Cooking versus eating: there’s a difference. I cooked a lot in 2014… but I ate even more. I ate well. Really well. Often outside of the four walls of my home. Sometimes outside the four boundaries of our 7×7 mile city.
As such, I thought it’d be nice to reflect on my favorite restaurant experiences of the year. I tried to identify specific dishes, since those are typically reflective of entire meals, service, atmospheres, etc. Interestingly, the priciest dinner (with a flashy double Michelin star rating) didn’t stand a chance on this list — perhaps the tasting menu format just doesn’t elicit the same full-bodied reaction I get to a nice, big burger. Either way, I am truly grateful to have enjoyed myself so thoroughly in 2014, at the dinner table and beyond.
Iyasare’s kakiage tempura. Our dinner had nearly concluded when we caught sight of this gorgeous, structural beauty on someone else’s plate. We promptly ran over and snatched it away. Just kidding. We put in another order and are so very glad we did. This was a masterpiece of texture and flavors — earthy, tender, addictive.
Broder’s aebelskivers. I am a donut person. These Danish fritters, accompanied by lemon curd and lingonberry jam, had my name written all over them. Truly a simple pleasure.
Coqueta’s wood-grilled pluma. Quite the opposite of a simple pleasure: acorn-fed Spanish Iberico de Bellota pork shoulder loin with honey chili glaze. Pricey. Fancy. Absolutely worth it. The entire group paused in silence to observe its melt-in-your-mouth deliciousness.
Wes Burger’s Hot Wes. This was no-holds-barred, perfectly grilled, f-your-diet perfection. I’m reminded that I need to track down the pop-up to try more of these babies.
Dominique Ansel’s cronut. I stood in line for the morello cherry and toasted almond cream version, and I’ll stand in line again for anything borne of this magical bakery. Very rarely do hyped things exceed expectations… but this, perhaps the most hyped of all things, did.
Clinton Street Baking Company’s blueberry pancakes. If drugs were butter, biting into this would be shooting heroin straight into one’s veins. Get into it, because that glut of butter (glutter?) makes these stacks unbelievably moist and tender. Pancakes epitomized.
Toro Bravo’s octopus a la plancha “becerrita”. So good, we had these twice! In an already intensely delicious dinner, these tapas were the most flavorful of all. It’s unclear to me now what was in these, but it looks like there’s potato, crema, a tomato reduction, octopus… all the best things.
Tasty N’ Alder’s grilled octopus. I suppose Jay and I are just dining voyeurs. This is yet another dish we ordered after spotting it across the restaurant. I’m cool being creepy if it allows us to eat things like this. The octopus was cooked to a level absolutely unmatched — the perfect crispy sear, the loveliest creamy middles.
Mamoun’s combination plate. This cost under $10. UNDER $10. And yet, it’s without a doubt one of our favorite meals of the year. We went to town on this. What’s more, we were totally sober. This hole-in-the-wall definitely isn’t just for drunk college kids.
Nopa’s custard French toast. Does this surprise you? It shouldn’t. I love you, custard French toast. I really do.
As for the full list of restaurants? Click onward!
New York, NY
Dean and Deluca (Lady M)
Smorgasburg (Dough, Excell’s Kingston Eatery, Maroon Sausage Company, Palenque Homemade Colombian Food, Summers)
Orange County, CA
Food pods (Eurodish, Aybla Grill)
San Francisco, CA
Wes Burger (pop up at The Pizza Place on Noriega)
Barbara’s Fish Trap (Half Moon Bay)
The Girl and the Fig (Sonoma)