Chicago has a lot of steakhouses, but the opening of the Esquire Champagne Room at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse on Oak Street makes it the only steakhouse in the city with a separate, Champagne and caviar-focused lounge. And in contrast to most spots specializing in sips and nibbles, the Esquire Champagne Room is secluded and conversation-friendly. It’s also one of the few places in the city where I would recommend ordering the uni.
Sommelier Mandy Sparacino says Del Frisco’s, a boutique Texas-based chain, wanted to do something unique, something that enhanced the brand and made it a standout.
“The pop of a Champagne cork triggers memories,” she says. “And since nobody serves Champagne on unhappy occasions, the memories evoked by the ‘pop’ are always upbeat."
Sparacino has the happy task of keeping the Champagne Room well stocked with both Champagnes and sparkling wines. Champagne with a capitol “C” is made from grapes grown in the Champagne district of France. That’s not a knock on bubblies made elsewhere; it’s simply a designation designed to protect the brand, much like a trademark.
“Sparkling wines” is the term used to describe bubblies from anywhere other than Champagne, and the Esquire Champagne Room offers some excellent examples from Spain, South Africa, Italy , Australia, France, California and elsewhere.
Tasting real deal Champagne can be expensive. The Esquire Champagne Room’s wine list includes a glass of Dom Perignon Brut Eperney (2006) for $95 and a glass of Veuve
Clicquot La Grande Dame (2004) for $115. Dial down, and the prices are more affordable. The least expensive of the sparkling wines, for instance, is a modest $13 a glass.
Chef Javier Fuentes says there were two “musts” guiding the development of the Esquire Room’s hors d’oeuvres menu. Not only does the food have to be compatible with Champagne’s aura, but it also has to have a moderate heat level. In short, hot dogs and dishes made with Scotch bonnet chilies are out, while caviar, oysters on the half shell, and uni are in.
Uni, the Asian name for sea urchin, has a strong flavor and an unappealing exterior. “The American Heritage Dictionary” describes it as “a soft body enclosed in a symmetrical round calcareous shell covered with long spines.” I’m not sure that clarifies the whole appearance thing, and if it doesn’t, simply envison a round ball covered with spines.
The part you actually eat, according to Jeffrey Elliot & Robby Cook (“The Complete Guide to Sushi & Sashimi”), is the gonads of both the male and the female sea urchin, rather than the roe or the cheeks or the tail or the kidneys or the tongue or whatever. Somehow, Chef Fuentes makes it all taste-and look- like something I not only want to eat, but something I’d want to eat again.
The Esquire Champagne Room at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse
58 E.Oak Street 312.888.2499