I live for lists, end of year round ups, rankings and orders. I crave them like I crave the best soup dumpling in North America–which, incidentally is on this list I’m about to give you! Last year on my personal blog I did my 6 Favorite dishes in Seattle, but this year, I thought I’d open it up to the whole world. Or at least North America, since I didn’t manage to leave the continent in 2010. So hear it is, my 10 best bites of 2010, in no particular order.
10) Aebleskivers at YuleFest at the Nordic Heritage Museum (Seattle, WA)
These Danish doughnuts were a find like a needle in a haystack. It was an early winter day, and out of a combination of boredom and my Swedish boyfriend’s description of a mulled wine known as glogg, we made our way to YuleFest. YuleFest was a collection of old people and children (two categories of people who often annoy me at crowded places). It was a collection of knickknacks and bland foods, two things that don’t make me smile. And then there was the room with the aebleskivers. One old man struggled with doughy messes, some of the young people cooking them had a look of adolescent indifference, and then there was a tiny old woman, cooking perfect round doughnut balls. Plopped next to some jam, these were hot, sweet, light, fluffy, and just the most perfectly created piece of doughnut I have ever imagined. Lesson I learned? You never know where you might find the best bites.
9) Tacos de Carne, Hernande’z Cocina (Victoria, BC)
We must have walked by the entrance five times before realizing we had to enter this mall to get to the restaurant. Yes, I’m declaring one of my best bites of the year to be a Mexican food, from a mall, in Canada. I can hear you laughing and I don’t care. Just like I didn’t care when our tacos were gone and I picked up the plate and drank the grease from the plate. These are too good to have shame about your actions. The combination of perfect spicing, excellent beef and slow-food style cooking made for beef tacos that were just too good to put down. Despite the long line and longer wait to eat at oilcloth covered tables in an otherwise deserted mall, when we finished, we were ready to get back up and put in another order at the counter.
8) Pizza Vongole, 2 Amy’s Pizza (Washington DC)
I’m not a huge pizza person, not the type to go to the ends of the earth for a good slice. I am, however, a good food person, and this pizza wasn’t just amazing for its genre, it was amazing for its own amazing-ness. According to the menu, it contains garlic, capers, parsley, hot pepper, cockles, and Grana. I’m going to just point out that cheese and garlic are probably ingredients in 90% of people’s favorite foods. For me, hot pepper is as well. The fact that both the clams and the crispy yet pliable crust were able to stand up to these mouthfuls of showstopper ingredients was a testament to the flavor involved in every step of every bite. It was hard to choose just one dish from this place, I will add, as the lardo that came as our charcuterie course was mind-blowing, as were the house-cured anchovies in our other starter.
7) Anything with Seafood, El Dorado (Cabo San Lucas, MX)
Should you ever find yourself in Cabo San Lucas (though I wouldn’t recommend going for the food), get seafood at El Dorado. It sadly took me until my final day to get to this place, a recommendation of my favorite local bartender (Victor at the Monkey Bar). We actually considered trying to fit an extra meal in between our 9am breakfast and our 11am shuttle to the airport in order to get to eat here again. Much of the food in Cabo caters toward the high end tourist, with steaks, French food and what have you. Outside of the main part of town, we got typical Mexican fare. It was good, but not superlative. El Dorado’s light touch with the cooking and the oil meant that somehow cheese, tortilla and a pile of fresh fish were transformed into delicacy. As we ate breakfast, we watched the town begin its day, school kids stopping in for a snack, the garbage man picking up his lunch. Suddenly, leaving seemed like a terrible idea.
6) Koong Chae Nam Pla (Raw prawn salad), Lers Ros (San Francisco, CA)
The food at Lers Ros was nothing like what I had in Thailand. The flavors were surely Thai, but the presentation was not the casual street food we stuck to on vacation and everything had been elevated. For virtually the same price as every corner Thai place in the city, Lers Ros turns out creative, exotic and best of all, excellent Thai food. While the other dishes we had were incredible–a salted sausage salad and a crispy pork belly curry, the raw prawn salad seemed to actually explode in my mouth. As if the garlic and spice fairies were to have a fist fight atop my tastebuds. Cooling leaves of mint acted as the referee, a bright foil to the sweetness of the uncooked seafood.
