In usual fashion, January for me is a month of reflection on the past year. In particular the past year of dining. Chicago had 6 chefs represent the city on Top Chef, the winner of which will be announced in the upcoming weeks. The Chicago Gourmet festival was touted as more organized and food-focused than ever before. The Michelin Guide put out updated ratings for 2011, and I didn't read one review that agreed full-heartedly in their decisions. And what does that say? People here have strong opinions about their food, and care about the restaurant scene. Chicago is now more than ever a culinary mecca. And I'm starting to think 2012 will be even better.
So what were my favorites of 2011? Here I give you my list of Top 11 Dining Favorites of 2011. In order to make this list I must have dined at the restaurant in 2011. Some restaurants return to this list, signaling they're standing the test of time. And others were added as new favorite discoveries.
11) Leopold (reviewed here):: I fell in love with Leopold's classy hipster atmosphere, but even more so, the Belgian style favorites such as mussels, frites and a Belgian ale simply hit the spot.
10) Karyn's on Green (reviewed here):: Karyn is the magician in this mix. To take delicious dishes and turn them vegan is a true form of art. I was inspired by the crab cakes, and amazed by the gelato. I’d love to take a vegan non-believer here and turn their world upside down.
9) La Madia (reviewed here):: I’m a little ashamed to admit how many times I went to La Madia this year. Ok, I’m not. At least six. That’s saying a lot considering I have a pension for trying new restaurants. I just can’t help myself- the cracked egg and prosciutto pizza calls my name, along with the six-hour roasted grapes, and I just can’t refuse. I turn to La Madia for girls night, date night, casual lunch, or group dinner.
8) The Publican:: The Publican does it again. With Chef Kahn still behind the meat cleaver, this pig-mania isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. A friend and I split the ridiculous bacon one brunch, and I swear it popped up in one of my dreams.
7) The Purple Pig:: Another pig-tastic experience! Pig ears, bone marrow, and milk braised pork shoulder all shine. With a superior wine list, great location and outdoor patio, I'm looking forward to many more meals here.
6) Vera (reviewed here):: has the best sherry in town. By far. And they’ve even nailed the often overlooked bread and butter. I’d go back to sit at the cheese and charcuterie bar, and stay a while to enjoy the wine and sherry. I see big things for this little neighborhood gem.
5) Maude's Liquor Bar (reviewed here):: is like your hip older sister you strive to resemble. She’s so cool inside you expect the food to just be mediocre, to fall into that trap of having the wrong kind of experts on the team. But then you have a drink, and you have a bite, and any qualms go out the window. If only every hip Parisian parlor could be this great.
4) Terzo Piano (reviewed here):: will be one of my all-time Chicago favorites as long as the sun still shines. The chic modern décor, and gorgeous city backdrop all become periphery to the plates Chef Meg Colleran creates. Whether a leisurely lunch, refined dinner, or fun cooking class, I’ve recommended Terzo Piano more times than any other Chicago restaurant.
3) Avec:: The quintessential restaurant for Chicago foodies to know. Even a full out fire can’t stop Koren Grieveson and team put together a remarkable menu, rustic fare, and just downright delicious food.
2) Davanti Enoteca (reviewed here):: I still can recall the taste of the pate as it's the closest to my grandmother’s I’ve ever tasted. If I was a betting woman, I’d bet Davanti will reappear on this list next year. The laid-back atmosphere, exceptional Italian small plates, and friendly service transport you to the hillsides of Italy.
1) Graham Elliot:: Graham Elliot blew my socks off. Perhaps it was the fact we were celebrating two special occasions that night (our anniversary and a great job change for the husband), or the fact we were invited to tour the kitchen and do a shot of sorbet concoction with the chefs, but it was definitely the most special dining experience I had all year. Flawless execution on multiple courses, including foie gras with pop rocks. To do the drink pairings here is well worth the price tag – I never knew how much depth a drink could bring to a dish until Graham Elliot.Coming soon, my Dining Wishlist for 2012.
P.S. ~ My Dining Favorites of 2010.