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Food Events and Trends of 2006

By Laura Oppenheimer in Food on Dec 28, 2006 10:03PM

In the spirit of year-end lists, here are Chicagoist's top food events and trends (both good and bad) of 2006.

First off, the things that made us rub our tummy and sigh with contentment...

Chicago as the nation's best city for eating out
Though this trend has been building steam for a while, 2006 was the year Chicago was recognized across the board (and the country) as a great place to eat out. GQ's laudatory piece in May, Gourmet's proclamation of Alinea as the best restaurant in the country and seven Chicago restaurants receiving the elite designation from AAA
are only three of the ways Chicago's dining scene has been recognized on a national scale this year.

2006_12_foodtrend.jpgBrussels spouts popping up everywhere
What was once the world's most despised vegetable, Brussels spouts shed their dismal reputation to become the must-eat vegetable of 2006. Braised, seared, and served at Thanksgiving dinner, these tasty sprouts were on everyone's plates this year. Other fruits and vegis that made multiple appearances? Pomegranates, Jerusalem artichokes and the always delicious acorn squash.

Food porn turning us on
Yes, blogs and digital cameras have been around for a while. And yes, we have been eating food since we began as humans. Neither of these three things are particularly novel at this point in time. And yet, 2006 is the year we think food blogs have really come into their own. Whether it is an article about food porn in the Trib, or Chez Pim organizing a food blogger fundraiser that raised almost $60,000 for the UN World Food Programme, it seemed like every restaurant we went to had someone snapping a photo of the food on the plate to be quickly uploaded onto the web. Some of our favorite food blogs are the Orangette and Chubby Hubby.

Gastropubs and beer finally getting some recognition
Chicago has always been a beer-drinking (as opposed to a wine-sipping) kind of town. In 2006 we saw two gastropubs open, which serve up micro-brewed and imported beers with a variety of fine dining options. As much as we love bar food, we can't help but feel that this is a great direction for restaurants and bars to move in. Think braised rabbit, creamy risotto and top notch steak.

On the flip side, traditional restaurants are starting to notice beer as well. While we haven't seen any beer accompaniments to Chicago's many tasting menus, we can't help but think it isn't too far off. Wine is fine, but we are happy that beer is finally getting noticed as more than the pee-colored stuff served in plastic cups at the ballpark.

An now, the things that made us feel a bit queasy...

Adlermen telling us what to eat
From haute cuisine to fryer oil, our elected officials decided this was the year that they would tell us what we could, and could not eat. The ban on foie gras has made us the laughingstock of the culinary world, in a year when we proved our selves as the best city for dining out and should have been recognized accordingly (see #1 on the best of list). Possibly joining foie gras at later date are trans fats which are part of the cooking oil used in many fast food restaurants. We don't deny that the stuff is bad for you, just the idea that our lovely Chicago aldermen know anything about nutrition.

Aldermen Moore and Burke: Get back to figuring out how to stop crime and fix the CPS. After that, we can talk.

Inedible Food
This fall, we read story after story about contaminated produce. What gives? If we can't eat all the trans fat fried food, we were going to turn to leafy green vegetables instead. From lettuce to spinach to green onions at Taco Bell (or was it the lettuce again), 2006 has been a dismal year for food safety. And don't even get us started on health inspectors in Chicago.

It is a Rachael Ray world, we just live in it
We've watched the Food Network, flipped through the magazine and even tuned into the daytime talk show. And though we don't hate her like some, we sort of just don't get why people like her so much.

Regardless, Chicagoist stands by one thing: EVOO is not a word, never was, never will be, no matter what some dictionary says.

Chicago as the home of pretentious (expensive) dining
Don't get us wrong. We are more than pumped that Chicago has received so much positive recognition for its dining scene. Our only concern is that we come off as a tad pretentious. And by tad, we mean, does anyone thing Moto's transmogrified blini actually taste good? We love the accolades, but we are also concerned that some of the food is more hype than substance. And all that hype comes with a price - more than $100 a person for the degustation at either Moto or Alinea. We told you earlier this year about the $40 entree. Here is to hoping 2007 brings some less fussy, less expensive options for dining in style.