Top Dishes of 2012

Each year, I do a blog anniversary post listing my top 5 meals of the previous 365 days. I wanted to create a post highlighting the individual dishes that made me smile and kept me coming back for more. I haven’t really ranked anything, nor created a limit for the number that can be shown here; these are the ones that really struck me this year.

Below are my favorite dishes in 2012, in alphabetical (by restaurant) order.

5×5 Chefs Collaborative Dinner @ Melisse (Santa Monica, CA)
Angelini’s Homemade Spaghetti Chitarra alla Norcina with Sausage, Spring Truffles, Parmigiano-Reggiano

homemade spaghetti chitarra alla norcina

Perfect al dente pasta, a little bit of meaty sausage, cheese and truffles created a simple, well-balanced plate of flavors. So good!

Angelini Osteria (Los Angeles, CA)
Lasagna Verde “Omaggio Nonna Elvira” with Beef and Veal Ragu

lasagna2

Hearty, rich and soul-satisfying. Is it the veal and beef ragu that elevates this dish so much, or is it the cheesy bechamel or the housemade pasta? Probably all three.

Kohaku (Tokyo, Japan)
Fried Oyster and Chestnut with Truffle Sauce

Oyster and Chestnut with Truffle Sauce

The oysters were so delicately fried with a crispy outside and juicy inside. Shaved truffles and an addicting truffle sauce really took the dish to greater heights.

LudoBites Best of Foie Gras (Los Angeles, CA)
Foie Gras Black Croque-Monsieur

Foie Gras Black Croque-Monsieur with grape sauce

One of Ludo Lefebvre’s most well-known dishes was the perfect send-off to the now-banned ingredient. Squid ink-dyed bread was toasted just right, with an oozing foie gras terrine on the inside.

Pierre Gagnaire (Tokyo, Japan)
Taraba Crab Meat, Wild Mushrooms Fricassee with Autumn Fruits, Bouillon of Sauternes

Taraba crab meat, wild mushrooms fricasse with autumn fruits, bouillon of sauternes

This was an umami-packed broth that was just so delicious – earthy and slightly sweet. Topping it with lumps of sweet, fresh crab was a perfect touch.

RyuGin (Tokyo, Japan)
Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in Lace Wrapping Deep Fried Rare with Edamame Beans Paste

Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in Lace Wrapping Deep Fried Rare with Edamame Beans Paste

The textures in these bites were so memorable, with a light crispy batter and soft, silky uni. It tasted amazing too, with the clean sea urchin flavor coming through beautifully.

RyuGin (Tokyo, Japan)
Wagyu Beef Filet Grilled on Charcoal with Assortment of Vegetables

Wagyu Beef Filet Grilled on Charcoal with Assortment of Vegetables

My second trip to RyuGin delivered this highlight. Here, the over-the-top fattiness of Japanese wagyu was in the form of relatively lean filet mignon; the opposites created a fantastic middle-ground. The result was something that was extremely tender, yet also very juicy and succulent. Crisp veggies provided just a little bit of textural crunch to lighten things up a bit.

Tsujita LA (Los Angeles, CA)
Tsukemen

tsukemen

I’m not sure how many times I’ve had this bowl this year, which justified a cross-town trip multiple times (and even a trip to the main branch in Tokyo, which serves a very similar bowl). I still remember loving it from the first bite: the thick, al dente noodles and umami-packed soup. I just wish there was a way to keep the soup hot throughout.

Happy eating in 2013!

Third Anniversary: Top 5 Meals of the Blog Year

11/28/12

Today marks the third year anniversary of this blog. Who knew it would last this long? Honestly, I had no expectations when I started this so I can’t say I did. Each year has brought something new and different, chronicling where I’ve been and much of what I’ve eaten.

As with all of my other anniversary posts, I’ll recount here the top 5 meals of the last 366 days.

This past third year brought about an unexpected international flavor, having spent almost two of the past twelve months abroad. This included short stays in India and England, with the most significant (6 weeks) being in Japan. This was definitely the highlight for me – I love Japanese food. The opportunity to pig out on bowls of udon, soba, and ramen, plates of  curry rice, tonkatsu, tempura, yakitori, and multiple sushi, kaiseki and French meals (adding up to a cumulative 32 Michelin stars) was something I’ll never forget. Not surprisingly, my stay in Japan is well-reflected in this list.

