2013 was a good year: trips to New York, Montreal, Vancouver, Seattle and New Orleans provided some great dining opportunities, but so did hometown South Florida. Here, in chronological order, are some of the best things I ate this past year:
(You can see all the dishes in this 2013 Best Dishes flickr set).
Vegetarian Ramen - Momi Ramen (Brickell) (my thoughts on Momi)
Though Chen has been reluctant to expand his offerings, if the vegetarian ramen I tried is any indication, he shouldn't be so worried. It was fantastic. It's not swimming in broth so the noodles can really shine, along with softened kombu (which the server explained that the chef harvested himself in Japan), menma (bamboo shoots), fresh enoki mushrooms, and scallions. The broth, a kombu dashi made from white kombu (loaded with glutamates) and okra juice, was a delicate, translucent yang to the yin of the hearty tonkotsu, but still had a serious umami punch.
Foie Gras - Eating House (Coral Gables) (my thoughts on Eating House)
I had this dish at the beginning of the year, shortly after Eating House reopened as a full-time restaurant. It was fantastic. Creamy foie gras mousse was frozen and then pulverized into little pebbles, which covered nuggets of roasted beetroot, dotted with beet purée and ripe blueberries, with a scatter of baby sorrel leaves and a hint of pink peppercorn.
Fava Bean Salad - Oak Tavern (Design District) (my thoughts on Oak Tavern)
One of the best things I've had from this corner of the menu is a dish of warm fava beans, piled in a happy tumble along with plump golden tomatoes, a poached egg, slivers of duck prosciutto, and shards of pecorino cheese. I particularly enjoy that the dish is focused around the vegetable, not the protein, with the other components the complementary players.
Pan con Lechon - Bread and Butter (Coral Gables)
Alberto Cabrera's Bread and Butter is a place I hope to get know a lot better in 2014. Cabrera's latest project - and seemingly the most personal he's ever done - seamlessly merges traditional Cuban flavors with contemporary style, and his "Pan con Lechon" is a perfect example: tender roast pork shoulder is nestled within a puffy, doughy Chinese style bao bun, drenched in mojo criollo and crowned with sautéed onions and fresh scallions.
Charcuterie Platter - DB Bistro Moderne (Miami)
I think DB's charcuterie is the best that can be found in Miami - and, indeed, some of the best I've had anywhere. The board usually features a couple different salumi, a few different pâtés, ruby-hued slices of cured ham, a half-moon of lush, silky foie grass mousse, an assortment of pickled cornichons and onions, and if you're lucky, crackling-crisp nuggets of pork rillons, like croutons of pure pork belly, or maybe rich duck rillettes, glistening with translucent duck fat.
Steak Tartare Slider - PB Steak (Miami Beach)
Much like the famed "Little Oyster Sandwich" at The Dutch that it appears to be modeled after, the Steak Tartare Slider may be one of the food world's perfect bites. A mound of bright ruby-hued raw chopped sirloin is tucked into a fluffy sesame-seed flecked bun, along with a dab of truffle mustard and some crispy shoestring fries. Pair it with their ceviche taquito or mini-lobster roll and you've got the ideal surf-n-turf appetizer.
Spring Chicken - Brad Kilgore, Spring Equinox Dinner at The Dutch (Miami Beach) (my thoughts on the Spring Equinox Dinner)
Chicken is usually the refuge of the conservative, boring diner on most restaurant menus. This bird was something else entirely. A deboned spring chicken (just wing-bones and drumsticks still intact) actually tasted of chicken, not just some neutral beige protein. Plated with a morel and ramp green ragout, smoked carrot, and a foie gras jus, it was a great dish; my favorite of the night, and among the best chickens I've ever eaten.
Baked Alaska - Michy's (Miami Upper Eastside)
It is always hard for me to pass up Michelle Bernstein's fantastic bread pudding studded with big chunks of chocolate, raisins, and orange peel, but I will sometimes do it for one of my other favorite desserts in Miami: her Baked Alaska, the sticky sweet burnished meringue wrapped around dulce de leche ice cream and pistachio cake, surrounded by puddles of passion fruit salsa and crumbled pistachios.
Agnolotti dal Plin - Macchialina (Miami Beach)
Michael Pirolo's cooking at Macchialina convinced me that I could enjoy going out for Italian food more than I enjoyed handjobs. His Agnolotti dal Plin are one reason why. These tender little pillows of pasta encased a delicately textured but richly meaty filling - textbook execution of a classic dish.
Roasted Carrots - Empellon Cocina (New York)
Carrots were the "it" vegetable of 2013, and Alex Stupak's roasted carrot dish at Empellon Cocina would be a good reason why. The bowl is brushed with a complex, spicy-fruity mole poblano sauce, then roasted baby carrots rubbed with the same mole sauce are assembled over a pool of creamy yogurt, topped with disks of pickled carrot, tiny watercress, and translucent sheets of dehydrated mole sauce.
**NO PICTURES ALLOWED!**
N'duja Ravioli - Blanca (Brooklyn) (my thoughts on Blanca)
I didn't love the surprisingly stultifying atmosphere at Blanca, but I did love a lot of the food, especially the aged duck and beef, and the great pastas, the best of them being a n'duja raviolo. Here's what I said about it:
The procession of pastas, though, are a highlight, each of them outstanding, and each one somehow better than the last. First, ravioli with a filling of oozing pine nut purée, dusted with black truffle. Next, a tangle of hearty, thick pici tossed in a squab ragu dense with a rich, gamy, almost ferrous goodness. As good as both of those are, they are overshadowed by the n'duja ravioli - the pillow of tender pasta encasing a filling of spicy porcine magic. It was one of the best pasta dishes I've ever had.
