Tuesday, December 25, 2012
I come from a family of foodies. And geeks. On the subject of food: We had two turkeys and a ham this year for Christmas Eve dinner (rosemary roast turkey and Cajun fried turkey). For 10 people. And then followed that up with a slow-roasted prime rib for lunch on Christmas Day. On the subject of geekdom: Ever since we can remember, my brother and I have been watching Star Trek, and my dad introduced me to Asimov while I was still in elementary school. Even my relatively normal mom, who never seems terribly nerdy, watched Babylon 5 from the beginning while it was airing on network TV - we all thought the show was silly (the makeup and special effects were less than stellar) and would poke fun at her for watching it, but when the series started to pick up steam somewhere in the second season it was my mother who had the last laugh. We all became fans, and Babylon 5 is still one of my favorite science fiction TV shows of all time.
Over the last couple of years, Christmas presents in my family have tended toward cooking-related items, and this year continued the trend. Combining the food and the geek themes, my brother and his wife bought me a set of Star Wars cookie cutters and pancake molds. They're pretty awesome.
All that to say, I hope all of you have been able to spend time with the people (nerdy or otherwise) that you care about this holiday season. Merry Christmas!
Wednesday, November 14, 2012
One of my favorite meals in Rome - so good that I ate it twice in the span of a week - came from a pizzeria and bakery tucked into a corner of Campo de Fiori. Contrary to what my Taiwanese American traveling companion believed, Romans do, in fact, eat pizza. It's one of the most common foods in the city, and perhaps the most famous. (Well, he was surprised that Italians actually eat pasta too, so perhaps he was not the best person by which to judge popular opinion.)
The trio of expert bakers at Forno Campo de Fiori have been serving pizza and bread for over 30 years, and they know their stuff - the place is usually packed. In addition to the six-foot-long pizzas, which are served by the slice and charged by weight, they offer a selection of both sweet and savory baked goods. But take my advice: skip them and order a slice of pizza for lunch. Forno is strictly takeout, so bring your chosen slice to the square itself, where you can munch happily away under a statue of the philosopher-mathematician Giordano Bruno.
Forno is known for its pizza bianca, a thick, chewy flatbread topped solely with olive oil and sea salt. I highly recommend it, though it's not what most Americans would consider pizza. That transformation happens when you add cheese and toppings to the crunchy base, and a magical one it is indeed. The pizza funghi was one of my favorites - the mushrooms were buttery, tender, and of a variety I couldn't immediately name, which an Italian friend later identified as porcini. They're common in Rome, but I'd never seen such large ones in the US.
My absolute favorite topping was the prosciutto, but it won by an extremely narrow margin. If you need to balance the saltiness of the pizza, Monday through Saturday before 2pm the square is host to a vibrant market - buy a box of fresh strawberries to finish off your meal and you'll feel spoiled after spending only a few euros.
So, to recap: Pizza at Forno. Grab a slice for lunch, because by the time dinner rolls around, you'd be lucky to find a pizza left to order (I tried - and I was not so lucky). You won't be disappointed - weeks after my trip, I'm still dreaming of their chewy crusts.
Forno Campo de Fiori
Campo de Fiori, 22
00186 Rome, Italy
Monday, November 5, 2012
Braised Pig Trotters
Now, I know some of you are already making horrified faces, but I swear to you, pig trotters are delicious. In fact, if you're French, this idea of this dish probably doesn't scare you at all - see: pied de cochon.
For the rest of you: you probably like bacon. In fact, since you're reading this on the internet, I'm willing to bet that most of you are in love with bacon. And pork belly. So think of pig trotters as something akin to pork belly: soft, fatty, and flavorful. In Singapore, pig trotters are often braised in a dark soy-based sauce similar to the one used for Teochew braised duck. They're best eaten with lots of white rice to soak up the rich sauce.
You can always go the gym later.
