One of the biggest perks for diners to secure a spot at this dinner was that Sprout — one of the celebrated culinary gems of Chicago — touts its own celebrity chef, Top Chef’s runner-up Dale Levitski. Chef Dale, together with Chef de Cuisine Jeffrey Sills, promised a creatively seasonal, sophisticated tasting for those attending — and honestly, securing a spot at any Top Chef-orchestrated feast is one satisfying achievement.
“The concept for Sprout is playful creativity and fine dining with your shoulders down,” shared Chef Dale, just minutes before the exclusive dinner was about to jump-start. “For tonight’s dinner and for Sprout as a whole, we are very seasonal, so we have squash gnocchi, some venison... many savory fall flavors we are excited about.”
However, the appeal of this Thursday, Oct. 18 Rapid Rewards’ Dinner didn’t end there (but, let’s be fair — any dinner date with a celebrity chef makes our food geekery scale just about burst). Also flying in for the occasion was Gundlach Bundschu Winery’s President Jeff Bundschu to share his wealth of award-winning wines and act as the evening’s official emcee. As a quintessential Sonoma winery, Gundlach Bundschu is the oldest family-owned winery in California, serving as the West Coast’s grape-farming pioneers since the late 1800s.
While having the iconic Gundlach in-house is simply worth the praise, Jeff decided to up the ante of the exclusivity of the event by sharing with guests his 2009 Vintage Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, among other varieties from his deep arsenal. This particular pour (one that markets for $80 per bottle) rarely makes it way outside of the Sonoma winery, as it is produced from limited vines that yield small doses of intense fruit. Since the production is crafted in extremely small batches, Jeff and his team keep this specific Cab supply as only offered to those on the winery’s mailing list — well, until this particular dinner party.
“People tonight are going to really get a chance to enjoy what we think is the best we can do,” he detailed.
And soon, they did. At 6:30 pm sharp, guests began to filter into the beautifully innovative restaurant of Chicago’s Lincoln Park district. As bottles of prosecco were popping and pouring a-plenty, Chef Dale’s staff began to mingle with the attendees, carting the first bold flavors of the chef in three-bite, ingredient-on-ingredient nibbles.
The event’s five-course menu laid poised on the tabletops — a provocative roster which identified each course with single phrases: pumpkin soup, goat cheese, duck confit, and more. But, we discovered (and expected) all dishes to be far more complex than their prelude. Like with any multi-course feast, Chef Dale knows well to debut his meal subtly, with an enchanting, light first course, followed by a crescendo of intense flavors and textures, encouraging you to devour each and every new bite.
Course one, “pumpkin soup,” a pleasant seasonal surprise, astounded our dining companions with elaborate textural components like seasoned mascarpone cheese, Honeycrisp apples and unexpected pumpkin seeds — which gave a final, crunchy punch.
Next, a darling dish hoisting Coupole Goat Cheese to center stage, a beautiful sweet-and-sour, milky-white Vermont cheese accented with figs and whipped honey fared particularly well with Gundlach’s Pinot Noir, a silky black cherry red that is reminiscent of a French noir.
Soon after, shredded duck confit graced our tables, piled atop a medley of lentils, carrots and celery, making the comforting flavors of fall come alive and keeping with Chef Dale's signature textural thrill, this dish was presented with a duo of raw Honeycrisp apple slices.
The creative courses continued with the fourth, a rich, brown butter and squash gnocchi crowned with sheets of the nutty Ossau Iraty. The final course was perhaps the greatest rendition of venison we have tried to date. Beautifully prepared and paired with pickled cauliflower and Gundlach’s rare Vintage Reserve, the gorgeous game finale was soulful and satisfying, reminding us of our luck for being part of the exclusive tasting.
An array of charming mignardises finished off the night, featuring herb-infused caramels, sweet potato marshmallows and mint gels. The collaboration between Sprout’s Chef Dale Levitski and Gundlach’s Jeff Bundschu proved successful, as guests gushed over each miniscule detail until it was time to bid farewell with signed Top Chef cookbooks and keepsake bottles of wine in hand.
The private, star-studded dinner may not be an opportunity you regularly receive from a credit card, but then Chase, Southwest Rapid Rewards, Visa Signature and its customers aren’t like any others. Whether you are a food, wine or Southwest Airlines fanatic, the exclusive opportunities attached to the Southwest Rapid Rewards Visa Signature card are worth writing home about.
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