To say it was difficult to compile my list of favorite meals from this last year would be an understatement. Between traveling, judging events, private dinners and just our normal restaurant trips, I ate some pretty amazing food in 2012. At the end of every year, I take a look at the restaurants and meals we’ve had and wonder how we’ll ever be able to top it. This year is no different. If you add up my meals at local restaurants and in other cities (Chicago, NYC and Toronto), I think I’ve managed to eat at nearly 90 different restaurants. I went through every single one of them (along with various special events) and decided on my top meals of 2012. It was hard work eating that much delicious food, but someone had to do it.
Mike A’s Tasting Menu – I decided not to rank my favorite meals from this year, but if I had to, this would be #1. When I received my email invitation for this sneak preview dinner back in June, I was beyond excited. I went into this meal expecting the best and I was still blown away. I made sure to finish every plate, drink every cocktail and savor every bite. I had two near religious experiences, the first was biting into the Foie Gras Torchon (pictured above) and the second was when I finally tried the Waygu steak. I actually closed my eyes when I tasted both of them, something that has rarely happened over the course of 4 years. The evening was the perfect combination of excellent food, wonderfully paired cocktails/wine and awesome conversation with good friends.
Omakase II: Provenance – The first Omakase dinner was excellent, a night of cocktail pairings and complex dishes that would compete with any fine dining restaurant in Western New York. But the second Omakase dinner was much more low key; the food was served “family style” and the experience made a lasting impression on me. We spent the day on a gorgeous farm and were served some of the best suckling pig you’ll find in the country. We shared bourbon with friends (including my first taste of Pappy) and enjoyed the best fried chicken and collared greens I’ve ever had. Seriously, if there’s one specific food that I’ll dream about from 2012, it’s probably the fried chicken from Omakase II. I just hope that 2013 brings many many more Omakase dinners and that I get the privilege to attend as many of them as possible.
Peking Quick One – Don’t get me wrong, the food was really good, but a large reason that this meal is included as one of my favorites was because of the overall experience. Walking into a dive-y Chinese restaurant, being the only English-speaking customers and ordering off a “secret menu” that is normally reserved for regulars is really cool. The food was definitely worth the hassle too. While not that “weird”, the orange beef and double cooked pork were both near perfect and dishes that I would love to order again.
Ippudo (NYC) – Alli and I ate a lot in NYC this past April; 22 different restaurants and shops over the course of 4 days to be exact. We had some amazing donuts, bagels with lox, great VPN pizza, steak at Peter Luger’s and tasty burgers from Shake Shack. But it was our first meal at Ippudo that not only set the tone for the trip, but was also the best thing I ate that week. The pork belly bun at Ippudo is divine and definitely that best version I’ve ever had (including Baohaus and momofuku Noodle Bar). On our next visit I plan on just ordering them for myself and not sharing. The ramen broth was smooth and creamy, packed with flavor and topped with all sorts of delicious goodies. We won’t revisit too many restaurants on our next NYC trip (there’s still too many to try on our wishlist), but we’ll definitely find ourselves back at Ippudo in 2013.
Publican (Chicago) – Hanging out in Chicago this past September with my 3 best friends was a blast. We ate and drank our way through the city over the course of a long weekend. We had some pretty good meals on that trip, but the best was clearly at Publican. My friend Mike and I decided to indulge our inner carnivore and really go all out. That meal consisted of chicken liver pate, blood sausage, beef heart, pork belly, Benton’s ham and even some grilled chicken to balance things out. The star of that meal was the blood sausage; the combination of it’s rich flavor and incredible velvety texture won my heart. It didn’t hurt that the design of the restaurant was absolutely gorgeous or that their beer menu was pretty fantastic as well.
Elm Street Bakery – I love everything about Elm Street Bakery. In fact, it’s on the list of reasons of why I would consider moving back to the southtowns. The location is homey and welcoming. I love sitting at the long bar and watching the bakers cook pizza in the wood-fire oven and sip on a nice regional beer on tap. Their breads and sweets are some of the best in the area, the pizza is pretty damn good and their cafe has some straight up fantastic options. Their Jambon Beurre Baguette is such a simple thing of beauty; ham and really great butter on one of the best baguettes in Western New York.
Honorable Mentions: Ellen Gedra’s Sticky Toffee Pudding lived up to the hype; the Banh Mi at Nickel City Cheese is without a doubt the best in the area; my Mom’s homemade Pho was near perfect, the Bacon at Peter Luger’s was stupid good (to quote my wife); Lloyd’s el Gordo Taco would be the only thing I’d order if it was on the truck every day; I’m slowly becoming addicted to the Miso Carmel Crab Roll at Seabar; my new hangover breakfast is the Giambotta at Sophia’s; the desserts at Carmelo’s are worth the trip to Lewiston alone; and the T Meadow dogs at Spar’s will make you forget about Sahlen’s.