Small Bites: Make any room a wine tasting room and Chicago gets a coveted little red book

by Terry B on November 24, 2010

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We have spent some memorable afternoons in winery wine tasting rooms. Okay, and a few blurry ones too. Sampling and comparing wines is a great way to learn about wine. But unless you live in a wine growing region, it can also be expensive when you figure in airfare, hotels and repairs to the rental car.

Now, TastingRoom.com brings wine tastings to you. Through their website, you can order six-packs of sample-sized (50ml) bottles of wine based on a theme—wine-producing regions, hidden gems, specific varietals or even individual wineries. Then you can hold your own wine tasting stumbling distance from your couch. If you find something you really like, they’ll ship full-sized bottles to you. To learn more about having a California winery tasting room sent to your door, check out my latest USA Character Approved Blog post.

A red letter, red book day for Chicago

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If you want to make a swell announcement in Chicago, one of the swellest places you can make it is under the world’s largest art glass Tiffany dome, at the Chicago Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall. michelin-guide-chicago-2011It was there last Wednesday evening that Michelin celebrated the publishing of the first ever Michelin Guide Chicago.

The evening was as swell as the room. Three bars and an army of tray-toting waiters kept the crowd happily provisioned. So many chefs milled about that you wondered who was tending the city’s restaurant kitchens. And the speeches, when they came, were brief, warm and heartfelt. It was clearly Chicago’s night.

Living here, it’s sometimes easy to forget how good, varied and plentiful food is in this city. The Michelin Guide Chicago reminds you. And it shows why having your city getting its own edition of the little red book shows you’ve arrived. Their obsessive, anonymous, professionally trained inspectors work tirelessly throughout the year to analyze restaurants in a given city, regularly eating two or more meals a day, every day. And they do their jobs well. In addition to doling out the sought after stars (two Chicago restaurants got three stars, three got two stars and 18 got a single star—not bad for our city’s first Guide), in just a few sentences for each review, they describe the overall food, ambiance and experience of hundreds of restaurants, by neighborhood, cuisine and category.

Of particular interest are the “Bib Gourmand” restaurants, also known as “Inspectors’ Favorites for Good Value.” These are restaurants known for serving two courses and a glass of wine or dessert for $40 or less. Looking over Chicago’s list of 46 Bib Gourmand selections, we saw countless favorites as well as many we’ve been meaning to try. Bib Gourmand restaurants are often neighborhood places favored by locals. You know, the kind of places you seek out when traveling, the places tourists don’t know.

By the way, “Bib” is the nickname of Bibendum, the Michelin Man. Yes, the guides are published by those Michelins, the tire makers. They started making tires in 1888. Twelve years later, they published their first guide of French restaurants. Driving was quite an adventure then, and the Michelin brothers decided to provide motorists with a tool to make traveling easier. In 1910, they began publishing road maps for the same purpose. Michelin Guide Director Jean-Luc Naret was proud to point out that their maps were so accurate, they were used by the Allied Forces during World War II. And he said that the vision of everything the company does—from tires to maps to the coveted little red books—is to enhance mobility. With the publishing of Chicago’s first guide, I know our culinary mobility will definitely be enhanced.

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