Wine: Windy City Stars

Chicagoans are getting more playful with wine even as they take it more seriously. At Avec (615 W. Randolph St; 312-377-2002), a wine bar launched by Paul Kahan, an F&W Best New Chef 1999, a backlit wall of empty wine bottles provides the only bright color in a space that looks like the inside of a new wine barrel. To go with Avec's list of Mediterranean boutique wines, the menu offers intensely flavored dishes like chorizo-stuffed dates with piquillo-pepper sauce. Valhalla (3317 N. Broadway; 773-296-6800) feels like a minimalist dining room instead of a wine shop. The centerpiece is a long wooden table that displays 30 or so wines. In suburban Glenview, Flight (1820 Tower Dr.; 847-729-WINE) might take its name from its location in a former naval air base, but it also serves an extensive selection of flights, or tastings, from its well-chosen wine list; they pair nicely with dishes like the crème fraîche lobster salad.

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