Our wonderful city is filled with many tasty options when dining out. 2012 was a year of many highly anticipated restaurant openings. However, it made it pretty difficult to choose my favorites. When putting this list together, I selected a variety of different items that stood out (in no particular order). Perhaps this list will inspire you to try a new restaurant in 2013!
Every experience I have had at Yusho is nothing but exemplary (see my post Chicago - Meet Your Tokyo). Chef Matthias Merges delivers dishes that may seem simple, but once you take that first bite, it is anything but. One good example is the Hama Hama Oyster, which is occasionally a menu special served in a variety of preparations. My favorite is with English pea and Hijiki (a brown sea vegetable growing wild on rocky coastlines around Japan, Korea, and China). The bite was refreshing and deserving of slurping of the juice off the oyster!
Chef Bill Kim’s signature flavors shine through in his take on Asian BBQ at his latest offering, bellyQ (see my post Belly Full of Goodness). One of the signature features of the restaurant is the built-in grilling table. You can grill your own or have the kitchen grill any of the items. Each Grilled Succulence item is served with jasmine rice to soak up the flavors. My favorite is the Banana Leaf Wrapped Salmon. The fish is perfectly cooked and contrasted with cabbage, cucumber, and onion.
La Sirena Clandestina
Chef John Manion’s new venture, La Sirena Clandestina, was on my must-try list for awhile. Every dish was solid. The Latin flavors took on a modern twist, reminding me of some of my favorite restaurants in Puerto Vallarta. His seafood dishes are executively beautifully, but his version of risotto, done with coconut and cilantro, was spot on and every bite was luxurious.
While I will not be able to travel to Spain anytime soon, I feel like I come pretty close at Vera (see my post Chicago’s Passport to Spain). The husband and wife team of Chef Mark Mendez and Elizabeth Mendez graciously welcome you into their “home” every time, with delightful bites and drink. My favorite dish, hands down, would have to be the lobster paella. It is the best paella I had in Chicago and makes for even tasty leftovers for breakfast!
You cannot go wrong with any dish Chef Jared Van Camp creates at Nellcôte (see my post Excessively Simple), from pizzas and pastas using in-house milled flour to magical plates such as the Burrata and Sea Urchin. The dish is served with baby artichokes, radish, and bagna càuda (a warm dip typical of Piedmont, Italy) and is pure heaven - the only way I could describe it.
The Boarding House
The Boarding House was one of the most anticipated openings for me this year. Proprietor and Master Sommelier Alpana Singh, kept us all salivating with Facebook posts and tweets, that I quickly made a reservation for opening week. Let me tell you, it did not disappoint. Every dish I ordered was executed just right. Of all the dishes I tried, the lobster poutine was my favorite. When you think of poutine, you think the dish is heavy in nature. This lobster poutine was quite the opposite. The sauce was more like a broth, which contrasted well with the cheese curds and Maine lobster. Absolutely delightful.
Balena is the latest offering from The Bristol’s team, which is now part of The Boka Group. Chef Chris Pandel and Pastry Chef Amanda Rockman deliver simple, but thoughtful Italian fare. The dish that I still dream about is the squid ink pasta - Tagliolini nero with crab, sea urchin, and chili. The best version of squid ink pasta - hands down.
RM Champagne Salon
I refer to RM Champagne Salon (see my post An Intoxicating Experience) as my favorite place to indulge and get whisked away for a few hours. Whether it is for a unique glass of bubbly being poured, small delightful savory bites, or Chef Nate Meads dreamy sweets. It is rare to find a good soufflé these days, but Chef Nate’s soufflés have ended my search. In addition to a traditional flavor like chocolate, he offers unique flavors such as pumpkin and honey crisp apple. Not sure what flavor to get? Request a small trio of three to handle that indecision!
I think Floriole makes it on my list every year because chef/owner Sandra Holl continues to experiment with new flavors and combinations (see my post More Than Just a Bakery). My love for sweets and coffee is known by many, so it should not be a surprise why I chose their coffee eclair. It was so popular for their August pastry of the month, that they occasionally will bring it back. Filled with Intelligentisia Black Cat Espresso bean and topped with an espresso fondant, how could any sweet tooth resist?
Katherine Anne Confections
Katherine Anne Confections started selling at farmers markets and specialty markets, before opening a storefront this year in Logan Square. All of Katherine Duncan’s truffles are the best I have ever had, but it is her hot chocolate that blows it out of the water. Granted, her hot chocolate is probably worth a meal in itself. (By the way, it is said that only 7% of her customers finish her hot chocolate in one sitting. Being the sweet tooth that I am, I am part of that 7%. Good thing staying in shape is part of what I do for a living!) It is definitely worth every sip. She has a great selection of flavors and it comes with an option of whipped cream or her house marshmallows.