High points of 2011
Last year provided the opportunity to sample some truly outstanding restaurants, but some truly resonated with this writer. Here are a few of the more incredible eateries I visited in 2011:
Hendrickx Belgian Bread Crafter ( www.facebook.com/pages/Hendrickx-Belgian-Bread-Crafter/128113613870120&: I still find myself going to this place, 100 E. Walton St., at least once a month. Among the delightful items are brioches, croissants (including brandy and chocolate ones), muffins, country bread and the sinful white-chocolate bread; there is even Belgian coffee. The interior is delightfully sleek, with warm orange hues contrasting with black.
La Taberna Tapas ( www.latabernatapas.com/ ): Nestled just off the University of Illinois at Chicago campus, La Taberna Tapas, 1301 S. Halsted St., serves items with Mediterranean influencesand there isn't a bad item in the bunch. I couldn't even complain about the octopus in the pulpo a la planchaan animal that is hard for many chefs to cook well.
Chicago Q ( www.chicagoqrestaurant.com ): For those who think the best barbecue comes through a bulletproof window, this restaurant is proof that "upscale BBQ" can be accomplished. Chef (and reality-TV veteran) Lee Ann Whippen can whip up a Kobe brisket that melts in your mouth; however, the bruleed mac-and-cheese isn't bad, either.
ZED451 ( www.zed451.com ): This restaurant, at 739 N. Clark St., has something amazing for every palate. The harvest tables are stocked with charcuteries, artisan cheeses and dishes such as tuna and shrimp poke, but there's also a nonstop selection of meat and seafood. Plus, there's an unbelievable rooftop deck. Plus, there's even a shuttle to transport you after the food renders you comatose. Plus ... OK, that's enough, for now.
Wildberry Pancakes & Café ( www.wildberrycafe.com ): I've been recommending this place, at 130 E. Randolph St., to various peopleand everyone has raved about it. This place surprised me the most of the eateries I visited last year, mainly because of the fantastic dishes and reasonable prices. In addition, I have five words for you: red velvet cake French toast.
I went to Orange recently with a couple of friends, and I'm happy to write that my first time at the restaurant was a thoroughly enjoyable one.
The eatery has lunch items, including various sandwiches, salads and soups. (I'll have to return, by the way, to try out the strawberry-blue cheese salad.) However, Orange is known mainly for its breakfast/brunch offerings, and it doesn't disappoint.
Items has divided into "sweets" and "savory" categories. In the former, you'll find everything from a pancake flight to French-toast kabobs. One of my friends had the cinnamon-roll pancakesand the smile on his face told me all I needed to know.
Under "savory" are some of the familiar (huevos rancheros) and the different (peppercorn-raspberry egg sandwich). My other friend was apparently in a Dr. Seuss state of mind and had the green eggs and ham (eggs scrambled with basil pesto). I highly recommend the chorizo hash, which has just the right amount of kick.
Orange has four locations in Chicago, with restaurants in River West, River North, Roscoe Village and Lincoln Park. See www.orangerestaurantchicago.com .
Charlie Trotter's closing
According to the Chicago Sun-Times, Charlie Trotter is closing his world-famous restaurant in August after a quarter-century in the business.
Trotter, 52, has called this a "sabbatical," as he plans to travel the world with his wife and go back to school to study philosophy and political theory.
For those who think the closing is for financial reasons, Trotter said that's not the case. "We've always been profitable, that's for sure," he said. "We've certainly slowed down like a lot of high-end restaurants, but we've always been able to make money. We've always been busy."
Among the items on the restaurant's current grand menu are steamed Alaskan sable with crosnes, sunchokes and peekytoe crab; and 72-hour braised shortrib with tamarind, pickled kohlrabi and crispy lotus root.
Trotter's To Go, 1337 W. Fullerton Ave., will remain open.