Sunday $28 Wine Specials 


The Bar at The Boarding House 

Beginning in September,  The Boarding House is pleased to present a selection of specially priced bottles of wines every Sunday evening in our first floor bar. Each week, I select a list of wines from our stocked cellar of over 450 global selections for only $28 (exclusive of tax and gratuity).

Spotlighted specials range from limited production wines and my current favorites, to varietals I find particularly interesting. All are selected to complement Chef de Cuisine Bjorn Rasmussen’s seasonal menu, whose offerings have been specially tailored for Sunday evenings in the bar. I think this is a fun opportunity for wine lovers, both new and experienced, to discover something unique at an attractive price point. 

Availability of the Sunday specials is limited, and is offered exclusively in the bar area. Bar seating is available on a walk-in basis.

Selections will change frequently. Introductory offerings include:

2006 Gramona, Cava Imperial, Spain – Gramona’s history in the Penedes region dates back to 1816 and today they are one of the few remaining family-owned estates in the region. Gramona ages their Cavas a minimum of 18 months and an average of 4 years. Aromas of toast, brioche and baked apples.

2011 Adelsheim, Auxerrois, Oregon – Auxerrois is native to Alsace and is known for its light and refreshing flavors of green apples and citrus. This delightful wine makes for an easy-to-drink and quaffable summer sipper.

2011 Knoll, Gruner Veltliner, Federspiel, Austria – Grüner Veltliner is the most widely planted grape variety in Austria, making up about a third of all the vineyard land in the country. Steely and concentrated with aromas of apricots, white pepper and mandarin oranges.

2010 Chateau la Roque, Pic Saint-Loup, Rose, France – Made from organically grown old vine Syrah and Mourvedre vines from vineyards located in the Languedoc-Rousillon area of south-west France. Richer in style with notes of raspberries, dried rose petals and Provencale herbs.

2010 Lemelson, Pinot Noir, Thea’s Selection, Oregon – Eric Lemelson founded his winery on a spectacular 31-acre slope over-looking the coast range near Carlton, Oregon. Spice-scented aromas of black raspberries, cherries, star anise and hints of vanilla.

2010 Chateau de Lionne, Graves, Bordeaux – Blend of classic Bordeaux varietals – Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc. Flavors of cassis, black plums and currants with a firm and full-bodied structure.

2010 Mas Alta, Artigas, Priorat, Spain – Ripe and concentrated blend of Garnacha, Carignan and Cabernet Sauvignon. Flavors of ripe raspberries, dark plums and mocha.

The Bar at The Boarding House is open every Sunday from 4:30 p.m. to 10 p.m.



Check, Please!, Check, Please! 



I moved to Chicago in 2000, and in twelve years I've had the great fortune and pleasure to play a number of roles in this excellent city I now call home: I've been a sommelier of an acclaimed restaurant; corporate wine director for a major restaurant group; and, of course, host of a TV show about restaurants you may have heard about. Often I've had to juggle several of these roles at the same time. Last year, I opened my own restaurant, The Boarding House. Being the owner and proprietor of a restaurant, to negotiate its four floors, two kitchens, and 500-bottle wine list and cellar, to train and manage its 100-person staff, seven days a week, is by far the most challenging, demanding, and rewarding thing I've ever done professionally. And, like with everything else I've been fortunate to be able to do in Chicago, I'm humbled by and grateful for the opportunity. I started the project with the intention of being as involved in the day-to-day operations as physically possible. It was important to me not to become one of those recognizable names you see on the door and never in the place when you come to dinner. I never wanted to make compromises in quality in the interest of expeditiousness, to make hasty decisions because I had other things to do and on my mind, to have to make the restaurant anything less than my sole priority. If I've learned anything from the many restaurants featured on Check, Please! over the last ten seasons I've been host of the show, it's that the details matter.

