2007 has easily been the best year of my life, and looks like it will be closing with a bang. It started off a little bumpy with some heartache. But somehow I survived and made/ate my way through New York, Chicago, San Francisco (twice), and Boston (twice). I made my first trip to wine country, hit up some classics, and some not so classics. I celebrated my birthday in style, and went to dozens of great concerts. I started appreciating alcohol, and have grown enamored of Belgian ales. I made some great new friends.
Below are a list of my top ten plates of the year:
1. Japanese seared wagyu from tasting at Vidalia
What can one really say about fantastically, evenly marbled beef? Especially when it has been perfectly seasoned, seared with crispy fat, and kissed by the lips of angels or at least… touched by Eric Ziebold, one of the sweetest chefs in DC? Not much. Except wow, and please sir, can I have some more?
2. Croquette with cucumber, smoked steelhead roe and candied endive at Alinea
Small bites play a big role this year. I feel like I am behind on some trend, but they really are the way to go. It’s just enough to tease you and have you begging for more. Fried, creamy, briny, cooling and sweet all in one bite. This bite was definitely a tease, and wonderful. Though the lamb trio was probably tastier, this one sticks out in my mind.
3. Salmon cornet The French Laundry
Like I said this is the year of the small bite. And this one was killer. Delicious salmon tartare with a bite of cream and crispy sesame seed tuile. Could it get much better than meat on a cone? This kicked off some fabulous food, but again it was that perfect tease.
I had my first oyster experience at Hog Island in 2006. I followed this up with another fantastic combo in my first visit to San Francisco this year. Kumamotos ruled the day on this visit, though the Atlantics had my stomach the first visit. Paired with a nice Quincy from the Loire Valley and I was a bit tipsy in the middle of the day.
My visit to New York was the result of needing to escape DC. I’d read about Kee’s Chocolates, and as it turned out my friend K. lived right down the street from the place. It’s a tiny little shop that churns out some of the best chocolates I’ve ever had. I usually despise fruity chocolates, but these integrated the flavors into amazing chocolate ganaches so that it wasn’t merely jelly or fruit-flavored buttercream fillings. However, the creme brulee chocolate is their signature piece. You are advised to consume it within three days, and in one bite. When you drop it in your mouth a creamy custard gushes out and makes you feel very, very happy.
6. Horchata and tacos at Cactus Taqueria in Oakland
My friend Bill Addison did a taqueria tour for the San Francisco Chronicle that had me dying to check out the scene. We only had time for one place, so we hit up Cactus Taqueria in Oakland – superior to the one in Berkeley. I had a carnitas taco and horchata. I’ve hunted around for good horchata in DC, but most of them taste like bubble gum. Cactus’ horchata was serious business.
People rave about the pizza at 2 Amys, but truly the best items are the small things. These lightly tempura-style mussels. Mmm… salty and seafoody and soft.
My friend Eric makes his own guanciale. They’re cured hog jowls, and basically taste like bacon. He gave them to us wrapped in Calmyrna and Mission figs. It’s a great pow of sweet and salty.
9. Hamachi with preserved lemon and sea salt from Restaurant Eve
Delicate sashimi with the acid from the preserved lemon and little hits of salt. Not too cool so that it was flavorful and melts in your mouth.
A little fried soft shell crab with melted leeks and garlic. Breaking up the crab across the pizza made for a sweet, creamy, crispy, drippy mess. Maybe not conventional, but probably one of my favorite preparations of soft-shell crab for the year.
Honorable mention: Mangosteen from Thai Embassy fruit tasting
This wasn’t really a prepared dish, but it was the first time I’d ever tasted this fruit. Imported for the first time from Thailand, this is my new favorite fruit. A slightly creamy mouthful of peachy, tropical goodness, if I could get these cheaply every day I could stay trim from eating only these.