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Dish Tue Jun 16 2015

Around Town: Bites and Libations to Put in Your Mouth

Food lists can be difficult. One person's best bite can be another person's meh. Geographical location can limit your experience unless you make an effort to trek beyond convenience, and with more than 7,300 restaurants in the city, rest assured that I have not been to all of them.

While not definitive, the below are a few of the things I've eaten of late that made me stop and say, "I'd do that again." Or the secondary headline, Good Sh*t You May Want to Be Eating if You Haven't Had This Good Sh*t Yet.

Bon app├ętit!

Nonna's Relish Tray

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There are relish trays, and then there's the relish tray at newly opened Formento's (925 W. Randolph St.). This unique spin on the classic relish tray, inspired by the grandmothers of both Chef Tony Quartaro and co-owner John Ross, swaps store-bought olives and pickles for bites like the southern Italian marinated "rinforzo" salad, roasted beets dotted with puffed rice and sweet potato cannoli. Plus, it's served on the same platter that most likely made an appearance at every one of your holiday gatherings. (Photo credit: Formento's)

Generally Mackin'

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We are at a place in mixology where being innovative requires more than just making your own bitters or using fresh ingredients. This is something that Whitney Morrow, who recently took over Alex Renshaw's position as head bartender at Drumbar (201 E Delaware Place), knows very well. And her new cocktail list isn't shy of ambition or ingredients. The Generally Mackin' mixes Cooper Kings Brandy, yellow bell pepper, cayenne syrup, lime juice and a fajita side rim, making the end result a "margarita" that you wish you were drinking. (Photo credit: Drumbar)

The King Crab Salad
Momotaro Chicago

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I'm supposed to tell you to get the tomato caviar at Momotaro (820 W. Lake St.)-- a beautiful disc of minced Japanese sweet tomato, Maui onion, and shiso leaves. While visually stunning, and conceptually unique, a few bites in might be too much to continue for some. Just underneath it on the menu, however, and for a couple of more dollars is an unexpected winner, the Raibu Kani No Salada -- Dungeness crab, charred shishito, sweet onion and mustard. It comes served in the shell, which can get trite, but it also makes finding that last piece of crab so fulfilling. (Photo credit: Boka Restaurant Group)

Pimiento Cheese Spread
Big Jones

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Spreadable cheese is never a wrong thing, and pimento cheese, "the caviar of the south," is akin to taco dip -- usually the first thing to go. Whether you prefer the extra "i" or not, Big Jones (5347 N. Clark St.) chef Paul Fehribach's combination of Hook's sharp cheddar, pimiento and homemade Worcestershire sauce combined with the tart sweetness of piccalilli, an unusual but welcomed pickled garnish for most variations, might arguably be one of the best pimento spreads in the city. (Photo credit: Serving Up Chicago)

The Gin and Tonic
The Betty

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If you hear gin and tonic and think pine tree, The Betty's (839 W. Fulton Market) G&T might change your mind. The club-style, DIY beaker presentation beckons you to be the mixologist while the library style setting makes you feel like Watson and Holmes should be sitting at a table nearby sipping on something brown. The current selection for mixing your drink to taste is Fords gin and Mediterranean tonic served with amber glass dropper bottles of grapefruit juice and Peychaud's bitters. (Photo credit: The Betty)

Grilled Cauliflower
Unite Urban Grill

Vegetables never really get their due, and cauliflower most certainly can be an underwhelming experience. The grilled cauliflower steak seems to be the new portobello around town, but Unite Urban Grill (1450 W. Chicago Ave.) has hit a winner with their version, serving it with a romesco sauce that should be jarred and sold, olive oil and toasted pine nuts. (Photo credit: Unite Urban Grill)

Slagel Farms Beef Burger
Owen & Engine

A "best burger" discussion is bound to get the majority of food-o-philes into a debate, and it is a topic we have had ad nauseam. Wherever your beef loyalty lands, however, the burger at Owen & Engine (2700 N. Western Ave.) is consistently doing what a good burger is supposed to be doing -- no frills, no fried egg, no pork belly, just a well-seasoned hunk of beef. Purists, if you haven't been here yet, don't pick up another half pound until you do, and make sure you get the optional white cheddar cheese that's not listed on the menu. (Photo credit: Owen & Engine)

The Rushing Waters Trout
Kinmont Restaurant

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Seafood admittedly tends to fall short in Chicago, but The Rushing Waters Trout at Kinmont (419 W. Superior St.), named so because of the source of the fish from Rushing Waters Fisheries in Wisconsin, is a must if you like your surf over your turf. A menu item since it opened, newcomer Chef Aaron Cuschieri is currently calling upon some of his Italian culinary training by adding homemade potato gnocchi into the seasonally rotating dish that now features a corn and jalapeno ragout. And don't miss a chance to try a cocktail here, especially the Sea by Sea.(Photo credit: Kinmont Chicago)

Mac and Cheese
Hot Chocolate

Hot chocolate.jpg
As a child, I was a Kraft mac and cheese loyalist, raising my nose to the shells of Velveeta. But the mac and cheese at Hot Chocolate (1747 N. Damen Ave.) makes me think I should have given more stock to the brand. The simple recipe of elbow pasta, cream and American and Gruyere cheese, i.e. ooey, gooey pasta crack, will have you scraping the bottom of the cup like the kid you really are. (Photo credit: Hot Chocolate)

Basque Cake
mfk. Restaurant Chicago

If you do only one dessert, you had better do it right, and the Basque cake at mfk.(432 W. Diversey) -- pastry cream layered with cake batter lightly toasted on the edge, paired with a DIY Cortado (espresso cut with warm milk), doesn't do it wrong. Just enough sweet, just enough portion size; the perfect way to end a meal without walking away in a food coma. (Photo credit: mfk. Chicago)

Heirloom Grits
Baker Miller

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Grits get as predictable as a Taylor Swift song -- or as unsuccessful as a cup of grits that really just wanted to be Cream of Wheat -- so it's nice to see a bakery highlight the underappreciated breakfast staple like Baker Miller (4610 N. Western Ave.) is doing with their rotating heirloom grits that, so far to my knowledge, have never seen a shrimp head. (Photo credit: Baker Miller/Instagram)

Update: current rotation includes pickled cabbage and Parmesan.

Tagliolini nero

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I'd like to imagine that Tagliolini nero ("black noodles") occurred as an accident from misplaced pasta, one too many glasses of wine and a bowl of squid remains, but I'm thankful that at some point in humanity we decided to stain our noodles with cephalopod ink and that Chef Chris Pandel at Balena (1633 N. Halsted) decided to do it to fresh-made tagliolini pasta, mixed with crab, chilies and topped off with sea urchin. You can find other squid ink dishes around town, but I feel that the thinner pasta paired with a little heat and sweet crab rounds out the flavor of what can be a very intimidating dish for some. (Photo credit: Chefs Feed)

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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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