Best Bites

Best Bites: Focaccia French toast & eggs in purgatory, Coda di Volpe

Focaccia french toast, Coda di Volpe

Focaccia french toast with Nutella whipped cream, candied orange syrup, and buffalo butter

Why it’s a Best Bite: I tend to adore Italian-influenced brunch, so this newcomer to the Southport Corridor seemed worthy of a visit. Coda di Volpe excelled equally in the sweet and savory realms, which is not an easy feat. On the sweet side, the focaccia French toast was dense and decadent in the best way. Each substantial slice of focaccia was topped with buffalo’s milk butter and a scoop of Nutella whipped cream, plus candied orange syrup and hazelnuts on the plate as accompaniments. It was a fantastic (and rich) combination of flavors.

Eggs in purgatory and classic bellini, Coda di Volpe

Eggs in Purgatory with baked eggs, spicy tomato, provola, polenta cake, and fennel sausage; and classic bellini with white peach and prosecco

On the savory side, the eggs in purgatory were sizzling in both spiciness and temperature. I loved every part of this dish, from the polenta to the sausage to the baked eggs bathed in tomato sauce. To quench the heat, I sipped a refreshing bellini of prosecco and white peach.

Our table also shared an order of bomboloni with three dipping sauces. The dough itself was slightly less sweet, so the orange, grape, and chocolate sauces were more necesssary for balance.

Bomboloni, Coda di Volpe

Bomboloni with candied orange syrup, chocolate sauce, and concord grape jam

The details: Coda di Volpe, 3335 N. Southport Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites

2016 in Review: 20 more of Chicago’s Best Bites

To wrap up the year, I’ve chosen 20 more Chicago dishes and drinks – some old favorites, some new discoveries – that I didn’t have the chance to blog about in 2016. View year-end recaps from 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.

BRUNCH:

Best overall brunch dish

Black pepper spaetzle, Lula Cafe

Black pepper spaetzle with winter squash, maitake mushroom, creme fraiche, gruyere, black walnut pesto, and fried egg, Lula Café

Unsurprisingly, Lula Café is showing up on my year-end list for the fourth year in a row. Of all the brunch specials that I’ve sampled there, this was one of the best, and certainly the heartiest. Earthy mushroom, sweet delicata squash, cheesy noodles, and a lacy-edged fried egg – I could have stayed tucked into that bowl all morning.

Best use of avocado

Avocado toast, Siena Tavern

Avocado toast with heirloom tomato, crispy prosciutto, watermelon radish, smoked paprika, and poached eggs, Siena Tavern

I’m always looking for great renditions of avocado toast, so I had to try Siena Tavern’s version during a late-summer patio brunch. Shards of prosciutto and thin fans of watermelon radish made it both tasty and beautiful.

Best innovation at a second location

Fancy grits and biscuit, Bang Bang Pie

Fancy grits with cheddar grits, smoked collard greens, poached egg, and hot sauce, plus biscuit with butter and jam, Bang Bang Pie

I’d been to the original Bang Bang Pie in Logan Square multiple times, but hadn’t yet tried the slightly different menu in the newer Ravenswood location. The flaky biscuit with butter and jam was just as excellent, and the grits with smoky greens were a nice surprise.

MAINS:

Most surprising favorite at a much-anticipated restaurant

Pecan-smoked ribs, Giant

Pecan-smoked baby back ribs with bbq and baked beans, Giant

Giant is Jason Vincent’s first project since closing his beloved Nightwood restaurant, so it was met with great anticipation from the Chicago food community. I knew I’d be wowed by some innovative smaller plates, which I was, but didn’t expect my favorite dish to be enormous, gleefully sticky barbecue ribs.

Best (and richest) noodles

Slap noodles, Duck Duck Goat

Slap noodles with shrimp, goat sausage, eggplant, and mushroom, Duck Duck Goat

Another one of the biggest openings this year was Stephanie Izard’s take on Chinese food, the third in her goat restaurant trilogy (after Girl & the Goat and Little Goat). We tried a lot of things during our (very late) dinner there, but these noodles stood out for their texture and the explosion of flavors that went along with them.

