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Sam Harmon's Profile

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where wise guy eat in chicago?

La Scarola at Grand and Milwaukee. It was Joey "The Clown" Lombardo's favorite restaurant before he had to go on the lam. It also has very good old school Italian-American food.

The bar next door--Richard's--is also full of "character." You'll see more of it during a weekday afternoon than you will at night when it turns into a dive bar for younger Gold Coast/Lincoln Park types. Richard's is reputedly where Tony "The Ant" Spilotro stabbed a guy in the throat with a pen, later immortalized by Joe Pesci's character in Casino.

Oct 09, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

L.20 (2008)

pe·dan·tic: /pəˈdæntɪk/ Pronunciation Key - Show Spelled Pronunciation: [puh-dan-tik]
–adjective
1. ostentatious in one's learning.
2. overly concerned with minute details or formalisms, esp. in teaching.

I hear that she's young so maybe a little maturity and seasoning will help. Hopefully, she's not too wrapped up into that whole "Master Sommelier" program or I wouldn't hold out much hope for a little humility and nuance in how she approaches her job.

Here's how the conversation should have gone.

Sommelier: What were your thoughts on a wine selection, sir?

Guest: I like big, oaky whites.

Sommelier: A crisper, unoaked wine might be a better pairing.

Guest: No, I really prefer oaky whites.

Sommelier: I have several that will work just fine (goes off to fetch oaky white wine).

Sep 04, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

L.20 (2008)

You asked for an oaky white, and she brought out an unoaked Sauvignon Blanc because she knows more than the person dropping x00 dollars per person.

Look, I hate overblown oaky wines, and while her selection was probably technically correct, that doesn't make it good service. She's there to cater to her guests wishes. Quite frankly, she seems like one of these pedantic "master" sommelier types who've put themselves on quite an elevated pedestal.

Sep 03, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

Chicago sushi?

I've become a huge fan of Ai over the last several months. I think they've supplanted Mirai for the best sashimi in Chicago. Also, they have arguably the best wine and sake program of any Japanese restaurant in Chicago.

Aug 15, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

Beer sales in Chicago

Sam's is a shell of its former self and is rumored to be on the sales block (again).

A couple of years back, one of the brothers (the stupid one) found some private equity people to back him, and he bought out his father and older brother. Well, the private equity group came in slashed costs (i.e. inventory and the most experienced floor staff) and have really messed up what was once a Chicago jewel.

One of the big things they are into now is buying up cheap wine in bulk overseas from large cooperatives and clearing it through a local import permit that some guy in the suburbs holds. The wine isn't labeled with a "Sam's" label but make no mistake--this is not high end, domaine bottled French wine. This is a far cry from the Sam's I remember where great Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhone wines were stacked in wooden boxes on the floor.

Within two years, Sam's will probably be sold off to an out of state company such as Beverages and More. Personally, I think this is a good thing because it is going to open up a lot of market share to the numerous neighborhood fine wine shops that are opening up. At the end of the day, Chicago will have a stronger fine wine retailing scene.

Disclaimer: I am not a Sam's employee. I am not one of the employees who were laid off after the buyout. I have never worked for Sam's. I have never worked in wine retailing at all, so I'm not a competitor of Sam's

Jun 02, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

Wine Pairing Thoughts Sought

Try a Manzanilla Sherry with the Jamon.

May 27, 2008
Sam Harmon in Wine

Good Food + Hockey Game?

Do you need the sound up? If not, Chicago Chop house has several tables in the downstairs area with good views of a couple of large plasmas.

If hearing the sound for the game is a requirement, you're pretty much confining yourself to sports bars. In that vein, Gaslight in Lincoln Park has food that tends to rise above the mass of Lincoln Park plasma bars.