Thursday, October 25, 2012
Wednesday, September 19, 2012
Tuesday, September 18, 2012
Wednesday, September 12, 2012
Bak Kut Teh
The Chinese love our broth soups. Bak kut teh, which translates literally to "meat bone tea," is a deceptively simple pork rib soup in a peppery broth created from star anise, garlic, cinnamon, and cloves. Brought to Malaya by migrant workers from China, the story goes that the coolies could not afford meat and brewed pork bones into soup because it was cheaper. Depending on who you ask, the coolies were either Teochew or Hokkien (Fujian). What is clear is that different Chinese groups developed their own versions of bak kut teh, from the increased pepper in the Teochew style (the most popular in Singapore) to the highly herbal Cantonese style.
In Singapore, you'll usually get rice and yau char kwai (fried dough) with your bak kut teh, and don't hold back on drinking as much soup as you can handle - stalls are quite happy to refill your bowl with hot broth for free.
Sunday, September 9, 2012
Friday, August 31, 2012
We're finally continuing our series on Singaporean (primarily street) cuisine! The country of my birth has excellent food, and thus far, we've talked about duck rice, popiah, Ipoh hor fun, fish head curry, fish ball noodles, and Hainanese chicken rice. Now for another of my favorite dishes:
No discussion of Singaporean food would be complete without mentioning chilli crab, one of the national dishes of Singapore (the other one is Hainanese chicken rice). Although it sounds spicy, it's actually quite mild. A large crab (usually a mud crab) is floured and fried in oil, then cooked in a red sauce that's a bit sweet and sour - the sauce is primarily made of eggs, chilies, garlic, sugar, and the most important ingredient, ketchup or tomato paste. (Surprise! Ketchup actually finds its way into a number of Singaporean dishes.) The dish is typically served with buns for mopping up of all that delicious sauce.
Chilli crab was invented in 1950 by Cher Yam Tian, who, legend has it, normally steamed the crabs her husband caught and brought home. She cooked the first iteration of the dish we now know and love because he was tired of the same old steamed crab and wanted something different one day. Voila! Bottled tomato sauce - and then bottled chilli sauce - was added to stir-fried crabs, friends loved the dish, and eventually Cher went from cooking chilli crab in her kitchen to selling it from a pushcart. Then a stall on Upper East Coast Road. Then, 15 years after creating her initial recipe, she opened the highly successful Palm Beach restaurant. She sold the restaurant in 1984, but her son Roland still owns and operates Roland's Restaurant, where he makes chilli crab from the same recipe that his mother did.
However, the version of chilli crab most popular in Singapore was created by Hooi Kok Wai of Dragon Phoenix restaurant; he modified Cher's recipe in the 1960s to include eggs, vinegar, sambal, lemon juice, and tomato paste. The additional ingredients make the sauce richer and more substantial.
If you haven't guessed, chilli crab is a source of national pride. A few years ago, Malaysian Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen claimed the dish was, in fact, Malaysian, hijacked by Singapore. Few things upset Singaporeans more than infringing upon their food, and the figurative knives came out. Of course, Malaysia has been rather sore ever since kicking Singapore to the curb (originally, Singapore was supposed to be part of the same nation) and finding itself bypassed economically. And, I would add, gastronomically as well.*
*Admittedly, I'm rather biased about the whole thing.
Related: Things to Eat in Singapore: Bak Kut Teh.
Thursday, August 16, 2012
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
Thanks to my awesome brother, I've had a pair of lightsaber chopsticks for quite a while. But in November, NCSX will be shipping a version that actually lights up, thanks to some cleverly placed LEDs. Want a pair? You can pre-order them for $22.90. Epic battles over sushi? Yes, please!
Thursday, July 5, 2012
Saturday, June 30, 2012
Scott over at Seattle Food Geek has performed some amazing experiments with a laser-cutter and nori. The photo above is a visual pun: get it? Butterfly shrimp!
The laser-cutter is also capable of producing simply beautiful food art:
Sushi made with this technique would be almost too pretty to eat. Visit Seattle Food Geek for more photos - they're incredible.
Friday, June 29, 2012
Wednesday, June 27, 2012
Fish Ball Noodles
Western meatballs are made by shaping ground meat. In Asia, meatballs are made by pounding, not grinding. The end result? Chinese meatballs have a smooth texture wholly unlike their American cousins. It's common in Singapore to find this style of meatball made from fish, squid, octopus, and beef.
Fish ball noodles come in many combinations - the photo above is typical, a combination of yellow noodles (mee), fish balls, and fish cake.
