This week I had an amazing opportunity that just reinforces why I love food so much. It is a complex art that can bring people together for amazing shared experiences. I am finally back living in Chicago (like, more than one night a week), so I was able to attend my first Chicago Food Bloggers Dinner! It was held at the newly opened Coppervine in Lincoln Park. Besides all the amazing food and drinks (which I’ll get to next…) the best part about the night was meeting other fellow food bloggers who are on the same pursuit as me: to discover amazing food. I loved chatting with Ashley, Katie, Peter, and Bill, hearing their stories, learning about their passions, and being inspired by their pursuits. And it was so fun to meet them all under the context of sharing an amazing meal together and having those “OMG are you tasting what I’m tasting?!” moments. Also, when you dine with other food bloggers, you don’t feel so bad about taking pictures and notes on everything you eat, because they’re all geeking out about the meal and doing it too!
Coppervine is a unique dining experience. Their main concept is a focus on pairings: “We are in constant pursuit of the perfect pairing. In its most basic sense, a great pairing occurs when the food and drink taste better together than apart—when the flavors of one enhance, complement, or uniquely contrast the other.” Everything on the menu includes a suggested pairing of a wine, beer, and cocktail. You can pick what you want to eat first and then pair it with your drink of choice, or choose what you like to drink first and then find what dish would taste well with it. Either way, you’re guaranteed the perfect flavor pairing.
We had the pleasure to meet and talk with the owner and creator of the concept, Don Sritong. He shared with us his passion about pairings and the inspiration for the restaurant’s menu. In some cases, the food inspired the drink selections, while in many cases the drink came first and then inspired the talented Chef David Wang to create a dish to complement.
Note: they were also incredibly accommodating to some of the other bloggers’ diet restrictions, and are happy to modify or recreate a dish to suit your needs and preferences.
Here’s how we dined:
First course was the Blue Lump Crab Fritters with Smoked Corn, served with a Guindilla Pepper Aioli. It was paired with the Brooklyn Blast IPA by Brooklyn Brewery. I usually don’t like IPAs (beer snobs, be quiet. Hops are not for everyone). However, in this instance I was amazed just how much Don’s words rang true: eating the food with the beer really did change the taste of both! It was “spice and spice” and it totally worked. The IPA brought out the spiciness of the Crab Fritters, and the heat from the peppers balanced out the bitterness of the IPA in such a way that made it so enjoyable to sip.
I also throughly enjoyed the Arugula Pesto Flatbread with Granny Smith Apple, Parmesan, and Truffle. I thought it would be paired with something to contrast the tartness of the apples, but the pairing with J.K’s Scrumpy Farmhouse Organic Cider was just beautiful. The apple in both the Cider and the flatbread really enhanced the flavor of the other.
In the next round, cocktails were paired with our medium sized plates. My favorite cocktail was the Four Grapes made with Pisco, Passionfruit, Honey, Egg White, Cranberry Ice, and Habanero. Yes, Habanero! It has just the perfect little amount of heat to balance out the sweetness and it was soooo tasty. I also loved the gin cocktail, The Standard, with St. Germain, lemon, and egg white, it was a refreshing summer cocktail that paired well with all of the dishes in the course. These included the rich Tempura Squash Blossoms stuffed with Gournay Cheese over a salad with Smoked Peaches and Hazlenut Vinaigrette, the perfect-for-spring English Pea Agnollotti with Haricot Vert, and, the not to be missed Diver Scallops with Morel Mushrooms and English Peas. All of the dishes had clearly spring/early summer inspired ingredients and were among my favorite flavors of the night.
On to the main course. We started with Fried Chicken and Sparking Wine. I’m still new to the idea of pairings, so I was unaware that this is apparently one of the most well-known and classic food/drink pairings, and I can see why. The effervescent French Sparkling Wine was crisp and bright, just like the perfect crispness of the Fried Chicken with a Sriracha Mayo. Another favorite of mine was the incredibly decadent and buttery Maine Lobster BLT, paired nicely with an aromatic and floral Chardonnay. We were also treated to an amazing Lamb T-Bone with Heirloom Baby Carrots and a Mint Chimichurri, paired with a fruity Rhône-style red blend.
And if we hadn’t had enough already, out came dessert. The most amazing Warm Chocolate Molten Cake came paired with a Black Port Wine: “Decadence on decadence,” as Don said. I say, “To die for.” And last but not least, another favorite of the evening was the Rhubarb Apple Cobbler, paired with the tart and fruity Strawberry Lambic. What really topped it off was the Crème Fraîche Mint Ice Cream that came with it. I MUST figure out how to make this!
This night was an amazing experience, and I am now in love with Coppervine. I never realized just how much the perfect pairing could enhance your meal so much. Each bite and sip was so complex and full of flavor, that it made for a dining experience unlike any other. It has inspired me to try to do pairings with my own recipes at home!
Food is so much more than just fuel: it is an experience. It was when I finally learned how to truly enjoy what I eat (and drink) that my relationship with food became a healthy one. And meals like those at Coppervine can really help you remember to slow down and savor all that is eatable about your food.