For the third year in a row, I’ve spent all December celebrating the rest of my favorite bites and sips from the past year. These are all dishes from 2014 that I didn’t have a chance to cover as Best Bites when I originally enjoyed them. You can check out all 30 below, listed in chronological order.
Here’s to another great year of eating and drinking!
For the third year in a row, I’m using each day in December to celebrate the rest of the best bites (and sips) that I didn’t get to blog about in 2014, posted in chronological order. Browse all of this year’s Best Bites, or look back at year-end Best Bites from 2012 and 2013.
Why it’s another 2014 Best Bite: This chocolate dessert shined in its pure simplicity. A quenelle of thick chocolate ganache, drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with flaky sea salt, was primed for slathering on ciabatta toast as a sweet-and-savory end to the meal.
Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: We technically visited Hyde Park newcomer A10 during Restaurant Week, but since we didn’t go for the three-course menu, I wanted to save this for a separate (albeit delayed) post. This pastry capped off a rich, seafood-heavy Sunday brunch. Besides its sheer beauty in the afternoon sun, the sticky bun was a knockout in flavor, its swirl of peanut butter brioche dough covered in bright elderberry syrup and powdered sugar. The dough was on the lighter, crispier side, which made it feel even more like a high-end peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich. It’s safe to say that whenever I return to A10 for dinner, I’ll definitely be ordering dessert.
Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: Pardon my gushing, but this was one of those dishes that only comes along every once in a while, the kind where you sigh over every bite and can’t even put together the words to describe how good it is because you’re in such a state of bliss. I love foie gras, and Acadia’s preparation has set a new standard for me. The thick slab of miso-cured foie rivaled the size of my iPhone, and captured the flame-licked meatiness of a grilled steak – that is, if a steak melted into richness and practically disappeared on your tongue. Compressed pineapple underneath hit a bright, juicy note, and the accompanying smoked banana puree, almond cookie crumbles, and unagi sauce all came together in beautiful, if unlikely, harmony. And the chocolate nest was served at the perfect temperature: each curlicue kept its shape on the plate, but softened into a coating as soon as it hit the warm foie. Executive chef Ryan McCaskey clearly has a deft hand in showcasing sweet flavors while still maintaining balance. This foie gras was the second course of a spectacular dining experience that I would recommend for any special occasion.
The details: Acadia, 1639 S. Wabash Ave., Chicago.
Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: When a ramen craving struck me on a snowy afternoon, I popped over to Oiistar, a relatively new Wicker Park spot I’d been eyeing. Bypassing all the tempting varieties of bao, and even the avocado tempura – next time! – I zeroed in on a mussel-centric ramen. Besides at least a dozen plump mussels, the giant bowl also contained an umami-rich seafood broth with chewy noodles, two kinds of onion, and tons of garlic. Moderately spicy chiles also upped the soup’s warmth factor. Happily rotating between slurps of noodles, mussels, and broth, I settled in with a book and soaked up the sounds of the restaurant’s catchy R&B playlist.
The details: Oiistar, 1385 N. Milwaukee Ave., Chicago.
Why it’s this week’s Best Bite: After a decade of being dinner-only, Avec launched brunch service last summer – an announcement that made the Chicago food world collectively squeal with delight. While I’ve already blogged about Avec’s legendary stuffed dates, which we ordered almost reflexively, the other stellar brunch plates merited a post of their own. The day’s special was the wood-fired pancake, a velvety stunner cooked in a cast-iron pan and topped with fragrant apple-rosemary compote and mounds of whipped cream. Its Dutch Baby–style texture was unbelievable. Meanwhile, the baked egg dish showed off Avec’s Mediterranean leanings. Its sauce was layered with surprising flavors: chickpeas, roasted peppers of all kinds, and salty feta, all begging to be sopped up with the bread on the side.
Another favorite was the butcher’s steak, probably the most beautiful steak-and-eggs in history. The fried egg was perfect, and the steak, ultra-tender from the marinade, shone even brighter with bold accompaniments of charred radicchio, squash polenta, pesto, parsley, and crunchy pepitas. As hard as it was to see this meal come to a close, the indulgence of the stuffed dates at the beginning was evenly matched by the petite nutter butter squares at its conclusion. Don’t miss these: the peanut butter-chocolate base, subtle feuilletine crunch, smooth ganache, and a sprinkling of sea salt made it the ultimate last bite.