Of all the posts I wrote in 2015, my 15 Best Things I Ate post stands out as one of my very favorites. Naturally, then, I had to repeat it this year because, just as I wrote then, “I love lists, I love year-end roundups, and I love food.” And to those three things, I will add one more: travel, which, as 2016 continued to prove, introduces me to a lot of great food. Such as…drumroll please…
One: Lamb with Sweet Potatoes at Grand Coeur (Paris)
This list is not in any particular order, but I do know one thing: my favorite dish of the year was the lamb at Grand Coeur in Paris. How much did I love this dish? I visited Paris three times this year – once in April, once in November, and once in December – and I returned to Grand Coeur and ordered this exact thing each time. The lamb is cooked to perfection, the sweet potatoes are TO DIE FOR, and the walnuts and black sesame sauce provide the perfect accompaniment. I’ve had good starters and desserts at Grand Coeur too, but my loyalties here are staunchly with the lamb.
Two: Dinner at Cosme (NYC)
Cosme is Mexican food for the modern age. You won’t find standard issue fajitas and guacamole here; rather, the food is Mexican-inspired with lots of contemporary twists. My meal got off to a good start with my cocktail, an incredible grapefruit Paloma (I often feel let down by restaurant cocktails, but this one was on point). Other standouts included the housemade tostadas with pumpkin seed and habanero salsa, the mozzarella di bufala (so freaking perfect), and the incredibly tender short rib with cippolini and avocado puree. I finished things off with Cosme’s signature dessert: the husk meringue with corn mousse. It sounds odd, but this was one of the most wonderfully surprising things I ate all year: so unique, nicely crunchy, and tasty but not sickly sweet in the way so many desserts are.
Three: Traditional Favorites at To Kafeneio (Athens)
Athens’s Plaka neighborhood is not exactly known for its haute cuisine; rather, it’s filled with a lot of touristy restaurants where waiters stand on the sidewalk and try to sweet talk you into eating their microwaved calamari. However, on my Culinary Backstreets tour, I learned that there are, in fact, a few great foodie spots in the neighborhood. And while I tried lots of great dishes during my five-hour plus food tour, the standout spot had to be To Kafeneio, which serves up traditional Greek fare and is packed with locals (always a good sign). We had a feast here: saganaki with honey, Greek salad in edible pita cups (hello, lover), and meatballs with a special sauce (affectionately called “THE red sauce” by our guide). Such a satisfying meal.
Four: A Peruvian Dinner at Lima Floral (London)
Though the service was a bit slow and spotty, it was not enough to dampen my overall enthusiasm for my meal at London’s Lima Floral. Peruvian cuisine is not one I can say I’ve had much exposure (if any) to, but after this, I just might have to seek it out. Everything here was fantastic, from my classic Pisco Sour to the seared beef appetizer to the suckling pig main (with a crispy skin and accompanied by a crazy flavorful guacamole-esque puree and divine crunchy wonton bits). To finish, I had alfajores, traditional Peruvian shortbread-style biscuits with dulce de leche ice cream. I can’t imagine a tastier dessert.
Five: The Roasted Whole Chicken for Two at the Standard Grill (NYC)
If there’s one thing 2016 taught us, it’s this: it is Ina Garten’s world, and we are all just living in it. When my friend read that Ina’s favorite chicken in New York was at the Standard Grill, we knew a visit to the restaurant was mandatory. And – not surprising at all – Ina was correct, as the roasted chicken (made for two) was absolute perfection. The chicken itself was a treat, but the broth was what dreams are made of. Sop up EVERY bit of it you can. You’re welcome.
Six: Cabbage Rolls Stuffed with Lamb at 52 Faubourg Saint Denis (Paris)
I’ve been lucky enough to spend a ton of time in Paris over the past few years, but one thing that means is that I have a set of favorite restaurants and I tend to default to them again and again (for proof, you only have to see #1 on this list). I’m not always super willing to try new spots, but I love when I do and when they turn out to be a hit. Enter, 52 Faubourg Saint Denis. I dropped in for lunch, where I had the awesome cabbage rolls stuffed with lamb and accompanied by sweet potato puree and sweet potato fries. There were a TON of elements on my plate – something I’d heard leveled as a criticism against the restaurant – but I loved this dish and thought everything worked nicely together. It was fun to eat!
Seven: The Birthday Cake at Milk Bar (New York City)
Milk Bar, the dessert wing of the David Chang Momofuku empire, offers a lot of amazing sweet treats, but perhaps none as notorious as the multi-layered Birthday Cake (except maybe the cereal ice cream, which coincidentally made my 2015 Best Food list). I bought Milk Bar’s Birthday Cake for one of my friends at work, and it was a big hit among my co-workers, so much so that when it came time to pick out a birthday cake for my dad later in the year, I had to get it again. I’m usually a chocolate cake kind of gal, but I make an exception for something this incredible. I mean, just look at those layers!
