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With apologies to anyone who might feed me over the next few days, here are my many highlights from 2011 . . .

The Publican
Many of my favorite dishes of 2011 were served at several different meals I enjoyed at the Publican. Each and every time I ate at the Publican, I was impressed by the skill of the kitchen, the quality of ingredients, and the risks being taken. Combine dishes (eaten over the course of the year) like beef tongue, peas & burrata, steak tartare, fried clams, Livornese fish stew, cucussu, frites & eggs, smoked sablefish, duck hearts and salad of duck prosciutto with shaved asparagus and pea puree, with some of the finest, freshest oysters in the city, a phenomenal beer list, a handful of sensational whiskeys and friendly, knowledgeable, no-nonsense service and it adds up to my favorite Chicago restaurant in 2011.

Pleasant House Bakery
Art and Chelsea Jackson -- and crew -- opened their shop in May and immediately became a fixture in my culinary world. All their savory pies are great but my favorite of them all might be the Mushroom Kale, which simply put, is a stunner. The Pasty, Steak & Ale and Chicken Balti are all terrific, too. And those peas . . . wow! Eating these pies for the first time changed me. Subsequent munchings have been nothing short of delightful. :D

The Whistler
With great respect to my other favorite cocktail bars in Chicagoland (and there are several :wink:), The Whistler has become my very favorite. Paul McGee's creations speak to me in a way that very few others do and I'm continually impressed by his fluency with spirits and his freakish ability to create perfect balance in the glass. The Whistler's monthly, themed Book Club nights are sensational events, which reveal Paul's passion for -- and dedication to -- advancing the craft of cocktails.

Nightwood
I ate here at least 5 times in 2011 and each meal left me impressed and wanting more. I don't think this place gets nearly the attention it deserves. Chef Jason Vincent is a culinary badass. As I look over my notes from 2011, dishes I enjoyed at Nightwood appear over and over again. Plates like shad roe with lardons & ramps, burrata with veal belly raviolo and spinach puree, roasted purple haze carrots, wood-grilled sturgeon, Indiana duck leg with black beans, Pasta alla Chitarra with lamb Bolognese and English peas, hanger steak, heirloom tomato salad, foie gras & lobster tail, cheeseburger and chocolate pudding are just a few of the sensational dishes turned out at Nightwood in 2011.

El Ideas
2 meals here in 2011 re-invigorated my enthusiasm for fine-dining, which was previously near life-support. At El Ideas, the dining experience is more than fine, it's also a lot of fun. The food is creative, elevated and entirely approachable. Ocean Trout, Corn, Chicken Liver, Foie Gras and Wagyu (at meal #1) and Spanner Crab/Gnocchi/Eggplant, Broccoli, Chicken, Beef Duo and Bourbon (at meal #2) all stand out as 2011 faves.

Owen & Engine
Best burger I ate in Chicago in 2011. Period. There was such great, beefy flavor in these burgers, it was like eating one for the first time. The fries were great too. On a couple of early visits, the wings were very good (later, not so much). The beer list is sensational (taps and engine) and the cocktail list is respectable.

Lao Hunan
Eye-opening cuisine from Tony Hu. My favorites here include Famous Hunan Chili with Black Bean Sauce, Dry Chili Fish Filet, Chairman Mao's Favorite Pork Belly, Ground Pork with Sour Beans and Twice Cooked Sliced duck, to name just a few. This is compelling cuisine.

Kabul House
Perfectly cooked kabobs (chicken thighs; no dry breast meat here!), sensational dumplings, hearty soups and vegetables bursting with flavor. I love that this superior-quality destination is so close to my office but even if it weren't, I'd happily travel for it.

La Chaparrita
The tacos I ate here this year completely re-set my baseline for the category. Even my previous local favorites seem almost not worth the bother anymore. If I can't eat tacos from La Chaparrita, I'd almost always rather just eat something else.

Mana Food Bar
The absence of meat here is a mere afterthought. Phenomenal flavors and textures woven from great ingredients by skilled hands. Don't dismiss it simply because it's located on a hip stretch of Division St. This place is the real deal.

Vera
Mark and Liz Mendez, formerly of Carnivale, opened this place in October, and it's distinctive and terrific. I've only enjoyed one meal here so far but if the anchovies with Spanish olive oil, pickled garlic & chili flakes, ham & cheese croquettes, octopus with pimenton, duck crackling butter, roasted mushrooms and tripe with chickpeas & blood sausage I enjoyed at that meal are any indication, this place is going to become a fixture.

Next Paris ,Thailand, Childhood
I ate each of the first 3 menus at Next at least twice and came away quite impressed. What this kitchen is doing could not even be attempted by most top kitchens and they pull it off with considerable success. I'm not sure it's even relevant to identify specific dishes that stood out for me (because they're mostly gone) but they include the Oeufs Benedictine and Duck with Gratin Dauphinoise from the Paris menu, the Coconut Dessert from the Thailand menu and Autumn Scene and Cheeseburger courses from the Childhood menu. Still, what makes Next truly special is the overall, thematic dining experiences they provide.

Vie
I didn't make it out to Vie as often in 2011 as I have over the past couple of years but the meals I had there still resonated profoundly for me. This is one of the most important and ambitious kitchens in Chicagoland and their charcuterie program still stands out for me as the very best in town. Dishes like 1-yr culatello, chicken liver sausage, green garlic soup, softshell crab and lamb ravioli are just a few stand-outs from 2011. Beyond that, their bar is also a treasure.

Aroy Thai
For my money, this was the best, most consistent Thai food in Chicago in 2011. I ate here at least 12 times in 2011 and the meals were not only excellent but stunningly consistent. Their tom yam soup with tender and beef ball is the best soup in Chicago. Other offerings like grilled pork neck salad, Thai chicken wings, larb khun, choi-chi ground pork and roasted eggplant salad with shrimp are equally spectacular.