My restaurant has only been open a little over a month, and I can see already just how important it is for me to keep my work there my sole priority and professional responsibility. In order for me to be able to provide the best possible experience, to offer this city a restaurant like no other, I have to dedicate myself fully and completely to The Boarding House, its terrific staff, and its wonderful and lively guests. To this end, I've come to the bittersweet decision that this will be my last season as the host of Check, Please! Thank you to the show's creator David Manilow, Executive Producer VJ McAleer and the entire production team for the show at WTTW. You're a true cast of professionals and I'll count you as my dearest friends for life.

It's been a pleasure spending Friday nights with you for so many years, I thank you infinitely for your love and support, and I'll look forward to our next episode: pouring you a glass of wine at The Boarding House. Thank you.


Blackstone's Vintage Attraction

Charles diligently chronicling Santorini for what will someday become his Vintage Attraction

After being married to a writer for six years, I've come to the conclusion that there is very little fiction in fiction. Authors pull from their lives, and the people that surround them are fair game as points of insipiration for their stories. When I met my husband, he certainly enjoyed wine but really couldn't tell you the difference between Pinot Noir and peanut butter (to be fair, at one point, neither could I). Each year I visit two or three wine regions and probably taste well over one thousand wines, and Charles has been there for much of it since the inception of our relationship. The world of wine is rife with fascinating characters and situations, and for a writer like Charles, it was only time before he put pen to paper (or, rather, keyboard to screen) to capture these moments.

He began working on his novel about four years ago based on a premise close to home: a young academic by the name of Peter Hapworth who meets and marries Isabelle Conway, a sommelier who happens to work for a French chef and is host of a popular local television show. Sound familiar? Hapworth gets hurled into the world of wine, restaurants, celebrity chefs, and sommeliers, and he soon realizes a dark-as-Syrah side lurks behind the glitzy facade, food festivals, and endless flows of Burgundy. What Charles has been able to capture is a real look at what it's like to live and work as a sommelier, and many of my sommelier friends who have had a chance to preview the novel agree. The novel is also coming at an interesting time, considering the recent attention given to sommeliers from the likes of Eric Asimov, Jay McInerney, and the soon-to-be released documentary SOMM, which profiles what it takes to pass the grueling Master Sommelier exam. Sure, there are a lot of books on the market about wine, but how many of the authors have this much access to the characters who inspire the stories? 

Well, I am so pleased to announce that Charles's novel will be published as a lead title for Pegasus Books for next fall. It will be titled Vintage Attraction, and I sure hope you read it!

Announced in Publishers Marketplace: FICTION:

Charles Blackstone's VINTAGE ATTRACTION features a young English teacher who falls, glass first, into love and wine, when he meets a famous sommelier, and the two embark on a journey through Greece and navigate the mysteries of wine and the heart, giving insight into the real world of sommeliers and expert wine pairings in the process. To Jessica Case and Pegasus Books, on behalf of Ryan Harbage at The Fischer-Harbage Agency. (World).

Special thanks to Charles's agent extraordinaire Ryan Harbage for working tirelessly to get this book to print and Jessica Case from Pegasus Books for believing in the story. It's going to be a vintage year!



Sommelier Smackdown! 



Spiaggia Sommelier Jason Carlen and I are hosting the inaugural Spiaggia Sommelier Smackdown on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2012 at Spiaggia Private Events. Ten amazingly talented Chicago sommeliers and wine experts will be joining us to educate guests on creating the perfect pairing while in friendly competitive atmosphere - yes there will be a healthy dose of smack-talking but all in good fun. A portion of the proceeds will benefit The Cancer Research Foundation in memory of Henry Bishop, the first sommelier of Spiaggia and a mentor to many in the food and wine community.

The event begins with a reception featuring holiday wine recommendations where guests will be afforded the opportunity to interact with the sommeliers and have any and all wine questions answered. The evening continues with a five-course menu prepared by Spiaggia chefs. For each course, two sommeliers will battle “head-to-head” and offer up their best pairing for that dish, following a theme of Old World vs. New World wines. Guests will taste the dish with the two wines and then vote on their favorite pairing. At the end of the night, five sommeliers will be named the night’s victors and champions of the inaugural Spiaggia Sommelier Smackdown.

