West Central Association Divine Dine & Wine
As I sat at my computer last Wednesday morning, I had no idea that in 36 hours I'd be ingesting and imbibing some of Chicago's most delicious epicurean delights! Through The Local Tourist, I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend West Central Association's Divine Dine & Wine event at Venue One in Chicago's West Loop Neighborhood. I was also afforded a "+1" for the evening's festivities. I was grateful, but soon learned this was essential for my success at the event. How is a girl supposed to taste, imbibe, take notes, snap photos, and hold all the accouterments of the evening?! This would have been next to impossible without my extra pair of hands!
The Venue One space hosted roughly 27 locals eateries and pubs which provided a variety of tasties and libations. Many of the establishments are organic, use sustainable food sources, or use only locally grown food. The event, hosted by Windy City Live hosts, Ryan Chiaverini and Val Warner, also provided a silent auction of local goods and opportunities to support WCA.
I am pleased to report that, while gluten abounds at all of the restaurants, the dishes are served in such a way that whether you eschew carbs or live in fear of gluten, you can easily find protein-laden options that require no special preparation. I hate wasting the sweet little pieces of bread, but reconciled myself to view them as organic serving pieces.
For me, the standout of the evening was Carmichael's Pork Shank served with Risotto. I was so engrossed in the sheer carnival that was transpiring in my mouth, I swear I couldn't process anything visually. I do remember saying out loud, "I want to marry this pork shank." Yes, it's that good. While I didn't see it on their menu, it's worth calling ahead to see if they are serving it as a special.
Next on my list of standouts has to be the Espresso-Infused caviar on a bed of cremé brule-like custard by Espressions by Lavazza. It's simply amazing. Their coffee is above par as well. Worth a popping in to this tony coffee shop for a cuppa and a treat.
Interestingly enough, just days prior, apropos of nothing, I was lauding the butter-like quality and delicious flavor of pork cheeks to my "+1" ad nauseam. What do you suppose we happed upon as we approached the Davanti Enoteca table? You guessed it! Pork Cheeks on a bed of Risotto. Oh, I can't tell you the happy dance my taste buds were doing. You should run, not walk, to Davanti Enoteca to try this amazing dish. Stop thinking about the "cheeks" part! Right now. It's just delicious pork.
Vera and Wisma both offered seafood options. Vera boasted a seafood salad that was as visually tantalizing as it was interesting to the palate. Wisma served "sustainable ocean raised salmon with organic Bolivian white quinoa, asparagus, preserved lemon-oregano vinaigrette." I checked the menu and this item goes for only $11. Wisma also has locations in the Far North suburbs of Lake Bluff and Libertyville.
Three Aces served up gorgeous appetizers of paté and preserves with beet root on sweet little slices of bread. Pastoral also had gorgeous fresh cheeses on brioche. Both establishments showcased visually pleasing and tantalizingly tasteful small bites.
Athena offered chicken shish kabob and the cutest little Greek Salad situated in a cucumber cup. I loved the concept, but couldn't find it on the menu. Next door, Porkchop provided a delicious barbequed pulled pork sandwich with the perfect amount of tang.
As for libations, I accidentally imbibed a shot of vodka with my hand-shucked-on-the-spot oyster at Dine. It was a yummy concoction, but totally missed the part of about a SHOT of vodka. Kind of a surprise to the system when you miss that small feature.
City Winery was also on-site. I sampled a Zin, but am even more intrigued by their concept of a winery that offers high quality live music in an intimate setting. Looking forward to visiting soon.
Being a lover of reds, I sampled a couple wines that I would be interested in sampling repeatedly: Mountain Door Malbec from Argentina provided by Madison Vine Wines and an interesting Vranac from Monastery Tvrdos in Serbia offered by Ovie.
The star of the evening in the liquid refreshment realm was by far Degan Imperial IPA by Haymarket. I love a good IPA. This IPA is leaps and bounds above any other IPA. It's gotta be the best I've ever had. It's extremely hoppy and tastes a bit fruity. Maybe that's just me. Doesn't matter. If you like a hoppy IPA, it is in your best interest to get to Haymarket and give this homegrown brew a try. The guys at Haymarket really seemed to love their jobs. Such a happy, friendly, and helpful bunch!
An honorable mention goes to Glazed and Confused Maple Bacon Long John. I couldn't bring myself to ingest its gooey sugary goodness, but my "+1" took one for the team and gave it a go. It was a big thumbs up! Their donuts looked just gorgeous. I had to leave as I could hear them beckoning to me.
I appreciated the program booklet replete with recipes from several of the chefs. It was such an asset to the event; however, if there is one suggestion I could offer for next year's Divine Dine & Wine it would be to provide the names and ingredients of the dishes served at the event. Some dishes seemed to be a chef's special for the evening, rather than a staple of the menu.
As I looked up menus and locations of the various eateries, all of which have a very strong web presence, I couldn't help but become more intrigued by the interesting and well-appointed decor of the establishments in this area. I was privileged to be able to attend this event, but I am even more lucky to have found a virtual cornucopia of dining choices in the West Loop. I can't wait to begin my dining adventures in this fine neighborhood!
On a personal note, not only was I able to sample a wide variety of dishes from local venues, I had the happy surprise of finally meeting, in the flesh, my long-time Twitter and Facebook Friend, WXRT overnight DJ, Marc Alghini. Who knew? Great food and wonderful happenstance all in one evening!