the refrigerator up to 20 minutes to 65ºF (18.3ºC) (if serving during the summer),” Ms. St-Pierre recommends.

Robust without a long, heavy tannic finish, it’s best paired with a great dish. “It not fun to drink without food,” says Ms. St-Pierre. It is absolutely perfect with the herbal goat cheese and olives on our tables. It could also work with lamb or a garlic-roasted chicken.

Finally, finish the meal on a sweet note with the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise 2013, a wine “made for desserts” from Domaine de Durban. Available at Plum Market for $16, it is an affordable alternative to a higher end Sauternes from Bordeaux. But like the latter, it is also brilliant when served chilled with foie gras as I had discovered from a previous rendez-vous with another Muscat from Domaine de Coyeaux.

Muscat de Beaumes de Venise © Spirikal

Made in the traditional process of arrested fermentation, the yeast is killed by a grape liqueur, leaving the remaining sugar. It may sound barbaric, but it’s all in a good cause. The residual sweetness of the Muscat is pleasant with a mild, sweet bouquet and the texture smooth and nectary. While it is good with mint chocolate served at the event, Ms. St-Pierre suggest to enjoy it with a “a fruity crumble or citrus tart with a fruit coulis.”

How ever you want plan your meal, Ms. St-Pierre encourages everyone to “experiment.”  She adds that wines are “not to necessarily contrast” but rather to complement and enhance your meal, bringing joy and of course, the pleasure of the table.

For more information on upcoming events, visit the Alliance Française Chicago.

Review: AWIB Cheese and Japanese Whisky Pairing at the French Cheese Board

Cover image: Suntory Toki Whisky at the French Cheese Board © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Story contributor Kaori Mahajan

Highball cocktails with Suntory Toki © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Lowering my nose into my glass, the mélange of whisky and bubbles tingled in my nostrils as I took a careful sip. Although not a fan of whisky, the Highball cocktail with a twist of grapefruit and carbonated soda was really refreshing and a nice way to kick off the event at the French Cheese Board.

Once associated as a man’s drink, women have increasingly embraced whisky, snapping up nearly 37% of the market share in the U.S. From the 1980s’ powerbroker drink choice, the ladies have begun organizing their own whisky-themed events. For some, it is a desire to try something different. Typically, cheese is often paired with wine or beer, but according to Asian Women In Business founder Bonnie Wong, it was a good opportunity to experiment with delicious French cheeses. Similar to the cheese and sake event last year, AWIB’s Japanese whisky and cheese pairing was about pushing boundaries and bridging cultures.

Dazzling display of French cheeses © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

The French Cheese Board is no stranger to unorthodox cheese pairings at its concept store in SoHo, whose events include cheese and Japanese tea as well as a 50 Shades of Grey-themed chocolate and cheese soirée, where blind-folded patrons reached in a gold mystery box of creamy goodies. Since its quirky lab incarnation in 2016, the FCB has dazzled New Yorkers with amazing towering displays of cheese, pop-ups and foodie meet-and-greets.

Hibiki Whisky and Camembert © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

For whisky lovers, Suntory needs no introduction. Standing alongside the top producers of Scotland and Ireland, the Japanese maker’s whiskies rank among the world’s best. Famed for its award-winning, floral Hibiki and Yamazaki, tonight the Japanese distiller showcased its top-selling classics as well as its newest star, Toki, part of Suntory’s promotional campaign which included a recent stopover at Roki Brasserie. Recently available in the U.S., Toki combines a spicy, oaky blend of Hakushu, Yamazaki and Chita distilleries.

“The pairing process was a trial and error” – said Rosser Lomax from Jim Beam Brands Co, part of the Suntory Group, who had the difficult task of pairing Japanese whiskies and French cheeses. Happily, many of them worked very well. He matched Toki with a soft cow’s milk cheese Chaource, which has a creamy, crumbly texture, bringing it to a whole new level.

