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Chicago’s top chefs dish on where they had their best meal of 2013

Chef Chris Duffy — whose Grace restaurant received several accolades Part 1 our series — named Green PapaySalad with Cilantro

Chef Chris Duffy — whose Grace restaurant received several accolades in Part 1 of our series — named the Green Papaya Salad with Cilantro, Crispy Shallots and Beef Jerky at Embeya as his favorite meal of the year.

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Updated: January 29, 2014 6:03AM

Ever wonder what your favorite chef’s go-to spot is when they eat out? Well, we did, too. It was a tough call for many of them, but here’s what some of the most beloved chefs narrowed down as the best meal they ate in Chicago in 2013.

Gale Gand — Founding partner, Tru

Best meal: Rotisserie Lamb sandwich and Porchetta sandwich

Restaurant: Eataly, 43 E. Ohio,;

The skinny: “This sandwich is life changing! Moist pork, heady with garlic and herbs, that’s been wrapped in skin-on pork belly and roasted on a spit for hours, then sliced hot, sprinkled with coarse salt and piled into a split crusty freshly baked loaf of Italian bread. The outer layer of fat gets crispy while the interior stays juicy. Make sure you have two to three napkins to catch the juice that unavoidably runs down your arms as you eat it.”

Art Smith — Executive chef and owner, Table Fifty-Two

Best meal: Pulled Chicken Chilaquiles: Pulled White Chicken Breast, Guajillo sauce, Homemade Tortilla Chips, Chiuahua Cheese, house-made Queso Fresco and Bridgeport Coffee Cappuccino

Restaurant: Indy Cafe, 5654 Indianapolis Blvd., East Chicago, Ind.

The skinny: “You know, I spent my life cooking for billionaires and have eaten in the best restaurants in the world, but there are no better restaurants than Chicago and its surrounding area family-owned restaurants. These lovely people are cooking their hearts out and Chef Hector Guerrero’s dish tasted amazing. A lot of places make chilaquiles but this one was absolutely incredible with the pulled chicken, savory but spicy. Guajillo sauce with just enough Chiuahua cheese, and extra special homemade queso fresco. Don’t miss the homemade croissants (he uses only French butter) and homemade bagels. Every bite is worth the hike!”

Dobra Bielinski — Founding partner, Delightful Pastries

Best meal: Housemade Pate, Filet Mignon with Wild Mushrooms, Skate with Truffled Tater Tots

Restaurant: Longman and Eagle, 2657 N. Kedzie Ave.,

The skinny: “It was dinner out with friends. The in-house pate was just finger-licking good. We had numerous desserts but the one that stood out had a chocolate custard with cherries and cookies in between. All the plates were licked clean much to our embarrassment.”

Tony Mantuano — Executive chef and owner, Spiaggia, Cafe Spiaggia, Bar Toma and Terzo Piano

Best meal: Lamb Pinxtos, Pork Belly Pinxtos, Croquetas, Baccala Fritters and Caldo Verde

Restaurant: Autre Monde Cafe & Spirits, 6727 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn;

The skinny: “Even though the name of this restaurant is French, we had an unforgettable Spanish/Portuguese feast. They have an incredibly affordable wine list with unknown but world-class Croatian and Slovenian wines.”

Phillip Foss — Chef and owner,
EL Ideas

Best meal: Flora and Fauna tasting menus. Flora Menu: Matsutake, Beet, Pink Porcelain Squash, Sweet Potato, Burgundy Truffle, Maitake, Raspberry, Fig and Young Coconut. Fauna menu: Chawanmushi, Fall Vegetables, Brandade, Duck, Lamb, Miyazaki Beef, Buddha’s Hand, Pear, Chocolate.

Restaurant: Grace, 652 W. Randolph St.;

The skinny: “Although my first experience at Katsu is a very close second, first place has to go to Grace. I first met and befriended Curtis Duffy shortly after I arrived in Chicago, and I was sincerely humbled after several meals at Avenues. Since meeting, there have been several aspects of our lives and careers that have paralleled, and I feel lucky to have watched Grace evolve from empty box to where it is now. Despite the high aspirations, it did not disappoint in the least. Every detail is well considered:.”

