Alpana Singh

Sommelier, Restaurateur

Chicago

As the youngest woman to achieve the rank of master sommelier when she passed the fourth and final exam in 2003, Alpana Singh has made quite a name for herself in the world of wine. Her love for the vine began when she was waiting tables in college at a restaurant with a pretty impressive wine program. Singh found that wine combined her passion for travel, history and food in a balanced manner, so she landed her first wine job as a sales clerk in Carmel, Calif., before becoming the sommelier of the Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star Chicago restaurant Everest at the ripe age of 23 as she worked her way toward the prestigious master sommelier title. Singh spent nearly 10 years as the host of Check, Please!, but moved on from TV in January 2013 when she opened her much-anticipated Chicago restaurant, The Boarding House.

  • On March 12, 2013
    Jordan Lawson is now following Alpana Singh
  • On March 12, 2013
    Andi Berens is now following Alpana Singh
  • On March 12, 2013
    Alpana Singh answered the question: Alpana Singh

    What are Alpana Singh’s favorite Chicago museums?

    The Field Museum, also the Art Institute. We travel quite a bit, and when we go to other cities, we try to go to museums, and it’s always extraordinary to think in the back of your head that the Art Institute is every bit as good as these world-class museums. It is a world-class museum.
  • On March 12, 2013
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    What are Alpana Singh’s favorite Chicago neighborhoods?

    I must say I do love the Gold Coast. I’m a resident of the Gold Coast, and sometimes it gets mistaken for not really being a neighborhood just because it’s close to the shopping district, but it is very much a neighborhood. We have beautiful gray-stone buildings. You’ve got the lakefront; you’ve got access to the nightlife; you have access to the shopping; but it is a true neighborhood. We walk our dog; we see our neighbors. It’s like our own little slice of New York right here. I live in a high-rise, and I look outside and feel like I’m living in a city.
  • On March 12, 2013
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    What are Alpana Singh’s favorite Chicago bars?

    We used to go to The Drawing Room. It’s a subterranean cocktail lounge. Charles Joly used to run the program there. Now, Cristiana DeLucca, his protégé, took over, and it’s open pretty late. It’s across the street from our house, so we like to duck in there and get a quick cocktail. It’s a really nice, sophisticated ambiance. It doesn’t get too crazy, and the cocktails are absolutely delicious.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Alpana Singh answered the question: Alpana Singh

    What are Alpana Singh’s favorite Chicago hotels?

    We have The Peninsula, which I think is great. Our Park Hyatt is awesome. They have a really fantastic outdoor lounge as well, where you can go sit on the patio and be a tourist in your own city. The Trump — extraordinary views from The Trump. They have that outdoor patio that overlooks the Wrigley Building and it’s just extraordinary. It’s a beautiful hotel, absolutely beautiful, and if you can snag one of those outdoor patios [seats]. Chicago is all about being outdoors because you’re just locked away [during the winter], so when you get to go outside, it’s awesome.

    Then you have our tried and true. The Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons, we have some awesome hotels here. The Elysian — now it’s the Waldorf — is another beautiful property. There’s a great bar at the Waldorf called Bernard’s Bar, and it’s not too far away from our house. It’s sort of undiscovered; but it’s a small, beautiful walnut-lined bar with leather walls and beautiful white marble. We like to go in there and play tourist in our own city and have a little nightcap or a drink. It’s a little bit more sophisticated. You go in there, and it’s quiet and tucked away. It’s awesome.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Alpana Singh answered the question: Alpana Singh

    What’s Alpana Singh’s favorite time of year in Chicago?

    I like autumn. I think Chicago is so beautiful in the autumn, bar none — when the leaves are falling. Since our summers get so hot, I like when there’s that that fresh, crisp weather and that little chill gets in the air. The leaves start to change, and you can pull out your sweater, walk through the park and see the extraordinary foliage change. It’s a really beautiful time of year.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Alpana Singh answered the question: Alpana Singh

    What are Alpana Singh’s favorite things to do in Chicago?

    I would say our lakefront is unsurpassed in beauty, so I love that in the summertime, especially. We don’t live too far from the beach. We have this huge lakefront with walking trails and paths, so my husband and I like to take the dog for a walk and enjoy the lake. Chicago goes a little crazy here in the summertime because our winters are so bad, so we try to take every advantage of the lakefront as much as we can because you know you’re going to be locked away for six months in the winter. I love our lakefront; it’s awesome.

    Obviously just checking out other restaurants. I think our dining scene here is awesome, and we’ve been opening some really interesting places lately, especially in like Logan Square, like Matthias [Merges]’ Yusho. There’s always a new restaurant to go visit. I like to support other restaurants as much as possible, and just go check them out and support business and kind of see what’s going on in the city. I definitely love visiting the restaurants in Chicago.

    Art museums and plays, the theater. We’ve had this extraordinary run with Broadway here in Chicago with The Book of Mormon right now. And with the Lookingglass, Steppenwolf and The Goodman, there’s always an awesome play to go check out. The theater scene here is just amazing. My husband is a writer, so we always like to catch a play.  We try to do that whenever possible, especially during the colder months. I think there’s something about going to see a play, hiding away in the dark and seeing drama unfold before you.  We’re very fortunate to have such a vibrant theater scene in the city.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Alpana Singh answered the question: Alpana Singh

    What does Alpana Singh wear when she travels?

