1. Gambas de Palamós at Asador Etxebarri (writeup here). Simply the best prawns I've ever eaten:
|Gambas de Palamós|
There is so little going on here - prawns, salt, smoke, heat - and yet absolutely nothing else could make this any better. The tail was perfectly cooked, simultaneously tender, meaty, salty and sweet. And the juices from sucking the heads, enhanced by a smoky grace note, were just fantastic: nectar of Poseidon, if you will. A reference point dish.2. Morcilla and Egg at Chef Jeremiah's gastroPod (P.I.G. event, writeup here). This isn't on the menu of the gastroPod (though you will find some other great things, like their banh mi trotter tacos or the Chinito Cubano sandwich), but if you go to one of Chef Jeremiah's special events like P.I.G. ("Pig Is Good"), you might find something like it:
|Morcilla and Egg|
"Morcilla and Egg" featured house-made morcilla, or pork blood sausage, crowned with a 63º egg and a sprinkle of crispy bread crumbs. I happen to be a huge morcilla fan and this was just one of the best bites I've had in some time. This was more pudding than sausage in texture (and indeed "blood pudding" or "black pudding" are common variants on the name), creamy and rich and well-spiced, with the egg offering another welcome layer of richness.3. Scottish Salmon Belly Nigiri at Naoe (writeup here). The contents of the bento box at Naoe change all the time, and the selection of nigiri varies depending on what's fresh and seasonal, but the omakase procession almost always starts with this silky, marbled, luscious salmon belly which will make you forget toro long enough for the bluefin tuna stock to replenish itself.
4. (tie) Scallop Crudo, Tripe with Kimchi at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill (writeup here). You didn't really think I was going to limit myself to ten dishes here, did you? If so, you forget: I have no editor. The scallop crudo at Sugarcane combines unlikely items - a slice of fresh sea scallop, draped over a button of crisp, tart apple, a sliver of jalapeño, a bit of earthy black truffle, a squeeze of lime - hitting your taste buds from all different angles but to surprisingly elegant effect. The tripe with kimchi is not as subtle but just as good: the tripe nice and crispy on the exterior (braised then deep-fried?), over a bed of fresh, spicy kimchi-ed brussels sprouts and carrots. Neither of these items were on the menu when I first wrote about Sugarcane, and that signifies something: this is a place that has continued to improve, and get more interesting, over the past year since it opened.
|Tripe with Kimchi (photo via Jacob Katel)|
5. (tie) Ham and Ginger Canapé, Endive in Papillote 50%, Ankimo Cracker at elBulli (writeup here). With 40+ courses, it's unrealistic to expect me to limit myself to one choice from our meal at elBulli. The truth was, there were many items at elBulli that I found more interesting, or thought-provoking, than delicious. But these three hit all the right spots:
|Ham and Ginger Canapé|
As if to stretch the note out for one more bar, another ham dish followed: this canapé of ham and ginger, a glass-like ginger-infused cracker with a bit of fatty, translucent ham perched on top, both with a candied quality to them, melting together to the point that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. And absolutely delicious to boot, one of the most hedonistically pleasurable bites of the meal.
|Endive in Papillote 50%|
Our server first presented an envelope of charred paper. Then, (using some rather unwieldy long chopsticks/tongs), this was flipped and unfolded, revealing a row of baby endive heads, lined up like sardines, interspersed with walnuts. These were napped with a creamy walnut sauce, then topped with a generous dollop of glistening olive oil caviar. Half the endives were fully tender and entirely cooked through, while the other half were only partially cooked and still retained a bit of snap. Especially at points where the paper had charred, the smoky flavor had permeated its way into the endive, as had the perfume of the bay leaf which had been tucked into the package. The dish did a wonderful job of bringing out multiple flavors and textures from a simple vegetable.
This was another of the most hedonistically pleasing dishes of the evening: an almost translucently thin cracker, topped with a thin tranche of ankimo (monkfish liver), with dabs of creamy coconut, jellied ginger, and a bit of wasabi. I'm already a fan of ankimo (often referred to as "foie gras of the seas"), and this was a preparation that elevated an already wonderful product.(continued...)
6. Bulgogi Burger at Sakaya Kitchen (writeup here). Sakaya Kitchen is another place that's just gotten better and better since opening at the end of last year, on the front end of the onslaught of contemporary casual Asian restaurants in Miami. Despite several challengers, Sakaya still has the best pork buns in town, and now Chef Richard Hales is taking his show on the road with the Dim Ssam a Gogo truck. The dish that may best encapsulate, in one bite, everything good about Sakaya Kitchen is the Bulgogi Burger: an Angus beef patty bolstered with sweet-salty bulgogi marinade, topped with a slab of slow-roasted pork belly, lightly pickled cucumbers, tater tots, cheddar cheese sauce, and ssamjang. All for $6? Good lord. Anyone going next door to Five Guys for a burger is out of their head.
7. Kimchi Benedict at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink (writeup here). When Chef Michael Schwartz opened MGF&D three years ago, it was one of the first Miami restaurants to take local sourcing of ingredients really seriously. Then this past year, it was one of the first local restaurants to start taking brunch, often a throwaway service even for some very good restaurants, really seriously too. Indeed, the restaurant treats brunch with the same dignity and attention as every other meal, and instead of a gluttonous, all you can eat buffet format, they stick with small plates and let diners put together a few items, savory or sweet, to make up a meal. My favorite of all of those is the Kimchi Benedict: a meaty slab of pork belly, served over a toasted crumpet, topped with their fresh house-made kimchi and a generous dollop of a creamy, spicy kimchi hollandaise. It's the perfect way to start a Sunday.
|Kimchi Benedict (photo via Jackie Sayet, Michael's Genuine)|
Back to the oysters. After enough had been shucked to cover a tray, they were topped with a garlic butter (with a bunch of other good stuff in it) and put on Chris' BBQ over low slow heat for about twenty minutes - just enough to melt the butter and barely warm the oysters - then topped with a hot pepper jelly. Briney, buttery, smokey, sweet, spicy - these were crazy good. I planted myself by the oyster table and waited patiently for everyone to take one or two, then once a sufficiently polite interval had passed, had myself about a half-dozen. I saw other people go back for another, even after dessert.9. Melons - Lime, Chilies at Gigi (writeup here). Deceptively simple, packed with flavor, and only $3:
Within the "raw" section of the menu hides one of my favorite items, one that could easily be overlooked. Described as "melons, lime, chilies," they take cubes of watermelon, cantelope and honeydew, and compress the melons under vacuum with lime juice, chile flakes (I'm guessing shichimi togarashi) and (guessing some more) a bit of rice wine vinegar: the flavors get sucked into the open cells in the melons and infused throughout, making for an incredibly vibrant burst of flavor, further brightened with a fine julienne of fresh Thai basil over the top. It is a wonderfully refreshing bite.10. Infusion de Frutos Silvestres con Helado de Queso at Asador Etxebarri. Though I'm not usually so big on desserts, let's end with something sweet, that was pure, simple and memorable:
|Infusion de Frutos Silvestres con Helado de Queso|
This ice cream of fresh cheese, nestled in a thick sauce of wild berries, was mind-blowingly good. Creamy, tangy, rich but not too heavy, perfectly playing off the sweet-tart berry sauce beneath. I want a tub of this stuff.Here's hoping your year ends sweetly too. Happy holidays and happy new year to all: always better, never worse.