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Have you ever had a meal so good that weeks, months, even years later you can close your eyes and remember exactly what it tasted like?  Have you ever eaten a dish so amazing that thinking about it years later made your taste buds drool?  I’ve had a whole handful of meals that incredible.

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I was recently asked by TheBesty.com to compile a list of 10 of those most amazing meals.  TheBesty.com is a food site that where users keep track of their favorite restaurants and organize places they want to try around the world.  Thinking about the best meals I’ve ever had wasn’t easy, so for a restaurant to make the cut, my criteria was that I had to remember exactly what a dish tasted like, looked like and smelled like without thumbing through my food photos.

Dishes at Toque!, Saison, Kichisen and Neptune Oyster.

Dishes at Toque!, Saison, Kichisen and Neptune Oyster.

You can check out my list on TheBesty.com here but I also wanted to include links to the posts dedicated to those meals here on Random Acts of Kelliness.  So here are the 10 Best Meals I’ve Ever Had:

    1. Toque! in Montréal :: This tasting menu is easily the best meal I’ve ever had.  I’d do just about anything to repeat it!
    2. Saison* in San Francisco :: This two-starred Michelin-rated restaurant was just a little hole-in-the-wall when I experienced the tasting menu a few years ago.
    3. wd-50* in New York City :: I credit my first experience with molecular gastronomy here to throwing me into my obsession with food; I considered myself a picky eater before!
    4. Kichisen* in Kyoto :: The traditional kaiseki dinner was one of the most incredible culinary journeys I’ve ever been on.
    5. Sushi Dai in Tokyo :: Arguably the best sushi in the world, standing in line for hours at 8 a.m. was completely worth it for the fresh sushi right in Tsukiji Fish Market.
    6. Neptune Oyster in Boston :: Another place that required hours in line before, this tiny seafood restaurant is the Boston in my mind.
    7. Les 400 Coups in Montréal :: My first dinner in the French Canadian city kicked off a weekend of amazing food.
    8. Avec in Chicago :: Something about this small plates wine bar tickles a smile onto my face when I think about it.
    9. Silver in Park City :: I’m not kidding when I say that I dream about the Braised Bacon with Maple Bourbon Glaze from here.
    10. Rogue 24 in Washington, D.C. :: 24 courses would make any meal memorable, but its creativity and taste definitely helped seal its spot here.
Sushi Dai, Avec, Silver and Rogue 24.

Sushi Dai, Avec, Silver and Rogue 24.

What are your most memorable meals?  What made them so fantastic?  Was it the food, the circumstances or the company?  (I went strictly based on taste, but there were a few meals that the experience and those with me definitely came to mind!)

And check it out :: Random Acts of Kelliness is now a featured blog on TheBesty.com!

* Michelin-Rated restaurants.

Chicago :: Eat | Drink | Do

Chicago is a spectacular, energetic city with the laid back charm typical of the Midwest.  The unique architecture of its skyline rivals that of any world class city, with beautiful views of the blue Lake Michigan stretching out as far as you can see and a river the weaves through downtown.  The city is clean and easy to navigate, and has a wealth of places to eat and drink.  Here are some of my suggestions.

The Buckingham Fountain in Chicago.

The Buckingham Fountain is one of the largest fountains in the world.

Logistics :: Go during the late spring or early fall; the winters are notoriously bitter and summers are hot and humid.  (So plan accordingly when visiting during the off-season.)  Many hotels are located near The Loop, the heart of downtown.  The subway system, dubbed The L, is reliable and user-friendly, so renting a car isn’t necessary.  Cabs are also readily available and easy to hail.

Little Goat | Giordano's | Avec

Little Goat | Giordano’s | Avec

Eat :: Chicago-style pizza is a must here.  Lou Malnati’s and Giordano’s battle for the best deep dish; my vote goes to Lou’s.  Go to the Bongo Room for an unforgettable brunch.  Try the crazy creations for lunch at Little Goat or dinner at its sister restaurant, Girl and the Goat.  Check out the 148 whiskeys at Longman & Eagle.  The Purple Pig is great for a pork- and wine-filled lunch while The Slurping Turtle‘s ramen is a sure-fire hangover cure.  One of my favorite Chicago meals was at Avec, a tiny wine bar serving small plates, but I’ll never forget a pistachio dessert I had at the Paris Club Restaurant.

