A Year In Food

From New York to Costa Rica to Europe to California: 365 Days of Dining Out

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Feb. 26.

Special Feature

A Year In Food
- What I thought would be a year in food turned out to be the year in food. I really feel gratified to have shared so many tremendous experiences with all of you, to have learned so much and tasted so much. Now that I'm poor again, trying to cook (not pretty) and subsist on tacos, the idea of $300 dinners seems like a long-distant memory. Still, they're a memory I'll carry permanently with me, along with the perfect hummus, gorging on gelato, exploring Costa Rican backroads, discovering the outer boroughs' wonders, and so much more. With that in mind, here's a look back at 2005, three hundred sixty-five days that have proven to be even richer than the cannoli filling at Rocco's.

Best New Restaurant (over $50 meal)
1) Per Se
2) The Modern
3) Masa
4) Devi
5) Cacio e Pepe

Best New Restaurant (under $50 meal)
1) Una Pizza Napoletana
2) Hummus Place
3) Mercadito
4) Franny’s
5) Klong

Best Appetizer (over $50 meal)
1) Oysters and Pearls (Per Se)
2) Uni risotto with black truffles (Masa)
3) Ceviche Progression (Le Bernardin)
4) O-toro Tartare with Iranian osetra caviar (Masa)
5) Octopus, tomatoes, olives, purslane, oregano vinaigrette (The Grocery)

Best Appetizer (under $50 meal)
1) Steamed pork and crab tiny buns (New Green Bo)
2) Shrimp Pakoras (Tangra Masala)
3) Venison and Chestnut Terrine (Craft)
4) Roti Canai (Overseas Asian)
5) Herring Sampler (Aquavit)

Best Entrée (over $50 meal)
1) Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Chorizo and Black Chilis (Babbo)
2) Roasted Maine Lobster in a "Folly of Herbs" with Asparagus and Salsify (The Modern)
3) Mint Love Letters with Spicy Lamb Sausage (Babbo)
4) Homemade nettle gnocchi tossed with tomato comfit, rosemary and buffalo mozzarella (Cacio e Pepe)
5) Chorizo-Crusted Chatham Cod with White Cocoan Bean Puree and Harissa Oil (The Modern)

Best Entrée (under $50 meal)
1) Lobster Roll (Pearl Oyster Bar)

2) Pan Roasted Sea Scallops (Pearl Oyster Bar)
3) Banana Walnut Pancakes (Clinton St. Baking Company)
4) Mushroom-stuffed Veal with Porcini Risotto (Assenzio)
5) Roasted Atlantic Salmon with Soba Noodle, Soy Beans, Shiitake Mushrooms, Soy-Wasabi Vinaigrette (Bistro St. Marks)

Best Dessert (over $50 meal)
1) "Coffee and Doughnuts" (Per Se)
2) "Snickers Bar" (Per Se)
3) "Egg" (Le Bernardin)
4) Austrian Chocolate Hazelnut Souffle with Chocolate and Vanilla Ice Creams and Apple Sorbet (Danube)
5) Milk chocolate-hazelnut parfait, orange reduction (WD-50)

Best Dessert (under $50 meal)
1) Assorted Ice Creams (Berthillon) (Paris, France)

2) Assorted Gelatos (Della Palma) (Rome, Italy)

3) Assorted Gelatos (San Crispin) (Rome, Italy)

4) Goat's Milk Ricotta, Rose-Rosemary, and Meyer Lemon with Blackberry Gelato (Otto)

5) Dulce de Leche (Itzocan Cafe)

Best Soup
1) Butternut squash shrimp bisque with saffron (Itzocan Cafe)
2) Barbecue duck dumplings in corn soup with sweet corn and pepper relish (The Grocery)
3) Hot and Sour Soup (Tangra Masala)
4) Matzo Ball Soup (2nd Ave. Deli)
5) Celery Root Soup with Maine Diver Scallops, Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Chervil (Hearth)