Most autumnal

Caramelized pork shank, Beatrix

Caramelized pork shark with cider reduction, whipped Yukon Gold potatoes, Braeburn apples, and roasted sweet potatoes, Beatrix

The hulking size of this pork shank at Beatrix in River North belied its gentle fall flavors, with cider glaze, tender apples, and two kinds of potatoes.

Comfort food with the best view

Mary P's meatballs, Cindy's

Mary P’s meatballs with baguette, whipped ricotta, and Sunday sauce, Cindy’s

Cindy’s has my favorite view in the city, so it’s an easy pick for friends visiting from out of town (Dublin, in the case of this particular evening). Before heading outside to enjoy the skyline, we shared these satisfying meatballs, served in a rich sauce with generous dollops of ricotta.

Best miniature meal

Ahi tuna poké rice bowl, Furious Spoon

Ahi poké tuna rice bowl, Furious Spoon

On my first visit to the new Logan Square location of Furious Spoon, I wasn’t quite hungry enough to commit to a full bowl of their signature ramen (plus, it was pretty warm outside). This poké bowl was just right, in both size and ratio of fish to rice to scallions to sauce.

SIDES:

Purest expression of a single vegetable

Roasted broccoli, Parachute

Roasted broccoli with yuzu kosho and nori, Parachute

My dining companion and I agreed that this roasted, seaweed-dusted pseudo-steak was the broccoliest broccoli we’ve ever eaten. Parachute won me over long ago with its bing bread, so I wasn’t surprised to see such a unique take on an usually humble vegtable.

Most indulgent workplace snack

Spicy sesame fries, The Fat Shallot

Spicy sesame fries with spicy sesame aioli and black sesame seeds, The Fat Shallot

Whenever The Fat Shallot food truck happens to be outside my workplace (which isn’t often these days), I often can’t resist running outside just for these piping hot fries drenched in creamy, spicy sauce.

DRINKS:

Prettiest garnish

Panhandle Hook cocktail, Presidio

Panhandle Hook cocktail with rye whiskey, amaro, cinnamon, honey, and lemon, Presidio

I’d been meaning to check out this California-inspired spot in Bucktown since it opened, especially for the drinks. I already loved that it combined three of my favorite cocktail ingredients – amaro, cinnamon, and whiskey – but the wheel of blood orange put it into picturesque territory.

Menu special I most wish was permanent

Dark & Stormy slushy, Parson's Chicken & Fish

Dark & Stormy slushy, Parson’s Chicken & Fish

Parson’s Chicken & Fish is most known for its negroni slushy, but a Dark & Stormy version is offered occasionally, among other rotating specials throughout the summer. The dark rum-ginger-lime concoction is so good that I really wish they’d consider serving it all year long.

Neighborhood classic

Tamarindo margarita, El Cid II

Tamarindo margarita, El Cid II

As more and more dining destinations open in Logan Square, the hidden back garden patio at El Cid II is still a go-to for a no-frills meal. A friend first recommended this tangy tamarind margarita years ago, and I’ve never strayed since.

Best birthday beverage

Concord grape julep, Spilt Milk

Concord grape julep with Ancient Age bourbon, Pierre Ferrand 1840 cognac, concord grape juice, and fresh mint, Spilt Milk Tavern

Spilt Milk opened on my actual birthday, so it seemed like a sign to check it out for a celebratory cocktail. I was already a julep fan, and the concord grape juice made for a lovely spin on a classic.

Most refreshing summer cocktail

Negroni, Osteria Langhe

Sbagliato negroni with cappelletti, cocchi vermouth di Torino, and sparkling wine, Osteria Langhe

After a long walk on the 606 trail with my friend on a warm evening, we landed on the Osteria Langhe patio, ready for something fizzy and Italian. We got both in this ombré beverage that had the right balance of citrus and bitterness.

Best warm-up on a snowy evening

Glyph, Ampersand Wine Bar

Glyph with dark rum, maple cider, and cajun spices (served warm), Ampersand Wine Bar

I ordered this while catching up with a friend during one of this winter’s snowfalls, and it couldn’t have been a better choice. The deep spiced aroma alone was enough to warm me up.

