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one helluva meal


Well, the good thing about being out of town on training is dining on expense account.

So I had all evening to myself, and my rental car, so I decided to just head toward downtown Chicago and pop in to a restaurant at random that seemed nice. I headed for Halsted Ave, around the Sheffield/Lincoln Park area, since I knew there would be a good number of choices there, and most offered valet parking.

So I decided to try Vinci, at Halsted and Willow. This was purely a random choice mind you. And it was the best meal I've eaten in my life.

I got things started with a Grey Goose martini, up and with an olive while I looked over the menu. The waiter brought it promptly and it was chilled to perfection, extremely dry, and served with a fresh olive that tasted great. I munched on the focaccia bread the busboy brought while I looked over the menu. I settled on a Carciofo al Forno (baked artichoke) for my antipasto, and a dish of penne con salsa macchiata.

My waiter brought the artichoke, and it was neatly trimmed, cooked to perfection, and covered in a delicate fonduta that went perfectly with the artichoke flavor. It was served on a warm plate filled with a marinara sauce that had just the right acidity to complement the dish. I made a huge mess eating the damn thing, but it was fantasic, best artichoke I've had.

So my waiter offered another martini, but I didn't want to get too bombed to enjoy dinner, so when he suggested a glass of wine, I agreed, and asked him to select something for me to complement the penne. Before long I had my pasta, which was cooked to perfect al dente, tossed in a surprisingly complex red sauce and dotted with generous dabs of fresh chevre. And a glass of mystery red wine selected by Jorge.

Jorge didn't let me down at all--the wine was lighter and more refreshing than most reds I've had (but I'm really not a wine drinker, much less a wine snob, so all I can really say is I liked it). And the sauce on the pasta was incredibly complex with layers of flavor including thyme, fresh ginger, and parsley. No way could I eat it all, I just took my time and ate until I was satisfied. I was in no hurry, and I was enjoying my view of pedestrian traffic and bicyclists weaving in and out of the cars on Halsted.

So I had eaten all I cared to, and my busboy offered coffee, so I ordered a single espresso, which was served with a miniature butter cookie that was not too sweet and flavored with herbs. My waiter came by with the dessert menu, and I fought off the urge to order the tiramisu, and instead opted for a grappa. I had actually never tried grappa before, so once again I turned to Jorge for a recommendation from the menu of a dozen or so choices.

I have no idea which one I got, but I was totally amazed at the intensity of the flavor. It really tasted strongly of grape but with a clean mouth feel like that of vodka. It was overwhelming at first, but I sipped it from the small tulip-shaped glass, alternating sips of espresso and bites of my cookie.

What can I say? It was an amazing meal; I won't forget the experience. I stopped and told the chef how much I appreciated it, as well as the expert attention of the staff. I believe that you ought to be as quick to praise someone for a job well done as you are to complain if things aren't satisfactory. I can't remember a meal that was this satisfying.

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