Alpana Singh knew she wanted to be in the restaurant business since she was a little girl. Growing up in Monterey, California, her father was a professional chef, and her mother, a server. “Truth be told, I don’t know how to do anything else. It’s in my blood,” she says. At the age of 15, she was working in her first restaurant; by 23, she had remarkably landed a sommelier position at Chicago’s four-star gem Everest; and by 26, she became the youngest female to ever pass the Master Sommelier Exam. 

Other opportunities soon followed, like once hosting the long-time PBS dining review series, “Check, Please!” and then opening her first dining establishment in 2012 where she has really found a niche. Though, after the success of wine-inspired Boarding House and the American spinoff Seven Lions in Chicago, Singh chose to move north for her latest venture. Called Terra & Vine, the Italian hot spot opened in the fall with a menu of braised dishes, pastas, pizettes, and a wood rotisserie. It’s also notable for featuring one of the largest private dining options in town, with nearly 60 percent of the space devoted to meetings and events. “It’s a big focus of ours,” she promises. 

ILM+E: Why did you choose Evanston this time around?
AP:
I used to live in Rogers Park 10 years ago and would often dine in Evanston. I feel like sometimes people want to be able to eat in their backyard and have that big city experience but don’t want to go all the way downtown. One of the lessons I learned from doing “Check, Please!” is that people want good food wherever they are, it’s not relegated to just River North.

ILM+E: What other “Check, Please!” lessons did you use in becoming a restaurateur?
AP:
One thing I learned consistently was that the element people were looking for most was service. Good food of course, too, but what made a place a favorite was the culture of service and hospitality. And that is more important than ever in Evanston with such a close-knit community.

ILM+E: Italian food and culture is also notable for bringing people together around the table. What group dining options are at Terra & Vine?
AP:
We are going big with private dining. There are four distinct spaces—the smallest option is the Capri Room, a cozy nook for 10-12 people, but the piece de resistance is the 140-seat room in the back. It’s very modular and adaptable with air walls. We have menus with multiple courses, reception-style packages and buffets. Because we’re not open for lunch yet, we can offer meeting spaces as well and breakout activities like blind wine tastings. We’re also putting together options for nonprofits that can fit their budgets.” terraandvine.com; 847.563.4333

Gain insight from a professional who increased room block bookings by 30 percent over three years. 

 

Scott Castillo-Milburn, owner of mobile bartending service Classic Cocktails by Scott, developed this recipe last summer for a client who was looking for a bourbon-based drink that would feel seasonal and light for an evening party. The night ended with everyone who’d tried it asking for the recipe, and Castillo-Milburn has since replicated it at 10 events. He’s kept the drink a secret—until now. You can hire his company to create this drink for an event, create a new signature cocktail, or even obtain general liability or liquor liability insurance for your venue.  

 

Centrally located in Illinois, about a two and half hour drive from Chicago, the city of Peoria has many exciting developments happening this year. Here are three to put on your radar.

1. The rustic-themed Bearded Owl Brewing opened in January with a variety of unfiltered beers ranging from stouts to India pale ales to sours, using locally grown ingredients wherever possible. While it doesn’t have designated event space, the brewery makes for a good post-meeting gathering spot for a round of beers and various homemade soft pretzels.