Another year has allowed me more remarkable and unique dining experiences. In myriad ways, culinary adventures in Miami, New York, Chicago, Washington DC and New Orleans standout in my mind. Some restaurants are long-standing local favorites that have endured over the years, serving-up goodness to fill bellies and warm hearts, while others are establishments of trained chefs who have earned prestigious accolades. A couple of restaurants in the list tug hard on the pocket strings, but prove to be worth the cash if possible. A handful are easy on the wallet and out of this world—a little something for everyone.
Spiaggia Cafe's polpette, or meatballs, are airy and hearty. In a cooking class hosted in the restaurant's ballroom overlooking Lake Michigan, a special few of us had Chef Tony Montuano walk us through preparing meatballs like his grandmother used to. The cafe is a more casual scene than the award-winning Spiaggia known for it's high-end Italian cuisine.
Yardbird, just off Lincoln Avenue in South Beach, has been praised by The New York Times and GQ for its exquisite Southern cuisine. Bon Appétit magazine listed it as one of the Fifty Best New Restaurants of 2012. Yardbird Executive Chef Jeff McInnis was nominated by the James Beard Foundation for Best Chef, South. Surrounded by historical Art Deco architecture, hipsters and trendsetters, it's easy to enjoy the decadent, wholesome menu items.
The deviled eggs with smoked trout roe are extraordinary, not too salty and a soft texture. The fried chicken on a biscuit sandwich has been, clearly, practiced and made to perfection. After the dozen or so biscuits I tried in the South, the lightness of the middle and easy crust on the outside 'takes the cake', if you will. Typically I'm not one for fried chicken. And of course I've tried a few recipes in my time, so I can tell this: the chicken at Yardbird will make you want to dance out of your seat, or run chicken run, as they say at this flourishing hot spot. The breading is thick around the bird, seasoned right with a touch of spicy punch and moist on the inside. It's served with homemade pepper jam, which I think puts the 'cherry on top' of this quality sandwich giving a Southern belle-like sweetness to the entire dish.
Mother's has been around for all of this Southern city's ups and downs, serving blue and white collar clientele regularly. The Ferdi is fantastic. A little much for me, but a great big sandwich of slow cooked pulled beef and sliced ham make this one palate pleaser. The atmosphere of the place is slow and easy, just like The Big Easy. Be prepared to wait at most times of the day. Get there early for the famous black ham.
Chef John Besh offers an innovative take on a traditional étouffée that simply melted me at his restaurant Lüke in New Orleans, his home town. With a touch of saffron and cream served over pasta and shrimp cooked perfectly, the dish is Su-perb. I haven't tried putting this one together at home yet, but will in 2013.
New York City
Vezzo in Midtown proved to make delicious pizzas, so delicious in fact that I returned in my few short days in Manhattan - yes, even with so many other options around the island. Here's why.
Vezzo has a small individual sized pizza on the menu that is just the right size without having much leftover. There's an organic Malbec on the menu that's $8.00 - a bargain in the concrete jungle (I had a hard time finding a Sauvignon Blanc for under thirteen).
The Caesar salad is simple, clean romaine lettuce and cool creamy dressing, not a lot of anchovy or garlic. Pepperoni at Vezzo is big and crisps nicely in the oven. The spot offers all of my favorite toppings—broccoli, feta, jalapeños and sun-dried tomatoes. I think it just might be my favorite pizza in the world now.
Slater's 50/50 has fast become a hit in San Diego and its newest location in Pasadena. Started by a duo of UCSD grads, the signature patty is a combination of ground beef and ground bacon. There's a plethora of toppings to choose from including the house bacon ketchup and over one hundred beers on tap.
Proof in Washington DC came highly recommended by my hosts who explained the charcuterie boards to be exquisite. Again, I tried the deviled eggs here. They were great with the smoked fish. My favorite discovery though ended up being the side dish of broccoli bagna cauda. Bagna cauda is a sauce made with butter and anchovy paste in northern Italy typically used for dipping raw vegetables. Executive Chef Haidar Karoum of Lebonese descent has created a perfect spin on this old traditional dish by tossing the veggie in the sauce with crisped garlic slices.
Best view: Cape Town's Salt in South Africa, an excellent place for a local, crisp Sauvignon Blanc
Experience(s) of the Year: Chicago's Moto and Tru.
I am truly grateful for each experience listed here. Cheers to a wonderful 2012 and a happy and healthy 2013—and more!
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