My Top 25 Restaurant Meals of 2011

I will say right at the top that I have never had a more incredible and deep year of dining than I had in 2011. With visits to a number of Europe’s very best temples of Gastronomy, including many of the very best of Spain and Germany as well as Italy, the only difficulty of making this list was how to rank them. elBulli has a special place in my heart that was only enhanced by my last and ultimately greatest visit this past April. After that, the rankings were very difficult. To be fair, I worked on the list from the beginning of the year, adding restaurants as I went. Any of the restaurants on the top 25 on this list would have made my top 10 in almost any other year and those in the top 50 would have made my top 10 in some years. Spain continues to dominate, but the greatest pleasant surprise to me was how wonderful the German restaurants were. In most years they would have all been in my top 10. In past years, I have included “special” dinners at restaurants in my compilations, but this year I did not, which explains the absence of the incredible “Neue Deutsche Schule” dinner held in September at Gourmet Restaurant Lerbach Nils Henkel featuring four of Germany’s top chefs, all of whom either had or have 3 Michelin stars, and the wonderful dinner this summer at Elements in Princeton, N.J. featuring Top Chef winner, Chef Kevin Sbraga. Those kinds of meals really deserve their own category.

  1. elBulli – 4/20/11 – Cala Montjoi, Spain – Need I say more. A celebration of my wife’s and my 25th Anniversary with our three sons is special enough. At elBulli during its run to the finish? Absolutely incredible! This was the meal of my life so far.
  2. Osteria Francescana – 2/1/11 – Modena, Italy – Massimo Bottura had just been named the Top Chef in the World. This vanguardist meal had it all and explained why he was so honored. This was food as art, but very, very delicious art. It is meals like this that makes haute cuisine extra special.
  3. Etxebarri – 4/26/11 – Axpe, Spain – Brilliant, delicious product expertly prepared and served in a magical environment. Victor Arguinzoniz is as brilliant a culinary craftsman as there is.
  4. Mugaritz – 4/27/11 – Errenteria, Spain – Andoni Luis Aduriz is a poet as cook, crafting dishes of consummate emotion and a refined sensibility. The food is subtle  and created to provide a unique whole that subverts the individual flavor for the combined effect. The peas from snow peas with tiny Spanish caviar was an example of the unity of the combination with the peas providing flavor and the caviar adding a subtle, but defining underlying texture.
  5. Arzak – 4/27/11 – Donostia/San Sebastian, Spain – Brilliant colors, brilliant product, brillant flavors and a brilliant time at this legendary Basque Vanguardist restaurant
  6. Paco Morales – 4/22/11 – Bocairent, Spain – Set within the luxurious Hotel Ferrero in the region of Valencia, Morales’ cooking continues to be sensational. His is a beautiful, delicious and subtle cuisine. Come to be pampered and enjoy the very best of what Spain has to offer.
  7. Tickets – 4/28/11 – Barcelona, Spain – It’s not elBulli, but it brings the spirit and the food of the Adria brothers to Barcelona in a fun and unique way. The product is great and the food is delicious and fun. Coupled with the adjacent 41º cocktail bar, this is an absolute winner and a must when visiting Barcelona. Do not miss the oysters!
  8. Vendôme – 9/23/11 – Bergish Gladbach, Germany – Presicion, invention and execution combined to make a meal beautiful, luxurious and delicious. This was a truly sublime experience from beginning to end.
  9. Schwartzwaldstube -9/22/11 – Tonbach, Germany – Old world charm and deliciousness without the stuffiness. Chef Harald Wohlfahrt has been a mentor to The New German School of chefs and many other top German chefs and remains at the top of his game after thirty years at Schwartzwaldstube, located in the wonderful resort hotel, Traube Tonbach in the fabled Black Forest.
  10. La Vie – 9/18/11 – Osnabrück, Germany – Chef Thomas Bühner delivered some truly incredible dishes with several amongst the best I’ve had. His “PURE Venison” was pure genius.
  11. Cinc Sentits – 4/19/11 – Barcelona, Spain – Jordi Artal pulled out all the stops for this sensational, comfortably elegant meal.