Hainanese Chicken Rice
This is one of the national dishes of Singapore. It's an absolute must-have, and a dish that every overseas Singaporean longs for with great intensity. Yet Hainanese chicken rice is deceptively simple: In essence, it's a boiled chicken with rice cooked in oily chicken stock, served with ginger, dark soy sauce, chili, and the broth it was cooked in. It sounds simple, but somehow getting the texture of the chicken exactly right and getting the rice (oh, the rice!) to have the correct degree of oily sheen is a tricker business than you'd imagine. This is one of my favorite foods in the world.
Related: Things to Eat in Singapore: Chilli Crab and Things to Eat in Singapore: Bak Kut Teh.
Wednesday, June 20, 2012
It's been hovering around 95 degrees here in Chicago, so it's definitely ice cream time.
Awesome sculpture from the streets of Adelaide, South Australia. "Hot with the Chance of Late Storm" was created in 2006 by the art collective Glue Society.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
Singapore is my favorite culinary destination, hands down. Last week, I started off the primer on local food with duck rice and popiah. Here are three more of my favorite dishes:
Ipoh Hor Fun
Ipoh, Malaysia is renowned for its cuisine, the result of years of cross-cultural pollination from a group that become known as the Peranakan, or Straits Chinese (Chinese immigrants to the region from the 15th century who adopted the culture and language of the Malays around them, but remained ethnically and religiously Chinese). Today the city is 70% Chinese. "Hor fun" (Cantonese) is the name for the flat rice noodles in the dish. Ipoh hor fun can be served "wet" (in soup) or "dry" (in gravy) and usually comes with chicken and prawns (Americans: shrimp).
Fish Head Curry
Talk of this dish often scares my American friends, but the fish heads used in this curry are so large that really, it's not all that different from eating normal fish. Unless you're my father, who likes to eat the eyeballs (yes, even I think this is gross - as do many Singaporeans). Fish head curry is the product of a South Indian immigrant to Singapore who realized that the Chinese enjoyed eating fish heads. Poof! A new national dish was born. I've always eaten the version in Indian restaurants, which is hot (perhaps deadly to most Americans - I have a high spice tolerance for an American but a low one for an Asian, and it's as spicy as I can handle), though I'm told there's a Chinese version that is milder and sweeter.
That's it for now - more to come!
Related: More things to eat in Singapore: fish ball noodles and Hainanese chicken rice. The latter is one of the national dishes of Singapore, and one of my favorite in the world.
Thursday, May 31, 2012
Tuesday, May 22, 2012
Undoubtedly, some of the best food in Singapore can be found at unassuming hawker centres. Singaporeans call this simply "local food" - it draws from the various cuisines of Southeast Asia and China, but the dishes travel to Singapore and are made the island's own with nuances that are rarely found elsewhere. Not only is hawker food cheap (you can get a full meal for less than $4 USD in a country where a mid-priced car easily costs $150,000 USD), it's the stuff that I dream about when I'm not here. It's important to note that all Singaporeans are food-obsessed by nature - eating and shopping are the two national pastimes, and any Singaporean will argue adamantly about which stall has the best version of their favorite dishes. The country does have an excellent gourmet restaurant scene as well, but when I'm here, I tend to focus on what one writer called "homesick Singaporean food." So here's Part I of a primer on local food:
Duck Rice (or Braised Duck)
Soy sauce braised duck rice with herbal soup is Teochew (a Chinese dialect group) in origin. Tradition says that the dish was originally braised goose, but since duck was more readily available, the recipe was modified and Teochew braised duck was born. If served with accompaniments like eggs or tofu, everything is usually cooked n the same braising sauce, though sometimes it's served with white rice. It's one of my favorite dishes.
Popiah originates in Fujian and Chaoshan. It's a variant of the spring roll, a soft, thin crepe filled with chopped peanuts, bean sprouts, carrots, tofu, eggs, and Chinese sausage (the ingredients vary somewhat, but these are standard). And like the above duck, it also owes much to Teochew cooks.