Birrieria Zaragoza
The birria here is flat out one of the greatest dishes in Chicago. The salsa and the tortillas are also phenomenal and made from scratch. Their salsa de molcajete is legendary. How many places in town essentially make one dish? Based on how great Zaragoza is, the answer to that question is "not enough." And by the way, the Zaragozas are just about the friendliest hosts I know.

Inovasi
John Des Rosiers' casual-fine dining enclave in Lake Bluff is so off the radar, I fear that a lot of LTHers are missing something truly special by not checking it out. The 3 meals I had there in 2011 were delicious and memorable. The ingredients, many of which are identfied by their provenance on the menu, sing in creative, edgy combinations that define Des Rosiers' distinctive style. I'm still thinking about many of the dishes I had there, including the American onion soup, rabbit liver mousse, octopus-black truffle-house made giardiniera omelet, suzuki bass, blowfish tail and charred sweet corn soup, to name a few.

Cho Jung
This little shop in Glenview served the best bowl of soondubu I ate in 2011, and I had it several times. Their panchan are also excellent and the seafood pajoun is also the best one I can remember having in Chicagoland. Want Korean BBQ? Go somewhere else. But if you want well-made soups and stews, this is the place.

Cemitas Puebla
I really enjoy everything here but honestly, the Cemita Atomica will probably make my 'best of' list every single year! :D

The Butcher & Larder
Aside from the great meat (raw and prepared) that I bought here in 2011, I attended a dinner party at Butcher & Larder that stands out as one of my very favorite meals of 2011. At that meal, dishes like chili-braised pork, fried sweetbread terrine, beef carpaccio and hearty greens salad with lard-roasted root vegetables & thinly-sliced brined beef tongue blew me away.

Maude's Liquor Bar
I wasn't sure what to expect here because of the Randolph Street location, but it turns out that Maude's is entirely the real deal. The pig trotter stuffed with sweetbreads and hen of the woods mushrooms I had at my first visit still stands out as one of the tastiest things I ate this year. And their fries were nothing short of spectacular.

Quince
I had a great meal here back in April that reminded me just how delicious the food coming out of this kitchen is. I don't find myself in Evanston very often but I'll happily plan a trip just to eat here again.

Nha Hang
I've only been once but the bun mam and hot pot we had at that meal were unbelievably flavorful and satisfying. I'm certainly no expert but this is the best Vietnamese food I've had in Chicago.

Avenues (RIP)
I had one very enjoyable meal at Avenues in 2011 and 2 dishes from that meal were among the best things I ate in 2011: SE Asian-style Short Rib and Hamachi with lardo, pigtail, yuzu and purslane. I'm looking forward to Curtis Duffy's Grace, which is scheduled to open this coming summer.

Bop-N-Grill
The kimchi fries and umami burger I had at the Evanston location back in May still stand out as some of the best grub I ate in 2011. Subsequent visits weren't quite as successful but I'm hopeful that with the 2nd location now up and running, the food will find consistency again.

Three Aces
This place just doesn't get enough attention. Several of my favorites from 2011 came out of this kitchen, including some decadent bolognese fries, a pizzetta with shaved porchetta, blue cheese, caramelized onion, calabrian chili & fennel pollen and perfectly wrought arancini.

=R=
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"When you’re young, it’s all fillet steak. But as you get older, you have to move onto the cheaper cuts..." --M. Gustave

I just wanna live until I gotta die. I know I ain't perfect but God knows I try --Todd Snider

Twitter: ronniesuburban
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Yeah, what can I say, there's a hive mind going on in these here parts, and dammit, I am not complaining. Discovery of some of these spots I own directly to LTH, while others may have been opened by friends of friends and one on this list magically popped up directly next door to me. But heck, almost all of the intel leads back to this website. Excuse me for redundancies...

The Salsas at L'Candela
All the food here is great, but the minute the yellower, more savory one and the greener, hotter one hit the table, I usually can't resist sneaking little tastes off a spoon if there's nothing else around to dip.

Laoganma Beef at Snack Planet
The best dish of 2011 under $3.00. And the best dish down in the Richland food court that I've sampled. Tender beef with a salty ma la spice paste. I am rooting for this food court (and hopefully others like it) to take hold in Chicago, the kind of places that dish out the good real deal stuff in so many other cities.

Beer at Bangers & Lace
I used to consider myself a beer snob. The craft brew market has exploded in the time since I fancied myself of that persuasion though, and this is where I go to brush up. Just a great place to spend a late afternoon before the crowd hits, a delightful room with a tap that seems to rotate nightly. And those frites with taleggio dip make a pretty damn good bar snack.

The grilled fish at Lure
Dry aged and wood grilled- I got deeply into head to tail fish this year and this was some of the best. Now, why is this place not packed night after night? Do the club lights scare y'all off?

The Famous Hunan Peppers at Lao Hunan
The food here rules, as attested to by the praise on the forum and the long waits at dinner. I find it a bit on the salty side, personally. I love the frank simplicity of this dish though. I know I could make it at home- those do seem like poblanos don't they, black bean sauce, sliced garlic, not much else. Elemental.

The "Braised" Quail/ Pigeon at Go 4 Food
Another shining light in new Chinatown. This dish was originally quail and now features pigeon, just a straight up deep fried small bird, eat the bones, gnaw on the head, street meat at its best.

The Publican (in general) but especially the Duck Hearts with Farro in March
I just ate here last night and it seems about my first and only choice when I want to celebrate. But hot damn, that duck heart dish. A Middle Eastern- salady affair of grain, vinaigrette, dried fruit, and grilled fowl offal. The duck hearts- not so challenging for me (but super f'in delicious), it was enjoying dates in a savory preparation that challenged me. Straight up ingredients, no BS, creatively composed, I fucking love this place.