5. Joel Robuchon (Tokyo, Japan) – 11/18/12

foie gras risotto
Foie Gras with Parmesan Risotto

This was the best Western meal I had in Japan and perhaps the best service I’d seen in Tokyo (and therefore, ever). The lunch was highlighted by perfect execution from a meltingly rich foie gras atop risotto to a really nicely textured amadai (tilefish), cooked with its scales on. The bread cart, just like at the Las Vegas outpost, never ceases to amaze me.

4. Umi (Tokyo, Japan) – 10/29/12

otoro
Toro

I had a number of sushi meals in Tokyo but this one stood apart in its variety (of course, quality too). Trying 30-or-so different cuts of fish was by far the most of any single meal and it was amazing to be able to sample so much (most from the chef’s native region Hokkaido). Getting to dine here with a native Japanese speaker was a huge plus, too.

3. Sushi Yoshitake (Tokyo, Japan) – 11/12/12

kohada
Kohada

The best all-around sushi I had in Japan and probably the best sushi meal I’ve ever had. The sashimi to start off with was exquisite, highlighted by tender abalone in its own liver sauce, monkfish liver with yuzu, and a smoked bonito. The sushi courses that followed maintained the high notes, yielding one of my best meals in Japan.

2. RyuGin (Tokyo, Japan) – 10/20/12

Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in Lace Wrapping Deep Fried Rare with Edamame Beans Paste
Premium Sea Urchin from Hokkaido in Lace Wrapping Deep Fried Rare with Edamame Beans Paste

This was an excellent meal from start to finish. Chef Yamamoto presented a modern kaiseki menu highlighting the ingredients (and seasons) of Japan with flawless execution. Highlights for me included an awesome fried uni, excellent unagi and surprisingly the best soba I had during my stay. I still think about the crispy, juicy unagi; I’ve never had anything quite like it.

1. The Fat Duck (Bray, UK) – 5/25/12

MAD HATTER'S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch and Toast Sandwich
MAD HATTER’S TEA PARTY (c.1850) Mock Turtle Soup, Pocket Watch

This wasn’t a clear-cut decision, but there was something about the whimsical, playful nature of this meal that set it apart. There was a sense of anticipation and excitement that came with each dish, keeping us all on the edge of our seats for hours. Combined with the fact that the ‘entertainment’ value of the dishes did not outshine the flavors, this was a wildly successful meal…and a whole lot of fun.

I’d like to extend a big THANK YOU to those whom I’ve had the pleasure of dining with, and to all who have stopped by this blog in the past year (especially multiple times)!

Honorable mention (in chronological order):
Commonwealth (San Francisco, CA) – 11/26/11 Another previous year’s meal showed up on last year’s list and I had another great meal here. For me, it’s a ‘must’ on any extended dining visit to San Francisco.
The French Laundry (Yountville, CA) – 11/27/11 Celebrating my grandmother and aunt’s birthday in one of my favorite restaurants in California is a sure-fire way to make this list.
Saison (San Francisco, CA) – 12/17/11 Truly an excellent meal and one of the best I’ve ever had in San Francisco.
5×5 Chefs Collaborative @ Melisse (Santa Monica, CA) – 4/29/12 The lone entrant from LA was the best of the 5×5 dinners I attended. The all-star cast put together a very strong meal.
Pierre Gagnaire (Tokyo, Japan) – 11/11/12 Honestly I wasn’t sure what to expect at Gagnaire’s Tokyo outpost, but I was surprised (in a good way) and thoroughly satisfied with the creativity balanced with flavor.

Previous Anniversary Posts:
First Anniversary | Second Anniversary

Second Anniversary: Top 5 Meals of the Blog Year

11/28/11

Today marks two years since I started this blog. It has been quite a year trying new foods and meeting new people. There’s been so many memorable food experiences (both good and bad), but in keeping with “tradition” I’m going to try to sum up and rank the top ones. It’s not necessarily the most delicious, more like most memorable – the experiences that will stay me going forward.

