My job had me on the road more than not in 2016 and while I’ve had many, many unforgettable meals this past year, I’ve tried to narrow down the 15 best dishes I enjoyed during the past year. Here’s the list in restaurant name alphabetical order.
Ai Fiori – New York, NY. Eating at this Chef Michael White restaurant is a luxurious treat and lobster seems to be an appropriate ingredient to have in the beautiful dining room. The Lobster with Asparagus and Morels was one of the best lobster dishes I’ve had.
Buca Yorkville – Toronto, ON. Branzino is my favorite fish and at Buca, the Cyprian sea bass is expertly-carved tableside in its pure raw state and topped with Prosecco, olive oil and lemon.
Escape – Montclair, NJ. The seafood grits with a giant portion of sea urchin was just a fabulous dish at the now defunct Escape.
FLX Table – Geneva, NY. Very cool dining experience at Chef/Master Sommelier Christopher Bates’ new chef’s table restaurant in the Finger Lakes. The multi-course dinner showcases locally-sourced ingredients and the dish I thought stood up among the winning lineup was the Uber B.L.T. consisting of tomato, sweet summer corn and lamb bacon. The presentation was glorious with a pool of tomato water in the bowl of the plate and beautifully-arranged raw and dried tomatoes, the bacon and corn then avocado and Thai basil.
Grace – Chicago, IL. I treated myself to Grace this year and wasn’t sorry for the splurge. The Alaskan King Crab dish was gorgeous, light yet flavorful. It’s served artfully with char roe, cucumber, floral cream and tangerine lace. The king crab salad is positioned at the bottom of a v-shaped glass filled with herbs and flowers then a flavor-neutral tuile seals the salad. Crack the tuile with a spoon and the crunchy bits add an unexpected texture to the delicate crab.
Heirloom Kitchen – Old Bride, NJ. Chef David Viana cooked up perhaps the best duck I’ve had. The masterly-seared duck breast is served with sherry herbed barley, granola, parsnip, date purée, maitake mushroom and duck jus. The earthiness of the roasted maitake and the sweet/savory date purée compliment the rich duck perfectly.
Hot & Soul – Ft Lauderdale, FL. My year-end best dishes compilation wouldn’t be the same without an entry from my favorite Ft Lauderdale restaurant. The Mushroom Manchego Toast is a must to start off a meal at Hot and Soul. The shareable dish with its creamy sherry sauce is a winner.
Kalofagas – my home in NJ. Toronto-based chef and cookbook author Peter Minaki prepared a dish of spaghetti with uni (sea urchin) sauce at my home this year that was simply outstanding. Briny uni-tomato sauce coated the al dente pasta perfectly.
Lorena’s – Maplewood, NJ. Meals at Lorena’s are never less than stellar and this year, my favorite dish at the popular restaurant was the Cavatelli Carbonara. Instead of the eggs being incorporated in the sauce in a traditional way, Chef Campos serves it poached with a runny yolk to coat the pasta.
Razza Pizza Artigianale – Jersey City, NJ. While it’s best known for its outstanding pizza, my favorite dish at Razza is the Bread and Butter service featuring house made butter that has the right funky flavor and crusty, pizza oven-baked bread.
Redux – Madison, NJ. Chef Ubhaus serves up delicious, comforting food and calling out Disco Fries as my top dish at his restaurant undersells his culinary talents. Having said that, this dish is pure decadence with SLABS of St Andre cheese over properly-made fries and rich veal gravy.
Square Root – New Orleans, LA. The meal I had at Square Root was one of the finest I enjoyed this year. The Red Fish with Horseradish Bubbles was THE dish in the long list of dishes we were served. The red fish was properly-cooked and bubbles made from horseradish were blown in the open kitchen, right in front of us.
Stages at One Washington – Dover, NH. Yes, two of my favorite dishes were enjoyed at Stages this year: Lomo and Egg and Cabrales-Stuffed Raspberries. Chef Evan Hennessey is simply brilliant and raspberries and blue cheese are now a favorite.
The Bachelor Farmer – Minneapolis, MN. Pork Meatballs, Spätzle in Lobster Broth was one of the several outstanding dishes I had at this Minneapolis gem. Pork and lobster? Yes, it totally works.
I’m looking forward to 2017 and the food adventures I’ll enjoy.
Happy New Year!!