5) Tempura Udon Noodle Soup, Sushi Village (Whistler, BC)
I’ve probably eaten at Sushi Village over a hundred times in my life. It’s been my favorite restaurant since I was six years old. This year, though, I was brought back to one of the reasons I truly love the place. As a child, it was expensive to take a kid out to sushi, not something that was done often, so when we went to Sushi Village, we were told to order from the meals, meaning a little meat and rice or one of their noodle soups, most often, for me, the Tempura Udon Noodle. This year, up for the Olympics, I tried to take my friends to many of my favorite places. Often they were crowded, the food quality was lower than usual and the prices higher. Sushi Village, though? It stayed the same. I brought nine people at a time, and we sat in the tatami rooms, and alongside our nigiri and our rolls, our adult food and our appetizers, we got a warming bowl of Tempura Udon Noodle. The broth is light, the noodles thick, and somehow the fact that the tempura loses its crunch in the soup becomes an asset, not a downfall. Since, I’ve been back for a simple, cheap meal. One that doesn’t change with the crowds and the cool kids–and why would it, it’s been the best for the last 20 years.
4) Seafood Soup with Fufu, Maima’s Liberian Bistro (Queens, NY)
We trekked to the far reaches of South Jamaica, in Queens, New York to find Maima’s, where I’d heard tell of food so spicy and delicious that you’d lose your tongue or something of the like. Despite being parked a block from the restaurant, we were asked twice if we knew where we were going by cops–that great of a neighborhood. Once inside, Maima and her crew took care of us. While we were the only ones not from Liberia, the friendly cable company employees at the next table took us under their wing, directing us to this seafood soup. At $10, this was an amazing value, stock full of an entire crab, a few prawns, tripe, chicken feet, fish and what might or might not have been a pig’s knee. And that spice? It was there, and it was mind blowing. In the best kind of way. The kind of spice that burns and hurts, but only adds to the flavor of the food so you could never stop dipping in with the soft, starchy fufu.
3) Porchetta Sandwich, Roli Roti (San Francisco, CA)
Sometimes the best things in life come from a truck. A truck equipped with a giant rotisserie, under which is lined with potatoes, each one jumping up and down, screaming, “Drip your fat on me!” at the pork which spins above. The line can be daunting, as your mouth waters and you inch closer to the truck. Once there, you will be rewarded, as the cook may hand you a little slice of crispy skin left behind after he chops the meat. He’ll slide the meat on to the bread with aioli and fennel salt and just enough greens that you can justify it as a complete meal. Crap. I just watched a video of it on their website. Don’t click that if you are not anywhere near this sandwich right now.
2) Xiao Long Bao (soup dumplings) at Long’s Noodle House (Vancouver BC)
I don’t have a picture of the soup dumplings (aka XLB) from Long’s, and I was going to substitute in a photo from a different place, but looking at the sub-par dumplings and thinking back to the most perfect specimens, I felt it would be unjust to misrepresent them so. There was another contender for the XLB crown, however, the restaurant didn’t survive to see the end of the year. Thus, Long’s has nailed down crown by having all the elements I love in these little suckers: hot, rich soup, flavorful meat inside, a dough thick enough to require my teeth to open it (and not bursting before it makes it to my mouth) and served quickly enough that I burn my mouth just trying to bite open the skin. Long’s adds to that a full menu of excellent Shanghai-ese food and some of the wittiest, nicest waitresses around.
1) Sheep’s Milk Ricotta, Locanda Verde (New York, NY)
In one of my favorite dining experiences of the year, Locanda Verde blew me out of the water with their setting, their service and their food. A highlight of our meal was their signature dish, what they called a crostini, but which was really just charred and oiled thick country style bread, served with their house-made sheep’s milk ricotta cheese. The cheese is topped with lovely olive oil and smattering of chopped herbs and spices. Somehow the richness of the olive oil is cut by the creaminess of the cheese. I’m not sure how this works, but suffice it to say if you gave me a tub of this stuff, I dive in, face first. Truly it was a simple, skilled creation that allowed great ingredients and classic skills to shine.