Happy New Year everyone! It's about this time that we start seeing the ubiquitous "top 10" lists for the year... top 10 films, top 10 songs, top 10 news stories... heck there's even a "Top 10 Predictions for Virtualization in 2009" (if you're into that sort of stuff... and I know of at least one person who is).
After reading Jonathan Kauffman's "Top 10 Dishes of 2008" I thought I'd compile a list of my ten favorite bites from the past year. Looking back on the food experiences we had over the last 12 months, I'm reminded of how exciting and vibrant the local food scene is here in Seattle and surrounding areas (including Vancouver, of course). So, in no particular order...
1. Charcoal ramen at Motomachi Shokudo: What are you supposed to say if someone wants to put charcoal powder in your ramen broth? Intensely dark, the broth's flavor is strikingly complex and balanced, with just a whiff of smokiness. The beauty of this bowl of ramen is only amplified by the perfection of the ramen's texture and the unctuousness of the slab of simmered pork. And yeah, it's good for you too.
2. Anything with octopus at Sitka and Spruce: I'm trying not to show any bias here because this is our favorite place in Seattle, but the first time we ordered octopus here, we were completely blown away. Impossibly tender, the meat of the octopus practically melted in our mouths... so much so that I had to ask if there was some special way they were cooking it. The answer? Nope, just sauteed simply, with the knowledge of precisely when to take it off the heat. In subsequent visits, we ordered octopus whenever it was on the menu so often, we had to make a consious effort to branch out. Revelatory.
3. Pupusas at Tacos Patzcuaro: I'm a sucker for a well-made pupusa. And I can't say I've had any better than the ones at Patzcuaro... Their fried exterior is both crispy and slightly chewy at the same time; the interior is pillowy soft... made to order, piping hot, and served with an engaging combination of warmth and pride by the friendliest folks you'll meet. Euphoric simplicity.
4. Penn Cove mussels at Toby's: This wins the award for most unexpected deliciousness. Toby's is an old school tavern in Coupeville. We only encountered it when we asked the father of one of the local winemakers where he liked to grab a bite to eat. And what we found were steamed mussels that were so good, our mouths were literally gaping after the first bite. Insanely fresh, insanely good.
5. Top Secret Cupcakes: The cupcake fad seems to have some staying power, and I've never had cupcakes that match the ones made by this local expert. Truly artisan, truly small batch, impossibly moist and tender... they'll make you a believer in cupcakes all over again. firstname.lastname@example.org.
6. Blood sausage at Olivar: This one almost didn't make the list because I've never had blood sausage before. But the flavor of this dish was incredible, unlike anything I've had. Made of pigs blood, fat and rice, the sausage was bold and intense in its captivatingly savory flavors, richly spiced for a symphonic taste that I still have yet to pull apart in my mind. I've been cautioned of the spine-shuddering flavors of poorly-made blood sausage... but with this dish, it's one of my new favorites.
7. Tajarin at Spinasse: One of the dishes that still haunts my memories from our days in the Bay Area is the tajarin (pronounced tai-yah-REEN) with 5-hour pork sugo at Perbacco... a truly beautiful dish. Justin Neidermeyer's tajarin with a ragu of pork, beef and veal is just as magnificent, but in a slightly different way. The texture and flavor of his pasta is more developed, but the ragu is more rustic. Phenomenal pasta texture--impossibly thin and delicate, but with enough structural integrity so you can sense every strand in each mouthful.
8. Kushi oysters on the half shell at the Corson Building: How have I never had a Kushi oyster before? Thankfully, these oysters are sourced from waters not too far north of Washington state. These Kushis were served with just a dab of grassy, zesty olive oil and a touch of fleur de sel... perfect for their sweet, buttery flavor. It's like what I always wished kumamotos could taste like...
9. Soup dumplings at Chen's Shanghai: More magic from our friends to the north. The quest for the ultimate xiao long bao is a life-long journey. And there is perhaps no better place to embark on that journey than the dynamic Chinese food scene in Richmond, B.C. Most people swear by the xiao long bao at Shanghai Wonderful (which are fantastic, no doubt), but the version at Chen's are transcendent. The dumpling wrapper is the most delicate I've ever seen, melting away in your mouth upon your first bite. The broth is clean and pure, bursting with glorious seasoned pork flavor... but not at all heavy. Amazing.
10. Sanma nigiri at Miyabi: It's always exciting to try a new kind of fish. It's even better when its flavor and texture vault it immediately to the top of your favorites list. Masa-san, the hard working artisan at our absolute favorite sushi restaurant in Seattle (ahem, Tukwila), encouraged us to try sanma (pike mackerel) during the autumn, when the fish was in season. Supremely fresh, slightly sweet, with a firm texture and tasting like the purest spray of ocean mist... one of those bites that changes your perception on things.
Runners up: Roasted Romanesco Cauliflower and Bagna Cauda at Spinasse, Jason's sweet baguette, raw octopus at Kingyo, cavatelli and mussels in a parsley pesto broth at Union, Kurodai crudo at How to Cook a Wolf, salad of local greens and beef tongue with roasted rainier cherries and chevre at the Corson Building, Vivace espresso ice cream from Molly Moon's.
Yep, it was a terrific year of eating, with both familiar and entirely new taste experiences.
What were some of your favorite dishes this year?