We have an incredible lineup of Sommeliers for the event:

  • ·       Chad Ellegood – NoMi
  • ·       Arthur Hon – Sepia
  • ·       Shebnem Ince – Henri, Gage
  • ·       Rachael Lowe
  • ·       Tona Palomino – Trenchermen
  • ·       Dan Pilkey – Hilton Worldwide, Chicago Hotels
  • ·       Jeremy Quinn – Telegraph
  • ·       Aaron Sherman – Girl and the Goat
  • ·       Jean Tomaro – Gilt Bar, Maude's Liquor Bar, Au Cheval, Bavette's Bar & Beouf
  • ·       Jason Wagner – Nellcote, RM Champagne Lounge

The Spiaggia Sommelier Smackdown begins at 6:30 p.m. on Nov. 14, 2012 at Spiaggia Private Events located at 980 North Michigan Avenue, third floor.  Tickets are $195 per person, with $50 donated to The Cancer Research Foundation in memory of Henry Bishop, the first sommelier of Spiaggia. To reserve, please call 312.280.2750 or email

Let's get ready to stumble!


Tinned Mackerel Curry 

One of my all time favorite dishes growing up was tinned mackerel curry. My parents and grandparents were born and raised in the Fiji Islands where tinned mackerel (or tinned fish as we called it) is an island staple. It comes fully cooked similar to canned tuna or sardines. You can eat it as is but it's really good simply sauteed with onions, garlic and cumin powder for a quick and easy meal. I could always tell my mother was pressed for time or had an especially harrowing day when we had this version of tinned mackerel and rice for dinner. A more elaborate preparation is curried with potatoes as featured in this recipe. When I'm feeling homesick or when I miss my family, I'll whip up a pot of mackerel curry and I'm immediately transported back to my childhood dinner table. This is truly my definition of comfort food. Tinned mackerel is not the easiest thing to find but you can sometimes get it at Asian grocery stores in the canned fish aisle (my sources are Fresh Farms and the Super H Mart in Niles). Mackerel is packed by companies in the Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and other Asian countries but my favorite brand is 777 or Fiji Ocean from the Fiji Islands. You can find it in California where there are large populations of Fijian-Indians such as the Bay Area, Artesia or Monterey. My mother sends me boxes of tinned mackerel because she knows how much I love it. What can I say? Some people get socks or candy in their care packages, I get canned fish and I couldn't be happier.

1 Tinned Mackerel packed in natural oil (don't get the kind in tomato sauce)
1 cup sliced onions
2 Russet Potatoes (peeled and cut into 2 inch cubes)
3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
1 - 3 inch piece of ginger
3 garlic cloves
1 medium tomato (chopped)
2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
1 jalapeno or 2 Serrano chili peppers (or less to suit your taste)
4 tablespoons curry powder (you can make your own)
1/2 teaspoon tumeric
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin (toast & grind whole seeds for best flavor)
Chopped Cilantro for garnish

Place garlic, ginger, salt & chili peppers into a food processor or use a mortar and pestle. Pulse or pound until smooth. Add the curry powder, tumeric, cumin powder and a splash of water and mix into a paste.

Heat oil in a dutch oven or large pot. Lower heat to medium and add onions and cook until slightly translucent, approx. 5-7 minutes. Add curry paste and sautee for 1 minute. Add potatoes and chopped tomato and and toss until all coated with the curry paste and cook over medium-high heat for 8 minutes (add small amounts of water if it starts to burn or stick to the bottom of the pan). Lower the heat to medium, add enough water to cover the potatoes and simmer with the lid slightly ajar. In the meantime, drain and clean the mackerel, remove the bones but you can keep the skin. When the potatoes are cooked half way through, add the mackerel to the pot and incorporate into the mixture taking care not to break up the pieces of the fish (this would drive my mother crazy when I did this). Cook potato and fish mixture over low-medium heat without the lid until the liquid has reduced by half (you want a thick sauce and not soup) and potatoes are fully cooked and soft. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve over basmati rice or with roti.