I can't say with certainty that these are the best meals I had over the past year -- I'm probably forgetting a taco grabbed on the road to Homestead or something. But these 12 dishes somehow seared themselves most upon my memory, which is what a great plate of food tends to do. Here then, in month-by-month order (more or less), are my delicious dozen for 2010:
Monkfish Cheeks at Palme d'or
So many of Philippe Ruiz' creations are memorable, but this one really stands out: Succulent flakes of pristine fish sumptuously pooled in smoked Pinot Noir reduction sauce, atop a bed of beets, asparagus, carrots, morels, and baby pattypan squash -- each vegetable impeccably prepared.
Quiche Lorraine at Buena Vista Deli
My wife and I stopped in off the street for an afternoon snack, and the quiche had just come out of the oven a short time before we entered. It was so very custardy, with buttery pâte brisée. We couldn't have done better had we ducked into a cafe on the streets of Paris.
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3 Amigos Taco Plate at Aguacates
I can't say the tacos at this Doral Mexican restaurant are better than some I sampled in SF's Mission District, but they were better than the ones I had anywhere locally. You get a choice of soft corn or flour tortillas -- I went with the former, and also chose pork al pastor, pork carnitas, and steak carnitas as the fillers. Lettuce, tomato, jalapeños, sour cream, and whatnot are spooned on top by the counterperson if you so desire, and all manner of salsas at a separate salsa bar. I mainly went with onions, cilantro, and lime, and a better $6.95 can't be spent. Plus you get corn chips.
El Topo Roll at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill
Looking back, there was a decided lack of sushi joint reviews this past year, and not many memorable non-review sushi meals either. Of the many rolls I did get to sample, El Topo stands out -- and not just because it's wacky. How wacky? It's a pressed roll cut into rectangular wafers of Atlantic salmon, rice, shiso leaf, and jalapeño under melted mozzarella cheese and crispy bits of onion. As I wrote in the review: The combo is sweet, hot, salty, and weirdly delicious -- as a dish named after a hallucinogenic cult movie should be.
Grilled Octopus at AltaMare
May not have had much sushi in 2010, but I sure did encounter a lot of octopus dishes. Chef Stojanovic's version topped all others, the tenderly charred tentacles resting upon warm farro grain flecked with chorizo and accompanied by grilled lemon, green tomato, and saffron aioli. Who could forget such flavors?
Banh Mi at Sakaya Kitchen
This was my favorite of many banh mi banged down over the past year. The pork belly is slowly house-cured, and with the addition of duck pâte, carrot kimchi, ssamjang, mayo, and cilantro -- well, let's just say the BMT at Subway ain't gonna stick in your mind for six months.
Lamb Chops at The Villa by Barton G
There are lamb chops, and then there are two enormous double chops of slow-roasted, prime-rib-of-beef-tender Colorado lamb atop eggplant puree and grilled eggplant slices -- with harissa-dusted cubes of Greek yogurt jelly. Jeff O'Neill has taken over the chef duties from Justin Albertson since then, so memories of this particular dish will have to suffice.
Orecchiette With Asparagus Pesto at 660 at The Anglers
Not everything went down smoothly at 660, but chef Giorgio Rapicavoli's pasta dish was unique and unforgettably good. The little orecchiette caps came coated in a perfectly balanced Parmesan-garlic-asparagus-basil paste and tossed with slices of fried prosciutto and neat, tiny cubes of fried potatoes.
Kimchi Eggs Benedict at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
English muffin with layer of spicy cabbage kimchi, topped with crispy pork belly, impeccably poached egg, and a velvety, kimchi-spiked hollandaise sauce -- plus some freshly snipped chives. Best breakfast dish I had all year.
BLT at Gigi
With meaty brown sugar-cured pork belly on bao buns that get griddled with olive oil. Mason jar of ginger-pickled vegetables on the side is a nice touch too. This was downed late at night, with friends, amidst loud, crowded, happy ambiance. Sometimes it's where and when and with whom you eat something as much as how good it is that makes you remember. But that's not to say this sandwich isn't a gem any time.
Chopped Salad at Cecconi's
How exciting can a salad be? Well, not very, but it can be incredibly delectable. This one from chef Sergio Sigala featured a melange of diced seasonal vegetables from local Swank Farms -- green beans, red/yellow beets, corn, tomatoes, zucchini -- with lingering mists of walnut oil and sherry vinegar. Each bite brought validation to the whole farm-to-fork focus going on.
Picanha Steak at 1500 at Eden Roc:
This Brazilian cut, also known as the "rump cover", has a thick cap of fat that melts into and tenderizes the meat as it cooks. 1500's version comes as a large hunk cut in two, each piece brightly seasoned, crisply seared, and fully flavored. You won't find a tastier $25 steak in town.