The Best Things I Ate in 2013
2013 brought many memorable meals, bites and travels, and in its honor, I count down my favorites. What was the best thing you ate this year?
10. Every person I know who has been to Turks and Caicos says “You have to go to Da Conch Shack!” (Blue Hills Road, Providenciales, Turks and Caicos Island, British West Indies) for delicious fish tacos, rum punch, the conch platter and plantain fries. Get a cab and let them bring you to the best casual food on the island. With the ocean breeze and beautiful, rustic beach surroundings, the fresh fish tastes even better than usual.
9. Is it possible that the views in Capri make all the food taste better? If so, that’s fine by me. We indulged in incredible desserts every night we were there, with mostly gelato to explore, but the most infamous gelato place on the island had a lovely bakery too. There, we discovered pistachini, a cookie reminiscent of my family’s almond paste cookies, but made with pistachios instead of almonds. Love me a pistachio macaron (or gelato or anything), but these took the title. Sweet mother of everything good in this world, they were divine. And we ate them with the above view from our balcony.
8. SeaBar (475 Ellicott St, Buffalo, NY 14203) is one of my favorite restaurants in Buffalo, so when I had the chance to purchase a tasting dinner and support A Big Fuss last year, I jumped on it. My family and I enjoyed a stunning meal. It started with Kumamoto oysters and octopus salad; then we had a special Spanish mackerel with shiso leaves and sesame, paired with white soy sauce; a sashimi tasting: marlin, hamachi, tuna and salmon; dayboat scallops with chorizo and risotto in a saffron cream; butterfish over a shrimp cake with a miso butter sauce; a little Flying Bison Rusty Chain with beef on weck rolls; and it ended with a cocoa brownie with coffee sauce, topped with quenelle. It was a lovely meal, and Chef Mike Andrzejewski did a beautiful job.
7. When we found ourselves in Nashville this summer, we went in search of fried chicken. Hattie B’s (112 19th Ave. S, Nashville, Tennessee 37203) had an obscene amount of positive reviews everywhere we looked, so it won the chance to win our hearts — and it delivered. Everyone said to get the hot chicken. Hot fried chicken? What is hot chicken anyway? It is crisp fried chicken as you know it, doused in cayenne pepper. They literally call it “damn hot” when you want it really hot and spicy. The tender inside and super crispy outside was crazy, and it was crazy good.
6. Nopa (560 Divisadero St, San Francisco, CA 94117): On a fall trip to San Francisco with my parents and mother-in-law, my husband and I sought to find the best of the best for our dining experiences. We ate at many places, including an old favorite, Incanto, but this was the highlight, and the most difficult to get into. This restaurant is so special, it is the namesake of the neighborhood now — literally what they call the area that has turned into the hottest new part of SF. They self-proclaim to make urban rustic food, specializing in organic wood-fired cuisine with a focus on locally sourced ingredients. We enjoyed many small plates and shared some large entrees, including the burger and roasted chicken. Some favorites included the salad with avocado, fennel, tangerine, jalapeño, almonds and sesame seeds; roasted brussels sprouts, poached egg, tasso ham and horseradish cream; escarole hearts, bleu cheese, persimmon, pomegranate and crispy sunchokes; and wood baked butter beans, feta, oregano pesto and breadcrumbs. I have a major soft spot for anyone who can prepare beans properly, where they are so flavorful and hearty that you can enjoy them as a main attraction of a meal, and Nopa delivered. Everything was truly delicious and without major fanfare.
5. L’Antica Pizzeria Da Michele (Via Cesare Sersale, 1-380139 Naples, Italy) set the scene for a reunion meal with one of my best friends in the world, Lindsay Hyatt, and her lovely husband, Adam, an archaeologist who braved the Italian highways to pick us up from the airport and show us around Naples and Sorrento for an awesome day before we went on to Capri. It also happens to be the restaurant where Julia Roberts as Elizabeth Gilbert in “eat, pray, love” has her infamous first bite of authentic Neapolitan pizza. This place is legit. We enjoyed Pizza Margherita and Pizza Marinara, and both were pure happiness, made with unadulterated ingredients and served in a lovably no frills setting. If you have the means, check it out. Plan on spending an hour or two in line, but know that it’s worth it.
