10) Dungeness Crab Salad, One Market
At long last, we’ve come to the end of this captivating culinary journey. And what a better way to end this best-of list than with the last dish that wowed me in 2010: One Market’s Dungeness Crab Salad. What I love about One Market is how the menu reads fairly plain: Hand-picked Dungeness Crab, fuyu persimmon, pomegranate, hearts of palm. At first glance, there’s not much about this description that’s particularly exciting, but what’s placed in front of you is nothing short of a beautifully presented, technically advanced dish indicative of a one star Michelin-rated restaurant. It’s a classic shock and awe maneuver, and it works...Continue Reading
9) Whole-Roasted Poularde, Saison
2010 also marked the year that I was introduced to the high-end chicken dish. No more of those traditional marinated, grilled, or fried preparations that I’d been used to – no, no. Instead, “poularde” replaced the common “chicken” on upscale menus, and techniques like “slow-cooked” or “Hung for 3 days to intensify flavor” started popping up. In just one year this mild, overlooked, household meat transformed into a tender, moist, must-order entrée, and nobody did it better than Saison. In 8 extraordinary dishes, it was the Whole-Roasted Poularde with berbere spices, smoked date milk, and roasting juices, paired with a chard leaf rolled with foie gras mousse, that stood out...Continue Reading
8 ) Grass-Fed Burger, Nopa
For me, 2010 seemed to be the year of the burger. Prior to last year, I don’t think I had ordered a burger at a restaurant since I was young enough to use the kid’s menu (so about 16, 17 maybe). But, for whatever reason, I suddenly went on a burger binge, determined to find the best gourmet burger in San Francisco. After visits to Fish&Farm, Serpentine, Bar Tartine, Roam, Burgermeister, B3, Nopa, and Spruce, there was a clear winner: Nopa didn’t just have the best damn burger in the City, it was the best burger I’ve ever tried...Continue Reading
7) Buttermilk Panna Cotta w/ Cherry Blossom, Coi
Yes, Coi pops up on this list for the second time. Although I wanted to get a good mix of restaurants represented in my top 10, I just couldn’t avoid including this dish – it was just too damn incredible. The dish, which I was lucky enough to get on my first visit to this restaurant, will forever remain in my memory: buttermilk Panna Cotta accompanied by cherry blossoms and topped with budding shoots of wild fennel. First and foremost, the flavor was overwhelming - the buttermilk (a special culture acquired through their in-house butter-making process), infused with cured cherry blossoms, along with the hints of pickled and wild fennel was a perfect balance of delicate freshness and creamy richness. And, the aromatic qualities the cherry blossom twig, left on the plate purely to smell, transformed the flavor into something truly unique and created a dish that really represents Daniel Patterson as a chef. It was the culinary incarnation of early spring. To read more about the other dishes from that night, check out my full account of Coi.
6) Grilled Calamari, Frances
Less than a month after opening, Frances nailed it. This particular dish was actually the first I had ever ordered way back in January, and the memory of it stuck with me for the entire year. With only 5 ingredients (squid, Rugosa squash, preserved lemon, currants, arugula), to me this dish represents the type of food served at this restaurant: uncomplicated, seasonal, well-executed, and incredibly flavorful. I was happy to see grilled calamari served without cannellini beans and capers, and Perello’s unique combination of ingredients was particularly thoughtful. The squash mirrored the texture of that type of bean but provided an extra layer of sweetness, while the preserved lemon almost functioned as a caper substitute, adding both acidity to the calamari and tartness to balance the squash. The play between sweet and tart was also found in the tiny currants, making it so that with every bite layers of sweet-sour-salty flavor unfolded in your mouth. Although I tried other incarnations of this dish (which varied with the season), this particular composition was the most impressive. You can read about all the other dishes from that night at Frances here.
5) Roasted Carrot Salad, SPQR
If you’ve been following my writing, you probably know that throughout the course of 2010 I’ve been completely in awe of SPQR and Chef Matthew Accarrino. Choosing my favorite of the entire year was almost impossible as it would be easy for me to fill ½ of this top 10 list with items from this restaurant. But, I think that it’s the balance and ingenuity found in Chef Accarrino’s Roasted Carrot Salad, which made the cover of the latest issue of Culinary Trends, that best represents this restaurant and this chef. While the idea of a roasted carrot may seem painfully simplistic to most, Chef Accarrino uses numerous techniques to bring out the different facets and flavors of the carrot, changing it from something mundane into a show-stopping appetizer. It made me realize just how luscious and truly delectable a simple carrot can be, and even inspired me to roast some carrots of my own. It also inspired me to order the same dish on 3 more occasions. You can read a more in-depth description of this dish here.
4) Spring out of Winter, Eleven Madison Park
The best meal of my life, the best dish of the meal: “Spring out of Winter” was the ultimate expression of contrast and balance in every aspect of the plate. Variations of asparagus were served alongside delicate pea shoots and baby peas, Jamon Iberico, shards of dehydrated almond milk, and creme fraiche ice cream (frozen by liquid nitrogen). The concept of creating a dish that embodies the differences of Winter and Spring was executed through the plays on contrast: simple, fresh flavors highlighted through complicated technique, warm and cold elements, plays on creamy and crunchy textures, and salty, savory flavors combined with the slight sweetness of ice cream. Imaginative, seasonally appropriate, technically challenging, beautiful, and delicious, this was truly a masterpiece of a dish. To read more about that dinner, check out my full account of that night at Eleven Madison Park.
3) Monkfish Liver Torchon, Benu
You know those rare moments where every element in a dish brings out nuances of the main component that would otherwise go unnoticed? You know those even rarer moments when the wine also brings out a flavor in the dish that would be lost without it? Where the primary component, the set, and the wine form a culinary trifecta? That was my experience with this dish. The battle that plays out in your mouth between salty and sweet, rich and refreshing, and creamy and crisp is epic and so compelling that after a 15 course tasting menu, I went back the next night to order that same dish a la carte. In a single bite I was transformed from someone who had never even heard of monkfish liver, to a monkfish liver fanatic with uncontrollable cravings. To read more about that dinner, check out my full account of my night at Benu.
2) Big Daddy Bowl, Hapa Ramen
This dish opened my eyes not only to how delicious real ramen is, but also to how thoughtful and complex it can be. Hapa Ramen’s Big Daddy Bowl goes beyond flavorful broth and perfectly-cooked noodles – it brings in a variety of ingredients that add subtle nuances, richness, and seasonality. Of all of the dishes on this list, this is the one that I have gone back to eat the most. There’s just something about the combination of the warmth, the spice, creamy slow-cooked egg, sweet squash, and fried fatty meat that keeps me coming back for more. You can read all of the details in my review of Hapa Ramen.
1) Chilled Eggplant Purée, Coi
For a couple of months it seemed like the only thing I wanted to talk about was Daniel Patterson’s Chilled Eggplant Purée (made from puréed eggplant, fresh pole and shelling beans, preserved lemon, cilantro, and tomato water gelée). I was honestly bringing it up in conversations with people who had absolutely no interest in the subject and could only respond by smiling and nodding. But I didn’t care, I wanted the world to know how incredible cold eggplant could taste. And I didn’t just talk about it, I chased it down as much as possible knowing that eggplant and tomato would soon be out of season and I’d be left with a void in my soul. Even after eating it 3 times in only 3 weeks, I was still blown away and craving more. You can read a full description of the dish here, but for me, this dish exemplified sophistication through simplicity and balance.