Aroy
Definitely got turned on to Aroy during the last round of GNR's. And thankful I am. I love TAC, Spoon, and Sticky Rice, but I find the food here, in particular, to be made with very fresh ingredients and a rustic hand to the spicing. Not so sweet, not a lot of coconut milk (save for the Chou chee perhaps). This food is assertive, and to my taste the Sour Beef Soup is too much so. But the smack you in the face pungency of the Chinese Broccoli with Salted Fish is a revelation and the Northern Larb, which somehow maintains a smooth finesse though sour, offal and fishy funky hits it just right for me.

La Chapparita
I have been to Mexico City a few times and ate in the street most of the time. Thankfully my tastes have progressed since my last visit four years ago to the point where I no longer fear, but am actually enticed by a bubbling cauldron of guts. This is the real deal. The taco de tripa is irresistible, I can't help but order at least two on every visit.

Pleasanthouse
I don't know what else to say. Art, Chelsea, and Morgan are living the dream. Friends to their customers, neighborhood, and earth. True culinary citizens on the 21st Century. I love them. And the mushroom kale is my favorite too.

Butcher & Larder
20 oz. Ribeye, Bourbon & Thyme Chubbies, Smoked Trotter, Merguez, Chimichurri Sausage, Ciccioli, Testa, Mortadella, Grand Mere, Zombie Dust Sausage, Lil' Johnnies, Pork Collar, Pork Shoulder, Fresh Ham, Smoked Ham, Smoked Pork Chop, Bacon, Blood Sausage, Delmonico Steaks, Whole Chicken just about once a week, Bottom Round Roast, Fresh Ground Chuck, Fresh Ground Beef Heart, Corned Beef, Whole Turkey, Country Pate. I'm sure that's not all they've done for me this year. And they usually can do whatever I ask and always send me home with something I wasn't expecting. Totally changed the way I cook at home I am eating way less (though you wouldn't believe it base on that list), but the highest quality meat only at home from now on.

That's my Chi-town faves. I ate good out of town too and at home and on the job a bunch (with a lot of meat from the above mentioned butcher shop). Great year, can't wait for next!
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In no particular order...

The Publican - No single dish, but I ate here several times in 2011 on the way to the United Center and each meal was fantastic. The Publican opened as a restaurant dedicated to pork, oysters, and beer but it's so much more than that.

Lao Hunan - An amazing recent discovery. Jade tofu and twice cooked duck are probably my favorites.

Arami - My favorite sushi place in Chicago at the moment. I've never had a piece of fish here that was short of pristine

Tracy's King Crab Shack (Juneau, AK) - King crab, crab cakes, crab bisque, all literally served out of a shack by the water in Juneau, AK. Hard to beat that.

Vancouver dining - There were four highlights from our long weekend in Vancouver: First was Tojo's, where I had some of the best (and most expensive) sushi I've ever had. Second was Kingyo, and specifically their tan tan noodles. Third was the weird awesomeness of Japadog. Fourth was Blue Water Cafe for the entire seafood focused dinner we had.

Marea (NYC) - The uni/lardo crostini is just as good as everyone says it is.

Next - Many good dishes, but the pressed duck from the Paris menu is the clear standout.

Graham Elliot - I don't know what version of the restaurant we're on, but the current version is definitely the best.

Balsan - This may be my favorite restaurant in Chicago right now. Oysters are always perfect and the charcuterie is always interesting.

Tru - Phenomenal anniversary dinner. The fact that this place is still a Michelin 1 star is an absolute travesty.

Carnevino (Las Vegas) - Rib-eye for two was one of the best steaks I've ever had. All of their meat is dry aged 60-90 days.

I'll also pour one out in honor of all of the food I did not eat this year. 2011 will be remembered as the year I dropped 40 pounds (and I fully plan on keeping it off...buying yet another new wardrobe is entirely too cost prohibitive).

Happy New Year everyone!
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-Josh

I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
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Some of my favorites were outside Chicago. That said:

Favorite dish of the year: The Dingle Bay Smoked Seafood Chowder at the Cellar Bar at Cahernane House Hotel in Killarney, Ireland. This dish was amazing for everything it wasn't: It wasn't overloaded with potatoes like so many chowders. (But it was overloaded with local seafood.) It wasn't overwhelmingly smoky. (But it still had a nice smoky flavor.) And it was served with a great pint of Guinness and some warm brown bread. Great meal at the end of a long day.

Runner up favorite dishes:
1. Autumn Scene at Next (Childhood).

2. Roasted lamb chops eaten during a private luncheon in Morocco. I'm still dreaming about this dish...they were nothing special to look at. In fact, I saw them & thought, "How can anyone let something that looks like this leave the kitchen?" They looked overdone and fatty. And then I proceeded to help myself to seconds. And thirds. And would have had fourths if it hadn't been uncouth. Perfectly cooked meat + the crunch of well-sizzled fat. Mmm.

3. Brown bread ice cream + Dingle sea salt ice cream at Murphy's Ice Cream in Dublin & Killarney.

Favorite restaurant of the year: A tie between Alinea (last January) and Next Childhood. So much has been written about these two that there's little more to say about them.

Runner up favorite restaurants of the year:
1. Le Saveur du Poisson in Tangier, Morocco. A small place near the entrance to the old medina in Tangier, serving just one prix fixe menu a night (that's obviously seafood heavy). Open-air kitchen and most of the food was cooked to order. (The exception: A never-ending carafe of fresh strawberry-heavy fruit juice and a rich seafood stew that was cooking in a huge clay pot in the center of the room.) Every dish was better than the last, but highlights included homemade bread, fresh-roasted marcona almonds, a bowl of scallops & white fish in garlic butter and dessert of fresh strawberries served with raw honey, chopped almonds and barley.

