The Docsconz Top Twenty Beverage Experiences of 2016

I have never previously ranked or put together a list of my top beverage experiences before, but then I can’t recall ever having as full and exciting a year of cocktails, spirits and wine as I had in 2016! This mirrored and in some cases overlapped my top dining experiences of 2016 with the beverage experiences being major contributors to those final rankings. Unlike my restaurant listings, these rankings are not limited to restaurants. Bar, winery and distillery visits also played major roles, affording extra-special experiences and tastings. The final rankings here were influenced by food only in so far as the food may have affected the enjoyment of the beverages. For example a great wine pairing is the result of synergy between wine and food and can’t be truly had without both being stellar independently and especially together. I enjoyed many a great pairing of food and wine in 2016, but for this list, only the most exceptional pairings were included. Other restaurant inclusions occurred due to the quality of individual wines, which had not necessarily been specifically paired for the meals. In most of those cases, the wines were special bottles that had been brought to the restaurant by me or others just for the occasion. 

Abigail Gullo’s Mildred Pierce at Rascal & Thorn via Kara Newman’s Shake, Stir, Sip.

Not included on this list, despite the fun I have playing with cocktails myself are the cocktails I make at Rascal & Thorn, my wannabe private club/home bar (#rascalandthorn on Instgram). That said, I would like to acknowledge a few products that were new to me in 2016 that I really hd fun with. While I really enjoy playing and creating my own riffs and cocktails, I have really got into Shake, Stir, Sip by my friend, Kara Newman. It is a very approachable and useful book of cocktail recipes based on equal proportions. The recipes are excellent and I highly recommend the book for anyone with more than a passing interest in making cocktails. My favorite cocktail from the book, previously unknown to me is the Mildred Pierce, a refreshing citrus and mezcal delight originally created by New Orleans bartendress Abigail Gullo. Three  new-to-me spirits that brought my bar extra pizzazz in 2016 included Giffard Pamplemousse Liqueur (see the Mildred Pierce), Plantation Pineapple Rum and Ancho Verde, all of which offered fresh flavors for cocktail creation. Continue reading

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The Docsconz Top 20 Traditional Restaurant Dishes of 2016 – Craftsmanship

This list is to highlight the very best dishes of my dining year based upon the the craft of cooking and the quality and presentation of the central component or traditional preparation. As with the Creative Restaurant Dishes list, I will not list more than one dish on this list from a given restaurant, though a restaurant can be on both lists. In addition, though the same base ingredient may be listed, I will not repeat a particular way of doing it more than once. That said, this is a list of dishes that excelled for their craft and product not just for 2016, but as truly remarkable examples that I had the pleasure of sampling. They were dishes that I didn’t just enjoy. They were dishes that asserted themselves and made me take note of their superior quality. One big difference between the dishes here vs the other “Best Dish” list that I posted is that the dishes on that list were entirely new to me, even though there may be a sense of familiarity about them, such as the Pulpo a La Brasa at Bodega 1900. I have certainly had grilled octopus before and Canary Islands potatoes, but the texture of this octopus was so remarkably different (and better) than any other that I’ve had, as to deem it unique enough for that list rather than this. These dishes are either classics, minor variations on classics or absolutely primary product driven and represent not just the best examples of these types of dishes that I’d had during 2016, but dishes that performed at an iconic level.  Continue reading

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The Docsconz Top 20 Creative Restaurant Dishes of 2016 – Artistry

Chef Quique Dacosta

I enjoyed so many wonderful, creative dishes in 206. There were numerous examples of dishes that harnessed impressive creative drives, often in the same meal. The dishes here were not just imaginative. They were also beautifully presented and above all, deliciously unique, at least to my experience, even if they utilized specific cultural influences as their base. I limited my choices for this compilation to no more than one dish from any given meal. These dishes are representative of cooking as art, but without giving up anything in terms of ultimate deliciousness. That remains, for me, the ultimate barometer of a successful dish. The artistry is utilized for elevation. Continue reading

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The Docsconz Top 25 Restaurant Meals of 2016

The year 2016 was a strange one on so many levels. In many ways it was a year that was very sad and even depressing with the deaths of so many notable people, especially, it seems, of musicians and iconic athletes. Then there was the US election, which, I found disgusting and depressing throughout the year and even more so at the end of it. There were some personal bright spots, however, that involved family as well as travel and food. It is the latter two areas that are addressed by this list. Fortunately, unlike the list of notable deaths and the sense of political disgust, these and other restaurants provided a lot of positive balance in my life, so much so, that I consider it the deepest single  year of dining that I’ve ever experienced. I only list 25 meals, though any of the next 45 or so restaurant meals not listed would have, in more typical years, been well within my Top 25. All of my Top 25 would have, in most years, been easy Top 10 candidates. I traveled a lot this year (for me) with two big trips to Spain, one to London and several around the USA including NYC, Chicago, Miami, DC as well as points in between. I ate extremely well everywhere, but as usual, especially so in Spain. The quality of the food in Spain never fails to impress me and that is brightly reflected below. I find that the food, people and restaurants there tend to really resonate with me, even more so the deeper I delve into its culinary culture.

