the best of 2014: the restaurant edition…

•January 11, 2015 • 3 Comments



The sheer splendor with which my year in dining unfolded made the task of identifying my ten favorite restaurant meals from 2014 an especially difficult one.

However, forcing myself to narrow that “wide and rich field” (as I described it in an earlier post) – a process that at moments seemed merciless, requiring me to eliminate extraordinarily good meals that in any other year might have taken the crown – pushed me into a deeper examination of the restaurant experience and my own preferences and perspective with regard to it.  Doing so has brought me closer to understanding the borders of my own heart, and codifying my opinions.

This is a good thing.

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best desserts of 2014…

•January 7, 2015 • 3 Comments

14th Course: Yeast Ice Cream


My parents, who immigrated to the United States over forty years ago, said that, when they first arrived on these shores, they had no concept of “dessert.”  In Taiwan, where they had spent most of their lives until that point, there were bakeries that sold sweet pastries, and confectioners who made candy. But most of those products were regarded as a luxury goods, and the result of the importation of foreign culture rather than a part of daily life.

Now that they have both spent the majority of their lives in America, they have, of course, acquired a higher tolerance for sugary things.  Even still, neither embraces sweets, or has much appetite for them. (My father described his first encounter with American fudge as “horrifying;” he still doesn’t like it.)  Finding themselves in a country that surrounds them with sugar – my fellow first-generation Asian-Americans might find this familiar – my parents signal their approval when they put down the spoon and say, with a smile, “Mmmm. Very good. Not too sweet.”

So, sweets weren’t really a part of my upbringing either.  We rarely had “dessert” at home.

But that didn’t prevent me from growing into a well-adjusted American who eats enough “dessert” to justify writing an entire review of my annual consumption of sugar.  I gave you my 25 favorite dishes from 2014.  Now, for the fourth year, I give you my 25 favorite desserts.*  But before I do, I want to share a few thoughts about pastryland that have collected in my mind over this past year.

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best dishes of 2014…

•January 4, 2015 • 1 Comment



Ten years.

This post marks a decade since I first started compiling a list of my 25 favorite dishes of the year.  What began simply as an annual bookmark to help me remember the good food I had has now become an anticipated tradition that attracts more clicks than any other post in the calendar year preceding. I don’t allow any advertising on this blog, so all the traffic is of very little value to me, other than alerting me to the fact that my year-end lists (including my posts about my 25 favorite desserts, and my 10 best meals, both of which shall appear anon) have also become a way to share and celebrate with all of you the chefs and restaurants that have delighted me the most.  So, even though I’m generally pretty cynical about lists, I’m happy that the 25 dishes that follow (and the 25 desserts and 10 restaurants listed in my next two posts) get the most eyeballs and mileage on this blog.  They deserve the attention.  I’ve had a lot of very good food this year, and to stand out in that wide and rich field is a feat be congratulated.*

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travel: leapfrogging…

•January 2, 2015 • Leave a Comment

Sheer magnitude


Another year is gone, and I’ve barely written about it.  This is especially sad to me, since so many wonderful things happened.

Every year, I pause at calendar’s end to record and remember the anxieties and adventures that made the preceding months memorable, including an accounting of all the restaurants I visited, and my favorite meals and dishes among them.  With this blog post, I initiate that annual tradition.

Last year, I commemorated 2013 with an honest look at my evolving career in photography and explored the blurring edges of my relationship with the restaurant community and my place within it. I questioned whether I could write responsibly about chefs and restaurants, given my increasing professional ties with them; or, whether I should write about them at all.  Although I ended that blog post with a fair sense of resolution, those issues and concerns spilled over into 2014, as I considered them anew.

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12 days: on the twelfth day of christmas: kostow… (2014)

•December 31, 2014 • 2 Comments

And that's a wrap.


And finally, the twelfth night.

The last day of the Twelve Days of Christmas is fraught with mixed emotions.  For the staff, there are nerves about the menu, which, year-after-year, seems to spring out of Christopher Kostow’s mind at the last minute.  There’s always a marked bump in energy, as the cooks reclaim their kitchen – without a guest chef to host, the workflow seems leaner, more efficient. There’s the anticipation of the holidays, and a much needed break from the exhausting run of the dinner series. And for a few, it’s the bittersweet end of a chapter; a move, a new job, the last shift.

I’m there somewhere right in the middle.  Although I’ve spent the last eleven posts talking about the guest chefs, their food, the vintners, and their wine, I’m going to take some time out of this report to tell you a little about my role and my perspective at the Twelve Days of Christmas.

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12 days: on the eleventh day of christmas: mattos… (2014)

•December 30, 2014 • 1 Comment

Ignacio Mattos


It has been quite an international Twelve Days of Christmas.  In fact, judging by past rosters, this was, perhaps, the most culturally diverse line-up at The Restaurant at Meadowood yet.

Kobe Desramaults (Day 3) is Flemish, Alexandre Gauthier (Day 4) is French.  Matthew Orlando (Day 1) is an American expat who opened a restaurant in Denmark, and Esben Holmboe Bang (Day 10), a Dane, is chef of a restaurant with a Finnish name in Norway. Corey Lee (Day 9) is Korean-born, though raised in the United States, where he now cooks. And then came Ignacio Mattos, an Uruguayan chef who owns Estela in New York City, the darling au courant of the American food media.  His dinner on the eleventh night, in collaboration with hosting chef Christopher Kostow, was paired with wines by DANA Estates.

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12 days: on the tenth day of christmas: holmboe bang… (2014)

•December 29, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In a clearing carpet of chickweed.


It had been raining every day for two weeks.  California was finally finding some much-needed relief from a severe, two-year drought.

So, when a rare window of blue sky opened up one morning, Cameron Cole Rahtz, the forager for The Restaurant at Meadowood, jumped on the opportunity.  He grabbed Esben Holmboe Bang and me, we grabbed our raincoats, piled into his car, and raced off towards the woods. We found the forest shaggy with moss and verdant with new growth.  Delighted by the abundance, Holmboe Bang started compiling a wish list of wild herbs and mushrooms for Rahtz to help him find for the dinner he was cooking the next day: California red bay, chickweed, Miner’s lettuce, sorrel, oyster mushrooms…

Esben Holmboe Bang is the Danish chef of the two Michelin-starred restaurant Maaemo in Oslo, Norway, where I had the chance to dine earlier this year. He was the tenth guest chef to cook at this year’s Twelve Days of Christmas hosted by Christopher Kostow, with wines paired by Colgin Cellars.

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