TCW - Culture, Dining & Nightlife

Travel Sense Tip: Check out Cultures at Home Before Going Abroad


Thinking of exploring Costa Rica? Before you go, check out Irazu', Chicago's only Costa Rican restaurant. During a recent visit, I savored "El Tico," a "chef's favorite" meal featuring rib eye steak sauteed with onions and bell pepper and served with sweet plantains, cabbage salad and "gallo pinto," the trademark rice-and-black-bean dish in Costa Rica.


The Alliance Francaise de Chicago not only offers a great range of French-language classes, but offers fascinating cultural events, as well. Earlier this year, the Alliance hosted author Kiratiana Freelon (third from left) for a lecture based on her book "Kiratiana's Travel Guide to Black Paris: Get Lost and Get Found."

For me, the real fun in traveling is in planning my trip. In a post on my blog, I wrote not long ago about the joy I find in first considering, then pondering and finally PLANNING my getaways. And when these trips involve traveling internationally, the fun factor goes through the roof. While I know some folks hate the hassles of exchanging currency, packing foreign-language phrase books, and haggling over hotel reservations several hours and time zones away via Skype, I jump in with gusto.

But then, I've got a pretty broad definition of what constitutes planning and "research." Picking up guidebooks, phrasebooks and e-mailing friends and associates in advance to find out who they know in the country I'm visiting is just one leg of my reconnaissance. The other, when I can, involves checking out the culture I'll find abroad before I leave home. And it's probably easier to do than you think--especially when you live in a metropolitan area as diverse as Chicago's.

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Your May To Do Calendar

May is finally here, and with it comes gorgeous weather and these chic Chicago events.

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'Travel Sense' Tip: Connect with local friends, or friends-of-friends, on your next trip

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Making connections with friends-of-friends when you're traveling can be richly rewarding. When visiting Positano on Italy's Amalfi Coast some years ago, my Chicago friend Pamela (bottom left) and I met up with Kelly Carter (bottom right), a fellow freelance journalist who's since become a great friend of mine. Also pictured here is an expat artist friend of Kelly's who lived in Positano.

It's one thing to visit a city or country on your own, but quite refreshing to see it through the eyes of those who live there. That's why it's a great idea to find out in advance if folks you know have any local connections in the place you're heading. I always do this when traveling abroad, but also try to make it a habit here in the States, as well. I find this opens up your perspective--and gives you a local's view of life in your chosen vacation spot.

I recommend this whether you're traveling alone, with family or friends, or your significant other. For one thing, you also introduce your companions to another side of the place you're visiting and give them stories to share when they get back home. (And if those companions are starting to wear on you, a visit with someone new can help break up the monotony.) These "appointments" with other folks' friends add purpose and structure to your vacation days, which can sometimes overwhelm with endless museum and monument visits. And when arranging our meet-ups, I always ask these friends-once-removed to suggest a meeting place that's a favorite of THEIRS--not just one that's convenient to the hotel or apartment where I happen to be staying. You then get introduced to cool, where-the-locals-go eateries and bars in different parts of town--places that you wouldn't likely stumble upon on your own.

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'Travel Sense' Tip: Let a trip to the movies--or Netflix--inspire your next getaway

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Looking for a great getaway? Perhaps a film set in a gorgeous locale -- such as "Under the Tuscan Sun" -- will inspire you. Diane Lane's character CERTAINLY found inspiration in the arms of BELLO Italian ragazzo Raoul Bova.

While I don't get to the movies nearly as often as I'd like, some of my favorite films are essentially travelogues with a Hollywood storyline and international locations. And if you're trying to envision your next trip but can't think of a single place to go, perhaps the trip you need to take is to the nearest cinema--or your very own Netflix queue.

"Under the Tuscan Sun" not only is one of my all-time favorite flicks, but the gorgeous Italian scenery--both of the landscape and well-dressed male variety--not only encouraged me to visit this beautiful corner of the world but helped inspire my move to Florence seven years ago. Last spring's "Letters to Juliet" made me long for a weeks-long vacation in storybook-perfect Verona, Italy, a city to which I paid an all-too-brief visit four years ago.

