Sunday, January 18, 2015

What Everyone Missed In Their Reviews of RPM Steak

What Everyone Missed In Their Reviews of RPM Steak

Shebnem Ince

Over the last few months, several reviews of RPM Steak have been published, and all been completely baffling regarding the wine list there. Amy Cavanaugh, of Time-Out Chicago ( penned an 802 word review of the restaurant, mentioning a few cocktails, steak, blue cotton candy (three times) but zero words about wine. Mike Sula, of the Chicago Reader ( committed 956 words, often sharply comedic and bitingly funny, but again the wine list there remained unmentioned. Phil Vettel bestowed three stars upon the restaurant and afforded AN ENTIRE PARAGRAPH to wine, although much of the copy was devoted to his recollection of beverage director Richard Hannauer's pouring him a Pabst Blue Ribbon at an entirely different restaurant which is now closed. How was this at all relevant???

"Who cares?" You might ask. Everyone knows how dismal steak house wine lists can be. Often they are simply laundry lists of Southern Wine & Spirits greatest hits of the 1980s: miserable, snore-worthy tomes where Chimney Rock Cabernet, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio and one of Chapoutier's 85,000 single climat bottlings are arranged in somewhat chaotic ways. At one steak house that will not be mentioned here, Paul Jaboulet's Hermitage La Chapelle is listed under the "Côtes du Rhône category, which shows a deep lack of regard of the differences between the granitic graben of the northern Rhône, and the sweeping alluvial planes of the south. But I digress. At one time, Benny's Chop House tried to rise above this kind of muck, and a few years ago I spent some time at the bar sucking down bone marrow and good Meursault from Vincent Dancer. But those heady times have passed.

This is why the wine list at RPM Steak deserves some attention. Sure, there are a few (more than a few) placements that do scream "mandated" , but nothing as big and expensive as RPM Steak opens in Chicago without a little backdoor handshakes and list placement guarantees. The striking thing about this list is how Richard Hanauer, the beverage director, so beautifully asserts his passion and abiding love for wine into the list in such a seamless way. When was the last time you went to a steak house and saw an entire page of the menu devoted to Txakolina? Here is what Richard had to say about this:

Getariako Txakolina, Ameztoi, 2013 - $51
Nothing this delicious should be pronounced easily, Txakoli (Chalk-Oh-Lee) from Spain's Basque region is tart, racy, and slightly effervescent which makes it a natural pairing to the shellfish and seafood of the Bay of Biscay. The grape responsible for this wine is Hondarrabi Zuri (what?)

It's refreshing to know that there are affordable raw bar options besides the tart ,candied soullessness of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc that seems so prevalent at other steak houses.

The list itself is organized regionally, and often by variety, with a few catch-all sections and several pages with just one featured wine, like the Txakolina above. There is an American Cabernet Sauvignon section, of course and yes, some of the usual suspects are placed there, but in much older vintages, which is interesting. There are also a few unexpected gems like the Arnot-Roberts "Bugay" bottling. The red Burgundy section is expensive, but between the 2011 DRC Corton ($973) and the 1970 DRC Echézeaux ($2173) sits Château Thivin's Côte de Brouilly ($54), a tiny, purple- hued minnow pressed between two humpback whales. Other nice values/thoughtful placements include a 2012 Prager Riesling "Steinriegl" ($80) and the 2011 Acustic Montsant ($48).

All in all, it is a win-win here, both for wine lovers and douchey expense account bros throwing down.

It would have been nice to see some of our city's prominent restaurant reviewers point this out, because it is very clear there was a lot of work put into this particular list.

(In an effort to be completely transparent, it is worth noting that Ryan Arnold, who runs this blog, is the Divisional Wine Director for all RPM concepts, and helped create the framework and vision for this list.)

1 comment:

  1. Diners and Wineaux would like to get reviews of wine lists too. But Somms and Restauranteurs should be aware that those knowledgeable about wine recognize a thoughtful and reasonably priced list. Personally, I'd love to also know corkage charges, as I often buy one and bring one.