American restaurants have experienced an increasing demand for items cultivated closer to home, or honest to their origins. This occurrence is another one of those bright spots in a sluggish economy: new trends emerge, ones that might just become a dominant formula for success in purveying fine food and wine.
Chicago-area diners are literally at the epicenter of this epicurean development. Surrounded by the bountiful farms of the nation’s heartland, their tastes in cuisine are not conservative; people here expect the eclectic and the worldly when going out to eat. These expectations are creating a confluence of global and local.
Jacky’s on Prairie, a northwest Evanston restaurant with a forward-thinking, exciting menu and wine list, has thrived by embracing this culinary philosophy. Once known as a steak-frites standby, it now features a more worldwide influence, but with locally sourced foods.
Recently, Value Wine Chicago sat down with co-owners Jona Silva (Chef) and Erin Silva Winston (Wine Director) to talk about this culinary vanguard — a phenomenon that has profoundly affected the wine industry, too.
Value Wine Chicago: There is a movement toward all things local among a number of restaurants – whether it is produce or wines that are true to their places of origin. What have you done in building your menu and wine list to reflect this trend?
Jona Silva: I have built my menu based on the ingredients I can obtain from local suppliers, and the menu is constantly changing with the season. I get produce twice a week — every Wednesday I get deliveries, and on Saturday I go to the Evanston Farmer’s Market. What I am able to purchase there will dictate how I put the menu together. I only buy sustainable fish, and all the meat that we use is raised ethically, naturally, or organically by small, sustainable farms.
My philosophy is to produce meals that are exciting, while wholesome and nutritious as well. I take my responsibility as a chef very seriously; Americans now spend a substantial amount of their money on going out to eat. So the role of the restaurant has changed; people are not eating out exclusively for special occasions. Instead, they expect to be nurtured by the dishes that they eat when they are out. I always try to make it so that a special occasion and good nourishment go hand-in-hand. The Culinary Institute of America talks about this as “stealth cooking,” meaning that diners might not realize how nutritious their meals are when they are focusing on the flavors and the variety and diversity of the foods we offer.
VWC: The recession has changed the way people order wine, and has allowed them to open their minds to varietals and regions that are under-the-radar. What have you done in assembling the wine list to dovetail with this trend?
Erin Silva Winston: It’s always the best-case scenario for us when people come in wanting to experiment with wines. We have taken time to look into wines that aren’t on a lot of other restaurants’ lists. Right now, one really exciting wine we offer as one of our glass-pours: the Mencia Descendientes de Jose Palacios, Petalos 2007. The Mencia grape makes a wine that is a medium-bodied, fruit-forward, but very well balanced– especially when compared to many of its European counterparts. Right now, we are really enjoying experimenting with Spanish wines.
VWC: Give me your personal recommendations for a red and white that retail for $15 or less per bottle, and what you would pair with them.
JS: For a red wine pairing, I would recommend the Gorrondona 2007 with the Gunthorp Farm Duck entree, which is a pan-seared breast with a leg confit. The Gorrondona really complements the blueberry gastrique
ESW: For a white, I like the Pesquie Viognier 2008: It’s a rich white wine, and it’s great with seafood. But, I think it’s especially good with our Cobia. There’s a hint of vanilla, and goes nicely with the herbed grits that accompany this delicious fish.