Drinks in Wrigleyville and champagne at The Paris Club in Chicago.

Drinks in Wrigleyville and champagne at The Paris Club.

Drink :: There is no shortage of places to imbibe in Chicago.  Go to the Barrrelhouse Flat or the Violet Hour for mixologist-created cocktails, Theory or John Barleycorn for classier versions of a sports bar, the Wit or the Signature Room at the Hancock Tower for rooftop views, Pops for Champagne if you’re feeling bubbly (200 different kinds to be exact) or bar crawl through Wrigleyville for the rowdy, younger crowd.

Fourth Presbyterian Church on Magnificent Mile | Jellyfish at the Shedd | The famous Georges Seurat painting in Chicago.

Fourth Presbyterian Church on Magnificent Mile | Jellyfish at the Shedd | The famous Georges Seurat painting at the Art Institute.

Do :: First and foremost, take an architecture boat tour, where you’ll get beautiful views of the city and learn more than most locals about Chi-town’s history.  Check out the famous pointillism painting from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (plus hundreds of other great works) at the Art Institute and visit the Shedd Museum for one of the country’s best aquariums.  (Go on a weekday to avoid the several-hour line to get in.)

See a Cub’s baseball game at Wrigley Field or a Bears football game at Soldier Field.  Shop along the Magnificent Mile that runs along Michigan Avenue, Chicago’s version of Fifth Ave.  Stop by the Cloud Gate sculpture (referred to as “The Bean”) for a photo op.  Chicago’s Opera is top notch and its Broadway features the best of the best from New York City.

The Cloud Gate statue, nicknamed The Bean, is a trademark of Chicago.

The Cloud Gate statue, nicknamed The Bean, is a trademark of Chicago.

Next time I visit Chicago, I’d love to see the Bears at Soldier Field (it’s on my bucket list!), spend some time on Lake Michigan, go to Au Chival for brunch, taste one of the 40 specialty cocktails at Ada Street and have the mind-blowing molecular gastronomy tasting menu at Alinea.

What are your favorite Chicago places to eat / drink / do?  I’d love to hear in the comments!

Longman & Eagle in Chicago

Everyone finds their weak spot at some point.  It happens to the best of us.  Even the heel of Achilles was eventually discovered, leading to his downfall.  My weak spot has long been whiskey.  Then, while in Chicago, I discovered Longman & Eagle, the one-starred Michelin-rated restaurant offering more than 148 whiskeys.  With a tagline like “Eat, sleep, whiskey,” I knew I had found my Achilles’ Heel.

The "It's All About The Barrel" whiskey flight at Longman & Eagle in Chicago.

The “It’s All About The Barrel” whiskey flight.

Longman & Eagle is part bar, part restaurant and part hotel.  Among the 148 varieties of whiskey is everything from familiar to exotic (including a Willett bourbon bottled exclusively for the restaurant), with 38 available for only $3/shot.  Whiskey flights and pairings grace the drink menu, along with an extensive list of cocktails, beers and wine.  The food side takes a farm-to-table, nose-to-tail approach on regional American cuisine with a seasonally evolving menu.

Longman & Eagle's tagline is Eat, Sleep, Whiskey.

The window displays Longman & Eagle’s tagline.

The problem with Longman & Eagle is that it’s not one of those “hidden gem” places.  Everyone has heard of it.  In fact, a handful of people in Salt Lake City recommended it, knowing my whiskey weakness.  (Thanks guys!)  But they don’t take reservations so wait times are notoriously long.

Meagan and I planned to go on Monday night, hoping it would be less crowded, still knowing we’d have to wait awhile for a table.  But as the gods would have it, we walked in, requested a table and were seated immediately.  That has to be some sort of miracle.

A sign on the wall and L&E's extensive list of whiskey.

A sign on the wall and L&E’s extensive list of whiskey.

