Blue Star Wine Bar (Restaurant, Bar, Wicker Park)
Location: 1209 N. Noble St.
Phone: (773) 278-2233
Cuisine: Wine Bar & Tapas
Microbreweries get all the attention these days. Twenty-six year olds in vintage scarves and kempt facial hair extol the virtues of pale ales crafted in their neighbor’s loft, one bottle at a time. But hidden away, right in the enemy’s den of Wicker Park, is a wine bar that is trying to shift the culture. Blue Star Wine Bar is tucked away on Noble Street, just north of Division, and UPchicago was invited to an exclusive night of food, music, and of course, wine. I invited a close friend of mine, Alistair, to share the experience; throughout the night, whenever our hosts would look away, Alistair and I would turn to each other and mouth, “this is incredible! What are we doing here?” We were the youngest patrons of the event by a long shot; I assume that others our age were at nearby beer gardens, talking about the Broken Bells album. Their loss. The evening was elegant, informative, and best of all, delicious.
Blue Star is a warm and cozy place to spend a winter’s evening. It’s small enough to feel intimate, but you’ll never feel crammed even if it’s filled to capacity. The kitchen is open for viewing, but the centerpiece is the long, curved bar complete with a hand crafted wine dispensary system. Blue Star uses argon gas to pressurize their wines, allowing them to have thirty varieties available by the glass. When I arrived I was offered a choice between their 14 Hands Cabernet and their Calina Chardonnay to enjoy with hors d’œuvres. I picked the red. I was dismayed when I met the sommelier for the bar, Kristin, and she had chosen the white, but she quelled my fears. As the bar’s personal sommelier, she had picked nearly the entire stock, and found my red a good choice as well. As luck may have it, Kristin and I were seated at the same small table by our host. While everyone else got a two-minute blurb about each wine that came out, Alistair and I were treated to an entire night of wine gossip.
Before I start describing the courses, let me say every wine and every morsel we tasted were phenomenal. It would get repetitive after a while otherwise. While we mingled, waiting for the festivities to begin, we were treated to goat cheese croquettes in a blueberry honey emulsion and pork and pine nut meatballs. They were amazing. Sorry, I can’t help it. Our performers that evening were Alessandro Magno and Cynthia Firing, singing Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra with piano accompaniment. Between each of the four pairings served they did solos and duets, perfectly playing off each other and wooing the crowd as they went. We were lucky enough to catch this special event, but Blue Star has live music every Friday night. With no cover, and with a different act weekly, there isn’t a better deal around.
Speaking of the four courses, the first one came out after several numbers by the singing duo: mozzerella with yellow pepper confit and pesto alla trapanese. I know what you’re thinking: “Does the chef make his own mozzerella cheese?” Absolutely. This course was paired with Esperanza Verdejo, a fantastic Spanish white. Next we had a polenta trio topped with lamb Bolognese, Portobello and truffle aioli, and pesto. Torresella Nero D’Avola came with it, a Sicilian red. Kristin told Alistair and I about each wine while we ate, as we have mostly been confined to the merlots, pinots, and cabs of the world. “You wouldn’t get it if you didn’t know,” she tells us, “so talk to the people at wine stores. Tell them what you like and let them help you pick something you don’t know about.” Kristin started learning about wine for the love of it, and now made a career out of it. She keeps up with her career by visiting Oregon at least once a year. What a life. Now she helps restaurants and stores choose their wine selections and will come to you for wine tastings and information sessions. You can look Kristin up at vinodisavino.com for more info.
Our entrée course came next — roasted fingerlings, sautéed spinach, and grilled skirt steak over garlic parmesan bruschetta. The famed Ben Marco Malbec comes along for the ride. Everything Kristen said about it was right, and priced at around $20 a bottle they make perfect gifts for the holidays…the weekends…any day, really. Our final course, dessert, is the proverbial icing on the cake: fried nutella with a blueberry coulis and a Grand Marnier marshmallow. I know what you’re thinking: “does the chef make his own marshmallows?” You bet your sweet Shiraz he does. Layer Cake Primitivo, an Italian wine accompanying the dessert, is more similar to a Zinfandel, but hints of chocolate make it a perfect pair for desserts.
Blue Star Wine Bar might be able to loosen this city’s grip on craft beer bottles long enough to show them there is life beyond the hops. I couldn’t have had a better time, and I couldn’t have had better food and drink either. Any mistakes in the details about the wines are mine; Kristin did the best she could with me. One thing I know for sure is I will be back. Blue Star is perfect for friends and family, date night and late night. Break away from beer, and find new meaning for the term wine and dine.
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