Two thousand seven, for me, was one of those years I wish was just a bad dream. But as I reflect on the past twelve months, I’m thankful for the precious stretches of good times spent with family and friends, always over a lovingly cooked meal or hours of conversation at a cozy neighborhood café. It’s no coincidence that my most memorable food experiences of last year were simple pleasures.
Here are the best things I ate in 2007. And here’s to a joyful and delicious 2008.
Vanilla cream puffs from Beard Papa — These fist-sized cream puffs are crisp and soft at the same time and filled with the most incredible pastry cream — a perfectly light and fluffy blend of rich custard, vanilla, and whipped cream, with just the right amount of delicate sweetness. They make Krispy Kremes taste like stale Wonder Bread dipped in corn syrup. Josh and I visited the shop in London on Oxford Street, pictured above — but it wasn’t till after our trip that we realized there are quite a few locations in the U.S. including Southern California, Boston, and New York.
Watermelon agua fresca from Whole Foods — The South Loop location has a juice bar, and this is my favorite drink. Even better with an extra squeeze of lime.
Eggs from Liberty Family Farm — I bought these almost every week at the Green City Market. Scrambled, poached, over easy, over hard, hard boiled, they’re perfect every time.
Escargot with strawberry garlic butter from May St. Café — This is the one food on the list that’s remotely fancy and it’s only because there’s a French word in it. An unusual twist on escargot, but it worked. The strawberry wasn’t too sweet, which would’ve been weird with the salty garlic butter, and was more like a clever substitute for lemon.
Asparagus with Hollandaise sauce from Rivington Grill in London — Asparagus with Hollandaise is old school enough to be almost quaint, but there’s a reason it’s a classic dish: the fat green spears were perfectly steamed, sweet and tender at the height of the season; the Hollandaise, served in a ramekin for dipping, was flawlessly executed, a rich, silky emulsion that expressed a harmonious balance of creamy butter, velvety egg yolk, and tangy lemon juice. Beautiful in its profound simplicity.
Fudge mint brownies from HotChocolate — Thick, chewy brownies topped with a layer of smooth peppermint cream and a layer of deep, fudgy ganache. You can buy four of these for the price of one tricked-out dessert and they’re ten times more satisfying.
Poor Liza from The Violet Hour — Eighteenth-century Russian author Nikolai Karamzin wrote a tragic love story called “Poor Liza” in which a peasant girl is seduced by a young nobleman. Her life is laid waste by this illicit affair, and she drowns herself in a pond. Thanks to the mixmasters at this Wicker Park cocktail lounge, I too have nearly drowned myself many a time in the namesake libation, a sweet, beguiling blend of green chartreuse, pear brandy, lemon juice, and Peychaud’s bitters, kissed with the fragrant oil of a flaming orange peel.
Jibaritos from Borinquen — I’ve never met a jibarito I didn’t like, but Borinquen takes theirs over the top with a generous dollop of minced garlic in melted butter as if this greasy delight would benefit from any more flavor or fat. Of course it does.
PBB&B sandwich from The Brown Sack — One of the items listed on the menu of this humble Logan Square sandwich shop reads “Grilled Organic Peanut Butter & Banana”, but there’s an asterisked note right below that says “Add bacon to any sandwich $1.” Coincidence? No way! I don’t need to explain the appeal of this, especially after I add that it also oozes with an ample drizzle of honey.