    My Lululemon yoga pants. They don’t have buttons. They stretch. They don’t wrinkle. We travel very lightly, so I love those dark yoga pants. You can actually wear them as slacks and they fold up nicely so you don’t have to iron them. I also always bring a light jacket with a hood. So just a light jacket, my Lululemons. As you travel, you tend to eat a lot and I think buttons just tend to get in the way.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Alpana Singh answered the question: Alpana Singh

    Who is Alpana Singh’s favorite travel companion?

    My husband, definitely. Absolutely. He’s a good traveler.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Alpana Singh answered the question: Alpana Singh

    What is Alpana Singh’s favorite airline?

    We are a hub for both American and United here in Chicago. But I don’t think I really have a favorite airline. I’m usually within United or American. I have airlines that I would like to try out — the higher-end ones I’ve heard extraordinary things about, like Emirates or Qatar or something like that to check out first class. That’s a dream, I’m not going to lie.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Alpana Singh answered the question: Alpana Singh

    What’s the best trip Alpana Singh has ever taken?

    The best trip I’ve ever taken would probably be a trip to South America, and we went to Buenos Aires and then we went to Mendoza. But when we got back to Buenos Aires, we took a ferry Montevideo. I didn’t know what to expect from Uruguay; it’s a magnificent place, it’s just extraordinarily beautiful. We got to stay in Punta del Este at José Ignacio — just pristine beaches, absolutely gorgeous. It’s sort of like, “Oh my gosh, I should buy a winter home here.” I think that was an extraordinary trip simply because it was just so unexpected. I didn’t expect thinking, “I can’t wait to come back here.”
  • On March 12, 2013
    Alpana Singh answered the question: Alpana Singh

    What does Alpana Singh bring home from her travels?

    An ornament. Whenever we visit, we always bring back an ornament for our holiday tree.  My husband’s Jewish, so we have a compromise. We have a blue-and-white tree — I call it our Hanukkah bush. So it’s a blue, white and silver theme. But we collect ornaments; everywhere we go, we try to find something that we can hang on our holiday tree. Each year — we’ve been doing it for about seven years — we’re like, “Oh, remember that trip to Uruguay?” or “I remember that trip to Germany, that was fun.” Traveling is such a huge passion of ours that it’s just a fun thing to do.  Sometimes you forget things and it helps you reminisce about the stories and the crazy things that happened while you were away.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Alpana Singh answered the question: Alpana Singh

    What kind of shops does Alpana Singh visit when traveling?

    When we travel, we’re always looking for new things. We tend to wander and just poke our heads in. I would say, though, in New York, I just love Chinatown. I love Chinatown because you never know what you’re going to find, see or discover. It’s just extremely alive. 

    I think in Paris, we always try to hit up an outside market and just eat our way through the cheese and the open-air market with the different pastries. I would say that whenever we travel, we try to figure out if there is one of those large food markets, outdoor markets.  We were in Israel, and we specifically hit the market in Tel Aviv; and we also visited the market in Jerusalem. I think it’s a great way to get a sense of the food culture of a country or a place because you get to see how the locals shop, you get to see what they buy, but you also get to see what is offered. It’s really quite extraordinary and it allows you to see a lot in one place at those outdoor markets.
  • On March 12, 2013
    Alpana Singh answered the question: Alpana Singh

    What are Alpana Singh favorite restaurants for wine in Chicago?

    How do you define a great wine program? The breadth of it? Does the selection match what you’re looking for as far as the style you want and what have you? There’s a new restaurant called Carriage House in Chicago. It’s not a very big list, about 50 or 60 selections, but each wine has a purpose; and you can tell that a lot of thought went into selecting a wine. It would be very easy because it’s a Southern-driven restaurant to go, “Oh, we’re just going to pick 10 wines,” but they did decide that wine is important and people enjoy wine; so they put together a very thoughtful, well-curated selection. It’s little bit off the beaten path, some of the wines, but I was really impressed by the sommelier there because each bottle has a purpose. I think they’ve done a really awesome job of selecting the wines.

    Shebnem [Ince] ran a pretty awesome program over at The Gage, as well as Henri. She recently left, and Jason Wagner took over. I have no doubt that he will keep the tradition of very thoughtful wines that you normally wouldn’t encounter. 

    It’s really easy to say, “Ok, people like cabernet, people like chardonnay, people like malbec,” so it’s like we can make this easy or we can make this hard. We can make it easy and just put pinot noir, chardonnay and cabernet on, and people will be very happy. But to take that extra step and extra effort of what’s new — maybe wine from the Languedoc, maybe wines from southern Spain, maybe there’s frappato from Sicily — just to keep it interesting and not the norm. But it does take a little bit more effort to run those programs because you do have to train the staff. You do have to take that the wines may not sell, so you might have to use a little bit more effort to get people excited about them as well. It just takes a lot more effort to run an interesting program because you do have to train the staff.