Skewers at Yuzu Sushi & Robata Grill (Lenny Gilmore )
2008 was the year of bacon. In 2010, we went gaga for Stephanie Izard's Girl & the Goat. Though 2011 may go down in history as the year you spent an obscene amount of time trying to get tickets to Next while you were supposed to be working, Grant Achatz's restaurant isn't all that made it a notable year in dining and nightlife. Twenty years from now when we reminisce over a futuristic cocktail encased in a sphere of ice (Just kidding, you can order that at The Aviary now), this is what we’ll surely remember about the past twelve months.
1. Robata grills
If you didn’t learn the name of this charcoal-fired Japanese grill when Chizakaya in Lakeview opened last year, then you sure did this year, when five other restaurants fired up their robatas: Union Sushi & Barbeque Bar, Roka Akor Steak & Sushi and Slurping Turtle in River North, plus Yuzu Sushi & Robata Grill in West Town and Yusho in Logan Square.
2. Southern comfort bar food
From the deviled eggs at the Barrelhouse Flat (and everywhere else) to fried pickles and cornbread at Barn & Company and opening-soon Derby, bar food has taken a decidedly southern twist. We understand wanting to bring a little bit of that down-home flavor to the big city, but sometimes our grandmothers still do it best.
3. Food trucks
This year, the city’s food truck pioneers celebrated their first anniversaries and dozens more rolled onto the streets. Though a city law forbidding on-board cooking has kept the scene from blowing up as it has in other cities, you can still get any number of snacks—tacos, macarons, sliders, falafel, bao—on wheels. Plus, local trucks proudly represented Chicago on Food Network TV shows too, from The Southern Mac Truck on “The Great Food Truck Race” and Sweet Ride on “Cupcake Wars.”
Pop-up restaurants—temporary ventures that disappear as quickly as they set up camp—caught on this year in Chicago. Chefs used pop-ups to preview an upcoming restaurant (Matt Eversman’s one-night dinner at Bistro Voltaire), expand on a successful catering biz (The Rice Table’s residence at Bia for Mia) or give dinner a try at a breakfast-and-lunch restaurant (African and Argentinean nights at Dodo).
5. Wine on tap
Watch your back, beer. Lower prices, longer shelf life and less packaging waste are just a few of the reasons owners have hopped on the wine-on-tap trend this year. Drink up at Paris Club, Bar Toma or Farmhouse in River North, just to name a few.
6. Overly lavish concepts
It’s not that we don’t want to love Dose Market, the monthly mashup of artisanal food/indie fashion/letterpress cards/moustaches at River East Arts Center. But can we really afford to pay a $10 entry fee to buy a $300 leather and canvas clutch right now? Certainly not after the required bottle service at Studio Paris and $130 seafood tower at Maude’s Liquor Bar.
From Grant Achatz announcing the opening date of Next to Doughnut Vault tweeting the length of its line (not to mention food truck-tracking and chef vs. blogger fights that distracted us for entire afternoons), 2011 was the year Twitter went big for local restaurants and bars.
GIVE IT A REST ...
We’ve seen enough of these recent trends
We still love the stuff, but having it available in, on and around every dish imaginable is just making it feel so much less special.
These shops multiplied like bunnies this year. Someone please make it stop.
When restaurants try to do a little bit of everything, we somehow feel like we’re at a sophisticated version of the Cheesecake Factory. This means you, BLT American Brasserie, with your pizza, burgers, steak, sushi and raw bar.
Mason jar cocktails
Forced kitsch at its finest. Blame any number of bars for overplaying this trend in pursuit of a down-home vibe.
We suppose that fries spilling out of takeout boxes and expansive burger plates at 25 Degrees are an attempt at “cool” presentations. Ditto for Hoyt's, which declared its rustic American tavern-ness by clipping each of its three menus on big, clunky slabs of wood. But we were just annoyed.
KEEP IT COMING ...
They may be popular, but we’re not sick of ’em yet
We avoided them as kids, but now we can’t get enough.
Craft cocktail bars
Let them invade every neighborhood and the crowds will follow.
As long as they’re fresh, we’re happy to see more shellfish take over our no-coast town, from GT Fish & Oyster in River North to Fish Bar in Lakeview.
Whether it’s all you eat or you’re just going healthier for the day, it’s nice to have more options, from the vegan dishes at Northdown to the entirely plant-based menu at Native Foods Cafe.