SWEETS:

Most beautiful (and tastiest) cake

Birthday cake, Bon Vivant Cakes

Red velvet birthday cake with cookie butter buttercream, Bon Vivant Cakes

Anyone who follows Bon Vivant Cakes on Instagram knows how jaw-droppingly gorgeous these cakes are, and I was fortunate enough to see one that a friend ordered for her birthday. It tasted as good as it looked, down to the dripped chocolate ganache and buttercream frosting made from an adored indulgence: cookie butter.

Most memorable frozen treat

Millennium Perk concrete, Shake Shack

Millennium Perk concrete with vanilla custard, Intelligentsia coffee beans, marshmallow sauce, and Glazed & Infused old-fashioned donut, Shake Shack

Shake Shack is old news for my East Coast friends, but it’s still relatively new for Chicago. Whenever I take visitors to see the many of attractions of the Chicago Athletic Association hotel (see Cindy’s above), Shake Shack is usually the final stop. One of their Chicago-specific concretes has donut and coffee beans whirled into vanilla custard with marshmallow sauce to really tie together the decadence.

Best use of summer fruit

Blueberry pie, Spinning J

Blueberry pie, Spinning J

The pies at modern soda fountain Spinning J have been on my list for a while. After much deliberation, I went with a slice of the blueberry, which kept things simple enough to let the fruit really shine.

Most symbolic bite

Cubs cake pop, The Goddess & Grocer

Cubs cake pop (with bright Cubbie blue cake inside), The Goddess & Grocer

I bought this cake pop during my lunch break the day of Game 6 of the World Series. I told myself I’d wait to eat it until the Cubs won that night. They won both that night and the next, earning their first championship in 108 years. I’d like to think my cake pop promise gave Chicago a little extra luck.

Thanks for reading in 2016, and looking forward to another delicious year!

The details: Lula Café, 2537 N. Kedzie Ave.; Beatrix, 519 N Clark St.; Ampersand Wine Bar, 4845 N. Damen Ave.; Osteria Langhe, 2824 W. Armitage Ave.; Giant, 3209 W. Armitage Ave.; Bon Vivant Cakes (order online); Parachute, 3500 N. Elston Ave.; Spinning J, 1000 N. California Ave.; Spilt Milk Tavern, 2758 W. Fullerton Ave.; Siena Tavern, 51 W. Kinzie St.; Cindy’s and Shake Shack, both at Chicago Athletic Association, 12 S. Michigan Ave.; El Cid II, 2645 N. Kedzie Ave.; Duck Duck Goat, 857 W. Fulton Market; Bang Bang Pie, 4947 N. Damen Ave.; Furious Spoon, 2410 N. Milwaukee Ave.; The Fat Shallot food truck (location varies); Presidio, 1749 N. Damen Ave.; Parson’s Chicken & Fish, 2952 W. Armitage Ave.; The Goddess & Grocer, 901 N. Larrabee St.;all Chicago.

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Best Bites

Ube, mochi, and Chicago-style hot dog bun, The Bakery at Fat Rice

Ube, Bakery at Fat Rice

Ube with purple yam, coconut, and sweet dough

Why it’s a Best Bite: It’s no secret that Fat Rice is a favorite of mine for both dinner and brunch, so I was excited to check out their take on a Macanese bakery. In July, the Fat Rice team opened this daytime pastelaria along with an adjacent, red-lit cocktail lounge called The Ladies’ Room that’s reservations-only.

Birdcage lighting, The Bakery at Fat Rice

Colorful birdcage lighting

I couldn’t help but love the bakery’s decor. From the pastel-painted storefront to the vibrant birdcage light fixtures, color was everywhere – including the pastries. Cracking open my ube bun revealed a yam filling in an almost shocking shade of royal purple. Its texture contrasted nicely with the crispy coconut that formed a golden crown on top.

Anywhere else in the city, you’d expect that a breakfast pastry modeled after a Chicago-style hot dog would just be an overdone novelty, the stuff of downtown tourist traps. But here, they totally pulled it off. The poppy seeds, onion, celery salt, and bright green relish with chunks of Vienna beef hot dog brought me straight to the ballpark, just with a more elaborate bun.

