2017 was another amazing year of eating, and in these last few moments of the year, I’m taking a look back at my 10 favorite bites of the year. I’m not talking about the restaurants that impressed me, but specifically the dish or bite that just wowed me or opened my taste buds to something exciting and new.
So in no particular order, here are my favorite bites of 2017:
Finger French Toast
I don’t usually eat French toast because too much carbs and sugar, but when they come in these cute perfectly made finger-size, I’m all over them.
These were served in the early days of Finn Town, the American tavern that opened in San Francisco’s Castro District. I’m sorry to report, though, that Finn Town went through a chef change later in the year, and this finger French Toast dish is no longer on the brunch menu. So this really is just a 2017 memory for me.
Ikura Sushi with Ankimo Shavings
This was one of the nigiri courses in the tasting menu at Ju-Ni, the tiny and upscale omakase sushi restaurant near the Western Addition. It’s ikura or roe that’s lavishly topped with ankimo, the rich monk fish liver. The liver is frozen so the chef can shave it over the nigiri. The saltiness of the ikura melded with the richness of the cool ankimo shavings.
Pad Asian Broccoli in Spicy XO Sauce
Sometimes it’s the simplest dishes that impress me, and that was the case with this order of Chinese broccoli available at Daughter Thai Kitchen in Oakland’s Montclair neighborhood. I was with a big group of friends and we ordered many dishes, but of everything I ate, this perfectly cooked side order of vegetables (I’m always the guy keeping meals balanced with vegetables) really stood out for me. The broccoli was cooked to the right tenderness, and the spicy XO sauce gave it a nice flavor but not over-drenching with too much sauce like other places. Just this and a bowl of steamed rice would make me happy any night.
Matcha Cinnapuff, Sweet Belly
This is another unfortunately favorite bite that has gone away as fast as I fell in love with it. This brioche matcha cinnamon muffin is stuffed with custard and was served up at the dessert spot, Sweet Belly, in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood. While the matcha isn’t a strong flavor, I just loved the light brioche puff combined with the custard, which was made to order. But apparently the pastry chef who created this genius bite moved on from Sweet Belly, and this cinnapuff is just a distant memory.
Potato Chip Nigiri with Caviar
I ate a lot of sushi this year with so many new omakase restaurants opening up in San Francisco. One of the newest is Robin in Hayes Valley, and its signature bite is this nigiri topped with a potato chip and topped with aioli and caviar. It’s one of the more inventive sushi bites I’ve had.
Pork and Bai
I love exploring cuisine I hardly eat, so I’m a regular now at the Nyum Bai food stand at the Emeryville Public Market, serving up Cambodian street food. I love getting the Pork and Bai (the Cambodian word for rice), which is served as a rice bowl with a fried egg and cucumber slices, and a side of tasty broth. The grilled pork has a savory marinade similar to Vietnamese grilled pork, and the combination is satisfying and filling.
Tamarind-Glazed Pork Belly with Watermelon
This year I made a couple of trips to Portland, one of the most dynamic food city after San Francisco and Los Angeles. One of the new spots I visited was the Proud Mary Cafe, a stylish spot that is actually an import from Melbourne. Serving up coffee, breakfast and light fare, this particular tamarind-glazed pork belly was a hefty treat with the crispy edges on the pork belly cubes (I can never say no to pork belly) with a spicy sauce that’s cooled by the sweet watermelon.
Singapore Chicken Rice
There are a variety of this chicken rice dish in various Asian countries, but none as popular as Singapore’s version. Drip Line Cafe in West Oakland serves up a comforting and extremely flavorful version with poached chicken (skin flash-fried) with a just as tasty chicken broth and rice cooked in chicken fat. I enjoyed every component on the dish.
Everyone tries to dress up freshly shucked oysters, and Nomica’s shigoku oysters were refreshing with the seaweed kanzuri granita with bits of crunchy cucumbers and oyster vinaigrette. It was a burst of flavor while still honoring the fresh flavor of the oysters.
Cheddar Cheese Monkey Bread
I don’t really think of myself as a bread guy, but I can’t resist this monkey bread served up at Corridor in San Francisco. The pull apart bread has almost a brioche texture and a definite cheddar flavor that reminded me of my childhood. It’s served with a chive aioli, but you really don’t need it. Just dive into the bread itself and enjoy.
So that’s my list of bites. It was a filling year, and looking forward to see what is in store for me in 2018. Happy eating!
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