May 19, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

Just my 2¢ -- California makes the best California wines in the world

[[Of course, as any good winemaker will tell you, the wine is made in the vineyard, and the practices in California to limit yields to produce more extracted wines, along with the differences that are imparted by use of American vs French oak, make California wines distinctively different than those made in France]]

As someone who once worked in production for a boutique Napa winery, I can say with absolute certainty that yields in Napa greatly exceed those of the top wine regions in France, Italy, Spain or Germany.

The key to Napa (and other CA region) wines is a combination of warm (HOT) climate and overly fertile volcanic soil. This combination is perfect for getting high, almost raisined levels or ripeness and extract, which not coincidentally happens to coincide neatly with the preferences of a certain Baltimore based wine critic. If, however, one is looking for ageworthy, complex and table-friendly wines, this combination of hot weather and fertile soil falls far short.

The lack of grace and ageability in top Napa Cabs was no better exemplified than in a 10 year tasting of high scoring (95+) Parker cabs from '97 that I attended last year. A majority of the wines were already falling apart and had little life ahead of them. Given their high Ph levels (and correspondingly low levels of acid--much of that artificially added out of a bag) and complete lack of balance, the wines' short lifespans was entirely expected.

May 19, 2008
Sam Harmon in Wine

Chablis recs please!

Also, I would avoid the Verget wines. They may be technically grown within the borders of Chablis--but they have nothing in common with what makes great Chablis one of the world's great white wines. Verget's Chablis are pumped up, manipulated and over oaked wines more akin to something out of Napa Valley or Australia than to their neighbors.

May 18, 2008
Sam Harmon in Wine

Chablis recs please!

Jean Dauvissat and Jean Marc Brocard are two excellent producers.

May 18, 2008
Sam Harmon in Wine

what are your favorite restaurants in ohio?

G. Michael's and Kihachi in Columbus

Parker's in Cleveland

Wind's Cafe in Dayton (Yellow Springs to be precise)

Never had an outstanding meal in Cincy--although I'm sure that some places must rise above.

May 16, 2008
Sam Harmon in Great Lakes

Best Wine Shops in St. Louis

I'm going to be in St. Louis for a couple of days and would like to check out some of the city's better wine stores during the day. Any suggestions?

"Mom and Pop" Italian Restaurant

Riccardo Trattoria in Lincoln Park. If the chef/owner is not in the kitchen, the restaurant does not open. Can't get much more mom and pop than that. Oh yeah, the food is absolutely outstanding.

May 13, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

IF you had to choose 2 places downtown

Kiki's Bistro for French Bistro

The Paramount Room for a more funky, eclectic spot--best sweetbreads that I've had in Chicago.

La Scarola for old school Italian American done very well in a great storefront atmosphere. It was Joey "The Clown" Lombardo's favorite restaurant in the city before he had to go on the lam.

Apr 21, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

All-Clad Windsor Pans Instead Of Saucepans?

The 1.5q Windsor and 3q saucier are my saucepans, and that arrangement works out great. I get a lot of use out of both pans and never feel the need for a similarly sized "regular" saucepan. I generally only cook for 1 or 2. I'll, at some point, probably get a regular AC 4q saucepan, but at this point it really would be an unnecessary splurge.

Mar 16, 2008
Sam Harmon in Cookware

Designing your Dream Kitchen

I have all the cookware and cutlery that I want.

My dream kitchen would include a Le Cornue stove/range and a 48" of 4" thick Boos end-grain countertop. Give me those two items and I'm happy...very happy.

Feb 10, 2008
Sam Harmon in Cookware

Rack for the All-Clad 4 qt. braiser?

I don't use a rack in mine when I use it as a roaster.

Off the top of my head I think both the Cuisipro detachable roasting rack or the smaller Calphalon roasting rack would fit.

I'd definitely take a tape measure to the store with you to ensure that the rack is not larger than the pan's surface area.

Feb 06, 2008
Sam Harmon in Cookware

Best Steak in Chicago?

Sorry, but a table of women asking for separate, itemized bills =====>substandard tip. I will never blame a server for refusing to take time away from his other tables to break down a bill for people who are so cheap that they're worried about possibly picking up a couple dollars of someone else's ( a friend's I assume) tab...when the odds are greatly stacked that he's going to get fracked on the tip anyway.