Paris' stunning streets, cozy cafes and the picturesque River Seine served as the backdrops to 2004's sepia-toned "Before Sunset," the follow-up to another of my best-loved films that took place largely on a European train and in Vienna, "Before Sunrise."

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Top Alfresco Dining

The sun is out and the weather is warmer which can only mean one thing - outdoor dining! The best food is better when complimented with a prime spot at one of the top alfresco restaurants in the city.

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April To Do Calendar

These April events are sure to give you Spring fever. 

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Chicago Women in Wine Series : Part 2

This is the second in a series of video highlighting the fabulous women that make Chicago's dining and wine bar scene so amazing. The video correspond to the article in the April TCW magazine that covers four of these top women in wine.

Today's videos feature Jill Gubesch. Sommelier at Chicago's top restaurants Topolobampo and Frontera Grill . Get to know Jill a bit and hear her discuss on red wine and one white wine selection off the fabulous wine list she has created over her ten years working at these acclaimed restaurants. Take a look.....
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Chicago Women in Wine Series Begins

Chicago's wine scene wouldn't be half as unique, intriguing and interesting without having these fabulous women at the helm of several of Chicago's top restaurants and wine bars.

These videos accompany the article that's running in TCW April Issue, on newstands now. The first in the series here are two up-close videos of Shebnem Ince, sommelier at The Gage and Henri restaurants. She highlights one white and one red wine she pours at the lovely Henri restaurant. Stay tuned for the rest of this wonderful series, highlighting four of the top women in the Chicago wine scene. 
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Step into Spring with Jimmy Choo

Tamara Mellon, Order of the British Empire (OBE), founder and Chief Creative Officer of Jimmy Choo was recently at Nordstrom on Michigan Avenue presenting the luxury brand's Spring/Summer 2011 collection. Taking inspiration from a retro decade, hot sands and foreign cityscapes, the new collection offers an array of styles for the modern woman in areas of shoes, handbags, small leather goods and even perfume. In an exclusive interview, TCW talked with Ms. Mellon about what to expect this season, shoe styling advice and an introduction to Jimmy Choo's newest endeavor -- men's shoes.

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Chicago Celebrates Authentic Italian Restaurants

Italian food lovers take note!! Eighteen Chicago-area restaurants will receive the "Ospitalità Italiana Seal - Italian Restaurants in the World," an honor recognizing their authenticity and culinary contributions to Italian culture, at a dinner event on Thursday, March 17. This day marks the 150th anniversary of the unification of Italy. The event will be held at the National Italian American Sports Hall of Fame, 1431 W. Taylor St., in Little Italy. Continue reading for a short video explaining the criteria for this seal of authenticity and then buy tickets!
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DiSotto Enoteca hosts Creminelli Salumi Tasting

Scott Harris, of the acclaimed Francesca's restaurants, including Francesca's on Chestnut, launched a subterranean small-plate joint in the basement of this Chestnut location. 

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Festival des Metiers

Ever wonder about the inner workings of a fashion house?

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Buenos Aires hotel restaurants take cuisine cues from around the globe

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It's hard to find a cozier breakfast or brunch spot that at the Resto-Bar at the hip-and-happening Home Hotel in Buenos Aires' Palermo Hollywood barrio.

In this month's issue of Today's Chicago Woman, I invited readers to meet me in Argentina, where I not only sipped wine and slept at bodegas, or wineries, in the renowned province of Mendoza, but also dined fabulously at restaurants housed in Buenos Aires hotels.
Just as you'll find in many of the world's top cities, some of BA's most interesting dining spots are located in these. A bustling capital city of about three million residents, Buenos Aires features not only traditional Argentine eateries, but restaurants that borrow influences from around the continent--and across the globe.

In case you haven't picked up a copy of TCW (and what are you waiting for?), here's a look at hotel eateries that offer guests, visiting tourists and Buenos Aires residents, or porteños as they're called, imaginative but still approachable cuisine.

