It says a lot about the local restaurant scene that I had to wait until the very end of the year was over before compiling this list.
Chicago is, as many know, one of the great culinary centers in this countryand this was verified constantly from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31.
Below are some of the most memorable experiences I had in 2014:
Revolucion Mexican Steakhouse ( 3443 N. Broadway; revolucionsteakhouse.com/ ) really stunned me because, admittedly, my expectations were not the highest, initially. However, just about every item I tasted at a brunch was amazing, including huevos Benedictos, the huarache de barbacoa ( corn masa tortilla filled with eggs, beef, salsa pasilla, black beans and queso fresco ) and horchata French toast. A subsequent visit confirmed my initial findings.
River Roast ( 315 N. LaSalle St.; riverroastchicago.com ): This place had pressure on it, to say the least, thanks to a top-notch team of chefs and the fact that it was at the site of the former Fulton's on the River. However ( again, at a brunch ), this place was consistently impressive. Highlights included the foie and duck terrine, the Scotch egg, the rabbit and waffles ( double yum! ) and the incredibly succulent roast chicken, which was served ( and carved ) tableside.
Beatrix ( 519 N. Clark St.; beatrixchicago.com/ ): Beatrix proves that the term "neighborhood restaurant" represents changefor the better. Breakfast options include shakshouka ( spicy tomato sauce, poached eggs, kale, feta and warm naan ), quinoa cakes with poached eggs, or a braised pot roast-and-egg sandwich. For lunch, healthful items include Dr. Bob's turkey burger ( with quinoa, almond and kale salad ); and savory turkey, sweet potato and greens neatloaf ( yes, that's spelled correctly ). Oh, and don't forget the Bulletproof coffee, which contains antioxidants and time-released caffeine.
Current ( 680 N. Lake Shore Dr.; www.wchicago-lakeshore.com/current-chicago-restaurant ): This restaurant, at the W Hotel Lakeshore, offers one of the best brunches I tried last year. The housemade morning bun with orange zest, cardamom and nutmeg is worth the price of admission alone. Other tasty options at the Italian-focused eatery include Nutella-stuffed French toast ( listed under "Dolce," along with items such as crepes and buttermilk pancakes )and the house-cured salmon pizza, complete with dill creme fraiche, capers, red onion and a hard-boiled egg.
Old Crow Smokehouse ( 3506 N. Clark St.; www.oldcrowsmokehouse.com/ ): Chef Tony Scruggs, a former MasterChef contestant, is the heart of this Wrigleyville spot. Scruggs is an expressive storyteller, but his talents extend to the smoker and table. Appetizers include pulled-pork egg rolls, smoked jalapeno poppers and even crow's-nest poutine, while the brisket is so good it was actually tender and tasty two days later.
Bistrot Zinc ( 1131 N. State St.; bistrotzinc.com/index.html ): The French eatery, located in the heart of the Gold Coast, is sophisticated but not at all intimidating. The poulet Grand Mère ( oasted chicken done "grandmother style" ) was, indeed, grand. However, the desserts may be the most delicious items ( and that's saying a lot for this spot )the gaueau au chocolat ( chocolate cake with espresso caramel sauce and fresh whipped creme ) and millas de Bordeaux ( cherry custard turnover, crème anglaise and caramel sauce ) are sublime.
Tanta ( 118 W. Grand Ave.; www.TantaChicago.com ): This Peruvian restaurant boasts a cuisine that truly reflects what Peru is aboutdown to its influences from other countries, including Japan and Spain. A menu section entitled "Peruvian Family Traditions" includes such items as arroz criollo ( Peruvian rice with seafood mixto ); "From the Coast" has items such as jalea and pescado frito; and "From the Earth" has quinoa solterito ( quinoa salad, lima-bean hummus, rocoto, yogurt ) and pastel de choclo ( corn cake, mushrooms and choclo saute ). It's one of the most flavorful menus I've sampled.
Sophie's at Saks Fifth Avenue ( 700 N. Michigan Ave., seventh floor; sophies.com ): It's simply exquisitefrom the views the site provides to the models who, in essence, bring the store to the diners. The crab cake this place offers is one of the best I've tried ( and I'm a crab-cake snob ); it turns out that the crustaceans are flown in from Indonesia, but the fact that there isn't an overwhelming amount of breading contributes to the cake's quality.
Treble-Maker Grill at 27 Live ( 1012-1014 Church St.; 27live.com/ ): This Evanston spot also surprised me. This hard-rock-themed restaurant/concert space ( named after musicians who died at age 27, such as Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse and Jimi Hendrix ) caused me to smile constantly. Highlights during my visit included the Wild Thing sausage plate and the the Juicy Lucy in the Sky, a cheese-stuffed burger with lettuce, tomato, pickles, red onion and mayo on a brioche roll.