2. Owen & Engine. Another board fav, so I won't go into much detail, but I've had a couple great meals here & really need to explore it more.
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I had some great meals this year, including Purple Pig, LSC, Chaihanna, Ronnies's house, but what shone for me was the one-two punch of Aroy Thai's Tom Yum with meat balls and tender beef, and the Sai Ua sausage.
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What is patriotism, but the love of good things we ate in our childhood?
-- Lin Yutang
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Great topic Ronnie! This took a while to think through, including the categories. Here are my thoughts for 2011:

Most inventive / best overall experience: Inovasi

John Des Rosiers is the most inventive chef in the area, IMHO. He's not afraid to look at ingredients and think "what if?". The menu changes regularly, and the ingredients are always treated honestly without freezing, foaming, etc. On top of that, the restaurant provides high value. Being in Lake Bluff probably scares off a lot of city dwellers, but I go there from Naperville, which is much farther, so they shouldn't be afraid. The train station is only a block away.

Best BYOB: Goosefoot

Chris Nugent's new place in Lincoln Square has only been open two weeks, but it came out hitting on all cylinders. The dishes are well thought out, full of flavor, and make you say "wow". The only other place in the running would be Schwa, but Goosefoot easily wins out because it's a much more refined restaurant commensurate with the food.

Best Classical Restaurant: Restaurant Michael

This was a tough call for me. While some people see this style of cooking as old fashioned, I see it as the benchmark that every chef should aspire to. It takes a helluva lot of skill to make this stuff. Michael Lachowitz has shown that he has mastered that skill. Year in and year out, this is the one place in the area that consistently delivers classic French cuisine. Like Inovasi, the suburban location scares away city folks, but again the train station is only a block away.

Best casual dining: HB Home Bistro

This category could be a lot of different places. For me, it's HB. The folks are fun, starting with Joncarl Lachman, and the food is good and always delivers. The BYOB helps a lot as well. It's a fun neighborhood too.

Best Mexican cuisine: Dorado

OK, Dorado is more Mexican-French fusion than pure Mexican. But Chef Luis Perez really does it right. The dishes really do a great job in merging traditional French primary ingredients with Mexican flavors / sauces. It's BYOB too (see a pattern here?).

Best fast food: Superdawg

Enough said!
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John Danza
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my favorites:

- Commanders Palace (NOLA) - The Pig and the Peach, & the Shrimp & Tasso Hennecin were fantastic with bold flavors and great textures.. The service was also impeccable.
- Restaurant August (NOLA) - fantastic lunch of fried brussel sprouts, a crab and citrus salad and a black garlic pasta dish. The amuse was also excellent. Great service as well
- Cochon (NOLA) - Rustic and hearty... Rabbit and dumplings were great as wwas the louisiana cochon dish. Watermelon pickles were a revelation.
- Galatoire's (NOLA) - Eggs benedict topped with lump crab and the crab maison were over the top as far as flavor and richness. Loved Galatoires.
- Girl & Goat (Chicago) - the first Chicago entry on my list.. Not all the dishes I have had @ G & G the handfull of times I have been there have been great.. However the Goat, Pork & Veal Sugo I had there was as good as it gets. Basic and rustic & a dish that I think about quite often. Also reminded me that with food less is more.
- Cochon Butcher (NOLA) - The duck pastrami as well as their house cured meats were fantastic. As good as an Italian sub as I have had anywhere
- Wells Bros. Pizza (Racine, WI.) - Definitely lived up to the praise on the board and elesewhere. This may be the best pizza in the U.S. imho
- Illinois River Valley Fried Chicken (IRV) - With Rip's in Ladd, Verruchi's in Spring Valley, Mark O's in Mark, Cherry Supper CLub in Cherry, Wedron Office in Wedron, Johns North Star in LaSalle, this area is a hotbed for fried chicken.
- family owned meat markets and sausage makers (Various) - Johnnies - Davenport, IA.(Iowa pork and great brats), Inboden's - Dekalb, IL. (Great brats & pork), Gepperths - Chicago, (fantastic service, nice marrow bones), Wurst KItchen, AUrora, IL. (are their uber garlic the best brats around??), Ream's - Elburn (great sausage, but full service as well), Country Village Meats - Sublette, IL. - (perhaps the best pork I have bought from a butcher), Polancics - Ottawa, IL. - (great beef). Thank Jah for places like these, they allow a working class family like mine to eat some of the best pork/meat around for a fair price.
- Longman & Eagle (Chicago) - Another Chicago spot I have had a couple great dishes at and a couple bombs.. The great ones were the peeky toe crab eggs benedict & their bone marrow dish.
- Maudes (Chicago) - I got hooked on bone marrow obviously this past year, Maudes knocked out a top notch version. ALso a powerfull mezcal Old Fashioned was had here.
- Langomarcino's - (Moline, IL.) - Really got hooked on this spot about 90 minutes from Gods Country. Old Tyme service and product. I really liked the hot fudge and the turtle sundae.
- Packinghouse Dining Co. (Galesburg, IL.) - The house made cinnamon rolls are marvelous. They even offer these rolls as a dessert in sundae form.
- Toon's (Chicago) - Specifially the crawfish boils. I did 2 this past year and hope to do more in 2012, always great bugs.

2011 was a kind year.
Last edited by jimswside on December 29th 2011, 1:18pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Telling stories and forgetting time.....

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John Danza wrote:Great topic Ronnie!

Well, there's one every year. I just happened to start it this time around.

Great lists so far. I plan on mining them for 2012.