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L2O Muscadet Wine Tasting Dinner is Gorgeous

There are wine tastings and then there are WINE tastings. This Muscadet tasting featuring Vigneron Jo Landron of Loire Valley's Domaine de la Louvetrie was one very unique opportunity to experience this lesser known wine gem paired to a sampling of L2O Executive Chef Francis Brennan's fare. Since the departure of acclaimed chef Laurent Gras, the jury has been out on the 3-Michelin star fare under the new reign. I say it hasn't skipped a beat....
Take a short photo journey of the tastes, sips and great people that I was joined by at my recent dinner at L2O. read more about the dinner....

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10 Unique Fitness Classes to Try

Shed those winter layers and heat up with an intense work out sure to get your body in top shop. These unique workout classes will get your heart pumping and your body moving!

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Granting Wishes One Dress at a Time


It wasn't long ago that Stacy Senechalle and Ursula Guyer ditched their corporate jobs and dove head-first into fashion, with the opening of their store WhiteChicago. Five years later they're not only successful business owners, they're also responsible for raising more than $700,000 for breast cancer patients.

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Chicago's First Micro-Winery:Hard Hat Tour

City Winery comes to Chicago this fall
Step inside this famous Sullivan building, former home to Carsons, and Old Chicago oozes from the walls to the ceiling. This landmark building, soon home to the new City Target will also be shared by New York City's City Winery. I posted a short video with owner and Founder Michael Dorf and now will post the rest of that series, giving you a first hand look at the space prior to the build out. 
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Post Oscar Wine Tasting Dinner at L2O

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With a changing of the toque in the kitchen at L2O, this tasting dinner is a great way to sample the new cuisine of new Chef Francis Brennan. Wine of the acclaimed Domaine de la Louvetrie from lovely Loire Valley will be featured.

When a chef and winemaker come together to pair a menu, it's often a one-time affair. The meeting of minds can be an experience to remember. This menu is quite a culinary journey.....
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Your March To Do Calendar

It's not summer yet, but these Chicago events sure are hot!

Compiled by Lois Kim

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Transport yourself to Tuscany through a Wine Dinner on Chicago's State Street

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Osteria Via Stato's Chef David DiGregorio is all about locally grown and seasonal products. At at the downtown Chicago restaurant's "Tuscany Wine Dinner," he'll incorporate these into a five-course feast inspired by this famous Italian region.

You know how some folks say that the mere whiff of a fragrance or long-forgotten song can take transport them back to a place in their past? Well, for this passionate foodie, just reading about the ingredients in a dish, the foreign spelling of a food I loved in what now seems like a past life, does the same. That's why I'm especially psyched about the "Tuscany Wine Dinner" being hosted Thursday, March 3, at the always-scrumptious Osteria Via Stato at 620 N. State in downtown Chicago.

Listen to this: "Join us... for a trip to the Tuscan countryside where seasonality, sensibility and simplicity are central to the cuisine. With an abundance of local vegetables, seafood from the coast and game from the woodlands, this central region of Italy is also known for its beautiful landscape, rich artistic legacy and some of the most sought-after wines in the world." As someone who lived for a short time in the Tuscan city of Florence--and who's spent time traveling throughout the idyllic, cypress tree-lined Tuscan countryside for both work and pleasure--this description takes me back to some of the most memorable times in my life.

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Piccolo Sogno's Little Dream

Longobardo's Italian roots drive the Piccolo Sogno restaurant wine list, with representation from all of Italy's 20 regions. He opts to feature unusual Italian wine, rather than Chianti or Pinot Grigio, the more usual suspects at typical Italian restaurants. 

Piccolo Sogno's Wine Director Ciro Longobardo's Philosophy on Wine

This is a video adjunct to the story that ran in 2/24 TCW.

Longobardo's list favors wine of indigenous grapes like a 2006 Borgo Conventi Friulano from Friuli, Stefano Farina's 2009 Gavi del Comune di Gavi or a 2008 Langhe Arneis by producer Bongiovanni both from the Piemonte, and a 2008 Bucci Verdicchio Classico from the Marche region. These are just a few of the 30+ by-the-glass offerings, most priced at $10 and under. Please click and watch video of Longobardo's wine picks off his own list.

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Chicago's First Micro-Winery: City Winery

A few years ago, I thought I was in heaven when I had the opportunity to attend the City Winery opening in New York City. I was on a filming assignment with WineTasteTv at the time and found the concept amazing:  a DIY type urban winery, where you get a taste of the wine making experience at a world class restaurant and music venue. Finally, this fall, a branch of it opens in Chicago.

