My Top 10 Eats of 2022
Whether enjoyed outside, inside or as takeout, restaurant food has never felt more special.
I am so grateful to restaurants for weathering all that they have in the past few years, and managing to come through it all to keep nourishing us in body, spirit, and soul.
Here’s to them, and to all that they provide, including these most memorable eats, in no particular order, that made my Top 10 for the year:
- Any slice at Pizzeria Bianco in Los Angeles. The fact that I ended up in line at this Row DTLA outpost twice in one short trek to Southern California says it all. But after that first bite of sublime crust created by whom many experts deem the best pizza maker in the country, I was all in. Chris Bianco makes a range of different crusts, all incorporating organic high-protein flour, that are topped with peak-season, local ingredients.
Whether it’s the thin New York-style that starts out crisp at its very center and continues to its very edges or the “Market Slice” that’s crisp yet thicker with a tender interior or the “Sicilian Slice” that’s thicker still like focaccia, they all possess exceptional developed flavor and texture guaranteeing that you won’t leave a speck behind.You can’t go wrong with any slice, but the “Lemon” square arrayed with rosemary needles, red onion slivers, Fontina, and paper-thin slices of floral Meyer lemon is as bright and sunny as a Southern California summer.
2. Wagyu toasted coconut fritters at Ethel’s Fancy in Palo Alto. Sweet grated coconut is formed into golden, crisp bricks that get draped with seared slices of melt-in-your-mouth Wagyu beef and drizzled with perky pickled green peppercorn sauce. Think nigiri’s posh cousin.
It’s a most addictive nosh from Chef-Owner Scott Nishiyama, who honed his craft at Daniel in New York City, The French Laundry in Yountville, and Chez TJ in Mountain View. The fritters are at once crunchy and supple, rich and bright tasting, and destined to be one of the best two bites you’ll ever have. They’re $16 for a pair, and so utterly marvelous, I nearly ordered a second round.
3. Brooklyn blackout cake at Maybeck’s in San Francisco. Oh, how I have missed the cooking and baking of husband-and-wife team Jeff Banker and Lori Baker since they closed their Baker & Banker restaurant in San Francisco a long eight years ago. It’s not just the beautiful Asian-Californian-inspired dishes from Banker, but the dreamy, lofty cakes from Baker.
I couldn’t be happier now that they’re back, joining forces with friend and colleague Aaron Toensing at Maybeck’s. Go to town on the crave-able duck wings, pastas, and of course, beef Wellington. But save room at the end for the Brooklyn blackout cake, a chocolate lover’s be-all and end-all of cake.
Fanciful, complicated, and complex desserts have their place. But what I have always appreciated about Baker is that she bakes the type of cake that gets your appetite going immediately when you see it or merely hear its description. It’s the type of cake that reminds us giddily of childhood, but has been made even better, richer, and lustier tasting.
The Brooklyn blackout is composed of four layers of dark chocolate cake interspersed with lush creamy chocolate pudding. Your fork glides effortlessly through it all because the cake is so incredibly moist that you fairly want to weep with happiness. It’s served with a glass bottle of vanilla malted milk, which you didn’t even know you needed, but now know is the absolute perfect accompaniment.
4. Smoked Zuckerman Farms potatoes at Pomet in Oakland. This dish was an afterthought, ordered after we’d given our other selections to our server. Good thing we did, because these potatoes are simply everything you want in a perfect potato dish.
At Pomet, Chef Alan Hsu and owner Aomboon Deasy know how to carefully choose and handle the season’s best produce to bring out their finest qualities. After all, he used to be the sous chef at Michelin three-starred Benu in San Francisco and at Michelin two-starred Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York. And she is part of the family that runs the lauded K&J Orchards in Winters and Yuba City.
These potato chunks are smoked, then fried, leaving them with an exterior that’s crisp in all the right places especially the skins, and an interior that is marvelously creamy like the best mashed potatoes. Imbued with smokiness and umami, the potatoes come piled atop a puddle of thick, rich, and creamy housemade ranch dressing that you wish they’d sell by the bottle.
5. Dungeness crab sandwich at Troubadour in Healdsburg. Don’t get me wrong; I do like sandwiches, but I don’t get nearly as giddy over them as my husband does. So, it even surprises me that I am still dreaming about this Dungeness crab and asparagus sando I enjoyed only once — nine months ago. It was so incredible that I’m holding out against hope that this special will be back on the menu when I trek again to downtown Healdsburg early next year.
Any great sandwich starts with the bread, and this one has the good fortune of being baked fresh each day by the well-regarded Quail & Condor bakery on the outskirts of Healdsburg, which also owns Troubadour.
Its foundation is two slices of Sicilian loaf, sturdy yet tender and slightly chewy with loads of tangy fermented flavor. On goes a good amount of sweet, fluffy, picked crab meat moistened with Meyer lemon aioli, followed by smoky, grilled pencil-thin spears of asparagus. It is a sandwich that epitomizes the best of California and sure makes me glad I live here.