The restaurant is dark and seating is semi communal, leaning more toward a bar-like atmosphere than that of a restaurant.  It didn’t bother me but the “dark, gloomy and noisy” mood prompted L&E’s most famous Yelp review, which they proudly turned into a postcard.

The flight of whiskey at Longman & Eagle in Chicago.

Non-aged whiskey progressing to 10-year bourbon.

Being overwhelmed by the endless whiskey list inspired me to order the “It’s All About the Barrel” whiskey flight ($14), one of several available.  The flight follows a bourbon’s journey through the different stages of aging, starting with a non-aged Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash, a 4-year Benchmark and an Eagle Rare 10-year.  (The 10-year was the best.)  We also dabbled in the cocktail list, trying the Old Fashioned (amazing) and the Campari-based Pony Truss, an ode to my recent cocktail judging event, and Four Roses on the rocks since it’s not sold in Utah.

The amouse bouche at Longman & Eagle in Chicago.

The amouse bouche was a sweet introduction to fall.

The amouse bouche was a warm apple soup with compressed apple chunks, a lightly sweet and cinnamony shot with crunchy bits mixed in.  It was refreshing, but better when paired with a smokey whiskey.

The menu is categorized by bar snacks, which are bites like olives ($4), pretzel ($5), cheese gougeres ($7) and paté ($9); small plates of bone marrow and bacon shallot jam ($11), fôie grás with bacon crumble and cheddar ($21) and confit of octopus and beef tendon ($14); and large entrees like monkfish osso buco with whiskey bearnaise ($29) and wild boar sloppy joe with pickled jalapeño ($14).

Scallop with pork cheeks and vegetables at Longman & Eagle in Chicago.

Scallop with pork cheeks and vegetables.

We took the small plates/share everything approach, starting with Seared Scallop & Truffled Braised Pork Cheek ($16) with lentils, corn and squash in a pan jus.  It was a party of my favorite things on one plate and everything played together nicely.  The flavors all spoke for themselves, without being overpowered by anything else.

Blue crab ravioli with lobster mushrooms at Longman & Eagle.

Blue crab ravioli with lobster mushrooms.

Alongside the scallops we had Blue Crab Ravioli ($16) topped with black truffles, soy beans, lobster mushrooms and tomato consommé.  Light but flavorful, this was the better of our two small plates.

Salmon with brandade ravioli at Longman & Eagle.

Salmon with brandade ravioli.

From the entree side we picked the Skuna Bay Salmon ($27) with Brandade ravioli, milk poached salsify, porcini ragout and a red wine veal reduction.  While this was delicious, nothing about it stood out as spectacular, especially after liking the blue crab ravioli so much.  It wasn’t a disappointment, just anticlimactic.

Pistachio Waffle and Pralined Pecan Terrine at Longman & Eagle in Chicago.

Pistachio Waffle and Pralined Pecan Terrine were the highlights of the meal.

We ordered two desserts to share because all of them looked amazing.  The Pistachio Waffle ($9) was served with peach pie ice cream, praline pistachio, compressed plum and a blob of honey marshmallow.  It was mind blowing; I will dream about it forever.  The waffle was subtly sweet with intense pistachio flavors.

Alongside it we had the Pralined Pecan Terrine ($9) with caramel and bourbon, espresso, honey foam, chocolate, malted ice cream and bourbon panna cotta.  Yeah, that was amazing too, with some fun contrasts of textures.

Longman & Eagle hit my weak spot with whiskey, then further drove the dagger with its amazing food, especially the desserts.  Rumor has it that brunch is fantastic, too, so I’m putting that on my list for my next trip to Chicago.

Go to Longman & Eagle for :: a casual meal with creative ingredients allowed to speak for themselves, all centered around whiskey.  Whatever you do, don’t skip dessert. Notes :: They don’t take reservations, so be prepared to wait.  If you want to emphasize whiskey rather than food, head to the OSB (offsite bar) behind the restaurant that only serves quick bites.  Follow L&E on twitter and instagram or friend them on facebook.

