10 Best Restaurants of 2019: #7 Refectory Restaurant & Wine Shop
Paul Bocuse, a legendary titan of French cooking, died in 2018, but his legacy lives on in the beautiful plates of his onetime pupil and fellow native of Lyon, France, the Refectory’s executive chef, Richard Blondin. Elegant dining in a sumptuous space, where conversation isn’t strained by an ambient din, likewise perseveres inside this 1800s-built former church replete with lovely wood and stained glass. Add a world-class wine list, and you have a throwback that’s still moving forward.
Chris Dillman, the Refectory’s only full-time sommelier in the restaurant’s 42 years, oversees a wine list exceeding 600 bottles.
In addition to its size, what makes the Refectory’s wine list great?
Dillman: It has a healthy respect for the classics, an eye on the future and [can accommodate] a broad range of tastes and budgets.
What’s a lesser-known gem?
Dillman: The 2017 Cantina Terlano Classico ($52), from a top-notch Alto Adige cooperative, is the 125th vintage of this flagship blend aged in stainless steel and large, old barrels. It perfectly marries pinot bianco’s golden-orchard fruit and richness with chardonnay’s backbone and sauvignon blanc’s floral zest.
How about a high-ticket all-star?
Dillman: 1984 Dunn Vineyards Howell Mountain ($525). I have a fondness for old-school—and old—Napa Valley wines. I opened one for friends a couple weeks ago, and the aromas are clearly [still] developing and there’s still ample tannin and richness. Vibrant acidity keeps it fresh and buoyant.
What makes a great food-and-wine pairing?
Dillman: Ideally, the combination should bring out something new in both the food and wine—usually, it’s a flavor or aroma change in each other, but the change can be textural.
What would you pair with some of the Refectory’s long-beloved dishes?
Dillman: Our escargot terrine is the rare appetizer that works with whites and reds. Palate-cleansing acidity is key—escargots are earthy but not assertive; the garlicky sauce tends to hang on the palate. For a white: Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko [Santorini, Greece]; for a red: Château Les Croisille Cahors [southwest France].
Conventional wisdom says California cabernet pairs with our rack of lamb, but I prefer the elevated tannin, acidity and oak of good tempranillo.
Read about our other Best Restaurants of 2019:
2. Wolf’s Ridge Brewing
3. Watershed Kitchen & Bar
4. Service Bar
5. G. Michael’s Bistro & Bar
8. Gallerie Bar & Bistro
9. The Guild House
10. Ambrose and Eve
1092 Bethel Rd., Northwest Side