6. “Medium Rare Basque Cheesecake” at Ernest in San Francisco. Honestly, it’s hard to pick just one memorable dish at Chef Brandon Rice’s super fun first restaurant. Should it be the playful “Sushi Rice” parfait that adds a spin by subbing the usual chopped ahi for beef tartare instead? Or the rich slices of salmon sashimi that get an inspired touch of fermented black beans?
In the end, I had to go with his distinctive take on the now ever-popular Basque cheesecake. Leave it to Rice and his girlfriend to use the time hunkered down in the early days of the pandemic to perfect their own version that’s unlike any other.
Purposely underbaked, its sides cascade like lava, making this a cheesecake you definitely need to eat with a spoon, not a fork. Before the slice arrives at the table, the top is blow-torched to warm it and burnish it even darker. The taste is extra luxurious from the use of only egg yolks, no whites. The overall effect is the creamiest, most velvety cheesecake ever.
7. House-baked sourdough at Glen Ellen Star in Glen Ellen. Maybe it’s because the first time I ever ate one of these glorious sourdough boules was when I dined outside here in 38-degree weather and it arrived at the table fresh and warm out of the wood-fired oven like the world’s best hand-warmer. Or that it just plain tastes incredible with a formidable crust that gives way to a chewy-spongy crumb with pronounced tanginess from slow fermentation.
Whatever the exact reason, the house-made bread at Chef Ari Weiswasser’s Glen Ellen Star is always worth kicking off a meal with. I know, I know, its price tag of about $14 (it varies depending on what the seasonal loaf contains) can give some folks sticker-shock, including my husband. But for anyone who covets stellar bread, it’s worth it. Whether it’s a loaf studded with olives and raisins or Yukon Gold potatoes and Vella cheddar or garlic confit and aged Parmesan, you simply can’t go wrong.
8. Goat liver mousse at Girl & The Goat in Los Angeles. Yes, I know there are people who cringe at the thought of liver, and others who are petrified at the thought of eating goat. So, I imagine goat liver would really throw all of them for a loop. But put on your big-boy and big-girl pants — with expandable waists preferably — and dare to try that at “Top Chef” victor Stephanie Izard’s wonderful restaurant for one sensational taste sensation.
Imagine the best picnic spread ever delivered to your table on a groaning wooden board that holds the smoothest, most velvety mousse that’s not gamey but rich and slightly minerally tasting. Bowls of blueberry mostarda and chopped pickled veggies let you customize the perfect bite, whether it be tangy and fruity or spicy and piquant.
To spread it all on, there are crisp, buttery, flaky crackers almost like compressed puff pastry, and outrageous crumpets that arrive super hot out of the fryer with cracklingly crisp exteriors and doughnut-like soft interiors. Order it, and thank me later.
9. “World Famous Rose Petal Pie” at Birdie G’s in Santa Monica. You have to applaud a dessert that can be both contemporary Instagram sensation and nostalgic throwback. That’s exactly what this dazzling slice of pie is, not to mention just the right amount of sweet, bright, and light at the end of a meal.
“World Famous Rose Petal Pie” is the signature dessert at Chef Jeremy Fox’s acclaimed restaurant. It was created by Fox’s ex-wife, Pastry Chef Deanie Hickox, who met Fox when they both worked at Manresa in Los Gatos.
Imagine that airy seafoam jello made with Cool Whip of yesteryear, but a rosy pink color instead with startling raspberry, strawberry, and hibiscus gelatin cubes suspended throughout like stained glass. Its foundation is a pretzel crust that adds crunch and a touch of salt.
The pie is not overly sweet at all, and its touch of rose water is restrained, adding just the right amount of floralness that boosts the taste of the berries. You simply can’t dine here without trying this.
10. Arpege egg at Manresa in Los Gatos. How will I miss thee? Very. This stunning amuse bouche has been served as an opener to the meal at this Michelin three-starred restaurant for years. It is Chef-Owner David Kinch’s homage to the original created by legendary French Chef Alain Passard and it never ceases to beguile, no matter how many times I’ve had it.
It is a shirred egg cooked and served in its own shell with contrasting garnishes. So, you get the warmth of runny yolk with chilled cream; the sharpness and savoriness of chives against the cozy baking spices of mace, nutmeg, and ginger; and the fruity tang of sherry vinegar coupled with the sweetness of maple syrup. Dig the tiny spoon through it all to pull up the perfect marriage of every ingredient that dances on the palate.
It is a dish that makes time stand still. I’m so very glad I had the chance to enjoy it one last time before Manresa closes for good after the end of this year.
More: My Top 10 Eats of 2021
Amazing Carolyn, wonderful collection of top notch dishes, will definitely try these out
Hi Chef Vittal: Thanks so much for the kind words. I do hope you get to check out some of these places. They are awesome. Happy holidays to you and your family!