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'Travel Sense' Tip: Check Out Houses of Worship on the Road

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Holy Trinity Anglican Church, located in the center of the French Riviera city of Nice, is a multiethnic congregation that welcomes English-speaking worshippers from all over the world.

For some reason, I'm fascinated by houses of worship -- especially in cities and countries that aren't my own. Just as you can learn a lot about a culture by sitting in its parks and people-watching from its cafés, I've found you're able to pick up many more clues about what matters to folks by stopping into places they consider sacred (of course, assuming they allow and welcome visitors). And you hardly have to be religious to appreciate such experiences.

Personally, I get more psyched about visiting these places than a bunch of museums and pricey boutiques. Particularly when I'm traveling overseas--but when I'm in different American cities, as well -- I get up on Sundays and take a subway, bus or my own two feet in order to get to somebody's service. I enjoy the religious aspect of worship but for me, it's also about experiencing authentic and expressive local culture.

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Can't make it to France? Sample delicious new Paris Club restaurant instead

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The cozy, brand-new Paris Club, featuring reinvented twists on classic French dishes, officially opened Feb. 9. You've gotta love this mirror's wise words: "Paris is always a good idea." Well, of course! (Anjali Pinto Photography)

Most folks who know me are aware of my ongoing love affair with Paris and anything about it. I carry file folders and business cards adorned with images of the Eiffel Tower; the drink coasters I use at home and work feature scenes from France and assorted French phrases. I've got a framed sketch of American-turned-Parisian entertainer Josephine Baker on my bedroom wall. The list goes on. Quite simply, I'm obsessed.

That explains why I'd been eagerly awaiting the grand opening of downtown's Paris Club (59 W. Hubbard), the latest venture from Lettuce Entertain You's young restaurateurs R.J. and Jerrod Melman. Taking over and completely renovating the space that used to belong to fellow Lettuce property Brasserie Jo, the brothers and internationally renowned French Chef Jean Joho (also of Everest, Eiffel Tower Restaurant, Brasserie JO Boston) have made it their goal to serve up "approachable French fare in a casual, urban setting that appeals to a new generation of diners." Makes perfect sense, as some folks still think of French cuisine as too haute and stuffy, with little hipster appeal.

So a friend and I checked out Paris Club on its official opening night to judge for ourselves.

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Chicago's Intelligentsia Rages in Los Angeles!

If you are a coffee fanatic like me, you've certainly appreciated Intelligentsia coffee shops around the Chicago area. The Black Cat dark roast is my fav. Check out their location in Venice Beach, CA. The line winds down the block with hipster LA types. And the coffee still rocks, with their drip-to-order system. 
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Red Wine for Valentine's Day

Come along for a tasting of a 2007 Napa Cabernet that will set your Valentines Day on the right track. Watch and experience this virtual tasting by President and CEO of Sequoia Grove Winery upon his visit to Chicago's Mastro's Steakhouse.. This would make the prefect wine for Valentines Day. 
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Join Us at TCW's Annual Top Singles Party, March 11

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TCW's 2010 Top Singles Party/

They are smart, good-looking, successful and most importantly, single! Here at TCW we made your search easier and narrowed down the most eligible bachelorS and bachelorettes in our February Top Singles issue. 

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Eight Comfort Foods, Re-imagined

The weather is frightful and the snow is not very delightful. Winter is showing its true colors so now is the perfect time to bundle up, stay inside and dive into these delicious dishes that will comfort any bad weather blues.

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The Joffrey Auxiliary Board Art Sale

The Joffrey Auxiliary Board (JAB) is holding its first event since being officially ratified last August. Pointe of Departure, an art sale on Thursday, February 10, encourages guests to mingle with Joffrey dancers, view exhibitions, purchase artwork and bid in both live and silent auctions.
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Valentine's Day Gift Guide

As love fills the air, let us remember one thing this Valentine's Day: it's not all about us. Use this Valentine's Day as an opportunity to show that special person in your life just how much you care. Whether it's a night out on the town or a relaxing day for two, our gift guide is sure to earn you a special place in their heart.

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