Last Year's Winner: The Publican's Waffle

Let me start this out by saying, I am not a restaurant critic nor a reviewer of restaurants. Not professionally or even by hobby. I like good food and I like the community of the table. This list (and the list before it) is not measuring greatness, but rather favoriteness. We do not make it out nearly as much as we used to and sometimes when we do, we have child or children in tow. To that end, our oldest is about a year and a half and has her own list of best of the year that includes Mado’s Beef Heart BBQ from the Green City Market BBQ, pea puree from Longman & Eagle, and Oatmeal from Nightwood’s Brunch. I would love to read comments or links regarding your favorite dishes of the year.

Arami Ramen

10.) Ramen from Arami

A relative late comer, Arami has opened to great reviews. In a small storefront in UK village, Arami is putting out great Japanese food, but my favorite has been the ramen. A great combination of salty broth, pork belly, egg, mushroom, and noodles makes this dish a favorite in the recent cold snap in Chicago.

9.) Creton from Kith and Kin

Kith and Kin has taken the Chicago dining scene by storm over the past year and my favorite parts of my meals there have been the crocks meant to be served to the table as appetizers. The pate, pimento cheese, and the foie gras are delicious, but the cretons inspired me to reach out to a Canadian friend to get a recipe and make a version myself. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Kith and Kin should be flattered.

Spring Pea, Bacon, and Pecorino Salad from the Purple Pig at Baconfest

8.) Spring Pea, Bacon and Pecorino Salad from Baconfest from Purple Pig

As a contestant in the amateur bacon cookoff at Baconfest, I had limited time to try dishes and got through many (most) of them, but one of the dishes that I would order at a restaurant (and my favorite dish there) was this spring pea, bacon, pecorino salad from the Purple Pig. It was light and fresh, sweet and salty with a little funkiness from the bacon and pecorino. It felt like a complete dish and was my favorite bacon dish this year.

7.) Roasted Pork Loin with Apricots, Green Olives, and Creme Fraiche from Nightwood

I will admit straight away that I did not order this dish. I scavenged what I could from the plate of my father in law. Luckily, he does not like to match sweet and salty which left more for me. The pork was expertly roasted with some crunch on the edges, but still juicy in the middle, but combining it with the subtle sweetness of the apricots and the briny olives was genius. There are not too many ways to be impressed by a pork loin, but I was blown away by this dish

Wood Grilled Octopus from Taxim (Photo by Taxim's Website)

6.) Wood Grilled Octopus from Taxim

The octopus at Taxim was an unexpected winner. I had gone in for sardines and duck gyros, both very good, but came away in awe of the octopus. Octopus has been regulated to chewy, rubbery tasteless applications, but this treatment took it in an opposite direction. It was tender and smoky. It disappeared so quickly that when it was finished, we looked at each other with a look in both of our eyes that said, “Should we get another.” Taxim must have started a trend as I had a great octopus dish from Todd Stein at Cibo Matto at the Share Our Strength event at the Aragon in August.

Hoosier Mama's Persimmon Pie (Photo by Mike Gebert at SkyFullofBacon.com)

5.) Persimmon Pie from Hoosier Mama

Hoosier Mama is a fixture on this list.  I love the pies and the service at this UK Village pie shop. The persimmon pie stands out among a whole series of great pies as the most unique and, in my opinion, the tastiest. The pie appears to be very similar to pumpkin and has a similar flavor profile. However, persimmon pie has, along with the pumpkin-iness, an orange-cream soda flavor as well. It is really good slightly warm with a little dollop of ice cream. When the pies returned late fall this year to Green City Market, I actually walked a few blocks to an ATM to withdraw the funds needed to bring home a pie.

Tete de Cochon from Longman and Eagle (photo from lthforum.com)

4.) Tete de Cochon from Longman and Eagle

A great addition to our neighborhood, Logan Square, Longman and Eagle opened in 2010 and were bum rushed with whiskey loving diners. While we let the crowds fight early, we visited over the summer and had my favorite pork dish in 2010. The head cheese is sliced about a half inch thick, crisped, and topped with a beautiful duck egg. The head cheese was well prepared and ultra porky. The stickiness of the pork was not lost in the cooking process, but the attention to detail really came through in the egg. The egg was perfect in nearly every way. It was nearly subject of my first restaurant photo.

3.) Hazelnut Macaron with Trout Mousse and Pickled Cherries from North Pond

It was about 110 in the shade when I had this at the Green City Market BBQ this summer. Among the sweatiest 2,000 people grazing from stand to stand, I was lucky enough to taste a lot (too much) of lovely food, but this macaron was something different. There was the deliciously smoked trout topped with tart pickled cherries and sandwiched between two light hazelnut cookies. Nestled between a slew of grilled treats and drinks, it stood out as an amazing dish and my favorite from that sweat box of an evening.

Medai, Ume, Sudachi and Fried Garlic Chip from L20

2.) Medai with Ume, Sudachi, and Fried Garlic Chip from L2O

Going a completely opposite direction as number one, we made it to L2O last March to celebrate the, then, pending addition to our family. It seems like each year, we do one extravagant suit-coat meal and this year it was L20. It was certainly a great meal and it feels lucky now to get there before Laurant Gras left. The highlight of the tasting menu came early with the raw Medai sitting in the super acidic sudachi and ume. The flavors of the red sauce were amazing. Similarly to at the Mulefoot Pig Dinner at Blackbird a few years ago, I asked for a spoon to not miss this sauce.  The fish was mild and firm and the garlic chips added crunch. My only complaint would be that there was not enough of it.

Prior Version of Mado's Deep Fried Rabbit (Photo by Dan Schleifer)

1.) Fried Rabbit from Mado

This perfectly crisp rabbit came out in pieces with skewered kidneys and liver on top fried perfectly in what seemed to be cornmeal. After my first bite, I shared with the table. My cousin, visiting Chicago in late winter with his now fiance, said it was the best thing that he had ever eaten. For me, it was not far off. It was certainly the best thing that I had this year. I would be remiss not to mention the fave, treviso, and parmesan that I had at Mado in late August as an aside.  It was possibly the best vegetable dish that I have ever had. Simple, well dressed and seasonal, it was great. RIP Mado.

Special Mention: Horseradish Raw Cheddar from Brunkow and Double Honey Confiture by Flora Confections

While not a restaurant dish, these two items picked up from Green City Market were outstanding. Serving (or eating) these items at home-made it feel like we were sitting in a casual restaurant getting amazing food. The horseradish cheddar is now a fixture at our house. Great on sandwiches, on crackers, or from a spoon at midnight, these cheese is sharp and creamy. The Double Honey is super sweet, but isn’t a traditional jam. It is served on a cheese plate or even better on top of a thick pork chop. The honey, honeycrisp, and lemon rind combine to form a really special confiture.

Thanks again to the people taking the photos.

From last year:

10.) Dietzler Farms Beef Duo — Vie
9.) Old Fries — Edzo’s
8.) Pork Apple Sage Pie — Hoosier Mama Pie Co.
7.) Seared Ahi in Oaxacan Black Mole, plantain tamal, grilled nopal salad, roasted knob onion, and 3 nut crunch — Topolobampo
6.) Bistecca Fiorentina — Mado
5.) Pork Belly, Kimchi, and Hominy Stew — Urban Belly
4.) Beef Salad — Pho 777
3.) Birria — Birrieria Zaragoza
2.) Confit Chicken Thighs — Kith and Kin
1.) Waffle with Pickled Rhubarb — The Publican
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