Longman & Eagle on Urbanspoon

Avec in Chicago

One of the best things about being on vacation, in my opinion, is the excuse to drink wine at any given time, on any given day, for no reason at all.  A midweek lunch or a mid-shopping break :: yes I’ll have wine with that.  One of the highlights of my Chicago trip was seeing the Book of Mormon on Broadway, a hilarious musical that hits all too close to home for those of us living in Utah.  Luckily they served wine at the theater, which eased the blow that my hometown of Salt Lake City was a running joke throughout the play.

The cozy, wood-lined interior of Avec in Chicago.

The cozy, wood-lined interior of Avec.

After laughing ourselves silly at the Book of Mormon, then realizing that we had to return to the butt of the joke in a few days, my friend Meagan and I hunted down Avec for a late Sunday dinner and, of course, more wine.  I can’t decide if the tiny restaurant is more wine bar or more restaurant, as the wine options far outnumber the edible ones.  But what I do know is that Avec was the best meal we had in Chicago; one I won’t be forgetting for a long time.

Glowing glasses of Domaine de Terra Vecchia rosé wine at Avec in Chicago.

Glowing glasses of Domaine de Terra Vecchia.

Meagan and I saddled up to the counter and picked a rosé wine bright enough to keep us reminiscing about summer but deep enough to remind us that fall was definitely here.  Not surprisingly for a place that doubles as a wine bar, it paired perfectly with every dish we ordered.

Oyster mushrooms at Avec in Chicago.

These mushrooms were amazing.

Avec’s dishes cover a wide range of tastes and sizes, covering the small plates/shareable format and large entrees.  Our server was bluntly honest, not afraid to tell us to skip a certain dish.  (I love that.)  We started with Oyster Mushrooms ($14) with roasted artichokes, goat cheese feta, endive and a black garlic vinaigrette.  This dish was good enough to convert me to vegetarianism, with savory mushrooms and crisp endive playing with the feta and cilantro.  Perfect.

The hanger steak at Avec in Chicago.

A summery, southwest take on steak.

Next we had the Butcher’s Steak ($18) with summer piperade, avocado, scallion and black mustard seed vinaigrette.  This was a much more familiar dish than the mushrooms so it didn’t deliver quite the same surprising kick, but was delicious nonetheless.  The balance of sweetness, savoriness and wonderful meatiness all played well with one another.

Pork shoulder, clams, rice, green beans and cilantro at Avec in Chicago.

The pot of pork shoulder.

Then we shared a large plate, the wood-roasted Pork Shoulder ($21) served in its cooking pot with bomba rice, clams, green beans and smoked paprika.  This was mind-blowing.  I loved the seafood flavor of the clams in contrast with the pork shoulder, something I’ve never had together, and the comfort-food style of rice and green beans mixed in.

The pork shoulder and its cooking pot at Avec in Chicago.

The pork shoulder came in its cute cooking pot.

When we initiately ordered, we hoped to have room for another small plate or dessert but the three dishes had us full to the brim.  So we finished our wine wishing we could eat more (isn’t that always the case?) and whisked ourselves into the Chicago night, still laughing about the Book of Mormon and already reminiscing about the pork shoulder at Avec.  A perfect night, in my opinion.

Go to Avec for :: A casual, wine bar atmosphere serving excellent food paired with outstanding service.  Notes :: Reservations are not accepted.  Avec is open seven days a week, Sunday-Thursday 3:30 p.m.-midnight, Friday-Saturday 3:30 pm-1 a.m. and Sunday brunch 10 a.m.-2p.m.  Avec is strictly a bar on Sundays from 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m., when the kitchen is closed.  Follow Avec on twitter or instagram and friend them on facebook for updates.

Avec on Urbanspoon

Little Goat in Chicago

The Girl and the Goat is one of those Chicago restaurants whose reputations have made it all the way to Salt Lake City.  It’s been on my list of restaurants to visit for awhile now but got pushed aside by its sister restaurant, Little Goat, when we were searching for a midday lunch spot on Sunday afternoon.

The packed restaurant of Little Goat in Chicago.

Expect a wait, no matter what time you arrive.

