Friday, January 4, 2013

Best Dishes of 2012 (Part 3)

We're coming in for a landing here: Part 1 and Part 2 of my Best Dishes of 2012 were posted earlier this week. This post wraps up the rest of the year, including a trek to Charleston that just squeezed in under the wire, and made for some of the best meals I've had all year.

These retrospectives are always something of a learning experience for me, an opportunity to reflect on what I really enjoyed and why. But I'll save my deeper thoughts on a year in food for another post, and stick with the food porn here. Again, these are listed chronologically, with links to the restaurants and my posts on each of them, as well as excerpts from my comments on the dish.

(You can see all the pictures at once in this Best Dishes of 2012 flickr set)

Bagel with Lox and Whitefish Salad - Josh's Deli (Surfside) (my thoughts on Josh's Deli)

His cured salmon, sliced to order, is beautifully silky, achieving that uneasy feat of tasting like fish without being fishy. We brought home some of each variety to break the fast on Yom Kippur, and while family members all had strong opinions on which they preferred and there was no consensus, everyone had a favorite (for me it’s definitely the pastrami-cured salmon). His whitefish salad, which I initially quibbled with as too chunky, has grown on me, with just enough chopped onion, celery and hard-boiled egg to provide some contrast to the flaky smoked fish without overwhelming it.

Roasted Cauliflower Gelato - Brad Kilgore Dinner at Azul (Miami) (my thoughts on Brad's dinner)

The primary notes of the first dish - cauliflower and caviar - were a riff on the French Laundry's cauliflower panna cotta with beluga caviar. Kilgore's version started with a puddle of a cold, creamy cauliflower and white chocolate "vichysoisse" Next to that was a generous mound of really fine royal osetra caviar, topped with a quenelle of a darkly caramelized roasted cauliflower gelato, mounted with a few crisped florets to reinforce the notion. This was rich upon rich, but it still found its balance. I loved it.

Anatomy of a Suckling Pig - Brad Kilgore Dinner at Azul (Miami) (my thoughts on Brad's dinner)

There were rounds of sticky, intensely porcine tete de cochon, studded with pistachios and topped with crispy pig ear chicharrones. There was a gorgeous, juicy crown roast rubbed with butter and herbs. There were macarons with delicate pistachio cookies sandwiching a whipped bacon filling. There was the pig's liver, soaked in milk before being poached sous vide, tender and surprisingly mild. There was a fine boudin blanc style sausage, finely ground with apples and nuts and stuffed into the intestine. There was a Mediterranean style roulade of one leg, basted in goat feta and layered napoleon-style between lavash. There were rillettes of the other leg, supplemented with wagyu beef fat and rolled in sheets of daikon radish. There were trotters, all wobbly with gelatin and fat, and stuffed with mushroom duxelles. There were at least three different pork jus based sauces in copper sauciers - butterscotch, truffled, foie gras infused.

It was a truly astonishing display, worthy of "La Grande Bouffe." And not just a visual feast by any means: though the macarons and the tete de cochon were really exceptional standouts, each of the components was delicious.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Best Dishes of 2012 (Part 2)

Yesterday I kicked off a rundown of my Best Dishes of 2012 (Part 1), a list of 45 of my favorite things to have eaten this past year. We'll pick up where we left off, with dishes listed chronologically, along with a link to the restaurant and my posts on each of them, as well as excerpts from my earlier comments on the dish.

(You can see all the pictures at once in this Best Dishes of 2012 flickr set)

Rabbit Bulgogi - neMesis Urban Bistro (Downtown Miami) (my thoughts on neMesis Cobaya "Dunch")

If there was a standout dish of the meal, it was this: a crispy jasmine rice cake, topped with shredded rabbit "bulgogi," a poached Lake Meadows Naturals Farm duck egg, and frizzled crispy chives, sauced with an orange and five-spice hollandaise. It was an inspired - and delicious - take on the classic eggs benedict, triggered in large part by the surprise availability of rabbits from a farm in upstate Florida. Everything about this worked, and I heard from multiple guests that it ought to become a regular menu feature.

Corn Ravioli - Bourbon Steak (Aventura) (my thoughts on Bourbon Steak)

(This was an appetizer from Bourbon Steak's Miami Spice menu, which was simply one of the most ridiculous dining values you could find in Miami next to the Joe's Stone Crab $5.95 fried chicken. Tender pasta dough was wrapped around a creamy corn purée, topped with plump chanterelle mushrooms, corn powder and butter powder, all drizzled with a browned butter. So many places skimp on their Spice menus; Bourbon's actually gives me a reason to look forward to next summer.)