This country takes good food seriously: The first thing a Singaporean will ask you is whether you've eaten. (Mind you, this is a slightly different question than asking whether you are hungry.) I remember a visit years ago where both sides of my family had conferred with each other weeks in advance of my trip to organize most of our meals. As for this trip, they may have to roll me home in a wheelbarrow.
Related: More things to eat in Singapore: Ipoh hor fun and fish head curry. Yum.
Friday, May 18, 2012
As seen in Singapore: "Kickapoo: Original USA Joy Juice Recipe." Given that I live in the US and I'd never heard of "joy juice" (I know what you just thought - this is a classy blog!), I inspected the can to discover that Kickapoo hails from Atlanta, Ga. A sip told me that "joy juice" was similar in flavor and mouthfeel to Mountain Dew. So, I thought, perhaps Kickapoo was a small, unknown company in the States that found a following in Asia?
"The two famous comic characters on the can are best buds Polecat and Hairless Joe from USA [sic]. They're the creators of the original Kickapoo Joy Juice, a magical concoction that leaves people all over the world happy and cravin' for more. Get that kick today!"
I was about to ask Atlanta readers if they'd ever heard of "joy juice," but a quick Google search turned up the tidbit that Polecat and Hairless Joe are indeed from the US - as fictional characters in the comic Li'l Abner. As for Kickapoo Joy Juice? In Li'l Abner, it was "a liquor of such stupefying potency that the hardiest citizens of Dogpatch, after the first burning sip, rose into the air, stiff as frozen codfish." Well, then. Not-Mountain Dew is rather disappointing in comparison.
Tuesday, April 24, 2012
Ever since I was introduced to truffled fries at the Jolly Pumpkin in Ann Arbor, Mich., I've been obsessed with truffle salt. As soon as I got back to Chicago, I pounced on a jar from the Spice House (my favorite local purveyor of fresh spices) and proceeded to throw white truffle salt on just about everything I ate for a good week. I learned that while the smoky flavor of truffle goes well with many foods, there are some items that are far better off without it. That said, when truffles are good, they're good. There's a reason that throughout the centuries, they gained a reputation as an aphrodisiac. I'm still dreaming about a truffle cream sauce I ate two months ago.
Truffles don't hold their flavor very long at high heat, so truffle salt is best as a finishing salt. Cook your dish and sprinkle the truffle salt before serving. In my experience, truffle salt tends to enhance recipes that are fairly plain, without a laundry list of other spices and strong flavors. Here's a list of some great foods to try:
- Pork (here's a great recipe)
- Chicken (most chicken recipes pair well, but I didn't think the truffle salt added anything to fried chicken)
- Eggs (frittatas, scrambled, omelettes)
Truffles: once you start, you can't stop. If you have other ideas for truffle salt, post them in the comments!
Friday, April 20, 2012
Folks, this is epic. Not only is our stormtrooper friend quite tall at 6'4", he weighed a full 300 pounds before 600 geeks mercilessly ate all of his cakey goodness, which included Rice Krispy legs. (Largest. Rice Krispy. Ever.) It took a team of 10 people from Oak Leaf Cakes a full two weeks to build him for the Arisia Sci-Fi Convention in Boston.
Want to watch Mr. Stormtrooper devoured by hungry nerds? See: How to Eat a Stormtrooper. Never stand between a geek and her cake.
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Since an encounter with truffled fries at the Jolly Pumpkin in Ann Arbor, Mich., I've been obsessed with truffle salt. Over the last few months, I've been experimenting with it in a number of different dishes, and I've learned that the earthiness of truffle goes well with a host of ingredients. Char siu, one of my favorite Chinese foods, is a traditional preparation of spiced, roast pork. And since pigs eat truffles and are used to find them, I figured both flavors would work well together. It may be slightly strange logic, but it worked. The result? A delicious melding of the East and West.
Truffled Char Siu Pork Chops
Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 20 minutes
- 2 pork chops
- 1 teaspoon olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Chinese five spice
- 1 teaspoon brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon truffle salt
Preheat the broiler on high heat with the oven rack around 8 inches below it.
Coat the pork chops with olive oil, Chinese five spice, and brown sugar. Place them on the broiling pan. Broil the chops for 8 minutes or until the top is nicely browned.