Hot dog bun, Chicago-style, Bakery at Fat Rice

Hot dog bun, Chicago-style, with Vienna beef and classic fixins

I added the mochi almost as an afterthought, since I tend to enjoy it in all forms, and am grateful I did. The stretchy rice-flour exterior was flecked with coconut and then stuffed with peanut, black sesame, and other crunchy seeds. Sweet and salty doesn’t even cover it – this was borderline addictive.

Mochi, Bakery at Fat Rice

Mochi with black sesame, peanut, coconut, and seeds

The details: The Bakery at Fat Rice, 2951 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites

Best Bites: Filet, salmon tartare, key lime bar & more, Swift & Sons

8-ounce filet, Swift & Sons

8-ounce filet (and monogrammed china)

Why it’s a Best Bite: I was out of the country when Boka Restaurant Group’s splashy new steakhouse opened in the Google building, so since my return I’d been looking for an occasion to go. Chicago has more than its fair share of steak-leaning restaurants, but this one quickly rose above the rest in recent memory, mostly because of the attention to detail in both food and service.

I began with the Benevolent Philathropist, a pink peppercorn-flecked drink that blended three of my favorite cocktail ingredients: amaro, whiskey, and egg white. It was so good that I broke my usual “try something different” rule and ordered a second one with my steak.

Benevolent Philathropist cocktail, Swift & Sons

Benevolent Philathropist cocktail with whiskey, amaro, fraise des bois, lemon, egg white, and pink peppercorn

Chilled salmon tartare, Swift & Sons

Chilled salmon tartare with cucumber, crème fraîche, and charred onion

The chilled salmon tartare made a refreshing starter before the heavier dishes to come. It was almost reminiscent of a deconstructed bagel and lox, only with the purest, coolest cucumber liquid at the bottom. And then, the steak. My 8-ounce filet was cooked to a beautiful medium rare, and while it could have stood on its own without any sauces, I’m so glad it didn’t. The steak sauce and bearnaise – both excellent – came standard, and we also added caramelized onion and anchovy garlic butter. That melted butter was basically liquid umami, so it made the meat even more satisfying.

Side of creamed spinach and sauces, Swift & Sons

Sides of creamed spinach with vin blanc and roasted mushrooms with porcini aioli (not pictured), plus steak sauce, bearnaise, caramelized onion, and anchovy garlic butter

Key lime bar, Swift & Sons

Key lime bar with white chocolate mousse, lime curd, and graham crunch

The dessert I liked best surprised me, because key lime pie isn’t something I normally seek out, but we were convinced by our server that it was a version worth trying. Thin layers of lime curd and graham cracker bolstered a luscious, lime zest-spiked white chocolate mousse that just worked so well – and the toasted meringue and gold leaf didn’t hurt either. The Swift & Sons spin on a Cracker Jack was also top-notch, a salty-sweet bomb of peanut butter, popcorn, and caramel.

And lest we forego a more chocolate-focused finish, a charming wooden trolley was wheeled over to our table with all manner of confections: bars, trifles, mousses, tiramisus. We finally decided on a Butterfinger-inspired treat, and it did not disappoint. It also somehow tied together the old-school, wood-and-gold space in the most whimsical way.

S&S Cracker Jack dessert, Swift & Sons

S & S Cracker Jack dessert with peanut butter mousse, salted caramel, caramel corn, and popcorn sherbet

Chocolate trolley, Swift & Sons

Couldn’t resist the chocolate trolley once it was wheeled to our table

The details: Swift & Sons, 1000 W. Fulton Market, Chicago.

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Best Bites

This month’s Best Bites: Catching up on Chicago

I’ve spent the last month catching up on Chicago dining and drinking destinations! These were the standouts for brunch, dinner, and beverages.

Brunch

3 Arts Club Café

Burrata, 3 Arts Club Café

Burrata with slow-roasted tomatoes, garlic bread, and basil

I have to begin with what must be the most breathtaking dining setting I’ve seen in Chicago lately (and from the looks of Instagram, I’m not alone in this assessment). The glitzy Gold Coast café has sweeping windows, brick arches, skylights above towering trees, glittering chandeliers, and a centerpiece fountain that we were more than happy to be seated right alongside. This plate of burrata, tomatoes, and garlic toast was just as elegant as the atmosphere.

