Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #30: Bagel sandwich, Nightwood

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

Bagel sandwich

Bagel sandwich

Why it’s a Best Bite: OK, I know this is my second bagel-related post this week, sorry. I just didn’t realize that you could consistently crave a dish you’ve only had once, but this bagel sandwich kept calling to me all year until I finally had it again right before heading home for the holidays. This is one of the very few items that Nightwood keeps on its seasonal brunch menu every Sunday, which I support wholeheartedly. Really, this sandwich has everything. It’s anchored by smoked trout cream cheese, mustardy slaw, and greens, then topped with the thick bacon and over-easy egg that breakfast dreams are made of. The three round tots and ketchup on the side are a satisfying bonus between bites of sandwich.

The details: Nightwood, 2119 S Halsted St., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #29: Tea-smoked duck breast, Belly Q

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

Tea-smoked duck breast with steamed buns

Tea-smoked duck breast with steamed buns

Why it’s a Best Bite: As a huge fan of Bill Kim’s other two restaurants, Urban Belly and Belly Shack, I knew his newest and largest would be just as special. I enjoyed every dish during my meal there a few weeks ago (don’t miss the doughnuts for dessert!), but this duck entree really showed boldness and finesse. Cooked to perfection, the smoky duck fit right in between familiar Asian barbecue and haute cuisine, and the pillowy steamed buns that came on the side were a delightful foil to the rich duck.

The details: Belly Q, 1400 W Randolph St., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #28: Aztec hot chocolate and churro, Xoco

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

Aztec hot chocolate and churro

Aztec hot chocolate and churro

Why it’s a Best Bite: Xoco is one of those places I want to take everyone who comes to Chicago – it showcases Rick Bayless’ renowned Mexican flavors, but is still accessible and quick. On this particular occasion, it was my mom and uncle who got to sample tortas and pozole over a late lunch. To me, though, you can’t leave Xoco without ordering two signature items: churros and hot chocolate. Airy and crisp, with lots of cinnamon-sugar and hints of corn from the flour, these churros are in a class of their own. The drinking chocolate, made from freshly ground Mexican cacao beans, comes in a few variations, but I favor the warm spices of the Aztec, with chile powder and allspice. This pair is among my very favorite treats in River North, and best of all, it’s justifiable any time of day.

The details: Xoco, 449 N Clark St., Chicago.

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Best Bites

2012 Best Bite #27: Popcorn cookies and deviled eggs, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

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

Popcorn cookies

Popcorn cookies

Deviled eggs

Deviled eggs

Why it’s a Best Bite: These were the first two recipes I made from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook, the October debut from one of the very best food bloggers out there, Deb Perelman of SmittenKitchen.com. Her superbly written blog is my go-to when I don’t know what to cook, and she’s taught me the virtues of brown butter and fritters, among other delicious lessons. I made the deviled eggs for a holiday party, and loved the Spanish twist of smoked paprika and marcona almonds (though I admit that I used the bacon I had on hand instead of fancy Spanish ham). And while they may sound strange at first, the popcorn cookies made such a satisfying salty-sweet snack, especially from underbaking a little to leave the dough chewy. I was fortunate enough to meet Deb at a book signing and tell her in person how much I adored these cookies and her work.

The details: Check out the Smitten Kitchen blog, and buy the cookbook on Amazon.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #26: Pumpkin french toast, Lula Cafe

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

Pumpkin french toast

Pumpkin french toast

Why it’s a Best Bite: I feel very fortunate that Lula is the closest restaurant to my apartment, and that I have enjoyed so many wonderful dishes there in the past year. I chose to highlight this french toast because it exemplifies what I can always expect from brunch (or any other meal) there: the season’s best sustainable ingredients prepared with consistent, exacting technique. The brioche took on more of a bread pudding consistency, crunchy on top and custard-soaked inside, which made the chantilly cream on top all the more decadent. With cranberry jam for acidity, pumpkin seed granola for crunch, and of course, the bed of sweet pumpkin underneath the toast, this dish screamed fall in the best way.

