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1. Toasted cakes. From Blackbird's Tim Dahl I had a brilliant, crispy-on-the-outside, warm-and-soft-on-the-inside toasted gingerbread cake (topped with caraway ice cream and roasted pears). Boka pastry chef Elizabeth Dahl (Tim's wife) also served an exquisite toasted cake, but this time it was tarragon (topped with candied fennel and citrus and olive oil ice cream). This is a trend I'd like to see break out of the Dahl family.
2. My dream three-course meal. I ate more than just carbs at Art Smith's newish place, Table 52, but if I could go back and reconstruct an insanely indulgent but ideal meal, it would consist of 3 things: his warm, flaky goat cheese and herb biscuits straight from their little cast-iron skillet, the completely perfect three-cheese macaroni, and the very well publicized (and deservedly so) Hummingbird Cake, a tall banana layer cake with cream cheese frosting. Art Smith was Oprah's personal chef, and honestly, with food like this, I don't know how she could ever keep the weight off.
3. Sitting next to Charlie Trotter at Avec on a Friday night. I am always surprised to see chefs out at primetime on a weekend night, but given how good the food is at Avec (chef Koren Grieveson makes great wine-friendly Mediterranean dishes like crispy chicken thighs with spicy harissa and chorizo-stuffed dates with smoked bacon), and how laid-back the vibe is, I get it. We all need a break now and then.
4. Bread. The bread is very good in Chicago restaurants, and I was keen on this organic whole wheat bread I kept tasting. It seems it's all coming from the same place: Red Hen Bread.
5. The long-reaching influence of NYC chef David Chang. I had a stellar dinner at Takashi, which was clever and delicious without being in any way ostentatious. One highlight was sliced pork belly, which came alongside slices of steamed buns and a pickled daikon salad (the idea being to assemble your own little "bun"). This delightful dish seemed like an homage to the innovative Berkshire-pork buns that helped make Chang (of the Momofuku mini-empire) a Food & Wine Best New Chef 2006.