Techili to Iseebi to Kimosoe - Makoto (Bal Harbour) (my thoughts on our Cobaya Makoto dinner)
He called this dish "Techili to Iseebi to Kimosoe," and any assistance in translating is welcome. Blowfish (apparently a domestic farmed variety, not the potentially lethal fugu) came in two forms - a tataki-style filet, barely seared on the exterior and topped with a dollop of caviar, and thin, translucent, collagen-rich ribbons of the skin, dressed in a yuzu kosho vinaigrette. Spiny lobster sashimi used both the tail and the knuckle. A cube of ankimo (monkfish liver) was my single favorite bite of the evening, like a perfect savory bonbon. Scattered and stacked around the plate were various other little bites - a sheet of tatami iwashi (a thin, cracker-like sheet of tiny dried sardines), a stalk of white asparagus, a sliver of ripe tomato, a ruddy purée flavored with truffle (and, I'm guessing, some lobster innards), a Japanese peach bursting with flavor.
Polenta with Sausage Ragu - Macchialina (Miami Beach)
Yes, another Macchialina dish, from the guy who hates Italian restaurants. I probably don't want to know what makes it so creamy and rich, but Pirolo's polenta is some of the best I've ever had. And when you top it with a hearty sausage ragu with just a hint of spice, it's a must-order. (Note: in retrospect, I probably should have gone with the six-foot longs boards of polenta topped with grilled quails and tripe stew that Pirolo did at a Cobaya dinner in May - but both versions are great).
Fresh Cheese, Rhubarb, Cucumber Juice - Brandon Baltzley, Crux / Tongue & Cheek Dinner (Miami Beach) (read my thoughts on the Tongue & Crux dinner)
I hated my first bite of this Noma-esque dish of fresh cheese, cucumber juice, rhubarb and hearts of palm. I loved every bite thereafter, again as I brought the different pieces together - the creamy, salty ricotta, the intensely vegetal cucumber, the silky whey, the ribbons of tart rhubarb and red-vein sorrel leaves, the firm, earthy nubs of hearts of palm.
Ribeye, Tripe - Jeremiah Bullfrog, Crux / Tongue & Cheek Dinner (Miami Beach) (read my thoughts on the Tongue & Crux dinner)
[T]he next course was another of my favorites of the night - ribeye cap (rolled and meat-glued to look for all the world like the eye of the ribeye), crispy tripe (pressure-cooked, fried, dusted with mushroom powder and dehydrated), charred ramp chimichurri, and a slice of a a savory flan, all anointed with an intense shiitake mushroom dashi poured tableside. As Chef Jeremiah's prep notes suggest, this was a real umami-bomb of a dish, and everything about it worked perfectly.
Regina Margherita Pizza - Scuola Vecchia (Delray Beach) (read my thoughts on Scuola Vecchia)
The classic “Regina Margherita” pizza supposedly was first created for the late 19th century Italian queen, incorporating the colors of the new Italian flag – red (tomatoes), white (mozzarella cheese) and green (basil). Scuola Vecchia’s version is equally worthy of royalty: a chewy crust with spots of smoky char; a light-handed smear of sauce perfectly balanced between tart and sweet, dotted with blistered cherry tomatoes; soft, milky mozzarella; and fresh basil just barely crisped from the oven’s heat.
Swine Burger - Swine Southern Table & Bar (Coral Gables)
I appreciate a good burger, but I'm not a burger fanatic. I've become a bit fanatical about the Swine Burger, which may be my favorite burger in Miami. It gets just about everything right. They go thin and double stacked with the patties, which are a richly flavored blend of short rib, brisket and smoked pork, and get a nice crust but have enough fat to not dry out. Classic American cheese is melted over the top, bright dill pickles provide some bursts of tartness to cut through the rich meat. A slab of thick-cut house-smoked bacon is, frankly, superfluous, but not in a bad way. The bun lacks the pretensions of brioche or pretzel varieties, instead doing what a hamburger bun should do: not distract from the meat while safely delivering it to your mouth. It is dangerous that Swine is a block from my office.
Foie Gras Parfait - The Dutch (Miami Beach) (my thoughts on The Dutch)
A foie gras "parfait" was a clever repurposing of a typical breakfast presentation - silky, creamy foie gras mousse capped with a port gelée and cracked pepper, served with summer berries and a crunchy, savory granola. I loved this.
Plateau du Plateau - Au Pied de Cochon (Montreal)
Montreal's Au Pied de Cochon is legendary for excess, particularly of the porcine and foie gras varieties. What we happily discovered when we went up this summer is that they also, in season, have equally indulgent seafood platters. This platter was one of the most astonishing culinary displays I've ever seen, with oysters and clams in multitudinous varieties, periwinkles, delicate little shrimp, whelk salad, octopus ceviche, and a lobster (almost entirely obscured in this photo) piled atop each other. Plowing through this fantastic cornucopia provided us one of our greatest meals of the year.
Lobster - Les 400 Coups (Montreal)
We had another fine meal in Montreal at Les 400 Coups. The best dish was this appetizer of tender local lobster. Served over slivered celery, and topped with a cider sabayon and bits of crispy chicken skin, it was an unexpected, inspired, and beautifully effective composition. Unfortunately, shortly after our visit, pretty much the whole team - chef Marc-André Jetté, pastry chef Patrice Demers, and sommelier Marie-Josée Beaudolin - all left the restaurant. If I'm back in Montreal, I'll be looking for where they surface next.
Stay tuned for Part 2, now posted