Catalpa Kitchen

Old Fashioned flapjacks, Catalpa Kitchen

Old Fashioned flapjacks with orange caramel, bourbon cherries, and angostura whip

Brunch at this newcomer to Logan Boulevard had a decidedly cozier vibe, and these creatively boozy pancakes fit right in. Orange caramel, angostura whipped cream, and bourbon-soaked cherries atop a pile of flapjacks added up to a version of an Old Fashioned almost as good as the cocktail itself.

Latinicity

Sunday brunch, Latinicity

Sunday brunch with tacos, oysters, empanadas, waffle bacon burgers, caramelized plantains, and more

Latinicity opened on the third floor of the Block 37 complex late last year, and its Sunday brunch is an especially good value: $25 gets you unlimited food from eight different stations, plus two brunch beverages from the bar. Our group divided and conquered, each visiting a different counter and bringing back as many offerings as we could, and our strategy produced a delicious variety of results. A few standouts: oysters on the half shell, tacos al pastor, smoked fish dip, and savory lomo saltado with fried rice.

Dinner

Monteverde

Cannelloni saltimbocca, Monteverde

Cannelloni saltimbocca with prosciutto, lamb, sage, balsamic, soffritto, and romanesco

I’ll admit that I made this March reservation at Monteverde while I was still in Dublin, because I was that excited to try Sarah Grueneberg’s much-anticipated pasta dishes. The cannelloni was exactly the caliber I was expecting: the hardy rolls of pasta stood up to the proscuitto and lamb, enhanced by sage, balsamic, and crunchy romanesco – everyone’s favorite veggie fractal. I was also impressed by the sunchoke crostini, complete with creamy ricotta and lots of black truffle. We also happened to be dining there the same night as Chicago’s mayor (and heard even he had to make a reservation).

Artichoke & sunchoke crostini, Monteverde

Artichoke & sunchoke crostini with fontina, ricotta, and Savini black truffle

Band of Bohemia

Coffee-roasted carrots, Band of Bohemia

Coffee-roasted carrot with coconut milk, chai, sesame seed, licorice, and oxalis

A self-described “culinary brewpub,” Band of Bohemia brews food-friendly beers exclusively to pair with its dishes. Our group’s meal here was meant to make up for missing Chicago Restaurant Week, and it was a more than sufficient substitute. These coffee-roasted, coconut-scented heirloom carrots packed explosive flavor, with lots of contrast from chai, licorice, and sesame. The steak and the foie gras were also major hits at our table. Beer-wise, I was particularly a fan of the beet-thyme and apple-tarragon brews.

Band of Bohemia beer trio

Three house-brewed beers: roasted beet thyme, orange chicory rye, and grilled apple tarragon

Salero

Potatoes a la plancha, Salero

Confit potatoes a la plancha with mushroom demi-glace, wild mushrooms, sunny egg, and Queso Tetilla

A few friends graciously threw me a welcome back celebration at this Spanish eatery in the West Loop. Of all the dishes we sampled, these grilled potatoes with heaps of wild mushrooms, toasted grains, and a sunny-side egg were the most savory and satisfying. The baked alaska with “Welcome Home” in script on the plate was also a lovely touch.

Drinks

Cantina 1910

Bears Club cocktail, Cantina 1910

Bears Club cocktail with Milagro Reposado tequila, Punt e Mes, maple, and cherrywood

I’d heard great things about the drinks at Andersonville’s new upscale Mexican cantina. This was quite possibly the smokiest cocktail I’ve ever had, and I was completely captivated by the cherry and maple notes in every sip. It’s now only available as a large-format shareable drink, so I’d recommend getting a few others on board if you visit.

Mezcaleria Las Flores

Unknown Death cocktail, Mezcaleria Las Flores

Unknown Death cocktail with mezcal, amaro, ancho reyes, crème de noyaux, lemon juice, and simple syrup

This cocktail was in the same smoky family, but served across town at Mezcaleria Las Flores in Logan Square. This new flower-shop-turned-mezcal-bar has gotten a lot of attention for its concept, and I’m glad to see such an oft-overlooked spirit getting some time on the spotlight. This cocktail was balanced and citrusy, with punchy amaro and a colorful sprinkle of hibiscus on top. Bonus: we were also able to order snacks from adjacent Johnny’s Grill – just ask for a menu.

