2012 Best Bite #10: Garlic bread, Michael Jordan’s Steak House

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Garlic bread
Garlic bread

Why it’s a Best Bite: Forgive me, for the photo doesn’t do this dish justice (and was taken after devouring a lot of it), but I had to include it among my Best Bites, as it was unlike any garlic bread I’d ever tasted. Michael Jordan’s seems to eschew the idea that a stack of buttery, garlicky bread slices is enough of a luxury on its own. Instead, the server brings the tower of bread to the table, then pours a silky Maytag bleu cheese fondue all over it. All I can say is that soaking up every last bit of that sauce was beyond heavenly. Since then, it’s been tough to walk down Michigan Avenue with friends and not find an excuse to duck in for a drink and this bread.

The details: Michael Jordan’s Steak House, 505 N Michigan Ave., Chicago.

2012 Best Bite #9: Ceviche, Tavernita

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Ceviche
Ceviche

Why it’s a Best Bite: I’ve recommended Tavernita over and over for its lively atmosphere, killer kegged cocktails, and array of creative tapas dishes. This clean, citrus-packed ceviche was a pleasant complement to richer offerings (don’t miss their pork belly bocadillos), and seemed to capture the colorful spirit of the restaurant.

The details: Tavernita, 151 W Erie St., Chicago.

2012 Best Bite #8: Ricotta and honeycomb vasi, Davanti Enoteca

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Ricotta and honeycomb
Ricotta and honeycomb vasi

Why it’s a Best Bite: I love Davanti’s Italian small-plates concept, and it’s appetizers like these that make it so successful. The restaurant devotes a section of its menu to vasi, toast and spreads served in miniature mason jars. The dish is a lesson in simplicity: just impossibly creamy ricotta, delicate honey, and crusty bread.

The details: Davanti Enoteca, 1359 W Taylor St., Chicago.

2012 Best Bite #7: Red velvet cake (and miracle berries), iNG

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Why it’s a Best Bite: This one requires a little more explanation. It was the last course of an exhilarating three-course Restaurant Week dinner with several of my coworkers. iNG is known for experimenting with wild, scientific techniques, and has been among the first to integrate “flavor-tripping” into its menu. Inducing that “trip” are miracle berries, whose properties tend to make sour or bitter foods taste sweet, among other taste-bud effects. So, before dessert arrived, our group was presented spoons that were filled to the brim with a pinkish powder. We were instructed to swallow the contents of the spoon, then taste the lemon and lime wedges served alongside it.

Miracle berry powder
Miracle berry powder

After downing the powder – about a third of which I blew onto my sleeve instead, in the heat of the moment – I tasted the lemon and lime, which indeed weren’t tart at all. It was surreal to know what a lemon wedge was supposed to taste like, and yet experience what seemed more like sugary lemonade. Soon after, dessert appeared: red velvet cake with a cheesecake nitrogen sphere and freeze-dried blood orange on top. The first few bites were delicious, but the real excitement was seeing the sphere slowly deflate, completely changing the texture and bringing the flavors together in a different way.

Red velvet cake
Red velvet cake

The photo doesn’t really do it justice, so definitely check out this video of the dessert in action.

The details: iNG, 951 W Fulton Market, Chicago.

2012 Best Bite #6: Chorizo-stuffed dates, Avec

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Chorizo-stuffed dates
Chorizo-stuffed dates

Why it’s a Best Bite: Avec is one of those Chicago restaurant staples where strategy and patience are involved: no reservations, little space, legendary wait times. We arrived early on a Monday evening, in hopes of fitting in a few of the small plates that I’d heard so much about before making it to our Restaurant Week reservation elsewhere. Fortunately, there were four seats left at the end of the sleek wooden banquette, and this was the first dish I knew we had to order. These dates have already garnered a lot of attention over the past several years (including this mouthwatering video from Eater), so I’ll just say that every component is incredible. The chorizo interior and bacon exterior pack twice the meaty punch, and sopping up that piquillo-tomato sauce with the fresh bread is exceedingly satisfying.

The details: Avec, 615 W Randolph St., Chicago.

2012 Best Bite #5: Paris benedict, Prasino

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Paris benedict
Paris benedict

Why it’s a Best Bite: This sunny weekday brunch with a great friend (who also happens to be a talented artist) was a highlight of my January. Although eco-conscious Prasino does offer a wide variety of tempting — and healthier — options, we both decided to go all-out and stick to the benedict section of the menu. Over-the-top rich in the best way, this particularly creative benedict had me at pretzel croissant (and brie…and truffle hollandaise…). Crispy potatoes on the side were a welcome contrast to all the creamy toppings.

The details: Prasino, 1846 W Division St., Chicago.

2012 Best Bite #4: German chocolate pancakes, Jam

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

German chocolate pancakes

Why it’s a Best Bite: I’m a bit of a brunch person, and frequently make the quick walk to Jam for excellent quiche, eggs benedict, or smoked salmon. However, I split a half-order of these pancakes as dessert on a snowy night last winter (note: Jam no longer serves dinner), and they delivered above and beyond what you’d expect from their cake counterpart. The dreamy combination of cocoa-laden cake, coconut caramel, toasted marshmallow, and crunchy brittle hit all the right textures.

The details: Jam, 3057 W Logan Blvd., Chicago.

2012 Best Bite #3: Peanut butter cookie dough vegan shake, The Chicago Diner

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Peanut butter cookie dough vegan shake

Why it’s a Best Bite: I never thought I would count an entirely vegan shake among the best shakes I’ve ever had, but the veggie masters at The Chicago Diner really know what they’re doing. I can’t tell you how many times this year I’ve mentioned how amazing this shake is, and pulled up this photo on my phone as visual evidence. The texture is spot-on, and getting cookie dough and peanut butter in the same shake makes it that much more indulgent. Luckily for me, The Chicago Diner happened to open a second location last week right here in my neighborhood, so there will likely be a lot more of these shakes in my future.

The details: The Chicago Diner, 3411 N Halsted Ave. and 2333 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.

2012 Best Bite #2: Art’s Hummingbird cake, Table Fifty-Two

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Art’s Hummingbird cake

Why it’s a Best Bite: I was previously unfamiliar with this traditionally Southern cake, but over the past two years or so, it’s become my new favorite. I’ve eaten chef Art Smith’s decadent, three-layer version twice now, and I can’t get enough of the combination of banana-pineapple cake and cream cheese frosting. This comforting dessert also perfectly suits its cozy environs at the restaurant, a converted 19th-century carriage house.

The details: Table Fifty-Two, 52 W Elm St., Chicago.

2012 Best Bite #1: Roasted brussels sprouts & cauliflower, Francesca’s Forno

Each day in December, I’m celebrating my best bites (and sips) in 2012, posted in chronological order.

Roasted brussels sprouts & cauliflower

Why it’s a Best Bite: I got to share this large appetizer with a dear friend last New Year’s Eve. It won me over immediately with a generously caramelized blend of brussels sprouts, cauliflower, and onion. The dish struck just the right balance of salty, crispy, and cheesy goodness, with added depth from capers, lemon, and, of course, bacon. Rich and a little messy, it was the right way to start off a celebratory evening.

The details: Francesca’s Forno, 1576 N Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.