This list won’t include last night’s meal from The French Laundry given that I have yet to fully digest it (literally and figuratively); there’s a good chance it would’ve cracked this list though.

So here we go, here are my top 5 meals of the blog year:

5. Urasawa (Beverly Hills) – 6/18/11

A reliably excellent meal, to me Urasawa is the ideal special occasion restaurant in LA. No molecular gastronomy here, everything is kept very simple. Flavors are thoughtful, clean. Urasawa’s plating and sushi-making is so meticulous, yet seems so effortless at times. And it’s the best sushi I’ve ever had, by far. I just wish it wasn’t so damn expensive.

Pictured: sesame ice cream, red bean, black truffle, gold flake.

ice cream truffle

4. Wolvesmouth (Los Angeles) – 1/15/11

My first underground dining experience was fascinating. One man, Craig Thornton, put together a suite of interesting and tasty dishes with a very small team in a downtown loft. One oven. Four burners. I haven’t been able to go back since, but I’m sure I’ll have my fill at an upcoming 40-course meal next weekend.

Pictured: Dungeness crab, meyer lemon, malt vinegar sabayon, old bay profiterole, mustard mizuna.

crab

3. Breadbar Japan Benefit Dinner (Los Angeles) – 5/16/11

This was a relative bargain at $110 for a meal featuring such names as Urasawa, Manzke, and Cimarusti…especially as all proceeds went to Japanese earthquake relief. The food lived up to expectations, including one of the best (in both presentation and taste) dishes I ate all year – Cimarusti’s soymilk panna cotta with sea urchin, geoduck and wasabi (pictured).

cimarusti1

2. é by Jose Andres (Las Vegas) – 3/26/11

Everyone was seated at a small counter where we could watch as each of the ~20 dishes took shape. Maybe the most intimate and personal of the meals I had during the year, almost each dish came with a story from Jose Andres’ experiences in food. The food was very good, and the service may have been even better. A clear step above the Saam Room at the Bazaar.

Pictured: A whole lobe of foie gras baked in salt then sliced, yielding one of the best foie gras preparations I’ve had.

foie gras

1. KCET Uncorked @ Bouchon (Beverly Hills) – 6/13/11

Easily the best meal I’ve had at a Bouchon, but that alone wouldn’t make this list. Thomas Keller was in the restaurant for this special event and dined on one course at each table. He sat right next to me for the cheese course. That experience pushes this one straight to the top.

Pictured: carnaroli risotto with summer truffles, English peas, sweet pea shoots & parmesan mousse.

risotto

Honorable Mention (in chronological order):

Test Kitchen: Closing Night (Los Angeles) – 12/13/10 The closing of such an intriguing concept, and an all-star chef cast to send it off.
Commonwealth (San Francisco) – 12/28/10 Just a very good meal. I returned two days ago and it was even better.
Spago (Beverly Hills) – 2/25/11 23 courses at Wolfgang Puck’s flagship is my longest meal ever.
Joel Robuchon (Las Vegas) – 3/28/11 Truly an extravagant meal, but just fell short of this list.
Walter Manzke @ Biergarten (Los Angeles) – 4/10/11 Tons of meat, fantastic french fries and craft beer from one of my favorite LA chefs.
Test Kitchen Reunion (Los Angeles) – 9/19/11 Another all-star chef cast came together to celebrate Test Kitchen.

See also: First Anniversary: Top 5 Meals

LudoBites 7.0 Reservation Giveaway

The opening of the LudoBites reservation line has become an increasingly stressful time. How long will it take? Will I even get one?

I set up a calendar invite on July 14th at 4pm with a number of my co-workers. No distractions…one goal in mind: make a LudoBites reservation. Luckily, I got one and so did one of my co-workers. He can’t go anymore and has graciously donated the reservation to be given away.

The reservation is for the first seating of the first night of this LudoBites (ie. you’ll be one of the first people to try Ludo’s food this time around). This has been pre-approved by Krissy, so the reservation should be seamlessly transferred.

The details:
Date: Wednesday, August 3rd (opening night)
Time: 6:00
Party Size: 4

The contest:
I’m trying to keep it really simple. Please leave a comment with what dish (hypothetical or real) you’d like to see at the next LudoBites. Bring back the caramel souffle with fleur de sel ice cream? Or maybe some of the barbecue he learned in Raleigh? How about a foie gras ice cream?

