best of 2015: the restaurant edition…

•February 9, 2016 • 3 Comments

Kong Hans Kælder

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In 2015, quite a few tracks upon which I had been running slowly began to converge.  While my destination remains unclear, my direction has become much more so.  Rapidly disappearing is my desire to keep apace with the restaurant industry, as I watch food media disintegrating into a pile of clickbait and shallow memes, the overwhelming weight of which makes it almost pointless to dig out the few, worthy nuggets therein.  And social media has so sucked the “cult” out of “culture” that so much of what I loved about dining and restaurants has become repugnant to me, having devolved into a great, churning mass of groupies circling the few, the glorious who have managed to charm their way into the eye of the storm, and who relish their haloed seat amidst the calm.

While I’ve always moved at my own pace here, in the past year, I’ve untethered myself even more, enjoying a greater range of motion to explore, and to invest my time and attention where I think it matters most.

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best desserts of 2015…

•February 4, 2016 • 1 Comment

Riz au lait.

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I started issuing a list of my favorite desserts in 2011 because I noticed something exciting happening in pastryland, and I wanted a record of it.

At the time, many pastry chefs were branching out and exploring new territory, while others hunkered down to improve upon what was already there.  And in just a few, short years, together, they have widened the borders of their domain, and have made it a considerably better place in which to treat ourselves today.  Once relegated to the corner of the kitchen as an afterthought, desserts have moved up on the restaurant menu to be an integral part of the dining experience.  Pastry chefs too, once nameless and faceless, have moved into the spotlight, making a way for themselves apart from the restaurant line behind which they’ve traditionally been hidden.

While I’ve celebrated this sweet progress for the past four years, I noticed its growth stunting in 2015.  And I’d like to take a moment to talk it through.

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best dishes of 2015…

•January 11, 2016 • Leave a Comment

Naples Long Pumpkin

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There was no runaway hit in 2015.  There were quite a few of them.

However, whereas in past years, canvassing through hundreds of dishes for my 25 favorite was a particularly difficult task – one that I was often unable to carry out successfully, forcing me to append a spillover list that often included just as many “runners up” – this year’s top dishes separated themselves rather easily from the pack, especially, the top ten, which cluster tightly on a shelf that sits considerably higher than the rest.*

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travel: fairytale…

•January 3, 2016 • 2 Comments

Royals victory parade.

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Five years ago today, I walked out of the law firm and into the unknown.

What began as a shapeless but exciting restart on life quickly formed into an unexpectedly self-guided and fulfilling journey flooded with amazing people, places, lessons, and adventures.  Year after year, life has exceeded my wildest expectations.

While I’ve enjoyed getting lost in the busyness of my new life as a photographer and writer, I’m incredibly saddened that it has left me less and less time to be a blogger.  If you’ve been a regular reader in the past, then you’ve been reading with less regularity lately. And I’m sorry for it.  So, before allowing myself to be swept away into the next calendar, I am putting on the brakes, as I have done for the past four years, to regroup, reflect, and record.

Of course, this post is far from being a thorough review of 2015 (although, if you manage to finish reading this post, you might think I gave you one).  The advantages of immediacy have long expired, and so a detailed accounting is not possible at this late hour.  Rather, it is my chance to recite, even if with broad strokes, the moments, places, and faces that have touched me recently.  I want to remember them, and share them, because they have been an important part of my life.

But, of course, more than just a journal entry, this, here, also inaugurates a series of year-end posts that, together, offer a comprehensive look at the very best of what and where I’ve been eating in the preceding twelve months.  In what has become an anticipated tradition on this blog, which I started 11 years ago, and which attracts more eyeballs than all of the other posts in the preceding year combined, the three posts that follow this one will enumerate my favorite dishes, desserts, and restaurant meals of 2015.

But before I do that, let me first tell you about my year, and, as I have done in the past, list for you all the restaurants I visited.

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12 days: on the twelfth day of christmas: kostow… (2015)

•December 28, 2015 • Leave a Comment

With the Harlans

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What can I say this year that I didn’t say last year?

Before you read the rest of this post, I urge you to read what I wrote on the twelfth night of last year’s Twelve Days of Christmas.  Even if you’ve read it before, please read it again. Every word and every sentiment in that post I apply to this one.  So there’s no need to repeat or reword it here.

Instead, I will simply say that returning to the Twelve Days of Christmas for a fourth year has been an immense pleasure and privilege.  For four years now, I’ve rushed through the first eleven months with an eye towards the twelfth, when I get whisked away to a magical place called Meadowood Napa Valley to take part in an event that is truly without equal.

For twelve nights in December, the world’s culinary spotlight moves to sleepy St. Helena, California, as a parade of chefs streams in from faraway destinations to cook at The Restaurant at Meadowood. Over the past four years of photographing this dinner series, I’ve had the amazing opportunity to pull back the curtain a little, in hopes of sharing the magic of it all with those who can’t be there.  In my travels, I’m constantly surprised by the number of people, from all corners of the world, who join in the excitement and anticipation of this annual event, which, for so many of us, has become a highlight, an escape, an inspiration and aspiration, and, perhaps, most meaningfully, tradition.

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12 days: on the eleventh day of christmas: yu… (2015)

•December 27, 2015 • Leave a Comment

6th Course: Beef Short Rib

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A dinner series called the Twelve Days of Christmas hosted by a Jewish chef wouldn’t be complete without Chinese food, right?

Enter: Justin Yu.

He’s the chef and co-owner of Oxheart, a restaurant in Houston where he has earned national acclaim for his vegetable-focused menu.

The last time I was in Houston was in 1988.  So, unfortunately, I haven’t eaten at Oxheart yet.  But, by coincidence, I’ve had quite a few opportunities to taste Yu’s food this year.

In late September, Yu came to Kansas City to cook at a charity dinner that I help organize every year.  Then, in November, I saw him in Carmel, where he cooked at this year’s Rediscovering Coastal Cuisine dinner.  And, if the third time is supposed to be a charm, then Christopher Kostow had impeccable timing in inviting Yu to the eleventh night of the Twelve Days of Christmas at The Restaurant at Meadowood to fulfill all of our holiday hopes and stereotypes by cooking what Yu and I irreverently refer to as “our people’s food.”  (Yu, his co-owner and pastry chef Karen Man, his cook Sam Chang, and I are all children of Chinese immigrants, causing me to joke that BravoTV has the “Shahs of Sunset,” and The Twelve Days of Christmas have the Mandarins of Meadowood.)

I jest. Sort of.

Continue reading ’12 days: on the eleventh day of christmas: yu… (2015)’

12 days: on the tenth day of christmas: tanaka…. (2015)

•December 26, 2015 • Leave a Comment

2nd Course: "Camouflage"

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He speaks Japanese, of course.  But he also speaks Spanish, French, and more English than I speak in any of those languages.  His name is Atsushi Tanaka, and I ate at his Restaurant A.T. in Paris last year (here are the photos from that dinner in September of 2014).  At the time, I had not heard of him – I was urged to eat there by my friend Laurent Vanparys (ironically, a Belgian whose Flemish name means “from Paris”).  And, judging by the clientele in his restaurant that night, neither had the rest of Paris.  I think I was the only non-Japanese person in that small dining room.

But in the year since, I have seen Tanaka’s name billed at culinary events around the world, including this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas, where he was the tenth chef to cook with Christopher Kostow at The Restaurant at Meadowood.

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