  12. Il Luogo di Aimo e Nadia 2/2/11 – Milan, Italy – Totally harmonious, delicious and beautiful food with excellent warm service. Though not classic Italian, this restaurant represents the very best of Italian dining.
  13. Aqua -9/17/11 – Wolfsburg, Germany – Chef Sven Elverfeld’s food was brilliant and consistent throughout the meal. He showed us, right off the bat, the brilliance of the New German School, utilizing great product and riffs on traditional dishes to astound.
  14. Amador – 9/21/11 – Mannheim, Germany – It is hard to believe that a restaurant this fabulous had only been open for less than a week! Juan Amador’s creations freely utilized Modernist technique, but kept the evidence largely in the background. His palate was distinctly and deliciously German.
  15. Philippe Rochat Hotel de Ville, Crissier, Switzerland – 1/27/11 – Brilliant classic three star French technique that delivered elegance, beauty and incredible flavor without being pretentious. Expensive, but worth the trip.
  16. Next: Paris 1906 – 5/14/11 – Chicago, Ill. – Great concept + great execution = winner. Grant Achatz, Deva Beran and company breathe new life into Escoffier to make the food of that long gone era fresh and exciting again. Having the Aviary as a post dinner treat doesn’t hurt either.
  17. Corton – 1/7/11 – NY, NY -With my two boys, L.J. & Andrew. Chef Paul Liebrandt and his team including Pastry Chef Shawn Gawle got the new year off right with a tour de force meal featuring supremely balanced flavors, beautiful presentations and a lot of simply amazing food. The composed cheese course with Brebis and white chocolate was one of the finest I’ve ever had. It was impeccably balanced, with great complimentary flavors.
  18. The Kitchen Table at Brooklyn Fare – 7/1/11 – The beautiful and delicious fod just kept coming at a breakneck pace. This place is the real deal. Cesar Ramirez cooks only with traditional techniques and serves on the most incredible china collection I can imagine.
  19. Le Bernardin -12/1/11 – NY,NY – A farewell to pastry Chef extraordinaire Michael Laiskonis held the perfect bittersweet notes.
  20. The Restaurant at the Guggenheim – 4/28/11 – Bilbao Spain – Josean Martinez Alija’s food is outstanding and worthy of the architecture surrounding it. The room, however, is not well designed as a fine dining restaurant as it is set immediately off from a a more basic cafeteria. The room does not live up to the food and takes away from the experience. I would love to eat Alija’s food in a room more suitable to it, which is now possible at Nerua.
  21. Roberta’s – 1/8/11 – Brooklyn, NY – Brunch will never again be quite the same. From eggs to pizzas to calzones to pancakes to fried chicken and incredible desserts, this was another tour de force from Carlo Mirarchi’s crack team.
  22. The Dorrance – 12/10/11 – Providence, RI – Chef Benjamin Sukle and his team have a great space to work with and are making the most of it with pristine seafood, vegetables and meats expertly prepared and complemented by an outstanding bar service. This is one to watch!
  23. Aldea – 3/24/11 – NY, NY – An outstanding lunch even without Chef George Mendes in the kitchen. Shared with my friend Michael Talalaev..
  24. Joe Beef – 7/27/11 – Montreal – Wonderful, hearty Quebec cooking with the very best of local ingredients.
  25. Woodberry Kitchen -9/4/11 & 10/30/11 – Baltimore, MD – Spike Gjerde takes great product and handles it simply, but with great craft to make great food, served in a great environment. They do things the way they should be done and it shows.

2011 was incredible for me. It will be difficult, if not impossible, for 2012 to match it for me, but I’ll do what I can. Stay tuned!

See here for my top Meals of 2010 and here for the years before that.


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7 Responses to My Top 25 Restaurant Meals of 2011

  1. Wendy miller says:

    I always love your list!

    • docsconz says:

      Thanks, Wendy. This was a particularly difficult one to make because of the excellent meals that were edged off of it.

  2. famdoc says:

    Have you calculated the amount spent on these meals? Don’t let Occupy Wall Street see this…clearly a 1% experience.

    • docsconz says:

      I do spend a lot of money on food, more than I should by rights. While I do make a decent living, the money spent isn’t pocket change to me. It is a significant part of my income. Good food is a priority for me.

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