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BIO (penned by the ever-lovely Rachel Driver, LUSH general manager): On the streets of Philadelphia, born and raised, Ms. Erin Drain now spends most of her days slinging wine at LUSH in University Village or pounding the streets of Pilsen exploring the good eats and fun times to be had in the ‘hood. Surly, but sweet, Erin is super passionate about the business of wine drinking and education, the preparation and consumption of delicious eats, and creating a fun and exciting vibe at LUSH. With a penchant for big knives and chopping veggies, drinking and researching wild brews, concocting quirky cocktails, and sipping on dirty, earthy, and mysterious wines, this lady is quite the imbibing enthusiast. She is on a mission to teach you a thing or two about fermented beverages and the craft of wine, as well as challenge you to try something new and unusual. Erin is the life of the party at LUSH on Halsted, with street smarts and general savvy. Trained as a linguistic anthropologist, Erin has traveled far and away, picking up a colorful palette of experience, flavors, and weird booze along the way. She brings a bit of grrr and no-nonsense wine geek to the shop. Swing by LUSH to visit her, sip on free samples, and perhaps catch a glimpse of her new rescue pup, Kedzie.
1) What is the best thing you’ve drunk in the last week? What about in the last year?
This past week has been crazy: I was moving into a new apartment, had friends in from out of town, and adopted a lovely new dog from the Chicago Canine Rescue Foundation. I’ve really been craving taste, simplicity, and thirst-quenching characteristics, so my favorite, most well-timed wine was the 2007 Laurent Miquel Cinsault-Syrah rosé. For ten bucks, it’s the tastiest, most summery wine I have recently encountered, and I plan on keeping it in stock constantly, for my own purposes!
This past year? Whooweee, that is tough! I shared an amazingly delicious bottle of Paul Bara 1999 Champagne that was so absolutely delicious: earthy and mushroomy, then yeasty and brioche-y. I love wine that changes every moment in the glass. My second choice is the 1999 Palacios Corullon, made from Mencia. Holy crap. Gorgeous texture, with nice slatey notes and just perfectly matured.
2) What do you think is the most underrated grape varietal or region? Overrated?
I think that Cabernet Franc is one of the most underrated varietals. At the top of its game, it has amazing depth, structure, fruit, and spice, along with lovely herbal and floral elements that add that necessary something to Bordeaux’s Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. It also makes lovely rosé, which I drink frequently with meals.
Overrated is definitely Chianti. I love Sangiovese in other forms and from other regions, but it is extremely rare that I try a Chianti that isn’t boring, thin, and/or too pricey for what it is. I am still waiting to be convinced!
3) Who are your favorite food and wine writers?
Russell Baker’s ‘Francs and Beans’ is my all-time favorite for humorous food writing. Lettie Teague and Eric Asimov always have good things to say in terms of wine, and all the local writers–David Tamarkin, Chuck Sudo, Mikes Sula and Nagrant, and Helen Rosner–feature prominently in my Google feed reader, as well as the guy behind Grocery Eats, one of the most potty-mouthed instructional blogs anywhere. I adore it. Finally, the talented writers whose work makes it into an edition of Gastronomica are always worth reading.
4) What are your three favorite food cities?
Well, duh, Chicago. I could afford to eat well here even as a poor college student, which I think should be the barometer for any city’s gastronomic appeal. I cannot resist adding Philadelphia to the list, since it’s where I’m from, and there’s an irresistible yearning in my salivary glands for soft pretzels off food trucks, scrapple, roast pork from Tony Luke’s, cannoli from Gianino’s, hoagies, and water ice. Yum, nostalgia. Finally, San Sebastian/Donostia was introduced to me as the cathederal of Spanish tapas, and I can’t ever forget some of the concoctions I tried while living in Spain years ago.
5) Top three restaurants you revisit all the time in Chicago?
The restaurant I have been to more times than any other, hands-down, is Lao Sze Chuan. I’ve been going since my very first week in Chicago, five years ago, and cannot stop. They’re open late, the food is always fantastic, and I love the masochism of eating that spicy cabbage until my mouth is completely burning up with the chili.
I am also very keen on The Publican; the food is delightful, the beer selection out-geeks any other place in town, and the service is fantastic.
I have to rep my neighborhood, Pilsen, and give a shoutout to Willy over at Honky Tonk. I can smell their barbecue from blocks away, and I love the food, the atmosphere, the live music, and the fact that it’s BYOB. Split the sampler platter, and save room for dessert. PS. They throw an awesome neighborhood party, and last year’s featured a pig roast. I took a grenache,
6) What is your most memorable dining or drinking experience?
Ms. Jane and I treated ourselves to a shared birthday dinner at Alinea this past November, and I have to say that nothing I’ve ever done–culinary or otherwise– can compare to that experience. I think I was most impressed with how often I just laughed out of sheer enjoyment. Meals are to be enjoyed. Eating is fun. Now, that was a very special occasion. I would say a more pedestrian memorable experience for me is eating cilantro-y-cebolla loaded tacos and drinking cold beer outside, anywhere, anytime. Preferably with loved ones on my deck.
7) Between wine, beer, and spirits – when do you reach for each? If you HAD to do without one, which would it be?
Yikes. I am a moody drinker, so I really like having lots of options available to me at any given moment. Anyone who knows me can attest to my undying love for beer, so that’s obviously a keeper. I tend to love a good beer on Monday evening, especially after tasting all that wine all day with our reps. Wine is what I want when I am just looking for a glass; alternately, when I really want a fancy or special meal, I will work very hard to get the perfect wine pairing. As for spirits, I love bourbon and rye, and do have a decided gin weakness in me, too. When I am visiting a place I know can make me a solid cocktail, I’ll go for spirits. But, if given the ultimatum of getting rid of one, I’d have to ditch spirits. They infrequently have any place as part of a meal, and I could never choose between beer and wine.
8) What is the best thing about your job?
My coworkers are number one, grade-A, the very, very best. And all SO SUPER HOT. After that, I love that my job allows me to feed my need for maintaining an academic, research-oriented approach to what interests me. And, I get to eat and drink with the best of them. Combining work and pleasure? I am very fortunate to be one of the Lushes.
9) If you had to describe yourself as a certain wine, what would it be? (i.e. Australian Shiraz – spicy, bold, and seductive. German Riesling – sometimes sweet (but hard to predict if it will be), elegant, and requiring of patience.)
I think I’d have to be a wine from the Priorat region of Spain: grown in tough conditions with very low yield, a little surly and rough around the edges at first; Priorat wines tend to be made from occasionally surprising and unconventional blends, and they always hide little nuances from you, unveiling them after days of being open or years developing in bottle.
10) You’re on death row (sorry). What’s your final meal?
I love eating, and can eat all night as long as I keep it slow. So, here goes:
1) Salt and Vinegar chips, with Champagne.
2) My great-grandmother’s chicken pot pie, which is not really a pie at all but more like chicken and dumplings. It’ss a Pennsylvania Dutch thing, paired with any Raveneau Chablis.
3) Fried chicken from West Town Tavern, with more Champagne.
4) One dozen oysters, with Three Floyds Dark Lord.
5) A handful of Men’s Pocky and some birch beer.
6) A roast pork sandwich with sharp provolone and broccoli rabe from Tony Luke’s, and a Mariage Parfait Geuze.
7) Lamb with pure cumin, from Lao Sze Chuan, and any lovely Chinon.
8) One cannoli plus a Barros 1957 port.
9) One ‘The Last Word’ cocktail, as prepared by Jane Lopes of the Violet Hour, then, bye forever!