Best Salad
1) Fried Watercress Salad w/ Chicken, Shrimp and Squid (Sripraphai)
2) French Fry salad, hen of the woods mushrooms, parsley, capers, lemon juice, olive oil (The Grocery)
3) Octopus Salad with Spicy Lemon Dressing (Tab Tos)
4) Heirloom tomato salad with olive oil, basil and sea salt (Diner)
5) Roasted beet salad (Babbo)

Best Pizza
1) Una Pizza Napoletana
2) Trianon da Ciro (Naples, Italy)
3) Da Michele (Naples, Italy)
4) DiFara
5) Franny’s

Best Cocktail
1) Mango-Passion Mojito (The Modern)
2) Per Se Cocktail (Per Se)
3) Monkey Business (El Avión)
4) Danube Cocktail (Danube)
5) Coming Up Roses (The Bar Room at the Modern)

Best Sandwich
1) Sesame bagel with lox, tomato and cream cheese (Russ and Daughters)
2) Classic Vietnamese Sandwich (Nicky's Vietnamese Sandwiches)
3) Doner kebab (Imbiss International) (Berlin, Germany)
4) Pastrami sandwich on rye (Katz’s Deli)
5) Arepa con Perico y Carne Mechada (Caracas Arepas Bar)

Best Day of Eating
1) May 22 - Pizza World Tour
2) Jan. 30 - Three Meals Under $30
3) Apr. 3 - From Jewish to Spanish
4) Jul. 10 - Asian Adventure
5) Jul. 25 - Dessert World Tour

Best Service
1) Per Se
2) Le Bernardin
3) Babbo
4) Pó
5) WD-50

And finally, here is a list of my favorite 50 meals and my favorite dish at each place...

1) Per Se - Oysters and Pearls
2) Masa - Uni risotto
3) The Modern - Roasted Maine Lobster in a "Folly of Herbs" with Asparagus and Salsify
4) Sripraphai - Fried Watercress Salad w/ Chicken, Shrimp and Squid
5) Babbo - Black Spaghetti with Rock Shrimp, Chorizo and Black Chilis
6) Una Pizza Napoletana - Margherita Pizza
7) The Grocery - Barbecue duck dumplings in corn soup with sweet corn and pepper relish

8) Trianon da Ciro (Naples, Italy) – Margherita Pizza
9) Cal Pep (Barcelona, Spain) – Fried shrimp, calamari and sardines
10) Danube - Maine Day Boat Lobster with Sunchoke, Mango, Hon-Shimeji Mushrooms and a Saffron Curry Broth
11) Craft - Venison and Chestnut Terrine
12) Itzocan Café - Dulce de Leche
13) Pearl Oyster Bar - Lobster Roll
Tangra Masala - Hot and Sour Soup
15) Russ and Daughters - Sesame bagel with lox, tomato and cream cheese
16) Devi - Tandoor Grilled Lamb Chops with pear chutney and curry leaf potatoes
17) Da Michele (Naples, Italy) – Margherita Pizza

18) Le Bernardin - Ceviche Progression

Tia Pol - Patatas Bravas
Hummus Place - Hummus Tahini
DiFara - Plain square

22) Sac Buregdzinica (Sarajevo, Bosnia) – Beef burek
23) Taqueria Cancun (San Francisco, CA) – Al pastor taco
Franny’s - Tomato and Mozzarella with House-Cured Garlic Sausage Pizza

25) Grimaldi’s - Pepperoni pizza

Denino’s - Sausage and mushroom pizza
Al Di La - Malfatti
- Tortelloni with Ricotta and Ramps in a White Butter Truffle Sauce
Cacio e Pepe - Homemade nettle gnocchi tossed with tomato comfit, rosemary and buffalo
Nicky’s Vietnamese Sandwiches - Classic Vietnamese Sandwich
31) Imbiss International (Berlin, Germany) – Doner Kebab

