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Best of 2011


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Since Don mentioned it... what were your best dining experiences of 2011? For me:

Brunch at Greens, dinners at Nopa and Zuni Cafe, ice cream at Bi Rite, and coffee once a day or more from Blue Bottle (San Francisco)

Almost anything from Estadio, especially Adam Bernbach's grown-up no-alcohol cocktails

Chicago-style hot dogs and kringles (Elkhart Lake and Madison)

Dinner at Le Clocher Penché, food scavenging on Île d'Orléans, bread from Le Paingruel, and coffee from just about anywhere (Quebec)

Steak tartare at Fiola

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Lobster ravioli at Fiola. Soup(s) at Corduroy. The porcine blow out that Antonio put together for us at Masa 14. Almost weekly doses of mapo tofu at Joe's.

Favorite restaurant meal was crab stuffed trout at Millstone Tea Room in Big Island, VA.

The single most memorable meal was out of this world home-made tamales, posole, and pueblo bread put on for us while visiting folks in To'Hajiilee, NM.

The single most delicious thing that I ate all year was the Wiseguy pizza from Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix.

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Dinner with friends at Palena Café included the most carefully prepared, delicious food, nicely crafted cocktails, and perfect service we had in the area.

The most memorable and wonderful meal of the year was champagne and nibbles at Fouquet's on the Champs Élysées. It was November, really cold and windy, and it's touristy to the point of being cliché, but I was with a dear friend whom I've known for thirty years, and could not have enjoyed it more.

The best meals at home were this summer when the tomatoes were coming from the garden more quickly than I could use them up. Paella seems to have become the dish of choice, and I am still grateful to Mark Bittman for his article in the Times that was the impetus for making it.

The most surprising dish I made this year is the homemade candy cane, chocolate chip ice cream that is still in the freezer. I worked from one of David Liebovitz' recipes which are always incredible.

Wishing everyone a wonderful 2012 with friends, family, and food!

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In DC

Venetian seafood soup with green tomatoes, peppers, and saffron - Fabio Trabocchi pop-up @ National Gallery Garden Cafe

Pastrami cured kanpachi; duck confit tater tots - The Oval Room

Pork hash and eggs and bloody mary (brunch); roasted chicken breast and thigh (dinner) - Atlas Room

Shrimp cocktail (multiple times) - Senart’s

Lobster ravioli - Fiola

Cream cheese croutons on the Caesar salad; polenta with spicy pork meatballs and soft egg - Graffiato

The Bruno (Italian-style hoagie daily special) at Tunnicliff’s Tavern

Hoaxes Poke tuna/watermelon/cilantro - PS7’s

Broiled oysters with sriracha butter and kimchi - Masa 14

Steak with blueberry sauce - Acqua Al 2

Away

Wood Oven Roasted Hill Country Quail Breasts special with truffle tremor filled poblano, watercress, and housemade potato chips - Vespaio, Austin

Iced coffee - Jo’s, Austin

Brisket and sausages - Franklin Barbeque, Austin

Home

Chilled calamari salad with lemon and parsley

Stuffed pumpkin with cheese, bacon, sage and chipotle chiles

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Best Meals of 2011:

Pretty much any pasta at Fiola, the foie gras or cacio e pepe being favorites.

The beef head to tail dinner at Palena- zomg, this was just so good I want to eat it again and again.

Short rib sandwich from Gramwich in Chicago.

Indian dinner put together by Sudhir at Passage to India.

Fried chicken livers at Magnolia in Charleston, SC.

Mmmm, what a tasty year. Best to all for 2012!

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2011 was a tasty year indeed! Here's hoping for more yum in 2012...

Sadly, none of my "best bites" of 2011 happened in Atlanta. That's less of a commentary on Atlanta and more of a commentary on how much I traveled this year - I had no money left over to eat in my home town!

My faves...

* Duck matzoh balls, Baan Sawan, Columbia, SC (really!)

* Southern Screwdriver cocktail, Husk, Charleston, SC

* Broccoli beef cheek, Mission Chinese Food, San Francisco, CA

* Chestnut soup with foie and scallop, Fiola, DC

* Steamed skate with spaghetti squash and pumpkin seeds, Jean-Georges, NYC

* House-made ricotta with herbs, Locanda Verde, NYC

* Octopus a la plancha, Aldea, NYC

Best wishes to all for a delicious new year!

