Tuesday, January 17, 2006

An MLK Weekend Not to Be Forgotten

Stephanie and I were pleased to welcome my great old friend Chuck and his wife Jayne to Chicago for a long weekend of eating, drinking, smoking, and general merriment. Chuck arrived late Friday night, and the festivities began immediately with a surprisingly delicious bottle of Marguet-Bonnerave Champagne Grand Cru NV. A rich and flavorful wine, the Bonnerave is an incredible bargain at $27 for grand cru champers (this means that the grapes come from vineyards that are specifically designated as producing high quality fruit every year). The bubbles, which were accompanied by our favorite toast, "Champagne for my real friends and real pain for my sham friends," were followed by the remainder of a bottle of Van Winkle Bourbon, a house favorite.

After a late start on Saturday, Stephanie, Chuck, and I made it out to Hot Doug's for some delicious frankfurters and duck fat fries. We picked Jayne up at two o'clock and enjoyed a long afternoon of wine shopping. For dinner we ordered deep dish pizza and polished off a bottle of Duval-Leroy NV bubbly, a corbieres, and a bourgogne rouge. After retiring to the basement lounge, Chuck presented me with an incredible birthday present - a bottle of Johnnie Walker Blue Label Scotch Whisky and a humidor full of Cuban cigars! That night we stayed up late imbibing the phenomenal Blue Label - peaty and full bodied, with a lingering caramel finish - and smoking the cubans. I had a sweet and round Cohiba Esplendito, while Chuck and Jayne shared a rustic and earthy Romeo y Julieta No. 2 that actually dated from at 2002 trip Montreal that Chuck and I took.

Not surprisingly, Sunday began in the late morning. At Jayne's suggestion we had a delightful brunch at the Atwood Cafe in the Loop and then took Lake Shore Drive down to Hyde Park for a tour of the university. We then made it back to the north side of town, and after a very stressful trip to Whole Foods, returned home to begin a home cooked feast. Dinner started with prawns sauteed in butter in my new cast iron skillet. They were served in a fresh pea soup with creme fraiche. Next, Stephanie prepared Rick Tramonto's amusing and scrumptious "linguine" and clams, where the linguine are actually julienned and blanched cucumbers served in the clam shell. These courses were enjoyed with the always fantastic Domaine de Baumard Savennieres 2002 (reviewed on this blog earlier). The main course was pan-roasted woodear mushroom crusted pork tenderloin, served on a ring of mashed potatoes with roasted shitake mushrooms and a red wine sauce. For this course, Chuck ("Big playa may big play in big game") had graciously purchased a bottle of the much-anticipated Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape 2001. This is certainly the most famous and widely appreciated wine from the region, and the '01 vintage proved why. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre, and a few other grapes, it showed great density and weight but absolutely pure flavors and a tremendous structure. It's often a bummer sharing wines like this with three other people, but I couldn't complain considering the depth of the conversation and incomparable balance of the company's wit and intelligence - not to mention their delightful aroma. That evening we again retired to the basement lounge for more Blue Label and habanas. This time I smoked a R&J Churchill, Chuck a Cohiba, and Jayne a Montecristo.

On Monday, Stephanie and I had to say goodbye to our weekend guests, but not, of course, before a fabulous lunch. Jayne and Chuck had been eyeing the Nine Steakhouse in Las Vegas and recommended that we visit the Chicago location. We ate splendidly although without vino, as we were all trying to rehydrate. Their visit was a wonderful success and a source of great personal joy (and decadence). We hope to soon join them in Vegas to try to outdo ourselves.

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