Congee Village - Lobster Congee

33) Shake Shack - Double Shack Burger
34) Khushie - Chicken Kali Mirch
35) WD-50 - Slow poached egg, parmesan broth, tomato
36) Rose Water - Kevin's Farm Grilled Chicken With Mustard Greens, Falafel, and Roasted Pumpkin Seed Sauce
37) New Green Bo - Steamed pork and crab tiny buns

38) Shimizu - O-Toro sushi
39) Taverna Kyclades - Roe dip
40) Mercadito - Shrimp Tacos
41) 2nd Ave. Deli - Matzoh Ball Soup
42) Dix Vins (Paris, France) - Entrecote
43) Otto - Goat's Milk Ricotta, Rose-Rosemary, and Meyer Lemon with Blackberry Gelato

44) TiJo's (Paris, France) - Grand Marnier crepe
45) Itzocan Bistro -
Pumpkin Seed-Crusted Red Snapper with Zucchini
46) Assenzio - Mozzarella-stuffed Veal with Porcini Mushroom Risotto
47) Sorbillo Pizza (Naples, Italy) - Calzone
48) Nougatine - Slow-Baked Salmon with Pad Thai
49) Overseas Asian Restaurant - Roti Canai
50) Tacos Matamoros- Al pastor taco

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Dec. 17.

Lunch -

Taqueria Cancun - 2288 Mission St., Mission District, San Francisco
An al pastor taco, a carnitas taco, a Mandarin Jarritos

It’s different in San Francisco. The architecture here is painted in colorful pastels, the sky rivals London for all the shades of grey it can turn, I’m treated to daily views of the Golden Gate Bridge outside my window. It’s beautiful and calm, it’s lonely and foreign, it’s overwhelming and exciting. I’ve been exploring the sights like a fourteenth-century conquistador, walking the city out of breath from its insurmountable hills.

One particular area of interest for me is the Mission District. Before I settled in the Richmond, with its alluring mix of Hakka joints and Russian bakeries, I was planning on living there. It was the closest thing to my beloved East Village, my friends told me. And though I’ve found it closer to a mashup of Sunset Park and the Lower East Side, it’s still an intriguing cross-section of thrift shops, homeless people, swank bars and taquerias.

Knowing me, the taquerias came first and foremost. I did my research, and learned about Taqueria Cancun, which has won more superlatives than a high school beauty queen. It sounded delicious and the prices were extremely affordable so I anointed it my first official meal in my new city. As I walked in, the smells of frying beef were thick in the air and a homeless man in a ragged suit was screaming. A punk girl with a scissor-sharp mohawk was ordering a burrito. Her cuter friend had piercings up and down her face.

Eager to show off my newfound knowledge, I stepped up ordered an al pastor taco and one with carnitas. I trilled my R’s, flaunting my accent from my days of presiding over the Spanish Honor Society. I did my best not to drool as I watched the line cooks scrabble together the meal. Then I took my free basket of chips, and picked up my first grilled tortilla. To my mostly uninitiated taste buds, it proved to be an experience, an event. Not just good Mexican, but outstanding, soul-shaking, rapturous Mexican. I tasted flavors on some other level, a tango of cilantro, hot sauce and tender, seasoned meat, simple and unpretentious but oh so necessary. It was as good a welcome mat to my new home as I could hope for.

Of my two tacos I had, I preferred the al pastor, but compared to any others I’ve had, both easily ranked at the top. Next time, if I decide to brave Fear Factor territory, I may even try the tripe or brains also tantalizingly featured on the menu. Whatever I get, there’s no doubt that I’ll be back at Taqueria Cancun to keep being amazed, while also checking out the hundred other taquerias within walking distance.

After so many incredible food experiences in 2005, I was surprised and grateful that one last one snuck in under the wire. After so many highlights, I couldn’t believe that something could still taste so new and unknown. So while I may have given up great bagels in the trade, my Cancun trip made coastal differences seem ever more beautiful. 9/10