Portillo’s

Chocolate cake shake, Portillo's

Chocolate cake shake

I had to include this beloved Chicago treat, because having one my first week back at work made me truly feel like I was home again. Portillo’s chocolate cake shakes are basically an institution, and are as simple as they sound – chocolate cake whirred into a milkshake, with chunks of icing and cake crumbs hiding at the bottom of the cup. It’s decadent and a little absurd, but it’s also pure Chicago.

The details: Monteverde, 1020 W. Madison St.; Band of Bohemia, 4710 N. Ravenswood Ave.; Salero, 621 W. Randolph St.; 3 Arts Club Café at Restoration Hardware, 1300 N. Dearborn Pkwy.; Catalpa Kitchen, 2800 W. Logan Blvd.; Latinicity at Block 37, 108 N. State St.; Cantina 1910, 5025 N. Clark St.; Mezcaleria des Flores, 3149 W. Logan Blvd.; Portillo’s, 100 W. Ontario; all Chicago.

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Best Bites

2015 in Review: 12 More Best Bites

This year, I’ve chosen one best bite (or sip) per month that I didn’t have the chance to blog about in 2015. View year-end recaps from 2012, 2013, and 2014.

January

Beet and goat cheese toast, The Allis

Beet and goat cheese toast at The Allis, Soho House

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: This was a punchy (and classy) pre-dinner snack on a chilly January night.

The details: The Allis at Soho House, 113–125 North Green St., Chicago.

February

Bolognese tots, Rocking Horse

Bolognese tots at Rocking Horse

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: These meaty, Italian-leaning tater tots sated our hunger on an impromptu Milwaukee Avenue bar crawl (sadly, Rocking Horse has since removed most of their tots options from the menu, including this one, but I trust the remaining varieties are still delicious).

The details: Rocking Horse, 2535 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

March

Bloody mary and bacon sweet corn waffle, Bub City

DIY bloody Mary (with High Life pony) and bacon sweet corn waffle at Bub City

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: Bub City’s bloody Mary bar is over-the-top (mini grilled cheese with an American flag as a garnish!), but the outcome was undeniably excellent, especially paired with a sweet-and-savory waffle.

The details: Bub City, 435 N. Clark St., Chicago.

April

Oatmeal shake, Irazu

Oatmeal shake at Irazu

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: This cinnamon-heavy Costa Rican shake is one of my go-to treats, especially in warm weather.

The details: Irazu, 1865 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

May

Pasta YiaYia, Lula Cafe

Pasta YiaYia with bucatini, cinnamon, feta, garlic, and brown butter at Lula Café

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: For some reason, I’d never ordered this Lula menu staple until this year, and now it’s tough to order anything else during evening hours – the combination of feta, cinnamon, brown butter,and garlic is the purest form of pasta magic. View all my previous Lula posts.

The details: Lula Café, 2537 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago.

June

Fried egg toast, Same Day Cafe

Fried egg toast with house bacon, arugula, pickled cabbage, and sunny side egg at Same Day Café

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: This café was a welcome addition to Logan Square this year, serving vibrant egg toast that tasted as good as it looked.

The details: Same Day Café, 2651 N. Kedzie Ave., Chicago.

July

Painted Lady, Big Shoulders Coffee

Painted Lady with iced coffee, simple syrup, mint, and ginger lemonade at Big Shoulders Coffee

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: I have been frequenting Big Shoulders on my commute for a long time (for their Monday coffee discount and marshmallow lattes especially), but this was the most creative iced coffee drink I had all summer – who would have thought coffee and lemonade could work together?

The details: Big Shoulders Coffee, 1105 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago.

August

Avec burger, Avec

Avec burger with chorizo and beef patty, bacon, date mostarda, and piquillo pepper aioli at Avec

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: This decadent burger was a spin on Avec’s iconic stuffed dates, and the new format proved just as successful. Avec, 615 W. Randolph Ave., Chicago.

