Ann Kim's Kasama collaboration dinner

Somewhere behind the glittering silverware and artfully arranged plates, there's a quiet conversation that happens between cooks and diners. It's one of the privileges of being able to dine out so often that I can recognize these moments. Like familiar licks from a great guitarist, there's a personality woven into the chords and flavors.

For one glorious, sold-out night at Young Joni, I was among a roomful of diners treated to the culinary expressions from chef Ann Kim and her friends Tim Flores and Genie Kwon, who own Chicago's heralded Kasama. The progressive dishes were playful in tone, but seriously constructed. What I know now with the hindsight of Kim's, the chef's newest restaurant, is that she was stepping into her future. I could taste the optimism, excitement and nervous pride in a bowl of beef mandu.

The broth was light, but filled with deep flavor coaxed out of the bones. The dumpling wrapper was a sturdy house for succulent beef short rib. "It's a family recipe," Kim said tableside, radiating with joy and purpose. She talked about how she and Flores met through her restaurant and how the friendship fueled a creative collaboration for the event that fed their creative spirits.

After years of pain and hardships in both our cities and the restaurant industry, this stolen moment on a chilly spring night was a flash of hope for the next chapter of Minneapolis restaurants. Like this bowl of soup, this year has been a chance to learn from where we've been and step into something new — something beautiful, imbued with hope and just a little salty seasoning from what's become Kim's motto: bleep fear. (Joy Summers)

Bone Marrow and Duck Confit at Maison Margaux

It's both exciting and stressful when a dish arrives at the table and stops you mid-sentence. Such was the case at Maison Margaux this summer, when we ordered this triptych of bone marrow, duck confit and marmalade on sourdough toast made from chef David Fhima's century-old family recipe.

The excitement bubbled around the impressive dish before a bite was taken — expectations were high. The stress came from wondering if it would meet those expectations. Luckily, it didn't disappoint. A flawless duck confit bathed in a thick, rich reduction reminiscent of mole. Fatty bone marrow. And that sourdough was topped with an apricot jam that had been cooked in duck fat and Espelette pepper for 36 hours. (Fhima sung the praises of the marmalade, but recognized its ingredients made it something to enjoy on occasion.) As we picked at each of them — all were delicious — we still had one important question: Were we eating it right?

Nope. Our server suggested we put all the components together, and when we did, the result truly was magical. I still remember it vividly, and with a sigh, months later. It's one of those occasions when an experience turns an ordinary evening into an extraordinary one. (Nicole Hvidsten)

The Vinai Feast

For my spouse's milestone birthday this summer, we hosted a fun-packed weekend with friends old and new, the ones we met here and the ones we have stayed close with through various life eras. It all culminated in a backyard dinner for the ages.

At one long table covered in banana leaves, we clustered around mountains of food meant to be enjoyed with our hands (you use chunks of purple sticky rice to pick up the other bites). For many of our out-of-town guests, this was the first time they'd had Hmong food, and we couldn't have been more thrilled to introduce them to the herbs and the hot peppers, the sauces and the twirls of noodles, the smoky grilled meats and the whole fish, all with the help of chef Yia Vang and his impressively abundant Vinai Feast. Sharing this gorgeous banquet set the convivial tone for the rest of the evening, the kind of party that moves over to the campfire for a singalong that ends the next morning, and for memories that last forever.

Ordering is done via Tock, where you can customize your proteins, add-ons, sauces, dessert and specialty cocktail mixer. (You can bet we chose the State Fair-famous coconut lychee colada for our drink.) At $75 a head, including delivery and setup, with no utensils to have to wash, tons of leftovers, and a natural tablecloth you can roll up and toss right into the organics bin, this had to be the easiest dinner party for 16 I've ever hosted. And definitely the most delicious. (Sharyn Jackson)

Pennsylvania Yellow Chicken at Demi

The adage that chicken can only be relegated to a side piece in any well-coiffed restaurant here has grown a little tired. And patently false, if you count the number of Michelin-starred kitchens in France that find ways to put it on a pedestal: by using the most prized breed (Bresse) and cooking it ceremoniously (in a pig's bladder).

The chicken dish I experienced during the last gasps of summer, at Demi, had no such provenance, nor any business needing to be cooked in a balloon of a pig's organ. But it comes close in a way that feels true to Demi's ethos. The chicken is a Pennsylvania yellow breed — the ones that had sunshine, land to roam and a diet of organic yellow corn, which explains its golden hue. The kitchen stuffs a little of the farce under the skin and roasts it until waxy and juicy. There's a section of the chicken meat, fashioned into a knackwurst; a dark, reflective jus; and a tether of vegetables, such as zucchini and a tomato curry sculpted into a trompe l'oeil, so it mimics a cherry tomato. The dish is elevated and precise, yet familiar — it's a play on currywurst, a German fast-food dish — and somehow one of the very few dishes that I still can't get out of my mind. (Jon Cheng)