My Top 10 Eats of 2020

As someone who rarely used to order takeout, I never thought I’d be turning my annual Top 10 list of the year’s best dishes into one centered solely on food picked up at restaurants to enjoy in my own home.

But 2020 has been like no year we’ve ever experienced.

It was more difficult than usual to cull my favorite eats down to only 10 mentions, because every restaurant or bakery that I visited has something wonderful to offer in these most challenging time. What’s more, each place I visited this year deserves an enormous thanks and pat on the back for persevering in this extremely difficult situation.

With 2021 around the corner, and the beginnings of a very slow return to normalcy just inching forward, I hope you’ll join me in continuing to support your local restaurants by getting takeout. Do pick up the food yourself if you can, rather than relying on delivery apps that eat into the already slim margins that restaurants reap from your order.

Without further ado, in no particular order, here are my Top 10 takeout picks of 2020.

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What I’ve Been Drinking of Late, Part 6

A longed-for toast to the end of 2020 with an always reliable J Vineards Cuvee.
A longed-for toast to the end of 2020 with an always reliable J Vineyards Cuvee.

J Vineyards Cuvee 20

Healdsburg’s J Vineyards has long made one of my favorite go-to sparkling wines.

Its new J Vineyards Cuvee 20 Brut NV ($38), of which I received a sample, is a total pleaser with yeasty, apple, and spice notes. Medium-bodied, it has a slight creaminess yet plenty of crisp acidity.

It would make magic alongside a cold seafood platter, a goat cheese salad with bitter greens, or even an egg salad croissant sandwich.

Cheers: This bubbly will ring in the New Year in style. Given the year we’ve had, you deserve to uncork a special bottle to mark the end of a supremely challenging 2020, and to toast to a hopefully much brighter and lighter 2021.

Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc + Viognier 2019

You don’t often see a Chenin Blanc and Viognier blend on the market. In fact, Pine Ridge Vineyards founder Gary Andrus first created this as an experiment in the 1990s.

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Time to Treat Yourself

Kokak Chocolates -- the tiny treats with huge flavor.
Kokak Chocolates — the tiny treats with huge flavor.

Kokak Chocolates

Carol Gancia gave up a gig as producer of KQED’s “Check, Please! Bay Area” for an even sweeter assignment — chocolate maker.

In June, she opened her Kokak Chocolates in San Francisco’s Castro District, specializing in small-batch, single-origin heirloom chocolates.

And what phenomenal chocolates they are — as I recently discovered when I received samples to try.

Gancia crafts her confections with a rare heirloom cacao variety in Ecuador, known as “Nacional,” which traces its origins to the earliest-known cacao trees 5,300 years ago. These old-grown trees are now protected by the Cacao Preservation Fund.

Complex and boasting a long buttery finish, the chocolate stars in truffles made with thin shells and incredibly silky fillings. The Mango Lemongrass, decorated with a Mondrian-inspired design, explodes with profound floral notes. The Passion Fruit made me think I was in Hawaii for a second with its taste of the tropics. The Hazelnut-Caramel tastes like a pound of hazelnuts was somehow squeezed inside a two-bite bonbon. Its flavor is that intense.

These are elegant truffles that will make your eyes and taste buds pop with surprise and delight.

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Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies

A load of chocolate plus a little espresso combine to take these cookies over the top.
A load of chocolate plus a little espresso combine to take these cookies over the top.

These cookies are truly, madly chockablock with chocolate.

And that’s never a bad thing, is it?

“Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies” is from the new cookbook, “100 Cookies: The Baking Book for Every Kitchen, with Classic Cookies, Novel Treats, Brownies, Bars, and More” (Chronicle Books), of which I received a review copy.

This sweet collection is by Sarah Kieffer, celebrated creator of the award-winning, The Vanilla Bean Blog.

Among the 100 tantalizing recipes are “Chocolate Basil Brownies,” “Raspberry Rye Cookies,” and “Olive Oil Sugar Cookies with Blood Orange Glaze.” There’s even an entire chapter on “Pan Banging Cookies,” using the technique she perfected that went viral. It involves banging the tray of cookies periodically as they bake in the oven, flattening them and creating concentric ripples that leave them crisp on the edges with soft centers.

“Double Chocolate Espresso Cookies” don’t require that kind of work. They also don’t need an electric mixer to make.

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Minty Chocolate Malt Cake

A load of crushed candy canes top this ultra minty chocolate malt cake that's a cinch to make.
A load of crushed candy canes top this ultra minty chocolate malt cake that’s a cinch to make.

Not one, not two, but three mints in one.

Forgive the play on the old Certs jingle (if you’re old enough to remember that), but this cake fairly leaves me breathless in its minty majesty.

“Minty Chocolate Malt Cake” is from the new cookbook, “Snacking Cakes: Simple Treats for Anytime Cravings” (Clarkson Potter), of which I received a review copy. It’s by Yossy Arefi, a fabulous food photographer and cookbook writer, who created the blog, Apt. 2B Baking Co.

These 50 recipes are the types of cakes we all love to bake — single-layered, simply adorned, easy enough to whip up on the spur of the moment, and perfect for any occasion.

Get ready to enjoy everything from “Grapefruit White Chocolate Cake” and “Salty Caramel Peanut Butter Cake” to “Chocolate-Orange Beet Cake” and “Sticky Whiskey Date Cake.”

Best yet, with each recipe, Arefi includes notes on how to bake the particular cake in other pans (loaf, round, sheet, square), if you so prefer.

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