Maybe your group was the 1 in 10 such tables that would have left an appropriate tip, but I doubt it. Save the separate check b.s. for the suburban mall Cheesecake Factory.

BTW, I live a few blocks from Select Cut. While it doesn't equal the best steakhouses in the Gold Coast, it's a very good neighborhood steak place that I thoroughly enjoy once in awhile.

Feb 06, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

Need help choosing all-clad pan

Lemmee tell ya...

I'm sure that they're lovely pans...worth every bit of the 30 bones...or clams...or samolians that you spent on them.

And I'm sure that 50 cent an hour worker somewhere in the provinces of China put all her best effort into their construction.

Talk to me in a year...when the clad layers start to separate. Talk to me in a year when the enamel on Martha's cast iron starts flaking off.

It's funny how those most certain that All Clad...or Staub...or Wusthof are not worth the money are those who don't own any.

Feb 02, 2008
Sam Harmon in Cookware

Need help choosing all-clad pan

Getting back to the original posters question of which AC pan might be the best multi-taker for her needs, I would suggest that she consider the 4Q Paella/Braiser pan. They are the same pan. The only difference is one comes with a flat lid and the other with a domed lid. The pan is 13" at the top with about 10.5" of surface area. I've used mine for sauteeing, frying, braising. Without the lid, the pan makes an excellent shallow roaster. It is the most versatile pan that I own--and I own several other pieces of AC LTD as well as some Staub and LC.

http://www.cutleryandmore.com/details...

http://www.cutleryandmore.com/details...

http://www.cutleryandmore.com/details...

Also, I think that she should go with either the MC2 or LTD lines. The stainless are nice because they can go into the dishwasher but, when compared side-by-side with the other two lines, one finds that the stainless line's interior layer of aluminum is significantly thinner. The thicker aluminum core in the other two lines is going to contribute to much better, more even heat distribution, which would seem to be a priority.

Feb 02, 2008
Sam Harmon in Cookware

Lions Head Soup Bowl

If you want to spend the money, Emile Henry is great quality. I bought a large amount of Emile Henry last year: 5.4Q lasagna pan, 2.5Q lasagna pan, 2Q oval gratin, a couple of 1/2Q lasagna pans, half dozen soup bowls, ramekins and the 5L Lion's Head soup tureen.

All of it has been incredible, and I couldn't be happier with its quality and performance.

Now regarding porcelein, Emile Henry is not. It's very high quality, glazed Burgundy clay. But it's better than 90% of the porcelein items out there.

Jan 31, 2008
Sam Harmon in Cookware

Help Me Love My Le Creuset Grill Pan

I have to admit that I love mine--the flat rectangular grill, not the grill pan. I only use it for steaks though, and cleanup aside, the actual cooking performance (and ability to get it very, very hot) had been exemplary. Cleanup has been difficult but is getting better as the enamaled cast iron is building up a patina. For fish and vegetables, I use the All Clad double burner grill, which is teflon--along with my egg dedicated crepe pan, my only teflon.

Jan 31, 2008
Sam Harmon in Cookware

an in between lunch and dinner meal in Chicago

Cafe Iberico. Very good, authentic, very reasonably priced Spanish served throughout the afternoon.

737 N La Salle Dr
Chicago, IL 60610
(312) 573-1510

Jan 30, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

Coffee maker shopping, suggestions?

I've had this for over a year now, and it's worked great. $100, before a 20% coupon at BB&B.

http://www.bedbathandbeyond.com/produ...

Jan 30, 2008
Sam Harmon in Cookware

Sichuan in Chicago-will it blow me away?

I poached shrimp in the broth the next night with some onions and bell peppers. Worked out great.

Jan 27, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

Sichuan in Chicago-will it blow me away?