Jimmy Bannos Sr. — Co-founder, Heaven on Seven, The Purple Pig

Best meal: Shrimp, Tomatoes and Feta Special

Restaurant: Boston Fish Market, 1225 Forest Ave., Des Plaines;

The skinny: “I loved the freshness of the brown shrimp sourced from the Galveston, Texas, area along the Gulf of Mexico, along with the sweetness of the tomato and the balancing spice and rich feta cheese. The whole dish was off the charts.”

Sarah Stegner — Co-chef and co-owner, Prairie Grass Cafe in Northbrook

Best meal: Rib of Prime Beef, Potato Tarte Tatin, Tomme de Savoie and Sweet Garlic, Bone Marrow, Burgundy and Thyme

Restaurant: Brindille, 534 N. Clark St.;

The skinny: “Well done, beautifully presented, rich and so delicious.”

Dave Raymond — Co-founder, Sweet Baby Ray’s and Owner of Sweet Baby Ray’s in Wood Dale

Best meal: Corned Beef

Restaurant: Manny’s Cafeteria and Delicatessen, 1141 S. Jefferson St.;

The skinny: “I’m a simple man and know what I like. Manny’s corned beef sandwich is my go-to sandwich and I have a great time every time I’m there.”

Jared Wentworth — Executive chef, Longman and Eagle

Best meal: Matsutaki

Restaurant: Katsu, 2651 W. Peterson Ave.; (773) 784-3383

The skinny: My favorite meal this year was an absolutely amazing experience at the sushi restaurant Katsu. We ate the tasting menu and just had a great experience with some of the best raw product in the Midwest. The dish that stood out to me was the chef’s Matsutaki Chawanmushi: steamed custard flavored with Matsutaki mushrooms in their own broth. Ethereal and light, pungent and my favorite mushroom of the fall season — this fish was perfect.”

Bo Fowler — Executive Chef and Owner, Owen & Engine in Chicago

Best Meal: Roasted Local Carrots with Wild Mushrooms, followed by Rabbit Pasta with Shaved Beet Salad, followed by a simple warm plate of cookies.

Restaurant: Nightwood, 2119 S. Halsted St., Chicago;

The skinny: “It was truly simple and lovely. Nightwood is the perfect neighborhood restaurant. I always get great service and simple, great food.”

Lee Ann Whippen — Chef/partner, Chicago q in Chicago

Best meal: Coccoli Main and Pasta in a JarRestaurant:

Siena Tavern, 51 W. Kinzie;

The skinny: “A culinary dream in every detailed dish! Coccoli appetizer: Crispy dough with a fritter consistency filled with mild and delicate cow’s milk stracchino cheese accompanied by thin, dry, cured prosciutto di parma. Just when I thought nothing could top this, then came their creation of ‘Pasta in a Jar.’ All of my favorite foods — duck confit, foie torchon, foraged mushrooms, a unique Dunbarton, Wis.-rich, aged cheddar cheese with a subtle hint of blue cheese and anise hyssop, an herb reminiscent of fennel. This interactive dish allows you to shake up your jar to combine these ingredients producing a rich and balanced bliss combined with house-made pasta.”

Curtis Duffy — Chef and owner, Grace

Best meal: Green Papaya Salad with Cilantro, Crispy Shallots and Beef Jerky

Restaurant: Embeya Restaurant, 564 W. Randolph;

The skinny: “I love the balance between the acidity and sweetness and the toothsomeness of the papaya. It’s an overall well-balanced dish.”

Mark Steuer — Executive Chef, Carriage House in Chicago

Best Meal: Pork Milanese

Restaurant: La Sirena Clandestina, 954 W. Fulton Market, Chicago;

The skinny: “I loved it because everything about it was perfectly executed. So often, the seasoning is off, or a sauce is too thick or thin, vegetables are over or under cooked. On John Manion’s Milanese, the pork was perfectly juicy, the breading was flavorful and crispy. The chanterelle mushroom ragoût had a lot of acid to it, and the creamy mustard sauce really brought it all together. It’s one of the best plates of food I can remember eating.”

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