Sunday, January 30, 2022

El Che Pulenta Gran Corte Filet Dinner

El Che Steakhouse & Bar for Spectacular Wine, Beefsteak and Seafood Dinner

Dearest friends Eric and Cathy visiting from Indy, treated us to dinner at El Che Steakhouse & Bar on the edge of the trendy Chicago West Loop's 'Restaurant Row'. Taking its name from its site in the old Checker Taxi Association Building on West Washington Street, just off Halsted, El Che has earned a reputation as one of Chicago's premier steakhouses. 

Executive Chef/Partner John Manion and partner John Boyd have fashioned El Che after Argentina's asados, the traditional backyard barbecues featuring platters of rustic flame-finished grilled beef with its custom 12-foot hearth for live-fire cooking. The massive open hearth at the end of the restaurant, includes two grills, a small wood-burning oven/smoker and three separate chapas (flat-top grills) - one each for vegetables, seafood and meat.

Chef‐Owner John Manion was raised in Detroit until his family moved to São Paulo, Brazil, when he was just 8 years old. He spent the next five years immersed in the culture and food. It was this experience that rooted his passion and ultimately his signature brand, Latin‐local.

In 2012, Manion opened his first restaurant La Sirena, which means “hidden mermaid,” offering the dark and slightly mysterious atmosphere of a hidden spot one might stumble upon. 

In 2016, he opened El Che, housed in the former Checker Taxi building, fulfilling his dream to bring authentic Latin cuisine to fine dining in Chicago.

El Che offers diners a range of experiences, seating at the bar, individual tables in the open dining room or an adjacent more private room, or two special price-fixe experiences, the Chef’s Counter, seated in front of the hearth with a 10-course tasting for two, or the Hearth Table offering three courses served family style. There's an adjacent private dining room or for general seating, there is a wine pairing offering to accompany menu selections from a broad WBTG - Wine By The Glass list. 

During the first week of every month Wine Director/GM Alex Cuper selects from the winelist a B-T-G list featuring the different regions, varietals and winemakers of South America. 

The menu features South American-tinged meats, seasonal vegetables, seafood, and novel barrio-inflected snacks with an imaginative award winning wine list with the midwest's largest selection of South American wines, the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence list showcases a veritable who's who in progressive South American winemakers. 

El Che Steakhouse & Bar has received praise from critics and locavores alike, including a “Top 50 Chicago Restaurants” by the Chicago Tribune, "Best New Steakhouses in America" by Conde Nast Traveler, and "10 Best Steakhouses in Chicago" by USA Today.

The upbeat trendy chic 100-seat restaurant and bar is a must try spot for fine wine and dining.  

Our dinner was fabulous, hitting on all cylinders with delicious food, perfectly prepared and presented, ideally paired with a spectacular wine from the extensive South American winelist, all served with attentive exemplary service. 

Following a pre-course of olives and wedge salad, we dined on filet of grilled beef, and scallops with parsnip puree, apples and chives (shown right), with sides of garlic parmesan french fries and creamed spinach. We finished with the decadent flowerless dark chocolate sea salt cake for dessert.

Not being especially knowledgeable in South American wines, I spent time earlier in the day studying the winelist and researching the offerings. I chose and came to dinner with three rank order winelist selections. I also brought a bottle BYOB in the event they were not available. Notably, our first choice was available and it proved to a wonderful, ideal selection as a perfect compliment to our dinner. 

Pulenta Gran Corte VII Mendoza Red Blend 2018

This is from the Pulenta family who have been producing wine in Argentina since emigrating from Italy back in 1912. Third generation brothers Hugo and Eduardo, started Pulenta Estate in 2002 to produce small lots of premium wines from two vineyards their father Antonio planted in the early 80’s and 90’s, one in Alto Agrelo in Luján de Cuyo, and the other in Los Árboles, Valle de Uco. Second generation Don Antonio Pulenta, planted Viñedos 'Don Antonio' in 1981 and Finca 'La Zulema' in 1992. 

The estate covers a total of 992 acres with 870 acres planted to vines, the Agua Amarga, Tunuyán and Finca 'La Zulema' vineyards located at the heart of Mendoza's premier growing region - Luján de Cuyo - near the town of Alto Agrelo, were among the first vineyards to be planted in the higher-altitude growing region of Mendoza at elevations between 3200 and 3900 feet. 

They are planted to Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris grape varietals. They are bottled under a portfolio of Pulenta Gran, Pulenta Estate, and La Flor labels.

The overall portfolio consists of more than two dozen labels, the Pulenta Estate portfolio of varietal wines are each represented with a roman numeral that identifies a varietal or a blend produced with grapes from the estate vineyards in Alto Agrelo and Valle de Uco. The portfolio is Estate Sauvignon Blanc VI, Estate Pinot Gris XIV, Estate Chardonnay VII, Estate Malbec I, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon III.

The Pulenta Estate Gran Corte label is the flagship premium blend, produced from the best barrels, selected by Eduardo and winemaker Javier Lo Forte. Each vintage is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Tannat, although the proportions vary year on year.

The family has stated they believe the 2018 bottling is one of the best yet: a blend of Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot and Tannat, from a memorable harvest season in Mendoza, it represents a perfect expression of Pulenta’s terroir and potential for remarkable consistency, balance and harmony.

The grapes come from select vineyard blocks from their Luján de Cuyo and Valle de Uco vineyard locations.

The blend for the 2018 vintage release is 10% Tannat, 14% Petit Verdot, 18% Merlot, 29% Cabernet Sauvignon and 29% Malbec.

This release was awarded 94 points by James Suckling.

This was bright ruby colored with sprites of purple, full bodied, complex, nicely balanced, bright expressive ripe blackberry, plum and black cherry fruits with notes of spice, black-tea, tobacco and cocoa with round texture and silky tannins on a tangy acidic lingering finish. 

RM 93 points.