A Look Back at the Tastiest Bites of 2012

Which restaurant dishes would I gladly enjoy again and again because they were deliriously delicious and magically memorable?

Oh, so many.

When putting together this list, though, I left off any foie gras dishes (since restaurants are banned from selling them in California now) and any dishes that I deliberately chose not to photograph in order to just enjoy the moment (Le Bernardin in New York).

Here, in no particular order, are the 10 dishes of 2012 that were my most favorite:

Self-taught Montreal chef, Antonin Mousseau-Rivard, creates superlative dishes like this cured steelhead trout.

1) New Brunsweek Steelhead Trout Cured with Maple Sugar and Sea Salt at Musee D’Art Contemporain de Montreal. When is a starter absolute perfection? When it heralds the beginning of a meal with thrills, surprise and purpose. That’s what this dish is: An elegant small bite of silky fish, caviar and a playful, sea-sponge-like dill cake that can’t help but make you sit back in your chair with an audible sigh of satisfaction after just one bite. The fact that it was created by a young, self-taught chef whose grandfather was a famous artist, makes it all the more appropriate in this unique museum setting.

A most memorable pasta at A16.

2) Nettle Cavatelli at A16 in San Francisco. First, it’s the color — a luminous, pale green. Second, it’s the texture — wonderfully chewy. Made with stinging nettles, which have a flavor not unlike the love child of cucumber and spinach, these pasta shells are tossed with house-made chicken sausage. It’s the type of pasta that only a chef could dream up. And thankfully, Chef Christopher Thompson did.

Magnus Nilsson's take on oysters will leave you entranced.

3) Oysters Cooked In Their Shells On Smoldering Redwood Branches and Pine Cones at Coi in San Francisco. It may be a little unfair to include this one, since it’s doubtful you’ll be able to taste it unless you hop a plane to Sweden or San Francisco chefs start riffing their own version. That’s because it’s a signature creation by Swedish sensation, Chef Magnus Nilsson of Fäviken Magasinet, a much-heralded restaurant located in a remote 24,000-acre hunting lodge in rural Sweden. I was fortunate enough to try this dish when he visited San Francisco to cook with Chef Daniel Patterson of Coi. It is one of the most evocative dishes you’ll ever experience. The woodsy aroma that fills the dining room transports you to the great outdoors, to somewhere brisk, mysterious and yet comforting all at the same time. The cooking technique leaves the oysters plump and tasting intensely of their natural liquor. It’s an enchantress of a dish.

A twist on sustainable sushi at Bushido Izakaya.

4) Coconut Sushi at Bushido Izakaya in Mountain View. In this age of depleted fish populations, this may be the ultimate in sustainable sushi. That’s because it’s not fish at all. This nigiri sushi may look like and have a texture akin to cuttlefish, but it’s actually coconut. Not only is it clever, it’s absolutely delicious, too.

Lasagna like you've never experienced before -- at SPQR.

5) 24-Layer Lasagna at SPQR in San Francisco. This is definitely not your grandma’s rustic lasagna dripping with red sauce and gooey cheese. No, this is the very refined rendition by Chef Matthew Accarrino. Probably the prettiest lasagna you’ll ever enjoy, it sports perfect, neat layers of rabbit, hen of the woods mushrooms and arugula pesto. Savory and dense yet tender, it will make you look at lasagna in a whole new light.

The steamed shiitake buns at Spice Kit in Palo Alto.

6) Vegetarian Buns with Shiitakes, Cucumbers and Crushed Peanuts at Spice Kit in Palo Alto. Oh sure, the pork belly ones get all the love. But this vegetarian version with meaty mushrooms, crisp cucumbers and a spritely sauce will make you sit up and take notice. So much so that you might not even miss the pork belly. Really.

The pretzels you just won't be able to resist at Absinthe.

7) Soft Garlic Pretzels at Absinthe Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco. Noshes like these are why I can never give up carbs. But then, what’s not to love about warm pretzel nubbins brushed with garlic butter alongside a ramekin of Vermont cheddar Mornay to dunk into? I still keep hoping Absinthe will start a food truck to deliver these babies all over the Bay Area. That’s how incredible they are.

Glistening lardo pizza at Redd Wood.

8 ) Cremini, Spinach and Lardo Pizza at Redd Wood in Yountville. OK, I’m a sucker for lardo, too, which you don’t see nearly as often as you should. Here, it adds the crowning touch to a thin, blistered crust full of developed flavor. Ribbons of the cured pork fat practically melt into the pizza from the residual heat of the crust, then coat your mouth entirely when you eat a slice. Porky nirvana.

The namesake quail at State Bird Provisions.

9) “California State Bird with Provisions” at State Bird Provisions in San Francisco. Now that Bon Appetit magazine has named it “America’s Best New Restaurant” of 2012, it’s nearly impossible to get into. But if you mange to snag a seat, a must-order is the name-sake bird. Dishes come out on carts and trays like at a dim sum house. But some items actually have to be ordered, including this quail that’s soaked in buttermilk, then battered and fried. It arrives atop a pile of sweet-and-sour onions and gets garnished with shavings of parmesan. Think fried chicken — but way better because it’s got a higher crust to meat ratio, allowing you to indulge in all those crispy bits you know you want.

An order of xialongbao at Din Tai Fung. You won't be able to stop eating them.

10) Xialongbao at Din Tai Fung in Arcadia. Hands down, the best xialongbao you’ll ever eat. The soup dumplings here are ethereal with wrappers so delicate you have to be careful picking them up lest you puncture them with your chopsticks. Inside, there’s flavorful broth to slurp up and a juicy pork meatball to bite into with pure pleasure. My wish for 2013? That Din Tai Fung opens a branch in the Bay Area.

More: My Top Eats of 2011

And: My Top Eats of 2010

And: My Top Dishes of 2009

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Date: Monday, 31. December 2012 5:25
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Chefs, General, Great Finds, Restaurants

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11 comments

  1. 1

    A lovely top ten! everything looks ever so scrumptious (especially the buns and pizza).

    Best wishes for the New Year!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  2. 2

    You have eaten some seriously amazing food this year! It all looks so beautiful. Can’t wait to see the food you eat in 2013 :)

  3. 3

    Fun list. I’m down with anything from SPQR or A16. :D

  4. 4

    Yum! And here is to an even better 2013 list!

  5. 5

    I bet it was a tough job to pick just 10! I love your selections, they all sound wonderful. :) Din Tai Fung is one of my favorite restaurant to visit. I hope your wish will come true. Happy New Year to you and your family!

  6. 6

    OK, totally jealous, they all sound amazing, and will need to check them out for myself, I just have no idea where to start. Thanks for the suggestions!

  7. 7

    Great list! Just wanted to let you know that I think you have a type-o, it says “Here, in no particular order, are the 10 dishes of 2011″. Should be 2012!

  8. 8

    Julie: Thanks for the heads-up on that. The year flew by so fast that I forgot which one it was! LOL

  9. 9

    great list! i’d love to try the soup dumplings, the oysters and the trout. they look divine!

  10. 10

    A grand top 10, I say! i loved your tasty list a lot! :) MMMM!

  11. 11

    Carolyn,

    Happy belated new year, What a great list for 2012 (especially with the soup dumplings and shiitake buns mmmm. I’m certainly looking forward to all your postings and even more awesome list for 2013!

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