Sunday, December 31

Topper's Top List: The Best Things I Ate In 2017

Hey everyone! I know it's been A LONG TIME. But I'm back to close out the year with my annual list of the best things I ate! It was a busy year filled with buying our first home and getting married (the fiancĂ© is now officially an Instagram husband), to job promotions and exciting travels. There were some lows (getting robbed while away on our honeymoon tops the list!), but definitely plenty of culinary highs.

In no particular order, here's my list of the best things I ate in 2017:

1) Wedge Salad at Entente

That dressing is unreal, and the plating? The prettiest salad I ever did see.

2) Jalapeno Mac and Cheese at Baptiste & Bottle

Cheesy, gooey goodness.

3) Thin Crust Pizza at Side Street Saloon

This Lakeview dive bar makes some of my favorite thin crust 'za in Chicago. It's my hidden secret.

4) Avocado Toast with Burrata at Forno Rosso

I love Forno Rosso's neapolitan-style pies, but their brunch is also delicious. Creamy burrata on top of creamy avocado toast is pure genius.

5) Wood Roasted Octopus at Coco Pazzo

The most tender octopus I've had.

6) Monkey Bread and Raviolo at The Bristol

These two go together. Pillowy soft bread dunked in the brown butter raviolo sauce is sheer perfection.

7) Funghi Pizza at Pizzeria Bebu

Any pizza at Bebu is amazing but the flavor bomb that's the funghi pizza tops my list. Plus, you can add an everything bagel style crust to any pie (trust me, you should).

8) Strangolapreti at Income Tax

I'm a fan of several dishes at Income Tax in my Edgewater 'hood. These fried spinach dumplings are melt-in-your-mouth delicious and stuffed with ricotta. Get two orders.

9) Ube Cookie from Warm Belly Bakery

My first time trying ube (purple yam) was at Chicago Gourmet in this cookie. It was so good I went back for seconds (and thirds).

10) The Cheeseburger (AKA The Dirty Burg) at The Loyalist

I went to The Loyalist four days before Bon Appetit named it one of their top burgers of the year. It's a hearty blend of chuck, bacon, and short rib and it's messy AF. The real star is the crack sauce on the side, a garlic aioli that will have you wondering how you cleaned your plate so quickly.

11) Burrata e Ham at Monteverde

Grab a tigelle (little lard breads with rosemary), stuff it with burrata and ham, and top it with seasonal ingredients like apple mostarda, or roasted beets.

Photo via Chicago Tribune

12) Fried Chicken at 1959 Kitchen & Bar

This is probably the biggest sleeper hit on this list. Who knew the restaurant at The Second City churns out fantastic fried chicken?!

Photo via 1959 Kitchen & Bar
13) Cauliflower Hummus at Shaya (New Orleans, LA)

Probably the least surprising on this list is the hummus at Shaya. I celebrated my birthday here this year in New Orleans (I will never forget the terrible flooding!) and never wanted the meal to end. The pita and hummus are the best I've had (I do love my husband's homemade varieties though).

Photo via Spoon University
Cheers to happiness, good health, and delicious eats in 2018! What were some of the best things you ate or drank this year?

Sunday, March 12

Mesa Urbana

While I spend most of my hours dining out in Chicago, I spent most of my time growing up in north suburban Northbrook. When I heard about a restaurant in my hometown that was on Chicago Magazine's Hot List, I knew I had to check it out.

Mesa Urbana defines itself as a Mexican fusion restaurant. It's located in a no-frills strip mall in an unassuming store front. Don't let its surroundings deter you - the restaurant is lively, warm and of course delicious.

On the Saturday night I stopped by, nearly every table was taken. By the time I left, every table and seat at the bar was taken, and patrons were waiting for tables. This is a place where people from the neighborhood come to congregate, and not just older couples. During my visit I saw older couples, families with young children, and groups of friends. There's definitely not a one-size-fits-all clientele here.

Owner Moe Taleb and our server went over the menu with us suggesting we share a few small plates and order our own entrees. The menu is divided up into salads, appetizers, tacos, seafood/meat/vegetarian entrees,  and sides. They also offer a selection of beer, wine, and house cocktails made with fresh juices. We opted for margaritas including a strawberry pineapple variety, and the house Urbana margarita with a hint of cucumber, orange and lemon. The Urbana margarita was fantastic - it was pleasantly strong, refreshing, and well balanced.

Northbrook Restaurant
Strawberry Pineapple Margarita & Urbana Margarita
As a fusion restaurant, Mesa Urbana's menu takes notes from all over, including Asia, France, and Italy. We started with one appetizer that emphasized some of these influences: the ceviche trio.  The trio included three preparations, Mexican (octopus), American (shrimp), and Asian (grouper). I preferred the Asian variety marinated in soy sauce, and while the others were tasty, they are very different from what you might expect when ordering ceviche. If you're looking for a super acidic version, these won't satisfy that desire.

Northbrook Restaurant
Ceviche Trio
At the recommendation of our server, we also tried the queso fundido with pan seared rock shrimp, muenster cheese, tomato, poblano peppers, pico de gallo, and avocado. I loved the salsa and the heat from the poblanos; obviously it was tasty - it's gooey melted cheese after all.

Northbrook Restaurant
Queso Fundido
Looking around the crowded dining room, there was one dish that kept appearing on tables, the salmon al carbon. It sounded delicious on paper so I thought I'd see if it lived up to the hype. The salmon is served medium rare with caramelized mango, green papaya,  and avocado creme fraiche. This was one of the best salmon dishes I've had and the subtle sweetness of the mango and papaya was a pleasant contrast. I dipped each bite of salmon in the avocado creme fraiche which had a nice touch of lime.

Northbrook Restaurant
Salmon Al Carbon
We also tried the special of the evening, a 6 ounce filet served with shrimp, orange hollandaise, and grilled asparagus. The steak was cooked to order (medium rare), and the sauce was truly unique. It wasn't super heavy like hollandaise can be - it was a bit lighter and brighter with the citrus flavor. On the side, we also tried the camote, or Mexican sweet potato (not pictured). The purple potato was the most delicious sweet potato I've probably ever tried. It didn't hurt that it was topped with cinnamon, thyme, and butter! While delicious, $7 for a sweet potato is a bit steep. We also tried a side of cauliflower with lemon, garlic, and shaved romano cheese.

Northbrook Restaurant
Filet and Shrimp
While we had absolutely zero room for dessert, we somehow powered through to enjoy one of three offered desserts, a pumpkin bread pudding with ice cream and mixed berry coulis. There was also a slice of roasted acorn squash that was an unexpected, yet perfect component of the dessert. Needless to say, we polished off every bite.

Northbrook Restaurant
Capirotada de Calabaza
Overall, we enjoyed our time at Mesa Urbana. It's a welcome addition to the community and I love its unique menu. I will say the menu is a bit pricey, especially for the area. Entrees will run you anywhere from $20-28 and those appetizers ($12-$18) and cocktails ($11-$12) can add up quickly. However, the food is prepared with high quality ingredients, we were pleased with most dishes we tried, and those margaritas packed a punch!

Note: my meal at Mesa Urbana was complimentary; however, all opinions expressed are my own.

Mesa Urbana
3566 Milwaukee Ave.
Northbrook, IL 60062
Mesa Urbana Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato 
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