best dishes of 2005…

Best Dishes of 2005

Click on any of the photos to see all of the Best Dishes of 2005


Wild wood strawberrys, Nicoise olives, basil
chiffonade, & basil ice cream at Mosconi. Luxembourg.

Click on any of the photos to see all of the Best Dishes of 2005.

My gosh does time fly… It’s been a year since I first tempted your tastebuds and launched myself into cyberspace obscurity by initiating the Ulterior Epicure. I know I’m no Chez Pim, Chubby Hubby, or Chocolate & Zucchini (all blogs that I drool over). Honestly, I would love to be able to devote more time to indulging my passion for food online, but my current situation doesn’t allow that…

But, before this post turns into a belaboring apologetic, I quickly move on to commemorate and celebrate my first anniversary with a review of the best dishes I had the pleasure of being served (and, of course devouring) in the year 2005.

Logging thousands of miles (over 3 continents), and even more calories, 2005 turned out to be a very good year of feasting. In fact, it was, by far, the best year of eating I have ever had. I just hope that it’s not my last.Having spent a good four months of 2005 traveling across Europe helped immensely in refining my palate and increasing my knowledge. As well, a solid three months in Chicago afforded me the advantage of not only truly getting immersed and familiar with the restaurant scene in perhaps the most trend-setting dining town in the U.S. right now.

From classic, but still great chefs, to the new generation of food scientists, I thoroughly enjoyed visiting, and even getting to re-visit some of my favorite Chicago restaurants.My other travels took me as faraway as Argentina, where I discovered new a whole other world of gastronomy – not the least of which was the devastatingly good helados – their version of Italian gelato.

Closer to home, I did a considerable amount of eating in Kansas City, as well as quite a few in the Detroit area. Turning over the pages of my tasting menus and poring over scores of pictures taken, gathering together my many eating adventures has been an indulgent exercise in food memory. However, the dishes I list herein required no reminding, having etched their way permanently into my palate. So intense the flavor or texture, or so stunningly creative and novel, the following dishes spontaneously force a smile to my face with no prompting. So, to fête my one year anniversary as a blogger, am thrilled to present to you my “list” of the best dishes of 2005:On savories…

My dining in Chicago yielded quite a number of my favorites. In the Windy City, I made-up for lost years of dining experience among the old-school, but still very good chefs like
Roland Liccioni at Les Français in far-away Wheeling. The piece de resistance to his sumptuous 8-course degustation was the (1) duo of curry lamb loin and soy bison tenderloin accompanied by snap peas, carrots,and chanterelles. So infused were the flavors and the meat that I was convinced the lamb and bison had been raised eating nothing but curry and soy sauce, respectively! Each cut into the tender meat seemed to squirt curry and soy juices…
At another event at which Liccioni was present, a wine dinner at Le Lan, resident Chef Andy Motto sent out a stunning (2) Vietnamese-Style Peekytoe Crab Soup with wild mushrooms and a garnished with fresh asparagus tip. Warming, spicy, deeply savory with a tinge of fishy-tang, this was the high-end Franco-Viet answer to the traditional hot and sour soup.


Caviar Course: Staircase close-up (roll-over).
Originally uploaded by
ulteriorepicure.

Secreted in the tiny private “kitchen table” room at Rick Tramonto’s TRU, I ascended the steps of luxury on his famous (3) Caviar Staircase. A miniature glass free-standing staircase featuring a different ingredient on each step. Working our way up, we encountered all of the caviar service usual suspects – chopped egg (yolk and white presented separately), chopped red onions, capers. Towards the top, we were treated whitefish roe, nose-clearing wasabi tobiko roe, brilliantly orange and poppingly-fresh trout roe and the crowning glory, Osetra caviar. While the food didn’t provide any spectacular revelations – the presentation certainly earned it a spot on 2005’s Best Dishes list.

At the Tasteful Pursuit charity dinner in Chicago, hosted at one sixtyblue in June, Chef Cornelius Gallagher’s (3) Loup de mer en croute with Basmati rice and Asian greens in a tamarind-curry sauce bewitched me and still haunts me to this day. The soprano-high bright acid of the gingery-sweet tamarind with the mysteriously dark undercurrent of curry swept up the nuttiness of the Basmati to create a luxuriously unctuous medium with which to enrobe delicate loup de mer with bits of buttery crisp shards of crouton. Excellent! (I wrote to Gallagher to request the recipe, which he courteously sent – scaled for 200 people!!)

If theatrics adds to flavor, then Chef Homaro Cantu, one of the leaders of the scientifically-advanced school of cooking, has struck the right balance at Moto. (4) “Nitro Corn Chowder” both dazzled and fortified. What could be better than letting hot silky chowder slip down your gullet and munching on glowingly cool crispy popcorn while whisps of nitrogen gas escape from your nostrils? 

