Wednesday, December 29, 2010

My Top Ten Bites of 2010

After weeks of contemplation, penetrating periods of silence punctuated by the scurry of deep thoughts running in and around my overly conscientious brain, and countless minutes of pictorial review, I have come to one firm conclusion about my overall experience as a diner in 2010.

I ate way way too much this year.

In the past, making this list – my top ten bites of the year – has been a joyous and relatively easy task. While I usually have some sort of internal debate over whether to include a certain item (mostly because I fear the vitriol from those who don’t think a Chopped Chinese Chicken Salad is a gastronomical achievement – shocking, isn’t it?), this year the entire process seems vastly more unsettling. I keep wanting to up the number – to make it the “Top 15 bites,” or “Top 20 bites,” so I can include all of my favorite bites instead of being forced to pick between, say, Angeli Caffe’s gnocchi and Momed’s duck schwarma.

And then there’s the whole matter of those special meals where the tastes are tied to specific memories. What do I do with the fried ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms at Pecorino from that epic six-hour night when I was supposed to be meeting my friend for just one drink at the bar at Tavern so I could rush home to eat a sensible quinoa dinner while watching something mindless on television like all those responsible citizens with jobs and priorities and respect for their waistlines do.

What of that? Surely such an iconic item deserves some sort of representation on my list for its inherent connection to a night when I mocked all sense of propriety to have fun.

And what of the five-course tasting menu I finally enjoyed at Providence in June after years of gastronomical lust? Or the 11-course feast prepared by Michael Voltaggio at Test Kitchen where I ate sweetbreads disguised as McNuggets and tongue disguised as prosciutto, and then giggled my way into the kitchen to meet the famous "Top Chef" winner while KevinEats cheered me on with his all-telling photographic lens.

And I should certainly pay tribute to Starry Kitchen’s balls – those sly green, crispy fried tofu spheres that left me weak in the knees on more than one occasion. (Six balls is a lot for one girl to handle in a single sitting.)

But there’s just not room in a list of ten for everything I enjoyed cramming into my overly active pie hole this year.

Which, again brings my back to my original conclusion – I ate way too much in 2010.

That said (and re-said), I still forced myself to whittle down that seemingly never-ending parade of bites into a list of ten. Because “Top Ten Bites of 2010” sounds far better than “Top One Hundred.” Nobody wants to see that.

AOC’s Curried Cauliflower

It only took one taste of AOC’s slickly lubed and seasoned curried cauliflower for my party of four to request a second order. Even though we all shuddered at the grease stains that were imparted on our hands after passing the shared plate around the table, we couldn’t get enough of the aromatic vegetable. It outshone every other dish we ordered that night – even the bacon-wrapped, cheese-stuffed dates – proof that sometimes, bacon isn’t always better.

Pizzeria Ortica’s Cavolini di Bruxelles
While the Salsiccia pizza with house-made sausage, caramelized onions, marscarpone, red onion and buffalo grano almost made me forget about the other pizzeria in my life, it was the restaurant’s roasted Brussels sprouts with bread crumbs, hazelnuts and lemon zest that I still can’t get out of my head six months later. With their slightly charred skins and crispy centerfolds, these sprouts are as sinfully addictive as a fresh basket of fries. I can’t imagine going back to David Myer’s pizzeria without ordering them. In fact, I kind of want to go back to order just them.

Bastide’s Bread Basket and Butter
Want to know the real reason I went back to Bastide two times in a one month period after my initial visit in July? It’s not because of the patio – the most romantic outdoor enclave in the city – or because of the steak tartare – the only version I’ve ever truly enjoyed. Oh no, it’s because of the freshly baked bread served with their house-churned salt-dusted butter. I can think of few things in this life that are more satisfying than one of Bastide’s crusty, warm onion foccacia roll smothered with a liberal layer of their supremely spreadable lard.

Starry Kitchen's Malaysian Pineapple Coconut Chicken Wings at Test Kitchen
Even though I had a ball eating Starry Kitchen’s tofu balls, these sweet and spicy, coconut sauce-bathed wings stole the show when Thi and Nyugen Tran took over the reins at Test Kitchen this September. I felt like Oliver Twist every time I saw another plate coming out for a different table – I wanted more, and had I not been in the company of self-respecting humans, I might have leapt from my seat and charged the waiter like a rabid boar. Simply put, those wings gave my mouth wings.

