It has been a long year of eating, but no complaints here. From the return of chef Enoch Simpson's famous donuts at Endgrain to the arrival of chef Gaston Acurio's Peruvian cuisine at Tanta, it has been a delicious 2013 indeed. Relive 10 of the best things we ate this year, and if you haven't had them all, add 'em to the top of that New Year's resolutions list.
Strawberry-Vanilla Donut at Endgrain
As shameful as it is to admit, we had never tried chef Enoch Simpson’s famous donuts until a trip to Endgrain. Four types of sifted flour and lots of butter make every hand-fired and hand-glazed yeast donut unique, like snowflakes. The strawberry-vanilla donut was an excellent place to start. The vanilla cake was impossibly light and filled with the tiniest air pockets, and the work of art was covered in a pink strawberry glaze made with Seedling Fruit strawberries, which Simpson picks up from Green City Market. It was dusted with coarse sugar for a bit of a crunch in each bite. That first bite, however, was the one that proved to us that the hype was well deserved. The subsequent bites happened so quickly that before we knew it, we were eyeing the case for a second.
1851 W. Addison St.; 773-687-8191
Duck Benedict at BellyQ
Brunch: a delicious yet predictable weekend routine. There are only so many ways to cook an egg after all, right? Wrong. How about a tempura-fried egg? Yes, a soft-boiled egg is deep-fried so that a thin layer of crispy fried batter protects the still-runny yolk and soft white. This is just one component of the tea-smoked duck Benedict, which is served on a toasted Chinese biscuit and is topped with gai lan and curry hollandaise.
1400 W. Randolph St.; 312-563-1010
Belgian Waffle at Paris Club
During brunch in Paris (Club), we learned about a wonderfully sweet spread by the name of Speculoos. It also goes by cookie butter, and we want to know why nobody told us it existed. Luckily, the brilliant minds over at Paris Club put it on a waffle. The Belgian waffle is of the traditional square variety - fluffy and sweet. It is covered with the chunky spread made from the shortbread biscuits that go by the same name and are commonly found throughout Europe. With a taste almost like graham crackers, the spread adds a rich spice to the light waffle. Finished with a dollop of whipped cream, it is perfect for those craving sweet rather than savory brunch options, or those who believe that every meal, even brunch, is not complete without dessert.
59 W. Hubbard St.; 312-595-0800
Polenta and Ragù at Davanti Enoteca
We got a bit of a show in the middle of our meal at an unexpected location: the new Davanti Enoteca in River North. The star was tableside polenta served straight out of two saucepans onto a wood plank. How about that for rustic Italian? The dish starts with a creamy mascarpone polenta whipped into a buttery and creamy consistency that is spooned onto a board and smoothed into a base for the ragù. The ragù changes daily according to the meat selection - last night, it was tender braised lamb served in a hearty sauce. It arrives at the table hot from the stovetop and is ladled over the polenta. Bravo!
30 E. Hubbard St.; 312-605-5900
Chaufa Aeropuerto at Tanta
There are three distinct components to the chaufa aeropuerto, or Peruvian pork fried rice. First is the pork fried rice, which is sautéed in a wok before being transferred to a heavy stone bowl set over a flame. Yes, it’s all very dramatic, but the theatrics have just begun. Next, a shrimp tortilla (Spanish omelet) is fired and slid on top of the rice in the now smoldering hot bowl. Finally, a spicy garlic chile sauce is poured over the top. The sauce is the shining star of the dish, a combination of heat and sweet that pools in the dimples of the soft egg layer and then seeps into the rice as soon as the protective covering is broken. Once the massive dish is at your table, the egg is mixed into the rice, which includes crusty bits of rice that almost caramelize along the edges of the bowl, much like paella. It is all of these components - the perfectly orchestrated texture and flavor notes - that work together to create something altogether indescribable.
118 W. Grand Ave.; 312-222-9700
Black Cat Milkshake at Intelligentsia
This caffeinated, indulgent treat combines two of the Midwest’s most-prized possessions into one irresistible summertime treat. The Black Cat is a milkshake made with two shots of Intelligentsia's Black Cat espresso and a hefty scoop of Jeni’s Splendid sweet-cream ice cream. It is topped with whipped cream and espresso powder. The shake is only at the Logan Square location, which also serves a chai version.
2642 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-945-1690
Pheasant Pie at The Tortoise Club
What made this pie so special? Like most of the food at The Tortoise Club, it is satisfying without being overly flashy or complicated. The word “solid” was used several times to describe the flaky pastry, filled with tender pieces of wild pheasant and chunks of vegetables in a rich sauce. It comes covered with foie gras sauce. Yes, foie gras-covered comfort food. That snowstorm and our wet socks could not have been less of a concern while enjoying the savory entree.
350 N. State St.; 312-755-1700
Burger at Acadia
The burger here is a game changer, not only because it was actually medium rare, with meat and a soft bun that gave way to the slightest touch, and not only because a single bite had us emitting expletives. Maybe it had something to do with the bread-and-butter pickles, but most likely it was the total package of eating an American classic in a sophisticated restaurant. The burger is an 8-oz. beef patty topped with Capretta and Mornay cheese, onion bacon jam and pickles on a brioche bun. Please excuse the cliché, but it is melt-in-your-mouth (and all-over-the-plate) tasty. The buttery cheese is balanced with the almost-sweet jam and tangy pickles. The meat is well seasoned and served pink. All of its juices are absorbed into the bun, except for those that end up on the plate, which are easily reabsorbed by a few thick-cut fries. It is a burger that's worth traveling to the South Loop to try.
1639 S. Wabash Ave.; 312-360-9500
Po Kok Gai at Fat Rice
Portuguese chicken at Fat Rice is a dish to gather around on a cold night. The mere act of dipping the ladle into the ceramic bowl filled with chicken, shrimp and chorizo in a mild curry sauce is comforting to say the least. It is served with a side of coconut rice and ideally split between two to four guests. Fight your friends over the honor of divvying up the goods. We did and were rewarded with chicken that falls apart into a creamy broth. Rather than hoarding all of the delicious offerings, we equally distributed the flavorful chicken, spicy chorizo and perfectly prepared mussels over the sweet rice.
2957 W. Diversey Ave.; 773-661-9170
Tocinillo de Cielo at Mercat a la Planxa
The gelatinous Spanish dessert with a caramel top that jiggles when you poke it sure looks a lot like flan. However, this custard-based sweet by the name of Tocinillo de Cielo is not flan - it is its far-superior cousin. The custard has an irresistibly light texture - it felt guilt-free to eat bite after bite of the airy dessert. The custard gets its richness from egg yolks and sweetness from caramelized sugar, which forms on the bottom of the custard when it cooks and then spreads rich syrup down the sides of the custard once inverted and served. The sweetness of Mercat’s version is contrasted by savory olive oil, while the tarragon brings out the oil's earthiness, and pops of apricot remind us that it is still dessert.
638 S. Michigan Ave.; 312-765-0524