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I had a lot of good food this year, but no fine dining. I think my favorite bites in 2011 have been

quail appetizer at Four Sisters,

the ginger tea at the bakery beside Yechon (name slips my mind right now...Breeze?),

a little Chinese carry-out on LRT, Hunan Kitchen, that makes crispy shredded beef as good as the Schezuan beef proper used to be at Peking Gourmet

Pupatella (#1 overall) and Cafe Piazzolo (#1 on my route home)

and some wine braised short ribs I made many months ago

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Favorite dishes

Salmon with oxtail-carrot jus, spinach and carrots / Citronelle Lounge -- Literally a perfect dish. I had this in January, and nothing else topped it for the rest of the year.

Rabbit “pizzaiola” / Palena Café -- I doubt rabbit gets any better than this bacon-wrapped leg, while the accompanying smashed potatoes and carrots were highlights on their own. Rustic greatness.

Smoked salmon pizza with arugula and cherry tomatoes / Pupatella -- I ate several great pizzas at Pupatella this year (silver medal to the Burrata special), but this was their masterpiece. And yes I really love salmon.

Chivito / Fast Gourmet -- You can’t try and decode every flavor in this, you just kind of succumb to it and enjoy.

Lime-scented fluke seviche / Palena Café -- Ceviche seems basic enough, but once the plate hits you poke around and keep finding surprises: some sliced almond, mini asparagus spears, shaved radish, candied lime, little matchsticks of pickled rhubarb, crème fraiche hidden underneath. You think all that might overpower the fish, so you try and get everything in one bite to see if it works. And of course it does.

Bombolini / Fiola -- The best donuts around. Like a lot of dishes at Fiola, this seems rather simple but is somehow much more than its description. A perfect exclamation point to any dinner here.

Duck bao buns / The Source -- Proper Asian cuisine is a big void in my eating habits, but these things were awesome. When I’m not as lazy I hope to find a place in the suburbs that has gua bao this good at half the price.

Favorite meals

2 Amys in spring -- Everything here tastes better during that first warm week of the year. Gragnano + burrata + soft-shell crab panino + the best ice cream in D.C. = the season in a meal.

Pupatella in summer -- Beer and pizza define the summer to me, and this gem does the latter better than anybody in the area.

Toki Underground in winter -- Maybe it’s the fact I’m rarely around H Street, or the hour of pre-dinner drinking, or the loud and trendy space, or the sake, but every time I’ve had a hot bowl of ramen here has been a great night.

Palena Café anytime -- Unabashedly my favorite part of my favorite restaurant in the city. Sometimes I miss the dining room a la carte, but honestly a good number of my café dishes have been better than what I used to order from the back room.

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DC Area Favorites:

Joe's Noodle House: Spicy, crispy tofu

Fiola: Lobster Ravioli

Fishnet: Fried Hake (a taste of summer on a cold and rainy evening)

DR Fall Picnic: Barbara's Pumpkin Cheesecake

Home: Scott's Home made Chicken Soup and Popovers

Outside of DC Favorites:

The Homestead: High Tea

Peter Chang's (Charlottesville): Cilantro Rolls and Crispy Eggplant

Husk (Charleston): Pig's Ear Lettuce Wraps

Sable Kitchen and Bar (Chicago): Veal Meatballs and the War of the Roses cocktail

Intelligentsia (Chicago): Latte

Lenny's Pizza (Bernardsville, NJ): Margherita Pizza

Antonio's (New Bedford, MA): Seafood Stew

And here's to a wonderful, healthy and happy new year.

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The overall winner was the 24-course meal at Rogue 24.

Also high on my list, my last meal at PS 7's including the hoax's poke and chicken and waffles.

My 3-course dinner at Ochre in Cairns, Australia, especially the perfectly cooked kangaroo sirloin and the wattleseed pavlova

The whiskey cake at Whiskey Cake in Plano, TX

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Lunch at this beach shack kind of place in Bordighera, Liguria. Spaghetti alle vongole. Acciughe panate (breaded, fried fresh anchovies). Perhaps the best cup of coffee (espresso) I've ever had. A complimentary limoncello. I went into this meal with really, really low expectations. I had planned to have lunch at a different place on the beach, where I'd eaten a day or two before, called either Solemare or Maresole, but as happens in Italy there was a hand-written sign on the place that said "oggi chiuso". So I wandered down the beach, past this place with annoying music, and kept going hoping to find something better. Eventually, I turned back and went to the place with the annoying music, and it was easily the best meal of my Riviera trip last spring. I wish I had made a note of the name of the place so that I could recommend it to anyone traveling to Bordighera. I suppose the beautiful day and the bright blue sea and the fact they turned off the music might have colored my impressions of the food, but it was by any measure one of my favorite meals of all time.

Edit: I just remembered I have pictures of this meal.

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