Flip the pork chops and broil for another 3-4 minutes until they reach an internal temperature of 145 degrees F. Take the pork chops out of the oven and cover them loosely with aluminum foil. Allow them to rest for 5 minutes (this will bring up the internal temperature and make them juicier). Sprinkle truffle salt on both sides to finish.
Monday, March 19, 2012
Wednesday, March 14, 2012
Tuesday, March 13, 2012
A labor of love for Marie-Ève Laroche, who worked at cafes in Sydney, Australia before opening Pikolo, every cup is crafted with care. Quality is more important than quantity. Elegance comes in simplicity. You won't find 15 variations on a latte on the menu. But every latte will be a small work of art.
This attitude carries through to everything at the cafe. Pikolo only serves a handful of pastries - chocolate chip banana bread, pecan tarts, cheddar and bacon scones - but the items are homemade, and the banana bread in particular is fantastic.
Located in the McGill Ghetto, the cafe feels comfortable enough for college students to spend hours typing up papers (there's free wifi) yet upscale enough to appeal to professionals on their way to work. It's an inviting space, with high ceilings, dark wood, and plenty of light, that manages to feel hip without being pretentious. And the staff are friendly. Class, character, style, and substance: if you're in the area, I highly recommend a visit.
Pikolo Espresso Bar
3418 B Avenue du Parc
Montreal, QC H2X 2H5
Saturday, March 3, 2012
Pabst Blue Ribbon: Beer of choice for the hipster crowd. It's cheap, going for $1-2 a bottle on special at Chicago bars. But did you know that PBR has a fancy cousin? Blue Ribbon 1844 is being sold in China as a premium brew, going for $44 a bottle. Ads extol the beer's status as a "heritage classic breakthrough" and "a piece of art." Yes, the brewery says it's a different recipe than your average American PBR - but all the beautiful advertising the world would have a difficult time convincing any Chicagoan to pay an extra $40 for what they know as cheap beer.
Wednesday, February 29, 2012
For most of us, flying is an ordeal. Security inspections and their associated lines, airlines that treat you like cattle, cramped seating, and bland food often add up to a less-than-pleasant travel experience. I know people who will go through great lengths to avoid air travel, including one who took Amtrak all the way from Chicago to New York (20 hours later, she wondered if she should have opted for the two-hour flight instead).
But Taiwan's EVA Air wants to put the fun back into air travel, and they've found just the mascot to do it: Hello Kitty. Brand owner Sanrio is partnering with EVA to operate three themed jets from Taipei that will offer Hello Kitty boarding passes, luggage tags, headrest covers, toiletries - and, most importantly - food.
Airline food, but in a Hello Kitty bento box? Adorable. Suddenly it's kind of appealing.
Tuesday, February 14, 2012
Daleks. So romantic. Happy Valentine's Day!
Cookies courtesy of Geek Sweets. I first saw them months ago and have been itching to post them ever since!
Monday, February 6, 2012
My college roommate Alex and I used to cook dinner well after midnight on a regular basis. He came to visit me from Ann Arbor this weekend, and following longstanding tradition, we ended up at the grocery store late one night and came home with a large bag of shrimp. Post-midnight dinner turned into a multi-course affair utilizing lots of our crustacean finds. This was the starter.
Shrimp, Avocado, and Strawberry Salad
Active Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
- 10 large shrimp, cooked
- 1 avocado, sliced
- 6 strawberries, sliced
- 1/4 teaspoon sugar
- garlic powder, to taste
- fresh black pepper, to taste
- sea salt, to taste
Divide strawberries evenly into 2 bowls. Sprinkle with sugar. Place half avocado and 5 shrimp into each bowl and top with a sprinkling of garlic powder, pepper, and salt.
Tuesday, January 31, 2012
What I've seen is that most people have actually eaten around 30-50 of the items on the list, not 20. Like any good overachiever, I come in at 91/100 - only good for a lowly A- that would earn the ire of my Asian parents. (Just kidding. We're grading on a curve here, right?)
Here's the list - post how you did in the comments!
11. Black Pudding
12. Black Truffle (I have, however, been obsessed lately with white truffle salt.)
26. Crickets (I'm adventurous, but I draw the line at insects. I don't even want to look at them, much less put them into my mouth.)
