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Saturday, August 13

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« Friday Foodporn: Love in this Year One Rustic Meal, On Loan from London »

Feature Fri Jan 01 2010

Our Best of 2009

CelebrateYou might be looking forwards, but we're eating backwards. The Drive-Thru staff compiled its personal favorite eats and restaurants of the past year for your enjoyment.

For me, the best things this year were the sweets. I fell in love with and pigged out on the cupcakes from Bleeding Heart that combined savory and sweet flavors, especially the curry cupcake. It was truly the best thing I ate. I also loved the ones with rosemary and basil combined with fruit.

My children were happy to discover the chocolate croissants at Fritz Pastry. Our usual chocolate-croissant spot changed its chocolate filling midyear, so we were lucky to come upon Fritz, not only for the croissants but also for the macaroons.

Best things I ate this year: Lobster bake in Maine, and Honey and Sea Salt Pecan Turtles from Rich Chocolates & Candies.
Best restaurant visited: The Publican.

Vying for best dishes of the year status was the tofu w/spicy and salt at Chinese Kitchen in Westmont. Creamy egg like center between crisp pillows of fried tofu. Taste and texture-wise, a 10. I'm pretty sure it's togarashi as seasoning but whatever it is, the dish was transcendent. The other dish would be a ravioli of minced smoked goose with lardons garnished with bean sprouts, fried shallots and culantro- drank with a white Burgundy at Tan Dinh, a Vietnamese restaurant in Paris known for pairing French wines with Asian food.

Best restaurant/most enjoyable time was at Bel Canto in Paris. Besides a phenomenal meal featuring quite possibly the best chicken dish (Bresse chicken) I've ever had, they feature opera singers from the Paris Opera singing arias from yards away instead of auditoriums. Brilliant evening.

Best thing I ate this year was a goat cheese soufflé I had during on a Princess Cruise!

Ras Dashen is awesome - I feel like everyone knew about it before me. I ate there for the first time in the spring and have been back several times. I love having a cup of chai tea with my meal.

Restaurant: HB Home Bistro
Thing: Berry Chill frozen yogurt

The best "new" restaurant I tried this year was The Publican. The best thing I ate this year? Well, something I continue to love every time I eat it (like this past Sunday night) is "Jasmin's Bruschette" at Pizza Art Cafe. It's described as "Garlic, olive oil, tomatoes, basil and feta cheese on our homemade pita bread." but the bread is much more like a puffy mini pizza crust and the garlic is strong but,with the feta and tomatoes, so good.

Best things I ate/drank:
* Fried squash blossom, house-cured salt cod brandade, shallot soubise amuse at Vie. Who knew a flower stuffed with fish could be the most ethereal way to start a meal?
* Amaro Lucano-soaked orange almond cake made by me. I adapted the recipe for
Flourless Orange and Ginger Cake from Chocolate & Zucchini, omitting all ginger and soaking the final, cooled cake with Amaro by the tablespoon until saturated. That's a lot of tablespoons and the bitter cake of my dreams.
* 1974 Chateau Montelena Zinfandel, Napa and Alexander Valleys, from a friend's cellar. The most historically significant vintage to touch my lips, dating to the revival of the famed winery, this was an epiphany of fruit and spice.
* My first hot dog--mustard, onions, sport pepper, no relish--from Jimmy's Red Hots.

Best new restaurant: Hoosier Mama Pie Company. The opening of this three-top introduced to Chicago a culture of pie. It's a celebration of all that is good in the world...two blocks from my house.

Best thing I ate this year: many of the soups coming from my kitchen, especially this one.

Best restaurant: XOCO. The churros are just too good.

I did get to Great Lake and thoroughly enjoyed my pizza. Phoebe's Cupcakes is also a nice addition/deadly temptation to my neighborhood.

Hands down, best thing I drank this year was Sofie, Goose Island's Belgian Style Farmhouse Ale. I can't say enough good things about this beer--it's absolutely delicious. I'm thrilled about Half Acre and Metropolitan Brewing establishing presences in Chicago because this city can definitely support more microbreweries. I'm not a huge fan of either stout or pale ales, but Half Acre's Baume stout and Daisy Cutter Pale Ale have totally changed my opinion of these beer styles. Metropolitan's Flywheel Bright Lager has become one of the staples in my refrigerator. Tops on my list of liquors to buy: North Shore Distillery's Gin No. 6 and Koval Distillery's Rose Hips Liqueur. These two local distilleries produce some really great products, and Koval is a welcome addition to the microdistillery scene.

Best thing Cliff ate all year? The Poutine with duck confit, duck gravy and homemade cheesecurds @ Nightwood.
Best restaurant? See above.