=R=
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"When you’re young, it’s all fillet steak. But as you get older, you have to move onto the cheaper cuts..." --M. Gustave

I just wanna live until I gotta die. I know I ain't perfect but God knows I try --Todd Snider

Twitter: ronniesuburban
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BEST OF 2011

Sable:


nsxtasy wrote:We had dinner at Sable again a week ago and it was one of the best dinners I've had in the past year. Just about everything was absolutely delicious; this time, standouts included the corned beef reuben strudel, the pistachio duck sausage, the sweet corn creme brulee, and the orange-buttermilk panna cotta. The service is reliably great too, with enthusiastic servers who are knowledgeable about the food as well as the craft cocktails. Sable has rapidly become one of my favorite restaurants, where I can count on memorable food, meal after meal. The reasonable price is just icing on the cake, but it makes the decision to return an easy one.

Deleece:

nsxtasy wrote:We ate dinner at Deleece this past Monday evening. I don't usually post a detailed report on a restaurant when I've already done so about a previous visit, so I'll just touch on a few highlights.

This dinner was every bit as outstanding as our previous visits. This time there were five of us, and my friends who were there for the first time - two from out of town, and one local - were absolutely thrilled with it. Two dishes deserve special mention. I really enjoyed the warm onion tart with caramelized onions, goat cheese, pine nuts, rosemary, dates, and balsamic reduction; it was a perfect blend of flavors. And four days later, my companion is still raving about the albacore tuna with baby bok choy, shiitakes, cashews, roasted garlic, sweet potato fritters, and lemongrass-chili aioli. All the other dishes were excellent as well.

This was our first visit to their new location at 3747 N. Southport. It's very nice - more spacious as well as bigger. I can't really compare noise levels because it wasn't very busy on Monday and our previous visit was New Year's Eve, but the spaciousness should help (and as noted above, I never found the old location overly noisy anyway).

This relative unknown neighborhood gem is a place where I've loved everything I've been served, dish after dish, visit after visit.

Maybe you had what we had - a chocolate sampler consisting of a small slice of flourless chocolate cake, two small chocolate French macaroons, and chocolate pot de crème. Spectacular, indeed!

Note: I also ate at Deleece for New Year's Eve 2010 (first post in the same topic as the above quote). It didn't quite make it into 2011, but if it had, it too would have been one of the best meals of the year.

Michael (no 2011 posts, sorry - went there in May and loved it; I've posted on other dinners there in this topic. I'll be dining there this Saturday so I may come back and update this post) EDIT 1/1/12 - New Year's Eve dinner was once again fantastic. They were slammed and service was off slightly, but the food was phenomenal. The best dish was the opening lobster and foie gras ravioli, yet another demonstration of how Michael has the best foie preparations in Chicagoland. The entrée of filet of beef tenderloin en croute had a light mushroom mousse between the outer crust and the amazingly tender er... tenderloin, which was reminiscent of the style from Michael's former place, Le Francais. And dessert consisted of maybe the best marjolaine and praline chocolate souffle you'll find anywhere. Bravo!

Le Titi de Paris:

nsxtasy wrote:I've been to Le Titi de Paris several times in the past couple of years. Most recently I had dinner there a week and a half ago, on Saturday night (Jan 29). I thought it was superb in every possible way. I went there in part because they were participating in the Restaurant Week promotion from Chicago, with three courses for $29.11. (As it happens, they offer a similar menu on an ongoing basis Sundays through Thursdays for $32.) Everything I had was fantastic! The "Maine Lobster and Peeky Toe Crab Galette, Creamed Leeks and Organic Red Chard, Rouille Sauce" was just superb, nicely flavored and brimming with seafood. The "Sautéed Sea Scallops with Creamy Garden Pumpkin, Parmesan and Scallion Risotto, Champagne Chive Sauce" were also excellent. I loved the "Trilogy of Desserts: Tahitian Scented Crème Brulée, Bittersweet Chocolate Gateau & Raspberry Sorbet". And the complimentary sorbet intermezzo (ruby red grapefruit, IIRC) was another nice touch. Our server, Pepe, was very knowledgeable as well as having an enthusiastic and humorous personality, the kind of combination I remember fondly from Le Francais back in the day, just adding to the perfect upscale restaurant experience. So the entire experience was superb, the equal of most of the best restaurants in the Chicago area. Furthermore, this dinner would have been a great value at twice the price; for $29.11, it was a steal!

Campagnola:

nsxtasy wrote:Last night I had another wonderful dinner at Campagnola. The soup (butternut squash) and salad (butter lettuce) were very good, the braised short rib was one of the best around, but what really blew me away was their vanilla bean bread pudding. I think it was the best bread pudding I've ever had.

You don't hear much about Campagnola around here - nothing in the past three years, as you can see - but it's the epitome of a great neighborhood restaurant (to coin a phrase :wink: ), turning out high-quality food at an affordable price, a place you can drop in and they make you feel right at home.

GT Fish:

nsxtasy wrote:We had lunch at GT Fish & Oyster today and really, really liked it. We ordered four dishes and all four were big hits.

We started with the clam chowder, served in a Ball jar, and it was excellent, with a great balance among the three flavors: clams, bacon, and spices. Next was the crab cake, which was unusual in shape (rectangular and long) and exactly what a crab cake should be - loaded with crab, with very little filler added. It's one of the best in Chicago. We then had the scallops, two large sea scallops done exactly as we requested ("cooked through"), accompanied by a couple of slices of great "candied bacon" and served over pureed acorn squash. Our final dish was the mussels, which were excellent - perfectly cooked (tender and moist, not at all rubbery), nice sized (larger than many), and bursting with flavor. I am sometimes leery of ordering mussels in a tomato sauce (especially a relatively spicy one like theirs) because the sauce can overwhelm the flavor of the mussels, but at GT Fish the flavor of the mussels stood up quite well. These were some of the best mussels anywhere.

The service (Frankie) was excellent and knowledgeable; he was very helpful by advising us about the menu (including its progression from lighter dishes to heavier ones) and the portion sizes ("small plates", although the mussels portion was quite generous). The room was very pleasant and quite elegant (NOT overly noisy, even though it was almost full the entire time we were there).