Little Goat is across the street from The Girl and the Goat and both restaurants are co-owned and cheffed by Top Chef winner and James Beard “Best Chef” Stephanie Izard.  Little Goat is the almost-open-around-the-clock diner version of The Girl and the Goat (which is only open for dinner), serving incredibly creative dishes that will have you studying the menu wondering how in the world she put the ingredients together.  But once you try it, you’ll understand why she’s revered as a genius.

The menu and place setting at Little Goat in Chicago.

Little Goat pretends to be a diner, but is anything but.

We arrived at Little Goat in dire need of comfort food, nursing massive hangovers thanks to a late night out in Chicago.  Little did we know we’d come to the right place.  It took a minute for our aching heads to wrap around some of the dishes on the menu, maybe because of the purposely vague descriptions like “Kimchi & Bacon & Eggs & Pancakes Asian Style with Breakfast Tasty Thing.”  But some of the items seemed to speak directly to our state-of-mind, like The Fat Elvis Waffles with banana, peanut butter and bacon maple syrup.

Little Goat's coffee mugs showing the Little Goat logo.

Little Goat serves Stumptown Coffee.

We couldn’t decide between ordering breakfast, which is served all day (thankfully, since it was our first meal but somehow 3 p.m.), and lunch entrees like the tonkatsu sandwich (breaded pork cutlet, asian barbecue sauce, mayo and cabbage on white bread) and the Fat Club (smoked turkey, bacon, butterkase cheese, avocado, cabbage, tomato, mayo and special sauce on “fat toast”) and burgers like the Goat Almighty (goat burger, braised beef, barbecue pork, pickled jalepenos, salsa verde, onion rings and cheddar).

French Toast with strawberries, chicken and barbecue maple syrup at Little Goat in Chicago.

The most elaborate French toast I’ve ever had.

When our indecision got the best of us, we did what any head-throbbing, hangover suffering couple of friends would do :: we compromised by ordering one breakfast dish and one burger and splitting the two.  I ordered the Bull’s Eye French Toast, a magnificent concoction consisting of an egg embedded in a slice of sweet onion broiche topped with crispy breaded chicken and slices of strawberries swimming in barbecue maple syrup.  The contrast of textures and tastes was amazing, with bites of tangy sweetness haphazardly dancing with crunchy chicken chunks and hints of smokey barbecue with little bits of gooey egg.  Wow.

The Korean burger at the Little Goat in Chicago.

A burger with all the fixings you never knew one needed.

Meagan ordered the Korean Burger, a massive burger topped with kimchi, bacon, a sunny-side up egg and a glop of spicy mayo on a “squish squash roll.”  The kimchi gave the burger an obvious tangy kick while maintaining its balance with the egg yolk, which dripped all over the rest of the burger, mixing with the bacon to give it a hint of breakfast familiarity.  It, too, was amazing.

The Korean burger at Little Goat in Chicago.

The burger dripping with gooey goodness.

We sat at the counter, watching dish after dish appear from the open kitchen, drooling the entire time.  It became a bit of a matching game, where we paired every plate produced from the kitchen to what we read on the menu, gasping “Oooh, that must be the Fat Elvis!” every time a server took something away.  It was oddly entertaining.  Needless to say, we came up with a list of 15 dishes we wished we had room to try.

Needless to say, Little Goat remains on my list of restaurants to go to in Chicago, just to try more of the crazy creative menu.

Go to Little Goat for ::  An exciting, creative meal that will test the boundaries of your taste buds.  Notes :: Open 7 days a week, Sunday-Wednesday 7 am to 11 pm; Thursday-Saturday 7am – 1 am.  The bar, which serves beer, wine and cocktails, is open until 2 a.m.  Reservations are not accepted.  Follow owner Stephanie on twitter here or on instagram here and friend Little Goat on facebook here.
Little Goat Diner on Urbanspoon

A Weekend of Dining & Drinking in Chicago

I’m addicted to its beauty.  The buildings climbing toward the clouds, some shiny and new and as blue as the sky; others old and delicate, with dainty details and intricate arches, each one unique but together telling the story of a skyline, a city.  The way the green river weaves peacefully through downtown, seemingly out of place among the noise of the traffic and the scream of the sirens; the way the turquoise lake peeks behind the buildings and stretches out like an ocean.  Even the wind has its charm when the sun is shining.

