Sated: 2009 in Food and Drink

By Chuck Sudo in Food on Dec 30, 2009 5:00PM

Other media have been charting their favorite restaurant openings of the past ten years. Here at Chicagoist, we’ll let them have it and instead stick to the standard year-to-year review of what we thought were the top stories surrounding local food and drink. There’s been a lot to write about the past twelve months. In our four years covering food and drink for the site, this has arguably been the most rewarding year on the beat.

Following the jump we'll list the chefs, trends and restaurants that fascinated, frustrated and made us take notice the past twelve months.

  • Chef of the Year: Rick Bayless, for the same reasons we listed Monday.
  • Chef of the Year 1A: Paul Kahan. It was a banner year for the Blackbird/avec/Publican/Big Star mastermind, even with Bayless's media exposure post-Top Chef Masters. Kahan generated reams of publicity the first half of the year due to the near-universal national praise heaped on the Publican. His brewing trip to New Holland afforded us a detailed look into what drives some chefs to be successful. One of the most anticipated openings of the year reached a fever pitch once word got out that he and partner Terry Alexander were turning the old Pontiac Café space into what is now Big Star.
  • Embracing the Future: More chefs took to social media in 2009 as a means of promoting their restaurants, their philosophies behind cooking, and to just chew the fat with customers and fans. Bayless, of course, is a Twitter master, Grant Achatz's posts at the Atlantic Monthly food blog were always entertaining, Homaro Cantu sometimes surprised diners at moto with free meals for twittering, and Stephanie Izard used Twitter and her website to make her Wandering Goat dinners as coveted as tickets to a Wilco concert. Carnivale's Mark Mendez used Facebook as a means of conveying the methods to his madness in the kitchen. In the process, he showed that even a ginormous restaurant such as Carnivale can embrace a farm-to-table, seasonal aesthetic. Lockwood's Phillip Foss never minced words at his blog, the Pickled Tongue.
  • Chicago Gourmet Rebounds: There was nowhere to go but up for Chicago Gourmet in its second year. The difference between last year's inaugural event and this year's model was a complete transformation. If the Illinois restaurant Association can maintain this level, Chicago Gourmet may actually be able to match the likes of aspen's Food & Wine Classic and the South Beach Food and Wine festival as a destination festival for gourmands.
  • The Booze Be A-Flowin': When Half Acre Beer Company finally moved its brewing operations to its current Lincoln Square location, it fulfilled the promise that Gabriel Magliaro envisioned for the company when they started contract brewing their lager. They were joined by Doug and Tracy Hurst of Metropolitan Brewing and their next door neighbors, Koval Distillery's Robert and Sonat Birnecker. Meanwhile, Handlebar owner Josh Deth is putting the finishing touches on his Logan Square brewpub, Revolution Brewing, with Jim Cibak (Crown Brewing, Firestone Walker) as his brewmaster. With those four joining Goose Island, Three Floyds, and North Shore Distillery, and Flossmoor Station expanding its bottle operations, 2009 was a high water year for beer geeks and fans of artisan spirits.
  • Most Important Restaurant: mado. No restaurant does farm-to-table and snout-to-tail dining better than Rob and Allie Levitt's Wicker Park BYOB Mediterranean outpost. Nothing brought into mado's kitchen is wasted and Rob Levitt makes some of the most creative charcuterie in the city. Most of all, the quality of the food is so consistently high that the folks at LTHForum created an anagram for bad dining experiences: "SHEAM" ("Should Have Eaten At mado").
  • Favorite New Restaurants: 1. Taxim, 2. XOCO, 3. HAN 202, 4. Nightwood, 5. Sunda, 6. DMK Burger Bar, 7. Edzo's Burger Shop
  • Favorite Dishes: Megan - Two from avec: 1. Salad with La Quercia prosciutto, marinated ruby red grapefruit, cucumber, mint, red onion and gin vinaigrette, 2. Shaved brussels sprouts with fennel, dill, Parmesan, red onion and brown butter vinaigrette. Laura - blueberry sorbet made by Tony Galzin at MK. Carrie - 1. Fried quail with hot ramp sauce from Chris Pandel served at the Swan Creek Farm benefit dinner, 2. Wagyu beef, A-1 powder, potato, chips from Grant Achatz at Alinea (his play on steak and potatoes). Chuck - 1. Kim chi and rice cake stew with hominy, pork belly and spicy pork broth from Bill Kim at Hot Chocolate's anniversary dinner, 2. Lamb shank braised in white wine, fire-roasted green wheat, toasted almonds, fennel salad at Taxim, 3. mado's Garganelli with mutton sausage ragú, 4. Head cheese and tongue torta from XOCO, 5. Sand dabs, corn, artichokes and sweetbreads from the Publican/New Holland beer dinner. Anthony - 1. Hot Chocolate's Bacon Chocolate Chip Cookie
  • Three Trends Which We Were Guilty Of Overhyping : 1. Bacon, 2. Gourmet burgers that are exercises in gluttony, 3. Beer dinners
  • ”A crummy commercial? Son of a bitch!" Homaro Cantu's promise that his "Disruptive Food" countdown would be "the biggest paradigm shift to happen to food in 50 years." Given all the food-related open source patents Cantu's filed over the years, it still might. But we eventually discovered the countdown was a promotion for a Planet Green tv show, and Cantu used Twitter to steer the curious to a website Cantu designed that made Geocities sites look professional. There hasn’t been this small a payoff for such a huge buildup since Jean Shepherd discovered his secret coded radio messages from Little Orphan Annie were Ovaltine ads.
  • Chef We'd Love To See In the Kitchen More in 2010: Graham Elliot Bowles. When he's in the kitchen, Bowles is making inspired stuff like the "sexy burger." More often this year Bowles was making headlines for what he was wearing. Or not. From leopard print thongs to Chippendale outfits to cowboy hats and thongs, Bowles seemed to enjoy doing variants of Chris Farley's "fat guy in a little coat" bit. he always showed up for the major events like Chicago Gourmet and Lollapalooza, but it was Bowles's executive chef Merlin Verrier who did the heavy lifting at graham elliot this year, including an impressive team performance at Cochon 555.