9 Perfect Pairings: Midwest Wine Experiences
While Top Chef Master Tony Mantuano is one creative force behind this destination Italian restaurant along the Magnificent Mile, a different narrator escorts diners through the restaurant's Aceto Balsamico tasting menu: the grape.
Masterful wine pairings and a balsamic vinegar progression take patrons on a tour through Italy's vineyards and into the barrels of vinegar of craftsmen who start with nothing but grape must, i.e. juice. "People are passionate about wine more than ever," says Tony, who attributes Americans' love affair with the grape to an increase in international travel. "They want to know more."
The $160 seven-course journey (plus $90 for wine pairings) is such an immersive culinary education that it's no wonder Chicago's only four-star Italian restaurant has earned kudos from The James Beard Foundation. The steep price buys an epicurean adventure that novices and oenophiles alike will savor.
Each course demonstrates how the balsamic vinegar changes as it ages, from its early, light and sweet days to the pungent, lingering incarnation that comes from more than 25 years spent aging in a wooden barrel. Along the way, the flavor and texture of the balsamic flirts with braised pork-filled ravioli, creamy Acquerello risotto, wood-roasted honey lacquered duck breast and Italian-style doughnuts with balsamic zabaglione.
Throughout the meal, a sommelier selects wines that make flavors flourish. "Just like bread or salt or olive oil, wine is another seasoning that can add or take away from a dish," says former sommelier Steve Alexander. "We look for synergy." Somewhere between the pressed grape's balsamic and the fermented grape's wine, that's just what Spiaggia found. (312) 280-2750; spiaggiarestaurant.com -- Kate Silver
Pictured: Braised pork-filled ravioli is among the offerings at Spiaggia.