4. The stretch of Yountville where Bouchon (6534 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599) resides is one of my favorite stops in the entire Napa Valley area. This was my first time at Bouchon, but I’ve fortunately experienced the madness and excitement of The French Laundry and Bouchon Bakery several times before. We arrived at the restaurant very late in the evening — how very European of us — and it felt pretty close to being in a French restaurant that night, with our meal stretching to nearly midnight. We started with a few gorgeous appetizers: rillettes aux deux saumons (fresh and smoked salmon rillettes served with toasted croutons) and pate de Campagne (country-style pate with watercress, cornichons and radishes). And the bread. Oh, the beautiful bread they served with beautiful salted butter. One surprising element was my wild card choice of salad, salade de pois chiches (salad of chickpeas, Medjool dates, pickled garlic, young carrots, broccolini and grilled merguez), which I plan to try to recreate in one form or another at a later time. For my entree, I enjoyed a John Dory special, which was heavenly and buttery, which is sometimes the same thing.
3. Steireck (Am Heumarkt 2A, 1030, Austria): Char with beeswax, yellow carrot, ‘pollen’ (char caviar) and sour cream took the prize on the most eventful and exciting course of this meal. My meal included loquats (a beautiful apricot-like fruit with a marzipan aroma) with celeriac, peas, Malabar spinach and pistachios; tench cooked in pecan butter with pecans, purple cauliflower and parsnip and nut beignets, and cauliflower and horseradish creme; romanesco with saffron, quinoa, avocado and cockscomb with cayenne, turmeric and ginger; barbecued cap of alpine fore rib with beans and bone marrow, truffle potatoes and French sorrel; rice pudding soufflé with rhubarb and chocolate creme, puffed arborio rice, dried white grapes, sorrel sorbet and marinated sorrel; and Java coffee and bitter chocolate cookie filled with a Java coffee creme, with yellow date and plum sorbet, plum schnapps and bitter caramel glaze with cinnamon flowers. The adventure concluded with an unusual and moving description of the dessert course, as the server told us the artistic presentation is a symbol of how the bee population is dying because of pesticides and they do not use or source any foods with these deadly chemicals, as they use all local and organic. Seriously, she said that. Everything we enjoyed was locally harvested or they launched into an incredible explanation of why they prepared something they couldn’t get here. Also, they get points for the most extreme (huge, delicious, varied) bread offering ever.
2. Silvio Nickol (Palais Coburg Residenz, Coburgbastei 41010 Vienna, Austria), you’ve got my vote for best chef I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying in 2013. With two Michelin stars, this food is exciting and worthy of number one, if that day had not been so crazy perfect (see below!). Any meal that begins with a great glass of champagne and me double fisting tartar ice cream cones is going to be fantastic. The first course was goat liver with strawberries and amaretti (perhaps my favorite); the second course was squid with basil, tomato, Parmesan and sage, which I affectionately referred to as an herb explosion; the third course was scallop with miso, spinach and essence of Chardonnay; the fourth course was lamb, eggplant, tiny mushrooms; the fifth course was Austrian cheese, made from sheep’s milk and yogurt, with figs; the sixth course kicked off desserts, beginning with”their Cherry Coke,” a sweet compilation served in a Coke bottle crafted into a bowl (perhaps my second favorite, with major points for creativity), followed by banana barbecue with pineapple, and concluding with scrumptious petit fours. The meal was totally gluttonous, but every element of every dish was gorgeous, deliberately prepared and delicately arranged. Our incredible first meal in Vienna concluded with a private tour of the kitchen, which was filled with a bunch of talented and hilarious badasses. I told you guys I’d write about you.
1. After spending an impossibly beautiful day touring Capri, Italy by boat and swimming in the deep blue waters around the island, my husband and I left the beach with the wonderful feel of salt water on our skin and huge grins on our faces. Running on adrenaline, we made our way back from Marina Grande to the area around our hotel, which was about an hour’s walk. It was roughly 100′F, sunny and zero cloud coverage. When we reached our little top of the island, we had two things on our minds: food and drink. We went in search of the gorgeous pizza we saw the night before, and I could not have it without stopping at the granita stand where I was becoming a regular. With “take away” pizzas from Buca di Bacco (Via Longano, 35, Capri) in hand, we got to Chiosco Tizzano (Viale G. Matteoti, 2, Capri) where I ordered a giant cup of watermelon granita. We found a spot nearby on a stone ledge that overlooked the water by our hotel. The hot pizza was covered with a smear of tomato sauce, ricotta and mozzarella cheese, and fresh basil, and boasted the perfect amount of crisp to the crust. We were smitten. I slurped my icy watermelon granita, which was basically pureed watermelon and ice — essentially lust in a cup for a watermelon lover on a hot day — and downed my pizza, slice by slice. It was satisfying in a raw and unpretentious way, just like Italy. Happy memories of our day and the view created the perfect backdrop for the best meal of a trip filled with outstanding food, and arguably one of the best days of my life.
Here’s to many more wonderful meals (and food travels) in 2014!