The only oddity was one item on the menu - the king crab legs. We were told that it consisted of an 8-10 ounce portion size and the price was $42. I asked to confirm that I heard correctly, as the price and portion seemed way out of whack. I otherwise might have ordered them, but, well...

Anyway, we had a delightful lunch and it made us want to return soon to try it for dinner. Great place.

Piccolo Sogno (no 2011 posts, sorry - went there in May and October and loved it both times)

Honorable Mention: Naha, Han 202, Inovasi, Bluette

Best brunch: Shaw's Crab House:

nsxtasy wrote:Yesterday I had brunch at Shaw's Crab House in River North. Theirs is an all-you-can-eat buffet brunch. You can see the menu here.

CrazyC's praise, above, was right on target. Assuming you're in the mood for seafood for brunch, I thought their buffet was GREAT. Shaw's, of course, is one of our best seafood restaurants. One of the big problems with many buffets is the freshness of the food; the food needs to be replenished frequently to be eaten at its best, without having a chance to sit around and get soggy. The Shaw's buffet was excellent in this regard. All of the items were extremely fresh, and seemed about the same quality as when they are made to order.

I didn't try everything, but here are comments about the items I did try, starting with the breakfast items. Their bacon - brown sugar and pepper cured, and thick sliced - was terrific, one of the best I've had anywhere. The scrambled eggs were very good, albeit conventional. The French toast was rather dry until you put syrup or bananas Foster on it. I also liked the mini malted Belgian waffles. I didn't try the create-your-own omelet, but for those who are interested, this is one of the only breakfast buffets I've seen where there was no line of people waiting for their omelets to be custom made to order.

What makes this buffet, though, is the seafood dishes! Their Maryland-style crab cakes are among the best anywhere, and the mini versions on the buffet were up to their usual high standards. Their lobster bisque is outstanding. I loved the way they served the Alaskan king crab legs! They cut them into pieces about an inch and a half long, which made them really easy to eat - no worries about removing them from the shell, they just popped right out, and you only had to worry about removing the pieces of cartilege, which was easy. How good were they? I love Alaskan king crab, and these were terrific! The price of the buffet would be worth it even if it were only for the all-you-can-eat crab legs! I only had the hot ones, although they also had similar pieces but cold on the cold buffet. The French fried shrimp were very good, and they use the really really big shrimp. I tried the beef tenderloin and it was just okay (but I wasn't there for the beef).

The only items I had on the cold buffet were both very good - the shrimp cocktail (again, really really big shrimp) and the Duck Trap salmon pastrami. The desserts were in small portion sizes, which was nice because you could try more of them that way. I had three. Shaw's is the first place I ever had crème brulee, and theirs is still one of the best you'll find anywhere. They also had chocolate pot de crème, which was excellent, denser and more intense than most others (although this is, by its nature, a dense and intense dessert); I found it benefited from extra whipped cream topping from the waffle station. I also tried a piece of their chocolate layer cake but thought it was a bit too sweet and gooey.

So all in all, a few of the items I tried were just okay, but many of them were hits - BIG hits. The bacon, the crab cakes, the king crab legs, and the crème brulee were all absolutely superb - so good that it's surprising to find that level of quality on an all-you-can-eat buffet.

The brunch buffet isn't cheap, at $40. But for an all-you-can-eat meal with some of the best seafood (and bacon, and crème brulee) you'll find anywhere, it was a bargain. And oh yeah, children 12 and under are free (limit two per adult).

Note: This post is from 2010, but I had their brunch in Schaumburg in 2011 and all the same comments apply.

Honorable mention, brunch: M. Henry, Nightwood, Southport Grocery, Walker Brothers

Best cheap eats: Edzo's:

nsxtasy wrote:I ate there today, and had my usual flame broiled burger. Yum! I got the regular fries, and they were somewhat on the salty side, but otherwise very good. The shakes - oh, the shakes! I had a vanilla malt. They had three special shake flavors today: salted caramel, mexican chocolate, and a third one I forget. They also offered three different upgrades on the meat in the burgers: Tallgrass (from Kansas), Shlagel (from Illinois), and a third one from Illinois whose name I forget but contained a three-letter acronym. (I know, with my inability to remember three things, I'm starting to sound like a certain politician! :) ) Edzo's is such a very special place!

Incidentally, I was somewhat surprised to find virtually all the tables occupied despite the hour (around 1:30). Based on the crowd, that appears to depend on whether or not Northwestern is in session.

Best meals outside of the Chicago area: La Belle Vie, Minneapolis; Christian's Bistro, Stevens Point; Lorena's, Maplewood; Per Se, New York; Fountain, Philadelphia

EDIT: I see some folks have mentioned bakeries, which I love going to and trying out. My favorites in the Chicago area, almost all of which I visited in 2011: Three Tarts Bakery in Northfield, Gourmet Frog in Highwood, Floriole in Chicago/Lincoln Park, Vanille Patisserie in Chicago/Clybourn Corridor and Chicago/Loop-French Market, Alliance Bakery in Chicago/Wicker Park, Fox & Obel in Chicago/River East, Swedish Bakery in Chicago/Andersonville, Gerhard's in Lake Forest, Toni Patisserie in Hinsdale and Chicago/Loop, and Fritz Pastry in Chicago/Lakeview. Outside the Chicago area: Patisserie 46 in Minneapolis.
Last edited by nsxtasy on January 1st 2012, 11:06am, edited 5 times in total.
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My top 5 restaurants of 2011

1. Edzo's Burger Shop
2. MarketHouse
3. Nightwood
4. Union Sushi + Barbecue Bar
5. Cafe Spiaggia

My top 10 dishes of 2011 in no particular order (excluding those from the aforementioned restaurants)

Austrian Bakery – Rum Ball
Table Fifty-Two – Jalapeno Bacon Cornbread
Scooter's Frozen Custard – Holiday Peanut Butter and Pretzel Concrete
Delightful Pastries – Butternut Squash Bisque with Seeded Sourdough Bread
David Burke's Primehouse – 55 Day Dry Aged Ribeye
Hemmingway's Bistro – Mango Grand Marnier Souffle
RIA – Beef short rib topped with bone marrow
Spacca Napoli – Bianca con Bufala e Rucola pizza
Big Star – Ensalada de Big Star
Sable – Lemon Buttermilk Panna Cotta
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Last edited by Jefe on December 31st 2011, 8:49am, edited 2 times in total.
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Jefe wrote:Alright, forgot a few, restricted myself to Chicagoland in my prior post, so beyond Chicagoland . . .