Papas a la Huancaina - The Bazaar (South Beach) (my thoughts on Bazaar)

Traditionally, this is a simple salad of cold potatoes draped in a creamy, cheesy sauce spiked with aji amarillo peppers. Bazaar's take makes the sauce - here done all foamy and light - the primary component, studs it with vibrantly hued purple Peruvian potatoes, and then adds a unique touch: several fat tongues of sea urchin. This once again violates my personal uni rule, but shows why rules are made to be broken. The rich, creamy uni makes a fantastic pair with the delicately spicy huancaina sauce, complemented by the earthy potatoes for a little substance. This was a great dish.

Black Rossejat - The Bazaar (South Beach) (my thoughts on Bazaar)

But perhaps the single best thing I've eaten at Bazaar is the "Black Rossejat" ($16). Rossejat, a/k/a fideua a/k/a fideos, is a pasta dish prepared in the manner of a paella. The thin, angel-hair like noodles are first toasted in warm olive oil, then simmered in flavorful stock. Bazaar also infuses them with dark, faintly marine-flavored squid ink, and then tops the noodles - tender, but with a hint of crispness at the bottom of the pan - with tender shrimp and dollops of rich aioli. It is an outstanding dish and, relatively speaking anyway, a fantastic value on this menu.

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Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Best Dishes of 2012 (Part 1)

I had a couple of my best meals of 2011 during the last week of the year. Unfortunately, I'd posted my "Best Dishes of 2011" recap a week earlier, so none of them made the list. This year I also saved some of the best for last - but I've learned my lesson, and waited for the calendar to roll over before closing the bidding for 2012. And since they got left out last year, the last week of 2011 will be included this time instead.

My "Best Bites of 2010" list included fourteen dishes (even though I called it a Top 10 list). By the next year, the list had expanded to twenty. When I looked back on 2012, I came up with nearly fifty dishes that could be on the list. With a travel itinerary for the past year that included San Francisco, Hawaii, Las Vegas and Charleston,[1] plus many Miami chefs and restaurants stepping up their games, I'm not surprised the list was so long.

Since I've got no editor here, my own use of the red pencil has been minimal: I've "pared" the list for 2012 down to 45, which I'll present here in three posts. These are not ranked, but instead are listed chronologically. I've included links to the restaurants as well as links to my posts on them, together with excerpts of my earlier comments on each.

(You can see all the pictures at once in this Best Dishes of 2012 flickr set)

Here's Part 1:

Chicken Oysters - é by José Andrés (Las Vegas) (my thoughts on é)

One of the joys of cooking a chicken is getting to pick at the best parts. The trilogy of "chef's treats" for me is the liver, the extra skin, and the chicken oysters tucked away along the backbone. This dish got two of the three: a sheet of crispy, well-seasoned chicken skin, with chicken oysters cooked in escabache, topped with a thyme "air." Just a magnificently delicious bite, one of my favorites of the meal.

Chickpea Stewé by José Andrés (Las Vegas) (my thoughts on é)

[A] Chickpea Stew ... was another of my favorites of the night, and again, a dish that relied on no fancy ingredients. The tender "chickpeas" (actually puréed and spherified) floated on a silky, rich jamón ibérico broth (OK, maybe a little fancy), dotted with chorizo oil, parsley oil and olive oil. It was, at heart, a variation on the centuries-old "olla podrida" or "rotten pot," referenced as far back as Don Quixote. It was also a soulfully delicious dish, with a depth and resonance of flavor that belied the delicate presentation.

Kobe Beef Tendon RobataAburiya Raku (Las Vegas) (my thoughts on Raku)

One of my favorite single bites anywhere: Kobe beef tendon robata. Gelatinous, sticky, crispy on the edges, intensely meaty and rich. Great stuff.

MGF&D Bacon Pizza - Harry's Pizzeria (Miami Design District) (my thoughts on Harry's)

Purists who insist that pizza is simply about the perfect balance of dough, cheese and tomato will scoff, but the pizzas at Harry's are mostly about the toppings. That's not necessarily a bad thing, certainly not when you're talking about the MGF&D Bacon Pizza, topped with Michael's house-cured bacon, sliced fingerling potatoes, caramelized onions, gruyere cheese and fresh arugula. It's a perfectly balanced combination in its own way.

Heirloom Tomatoes - Eating House (Coral Gables) (my thoughts on Eating House)

The influences are as much Slow Food as Ideas in Food - lots of local ingredients, lots of creative preparations. A perfect example: local Homestead tomatoes. But instead of a typical salad, Rapicavaoli takes them to Thailand, with lime, ginger, fish sauce, peanuts, fresh herbs, nasturtium flowers, and frozen coconut milk. It's a perfect rendition of the flavors of Thailand in an unexpected format, the frozen coconut milk in particular lending an intriguing icy creaminess to the composition.

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