BEST DISHES 2006 – Restaurant Girl’s Roundup
It was the year of the burger, pork, local produce, steak and retro desserts of the parfait sorts. Though threatened with a potential ban, foie gras graced us with its ubiquitous presence on the newest menus around the city. Duck confit, brussels sprouts, gelee, and salty & sweet desserts were in fashion, and lest we not forget the now painfully cliche, caviar-topped scallops atop cauliflower puree. As 2007 looms just days away, some of these trends will happily die away, while others will become culinary fixtures. So without further ado, here are my picks for the best & worst dishes of 2006:
SLIDERS – A cross between a meatball sandwich and a mini-burger, The Little Owl’s sliders still linger fondly in my memory. Thanks to Joey Campanaro (The Harrison & Pace), these petite and puffy, pork-veal-beef patties pack a juicy punch, smothered in gravy and tucked into a house-baked brioche.
BABY OYSTERS – There are many gems to be devoured at L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon at The Four Seasons, but the baby kusyu oysters, delicately poached in echire butter and seasoned with crunchy sea salt, are divinely addictive.
GNUDI – Gnudi seems to be the pasta buzz word this year.
While The Spotted Pig technically opened in 2005, their fat, sheep’s
milk ricotta dumplings topped with brown butter, fried sage leaves and
parmesan, are irrefutably the best I’ve had the pleasure to have
eaten. Falai’s gnudi comes in a close second.
FOIE GRAS RAVIOLIS – These savory nibbles are
smattered about many a haute menu of late. Though Bruni slapped the
Russian Tea Room with one piddly star, the foie gras pelmini at the
recently resurrected New York institution is undeniably one of the best
discoveries of the season, well worth a trip to the touristy, no man’s
land of midtown. Gary Robin’s Russian take, arrives in a rich pool of truffle-laced oxtail broth, splendidly
dotted with root vegetables.
BACON & EGGS – Even the most elegant restaurants are serving breakfast for dinner. If you’re going to indulge this comfort trend, Picholine serves a delectable plate of “bacon and eggs”, which substitutes smoked tuna belly for bacon, served with slow-cooked eggs and parmesan-laced polenta.
BACON – I thought I’d seen it all, until I spotted
bacon curiously matched with black truffles. Thick and yet defiantly
lean, Kobe Club makes a mean, slow-roasted applewood bacon with thick
slices of black truffles.
CUTTLEFISH: A cousin of squid & octopus, cuttlefish is finally snagging its rightful place on restaurant rosters. A pleasing snarl of cuttlefish was prepared two ways at Boqueria, cured in lemon juice & a la plancha, then punctuated with apples, radish, peas, garlic, shallots and mint.
ICE CREAM AT QUALITY MEATS: At even the most genteel steakhouses, dessert seems a mere afterthought. But when you have a talented pastry chef like Corey Colton, who attended an Ice Cream University to master the art, you’re bound to unleash some inventive flavors. Corey’s turned ice cream on its head, creatively concocting coffee ice cream with homemade donut bits, pumpkin with pie crust and wild blueberry with pecan pie inside.
BRUSSEL SPROUTS: One of the most despised vegetables of our youth, brussel sprouts are experiencing a reinvention, newly embraced by chefs and diners alike. Sometimes, the best preparations are the simplest ones. You don’t have to force feed anyone Bar Martignetti’s not just digestible, but truly delectable brussel sprouts. Blanched, then simply roasted with salt and pepper, you might just ask for seconds.
PORK: The “other white meat” has taken centerstage on many a menu. Whether in the form of pork belly, shoulder and bacon, the pig is having its day in the limelight. Having devoured a flurry of pork dishes, I’m partial to Trestle on Tenth’s savory braised pork shoulder crepinette.
CHOCOLATE COVERED POTATO CHIPS:
Devin Tavern takes first prize with generous slices of homemade, waffle-cut potato chips, dunked liberally in bittersweet chocolate, then dotted with candied nuts and dried fruit.
DISHES THAT WILL HOPEFULLY DIE IN 2007:
SCALLOPS WITH CAULIFLOWER PUREE – I’ll say it again. If I never eat another caviar-topped scallop atop cauliflower puree, it might be too soon.
“KOBE” BEEF – Why do chefs feel compelled to mislabel Wagyu as Kobe? Sure, it sounds more. But let’s just call a spade a spade already.
GIMMICKY DISHES – Chefs have taken too many liberties with breakfast staples, but STK takes the cake with shrimp rice crispy’s that supposedly made a “snap, crackle & pop” as a watery shrimp bisque was poured over the tiger prawns tableside. Let’s face the facts – cereal tastes better with milk and a cup of coffee.
TUNA TARTARE – Enough with the tuna tartare. Let’s all give up this overplayed dish, often carelessly executed and sometimes oddly tasteless, for lent. I’m just putting it out there.
Until we eat again,
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