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Cooper
by Richard C. Ross

 

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Cooper's Hawk Winery & RestaurantJust a few short days ago, On the Fox was fortunate enough to have been invited to a "Sneak Peek" of a new restaurant that is opening in the area - St. Charles as a matter of fact. We also had the rare opportunity to attend the ceremony that celebrated the official opening of what is the twenty-eighth store the company has opened. Both events had my eyes wide open and my mouth watering...

Cooper's Hawk Winery & RestaurantIt's likely that you know of the restaurant; for many of you, it's also likely that you have already enjoyed dining at perhaps one or more of the twenty-seven other iterations in Illinois, Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Indiana, Virginia or Wisconsin. In Illinois, the original opened in Orland Park some twelve years ago. Or perhaps you have eaten at one of the other Illinois restaurants in South Barrington, Oak Park or perhaps Naperville.

By now I'm certain you know that I am referring to the upscale casual-elegant restaurant that goes by the name of Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant... unless perhaps you are not from around these here parts.

Asian Pork Belly TostadasLocated along Route 64 and on the outer edge of "The Quad" (formerly Charlestowne Mall), Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurant is - at least from my humble point of view - an outstanding addition to the dining venues in the Fox Valley area. Our "Sneak Peek" included an introduction to and mini-tour of the restaurant by General Manager Josh Esquivel. (Josh, by the way, has had much previous experience in a number of Illinois Cooper's Hawk locations, and is well-acquainted with the operation.)

BarramundiIt also included a number of tastes from the current menu items prepared by Chef Robert Hartley and Chef Jose Esparza in a kitchen that prepares - as does all Cooper's Hawk kitchens - its items from scratch. They are not only eye candy to behold, but the melding of unique spices and flavors creates menu items that will keep you coming back to try more. Each of the Cooper's Hawk dishes is expertly paired with one of Cooper's Hawk's award-winning wines.

Interestingly, Chicago Tribune's Phil Vettel didn't treat the original (Orland Park) Cooper's Hawk menu very well, stating: "I'd ask the McEnerys to pay a little more attention to the menu. Because quite frankly, the food isn't holding up its end of the deal." He gave it one star out of four.  It's now more than ten years later... and although I wouldn't go mano a mano with Mr. Vettel, I have worked in enough kitchens to know talent when I see it, and excellent food when I taste it. I really liked what I saw and tasted.

Lux WinesA 44,000 square foot facility in Countryside creates the wines -- from California and other west coast grapes -- that are extremely drinkable and compliment well the dishes with which they are paired. By the way - and as a side note - Cooper's Hawk boasts the number one wine club membership in the country. With over 225,000 members and growing (boosted by wines like the Lux Pinot Noir that earned a 99-point rating in the Critics Challenge International Wine Competition), Cooper's Hawk has the goods to accompany dishes like their Asian Pork Belly Tostadas, Red Wine-Braised Short Ribs, Pan-Roasted Barramundi with Blistered Green Beans, Grape Tomatoes, Ginger Rice, Thai Lemongrass Sauce or Gnocchi Carbonara with Pancetta, Chicken, Sage, Peas and Parmesan Garlic Cream Sauce.

Wine Tasting at Cooper's Hawk Winery & RestaurantIf you aren't really sure which wine you might like to pair with your dinner, simply stop at the fifty-some-foot-long tasting bar that greets you the moment you step through the front door. You can easily ask to sample - for only $7 - eight different varietals. I can guarantee you'll find one that you will like.

And dessert? Don't get me started... There is an awesome Lemon Ice Wine Cheesecake (uniquely served in a glass tumbler), an incredible Chocolate Cake, made with Valrhona Chocolate and Hazelnut Ganache, and a plethora of house-made chocolates and other goodies available for purchase so that you can take them home to enjoy after dinner.

Chocolate truffles at Cooper's Hawk Winery & RestaurantI'll go a long way out on a limb here, as I have never rated a restaurant until it's been open at least three months or more - every new venue needs time to work out the bugs. I think that CEO Tim McEnery has things sufficiently figured out, and the food IS holding up its end of the deal. (If you have visited a Cooper's Hawk and had to wait the obligatory hour and a half for a table, you know that it's all worth it). So let's be Frank: at first blush, it's a full Four Stars for Cooper's Hawk in St. Charles. They officially opened the doors to the public on Monday, May 15th. Make a reservation and get ready for a marvelous evening out.

 

 

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