Where We’ve Been Drinking: Chicago’s Monteverde
While we enjoyed our investigation of suburban cocktails over the holiday week, we couldn’t bear being so close to such a great city as Chicago without at least checking in. So, we took a brief side trip to get a little taste of the city as well. While we find downtown Chicago particularly delightful in the summer, it’s still pretty great in the winter; and that was especially true for us on this visit since, while it wasn’t exactly warm, it wasn’t brutally cold either. The German Christmas market on Daley Plaza was already closed for the year, but the lights were still up on Michigan; and the Art Institute was wonderful as always, with the special bonus that the room miniatures in the basement were decorated for Christmas.
We could only get early reservations at The Ladies’ Room for our pre-dinner round of drinks, and we could only get late reservations for dinner at Monteverde; and there wasn’t a good place to stop between the two. So, we ended up arriving for dinner more than an hour before our reservation. We grabbed seats at the bar to wait for our table, and it turned out to be such a pleasant spot that we ended up just ordering dinner there.
It was a long, deep, butcher block bar with comfortable stools and good lighting. The bartenders were attentive and friendly in that way that Chicago serving staff are so good at: engaging without being too talkative, giving you privacy without being reserved, and arriving to check in just a second before you realize you want them. Perhaps our favorite thing about our bar seats was the great view it gave us of the fresh pasta being made at a kitchen station just above the bar; it gave us new appreciation for just how much time and effort it takes to make a serving of ravioli.
We had a very hard time choosing between ordering a handful of their delicious sounding small plates and ordering the ragu, one of their three family-style selections. We have a feeling that we would have chosen well either way.
What We Tried
Vespa: olive washed gin, CH vodka, Lillet Blanc
Sardinian Bandit: Death’s Door gin, Mirto Judu, lemon, absinthe, egg white
Chocolate Covered: El Dorado 3 yr rum, Amaro Ramazzotti, creme de cacao, creme de cassis
What We Thought
The Vespa was the very slightest variation on a vesper martini. That one slight variation, giving the gin an olive wash, was a good one. We didn’t see what the process of olive washing looked like, but we enjoyed the result: just a hint of brine and a touch of nutty oil flavor. You could see evidence of the wash in three small drops of olive oil floating on the surface. As we keep discovering (see here and here), this subtle addition of a few drops of oil is oddly impactful, and surprisingly attractive both to the eye and to the taste buds. We appreciated the chance to taste a local Chicago vodka. The fact that the gin brand is unnamed means that we can’t entirely pin down the flavor of the vodka versus the gin, but we can say that the two together made for a very pleasant vesper martini.
Death’s Door gin was the first craft gin we fell in love with, and tasting it again in the Sardinian Bandit reminded us of just how much we love it’s simple, dry, crisp flavor. Though the mirto, a Sardinian myrtle liqueur, takes primacy in the name, it was actually a subtle addition to the flavor of the drink which was instead a fine balance of light lemon and anise notes. The fluffy froth was the perfect cap to this drink, giving the whole thing a light and airy texture.
Chocolate Covered was from Monteverde’s dessert menu. It was a rich, fruity, spicy drink. The amare played the starring role in this drink, with only hints of chocolate and blackcurrant from the cremes coming through. That was alright with us. It was a welcome nightcap to a fine evening of eating and drinking.
So Should You Go?
Absolutely. And if you do, you’ll also probably have a hard time choosing between the small plates and the ragu. The ragu was a cornucopia of sauteed greens, fresh pasta, sausage, pork so tender it was falling off the bone, and mouthwatering meatballs. Order it; you won’t be disappointed. Or order the small plates, and tell us all about them. We bet they’re delicious too.
Vespa Cocktail Recipe
We don’t know exactly what method Monteverde used for the olive wash, or what proportions they used for the liquid. We used James Bond’s proportions (but we stirred!), and washed the glass instead of the gin. It seemed to work.
- 1 1/2 oz your best craft gin
- 1 oz your best craft vodka
- 1/2 oz Cocchi Americano or vermouth blanc
- 1 olive and its juice
- Take the olive and swirl it around a cocktail glass. Leave it in the glass.
- Add gin to the mixing glass, and swirl it around a little.
- Add vodka and Cocchi to the mixing glass.
- Fill the mixing glass with ice to the level of the liquid.
- Stir until the liquid is well-chilled and the ice noticeably melted.
- Strain into the cocktail glass with the olive.