The Tasting Panel magazine

July 2015

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Page 44 of 136

44  /  the tasting panel  / july 2015 MIDWEST S ometimes, developing a creative culinary beverage program in America's Heartland can be daunting. Changing up the tried-and-true triumvirate of steak, baked potato and green beans can be anathema to some folks' comfort zones. Chicago has been a particular departure from that mindset—although a slab of steer with a side of spuds is never a dud. But an interesting thing happened dur- ing the recent recession: intrepid Chicago restaurateurs popularized new-fangled ways of presenting everything from bone marrow to seasonal greens grown on a downtown rooftop. The frequent partners for these delectable foods were wines that often didn't come from Napa. Now, venture 30 miles west of Chicago to the picturesque suburb of Geneva, IL. The inhabitants are well aware of the eclectic options in the big city—and the awful commute to get there. But now, they can rely on Niche, which has all the ingredients of the Loop—minus the congestion and pretentious pricing. With General Manager/ Wine Director Vince Balistreri at the helm, an award-winning wine program is paired with the exquisite cuisine of Executive Chef Chris Ayukawa. A member of the Court of Master Sommeliers, Balistreri started at Niche in 2007, fresh out of culinary school. He origi- nally oversaw an all-domestic wine list, but for the past year has made it international. "We had great placements and allocations and presented great wine dinners with [brands like] Plumpjack and Charles Smith," Balistreri says. "And we made the decision to go with a big list, because in this area of the suburbs, it's what makes Niche stand out. Of course, we also have things on the menu, such as pork belly or frog legs—trendy things associated with downtown Chicago dining. But it's our wine list that provides an extra enticement, not just for Geneva, but many other western suburbs." Balistreri likes to keep his by-the-glass options constantly rotating and is excited about adding more European wines to replace some domestics, creating an evenly balanced bottle list. "Once we're out of a by-the-glass option, it goes away," he says. "I like picking different varietals and getting people to try them. But, just as with the food, we don't want our wines to all be esoteric, because we're not trying to intimidate people. So, we'll still carry Napa Cabs, just not necessarily from the top-of-mind producers. It's our job to make people happy." Wine Director/General Manager Vince Balistreri of Niche has created an eclectic wine program that attracts customers from many of Chicago's western suburbs. Niche Adds Nuance to Chicago Suburbs VINCE BALISTRERI DIRECTS ENVIABLE WINE & FOOD ENCLAVE IN GENEVA, IL by Tom Caestecker, Jr. / photo by Susannah Freitag

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