It's been a while since I wrote much of anything personal here; a little bit of travel here and there but otherwise, it's been all business. A lot of my "personal" writing has been going elsewhere; I write a weekly column for my local Patch.com hyperlocal news site, and I've been talking foodie with other Chicagoans on a local chat board called LTHforum.com. Sitting here thinking about yesterday's US Thanksgiving holiday, which revolves around both food and giving thanks, it felt apropos to write an actual blog entry about something I'm thankful for this year -- almost never having a bad meal.

For our anniversary, my wife and I have established a tradition of dining at one of Chicago's best restaurants. Last year, we ate at Alinea, which went on to receive three Michelin stars. Our first anniversary was at L2O, also initially a three star winner. In between was Blackbird, a one star. Now, I mention the Michelin stars because for readers outside Chicago/the US, they mean something. Honestly, we've been disappointed with how Michelin recognizes Chicago-area restaurants. They've overlooked some real winners, and rewarded some restaurants that are puzzling inclusions. Still, it is a baseline measurement, so we pay some attention.

For 2011, our intention was to go to Avenues, which received two Michelin stars in 2011. Only problem was the Chef decided to close up shop about a week before our anniversary. This gave us the opportunity to try something different. The foodies on LTHforum, along with my friend Brian, had suggested that we try an "Underground dinner". Underground dinners are usually chefs operating out of a private residence or space at fixed times/dates. There are a few in Chicago, but after Brian's experience at One Sister, we decided to try it out.

And one pill makes you small

Chef Iliana Regan runs this dinner out of an apartment on Chicago's north side, with one communal table for eight available each night. It is a BYOB, cash only, no pretense kind of setup, but the food is the star anyway. I think we had nineteen courses over the span of nearly four hours. Three other couples were at dinner that night; we knew of one of the couples through the LTHForum but had never met any of them before. You learn a lot about people when you have a four-hour dinner with them :-), and we've made some new friends as a result. The BYOB added another communal aspect; one of the couples had brought a extremely limited edition beer, "Dark Lord" from Three Floyds Brewery, but were kind enough to share it around.

Anyway, I uploaded some pics of this dinner. They are borrowed from one of the other diners, as I forgot my camera. You can find even more photos on the Chef's website. The food was awesome, with some incredible highlights and combinations. "Bacon whisky ice cream" will probably get some attention, but I loved everything about the dinner. Highly, highly recommended. Chef Regan has just started the process of opening a restaurant, "Elizabeth", and you can follow her adventure on Twitter.

As I mentioned, we made some new friends at this dinner. One couple lives near us and are pretty serious foodies, yet they hadn't tried my current favorite restaurant, Inovasi. If this restaurant was in Chicago, it would sport a Michelin star or two, but the inspectors saved the gems of the suburbs from being discovered. We're regulars at Inovasi, in part because the chef is constantly changing things. The menu evolves every few weeks, but always with the same base principals of a whole being greater than sum of the parts, high quality ingredients, and sharing. So, we asked our new friends to join us for a tasting menu at Inovasi; other friends Gab&Tim, Kathleen, and Jason have all also been to Inovasi, and so far, everyone has loved it. So I was quite confident our new friends would, too. The chef put on an exquisite show for us, which you can read about and see here -- we were at the second dinner of the two in that posting (and my comments are in the follow-up post).

For whatever reason, I always wanted a Norm-in-Cheers-like restaurant where everybody knows your name. Inovasi has become that place, though I can't seem to break the staff of their initial need to call me "Mr. Brill". If you find yourself in Chicago with time to get out to the suburbs, it would be well-worth the trip to Lake Bluff. Let me know and I'll meet you there :-)

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