Suntory Whisky including Toki, Hakushu, Hibiki and Yamazaki © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Fans of smoky whisky would delight in Suntory’s Hakushu, a 12-year single, champagne gold malt. Far from a super smoky Laphroaig, Hakushu is a bit subtler with a sweet pear note. The choice of creamy Camembert from Normandy was really nice with the smokiness of the Hakushu worked well with the  buttery, mushroomy flavor of the Camembert.

Hibiki, known for its incredible floral bouquet and complex aromas with a hint of Mizunara, a Japanese oak, seemed an interesting choice to pair with the Rolls Royce of French cheeses, the fiery orange, nutty Mimolette. Interestingly, the honey sweet and candied citrus flavors of Hibiki cut through the cheese’s super sharp nuttiness.

Charles Duque of the French Cheese Board discussing Mimolette © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

Finally, we moved to Japan’s number one seller and Suntory’s flagship single malt, Yamazaki 12 year, which has an agreeable fruity, buttery caramel note that carries a warming cinnamon finish. Normally paired with soft fruit, it seemed natural to enjoy it with sheep’s milk Tomme Brûlée, which is often served with apricot or fig jam. The whisky and saltiness of the cheese was so well balanced that I could not help wanting more.

A cheese shrine © Kaori Mahajan for WhereNYC

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Daring as these combinations were, AWIB’s activities also stretch beyond the casual meet-and-greet. Though AWIB’s primary purpose is to support Asian professional women through forums and fundraising, the group often includes non-members and spouses at its meet-ups. Events include test-driving Teslas and an upcoming, colorful Diwali Day event at Bloomingdales.

For more information on membership and activities, visit AWIB.

Review: FIAF’s Bastille Day on 60th Street July 9, 2017

Cover image:  Karen Peled and Co. dancing the Cancan © WhereNYC

Croissants and pains au chocolat by Bien Cuit © WhereNYC

Crême brûleé © WhereNYC

From one stall to another, it was a magnificent display of delightful delicacies and fragrant aromas wafting through the narrow passage as crowds of people happily trolled through the one of New York’s largest street fairs, stretching from Lexington to Fifth Ave. Brooklyn-based Bien Cuit’s pains au chocolat stacked like flakey golden bars with a sliver of sinful, dark chocolate. With a blowtorch, a woman nearby expertly caramelized the sugar coating on the tops of crême brûlées.

Next door armed with a pair of tongs, Chef Daniel Monneaux of Le Bec Fine Foods, a friendly, but gruff character, wooed passer-bys with sizzling, steamy merguez sausages on mini hotdog buns. Then, there were the vibrant displays worthy of a street-food Michelin star. Thomas Keller Group’s Bouchon Bakery’s three-tier cake stand was like a high tea fit for the Queen.

Steps away, one couldn’t also help but marvel at the colorful bundles of creative macarons by Mad Mac.

And of course, who could forget beloved, pâtissier François Payard’s éclairs au café, each garnished with crystalized coffee beans, and the endless rows of perfectly made lemon, peach and raspberry tarts, each for a fiver.

Raspberry tarts and chocolate éclairs by François Payard © WhereNYC

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Financier Bakery © WhereNYC

Fans of the classic crêpe bretonne would delight in the sticky banana and drizzled chocolate crêpes by The Crêpe Escape. The only thing needed was a fruity-flavor sparkling water from one the Perrier gals.

Drawing inspiration from the fragrances and flavors of Provence, Sel Magique showcased some of its delicious herb-salt blends with chopped cucumbers and tomatoes.

Cheerful smiles at FIAF’s Booth © WhereNYC

In celebration of France’s fête nationale, or national holiday, FIAF’s annual Bastille Day on 60th Street is synonymous with Christmas for many Francophile New Yorkers. Far from the memory of the bloody insurrection at the fort of Bastille in 1789, the commemoration in New York had a more cheerful take, filled with great food, wine, live entertainment and prizes. Every year, FIAF hosts two very special indoor-tastings including the super-indulgent Champagne and Chocolate pairing in the Sky Room, where guests sample some of the finest chocolates from Chocolat Moderne, Marie-Belle and La Maison du Chocolat. Below in the Tinker Auditorium, patrons can enjoy Southern wines from the Languedoc and elsewhere, 1664 beer, or a refreshing, pastis cocktail by Ricard.

