It seems every publication is all lists this time of year. What to gifts buy for this person or that, what to wear for holiday gatherings here or there, and finally, the “best of” lists.
We all have them, and personally, I love talking about them. Do you agree, disagree, what would you add or detract. Can you guess what kind of “best of” lists most cooks discuss?
If you said food you are a bit off. That comes second. First and foremost we discuss music.
Then we talk about food. Today Jonathan Kauffman’s “best dishes” list was on the top of our minds at Veil, mostly because one of our own dishes was in the honorable mention section. A prawn dish with caramelized chard, a honey gastrique, and a sunflower seed/bacon condiment. This “best dishes” list gave us all an excuse to discuss the best things we had tasted this year. Just us, cook to cook, in our own kitchen where the influence of “the scene” doesn’t penetrate.
I was very very lucky this year to make a few rare trips out of the kitchen to New York, Chicago, San Fransisco, and Colorado. Along the way I tasted some pretty amazing things. Seattle’s provided a few herself, and this list is going to contain a taboo for me. I am going to include a dish I would normally NEVER put on my own list.
Dana’s ten best bites of 2007
1. Paprika Punch cocktail, Tailor, NYC.
Hands down this is the best thing I have tasted this entire year. The cocktail was made from red bell pepper infused vodka, was mixed with something sweet and sour, and if I remember correctly was muddled with jalapeno. My friend Rosio and I lost all manners and asked for “refills”, which we were given 3 times. I think about this drink at random at least once a day, cravings attached.
2. Ssam, Momofuku, NYC.
I only made it to the ssam bar, and only ever had the berkshire pork ssam. But I went back to have it multiple times both trips this last year, and will do exactly that next time I am in Manhattan. The Ssam is a kind of Asian burrito, this one made with braised Berkshire pork wrapped in a rice pancake with kim-chee puree, grilled onions, pickled mushrooms, chili sauce, rice, and edamame. This dish was so amazingly delicious that it makes me wish for a momofuku in Seattle so I could eat it all the time. Even though I know franchising would destroy what makes momofuku so delicious, I want it.
3. Yuzu curd with spruce yogurt, pistachio, liquid sablee, WD-50, NYC.
This was the first of Stupak’s desserts that I tasted, and still the most memorable. The pastry sous Rosio plated me the tiniest cutest version of the dish out of scraps while I watched the cooks in service. Yuzu is quite possibly the most amazing citrus flavor as is, but paired with the bitter greek yogurt and the essence of spruce it was transcendent.
4. Pork Belly with Miso Butterscotch, Tailor NYC.
Butterscotch never had it so good as it does in Sam Mason’s hands. What is for me one fiddle flavor, butterscotch becomes the entire band here with the simple addition of miso. Perhaps it’s because miso is actually alive. Perhaps the sugary sweet combination of caramelized sugar is the perfect platform for deep earthy flavors. What ever it is, the combination of miso and butterscotch was a revelation for me. The fact that it bathed pork belly didn’t hurt either.
5. Meyer Lemons picked from my Uncle Tom’s tree, Santa Cruz, CA.
I feel ashamed that in this sustainable day and age, where we should be connected to the source of our food, I could be so shocked by something growing in my uncle’s yard. But the lemons I had always known were there blew me away. Warm from the sun, ripened on the tree, these yellow orbs turned out to be Meyer lemons rather than the standard variety. It was as much a taste revelation as a that of connection, this act of reaching my own hand, grasping the dimpled flesh and plucking fruit so rare to me in Seattle. Lemon-aid never tasted so good as it did that day.
6. Cauliflower soup, white chocolate foam, curried cauliflower puree, dark chocolate, Schwa, Chicago, IL
I scheduled a one day layover in Chicago to eat at this restaurant. I was very eager to see the restaurant with no front of the house staff, where clad in whites, cooks come out to your table, take your order, open the “bring your own bottle” of wine, and run the food. I was excited to taste the food I had heard so much about from cooks I knew in the city, pictures I had seen in Art Culinaire. So when I rushed from the airport, took my seat alone, I was bubbling with excitement, visibly so. I ordered the larger of the two set menu’s and was treated like a, well, like another cook! The third dish that came was this, creamy warm cauliflower soup with a sweetish white chocolate foam on top in a tiny mug, reminiscent of a winter cup of cocoa. The plate was scattered with random patches of deliciousness, furthering the combination of chocolate and cauliflower. This flavor combination seems wacky, but comes out of Heston Blumenthal’s kitchen, a place the chef Michael Carlson had spent time as well. I used to shave cauliflower stems for their chocolate and cauliflower risotto, and darn it they really did smell like chocolate.