I am, without a doubt, mesmerized by Chicago.

The Chicago skyline as seen from the Adler Planetarium.

The Chicago skyline as seen from the Adler Planetarium.

Big cities make me swoon.  I love the constant buzz of noise and honking traffic, the stenches of mysterious terribleness as you walk along the street and the crowds of people everywhere.  I want to stop everyone that passes by to talk, to ask them their story; find out why they are here and where they are from.  There is so much to do and see; everything I could ever want feels within walking distance :: art and museums, all kinds of music and shopping, incredible food and outstanding bars.  There’s a story waiting to unfold everywhere I turn.

The Chicago River flows right through the city's skyscrapers.

The Chicago River flows right through the city’s skyscrapers.

Last week my friend Meagan and I returned to Chicago for our third time.  Simply stated, we can’t seem to get enough of the place.  We first visited a few years ago because it was one of the few major cities I hadn’t been to yet (plus it has a great opera company).  I instantly fell in love.  We returned to ring in the 2013 New Year with our friends that had just moved there and recently went back to see some baseball, some Broadway and our friends.

The Wrigley Building, Chicago Theater and Tribune Tower.

The Wrigley Building, Chicago Theater and Tribune Tower.

Chicago may be a massive city but it manages to have an approachable feel to it.  (Maybe that’s thanks to its laid back Midwestern heritage.)  The list of things to experience isn’t nearly as long as, say, New York City, so most of our touristy To Do’s had been checked off on previous trips, leaving us free to roam the city shopping, eating and drinking.

Downtown Chicago lit up at night paired with a flaming bottle of champagne at the Paris Club.

The view of downtown from my friend’s roof and our Champagne at the Kaskade concert at Paris.

We evolved into nocturnal creatures this trip, exploring Chicago’s nightlife until the wee hours of the morning in exchange for wandering the city’s streets in the daylight.  And that was fine by me.  The first night we met another friend in town from Salt Lake City at Studio Paris where he had a table with Champagne bottle service.  One of my favorite DJs, Kaskade, showed up for an unscheduled concert.  I was in heaven!

A whiskey flight at Longman & Eagle in Chicago.

A whiskey flight at Longman & Eagle.

On other nights we drank at a sports bars downtown where we met a fellow Salt Laker cheering for the University of Utah football team as they beat BYU.  We drank on the rooftop of a touristy hotel where businessmen entertained us with card tricks until closing time.  We visited a country bar in Wrigleyville where we stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Alabama Crimson Tide fans transplanted in Chicago.  All along the way I met people from around the country, some permanent Chicagoans, others temporary ones like us.  I loved hearing their stories, why they were there and where they were from.

The view of Wrigley Field from the bleachers.

The view of Wrigley Field from the bleachers.

The Wrigley Field sign in Chicago and beers with the view of the field.

Nothing beats beer and baseball, especially at Wrigley Field.

We braved the daylight to see a Cubs game at Wrigley Field, opting for the bleacher seats to sit with the rowdy fans.  Wrigley Field is the second oldest baseball stadium in the country, following Boston’s Fenway Park, which I checked off my Bucket List in April.  I love the charm of these old stadiums that lack the massive towers of seats and the high-tech scoreboards.  (Both stadiums still change the score by hand!)

The Chicago skyline from the Field Museum.

The Chicago skyline from the Field Museum.

Before I knew it, our time in Chicago was up.  Our list of restaurants to try had barely been touched, my wanderlust hardly exercised, my craving for Chicago only slightly satiated.  But, alas, Salt Lake City was calling my name.  So I returned home, full of memories of fun times, great people and incredible meals.  And, of course, still mesmerized by the beauty of Chicago.

Stay tuned for more Chicago posts on an insanely creative lunch, a late night meal of perfect small plates and an unforgettable whiskey-filled dinner.

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