Next up on our list of quintessential people of NoMI is sommelier Aaron Sherman who brings over a decade worth of wine experience to NoMI Kitchen, NoMI Lounge, NoMI Garden and of course NoMI Kitchen’s Wine Cellar. Here Aaron shares favorite food experiences as well as the always valuable insider tips for enjoying Chicago.
If you could experience any restaurant in the world what would it be and why?
If I were picking a restaurant to go to today, it would have to be El Bulli. Unfortunately, my clock for that is running very short as they are closing for good this summer. El Bulli has been so influential in the culinary world, it is sad that I’ll never have the opportunity to dine there.
To be honest, though, what I really love is to have a local host lead me to a restaurant I’d never heard of and have a great local meal there; the type of meal that you’d never think you were looking for until you were seated at the table and somebody’s grandmother brought out the food that her grandmother cooked for her.
A few years ago I was in Tuscany, and it was a tiny hole-in-the-wall spot in the town of Volpaia where the Matron of the restaurant made the most unbelievably flavorful Ribollita (cabbage and bread soup), with a plate of local pecorino cheeses and a glass of wine. When I was in Japan as a teenager, my host took me to a sushi bar in the basement of an antiques store that looked like it had been carved from a grotto; the “Batcave” of sushi bars. These were not restaurants I would have chosen (I’d never have known where to look); but I can tell you I can still remember every mouthful of soup. My Ribollita is just not the same yet, but I’m working on it.
What is your favorite wine memory?
After a gathering of friends one night, a fellow wine-conspirator and I gathered up the last dregs of the evening’s bottles and we decided we’d “blend our own meritage.” Unfortunately the only word to describe our new wine was “…busy.” I guess we’ve decided to leave the wine-making to others…for now.
If you weren’t a sommelier, what profession would you be pursuing?
Being a Sommelier is already my third profession – I was a classical musician and a high-school teacher prior to picking up the corkscrew. However, if I were to pick one more I would probably be an architect. I’ve always loved the sense of harmony created by a well-designed house, the flow from room to room balancing places of comfort/rest/sanctuary and places of energy. I don’t think I would have been very good though: my wife packs the car because my sense of spatial-relations isn’t all that great, and I can’t really draw much of anything.
What’s your go-to restaurant in Chicago and why?
I have a couple that I tend to frequent, depending on the mood. Tank Noodle on Argyle makes a wicked bowl of Pho, and on a rainy day there is nothing better than a steaming bowl of noodles (still on the hunt for my perfect Ramen in Chicago). Ethiopian Diamond (on Broadway) is a great way to dine with friends who like adventure. And the Purple Pig is my favorite spot to sit at the bar with a friend, order way too much food, and have a bottle or two of wine.
What are the five things you would recommend they do/see/experience in Chicago?
Chicago may not always have the best weather, but we have developed some amazing culture here. Any new visitor to the city should definitely check out a performance of the Chicago Symphony or Lyric Opera; amazing orchestras and phenomenal music. Shakespeare Theater (at Navy Pier) is one of my favorite places to see a show: you’re right up in the action and the company is wonderful.
If you make it here in summer, it’s imperative to go see a game at Wrigley. There aren’t too many of the old parks left, so soak up the history while you can. I’d recommend stopping by the Violet Hour for a drink and some deep conversation. And then, of course, I’d recommend they come spend a night in NoMI Garden. Nothing like a warm evening in the fresh air with great food and drink!
What are 3 things you cannot live without at home, (eg. in kitchen, etc.)
1.) My hot-pot. First thing in the morning is a big mug of earl grey tea. (Coffee is too much of a process in the morning). The faster I get boiling water, the sooner I get my tea.
2.) I just got a Sodastream home carbonation machine. Bubbly water any time I want it. Genius!
3.) Emile Henri popover ramekins. Working at night, breakfast is the meal that I get to enjoy at home; popovers straight from the oven are so good, it’s hard to let them cool enough to not burn my fingers. Even when I end up with “pop-unders,” they’re still awfully tasty.