7. Fried Mayonnaise, Pickled Tongue, onion strussell, romaine, WD-50, NYC.
This dish, one of Wylie’s most notorious, was familiar to me by way of media and word of mouth long before I entered the restaurant. I saw it go out the kitchen, I didn’t think much about it, and then I ate it. My first immediate thought was, “this tastes EXACTLY like a hamburger!” Exactly, folks, like a delicious perfect hamburger. It hadn’t occurred to me that this dish had such a gripping context. I was floored by the amazing texture of the warm fritter filled with thick “mayo.”, by the perfect texture of the pickled tongue, by the precise ratio of brunoised romaine hearts and onion strussell which made every bite into the american classic in your mouth. But the apparent thought that went into making this dish perfect was what stood out most. This dish isn’t something someone stumbled upon, it’s a labor of love, and I thank Wylie for every long hour he put into making it perfect.
8. Lemon Cucumbers, Sitka and Spruce, Seattle, WA
Finally, something in Seattle, right? This dish couldn’t be more opposite from that at number 7. Lemon Cucumbers, picked up by Matt Dillon at the farmers market a few hours before his restaurant opened, sliced and briefly cooked with fresh dill and trempeti olive oil. Served all by themselves, on a plate his roommate picked up for him at the goodwill, in the tiny restaurant habitating a stripmall storefront. These lemon cukes were tenderly selected from their source, and with as much respect as the farmer grew them with, this chef cooked them. It may have been the only day they were on Matt’s Chalkboard menu which changes as rapidly as the farmers markets, but lucky me for stumbling in. It was a dish I’ll never forget.
9. Moroccan spiced Lamb Burgers, Veil, Seattle, WA.
Sliders have been more than trendy these past years, but Shannon’s version made as a bar snack for his cocktail lounge standout from the pack. Made with fresh lamb shoulder ground with garam masalla, they are topped with a rich cows milk feta and balsamic pickled shallots. Sandwiched between little brioche buns dressed with a house made harissa aoili, I could eat these all day. The flavor combination adds up to much more than the sum of it’s parts. I often find myself or another cook making little meatless sandwiches out of the feta, pickled onions, and harissa aioli for a quick pick me up snack durring service.
10. Mixed Citrus Creamsicle, Veil, Seattle, WA.
This is the dish I said was way out of bounds for me, because it’s one of my own. Normally I would NEVER put something of mine on a list like this. It goes against all humility I strive for, and breaks the deep criticism I view everything I make with. But this dessert is amazing. It’s everything I want all my desserts to be, and it’s the only dessert I have made that I want to sit down and eat. A uber light and airy tahitian vanilla bean bavarian, is made with an italian meringue rather than the usual custard base. By cutting out the rich custard base and substituting something very lean, the floral nuances of the tahitian vanilla bean really shine. It sits aside a mandarin sorbet, puckery, icy, and paired with the bavarian makes the orange/vanilla base for a creamsicle. Under these two components is this amazing bitter, acidic, fragrant passionfruit yogurt sauce pooled in a swoosh of brioche pudding. The broiche pudding, similar to a stovetop pudding rather than a baked bread pudding is a dense texture completely unexpected, and the yeasty rich butteriness is surprisingly delicious with the dessert. Little candied kumquats and confited meyer lemon add to the plate, which has received the same unsolicited compliment from nearly everyone I have fed it to, “this is one of the best things I have ever tasted.” And for once I can whole heartedly agree with them. This dessert is one of the best things I too have tasted, and every time I do I am stunned that it came out of me.
Enough about me, what are your favorite tastes this year???