As we resolve to eat less and exercise more at the start of this new year, we can't help but think of some of the delicious stand-outs we enjoyed in 2009. (Does dreaming burn calories?) Even in such an unsettling year for the industry, there was no shortage of fantastic food. Below are the dishes that left us satisfied, smiling, or even speechless. We can't wait to taste what's in store for 2010.
Sun Gold tomatoes with parsley and olive oil panna cotta / Hugo’s, Portland, ME
JBF Award Winner Rob Evans once worked at the French Laundry, and he masters its philosophy in this sublime appetizer: tasteful creativity paired with ingredients in their prime.
Crispy pig's ear salad with tarbais beans, chicory, tomato confit, truffle vinaigrette, and poached quail egg / Pig and Pinot Feast, James Beard House
2009 may have been an errant year for Ryan Skeen, but memories of his superb Beard House dinner have us hoping he'll find a good home in 2010. His best dish was this flawless salad, which exhibited an impressive balance of flavors and textures.
Hamburger / Peter Luger Steak House, Brooklyn, NY
We had heard about the burger at this JBF America's Classics Award winner for years; thankfully, it lived up to the hype when we finally tried it. Excellent aged beef (they grind the tips of their Porterhouse steaks) and American cheese on a soft bun with a chewy crust. All around, it’s pretty perfect.
Italian tamale / Tortilleria Nixtamal, Corona, Queens, NY
Proving that masa harina has a lot in common with polenta, this steamed corn husk is bursting with sausage, mozzarella, tomato sauce, peppers, and onions—and we love it!
Almond and white truffle ravioli / Vetri, Philadelphia
Even Mario Batali concedes that JBF Award Winner Marc Vetri’s Italian cooking may be the best on the East Coast, and this dish made us understand why. It’s an unexpected combination of earthy and nutty flavors suspended in sweet ricotta and bathed in browned butter.
Uni risotto with black truffles / Masa, NYC
Like almonds and truffles, uni and truffles made a surprisingly well-suited union. An extravagance, yes. But as memorable as anything we ate in 2009.
Kai yaang / Pok Pok, Portland, OR
Traditionally a spicy Thai roast chicken, the kai yaang at Pok Pok uses game hen as a stand-in. (Apparently, the hens come closest to the birds used in Thailand.) Other than that, this dish is the real deal: it’s flavored with lemongrass, garlic, pepper, and cilantro, and served with a spicy sweet-and-sour dipping sauce.
Slow-cooked organic chicken with foie gras, pumpkin purée, and creamed greens / Food Meets Fashion, James Beard House JBF Award Winner Marcus Samuelsson prepared this incredibly tasty chicken stew in our kitchen this past October; his dinner was one of the many Food Network New York City Wine & Food Festival events held at the Beard House.
Braised short rib with wild mushrooms and red wine sauce / Church & State, Los Angeles Exactly what we want from this cut of meat: collapsing tenderness and rich flavor, without falling with a heavy thud on the palate. It was a great ending to a fantastic meal at this lively downtown L.A. bistro.
Lychee granité, white chocolate–yogurt cream, grapefruit, Campari, and hibiscus/ Laloux, Montreal, Canada
This was one of the most beautiful desserts we had last year: purple and pink flowers on ivory ice and cream, like a surreal landscape. And it was absolutely delicious.
Chausson aux pommes/ Poîlane, Paris
Walking by the tiny 6th arrondissement outpost of this famed French bakery, the smell of baked butter drew us in. The rustic shape belied the delicate pastry and almost floral apple flavor. It's a turnover for the history books.