- 50 restaurants selected found creative ways to bring great wine and food to customers.
- Chicago's RPM Steak, Porto & Avec
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted the food and beverage industry in an unprecedented manner with some of our favorite restaurants closing shop for good and the ones remaining open having to pivot very very quickly and with sense to cater to guests especially during those days of hard lockdown that saw no in restaurant dining and many had to rely on takeaway and delivery of food only. Even more so cater for their employees. Many are now vaccinated and the restrictions placed on most of these dining destinations begin to be lifted throughout the country including right here in Chicago, its great to see some good news and Chicago wine focused dining establishments recognized for their good work.
In years past, since 2011, Wine Enthusiast Magazine released their annual Top 100 Wine Restaurants list but with the cloud of the pandemic still lingering, they took a hiatus in 2020 and shifted gears with the list for 2021 by naming the 50 top wine restaurants they love. This year, the editors sought to celebrate restaurants that not only survived, but did so with integrity. According to Wine Enthusiast Mag “These 50 restaurants were selected because the people behind them have found creative ways to bring great wine and food to customers, and they’ve gone above and beyond to support their staffs and communities.” The three Chicago area restaurants that made the list are One off Hospitality’s Avec, Bonhomme Hospitality Group’s Porto and Lettuce Entertain You’s RPM Steak.
We’re raising a glass to these people who are making hospitality hospitable, leading with compassion and ingenuity.
For Eduard Seitan, partner and wine director of restaurant group One Off Hospitality, the trauma of 2020 was exacerbated by the Covid-related permanent closure of the group’s flagship restaurant Blackbird after more than two decades in operation.At the wine-focused restaurant avec, restaurant partners found several ways to deploy their inventory, with a curated wine club, themed wine packages and wine add-ons to every takeout and delivery option.
“My partners and I really had each other’s back, and that’s what’s allowed us to get to the other side,” he says. “Now that we’re here, it’s rewarding to see our core team of employees, ones who have been with us for 10, 15, 20 years, returning to us again.”
“These last months have given me, Chef de Cuisine Erwin Mallet and Pastry Chef Shannah Primiano an abundance of the world’s most precious resource: time,” says Marcos Campos, executive chef of Porto’s parent company, Bonhomme Group. “We’ve been able to work more peacefully and profoundly to develop ideas, sharpen our skills and improve our supply chains in Galicia, Portugal and locally.”
This upscale Portuguese/Galician restaurant used the time to expand its wine holdings, which now feature over 400 labels from Spain and Portugal. But perhaps more importantly, it also offered its team a fully funded healthcare program and chef-prepared family meals to limit time and money at grocery stores during quarantine. “The pandemic hasn’t changed my perspectives on life and business, which, to me, are intertwined,” says Daniel Alonso, founder and creative director of Bonhomme Group. “Rather, they have reinforced my belief in the importance of a life well lived, filled with family, friendship, culture and a diverse community.”
This popular steakhouse started a wine club as well as a “wine school” with live, interactive classes led by Wine Director Richard Hanauer featuring three unique, themed wines. An elaborate, downloadable Health and Safety Guide from RPM’s parent company, Lettuce Entertain You, helped its loyal customers return to indoor dining with comfort. One effect of the pandemic is a deeper focus on classic, ageworthy wines and back vintages, rather than racing to get new releases amid the challenges of problematic shipping issues and tariffs on European wine. The shift has found an appreciative audience among customers wanting wines they can’t find via their usual delivery channels.
“We’ve had a long year full of difficulties and innovations, but being in the restaurant industry means that returning business correlates to a return in celebrations and normalcy,” says Hanauer.
Congratulations to these three restaurants that made Wine Enthusiast 2021 ’50 Wine Restaurants We Love’ list.
pronounced: Boh-la-jee, like the Bellagio but w/o the O. SLC Founder and Editor, loves to write about topics at the intersection of career and lifestyle for today's young professional and future leaders.