The Best Things I Ate in 2012: Part II
I’ve been fortunate to eat many amazing meals and dishes in 2012, including diverse and exciting fare from my travels throughout the year. In tribute to 2012, I am counting down my favorite bites and most memorable meals from January to December.
My second favorite Barcelona tapas experience, we hit this spot during the daytime, following a morning and afternoon of walking around the Olympic Village. The busy little bar meets standup restaurant was bustling with regulars. I stared into the hypnotizing case, filled with meat, seafood, olives, cheese, bread, waiting for us to point and request it. I ordered and ordered until my belly was full. Mussels, caviar and tomato top a round of crusty bread. A picturesque cheese wedge, drizzled with exactly enough balmasic vinegar, finished with sun-dried tomatoes and herbs. A duo of pineapple slices, drizzled with chocolate ganache, topped with a dollop of spiked custard and finished with a dusting of cinnamon. What a tasty late afternoon adventure.
The surprising and playful “Kinder Egg” at Comerç 24 stopped my breath momentarily. I remember inhaling and exhaling with great enthusiasm as I studied the flavors on my palate. Potatoes, eggs, black truffles, butter. All tucked inside a hollow chicken egg. Masterful. When we finished, one of our servers — who previously instructed us to dig deep to get all the layers in the egg — asked us how we enjoyed the course with extra interest, his excitement visible. The restaurant makes no secret of their pride for this dish. And I’ve always had a thing for Kinder Eggs myself. Since I was a kid, one of my favorite chocolate treats has been the Kinder Surprise by Ferrero. I love the entire line, but they’re increasingly hard to find in the States (beyond the occasional bueno bar) because of idiots saying the toy in the chocolate egg poses a choking hazard, but I digress… The chocolate itself is truly tasty and remains my favorite of the milk chocolate variety. If I could order this other Kinder Egg in place of the chocolate egg so dear to me, I would! That’s how incredible it is.
When we got to Barcelona, I was psyched to eat here from everything I’d read and from the recommendation Chef James Roberts shared. We arrived in the middle of the evening and the place was packed, as always, with the action spilling out onto the cobblestone street. I loved the chaos of it. I squeezed my way up to the bar and started pointing and ordering and drinking cava with my husband by my side. Jamon, oysters, mussels. The most giant, sweet and tender white asparagus spears I’ve ever seen. Tasty goat cheese stuffed red peppers — outstandingly simple and delicious. Anchovies, tuna, salmon. Potatoes stuffed with…I don’t know, but it tasted like love. What a wonderful, wild experience. After eating for awhile here, we walked across the neighborhood to another tapas bar to eat and drink some more. But Xampanyet took the cake.
From the formal, but personable instructions of which bite to eat when throughout each course to the 10-course dessert tasting following our tasting menu, I was smitten. The frog legs (pictured above in the bowl to the right) were warm and rich, and wonderfully satisfying. Three of the desserts — yes, three from this restaurant and single meal alone — are among my favorite desserts I’ve ever eaten. From the petit fours tasting to the dessert we dubbed the raspberry fondant fruit rollup and the chocolate hazelnut plate, I was literally laughing I was so happy. Needless to say, when Chef Pierre Gagnaire himself came into the dining room and started making his way around to tables to say hello, I nearly fell out of my chair. As he got to our table, I started thinking about what I would say, how I would compliment the exquisite meal…and I decided nothing would be sufficient, but the bigger my smile, the better. He matched my smile and seemed to appreciate the sentiment I attempted to express. What a guy. He’s just so cool!
In July, my husband and I were in Paris, exploring the city and being gluttonous with its amazing cuisine. High off a tour of Pierre Gagniare, Alain Ducasse, and a plethora of macarons from Pierre Hermé, we headed to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon Étoile. What I’d read about Chef Joël Robuchon and his restaurants rivaled the other heavy hitters. Prior to visiting, I didn’t know the restaurant was designed to allow guests a behind the scenes/in the kitchen glimpse at the preparation of their meals. Sitting atop high chairs at a gorgeous, “in the round,” bar-like dining area, we watched with awe as the chefs and line cooks made magic on plates. I loved it.
This was the only restaurant where we didn’t have the tasting menu because there were so many dishes we wanted to make sure we tried. Could you blame us, especially with smelling and seeing everything as it’s being made? My favorite of the first batch of dishes was le crabe royal en salade à l’avocat et mozzarella di Bufala (king crab salad with avocado and mozzarella) because I saw one being prepared while enjoying our drinks and it looked lovely. It was impossibly fresh tasting. My top pick of the fish and meat courses was le black cod avec une mousseline de daïkon au yuzu (the black cod with yuzu mashed daikon). I was immediately drawn to the description of it. (I blame Nobu for getting me hooked on black cod with masterful Japanese preparation.) The acidity of the citrus-laced daikon and the savory sauce coating the black cod played perfectly together. For dessert, our server recommended we not leave without experiencing le soufflé, so of course we selected that. The flavor of the day was blueberry. I love blueberries, but it sounded a little crazy because I couldn’t quite translate the flavor to a soufflé. It was a stunning shade of royal blue and sweet in the most unadulterated way.
Our favorite of l’amuse-bouche was the warm foie gras pudding, topped with Parmesan foam. It was unbelievably creamy. I can’t imagine what would happen if they offered it on the menu in a bowl any larger than the tiny shot glass in which we indulged. People might duke it out for bowls of this precious stuff. As with all our favorite Parisian restaurants from this trip, beautiful little dishes kept arriving throughout the meal. (Read: incredible bonus courses!) I adored the tray of madeleines that we had before embarking on our dessert course. Yes, it was an entire tray! It was followed by a delicate coconut mousse, served with banana and passion fruit sorbet. The mousse sat in a small puddle of rum. I literally couldn’t remember all the courses, even after walking back out on to the Champs Elysées. We were in a haze from all the food – not just that day, but from the whole week. Perhaps this meal was my favorite because it built off the unforgettable experiences at the previous two restaurants, and the atmosphere of the restaurant was fun and exciting, but it was the perfect final piece in our ultimate Parisian dining trifecta.
I look forward to more amazing eats in 2013 and sharing the most exciting food news, recipes and adventures with you!
What were your favorite eats in 2012?