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.
Croquetas Caseras – Restaurante Casa Pepe – November 2016 – Coming from Granada to Jaén, we had been directed to go to Casa Pepe in Jaén and we did, even though it turned out that Alcalá la Real, the town it was in, was a bit out of our way, It turned out that it wasn’t the right Casa Pepe, but it also turned out that it was the right one, at least when it came to their house recipe potato croquettes. These perfectly fried, crunchy and creamy nuggets were the kind of memory inducing carbs that still, when they are this fantastic, tempt me into eating more of them than I should.
Breads – Aponiente – November 2016 – I don’t eat much bread anymore, but during my most recent trip to Spain, I enjoyed some fabulous examples of great bread. Surprising myself, I have come to be able to resist and avoid eating most breads. Two examples from this trip, however, were irresistible, even for me, and worth every bit of extra insulin that I needed to deal with them. I only tried three of the eleven breads served at Aponiente and each of those I tried was perfection. The bread topped with olive oil and camarones (little shrimp) was particularly noteworthy.
Grilled Whole Turbot (Rodaballo)
Grilled Turbot – Kaia Kaipe – November 2016 – A repeat performer, showing great product perfectly prepared and handsomely served. This is a true classic that would likely land on this list any year in which I’m lucky enough to visit Kaia Kaipe or its sister restaurant, Elkano.
Hummus – Dizengoff – May 2016 – There’s hummus and there’s hummus. Chefs Michael Solomonov, Emily Seaman and their team at Dizengoff both in Philadelphia and NYC make HUMMUS! Smooth, delicious and very, very interesting, this is hummus unlike anything I’ve had before.
Brisket – Delaney Barbecue – January, 2016 – Moist, flavorful and so, so good, even on a bloated stomach. Daniel Delaney worked long and hard to perfect his brisket. It was extraordinary. Everything else was pretty damn good too!
Roast Rump of Lamb
Roast Rump of Lamb – The Sportsman – August, 2016 – Meat that was pure, flavorful, balanced and gloriously paired with seasonal accompaniments, everything of the area. It was homey and comforting, yet exquisitely refined. It was a perfect dish at a perfect place at a perfect time.
Lorito – La Buena Vida – January, 2016 – Stunningly delicious fish that I had for the first time. It had been pan-fried to achieve a lusciously crisp skin and soft, moist and flaky flesh that offered great pleasure in both flavor and texture.
Galician Oyster en Escabeche
Oyster in Escabeche – Sacha – November, 2016 – What happens when you take a perfect, plump Galician oyster and lightly cure and preserve it in a traditional, light Galician escabeche? If it’s at Sacha in Madrid, one winds up with a spectacular mouthful that is both true to the original oyster and to the tradition. It is delicious, wholesome and a dish for which I wanted seconds and more.
Ensaladilla Rusa – Marisqueria Rafa – January, 2016 – The seafood at Rafa is simply sensational, but I chose this dish from this restaurant because it was such a surprise standout. I no longer eat many carbs and avoid them as much as possible, unless the dish is exceptional. I couldn’t stop eating this one. It’s a deceptively simple dish made with good ingredients that here result in a clear synergy, better than any I have experienced for this dish before. Common need not be banal.
Almejas de Carril
Almejas de Carril – Bodega 1900 – January, 2016 – Plump, sweet and as perfect as clams can be. Carril in Galicia is known for its clams and for good reason. these are as wonderful as any I’ve had. They’re briny, sweet, plump, clean and juicy.
Stone Crab Claws
Stone Crab Claws – Garcia’s Seafood – April, 2016 – The largest stone crab claws that I’ve ever beheld, were also the most exquisite, perfectly prepared and needing absolutely nothing else to make them shine.
Sole with Smoked Butter
Sole with Smoked Butter – Noble Rot – August, 2016 – A lovely piece of fish that would have been great plain, but the accent of the smoked pimentón butter put it over the top. This could have been on the creative list, but the focus remained on presenting the outstanding quality of the fish, so I put it here.
Razor Clam – Espai Kru – November, 2016 – A perfect specimen, pristinely prepared, sliced in two and lightly enhanced with a yuzu based sauce. Magnificent!
Caviar – Asador Etxebarri – November, 2016 – Delicate and very lightly smoked, this was caviar and craftsmanship at their finest. It came at a premium, but it was so worth it.
Crab Cake – The Crab Bag – August, 2016 – A total reset of the bar of a dish that I have long loved. Their whole blue crabs in Old Bay did the same for that standard. Here, a photo is worth a thousand words as one can see the paucity of filler. This is 99% pure, top-quality, Chesapeake lump blue crab and when it is like this, as far as I’m concerned there is little in the world that can compete. I’ve never had such a perfect crab cake before.
Viennoiserie – Bachour Bakery and Bistro – April, 2016 – perfection is what drives pastry chef extraordinaire, Antonio Bachour and these gorgeously crafted and supremely delicious croissants, etc. are as good as any that I’ve had. All of his pastries are of similar quality. Bachour is a craftsman and artist of the highest order. He and his team are redefining the genre in the USA. Alas, I can no longer eat these as I once was able, but these are simply too wonderful to completely pass up.
Lemon-scented Fried Boquerones
Lemon-scented Fried Boquerones – Bar FM – November, 2016 – The most perfectly fried fish with enough lemon scent to notice and enjoy. Do I need to write more?
Lechón Frito – El Rincon de Juan – November, 2016 – Little meaty bits of suckling Ibérico pig, perfectly fried? This very local dish from Pozoblanco in the Pedroches denomination of Ibérico pig country is nothing fancy, but it is wonderful.
Hella’ Chicken – Achilles Heel – October, 2016 – Quite possibly the most delicious chicken that I’ve ever eaten, it is roasted hanging over a fire and dressed relatively simply, making its greatness all the more impressive. The only other chicken like this in my memory was my previous benchmark, pollo al ast, in Sitges outside of Barcelona in the late 1980’s.
Gamba Roja de Denia
Gamba Roja de Denia – Quique Dacosta – November, 2016 – Red is the color of both love and lust, both appropriate for this perfect specimen of one of the finest shrimp varieties in the world. Cooked perfectly and presented gorgeously, this sweet, lascivious morsel is a Dacosta classic for a very good reason. It is one of the world’s great bites and nobody does it better.