Here’s my contribution to the end-of-the-year countdowns. After looking back at all my food pictures this past year, I realized that I’ve really eaten out a lot. I feel really grateful that I was able to dine at some really amazing places this year, some from my many trips I took this year.
Next year might be a different story because my resolution is to save money. I’ll still go out to eat, but probably not as often. But I hope the places I go to will still surprise and excite me. While there were some hot new spots opening in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2012, I thought I’d focus on specific dishes that really were memorable.
So this is my top 10 things I ate in 2012 (or what I like to consider the 10 best things I put in my mouth, LOL). Let’s start with No. 10.
10. Spring Asparagus Salad, A.Q. Restaurant, San Francisco.
I love it when a salad comes out so composed and complex. The wonderful, seasonal restaurant A.Q. in SOMA has created quite a stir. The asparagus was presented roasted as well as blanched and thinly shaved. But this entire salad was taken to another level — which often happens in A.Q.’s dishes — with the many components, including brilliant steelhead roe and white chocolate droppings that have been torched.
9. Beef tongue, Namu Gaji, San Francisco.
This popular dish at the Mission restaurant Namu Gaji reminded me how much I enjoyed eating beef tongue when my Mom made it growing up. Of course, Namu Gaji (serving up modern Korean-California cuisine, often in small bites) takes almost five days to prepare this dish that starts by slow braising the tongue and then finally finishing it off on the grill.
8. Traditional Flan, Comal, Berkeley.
This newcomer to downtown Berkeley draws crowds every night, and they don’t take reservations. When I finally got to try the place with my nephew, we enjoyed the freshness of the ingredients in the Mexican dishes but weren’t necessarily inspired. That was, until dessert came and I got the traditional flan, which turned out to be the best flan I’d ever eaten with its creamy and silky texture and subtle flavor. It’s the kind of dish that when you think about it, you can’t stop thinking until you go back and try it again.
7. Rhubarb Buckle with Candied Ginger Crumb, home-made.
No. 7 on my list actually came out of my very own oven. This buckle (aka crumb cake aka coffee cake aka fruit crumble) was a recipe I tried from my “Dishing Up Oregon” cookbook, and after the first bite I was a fan. The simple steps but the elevating element of candied ginger made this perfection. I’ve made this several times now, replacing the rhubarb with other seasonal fruits like peaches, pears and cranberry. I’ve even included it in my annual holiday newsletter to family and friends because it is just. that. good. But you can always just check out the recipe in my recipe section.
6. Lamb Riblets appetizer, FnB restaurant, Scottsdale, Ariz.
During my spring training (baseball) trip in March, I was lucky enough to try a lot of great restaurants in the Phoenix-Scottsdale area of Arizona. One of them was FnB, where I sat in the large counter bar surrounding the center open kitchen. This starter dish was simple but amazing in flavor, the ribs marinaded with sherry vinegar, honey, fennel seeds, and Aleppo. It was my first introduction to the spicy Aleppo pepper, and since then my sister gave me a bottle for my birthday. So I’m determined to try to replicate this dish.
5. Uni Pasta with Tobiko and Ooba, home-made.
Here’s another favorite bite that I cooked up myself. Many restaurants are cooking with uni, or sea urchin, so I got into the game with this simple but so tasty uni spaghetti dish made simply with uni grounded into butter, then dressed up with tobiko (flying fish roe) and ooba (a type of shiso leaf). It was a pricey dish because of the uni I bought from Japantown, but so worth it.
4. Margherta Pizza, Tony’s Pizza Napoletana, San Francisco.
Sometimes the best tastes are the simplest. And this Margherita pizza from Tony’s Pizza Napoletana from North Beach qualifies. Pizzaiolo Tony Gemignani is a world champion in making pizza, and this is his showpiece. A simple pizza with wonderful tomato sauce, the freshest tasting basil leaves and quality mozzarella fior di latte. Gemignani only makes 73 every day, so count yourself lucky if you’re one of the 73 lucky diners to try it.
3. Foie Gras Terrine with Green Strawberries and Rhubarb, Haven Restaurant, Oakland.
I’m generally not a fan of foie gras because of the overly rich texture that sometimes reminded me of raw meat. But this one dish from Daniel Patterson’s latest Oakland restaurant Haven in Jack London Square changed my mind. Note: I ate this before a California ban was enacted prohibiting restaurants from serving foie gras. What was special about this Haven dish was the light texture of the foie gras, different from the overly rich texture I’ve tried before. The beautifully plated dish was complex with the sweet-tart play of the green strawberries and rhubarb that contrasted nicely with the foie gras.
2. Eggs with Bread and Pancetta, El Club Allard, Madrid.
One of the highlight meals in 2012 has to be my splurge lunch at El Club Allard, a refined but inventive dining room in an off-beat neighborhood in Madrid, the capital of Spain. This multi-course lunch built in both flavors and excitement as I moved along. This particular dish was memorable because of the presentation, a crispy biscuit that encased a poached egg inside with pancetta. It sat on a potato cream sauce. As I broke the bread casing, the egg just oozed out, mixing with the potato cream. Sigh.
1. Pork Belly Pastrami, Citizen Public House, Scottsdale, Ariz.
For those who follow me on my Facebook fan page, you probably won’t be surprised to see that I picked this as my No. 1 bite of 2012. (The image is the cover photo of my fan page.) When I wrote about this the first time after my spring Arizona trip, I said that this would be my “last dish” I wanted to eat before I died. This is a popular appetizer at Citizen Public House, an upscale pub in the resort town. It’s decadent with the ultra rich pork belly cured like pastrami to give it that perfect savory flavor, but then presented beautifully and smartly with shredded Brussels sprouts and sauerkraut to cut into all that richness. Just divine.
Wow, now I’m hungry. Here’s to more eating in 2013. Happy New Year!
Finding your favorite dishes
So now that you have an idea of some of my favorites dishes from restaurants I’ve eaten, did you ever wonder what other dishes are worth eating when you’re dining out? I recently heard about this new app called Dish.fm and what it does is searches the various review sites (Yelp, Yahoo, etc.) and then comes up with the popular dishes for a restaurant. So when you’re dining out, you can get some help deciding what to order.
I tried this out a couple of times, and while I like the design, it does seem pretty sparse right now on featured restaurants. (For example, I only saw 25 listed in San Francisco, and some of them are more hole-in-the-walls.) Anywho, if you want to find out more you can read about it on their site. Hopefully as it gains in popularity, the app will be updated with more restaurants.
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