28. Dandelion Wine
63. Nettle Tea
100. Zucchini Flowers
Monday, January 23, 2012
This adorable bento box is brought to you by Bento, Monsters - can you believe that Ming wasn't happy with how he turned out? I think he's incredibly cute. Happy New Year!
Thursday, January 19, 2012
If you visited Kitchen Lore yesterday, you saw that we were participating in the SOPA Strike along with 75,000 other websites (update: make that 115,000 websites) including Google, Wikipedia, Mozilla, Craigslist, and Wordpress. The SOPA Strike is over and Congress has been continuing to drop its support of the bills, though the numbers are still pretty close (67 supporters, 72 opponents). It looks like we made a difference, though the fight's not over just yet.
If you still don't understand what the fuss is about after all the internet craziness that happened yesterday, here's a succinct post about why both acts are bad for the internet and fail to accomplish their stated goal of addressing piracy.
This is important - contact your Congressional representatives if you haven't already (if you did - thanks!).
And now we head back to our regularly scheduled posts.
Saturday, January 14, 2012
Saturday, January 7, 2012
In a bizarre legal move, Pepsi Co. is claiming that Mountain Dew is capable of dissolving dead mice. A man in Madison County, Ill. "claims that after opening and beginning to drink soda he purchased from a vending machine at work, he tasted something foul. He claims he spat out the soda to reveal a dead mouse." I'm not sure how you can drink such a large gulp of soda that a mouse carcass would escape notice at first, but that's beside the point. In November 2009, Ronald Ball filed a suit against Pepsi Co. for over $50,000 in damages, and the case is going to court next week.
In an affidavit, Pepsi's expert witness testified that Ball's claim is false, writing that the mouse would have turned into a "a jelly-like substance" by the time he opened his can of pop 74 days after its bottling:
By 30 days of exposure to the fluid, all of the mouse's structures will have disintegrated to the point the structures (excepting possibly a portion of the tail) will not be recognizable and, therefore, the animal itself will not be recognizable. Instead, after 30 days in the fluid, the mouse will have been transformed into a "jelly-like" substance.Even if Pepsi wins the case, I'm not sure that you can actually count this as a win overall. A can of mouse-dissolving acid to go with your fries, anyone?
Thursday, January 5, 2012
Tuesday, January 3, 2012
Cacio e Pepe is a classic Roman dish. It's usually prepared with spaghetti, so when I bought my first spaghetti squash and was wondering what to do with it, I thought the vegetable would work nicely in place of pasta in that recipe. Kitchen experiments! As it turns out, spaghetti squash works quite well with a few modifications to the original recipe (real cacio e pepe omits the garlic and salt, and there's great debate as to whether butter belongs in the recipe).
Since there are so few ingredients, use the best quality pepper and cheese that you can find - it makes a huge difference. Ground black pepper that's been sitting on the shelf for a year won't allow you to experience the full flavors of this dish.
Spaghetti Squash Cacio e Pepe
Servings: 3 as a main dish, 5-6 as a side
Active Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
- 1 spaghetti squash
- 1 cup water
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon finely minced garlic
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
- 1 cup freshly shredded Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Microwave the spaghetti squash for 1 minute.
Cut the squash in half lengthwise and remove the seeds and membranes. Place cut side down in a baking dish with water. Bake for 25 minutes or until the inside of the squash is fork tender.
When the squash is cool enough to touch but still nicely warm, use a large fork to remove pasta-like strands. Combine with butter and garlic (the heat of the squash should melt the butter) in a medium-sized bowl and toss with salt, pepper and cheese. Serve warm.
Sunday, January 1, 2012
There's a law somewhere in the writing universe that requires bloggers to create end of the year lists. So here's mine, with the following ground rules: 1. No food from Asia (the continent) appears on the list, even though Singapore could easily fill half the list on its own - unfortunately, I started this blog after my last trip to Asia and I didn't document my restaurant visits very well. Even though they were quite delicious. 2. For obvious reasons, home-cooked items aren't on this list either. 3. Every item was eaten for the first time in the last year.