September

Pumpkin mojito, The Marker hotel rooftop

Pumpkin mojito with Havana 3-year rum, mint, lime Juice, ginger syrup
soda water, and pumpkin puree – plus a city view

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: This was a surprisingly brilliant autumnal combination: a mojito made with pumpkin purée (don’t knock it until you try it!), sipped on a rooftop with sweeping views of Dublin.

The details: The Marker Hotel Rooftop Bar and Terrace, Grand Canal Square, Dublin 2, Ireland.

October

Cuban espresso, The Dean

Cuban espresso with Havana 7-year rum, Guinness, espresso, PX sherry, caramel, vanilla, and bitters at The Dean lobby bar

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: Another great cocktail at a hotel bar – this time, one that combined Guinness (it’s Dublin, after all) with rum, sherry, and espresso to create a complex and memorable dessert drink.

The details: The Lobby at The Dean Hotel, 33 Harcourt St., Dublin 2, Ireland.

November

Tagliatelle, Canal Bank Cafe

Tagliatelle pasta with smoked chicken, butter beans, rocket, basil, fennel seed pistachio pesto cream sauce, parmesan, and brioche crumbs at Canal Bank Café

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: This tagliatelle pasta special at one of my go-to restaurants near the office brought together smoked chicken, pistachio, parmesan, and other spring-like flavors for a lovely result.

The details: Canal Bank Café, 146 Upper Leeson St., Dublin 4, Ireland.

December

Chocolate soufflé, Palo

Chocolate soufflé at Palo on the Disney Magic cruise ship

Why it’s another 2015 Best Bite: I had to include this outrageously good dessert from my December cruise on the Disney Magic. Pouring the two chocolate sauces over the top of the already silky soufflé was vacation dining at its finest.

The details: Palo on Disney Magic, Disney Cruise Line (cruise routes vary).

Thanks for reading in 2015, and looking forward to another delicious year!

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Fried giardiniera, Parts and Labor

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Fried giardiniera, Parts and Labor

Fried giardiniera with sriracha mayo

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: I first visited Parts and Labor a little over two years ago, right after it opened in Logan Square, and I’ve been going back for this unique side dish ever since. Originally, I was just intrigued: giardiniera can only come one way, right? What would a fried version even be like? Turns out, the tempura-like batter adds a fluffy layer of crust that’s masterfully offset by the vinegar-soaked vegetables. It’s spicy, especially after a dip in the sriracha mayo on the side, and is a wonderful reinvention of a humble Chicago condiment.

The details: Parts and Labor, 2700 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Cameo Kirby cocktail and beef tartare, Cherry Circle Room

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Cameo Kirby cocktail, Cherry Circle Room

Cameo Kirby cocktail with gin, dry vermouth, raspberry, lime, and egg white

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: The Chicago Athletic Association Hotel reopened earlier this summer after extensive renovations, and it’s emerged as the dining and drinking wonderland that Michigan Avenue never knew it needed. When the Shake Shack on the first floor isn’t even the main attraction, you know you’re in for an experience.

Go upstairs, wander through the impeccably styled lobby and down a hallway paneled with the same chocolate-hued wood that’s prominent throughout the space, and you’ll find what has to be the classiest game room in Chicago. Try not to get distracted by the billiards, shuffleboard, checkers, or even the full bocce court, and walk all the way back until you reach the double doors that lead to the Cherry Circle Room. With inviting leather booths, warm lighting, and a strikingly elegant bar, this restaurant has mastered the turn-of-the-century speakeasy vibe that can so easily feel forced elsewhere. But it’s not surprising coming from the Land and Sea Dept. group – I’ve blogged about projects of theirs (Longman & Eagle, Lost Lake, Parson’s) a combined eight times, so I guess you could say I’m partial.

So back to that bar, where I chose the gin-based Cameo Kirby to sip while waiting for our table. It stayed completely balanced between fruity and dry, and was deliciously frothy from the egg white. A simple and delicate drink, for sure, but also probably one of my favorite drinks of the year.

