It’s been a Hell of a year, guys: I got engaged to the love of my life (and have begun planning a wedding!), I traveled to France, I turned my passion for photography into a source of income, and I dined at some of the most wonderful restaurants in Chicago (and beyond). Last year, I wrote a post about the best things I ate, drank, and made in 2014, and was blown away by how many of you read it. So, I figured I’d better do the same thing for 2015! Thank you all for bearing with me through this busy, busy year; I have lots of plans for Kailley’s Kitchen in 2016, so I hope you’ll stay tuned!
The best things I ate and drank…
1. Every single perfect, artful morsel of food at Alinea. My then-boyfriend/now-fiance, Nick, took me here for my 27th birthday, and it took every preconceived notion of flavor and form and turned it on its head. More than a few people have asked me if it was worth the money, and the answer is (provided you’re someone who a) enjoys food and b) is willing to be adventurous) YES. Is it the sort of place I feel the need to return to anytime soon? No, probably not. The novelty of it all is half the experience.
2. Panna gelato drizzled in olive oil and sea salt at Filini. Sweet and vanilla-y with an earthy, savory edge– this is EXACTLY the kind of dessert I’ve been craving without even realizing it. Also, can we please take a minute to admire the fancy bubble situation going on?
3. Chicken wings lacquered in “Seoul Sassy” sauce at Crisp. A double-dip in the deep fryer simultaneously locks in juiciness and creates an epically crispy exterior, resulting in what’s indisputably the best fried chicken in Chicago.
4. Spaghetti carbonara at Ceres’ Table. So. Freakin’. Rich.
7. Heirloom carrots with with pistachio, amaranth, and smoked goat cheese at BOKA. Indubitably my favorite veggie-based dish of all time. Harmoniously balanced sweet and savory flavors, complementary textures… pure and unadulterated bliss. Also, I’m going to go on the record and say that BOKA is one of my favorite restaurants in Chicago…
8. Fried chicken and waffles with foie gras compound butter at MAX’s Wine Dive. Sadly, the MAX’s Wicker Park outpost closed earlier this year, but THAT BUTTER… oh, that butter will never, ever be forgotten.
9. Goat empanadas with pickled blueberries, feta, and avocado at Girl & the Goat. Well, it only took me five years to get to one of Chicago’s most in-demand restaurants; better late than never, right? Honorable mentions: House-baked brioche with honey butter and pickled rhubarb, chickpea fritters, and pig face.
10. Chocolate layer cake at Formento’s. Holy mother of all that is chocolate-y– this is the best chocolate cake in Chicago (and this is coming from someone who’s eaten a LOT of chocolate cake in Chicago). Honorable mentions: Pimento cheeseburger (lunch only).
11. Tenderloin steak tartare at Maude’s Liquor Bar. Between the velvety raw beef and slow-cooked egg yolk, what’s not to love?
12. Truffle burger with foie gras compound butter at RPM Steak. See above comments about foie gras compound butter.
14. Turtle sundae at Margie’s. This is one of Chicago’s OG ice cream joints (and you can tell, because the interior space looks like an unstylish grandma’s basement), and while the sundaes lack all the bells and whistles of modern ice cream shops (looking at you, Jeni’s), they’re perfect in their simplicity. Honorable mention: Chocolate malt. Actually, okay, it’s a tie.
16. Roasted beet panzanella at Billy Sunday. My Instagram caption said it best: “Every dish at Billy Sunday looks like it’s been plucked from a gastronomic fairytale.” Honorable mention: Peanut butter baked Alaska.
17. Charcuterie at Tete Charcuterie. Give me all the cured meats. Honorable mention: the veggie-licious cocotte, which also takes top honors for the best vegetarian entree I tried this year. (Okay, it was one of the ONLY vegetarian entrees I tried this year, but still…)
18. Guacamole at Barcocina. I eat guac like it’s my job, and while I love it, it usually takes something special to impress me. Enter: Barcocina’s signature rendition, which comes with Oaxaca cheese and a pasilla balsamic reduction.
19. Chicken fried chicken at Dove’s Luncheonette … and Hell YES I #putaneggonit. Also, I ate this the day Nick proposed to me, so you can probably understand why I have extra warm and fuzzy feels whenever I think about this winner winner chicken dinner.
20. Doughnut at Pub Royale. It’s no secret that when it comes to doughnuts, my allegiance lies steadfastly with Doughnut Vault’s selection of old fashioneds. However, Pub Royale threw a chai spiced dulce de leche number into the ring, and I’m kind of loving it.
21. The Graze Burger at Graze. If you’ve ever wondered what a James Beard Foundation-recognized burger involves, here you go: fresh ground bacon, sirloin, ribeye & short ribs, caramelized onions, Worcestershire-cabernet jus, Swiss Emmental compound butter, and SarVecchio sesame brioche.