Osteria Mamma's Trenette Nere alla Bottarga

Even as I stared into the cocky face of the guy who didn’t think I was good enough for him (I take photos of my food and eat carbs), I was still overwhelmed with joy as a forked my way through the tangle of Osteria Mamma’s homemade squid ink linguini. Every slick, bottarga-kissed strand was pure joy and completely eradicated my disappointment that my date was not my perfect match. I’d found my perfect pasta match, and in that moment, nothing else mattered.

Fraiche’s Bucatini Carbonara
There’s nothing particularly fancy about new Executive Chef’s Ben Bailly’s Bucatini Carbonara at Fraiche Restaurant. It’s composed of the same ingredients that almost all carbonaras are – egg, pancetta, parmesan, pasta. I should really be thinking about the Taglieneri Neri with Maine Lobster instead. Or the Lamb Pappardelle that’s saturated with pungent bites of tomato, olives and goat cheese. Those are exciting – different. But as I ruminate over the 15-course feast – one of my favorite dining experiences of the year – I keep returning my nostalgic gaze to that humble bowl of bucatini slathered in the natural sauce of one yolk from one slow-poached egg. Divine simplicity.

Yatai Ramen Twist’s Spicy Miso Ramen
I was worried it would be too fatty. Worried it would be too spicy. Worried that it would be too funky for my Americanized tongue that is used to ramen coming from a plastic bag for ten cents a pop. Instead, it was the most delightfully sour, sweet, salty, spicy bowl of comfort I’d eaten in ages. As I slurped up each spritely noodle, cherished every dissolving sliver of pork belly and mooned over the pungent spice rolling over my tongue, I felt reborn. This ramen was my gateway drug into a whole new world of noodles. I’ll never look at Top Ramen the same way again.

Comme Ca’s Seared Foie Gras with Maple Bread Pudding, Raspberry Sorbet and Turnips
It’s not even on the menu. I can’t tell you its official name, its official ingredients or whether it’s meant to be a dessert or a sweet starter to pave the way for the restaurant’s savory French delicacies. All I know is that I, the girl who still cringes at the thought of ingesting liver, couldn’t stop eating it. I wanted to horde every bite of that seared lobe of gelatinous fat and blanket my tongue with the delicate pillow bread pudding forever. Or at least until it came time for my actual dinner reservation at a different restaurant. It was the happiest happy hour, indeed.

The Great Greek’s Whipped Caviar Tarama
It was the one thing I didn’t take a picture of when I and other hungry food bloggers descended on the Great Greek for a family-style feast last March. Yet even without the photographic evidence of its existence, it’s the dish I remember the most clearly from the night. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else – all I wanted was the briny, caviar-kissed whipped dip spread in thick layers on the restaurant’s pliant, warm pita bread. It moved me like no fish egg has ever moved me before.

Rustic Canyon’s Cheeseburger
There’s nothing like your first time, those people prone to clichés say, and Rustic Canyon’s cheeseburger, an epic tower of Niman Ranch beef, sharp cheddar cheese, sweet onion fondue, bread and butter pickles, herb rémoulade, and arugula, sent me so far over the moon, I thought I might never land on my feet again. The memory of that first, glorious, drippy bite still haunts me, and in a way feels emblematic of my entire year of adventurous eating. No other burger will ever live up to this one – the first cheeseburger I ever ingested.


Monet said...

I love that you put that bread basket on your list. I would have done the same! All of those dishes looked spectacular, but bread will always win my heart...again and again! Thank you so much for sharing with me.

Esi said...

Nice list. That spicy ramen was so good. Now you have me craving it.

kevinEats said...

To quite Diana: "Michael Voltaggio gave me tongue, and I loved it!"

Gastronomer said...

Oh, baby! These lists are so fun!! I'm so happy that I was present for the Yatai ramen and Ben's carbonara. Both are definitely WORTHY :-) Here's to another tasty year, friend!

Kung Food Panda said...

Nice list D! :) Here's to more good eats in 2011!

Anna A. said...

YESSSSSS The Great Greek Whipped Caviar! Ah, so glad I could introduce you to this one. And yeah, high five to those b.sprouts at P. Ortica.

Diana said...

Monet - Bread was one of the only things I'd eat as a little girl -- it will always hold a special place in my heart! A restaurant can totally win me over with their bread basket.

Esi - So good. Sad it was only a pop-up! Bring back the ramen!!!

Kevin - Yes. Yes, I did.

Cathy - We must get started on our to-eat list stat! Ramen! Burgers! Rice Pudding!

Danny - Hope we can catch up over a meal again soon! Been too long!

Anna - I still need to figure out how to make those sprouts at home. I think the key is a lot of oil. ;)