Beef tartare, Cherry Circle Room

Beef tartare with chili, quail egg, aged gouda, and salsa verde

The beef tartare came recommended by the bartender, and seemed like the right kind of throwback dish for the setting. The luxurious creaminess of the quail egg combined with the punchy, herbaceous salsa verde brought the savory mixture together. We spread the tartare on thick slices of grilled bread, whose char added a cooked dimension to the otherwise uncooked beef. Our main courses were just as good, but the tartare definitely set the tone for the rest of the meal.

And your visit to the hotel isn’t complete without a cocktail at Cindy’s, whose 13th floor rooftop boasts what is unquestionably my new favorite view of Millennium Park. Order the rose-petaled “We’ll Always Have Paris,” , lean up against the glass, and soak it all in, whether by day…

…or by night.

The details: Cherry Circle Room and Cindy’s at the Chicago Athletic Association Hotel, 12 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Macho peas, chicken breast wrap & mango sangria, Nando’s Peri-Peri

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Chicken breast wrap with macho peas and fries, Nando's Peri Peri

Chicken breast wrap with lettuce, sweet chili jam, and yogurt sauce, plus sides of macho peas and Peri chips (fries)

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: Nando’s Peri-Peri is an international fast-casual restaurant chain that has an especially fanatical following in the DC metro area, so I was excited to try out one of Chicago’s two new locations. Originating in South Africa, Nando’s serves food that is heavily influenced by African and Portuguese flavors, and is best known for its Portuguese chicken with peri-peri sauce. I was immediately captivated by the colorful decor, with South African art splashed across the walls and rich, earth-toned textures on every available surface. My friend and I requested a window seat just so we could swing in the hanging wicker chairs. They served as the perfect perch for starting on a pitcher of fruit-laden mango sangria while we waited for our food.

Mango sangria, Nando's Peri-Peri

Mango sangria and the swinging wicker chairs in the window

I opted for the chicken breast wrap, which showcased the juicy, well-seasoned chicken, and added pineapple for extra tropical sweetness. The chili jam and yogurt sauce balanced nicely, and the lettuce added necessary crunch. An array of Nando’s-branded sauces were available as condiments, all featuring the signature peri-peri pepper; I liked the garlic and wild herb varieties on my wrap. My favorite part of the meal by far, however, was the side of macho peas, mashed with mint, parsley, and chili. I’m partial to peas in all forms, but this was an especially fresh, green, summery addition to the plate. The combination also reminded me of the Middlewest pea pâté I made (and adored) two years ago. It was good enough to deem it my favorite side dish of the year so far.

The details: Nando’s Peri-Peri, 670 W. Diversey Pkwy., Chicago.

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Best Bites

This week’s Best Bite: Mango lassi, gobi manchurian, and India hot chicken, Pub Royale

This Best Bite is one of the 20 foods and 15 drinks I’ve set out to taste and document in 2015. View the full list to see my plan and progress.

Mango lassi, Pub Royale

Mango lassi with mango, yoghurt, rum, honey, and bitters

Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: Pub Royale represents one of the most original restaurant concepts to hit Chicago lately: British-Indian pub fare. I’d heard about the rum-spiked mango lassi from more than one source, and that alone made it a perfectly summery place to dine with my cousins on a recent weeknight. The frosty, creamy lassi was cocktail and dessert in one, with complexity from the tangy yogurt and bitters. I loved snacking on the gobi manchurian – the fried cauliflower tossed in sweet and spicy sauce rivaled the version at Rangoli (my longstanding favorite), and cashews added nice crunch.

Gobi manchurian, Pub Royale

Gobi manchurian with crispy cauliflower, sweet & spicy manchurian sauce, sesame, and cashew

India hot chicken, Pub Royale

India hot chicken with crazy pickles and chewy naan

The India hot chicken was fusion at its best: an Indian-spiced, nearly tandoori-hued version of traditionally Southern fried chicken. The chewy naan bread underneath soaked up all the spices, so it was just as delicious on its own as it was with the chicken. Other dishes not to miss: the buttered paneer (so flavorful that I even dipped fries in the leftover sauce) and a towering, multi-layered British sundae dubbed the Knickerbocker Glory.

Knickerbocker Glory sundae. Pub Royale

Knickerbocker Glory sundae with Oberweis ice cream, banana, strawberry, chocolate, and many more layers

The details: Pub Royale, 2049 W. Division St., Chicago.

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