23. Beef cheek risotto at TWO (with the optional sunny-side duck egg). If you’re looking for one of the most comforting dishes in Chicago, this is it. The beef cheek is impossibly tender, and the runny egg yolk imparts the dish with richness.
24. Nachos at Twisted Spoke. This shit is bananas. Seriously. You haven’t lived until you’ve devoured a crispy chip (or 27) loaded with melty Gouda, succulent barbecued pork, a truck-load of frizzled onions, a drizzle of Sriracha aioli, and cilantro.
25. Juicy Lucy at Dusek’s. I know that this Pilsen gem earned it’s first shiny, new Michelin star for a whole host of reasons, but I really wouldn’t be surprised if this cheese-stuffed burger was the paramount reason.
26. Merriment Burger at Merriment Social. One of my very oldest friends teamed up with with his best chef friend to open this awesome new concept in Milwaukee, and I had the privilege of stopping in before the soft opening to snap a bunch of food/interior photos for them. This burger was easily the best burger I tried all year (which says something, because I’ve worked my way through myriad burgers this year).
27. Smoked avocado dip at I|O at the Godfrey. If life hands you avocados, make guacamole. Or avocado toast. Or this obscenely delicious and delicately smoky avocado dip.
30. Everything on chef Aaron Martinez’s menu at Intro. Chef Martinez was the third “chef-in-residence” to take his turn at Intro, and not a single item on his whimsical tasting menu disappointed.
31. Chorizo-stuffed bacon wrapped dates at avec. The bacon-wrapped date dish that destroys all other bacon wrapped date dishes (sorry, Cafe Ba-Ba-Reeba and Mercat a la Planxa). Also, apparently avec is Anthony Bourdain’s favorite restaurant in Chicago, and let’s be real, the man has fine taste.
32. Smokie’s chili at Bub City. If you like your chili with a fiery kick, you’ll love this jalapeno heavy rendition from Bub City.
33. Garlic-parmesan monkey bread at Bar Toma. Stretchy waistband-ed pants required. Honorable mentions: Cheeseburger pizza (legitimately tastes like a Big Mac in pizza form) and s’mores pizza
35. Buffalo mac at Rockit Bar & Grill. I lost my Mac ‘n’ Cheese Fest virginity this year, and tried just about every variety of mac in the game; nothing got me like Chef Amanda’s buffalo mac with crumbled bleu cheese.
36. Alllllll the sushi at Arami. Anyone who knows me knows than I’m a diehard Sushi Dokku customer, but lately, I’ve grown tired of the same old same old (don’t get me wrong– the “same old same old” is still fantastic) and decided to branch out. And thank God I did, because I enjoyed some of the freshest sushi I’ve had ANYWHERE at Arami.
39. Goat and bison stuffed cabbage rolls at Ada Street. I mean, really. Goat + bison. Is there anything else a recovering vegetarian could even ask for?
41. Bing bread at Parachute. This place is entirely deserving of the Michelin star it earned this year, and while every single dish I tried was great, I could’ve housed 20 pieces of this bacon-studded marvel slathered in sour cream butter and not batted an eyelash (okay, I may be prone to hyperbole, but it really was that great). Honorable mention: the yuzu-infused lemonade.
42. Fried smelt at Cold Storage. I was lucky enough to be hired to photograph the food and space at this restaurant-within-a-restaurant, and as is often the perk of being a food photographer, was able to taste just about every ocean-faring dish I shot. The beer-battered fried smelt were irresistible.
43. Short rib beignets at Boeufhaus. I loved everything about this charming anti-steakhouse steakhouse, but the pillowy beignets stuffed with short rib stole the show.
44. Wagyu A5 Level 12 steak at Roka Akor. Well, this beef officially ruined me for all other beef. It’s so marbled that it melts in your mouth, and is extremely hard to come by. The restaurant served it with three types of salt (obviously, between the beef and the salt, they knew the way to my heart): truffle salt, citrus salt, and smoked salt; each salt imparted different undertones to the flavorful steak. Honorable mention: chef’s selection of sashimi. Have you ever seen a prettier platter?
45. Steak tartare at Cherry Circle Room. This retro spot within the newly-renovated Chicago Athletic Association Hotel gets me. Like, really gets me. The steak tartare employs the Holy Flavor Trinity of aged gouda, quail egg, and salsa verde to complement the gloriously raw beef. Is there more to life than putting an egg on it? Highly doubtful. Honorable mention: the insanely photogenic beet salad (which I sadly did not get a photo of. I guess I’ll just have to go back…).
46. Brown butter rice crispy treat at Stella Barra. The pizza’s solid, no doubt. But the colossal brown butter rice crispy treat? That, my friends, is an edible manifestation of Heaven. It’s your favorite childhood treat, all grown up.
…and now, the five most popular Kailley’s Kitchen recipes published in 2015!
…and finally, the most important thing I WROTE in 2015.
A detailed account of my relationship with food. This was by far the most difficult think I’ve ever written, but my hope is that my story touched at least one person who has/is struggling with an eating disorder.