Best thing we ate this year: I spent a large portion of this year making recipes taste even better for my upcoming cookbook Everything Cast Iron, and picking out my favorite is hard. But my recipe for Cioppino was probably one that I'll make several times when serving large groups of people because it is easy, comforting, and healthy.

Best (new/existing) restaurant visited this year: I continue to love Bhabi's Kitchen (6352 North Oakley Avenue) but my favorite of the new places to open is Big Star Lounge because their Queso Fundido is dreamworthy.

Favorite food: The best thing I ate this year had to be my husband's dulche de leche cheesecake, which he made himself after discovering the magic of homemade dulce de leche. Here's the magic: Remove the label from a can of sweetened condensed milk and poke four holes in the top with a can opener (but do not remove the lid.) Place the can in a sauce pan and fill the pan with water just up to the lip of the can. Simmer the can for four hours. When you open it -- carefully, after removing from the water and allowing to cool -- you have dulce de leche. It's great on bananas and apples, shortbread cookies, and, as my husband discovered, mixed into the cheesecake recipe on the back of a box of Philadelphia brand cream cheese. He also reserved a portion of the dulce de leche to spread on the pre-baked graham cracker crust. Okay, so this may not have been "the best thing I ate all year," but it was one of the best -- and also was dessert for our second anniversary dinner, which made it all the sweeter.

Favorite restaurant: I visited some lovely restaurants this year -- North Pond for my birthday, Publican for brunch, Taxim for my dear friend's birthday -- but the place I talked about more than any other was the Dining Room at Kendall College. My husband and I were truly blown away by the wonderful service and fantastic food. The most memorable dishes were roasted bone marrow with oxtail marmalade, which we spread on porcini-orange brioche and sprinkled with sea salt; and a brined, smoked and grilled pork chop with cherry barbecue sauce, caramelized shallots, and goat cheese grits. Porky perfection.

I ate a lot of wonderful things this year but what stands out for me was good service at a few places, notably a portion upgrade at Southport Grocery and Cafe (my server brought out my food, looked at it and said "They didn't give you enough," and returned it to the kitchen--you're my hero!). On a lesser note, I had the terrifying experience of my server at Kuma's Corner accidentally not placing my burger order with their kitchen, resulting in a three-hour slump of a wait at their bar, my earlobes bleeding from speed metal played at 11 while I watched customers around me arrive, eat and leave. They comped our burgers to apologize for their error, but I'm not going back there for a LOONNGG time (apparently, this is the way Kuma's likes it).

The best thing I ate this year was probably the chicken liver paté at Mado. I'm cultivating sort of a secret love for chicken liver lately... Secret because, who really wants to tell anyone one of their favorite things to eat is a poultry organ. But love because, have you tried this stuff?? Mado's spread was so rich, buttery, salty and nuanced (remembrances of lemon and grass, currant and chestnuts within the golden goodness), so well accompanied by incredibly light and crispy toasts, I could have eaten it all night. Good thing I nearly licked the bowl clean -- now I have to go back.

I'm splitting best restaurant and best bar of the year. The Bad Apple on Lincoln may just be the best bar I've visited in Chicago (besides Will's Northwoods Inn, which I'm partial to for totally non-gustatory reasons). With over a dozen extremely reasonably priced and intriguingly named beers on tap, from stanbys like Allagash White and Goose Island Matilda to relative rarities like Lindeman's Framboise lambic and local Half Acre Daisy Cutter, one might be satisfied never looking beyond the top of the drink menu. But the food is at least worth a glance, since the kitchen turns out well-crafted bar favorites, including deep-fried cheese curds and poutine with an almost overwhelmingly savory and herbed gravy. Burgers are the specialty, many including beer-braised sauces or toppings, but they also make a mean pile of truffled fries, and even a grown-up PBJ with framboise-jam. Rumor has it this is one of Stephanie Izard's hangouts, though I've never seen her there, so they must know their stuff, right?

In terms of best overall eating this year, I'd have to say Sepia takes the cake. I visited twice in recent months, once for a dinner for two, and once with a group of ten, and was consistently impressed with both the combinations of flavors on each plate, to say nothing of the drink menu, which offered its own cornucopia of tastes and even textures. I realize it opened over a year ago, but it took me a while to try it out. The flank steak with bone marrow beignets and hen of the woods mushrooms, a three-way of pheasant that coaxed more flavor from the bird than I'd ever before experienced, and the richest cheese grits in town were worth it. (And did I mention they do a pretty mean duck liver paté? Looks like the secrecy of my love affair is coming to an abrupt end...)

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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

The State of Food Writing

By Brandy Gonsoulin

In 2009, food blogging, social media and Yelp were gaining popularity, and America's revered gastronomic magazine Gourmet shuttered after 68 years in business. Former Cook's Illustrated editor-in-chief Chris Kimball followed with an editorial, stating that "The shuttering of Gourmet reminds...
Read this feature »

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