Eight: Chicken at L’Alliance (Amboise, France)
For as much as I consider myself a “foodie,” whenever I’m not sure what to order, I wind up defaulting to chicken. Sometimes that leads to mediocre meals, but other times – like at L’Alliance in Amboise – I wind up with something truly spectacular. At L’Alliance, the chicken comes with a perfectly crispy skin topped with big hunks of sea salt and is accompanied by potatoes, peas, and seafood raviolis. The chicken was so damn good – moist, packed with flavor, and all-around excellent French comfort food. L’Alliance is tucked a bit off the beaten path in Amboise, and is well worth seeking out.
Nine: Dinner at Zero George (Charleston)
In a weekend packed with good food, Zero George was probably the meal I was most looking forward to and the meal that wowed me most. I loved every course. To start, scrumptious deviled eggs with a variety of fillings, including house-made chorizo and spicy mustard, and an impeccable grilled octopus with lamb belly. For my main, a perfect pork with kohlrabi and apples. And to finish, the coconut tres leches cake, complete with crunchy bits that were sugary nirvana.
Ten: Prix Fixe Lunch at Momofuku Daisho (Toronto)
I love getting really good food for great value, and I felt like the prix fixe lunch at Momofuku Daisho in Toronto was just that: an incredibly tasty deal. The fried chicken bun starter was scrumptious, the rice cake entrée was packed with flavor, and the dessert was refreshing. Plus, I nabbed a nice seat on the outdoor terrace on a warm but not hot early summer day – and you can’t beat that.
Eleven: Maple Bacon Scones and Arctic Char at Frenchie (London)
When I heard Frenchie had opened a London outpost, it immediately shot to the top of my dining wishlist. I was not disappointed. While my main course (duck) was good, if a bit more undercooked than I typically like, it was the starters that really shone. First, positively divine bacon scones with maple syrup and Cornish clotted cream – I could have happily eaten a basketful of these, so flavorful were they. Second, the arctic char: it looks kind of weird, but be not fooled: it was fantastic. It came accompanied with a Granny Smith apple garnish, which I initially was quite skeptical of, but, as it turned out, need not have been. Fish and apples pair together kind of well…who knew?
Twelve: Old School French Fare at L’Auberge Dab (Paris)
L’Auberge Dab was not trendy, cutting edge French gastronomy. Rather, it felt like classic Paris: waiters with bowties carrying out generous platefuls of traditional French dishes. I loved it, and everything we tried there was pretty solid – so much so that my mom and I went back a second time. Some standouts? Escargot, chcken with veggies, and a gorgeous strawberry cake.
Thirteen: Caramel Coffee Toffee Ice Cream Sandwich at Peace Pies (Charleston)
I questioned whether something as simple as an ice cream sandwich should claim a place on this list but, damn, are the ice cream sandwiches at Peace Pie worthy of acclaim. I chose the caramel coffee toffee flavor (though there were tons of other enticing options) and it was a mind-blowing combination. Thank goodness I don’t live in Charleston; I would be tempted to eat these all the time.
Fourteen: The Tasting Menu at Verjus (Paris)
This was my second time at Verjus (the first was last fall), and while both experiences were fantastic, the tasting menu really sang to me this time around. A few favorite dishes: celeriac with hazelnut, chestnut, and bay oil (the chestnut puree was sensational); pumpkin with onion jus, peppercorn, and housemade yogurt (the pumpkin was grilled like meat – one of the most unique and tasty things I’ve tried); and the buttermilk ice cream with Fernet Branca in a miniature homemade cone (in my iPhone notes, I wrote “SO FREAKING GOOD” in all caps) (which, reader, it was).
Fifteen: Breakfast at Toast (Birmingham, MI)
I had been to Toast for dinner before, but where I suspect it truly shines – unsurprisingly, being named Toast – is at breakfast. I caught an insanely early flight back to Michigan for Christmas, so after picking me up, my dad and I stopped at Toast. And, basically, I wanted to order all the things on the menu. I settled on the bacon-fried rice (a hearty, immensely satisfying plate) and the toast of the day: gingerbread (thick, delicious, and holiday friendly). This meal was so good that I’ve decided to make crack-of-dawn flights to Michigan my new thing, just so we can stop here on the way home.
Sixteen: The Blueberry Clafoutis and Bacon at Le Coucou (New York)
I would generally state that, as far as meals go, breakfast is the one I care for least, and yet here I am, ending my list with two breakfast spots. The breakfast at Le Coucou is pretty damn fantastic though. My blueberry clafoutis was scrumptious – sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. And the crispy bacon accompanying it? Per. Fec. Tion. Now, if only I could score a reservation there for dinner.
Honorable Mentions, Part 1: The chicken pot pie at David Burke Kitchen (New York); the kale salad at Ellsworth (Paris); the maple bacon donut at Kensington Market (Toronto); the fried French Toast at Sarah’s on Newbury (Boston).
Honorable Mentions, Part 2: The fried chicken sandwich at Poogan’s Porch (Charleston); fresh seafood at Ma Peche (New York); the salted caramel ice cream sundae at ABC Kitchen (New York); the spinach pie salad at 2Mazi (Athens).
And in case you missed it: The 15 Best Things I Ate in 2015