January 1, 2013

Best bites of 2012

2012 was another year of terrific eating. Sure, there were some disappointing moments. Like the time I had to give up my reservation at Little Serow when an unexpected addition to our party took us over the four-person table limit. Or the average experiences we had at Rionne XIII and The Whale Wins. I was particularly bummed about not being able to score a reservation at the amazing-sounding Restaurant Abri in Paris, with its 38€ 6-course prix fixe. Even still, there were some truly delicious new tastes. Here are the top 10:

ahi tuna poke, da poke shack (Kailua Kona): We were in Hawaii for a cousin's wedding, and we cruised by this nondescript counter in a parking lot for lunch. Shockingly great poke. Pay by weight and sit on the bench outside. No frills because none are needed. A must go in Kona.

corn and zucchini fritter, kedai makan: Kevin and Alysson rocked the Seattle food scene this year when they opened up their sweet little Malaysian food stand at the Capitol Hill farmers' market. My first taste of their nasi lemak left me dazed in sparklingly deep flavors--and had me going back for 7 straight weeks. At the height of the summer, they did this corn and zucchini fritter whose amazing crunch was accompanied by sweet bursts of market-fresh goodness. For 2013, they'll be at a fixed location on Olive Way.

bibim naeng myeon, Yu Chun (Los Angeles): Most people envy L.A. for its weather. I envy L.A. for its Korean food. This summer, we had a chance to try Yu Chun for the first time, and the naeng myeon rocked our world. Fundamentally simple, but truly amazing when done this well. The envy increases...

albacore, charred onion ash, radish, seaweed, castagna (Portland): We wondered how Castagna would fair after Matt Lightner went off to cultivate more success in New York (which he achieved, apparently). But under Justin Woodward, things are still humming along. I had three perfectly cooked pieces of fish this year. This was one of them.

grilled sweetwater oysters, chipotle garlic butter, hog island oysters (Tomales Bay): I usually dislike cooked oysters. These, however, are divine little guilty pleasures. The chipotle garlic butter explodes with flavor, and you can't beat the combo of these oysters and a sunny day next to the water.

pork chop, obelisk (D.C.): This was an unexpected find... a D.C. restaurant featuring Italian food where the cooking is kept as simple as possible to highlight the quality of the ingredients. Terrific antipasti and pastas, but the knockout was, of all things, an exquisitely prepared kurobuta pork chop. I've never had a pork chop so perfectly cooked, so tremendously flavorful, and so incredibly juicy. Best I've ever had.

cuttlefish carpaccio, hawksworth (Vancouver, B.C.): Hawksworth is a beautiful restaurant serving beautiful food to beautiful people. Props to their staff for accommodating us and providing fantastic service even though we arrived without a reservation (scored the only open table) and severely underdressed. Cuttlefish should not be this meltingly tender. Very well executed.

ya pla grab, little uncle: We always love whatever we get at Little Uncle, but this crispy smelt salad was a knockout. Perfectly crunchy whole smelt served with a zesty and uber-fresh salad. I remember this dish absolutely made my day.

utah beach oysters, pear, watercress, saturne (Paris): This was the best dish from the best meal we had this year. Firm, lightly briny, and with faint hazelnut notes, these beautiful oysters from Normandy were accompanied by little pearls of sweet pear, then blanketed in a sheet of watercress gelee. simple, pure, and illuminating.

éclair with raspberry-rose filling, l’éclair de génie (Paris): How about some dessert to round out this list? I was never a huge fan of éclairs, but I'd never had one like this. Light and airy pâte à choux with a delicately balanced interplay between raspberry, rosewater and chocolate. Christophe Adam is a master.

Some honorable mentions... kouign amman (blé sucré), financier (erik kayser), frosted madeleine (blé sucré), neba neba (kamonegi), shrimp (sweet d's shrimp shack), lobster carpaccio (corduroy)

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