The Ten Best Things I Ate (2011)
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.