Confectionary and Biscuit purveyor La Cure Gourmande  © WhereNYC

While there were the traditional sights of long-legged ladies in fishnets performing cancan dance, there were also unusual additions to this year’s line-up including: It’s Showtime NYC, which honestly underwhelmed even with an improvised cha-cha-cha audience-participating climax. Away from the stage, the entertainment continued with mimes, and the brass Hungry March Band weaved the crowds with cheerful sounds.

Mimi Catherine Gasta © WhereNYC

Needing a bit of refreshment, perhaps a little drunken solace away from the sweltering heat and pushing mob, I wandered to the VIP Room tucked away in Amali for glass of rosé and plateful of baguette, bleu d’Auvergne, brie and some slabs of pâté. While there were several wines to choose from, I was particularly drawn to the refreshing, unique rosés from the Languedoc region of France. Among the wines of Provence, Bordeaux, and Loire, it is unforgivable to miss those  along France’s Southwestern coast. The 2016 Hédonisme by Gérard Bertrand and Syrah-blend Les Hauts de Janeil of the same year were everything you want with a rosé, refreshingly dry with a slight fruity afternote.

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Wines of the South were a hit in Summer in the South of France tasting. © WhereNYC

The Pays d’Oc as it’s also known has a coastal rustic, dry charm with breathtaking seaport towns like the Port Wenn-like Collioure, near the Spanish-Catalan border and the fast-growing, young city of Montpellier. Too often overshadowed by neighboring Provence, the Languedoc region offers a more affordable, but no-less-enjoyable vacation destination with great food and impressive wines like the famous Pic Saint-Loup, Minervois and Château Coulon. In an effort to boost tourism to one of France’s most underrated regions, Sud de France booth promoted its line of tours outside and showcased some amazing wines in the Summer in South of France tasting at the FIAF Tinker Auditorium.

Sud de France and Le Boat © WhereNYC

Despite crowds and summer, the buzz of FIAF’s Bastille Day celebration was exceptionally jovial with vibrance, indulgent delights and sounds that captured the free revolutionary-spirit of France without any mayhem.

Don’t miss FIAF’s upcoming First Tuesdays with wine, cheese, mingling and more.

Review: Summer Seasonal NYC Craft Beer Festival at the Metropolitan Pavilion, June 24, 2017

Cover image: Belly’s Korean-flavor slider and Alesmith beer by Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

212 © WhereNYC / Craft Beer Summer Seasonals

“This is our Flatiron Ale,” the rep from 212 Brewery from the Catskills said while pouring me a sudsy glass full. “It’s an APA made with water from Saratoga Springs, New York.” “What’s an APA?” I asked. APA, or American Pale Ale is hoppier than Indian Pale Ale. I shuddered with fear. American craft beers have a reputation of being notoriously too hoppy. Assuring me that he toned down the hops to make it more “approachable,” I took a sip. It was mellow but with a little hoppy kick at the end. Really delicious.

American craft beer has come a long way from the over-the-top-bitter hoppies. Once geared for a deranged craft-nerd palate, many have mellowed. The ultra-bitter-to-bring-you-to-tears artisanal brews such Dogfish Ale have given way to more balanced beers of Sixpoint and Brooklyn Brewery, who have come from the deep end to make inventive beer more accessible.

This year’s Summer Seasonal showcased a variety of brews balanced for the masses. That is not to say that these beers were in any way mediocre. Quite the opposite. Far from watered down, beers such as Catskill Brewery’s Darbee pale ale has an aromatic floral note, while its Foeder aged-beer had a slightly wooden sourness that would go well with light dishes.

