There’s been a ton of renos and rebuilds at the Madison Square shopping centre near Polo Park lately. No exception, the Liquor Mart has undergone a face-lift and is now one of the swankest in the fleet.
The biggest change is the addition of a state-of-the-art education centre, the second in the city (the other being at the Grant Park flagship store).
Through the education centres, MLCC offers dozens of courses each year–wine appreciation, fun with scotch, cooking with beer and the ever popular chef sessions.
I’m quick to promote these to my friends and family as foodie friendly gift ideas. As a result I’ve been to several and they’re always entertaining and informative.
As an anniversary present, my wife bought me an evening in a pairings course at the new Madison facility, stumbling distance from our house.
Being the diligent blogger, I arrived early so I could get some photos. Cultured stone walls abound. Treading faux hard-woods, you’re poured through a vastly expanded selection of wines by a sensuous series of shelves in organic shapes.
The giant stainless steel vats that house the bottle and cork wines are integrated seamlessly into the space instead of in a sterile isolated wing of the floor as they were.
And at the far east corner a bank of sliding doors, vaguely reminiscent of Japanese Shoji screens, open onto the breathtaking education centre classroom and kitchen.
Two 42″ plasma tvs pick up the action at the prep, cook and plating areas courtesy of an overhead camera. The facilitator can pre-set pan angles and zooms and recall them instantly at a small control panel.
As I’m ogling the tech, who should push through the doors but Chef Terry Gereta from Mise Bistro.
It’s just a few weeks since his Duck Confit sent me into orbit. I was completely star struck when he did a walk-through after service that evening and barely managed to congratulate him on such a successful dish.
When everybody has arrived, 18 in all, Chef Terry hauls out a massive slab of beef tenderloin. He dispatches it with surgical precision giving us a cut by cut tutorial.
He pounds out some butterflied filets and stuffs them with ground bison and dehydrated blueberries. Sutured closed with bamboo skewers, they’re seared off in a hot pan and finished in the oven.
Sheila Nash, product specialist with the LC, prepares our pairings, a Cognac based cocktail called Safe Harbour and a Cordorniu Pinot Noir Brut, a dry sparkling from Germany.
Drinks poured, chef slices the rolls and arranges them on canapes. Each is crowned with a sprig of rosemary and his signature puffed wild rice, a popcorn style preparation.
The second dish he prepares used to be an appetizer on the menu he explains. Shredded carrots, noodles and cilantro are wrapped in a rice paper roll and topped with candied tenderloin beef strips. It was so good I forgot to pair it with my drinks–a Georges Duboeuf Beaujulais Noveaux, on the shelves less than a week, and a Gekkeikan Black & Gold Sake, a Californian rice wine. The first is like fruit juice…with alcohol. But the Saki is surprisingly delicate and refreshing, not at all like other Sake I’ve tried (perhaps because it was served at room temp rather than warmed).
Our final dish is medallions of roasted tenderloin. Rare and well rested, it was topped with a drizzle of horseradish and beet aioli.
It’s paired with one red and one white wine of our choosing. By vote we select an Australian Malbec/Merlot blend, and an Italian Chardonnay. The latter is metallic, with gooseberry flavours and judging by the looks on everyone’s faces, it’s not going down well. Maybe not a great quaffing wine, it turns out to be a wonderful match for the beef and aioli.
With a little arm twisting, Sheila pops the cork on our alternate white too. It’s an exceptional Riesling , with crisp acidity that mimics effervescence on the tongue. It has a nice long finish with a kiss of sweetness.
Discussion flows as easy as the wines. Chef Terry every bit a part of the conversation, politely answering our questions about how he became a chef (he liked the hours), his favourite protein (chicken), what ingredient he’d most like to work with (Wagyu).
I gush like a teenager in front of a rockstar when he answers mine.