The English portion of the menu is about 1/4 the total menu. Unfortunately, the Chinese portion is not translated. Chef Li is very accommodating about coming to the table to discuss your meal, and that is something of which you should definitely take advantage.

Goose Island is our main micro, and it's very good. But if you can take in some really good German/Austrian/Czech beer do so. We did Stiegl Pilsner, Czechvar, Weinstephaner Festbeir, and an organic Hefe Weissen from a brewery that I was unfamiliar with. They were absolutely perfect with the cuisine, and I can never imagine drinking anything else with Szechuan again.

Jan 24, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

Sichuan in Chicago-will it blow me away?

Ate at Double Li tonight and was not disappointed. Chef Li came over to the table and asked us how we would like our food. He also made a point of directing my friend away from the chicken dish she was thinking in favor of the double chili chicken.

Started with the Szechuan Dumplings, which were very good but not quite as spicy as I expected. Began to worry that Li may have been dumbing things down a little bit for us.

Entrees started coming out, first with the double chili chicken, which was outstanding. A slow, very subtle heat that built into an intense, flavorful heat--but never clumsy or heavy handed.

Next came the Black Pepper Garlic Beef. Tender, flavorful beef with a great balance of the primary flavors and the spice.

Finally, came the star of the evening, the fish in chili broth. Easily the hottest dish of the evening but also one that displayed impeccable balance. Despite the fiery heat from the szechuan peppercorns, the delicate flavor of the fish was present and not overwhelmed. Outstanding! I took the remaining broth home, strained it and I'm going to use it to poach shrimp tomorrow night.

Also had the pea shoots as a side.

Double Li is BYOB, and we selected several assorted pints of good German pilsners and Hefe Weissens, which worked better with the meal than any wine possibly could have.

As an aside, a Chinese gentleman eating alone had a small burner with what looked like a small paella pan atop it on his table. We asked what it was and Li told us it was a very traditional hot pot made with pork blood and pork intestines. Just might have to try that next trip.

Jan 23, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

Reccomendations Needed

Didn't do any polenta, but it's a must for my return trip.

Jan 23, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

Reccomendations Needed

Thanks for the rec, and it's a perfect choice. Except, that I ate there last week for the first time. Had the braised pork shoulder--very good. I'll definitely be back.

Jan 23, 2008
Sam Harmon in Chicago Area

Columbus vs Cleveland, a stomach's point of view

Lived in Columbus for several years and am also very familiar with the Cleveland restaurant scene from multiple trips up there on wine business. Here are my general thoughts.

Overall, I'd give Cleveland the edge, but it's not the clear slam dunk that the Cleveland brigade would like to believe.

The best of Cleveland and the best of Columbus are, in my opinion, roughly equal. That is to say a step down from what you're going to find in a 1st tier city like Chicago, NY or SF.

Cleveland, however, has a little more breadth of intersting, independent restaurants than Columbus. Unfortunately, Cameron Mitchell's temples to mediocrity have sucked a noticeable degree of life out of Columbus' scene.

That being said, the ultimate best restaurant in either city is in Columbus--Kihachi. This is a very authentic Japanese restaurant (owned, managed, chef and 98% of the clientele). During my years in Columbus, I took numerous winemakers from California and importers from New York there, and the wow-factor was universal. This is the only restaurant in Cleveland or Columbus that would be a big deal were it in NY-Chicago-SF.

Cleveland has better first wave ethnic food (East European, Italian etc) Columbus has better second wave ethnic food (SE Asian, African, Middle Eastern).

Both have public markets. To stereotype, Clevelands is skewed more towards old school--think sausage. Columbus is more Pike Place like (though nowhere near that league) in more esoteric, organic suppliers.

Overall, retail shopping is about equivalent. You can find quality ingredients if you're willing to work at it.

As to the future? Only the most biased Cleveland partisan could not but look at nearly every demographic trend and realize that Columbus' scene is only going to improve (even more so were they able to make Cameron Mitchell Restaurants disappear) at a faster clip than Cleveland's.