You all have 'em be honest.
When you've had absolutely the worst week at work and feeling deserving of that extra special dinner, or when pining for the old neighborhood the calmer, quiet life that you lived there, or missing an old friend that now is far away and just a phone conversation won't do-- a flavor comes to mind. A specific dish that holds a memory for you and is linked to not only to some delightful taste sensation in your mouth but something else goes on in your brain that calms you down, wakes you up and reminds you that you've come from somewhere good and you have a story to tell about it.
It's easy to identify my friends with foods and the restaurants that serve them: MM would demand crab rangoon and kao soy from Opart Thai House and has been known, on occasion to drag me and my pink-handlebared-bike up to Lincoln Square just to relive the memories. MV would describe her mood and have delivered a perfectly correlated glass of wine, blue cheese chips and lightly tossed salad at Fiddlehead. AF would swear on her life that pad thai from Yes Thai could do no wrong and out-pad's all other thais in this great city. Just to name a few.
But as my friends who love a good dish every now and again, I think it's high time I tell you which ones wake me up at night, calm me down in the midst of a stressful week, or are the perfect celebratory foods I run to when I'm really patting myself on the back:
Avec: chorizo-stuffed dates. Spicy roasted tomato sauce, sweet dates and must-be-PKahan-created meat sit in my mouth for days afterward (in a good way) and months in my head. This absolutely deserves the number one spot, most addicting foods I've ever had. If you haven't call me. I'm free tonight no matter what and we MUST have them.
Schubas: mac and cheese. I've tried and tried and tried again to recreate my mom's homemade macaroni and cheese. It is the standard by which all other macs are judged and so, so many have failed. Until this one. Maybe it's because it's been consumed pre-Imogen Heap, pre-Dent May and many others but rock and roll never tasted this good.
Opart: I have to defer to MM on this one. I honestly think this is the best Thai food in Chicago. Don't even try to get delivery from their downtown location. It's terrible, doesn't even compare. Park your car or bike at Welles Park, grab a bottle of wine from the slashie just north of Opart and order a round of (8!!! I swear this is more than standard) crab rangoon. I haven't had better.
Tre Kroner: salmon dill quiche. Now this association really has come a long way. This humble little quiche overcame all memories of 6 am alarms in college to be sure I made my waitressing shift at Tre K on time. Overcame tired legs from being on my feet in little clogs for 8-9 hours with no break. Overcame post shift clothes wreaking of Swedish cooked potatoes for days on end. Congrats salmon dill quiche-- you earned this spot.
Chicago Pizza & Oven Grinder: Mediterranean flatbread. Oversized food has always frightened me. When food is so big it spills out over it's plate and graces the table below, I'm unnerved. Not so with CP&OG's flatbread. Normally you've been waiting for a table for at least an hour and a half, you realize that your two glasses of red wine have seriously gone to your head and that just a grinder with mushrooms and sausage just isn't going to cut it. You have to start somewhere and the very best place to start is with the flatbread. And go hog-wild with the seasonings. I think they put about 1/5th the necessary amount on so I normally add my 4/5ths...and then season each bite more. Season, rip, season again, consume. Fantastic.
Honorable mentions which need further consumption:
Jerry's Louis M. Sandwich: chicken salad with steak, avocado, swiss, chipotle chutney
La Scarola's grilled octopus
Piccolo Sogno's straw & hay veal ragu
My favorite part about this list is its dynamism. Who knows what I may find tomorrow when out with a long, lost foodie friend or next time the Pops rolls into town... so tell me, what are the most fabulous local flavors you've had? What should I add to my list, in your own humble opinion?