Chicago's Top Ten Most Exceptional Food and Drink of 2017

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from working with Chicago’s best chefs over the last year, it’s that the perfect plate of food consists of three elements:

  1. Good ingredients
  2. Good technique
  3. Good vibes (temperament makes all the difference when cooking)

As I ate my way around this great restaurant city of ours this year, it was clear that good ingredients and good technique abound and that most of the chefs I worked with had a true, relentless love for their craft. But there were only a few exceptional bites that had that perfect balance of all three elements.

Just doing what I do best

Just doing what I love

And so, in the spirit of  looking back on a wonderful year and looking forward to what lies ahead, here are the dishes from 2017 that blew my palate away and had me re-visiting for more.

10. Chilled Tofu from Sumi Robata Bar 

A sad loss to the Chicago restaurant community, Sumi Robata Bar is now closed. I will forever hold the memory of the most perfect bite of tofu as a tribute to Chef Gene Kato’s unrelenting quest for perfection.

Credit: FoodFictionProject

Credit: FoodFictionProject (read the story here)

9. Fried jalapeno cheddar cornbread from Heaven on Seven ($9.99)

Chef Jimmy Bannos holds a special place in my heart as he was the first chef I ever interviewed. A dear friend now and a gem of a person, Jimmy’s cornbread is like Jimmy himself—reliably wonderful and always makes you happy. Your tastebuds won’t want to share this pile of goodness but, fair warning, I’ve learned it’s best to not try eating the whole thing by yourself at once.

Photo Credit: JED Photography

Photo Credit: JED Photography

8. Red Scorpion Roll from Shiawase ($8.50)

A hidden gem in Lakeview, Shiawase is at the top of my list whenever I’m responsible for picking a sushi place. Quiet atmosphere, warm and friendly service, and my favorite sushi roll all in one little spot. Not to be missed, take my word for it (and take me with you).

Photo Credit: George @mrgeorgy

Photo Credit: George; IG:@mrgeorgy

7. Pork cheek tortellini brodo from Monteverde ($16)

The first time I ate at Monteverde, I was so inspired that I ran home and immediately wrote an article about it. With regards to the brodo, I said, “It could heal parts of you that you wouldn’t think were broken. It will stay with you, quietly working its magic hours later and helping you recognize it for what it is. It could make a dying soul whole again. It is elixir.” Need I say more?

Photo Credit: Galdones Photography

Photo Credit: Galdones Photography

6. Mezcal old fashioned from Vol. 39 ($28)

2017 showed me that I love mezcal. This discovery was completely cemented as of last week when I was introduced to this potion—a slow burn melody of hibiscus, citrus, and spiced bitters.

Michael Nagrant from Redeye does the mezcal old fashioned justice in his latest piece on Vol. 39.

Photo Credit: Michelle Banovic

Photo Credit: Michelle Banovic

5. Whipped burrata cannoli from The Purple Pig

Photo Credit: @foodfictionproject (read the story here)

Photo Credit: FoodFictionProject (read the story here)

If you think The Purple Pig is all about charcuterie and wine, you’re right. But if you don’t get this dish (or another variation of Chef Jimmy Bannos Jr.’s whipped ricotta) somewhere in your lineup, you’ve done it all wrong.

4. Cream City Special from Merriment Social ($16)

Photo Credit: FoodFictionProject (read the story here)

Photo Credit: FoodFictionProject (read the story here)

Yes, this is a restaurant in Milwaukee. No they do not have an outlet in Chicago. But here’s the thing. I rented a car with THE SOLE PURPOSE OF DRIVING TO MILWAUKEE TO EAT THIS BURGER. No joke. I have also, since then, introduced it to people from Arizona, Canada, and around the United States. Let’s call it the burger worth traveling for if you’re a lover of cheese.

3. Mott Burger from Mott. St. ($14 and available on Caviar)

Photo Credit: Nathan Michael

Photo Credit: Nathan Michael

I am a sucker for Asian flavor profiles. I’ve always got gochujang, hoisin sauce, and fish sauce in my pantry. And so when I found a burger that combines the flavor profiles I love with cheese, juicy burger patties, and crispy shoestring sweet potatoes, I was a goner. It’s been hailed as Chicago’s best burger before. I think that still stands.

2. Buttered pipe pasta and clams with green chili ragout from Roister ($21)

Photo Credit: FoodFictionProject (read the story here)

Photo Credit: FoodFictionProject (read the story here)

I’ve never had anything like it and words fail me to provide a description that does it justice. What I will say is that my husband and I literally fought over who got to scrape the sparse hints of flavor left in the bowl after we had already scraped our forks around said bowl with vigor.

1. Whole Roast Dry Aged Duck for Two from Boka ($90)

Photo credit: Galdones Photography

Photo credit: Galdones Photography

I’ve eaten this dish four times in the past year. All four times, Lee Wolen has dazzled—yes, dazzled—me with his ability to take the simplest of ingredients and turn them into absolute glory. Personally, I’m convinced that Lee Wolen has God on speed dial and the two of them have long conversations about what a carrot or potato is really supposed to taste like.

Now it’s your turn. What blew your tastebuds away this year? Have you tried any of the above dishes? If not, which one is calling to you first?

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