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

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Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #25: Sauerkraut bagel, Trenchermen

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

Sauerkraut bagel

Sauerkraut bagel

Why it’s a Best Bite: Another one of this year’s most anticipated restaurant openings, I was finally able to make it to Trenchermen for brunch with friends who were in town for Northwestern’s homecoming. While most of the dishes were intriguing takes on breakfast, I have a hard time passing up anything bagel-related. The bagel was both steeped and crusted in order to be fully infused with sauerkraut flavor, an impressive feat in itself, and paired nicely with heaping smoked salmon, pickled red onion, and greens. But the real revelation for me was the mustard cream cheese. It was such a logical concept that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t seen or thought of it before. I’m now inspired to whip up my own with good-quality grainy mustard and use it on bagel sandwiches.

The details: Trenchermen, 2039 W North Ave, Chicago.

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Best Bites

2012 Best Bite #24: Hot & spicy cheese bread, Stella’s Bakery at the Dane County Farmers’ Market

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

Hot & spicy cheese bread

Hot & spicy cheese bread

Why it’s a Best Bite: We went on an excursion to Madison one gorgeous October weekend to visit friends (and meet their new puppy!). Knowing that our host would be well-versed in Madison’s most delicious offerings, we began at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, which wraps all the way around Capitol Square. The first booth we saw was Stella’s, and we were advised to not proceed any further without grabbing a large, still-warm round of the bakery’s spicy cheese bread. This bread was quintessentially Wisconsin: a golden, lightly sweet dough boasting big pockets of cheese – think mozzarella and provolone – and studded with spicy pepper flakes. As soon as I finished one chunk, I couldn’t help but immediately tear off another (yes, three of us took down the whole thing in a matter of hours). Luckily, it’s also available for mail-order.

The details: Stella’s Bakery at the Dane County Farmers’ Market, Capitol Square, Madison, WI.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #23: Breakfast burrito plate, Red June Cafe

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

Breakfast burrito plate

Breakfast burrito plate

Why it’s a Best Bite: As many of my friends and coworkers know, I love to work remotely from different coffee shops and cafes around the city. On this particular day, I spent a few hours on my laptop at a cozy Bucktown spot that I hadn’t been to before. I had read good things about the breakfast burrito, and was glad to discover all that went into the plate to make it a tasty, satisfying meal. The burrito itself was filled with piping hot sausage, hash browns, and steamed eggs, with melted cheese inside and on top. Besides sides of salsa and sour cream, the plate also included tortilla chips and a beautiful fruit cup. I’m grateful for Red June and other friendly cafes that go beyond pastries and put love into heartier fare.

The details: Red June Cafe, 2020 N Leavitt St., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #22: 2x fried chicken and grilled mochi, Yusho

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

2x fried chicken

2x fried chicken

Grilled mochi

Grilled mochi

Why it’s a Best Bite: I was so torn between these two dishes from Yusho, another 2012 favorite, that I’m bending the rules and posting both. Dusted with matcha powder, the 2x fried chicken stayed outstandingly juicy with the right amount of crunch and seasoning on the outside. And that sauce, red-peppery with lots of lime zest, was so addictive that I wanted to take home a bottle for daily use. On the sweeter side of things, Yusho brilliantly incorporates its robata grill into dessert with skewered mochi that’s charred enough to add campfire smokiness, yet still chewy and delicate. Add oozy brightness from meyer lemon filling and depth from sweet potato and dark chocolate underneath, and it becomes the best mochi preparation this mochi-lover has ever had.

The details: Yusho, 2853 N Kedzie Ave., Chicago.

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Best Bites, Chicago

2012 Best Bite #21: Ice cream sandwich, Owen & Engine

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

Ice cream sandwich

Ice cream sandwich

Why it’s a Best Bite: When our group stopped in one weeknight for drinks and dessert, we decided on this ice cream sandwich for its light, summery flavors. The blondie was an ideal vehicle for the citrusy semifreddo and jammy peaches, with an added crunch of almond in each bite. This dessert was even better washed down with an O&E Pimm’s Cup, one of my favorite drinks in the city.

The details: Owen & Engine, 2700 N Western Ave., Chicago.

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