Stones of Manchego

This list is not scientific. It is a gestalt bourne from a variety of factors. First, and foremost, the food was exceptional. Whether focused on only a few dishes or many, the consistency and quality of all of the dishes eaten at a given meal are the single biggest factor in selecting a restaurant for this list. The quality of service, especially its genuineness is another major factor and so is the setting, including the level of sound and the ability to communicate with my dining partners. Perhaps, the biggest factor, though, is me. That is to say, the mindset I bring, the hunger I carry, the health issues I bear and the company I keep all contribute to how much I enjoy a given meal. When I bring negatives to a meal and they are overcome by the meal, the meal impresses me that much more and leaves a more lasting impression. Ironically, my number one restaurant meal of the year came on a day that I woke up with a huge pit in my stomach not knowing if I would even be able to eat a single thing, let alone enjoy it. The restaurant visit proved to be a tonic, that allowed me, for a brief time, at least, to put the feelings of that day aside – no easy feat.

The highlighted restaurant names in front of my comments lead either to a blog post or Flick’r album with details and additional photos from the meals referenced. Continue reading

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The Docsconz Wish List 2017 – International Desires


For 2016 I limited my Wish List to the United States and hit 5 out 10, a pretty good ratio with great results. I’m bummed that I missed Matt Lightner’s latest project, Ninebark, in Napa, California, as it closed at the end of the summer. Instead, I will have to look forward to his next endeavor wherever and whenever that comes to fruition. He’s too good of a chef to be out of the game for long, and I suspect that this next venture will be sensational! That was the case for John and Karen Shields, who took their time after leaving the legendary Town House several years ago. Resurfacing in Chicago, my meal at Smyth was absolutely worth the wait.

For 2017 I am resuming an international approach. Japan and Australia remain as long-desired destinations with plenty of restaurants, but for now, at least, they also remain out of my likely reach for 2017 and so will remain out of this list. Since I devoted last to the United States, I’m leaving this list for Europe and the Americas. Here then are the restaurants that I most want to try for the first time!

  1. Enigma – Barcelona, Spain – I had a reservation for this past November, but it was not yet ready and the reservation had to be canceled. Albert Adria is my idol as a chef (along with his brother, Ferran) and as a restaurateur. This restaurant promises the creativity that the brothers have been so well known for in a much more ambitious space than Albert’s previous iteration at 41º. Now, I just need to get back to Barcelona!
  2. Noma Mexico – Tulum, Mexico – I’ve been to Noma and I’ve been to Mexico, but this combination of the two promises to be unique and special combining many of the finest attributes of a favorite chef/restaurant and a favorite cuisine. Fortunately, i have my table and am awaiting this with great anticipation.
  3. Mirazur – Menton, France – The cuisine of Argentinian-born chef Mauro Colagreco has intrigued me for some time and may be in reach for me this year. I certainly hope so!
  4. Central – Lima, Peru – I’ve tasted and enjoyed chef Virgilio Martinez’ beautiful, delicious and unique cooking a number of times in a number of places, but not yet at his flagship. That needs to happen!
  5. Faviken – Jarpen, Sweden – Will this finally be the year?
  6. Hotel Carlota – Mexico City, Mexico – The kitchen is run by a couple of very talented Pujol alumni. I will have one night in Mexico City this spring and this will be my destination.
  7. Hartwood – Tulum, Mexico – I’ve been wanting to dine here since I first met chef Eric Werner at Cook It Raw in Charleston then again at Madrid Fusión.
  8. Dinner by Heston Blumenthal – London, England – My trip to London this year really whet my appetite to return to this lovely city. This was a big one that I missed on that trip.
  9. Relae – Copenhagen, Denmark – I’m way overdue for a return to this culinary capitol and Relae tops a long list of restaurants there for me to try for the first time.
  10. Mikla – Istanbul, Turkey – Unfortunately, the way the world is headed, it is looking more and more doubtful that I will be able to get here in a reasonable time frame. While that sucks for me, it is of greater concern for the world at large, that places like this are becoming more difficult or impossible to get to thanks to geopolitical issues.

