So here, in chronological order to the best of my memory are my best bites of 2013. Many of them are common enough dishes, but these showed me how great these dishes could be. Of course, everything is subjective and I could most definitely change my mind about any of it if you ask me tomorrow.
1) Bread plate with Anchovy Spread at Balena in Chicago: We went to Balena because its pastry chef was on Top Chef: Just Desserts and is from my suburb. The entire meal was delicious, but the standout was the anchovy spread that came with the elaborate bread plate (I believe there were five types of bread and three spreads). Neither of us typically like anchovies, but this was beyond amazing, to the point that we were eating it from the dish with a spoon to get every last bite. Salty, creamy, and rich, yum.
2) Coffee Ice Cream with Cocoa Nibs at Mindy's Hot Chocolate in Chicago: I heard about Mindy's from watching Food Network many years ago and wanted to visit if I ever got to Chicago. It's a tiny restaurant in a strip center. We were crowded at the bar and ordered ice cream when it was beyond freezing outside. But the ice cream was creamy as it should be, tasted like good chocolate, and the cocoa nibs added enough texture to take this beyond anything I have ever had before. I wish this was a franchise!
3) English Muffins with Herbed Lard at Oxheart: I got to enjoy this on my first ever trip to Oxheart, so I didn't know there was a bread course. When it was put in front of me, I wasn't interested. I hate English muffins and ew, lard is gross. But since the meal was expensive, I decided to give it a try and I think Andrew and I both locked wide eyes immediately on trying it. The lard was buttery smooth with a strong herb flavor. The muffins weren't like the ones in the bread aisle of the grocery store: the outside was almost fried and the inside was thick. The muffins were tiny- only slightly larger than a half dollar, and we had four. I could have eaten so many more.
4) The Papaya Salad at Vieng Thai: I have said so many things about Vieng Thai, but I love the papaya salad so much. It isn't something I would have ordered without a recommendation, but the combo of fruit with red pepper should be enough to interest almost anyone. Sometimes it's super spicy, but I love it the most when there is just a hint of red pepper and I can taste all of the components of the salad individually.
5) Vegetables at Underbelly: We went to Underbelly in late December or early January and ordered vegetables with fish sauce just to have something green on the table. They were fantastic. We went a few months later and ordered a roast that came with brussels sprouts. Normally Andrew and I both hate brussels sprouts, but upon trying these, we were fighting over them. They were roasted and amazing. We went to Underbelly again last week and the vegetables happened to be broccoli. We both hate broccoli but couldn't get over how good this was. I considered ordering a second bowl of it, but I had to save room for #6 on this list...
6) Caramel Popcorn Pot de Creme at Underbelly: I had this for the second time last week and it was as good as I remember. After chocolate, caramel is my favorite flavor. The creamy caramel custard is served in a small mason jar and topped with fried pieces of soft pretzel and vanilla ice cream. I love the textures of everything and the subtle popcorn taste in the custard, but honestly, the pretzel is my favorite part.
7) Cream Cheese Croutons on the Caesar Salad at Graffiato in Washington, DC: I visited Washington, DC by myself for work and was afraid of public transport, so I had to visit restaurants in walking distance of my hotel. Luckily, I was game for walking and the weather was beautiful because Mike Isabella (from Top Chef) had a restaurant fairly close by. I sat at the bar and had dinner alone for the first and only time in my life. I started with the Caesar and decided to go all out - I wasn't going to hold the anchovies, even though I wanted to. The star of the salad was the croutons. They were made from lightly fried cubes of cream cheese with the slightest crunchy outer layer. When I bit into them, they broke apart in a warm, gooey mess. I wish DC was closer.
8) Macaroni and Cheese at Pecan Lodge in Dallas: Full disclosure: my note about this was actually about the burnt ends of the brisket that were a special the day we visited Pecan Lodge, but due to a nice coworker of Andrew's, I have gotten to experience the mac and cheese more recently, so I'm including that instead. The mac and cheese is really thick but doesn't taste chalky. It has enough cheese to not taste like queso and green chiles added in for a little something extra. My favorite part has to be the bacon crumbled on top. I know that in the food world, bacon is becoming passé and too much of a good thing, but I still love it.
9) Blacksmith's Iced Coffee: Blacksmith is another favorite that I get to go to all the time. I hated iced coffee until I tried theirs this summer. It's dark and strong. I like to add two packets of raw sugar to it and a splash of milk but really, it's still good when my ratios are off. Now that it's cold outside, I have to force myself to get a hot drink. I crave coffee on a daily basis, but I crave this specific coffee as a special treat all the time.
10) Cloud 10 Creamery: Okay, this one is kind of a cheat. There are many components of things at Cloud 10 that I love, but I have never had them all in the same dish. I love the nutella with marshmallow ice cream. It actually tastes like nutella, not weak chocolate like so many nutella-flavored things taste like to me. I love the Cafe Sua Da ice cream - it's coffee ice cream but so much better. The coffee is less dull than other coffee ice cream. And of course, I love nutella powder. What's not to love? It's unique and it's tasty and it's the best banana split topping I've ever heard of.
So, those are some of my best food memories from 2013. Can't wait to see what makes 2014's list!