Monday, December 26, 2011

Best of 2011: Meal Edition

Another year is wrapping itself up and I've been meaning to cobble together a look back on some of the meals I enjoyed most throughout the year. I finally sat down to do so was struck by what seemed to be a lack of new places to choose from this year, as it seems I relied more on a few old standbys. There are, of course, some notable exceptions to that general trend. I also found that the meals I enjoyed most that weren't out on the town usually were not created in my own Philadelphia kitchen, but in the country kitchen of M. and S. , which makes a fair amount of sense; I feel more connected to my own cooking abilities when I'm in a kitchen with enough counter space and outlets that I don't feel like I'm bumping into myself every ten seconds. As I looked back I remembered all sorts of activities that, while not being the best meals I enjoyed, were certainly memorable and meaningful moments. Perhaps one year I'll create a list of those top events ... but perhaps not. In either case, happy holidays to one and all and happy new year to boot!

The jerk chicken I so enjoyed in Jamaica last year was succulent, juicy and made all the more special by being consumed on a lounge chair right by the sea in 80 degree weather. You could count on me to be queuing up for my fair share each lunch time day.
Pho usually makes the list, but this year ushered in the era of Ha Saigon as king of the Philly pho joints, as far as I'm concerned. A little bit more of a trek than the Washington Ave. locations, its staff and pork rolls just added value to its already sumptuously beefy broth.
Hanging out with my erstwhile friend G. introduced me to at least two veggie-friendly restaurants, but I particularly enjoyed the extremely intimate experience of Hardena (maybe six tables total in a very cramped, non-descript space) - as well as its obscenely bountiful buffet plates. I keep meaning to go back to try their satay.
While I wasn't 100% wowed by their generous portion of scallops, D'Mitri's grilled octopus appetizer was some of the most tender and flavorful that I've had in my lifetime.
Another annual favorite that pops up is softshell crabs, and this year was no exception. I very much enjoyed frying a gaggle of these guys up in order to introduce them to L. and Fatty during our early Spring country soujourn.
The country made another appearance when I went up there solo for the July 4th holiday times. Did I cook skewers for six when I was just one? Yes I did. But were the two different kinds - Chipotle/Coca Cola and Soy Sauce/Garlic/Ginger/Lime/ - a revelation to me, even though I was the one who made them up to begin with? Yes.
My father's and my omakase experience at Morimoto may have been a challenge to my camera adjusting abilities and stretched my ability to appreciate neon and white leather, but the food itself was no joke. I particularly enjoyed this salmon morsel - as well as the sushi, of course.
I wasn't sure exactly what to expect when L. and I made our way to Manhattan for my first-ever ramen experience at Ippudo...but this meal surpassed whatever expectations I might have had. The rich, fatty pork broth and tender pork and spring noodles. Oh man. Just thinking about it makes me want it.
While my summer adventure with M. featured copious meals worth of a nod, I think the one that stood out the most was our extremely early-bird dinner at Au Pied de Cochon, especially our foie gras dish served simply with balsamic and bread. Though her steak tartar was not anything to turn your nose up at either.
Though one of my two early birthday beach adventures was derailed by Hurricane Irene, I can say that the one b-day dinner that I was able to enjoy at Fin's was quite something. The rockfish was a revelation and the company fantastic....I was also quite glad to try my first (and so far only) pickle martini.
While sometimes the lighting of restaurants prevents me and my limited skills from really taking the best of photographs, the food is still worth applauding. In this case, it was Cochon's charcoute garni - with its nicely grilled and slightly smoked pork ribs, backed up with sausage, pork belly and sauerkraut - that suffered the wrath of my camera ineptitude. It may not look like much, but it was good stuff indeed.
I log enough time and spend enough money at McCrossen's that it would be a damn shame if I wasn't recognizing and appreciating the place. I especially enjoyed the monthly cheese/wine/food pairings that T., L. and R. concoct for their guests. But it was this Rabbit "Porchetta" with speck, swiss chard, PX and lavender dish that really just blew my brains - and palate - away. The man knows his way around the kitchen, the woman knows her way around a cellar, and the other man knows his way around a cheese cave. Or something. Kudos.

Brunch at Bolete was another country meal I enjoyed quite a lot. The fried oysters had flavor and crispiness, the eggs perfectly cooked but still runny, the sauce delightful and not too heavy. There's something comforting about a restaurant of this caliber seemingly capable of thriving outside of a heavily urban environment.
I went to Modo Mio a lot this year, more than I really realized until I paged through the blog. And once I went through it all I was confused about which meal I wanted to highlight the most. There was that especially splendiferous raviolo, bursting with yolky goodness but there was also the greatness of a simple amatriciana with tomato and pancetta. In the end, however, I decided to go with what was freshest in my mind and most delectable on my tongue: the complimentary special beef cheek ravioli from my meal there just last month. Or earlier this month, maybe.
And that's the list for this year. Thanks to all who contributed to each one of the dining experiences that so tickled my tongue, warmed my heard and soothed my belly. I already have a few ideas of places I'd like to try in the new year, and hope that I will be just as amazed in the next 365 days as I did over the last ones.

You can see past years' wrap ups here: 2010, 2009, 2008.

1 comment:

nc catherine said...

Ah the ones that have induced the most jealousy right this minute are the jerk chicken (because of location! I want to be somewhere warm and beachy!) and the softshells because they are the sign of the beginning of summer, where I can find things warm and beachy! I have a theme going I see: warm and beachy....

But they all look like awesome food, drink and companionship adventures! Here's to many more!! Happy 2012!