Ryan Baldwin first got a taste for the hospitality industry at 16 while working at Baker’s Square—a Chicago suburb classic, diner-style pie shop. At Sullivan’s Steakhouse, he joined the staff blind tastings with Blake Leja before he and his wife moved to Paris for two years in 2010. When they returned to the States, she signed him up for the first introductory sommelier exam. Leja helped him study for the certified, and later Girl and the Goat recruited him to take over the list after Aaron Sherman’s tenure (see last year’s poll interview with Sherman here) just under a year ago. To complement the global perspective of the food, he manages a list of 170 wines, some esoteric, some comfortable.
I don’t know what it is, but it is certainly a thing. Maybe it’s just easy to pronounce? I’m no longer going to be pouring it by the glass. I’m curious how it is going to affect the ecosystem of the glass pours. I’m going to replace it with bonarda. It’ll be less money—a $9 glass pour, which isn’t bad. Plus, I still have three bottles on the list so if you want malbec, I have three different flavor profiles: an Argentine malbec, a Cahors malbec, a Walla Walla malbec.
On approachable prices
It comes from chef ultimately. She never wants the restaurant to seem unapproachable in any way to any human being. For me, it’s fun, especially since I came from the steakhouse world where the biggest, most expensive bottle was king—whether it belonged on the table or not. So here, you can have a conversation about random varietals that nobody has heard of and they aren’t even expensive. We aren’t asking you to spend $80; how about 40 bucks?
On selling wine in a liquor city
We have 14 (BTG pours), I guess I could do more. This city is cocktail-focused. Cocktails are big, especially with the Paul McGees of the world and the Charles Jolys of the Aviary that are putting together these amazing cocktail programs. Wine in general is a struggle for Chicago. I mean, like Paul McGee went from Three Dots and a Dash to the Lost Lake, which is supposed to be awesome. My friends went to Aviary last night, these are places where you go and have a cocktail experience, and those aren’t the only two places in the city.
I’m sure you can trace it back to some Prohibition thing, this has always been a liquor city. And somehow inherently in all Chicagoans there is an urge to drink spirits in cool rooms. We have a gentleman who is in charge of the cocktail program here. When we roll out new cocktails, we all come up with a recipe and sit around and try each others’ and talk through it. Chef has a cocktail on the menu right now, and one of the sous does too. It is fun the way we all participate.
If you were to eat upstairs tonight, what would you eat and what would you drink with it?
I would ball out and get the goat leg. We only have two a night, they are gigantic. I’ve seen three grown men take it down.
It’s braised, for forever, and comes out on a giant board with all these sauces and a giant plate of house-made naan. It’s awesome. I would go with something dark and something rich, the Helen Turley 05 Charbono. I have one case left that we stole from Alinea; we are the only two restaurants in Chicago that have it. It’s from the Tofanelli Vineyard up in Calistoga, so it’s… It reminds me of George Clooney in a bottle. I’ve probably said this too much but its sexy… and leathery and smoky, and still has acid so it makes for a good balance. The silver fox of red wine.