Yeah, I only posted Chicago-area restaurant food and nothing else, so I may come back with a few more.

It's great to see lists from beyond Chicagoland.

=R=
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zoid wrote:Lamb chops were the stand out dish of the night. Just perfect. The tangy sauce and the golden beets were such a great combo I'd order just a dish of those.
We talked about this dish the entire drive home.
Image


Lamb chops at Lure were easily the best thing I ate all year. At $9.00 this is likely one of the best taste to price ratios to be had in Chicago.
I can't figure out why this place is not packed night after night; if it closes for lack of business it'll be a black eye for Chicago dining in my opinion.
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2011 has been good to me as far as dining goes. Ive had a lot of good meals but the one thing that i had and cannot get out of my mind was the corn soup from Graham Elliot's. It was garnished with a vanilla marshmallow, spiny lobster, coquito nut, and tarragon.... fantastic! 2011 also got me hooked on Lavazza cappuccinos from the French market :D
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No particular order & I can't ever stop at 10 items.

Al Bawadi:
Motawma

Floriole:
Kouign Aman

Great Lake:
Chard Pizza

Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafter:
Craquelin
Croissant

Hoosier Mama Pie
Apple Pie

Lao Hunan:
Jade Tofu
#622 Crispy Chili Eggplant

Old Town Social
Veggie Burger
Onion Rings
Seasonal Pickles & NA Seasonal Drinks from the kitchen, not the bar

Nhu Lan
#11 Lemongrass Tofu

Pasticceria Natalina -RIP
Cannolo

Sun Wah
Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

Outside of Chicagoland

Lotus of Siam, Las Vegas, NV
Someone familiar with the restaurant ordered and it was fantastic. Definitely worth it to get off of the strip and very easy to do.
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We were broke this year, plus we were restricted by having a rambunctious toddler in tow.

Lao Hunan - famous Hunan chilies. Many standouts there, but this is the one dish we crave.

Cai - sweet egg yolk buns.

Nhu Lan - shrimp and pork sausage sandwich.

Scooter's - peanut butter pretzel concrete.

Lambert's (Sikeston, MO) - hog jowls. Lambert's has always been, to me, a convenient stop on our way to Texas, decent food but more importantly a good place for the kid to run around a little. My plate of hog jowls changed that. It was the bacon I've always desired but never been able to find - thick, chewy, rich with fat.

Pastoral - nutty fig sandwich. Goat cheese, apples, fig compote, and almond butter (sub a baguette, please).

Bop-N-Grill - Umami burger.
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pairs4life wrote:Floriole:
Kouign Aman


So glad you mentioned this because I'd been hunting for kouign aman in another thread!
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Best Meal: Charlier Trotter's. I had the all vegetable menu. We went back here after many years, and with many saying Trotter's was no longer in the forfront of the cooking scene. I beg to differ as it was, for my taste, a phenomenal meal.

Best ethnic/mom and pop type of place: Birrieria Zaragoza. Been meaning to get here for ever and it exceeded expectations. Not only is the got exceptional, but I'd go just for the quesedillas made out of their handmade tortillas with the salsa in the molcajete.

Most exciting overall dining experience: Lunch at Ruca Malen, a winery outside Mendoza, Argentina. A five course lunch, with six wines, in a pavillion in the middle of a vinyard, with the snow-capped Andes in the background. Really a fantasy meal. (Having visiting and tasted at two wineries before lunch may have helped a bit.)

Best "I'm still hip at 56 meal": This would be ElIdeas because the food was great and the atmosphere was both formal and friendly. The only other competition would be Girl and the Goat, and while I very much liked the food there, it was noisy and not nearly as nice a place to savor great food.

Jonah
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ronnie_suburban wrote:
Jefe wrote:Alright, forgot a few, restricted myself to Chicagoland in my prior post, so beyond Chicagoland . . .

Yeah, I only posted Chicago-area restaurant food and nothing else, so I may come back with a few more.

It's great to see lists from beyond Chicagoland.

=R=



In no particular order:

Food:

1. Confit goat belly, The Girl & the Goat, Chicago. Tender goat belly served with bourbon butter, lobster, crab, and fennel.
2. Coconut, Next, Thailand menu, Chicago: An empty coconut. One half filled with coconut sorbet. Egg pudding, coconut ice, saffron noodles, candied lime, licorice tapioca, star anise syrup, in the other.
3. Jamon iberico, The Office, Chicago. Thin slices of Spanish jamon from acorn-fed pigs, served on a ceramic "volcano" with votive candles underneath, to heat up the glistening fat of the jamon. Perfect pan con tomate, and marcona almonds.
4. Square pizza slice with semi-sundried tomatoes, Di Fara, NYC. Twice baked crust, dense, rich, flavorful. Vegetarians beware! Dom uses a simmered, meat-based sauce with pancetta on his square pies. The crust and the edges of the pan achieve a wonderful harmony, oozing with mozzarella and fresh basil. We fight over the corner slices, even when they are too hot to eat.
5. Goat cheese grits, Odd Duck Truck, Austin. Creamy, cheesy grits served with a poached duck egg, perfect wild mushrooms, and grilled turnip. Outside, at a picnic table, in March, sitting in a parking lot, with Christmas lights strewn about and children running around. Ambitious, 100% local, sustainable, creative small plates, all from a food truck? Yes, indeed.
6. Basil dessert, Uchi, Austin. Take your typical caprese salad, and turn it into dessert. I had flashbacks of Alinea while eating it. Savory granita? Sure thing. Basil semifreddo, roasted tomato granita, olive oil ice cream, olive oil short bread, pine nuts, and pine nut syrup with kiwi seeds.
7. Belly, avocado, radish bun, Momofuku Ssam Bar, NYC. Pork belly scraps, pressed into a square, fried. Served on a fluffy white mantao bun (he yeh bao/taco style), with smoked mayo, pickled radish, a slice of ripe avocado, fresh Thai basil.
8. Capt'n J, Shopsin's, NYC: fried chicken, scrambled eggs, in a macaroni-and-cheese pancake sandwich. Smothered in their housemade hot sauce and some grade A maple syrup. Eat, then nap.
9. White truffle, Eleven Madison Park, NYC. Shavings of white truffle done table side, served on fontina tortellini, crispy chestnut slices, with chestnut puree. Then again, how could this be bad?
10. Deep-fried coriander bacon, Fatty Cue, NYC. 1/2 lb of bacon, deep fried to just the right balance of crispy/chewy, served with a sweet & spicy salsa verde, with lots of cilantro and green curry.

Cocktails:

1. Blueberry, The Aviary, Chicago. Templeton Rye, Carpano Antica vermouth, verjus, fresh blueberries, dried blueberries, pomegranate seeds, sliced strawberries, grapefruit peel, fresh mint, Berry Meritage tea (a blend of raisins, rose hips, hibiscus and currants), vanilla. Angostura bitters, orange bitters. The infusion that changes over time. I'm not sure I can think about spirit infusions the same way ever again.
2. Sarsaparilla Springs, Big Star, Chicago. Buffalo Trace bourbon and Sprecher root beer. Simple, delicious.
3. Truffle, The Aviary, Chicago. A classic Negroni, served with a slice of black truffle. Fragrant. Delicious. Unforgettable. You might think you dislike Negronis. Our friend thought she didn't like them, then she tried this cocktail.
4. The Waldorf #2, Haddington's, Austin. Straight apple brandy, nocino, celery bitters, stirred, over ice. A liquid version of the salad. Surprisingly good.
5. Devil's Mustache, Haddington's, Austin. Mescal, cynar, lime, orange bitters. Smoky and herbal and refreshing. I don't even like cynar, usually.
6. Chupacabra, Fatty Cue, NYC. Tequila, chili-infused domaine de canton, fresh watermelon, lime. Refreshing, with a slow burn.
7. Dr. Fuku, Momofuku Ssam Bar, NYC. White rum, lime, pineapple, pomegranate, passion fruit, absinthe. These things should not work together, but they do.
8. Left Hand, Milk & Honey, NYC. Bourbon, sweet vermouth, campari, chocolate bitters. Now I want to put chocolate bitters in everything.
9. Meridian Daiquiri, Death & Co, NYC. Linie aquavit, Scarlet Ibis rum, lime, pineapple, ginger syrup, muddled cardamom, lemon wheels.
10. Grass Kilt, Death & Co, NYC. Coconut green tea-infused Famous Grouse scotch, fresh lemon juice, fresh pineapple juice, housemade acacia honey syrup, cinnamon bark syrup.
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kathryn wrote:8. Capt'n J, Shopsin's, NYC: fried chicken, scrambled eggs, in a macaroni-and-cheese pancake sandwich. Smothered in their housemade hot sauce and some grade A maple syrup. Eat, then nap.


Did Kenny change his maple syrup? He famously uses grade B. Also, this reminds me that I need to get to Shopsin's...
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tangela wrote:
kathryn wrote:8. Capt'n J, Shopsin's, NYC: fried chicken, scrambled eggs, in a macaroni-and-cheese pancake sandwich. Smothered in their housemade hot sauce and some grade A maple syrup. Eat, then nap.


Did Kenny change his maple syrup? He famously uses grade B. Also, this reminds me that I need to get to Shopsin's...


The cookbook calls for warmed B grade syrup, but at the actual restaurant, you're given an individual sealed mini bottle of grade A dark.
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I had a lot of great food this year, not all of it in restaurants, thanks to a lot of foodie friends -- and the LTH picnic. But for food in restaurants, the things that really stand out for me are as follows:

Locally:
Bouillabaisse at Le Titi de Paris
Duck confit, mushroom, and foie gras strudel; saddle of venison at Restaurant Michael.
Most of what I tried at Silk Mandarin
(I'm sure I'm forgetting things, but years start to run together after a while)

Just remembered (and editing to add) -- pickled watermelon, pickled vegetables, sausage soup, and "sour spinach" (i.e., sorrel) soup at Chaihanna.

Charleston, SC
shrimp and grits; she-crab soup at Hominy Grill
tomato pie at Dixie Supply Bakery and Café
fried green tomatoes several places, but especially at Jim & Nick's Bar-b-q
she-crab soup at 82 Queen

By no means all I ate, but certainly highlights.
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Every year Mr. Pie and I make lists of our favorite/least favorite movies of the year. This year I'm to make a list of food/restaurants/food-related experiences.

I couldn't remember my favorites of 2011 because I didn't write them down or keep the receipts once my credit card bill arrived. But what immediately springs to mind is everything at Libertad (mentioned on the Libertad thread), the ye-shrimp tibs at Demera Ethiopian, the herbal chicken and lemon icebox pie at Miss Lee's and coconut cream pie and blackberry salad dressing at Fat Willy's Rib Shack.

Next year I'll post the full list. :wink:
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