I already posted my Top Pasta Dishes of the Year here. At this point, I'm pretty much done dining out for the year, so I think it is reasonable to post this now, even though the year is not quite over yet. I ate extremely well in 2010 with a number of exceptional dishes. Here are the most memorable. I did not select more than one dish from any particular meal.
- Mackerel Pickled in Hay with Green Tomatoes – Restaurant AOC – Copenhagen, DK – this dish was simply stunning on every level. Mackerel is not my favorite fish, in general, but this was made with perfect specimens and treated in such a way that it achieved perfect balance, deep rich and wonderful flavor. In addition, the plating was spectacular, using a limited but pure color spectrum and subtle, but supremely beautiful plating.
- Chilled Vegetable Minestrone – Town House – Chilhowie, Virginia: Another extraordinarily beautiful dish, Chef John Shields provided deep and total flavor, coaxing every last bit of wonderfulness from these gorgeous, multicolored vegetables. I wrote, "Consisting of 19 different vegetables sliced into thin ribbons, rolled into cylinders and stood on end in a bowl with a vegetable consommé poured around it table side, the dish was equally impressive on the palate combining a myriad of flavors playing off each other. This was a home run on the first pitch, one of the more spectacular courses I've had anywhere."
- Beet Salad – The Oval Room – Washington, D.C.: How can a beet salad make my top 5 dishes of the year? When it is this beautiful, colorful, original and absolutely delicious it can. I wrote, Chef Tony "Conte's salad, 'roasted organic baby beets, passion fruit gelee, horseradish, Minus 8 (vinegar) shallot dressing & micro arugula,' blended brilliant color with brilliant flavor. The passion fruit and minus 8 provided a nice acid kick, while the horseradish added a bit of spice."
- Walnut and Blackberries, Cream and Powder – noma/Corton- Copenhagen, DK/NY, NY: I had a slew of wonderful dishes at noma, but this one stood out the most for me, taking ingredients that I could normally not care less about and turning them into one of the most delicious desserts that I have ever had. I wrote, "I'm not sure that I have ever tasted a better dessert than Walnut and Blackberries, Cream and Powder, despite the fact that I am generally not terribly enthusiastic about either walnuts or blackberries. Walnut is incorporated into an ice cream and a powder. The powder is made using walnut oil and maltodextrin. The dish includes frozen cream and dried blackberry. Minimalist in appearance, the flavors are anything but, achieving great depth and perfect balance. I loved this when I had it in NY at the Corton dinner and I loved it no less here."
- Roasted Parsnip – Blue Hill at Stone Barns – Pocantico Hills, N.Y. Sometimes, apparent simplicity can be deceptive. This dish was simply delicious, but all the more mind-boggling to come from an ordinarily non-descript parsnip. I wrote, "We were presented with an item that appeared to be some sort of meat or ham, though it was unlike any meat or ham I had ever seen before. Flattened and slightly elongated, clearly roasted with beautiful exterior browning, we were told that it was a parsnip, a very, very large parsnip that had just been harvested after having been planted the previous March. Almost one year in the ground, this massive parsnip was left in the cold ground to encourage the root to convert its natural starches into sugar to help prevent freezing. To assist even further development of the root's sugars and their caramelization, Barber roasted the parsnips under the weight of bricks. Once presented to us, the roasted parsnips were returned to the kitchen to emerge just a short time later fully transformed. Furthering their pork-like impression, the parsnips re-emerged in a form that, to me, resembled a strip of suckling pig meat under a rich porcine gravy. Served alongside the parsnip was a red cabbage ketchup. As sweet as the parsnip was, the dish, thanks largely to the "gravy" was very much a savory dish. Unfortunately, I never did get what the "gravy" was comprised of. It tasted of pork or even turkey, rich and meaty with plenty of umami, but could this dish really have been served with anything but vegetable components? To me, this dish was a sterling example of a trompe l'oiel style of cooking. It was a veritable faux pork dish. This parsnip was superlative in every way – delicious, beautiful and down right mind-boggling and fun. It was Barber at his absolute best, taking an ordinarily mundane ingredient and without any overt tricks transforming it into something truly remarkable. I could not imagine a parsnip being presented as a parsnip being any more enjoyable than this was."
Next week, I'll be coming out with a listing of my Top 25 Restaurant Meals of 2010.