Leave your name and e-mail address so I know how to contact you. Deadline to enter is Sunday at noon. I’ll have my co-worker pick the best entry (it is his reservation after all) and the winner will be announced Sunday afternoon. That’s it!

Any questions – I’ll address in the comments. Good luck!

UPDATE (7/31):
Thank you to everyone for their comments. There were a lot of great ideas; clearly, foie gras is the most popular (and controversial?) ingredient in Ludo’s repertoire. We especially loved Wes P’s suggestion of the foie gras steamed bao, Dan Cox’s Elvis-inspired peanut & uni pop with freeze-dried banana, and even chubbymeat’s brazen challenge to cook a particular type of offal.

It was a very difficult decision (I wish we could’ve given away a dozen more reservations!), but Aly Rizzo’s suggestion of bringing breakfast to LudoBites was a unique one, and the idea of a “Ludo-fied” eggs benedict utilizing a honey-lavender biscuit was enough to get our appetites going!

So, congratulations to Aly Rizzo on winning the reservation!

First Anniversary: Top 5 Meals of the Blog Year – 11/28/10

Today marks the one year anniversary of this blog (I can’t believe it went by so fast). For the longest time, my friends had been telling me I should start a blog, and I’m glad I finally gave in. I’ve met a lot of people and have had a lot of great experiences (dining and other). One year and 103 posts later, I wanted to recap with some of my best meals of the past year. This list is not necessarily the most delicious…nor necessarily the most memorable…but a mix of those that I haven’t really defined.

So here goes my top 5 meals of the last year:

5. Sushi Zo, 9/10/10

This was kind of a distant fifth, as I felt pretty strongly with my top 4 – but my fifth place took some thinking. My Sushi Zo meal was very good, but its memory is somewhat overshadowed by my Urasawa meal the next day. This meal was better than my last time at the ‘Zo, so much that I remembered thinking to myself “whoa, this was really good…was Urasawa this good?” That thought lasted for all of approx. 20 hours, but the fact that it challenged my memory of my previous of Urasawa dinners spoke volumes.

albacore

4. Scarpetta, 10/25/10

This probably isn’t in my top four delicious meals of the year, but it was up there. This dinner was memorable for being on opening night and having Chef Scott Conant personally serving up each dish while we were seated on the kitchen counter. That, plus the sheer decadence of having a bunch of courses with shaved black & white truffles. I still vividly remember that spaghetti.

duck

3. LudoBites 5.0, 9/2/10

I don’t know how I was lucky enough to manage 7 trips to LudoBites in the past year, but this was my favorite. Ludo’s menu changes so often and is so eclectic in its variety, sometimes the dishes align with your personal tastebuds and sometimes not so much. Everyone has a different reaction to each meal. For me, this is the one that had the most highlights. Some of the more memorable dishes were the raw wagyu over somen noodles, poached egg and potato mousseline, john dory and the caramel souffle with fleur de sel ice cream. Sigh.

souffle

2. The French Laundry, 12/23/09

This was one of the main meals that inspired this blog. Given the difficulty of a reservation and the countless praise heaped on the restaurant, there may not be another restaurant in America where a diner’s expectations are higher. Although I had been here before, it was everything I had hoped for and more. Most memorable, however, for the white truffle risotto.

1. Urasawa, 9/11/10

Lastly, number one. I remember walking out of Urasawa happy and immediately wondering when I would be back. Of all the restaurants I’ve been to, Urasawa most clearly displays an utmost commitment to quality. The restaurant does not open unless Hiro Urasawa is present, and it’s evident that Hiro-san painstakingly scrutinizes every step of the process from when he gets the ingredients to when it enters a diner’s mouth. The results are worth it. Hands down my favorite restaurant in LA, and one of the best meals I’ve had.

toro

Honorable mention, in chronological order:
The Restaurant at Meadowood, 12/26/09
Providence 5/14/09
Totoraku, 8/7/10
Test Kitchen with Walter Manzke, 8/25/10
WP24, 9/1/10