2011 has been, for me, a year of extraordinary dining, perhaps my best year ever. It is incredibly difficult choosing ten dishes as the very best of the year, let alone ranking them. This is a subjective list, subject to the vagaries of memory, but here, to my best recollection is my list with no more than one dish from any particular meal.
- Angullas – Etxebarri – This was the first and likely last time that I will ever have eaten this incredible delicacy. A perfect dish, these grilled baby eels were so delicate and lightly crunchy, blanketed with a haunting hint of smoke from Bitor Arguinzoniz’ magical grill. This was a difficult choice over his grilled entrecote, which may have been the most delicious steak I have ever eaten.
- Oyster with Consommé of Raf Tomato – Tickets – Oysters are amongst my most favorite things to eat and in 2011 I had the pleasure of eating many great oysters including those offered at such wonderful places as the Grand Central Oyster Bar in NYC, Hemenway’s in Providence, R.I., Joe Beef in Montreal, Paco Morales in Valencia, Spain, Etxebarri in Axpe, Spain and Maison Rousseau at the Marche Les Halles in Lyon, France, but the oysters at Tickets were simply the finest I have ever eaten. Perfect specimens, they were given just enough adornment to really help them shine.
“PURE” Venison – La Vie – Chef Thomas Bühner really captured the essence of this meat in a way that I’m not sure that I have ever encountered before.
- Roasted Spider Crab – Rekondo – Pure deliciousness. Crab is another favorite of mine and this dish couldn’t have expressed the flavor any better than it did.
Pillow Like a Cocktail – elBulli – This was the first course we were served at elBulli this past April when we went as a family. It is nearly impossible to choose from 51 courses that comprised the single greatest and most memorable meal of my life so far (likely ever). This first course set a tone that never wavered.
- Roses – Vendôme – I have eaten rose flavoring and even rose petals a number of times, but have never had them so wonderfully balanced and delicious as I did from Chef Joachim Wissler. This dish was a revelation and was chosen over several other dishes from this lunch that were candidates for this list as well.
- Camelias and Wild Tea – Mugaritz – A wonderful combination of flavor and texture, this was the most perfect dessert of the year for me.
- Snails – Schwartzwaldstube – Escargot is a great dish and difficult to improve upon, right? Right, though somehow Chef Harald Wohlfahrt has done so. Snails with cepes, chantarelles, parsley and bacon took a great, classic dish and, without the aid of technical innovation, elevated it to another stratosphere.
- Fried Chicken – Roberta’s – My new benchmark for an iconic American dish, this was the best of a number of excellent renditions of fried chicken I had the pleasure of devouring this year including some truly outstanding examples quite close to home from Hattie’s Chicken Shack in Saratoga Springs.
- Roasted Lobster – La Mar – It isn’t difficult to cook a lobster so that it is delicious, but it is difficult to come up with a preparation that transcends the genre. La Mar’s roasted lobster was juicy, smoky and packed with just enough Peruvian punch to make it zing in a way like no other lobster I have ever had. Oh, the texture was perfect too.
Look for my top 25 meals of the year on New Year’s Eve!