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A Mother’s Love – Homage to My Mother on Her Cenetennial

Today marks the centennial of my mother’s birth. She’s not around to celebrate, having passed away 24 years ago, but her memory doesn’t fade from my mind or the minds of my siblings. We all enjoy good food and a lot of that comes from the fact that she was an excellent cook, always feeding us with delicious, well prepared food mostly out of the Italian-American culinary idiom and always from a deep, abiding love. Maybe because of that love, so much of what she prepared stays with us today in our kitchens and on our tables. Alas, I no longer eat a lot of pasta or carbs in general, but I still do for special occasions. Unfortunately, with the holidays upon us, my siblings and I could not get together for a proper celebration of this important memorial on this very day, but thanks to modern communications, we managed to do so virtually this weekend, with each of us remembering our mother by either preparing or ordering at a restaurant a dish that we came to love because she made it for us, either on a daily basis or for special occasions. To honor her memory, since pasta was such a fundamental part of our celebration diet, this post will include photos and instructions to some of her pasta dishes that we recall most fondly. Continue reading

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The Brilliance of Damon Baehrel

img_0195Make no mistake – chef/owner Damon Baehrel of his eponymous restaurant is an accomplished cook. His food is good, very good, but neither he nor his restaurant are brilliant because his food is revelatory or life changing. Delicious? Mostly, yes. Sublime? Here and there. In and of itself, from a purely culinary taste experience, worth the tariff? I can’t honestly say yes. From this perspective alone, not even close. A unique, somewhat bizarre, but ultimately enjoyable dining experience? I’m glad I went. The real brilliance of the chef and the restaurant comes in the form of how he has constructed the total package of the visit. This is dinner as theater with the show starting well before the arrival of the diners. Continue reading

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Join Me in New Orleans!

The bartender's bartender, Chris Mcmillian and his Ramos Gin Fizz

The bartender’s bartender, Chris Mcmillian and his Ramos Gin Fizz

Gumbo, andouille, Sazerac, cochon, po’boy, second line, creole, boucherie, Ramos Gin Fizz, muffaletta, fried chicken, tasso, crawfish, bahn mi, oysters, redfish, jazz, tiki, boudin, gulf shrimp, Cajun’, Frenchman Street, bayou, French Quarter, Zydeco, beignets – if these words don’t get you salivating, check your pulse! These words and others represent some of the wonderful culture that is found in the very special and unique American city of New Orleans, Louisiana. Experience the people, food, booze, music and sights of NOLA! If you’ve never been, come Travel With Doc Culinary Insights Tours and get a crash course in some of the very best that the city has to offer and if you have been, come experience it as you most likely never have before! I’ll be leading a culinary excursion to the Crescent City at the end of March, 2017, along with travel and distillery expert, Charles Grabitzky of Travel Directions and The Still Trippers. We are working closely with star chefs Alex Harrell of Angeline and Michael Gulotta of Mopho to create a very special experience crammed into four amazing nights at the newly refurbished Ponchartrain Hotel on classic St. Charles Avenue. This is an intimate, small group trip. Space is very limited, so don’t hesitate! Details and sign-up here.

Posted in Bistronomic, Cocktails & Libations, Culinary Personalities, Fine Dining, Food and Drink, Hotels, New Orleans, Places, Regional, Restaurants, Slow Food, Southern Food & Cooking, The Southern USA, Traditional Ethnic, Travel, Travel With Doc | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

London Called – Day Four – Part 2 – Nightlife at Nightjar

Nightjar 129 City Rd, London EC1V 1JB, UK +44 20 7253 4101

129 City Rd, London EC1V 1JB, UK
+44 20 7253 4101

It had been a helluva great day in Seasalter and Whitstable. The nice thing about the train was that it was very convenient for a quick nap. That was necessary since we had a reservation for the evening at Nightjar, one of the London bars I had most wanted to visit, especially since it was conveniently located within an easy walk of our apartment. It took longer to return than we had anticipated, but we managed to make it to the nightclub in time to claim our reservation. Continue reading

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Day Four – Part 1 – A Day Out of London – The Sportsman – A Genuine Delight

The Sportsman Shepherd Neame Faversham Rd, Seasalter, Whitstable CT5 4BP, UK +44 1227 273370

The Sportsman
Shepherd Neame
Faversham Rd, Seasalter, Whitstable CT5 4BP, UK
+44 1227 273370

It has held a high spot on my Restaurant Wish List for years, ever since I first heard of it during the heyday of eGullet over a decade ago. The reports I had heard and the photos I had seen depicted a very special, old world place. The food was never really too fancy and the setting was never described as over the top luxury. Those things were never the base attraction though the food was fancy enough and the restaurant quite comfortable without pretension. The place, along the Thames estuary, was beautiful enough and the food was always prepared with great skill, but it wasn’t either of those things specifically that attracted me (or others). Those elements certainly counted, but pretty places and good technique are abundant commodities in the high end restaurant world. The same can be true of high quality ingredients. Important? Absolutely! What made The Sportsman, a glorified gastropub under the umbrella of the Shepherd Neame brewery, located in the hamlet of Seasalter near the coastal town of Whitstable, such an attractive destination was the fact that it appeared to be the perfect restaurant for its location. Continue reading

Posted in Cheese, Culinary Personalities, Fine Dining, Food and Drink, Great Britain, Pastry, Places, Regional, Restaurants, Slow Food, Top Restaurant Meals, Traditional Ethnic, Travel, Travel With Doc, Wine | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment