As 2011 comes to a close, Eater surveyed a number of industry types, writers, eaters and more. We asked the group eight questions, everything from Restaurant Standbys and Top Newcomers to Single Best Meal and Headline for 2012. Everything will be revealed—cut, pasted, unedited and unadulterated—by the time we check out on Friday to ring in the New Year.
Q: What was the biggest dining surprise of 2011?
Mike Sula, Chicago Reader: Tozi, an authentically good Korean restaurant in Wicker Park.
Natasha Liberman, a la card Chicago: Kith & Kin closing...what a bummer! I really LOVED K&K and thought it was destined for greatness and the long-haul! I genuinely miss this place, a lot.
Julia Kramer, Time Out Chicago: Nothing surprises me anymore. Kidding ... I have no idea.
Lisa Shames, CS: How fun and not stuffy fine dining could be.
Kate Bernot, BlackboardEats: The speed with which we all stopped caring about the Pump Room.
Jeff Ruby, Chicago: Chefs leave restaurants all the time, but I was surprised for some reason when Frank Brunacci ditched Sixteen to work for a truffle company. Not many people talked about it at the time, but it was one of my favorite reasons for leaving since that chef at Pili.Pili quit to go “walk the Appalachian Trail.”
Mike Gebert, Grub Street: That Doughnut Plant (in New York) and Doughnut Vault here weren't bullshit places where dumb yuppies like me waited an absurd time and spent way too much money, but made seriously fantastic doughnuts. I was pretty seriously devoted to being a reverse snob on the subject of doughnuts, but then I tried them.
Emily Fiffer, Daily Candy: Black Sheep. Surprised it stayed open as long as it did.
Nick Kindelsperger, Serious Eats: Most of them were actually in Logan Square. I love wine and I love bars, but I've haven't cared about a wine bar until Telegraph came along. Yusho is only one of a hundred restaurants that opened this year serving grilled things on sticks, but it doesn't feel like any of them. The space is gorgeous, the food is elegant, and the drinks are wonderful. Also, instead of sulking, Lula Cafe apparently took all the openings in the neighborhood as a direct challenge. The revamped menu is thrilling.
Carly Fisher, The Feast: Perennial Virant. Who would have thought Paul Virant would become a Boka boy?
Chandra Ram, Plate: The flavor-tripping menu at Moto is pretty crazy. Those miracle fruit tabs make even vinegar taste like candy. Am curious to see where that will go next.
Penny Pollack, Chicago: The breakfast boom and Libertad in Skokie!
David Tamarkin, Time Out Chicago: That anybody found Brandon Baltzley worth writing about.
Lisa Arnett, Metromix: The thrill of everything involved with Next. After waiting for an opening date, the adrenaline-filled race to buy tickets, the goosebump-inducing preview videos and nearly every food site posting photos of each course, it was still a special surprise to eat there on my own on Day 2 of the Paris 1906 menu.
Ellen Malloy, Restaurant Intelligence Agency: The herring shot at Vincent. That little thing enchanted me to no end; that I actually enjoyed iNG since I was nearly violent after eating at Moto back in the day; and the joy of all the alternatives to traditional restos. I loved it. Exciting, fresh, made the dining experiences unique and fresh.
Joe Campagna, Chicago Food Snob: Amount of drama that went on with chefs in our city.
Michael Nagrant, Sun-Times: Vera