Wine and Dine with Mike
The first barrel of vino I produced at Bacchus a few years ago turned out so great that I decided to give the ancient art of winemaking another shot. This time I partnered with my good friend George Zampelli, whom I met 18 years ago when I first moved to Cleveland to coach the Cavaliers.
George and I decided to produce two blends: an 80/20 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot and a 70/30 Amador Sangiovese/Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. We named our red collaboration Fratelli, a fusion our surnames Fratello and Zampelli, which means brothers in Italian.
After aging both batches in oak for two years, George and I returned to Bacchus to bottle the wine with some friends this summer. It took us hours to label and cork all 500 bottles, but we had a lot of fun sampling the fermented fruit of our labor while we worked.
John Quagliata, whom I affectionately call Q, owns Crostatas in Cleveland and makes the best Neapolitan-style pizza in Ohio. He had a wood-burning oven hand-built for his restaurant by Italian craftsmen from Naples and prides himself on serving up authentic thin-crust pizza among other rustic delicacies. Though I’ve been a fan of Crostatas since it opened in 2008, one thing has always perplexed me: Q’s refusal to put pepperoni on top of my pizza. In fact, Q refuses to put pepperoni pizza on his menu at all.
In her New York Times article “Pepperoni: On Top,” Julia Moskin sheds some light on this matter, and I finally understand why Q won’t let me have my pepperoni pizza. Turns out pepperoni is an Italian-American creation, not an authentic Italian ingredient. So now I get where Q is coming from. Though I’m disappointed that his zero tolerance policy for pepperoni has been validated, I look forward to trying a couple of the pizzerias mentioned in the article next time I’m in New York City, both of which serve pepperoni pizza.
The creative chops of some cutting-edge chefs have people taking notice and touting Chicago as the capital of molecular gastronomy. But a number of restaurants inspired by old world traditions and quality put the Windy City on the culinary map long before this trend blew in.
One of my favorite people owns and operates some of my favorite restaurants in the city. A close personal friend for many years, Phil Stefani has been in the game since opening his flagship restaurant Stefani’s with his Uncle Lino in 1980 and is currently the purveyor of a number of outstanding restaurants in the Chicago area. Most of them serve an assortment of authentic pasta dishes, exceptional steaks and excellent seafood in addition to daily specials.
The three that I get to most frequently are Riva on the Navy Pier, Tuscany on Taylor Street and Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush. Turns out I’m in good company: former President Clinton loves going to Tuscany in Little Italy, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has hosted a number of private events and fundraisers at Riva.
Whenever I go in I ask what’s new because they are always changing up the menus. Oftentimes I leave it up to Phil’s discretion to choose one of the special pasta and/or fish dishes he’s making for the day. To keep the menu fresh and his staff inspired, Phil takes his head chefs to Italy two or three times a year to come up with new creations. Last summer I joined Phil in Tuscany for a week prior to heading to the Folgaria Basketball Camp for kids located in a beautiful ski resort up in the mountains of northern Italy.
437 Rush Executive Chef Federico Comacchio shared the recipe for one of my go-to entrees: Lake Superior Whitefish with Cherry Tomatoes. Click here to learn more about Phil’s signature restaurants.
Lake Superior Whitefish with Cherry Tomatoes
Ingredients (four servings)
2 lb Lake Superior white fish
2 fl oz white wine
2 oz unsalted butter
1 oz chopped Italian parsley
1 lb ripe cherry tomatoes
1 oz capers
.2 oz dry Italian oregano
3 fl oz extra virgin olive oil
2-3 shallots peeled and chopped
salt and black pepper
Wash and cut the cherry tomatoes into halves. Drizzle some oil overtop and season them with oregano, capers, salt and pepper to taste. Slowly bake the cherry tomatoes in the oven for one hour at 200 degrees. When pressed for time you can bake them at a higher temperature for a shorter period. Remove the skin from the fish and cut it into three-inch thick filets. Season the filets with salt, pepper and extra virgin olive oil. Preheat a Teflon pan and begin roasting the shallots over medium heat. Then add the fish to the pan and cook the fish on both sides until it is no longer translucent. Before the fish is finished, deglaze the pan with white wine and add a pinch of salt. Turning off the flame, add the butter and the parsley. Place the fish filets on top of the cherry tomatoes on the plate and dress with the sauce from the pan.