Luke Boyle of Catskill Brewery © WhereNYC

According to brewer Luke Boyle, Catskill Brewery beers can work with a variety of cuisine, and like 212, is meant for many occasions. Similarly, Paradox Pilsner may sound complex with its name, but it is a nice bohemian-style pilsner that work at any barbecue.

Many of the local beers followed the summer citrusy love affair without going into overdrive. Personal favorites include the lemony Narragansett Beer’s Del’s Shandy,  and Gun Hill’s Citra Sour Softserve drank like a gueuzey cider.

Natives of Queens, New York, know all too well the famous Boulevard of Death, but the less-dangerous Queens Boulevard Sessions IPA was both bitter and crisp, while leveled on the hoppiness.

Narragansett Beer’s Del’s Shandy was a citrusy thirst-quencher © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

Welcomed surprises also included Radiant Pig’s Gangster Duck Red, which drank really well, even with its ridiculous name.

 WhereNYC / Craft Beer Summer Seasonals

Paradox Pilsner © WhereNYC

There were some fun, non-beery brews. Tea cocktail mixer favorites Owl’s Brew has branched into beer with three selections involving fruity flavors. The Watermelon was a bit too sweet for my liking, but I enjoyed the sour, Blondie and That’s My Jam.

Not every craft beer followed a balanced, nuanced brewing philosophy. There were some misfires. Upland Brewery’s Iridescent barrel aged was like drinking a glass of concentrated bitter lemon extract. Full Contact by Kings County Brewers made with raspberries had impact but for the wrong reasons. Punishingly sour, it lacked balance.

Owl’s Brew © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC / Craft Beer Summer Seasonals

In search of something a bit stronger, I wandered over to the spirits counter, which could have easily been its own event. Visitors fortunate to venture here discovered brandy from Kentucky, rum from Colorado, Irish gin, peaty whiskey from Cognac, France and Vodka from Sweden.

Copper & Kings from bourbon-country Kentucky, using bourbon casks, produce a signature naturally caramel brown brandy that had a delightful warming sensation with a delicate bourbon after note. Its 100-proof Cr&ftwerk distilled in stout barrels was surprisingly mellow with a lovely cherry, chocolaty flavor.

Brandy Rocks! Copper & Kings from Kentucky © WhereNYC

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Not known for making gin, the Gunpowder Irish Gin was intense with a slightly smoky tea aroma that mixed beautifully with the thyme-infused green pepper juice cocktails next door. From the Cognac region of France, Bastille 1789 commemorated its own French-revolution with a smoky, peaty whiskey, which could give Lagavulin or Laphroaig serious competition. Scotch lovers at Summer Seasonal would still delight with samplings from Glenmorangie. While the Original was comforting and pleasant, the Nectar D’Or was a serious crowd-pleaser. Finally, the Quinta Ruban has a soft, dryness with an interesting contrast of carmel and a refreshing zing.

Glenmorangie © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

Perhaps not as famous as Stolychnaya or Greygoose, five-times distilled Vodka Råvo from Sweden was beautifully pure and would go well with a plate of oysters.

While Colorado is the last place you might think of finding some great rum, but the cola-like flavor of the Alsatian-style Amer Fleur de Joie and sustainable, spicy Montanya Oro gave a bit of tropical sunshine. Finally, the Mezcal Buen Bicho from Mexico, while starting gentle and smokey, finished with a fiery punch and literally blew smoke out of my nostrils.

While there were plenty of beers and spirits to enjoy, there were limited food options. Jerky Hut sold a variety of delicious, spicy beef jerky. Hanna’s Meatballs offered a sobering, hearty variety of home comforts.

Wisco Fresh © Tokyoracer for WhereNYC

The Wisco Fresh fried cheese curds for $8 was a bit steep, so I opted for the amazing $5 Belly Korean-inspired sliders with gochujang glazed bacon, which went perfectly with my glass of beer.

For more information on upcoming craft beer expos, visit NYC Craft Beer Festival.