The Year of Eating Gloriously

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Yes, this year felt a little bit more glorious than years past.  Not only because I had really, really great food – in restaurants, in homes, in hawker centers – but also, since I flew close to 80,000 miles for work and a little play, I was very fortunate to have shared many generous, heartwarming, unforgettable meals with family and old and new friends not just in Chicago, but in New York City, Los Angeles, Washington DC, Boston, Scottsdale, Minneapolis, Houston, Manila, and Singapore, as well.  I’ve had meals this year with the highest-quality ingredients sourced from the best purveyors (and in one X-Marx Chicago dinner, foraged from a patch of green in Humboldt Park), spectacular culinary inventiveness from chefs at the top of their game,  and unexpected pairings, combinations, and cooking techniques; but more importantly, most of these meals were also celebrations with people I cared a lot about, full of remembrances, excitement, and possibilities, with personal bonds strengthened or re-ignited or instantaneously created. 

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Tasting Notes: Avenues

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Alinea, the seventh best restaurant in the world and the best restaurant in North America, is, without a doubt, first among equals in the dazzling gastronomic capital that is Chicago.  However, if I were going to choose among our plethora of towering fine dining destinations, I’d say Avenues at the Peninsula Hotel Chicago is a close second.  It shouldn’t be surprising since the Chef de Cuisine at Avenues, the mega-talent Curtis Duffy, was Grant Achatz’s second-in-command at Alinea’s opening in 2005.  But if Achatz’s cuisine at Alinea is like the best of Harold Pinter-boldly intellectual, complexly layered, trafficking in big themes and ideas (his Escoffier tribute dish at my recent spring 2010 dinner captured both the complex history of gastronomy and the limitless potential of its future in one brazen, memorable plate)-Duffy’s cuisine at Avenues is like the best of Stephen Sondheim:  cerebral, thoughtful, intricately and exquisitely crafted, but seemingly effortless, and yes, like mellifluous musical pieces on a plate.  (I couldn’t resist using theatrical metaphors, so sue me). I had two recent dinners at Avenues – in the spring when I brought endearingly exacting New Yorker friend Hedy (who had the chandelier-sized cojones to question Wylie Dufresne to his face about a dish, but that’s a story for another blog post) and then in the summer when BFF Debra and our travelin’ buddy Reva, both accomplished world travelers and consumers of fine goods, joined me at dinner.  Both times, I got to say, I was blown away (and my highly discriminating dinner companions as well).

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