Most of the foods on this list are things that I daydreamed about for days and weeks (sometimes longer) after having them once. And anything in Chicago has been eaten on multiple occasions. So without further ado, I present to you the The Ten Best Things I Ate in 2011 (listed in no particular order):
1. JP Burger and Truffled Fries, Jolly Pumpkin (Ann Arbor, Mich.)
Ground grass-fed beef with melted cambozola cheese, crimini mushrooms and thick-cut Berkshire bacon on a toasted challah roll: I'm not usually one to rave about burgers, but this may be the best burger I've ever had. I'm also not usually one to rave about fries, but the truffled fries (truffle salt and rosemary) are like crack. You won't be able to stop eating them. Order a full appetizer portion of the truffled fries or pay an extra $3 to upgrade the plain fries that come with the burger. Trust me, it's worth every penny.
2. Peeky Toe Crab Benedict and Dehydrated Bacon, Longman and Eagle (Chicago, Ill.)
Brunch may be the best way to enjoy this Michelin-starred gastropub - even the menu items that sound a little strange are reliably delicious. The crab benedict comes with a few slices of dehydrated bacon, one of those strange-sounding items that I end up dreaming about at night. It's crisp, sweet, and reminds me of bak kwa, one of my favorite Singaporean snacks.
3. Tonkotsu Ramen, Wasabi (Chicago, Ill.)
Thus far, Wasabi makes the best ramen I've found outside of Japan. Their tonkotsu comes with egg noodles, berkshire pork cheeks, soft boiled eggs, marinated bamboo shoots, scallions, sesame, and kikurage mushrooms.
4. Braised Eel, Craft (New York City, NY)
Craft follows a simple philosophy that allows food to taste like it's supposed to - instead of covering dishes in spices until the actual flavor of the meat and vegetables becomes buried, what you get is something like the platonic ideal of a food. The eel is tender and served in a wonderfully rich sauce.
5. Valrhona Brownie, Floriole (Chicago, Ill.)
Speaking of platonic ideals, this may be the platonic ideal of a brownie. It's dense, rich, and packed with flavor.
6. Dark Chocolate Ice Cream, Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams (Columbus, Oh.)
As a University of Michigan graduate, I have to look down on Columbus - the city, and especially the university that resides in its borders - in principle. But Jeni Britton Bauer is an ice cream making genius. And her ice cream shop has to be the best part of Columbus.
7. Belgian Liege Waffle, Taste of Belgium (Cincinnati, Oh.)
I had no idea. We Americans do not understand the true glory of an authentic Liege waffle, a creation that's simultaneously dense and light (no, I don't understand how this is possible either) and crisp with a coating of melted pearl sugar. Adding syrup or whipped cream to this beauty is a mistake. Eat it plain - it needs no adornment.
8. Salty Caramel Brownie, Juliette et Chocolat (Montreal, Qué.)
I'm an unrepentant chocoholic (amusingly, Firefox's built-in spell-checker recognizes this as a real word). And Juliette et Chocolat is a haven for all things chocolate. This intense brownie comes surrounded in a pool of salty caramel. That plus one of their signature hot chocolates will put even the most passionate chocolate lover into a sugar coma.
The Purple Pig (Chicago, Ill.)
Tender and cooked to a perfect medium rare, the wagyu sirloin tip comes with fingerling potatoes, red onions, olives, and bone marrow vinaigrette. I spent my last birthday at the Purple Pig, and even though all of their dishes are served tapas-style, we might have ordered two sirloin tips between the three of us. I also highly recommend the milk-braised pork shoulder.
10. Congee with Ground Pork and Salted Egg, Me Dee Cafe (Chicago, Ill.)
You'll find Chicagoans talking about the "secret" late night congee menu at Me Dee, but if it's a secret, it's a pretty open one - just appear at the restaurant after 9pm or so, and they'll hand you the appropriate menu, no code words or hand signals required. I'm at Me Dee so often that they know my order now, which always includes this ground pork dish and the Thai crab omelette as accompaniments to plain congee. The congee - rice porridge with little flavor of its own - balances the strong saltiness of the pork and egg.
Happy New Year! May you try these and other delicious things in 2012.
Images courtesy of the Taste of Belgium and Wasabi websites.