Hot on Chicago menus is a European tradition that has been grabbing the attention of fine and casual diners alike. Beverage directors across Chicago are introducing diners to the art of aperitifs and digestifs, ways of priming diners for a great meal and helping them digest it. Such pallet cleansers may seem daunting, but when they come in the form of Lillet, Campari, or even vermouth, they go down quite easily.
This trend of preparing the diner for his or her meal and bringing it to a satisfying conclusion is one that is being practiced on menus throughout Chicago. Here's a look at this month's trend on the Chicago scene, and where you can sip an aperitif and wind down with a digestif next time you hit Chicago's culinary playground.
Sable Kitchen and Bar
Though he says that the tradition of an aperitif before a meal is somehow lost in this country, Sable Kitchen and Bar's mixologist Mike Ryan is working to bring this practice to his patrons at Sable. The idea of an aperitif, he says is to prepare one's palate and system for the act of ingestion for the greater enjoyment of the meal. Walk into Sable, and you'll be offered a light and refreshing aperitif of Lillet, vermouth, or Cocchi Americano, topped off with sparkling Italian Prosecco to act as a launching pad for your meal. (505 N State St)
To complete your meal, a digestif is offered to alleviate the symptoms of overindulgence, typically bitter and often from Italy in the form of Amaro poured over large ice cubes for slow dilution.
Sepia's Wine Director Arthur Hon is working to make aperitifs and digestifs approachable for diners who may have never encountered this European tradition. Hon favors a Niepoort Dry White Port as a digestif for its amenable taste for guests who are not so familiar with sherry or oxidized wines. (123 N Jefferson St)
RPM Italian is dedicated to stimulating the taste buds of its diners before during and after dinner, making special efforts to promote palate-opening aperitifs to guests before the meal and bittersweet Italian herbal liqueurs, or Amari, afterwards. RPM Italian has a menu of a dozen Amari from different regions of Italy, in addition to 10 more familiar liqueurs to the American diner, all offered alongside the dessert menu to encourage guests to enjoy them after their meal is finished. (52 W Illinois St)
The Barrelhouse Flat
The Barrelhouse Flat in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood is also dedicated to the serving of these pre- and post-meal drinks. Owner and bartender Stephen Cole favors a flavor range from bitter to dry or acidic, including sparkling wines and bubbles into many of their aperitif and digestif offerings.
Can't wait to get in on this month's trend? Check out these restaurants, alongside another 270 participating restaurants during this year's Chicago Restaurant Week, a 14-day culinary celebration at restaurants throughout the city and suburbs running from January 24 - February 6. The annual culinary celebration will feature prix fixe menus starting at $22 for lunch and $33 and/or $44 for dinner (excluding beverages, tax and gratuity). Online reservations are now open at eatitupchicago.com