Across town, perhaps the most talked-about chef in the U.S., young Grant Achatz, served three of the most stunningly creative dishes I have ever had just three months after opening his own Alinea, perhaps one of the most talked about restaurants in the U.S. last year.  (5) Beef cap of A1 featured a tender cut of meat accompanied with a retinue of a dozen of the most unexpected ingredients. From garlic to molasses, when mixed together, this ingredients affected a A-1 sauce – no kidding!

(6) While Achatz’s braised-fried North Dakota bison course was very good, it was one corner of the dish that caught my tastebuds’ attention. Accompanying the delightfully tender bison and black truffles was a stunning grouping of braised pistachios, new potato on pistachio puree, and sweet spice gelee. The rendered nuts were bean-tender. Along with the puree and gelee, I forgot about the bison!

(7) “Hearts of Palm” deserves a spot on this list because of its sheer creativity in both presentation and preparation. Five hollowed out sections of hearts of palm were stuffed with different fillings and each paired with a different garnish. Not all of the combinations worked with me. Ponder date filling topped paired with Niçoise olive or a vanilla custard filling topped with avocado and red chile, or my favorite: pumpernickel and truffle filling topped with coffee sauce. At the Avenues, in the well-heeled comforts of the Peninsula Hotel, one of Food + Wine Magazine’s 2003 10 Best New Chefs Chef Graham Elliot Bowles coddled me with piping hot (8) frog legs in a creamy risotto that exhaled enough garlicky pungent white truffle to make diners ten feet away turn heads.Bowles also sent me into gastronomic orbit with a (9) hot-and-cold presentation of foie gras: a frozen foie gras lollipop came dusted with honey powder and its partner, a filet of seared foie gras crowned a gingerbread-like-spiced rice crispy. Magnificent.

As if all this wasn’t enough to contemplate during one meal, I could have died happy with Bowles’ (10) braised buffalo short ribs crusted with corn nuts and sauced with sassafras BBQ sauce at my side. There was no bone, but I swear the meat collapsed on command at the approach of my fork! The slightly sweet and herby, yet spicy sassafras BBQ sauce, together with the smoky-crunch of the corn nuts was an outstanding and creative coupling. This was an absolute masterpiece.

Although the Second City had treated me very kindly, two trips abroad – one five month romp around Europe and one to Argentina – proved gastronomically rewarding.

I’ll admit that I may have been starving my first night in Stockholm, but I can swear that the (11) “boiled beef” was truly stunning on its own merits at Backfickan (literally, the “backpocket” of the Stockholm Opera), a favorite after-show trough for famished performers and locals. Saddling up to the crowded bar, I reveled in piping hot cuts of boiled beef that clung loosely together with the aid of gelatinously succulent tendons. Accompanied by a hearty helping of root vegetables and velvety rendered leeks in a cream sauce, the fortifying Swedish fare was topped with a liberal dousing of freshly-grated horseradish root.


Smoked eel with shaved frozen
wasabi-Granny Smith and Sevruga caviar
at Bon Lloc. Stockholm, Sweden

Originally uploaded by
ulteriorepicure.

Up-market and slightly up-road at neighboring one Michelin-star Bon Lloc, Chef Mathias Dahlgren stunned me with a double feature of thoughtful haute Scandinavian cuisine. First, came a (12) filet of smoked eel, a local mainstay, covered in an unlikely avalanche of grated frozen wasabi-infused Granny Smith apple and crowned with enough Sevruga caviar to make Neptune jealous. Who would think of putting salty, smoky, fruity, briny, bitter and the hair-raising horseradish all on the same dish? Scandinavian cuisine maven, Chef Dahgren, of course! *Following quickly on its heels, Dahlgren wow’ed me again with a magnificent rectangular slab of (13) cold truffle-scented foie gras lined with gigantic cross sections of silky leeks fried in butter and a tuft of baby salads dressed with a tangy lemon vinaigrette. The portion was so generous and the foie so rich that this was the only Best Dish of 2005 that I couldn’t manage to finish!

While Swedish food impressed me in Sweden, who would expect that Scandinavian food could be so good south of the Equator as well? Imagine my shock when I tucked into a beautiful plate of (14) marinated beef topped with a cassis and almond compote at Ølsen in Buenos Aires’ trendy barrio, Palermo “Viejo.” The jerky-flavored beef was stewmeat-moist and crisped at the edges from a quick pan-fry. The flavor and texture sent my tummy-memory to the other side of the world – Chinese jiang row, a flavorful Chinese soy-marinated beef that is best when sandwiched in a hot flaky flatbread covered in sesame called, so bing.

Just a few blocks away, on the other side of the train tracks in neighboring Palermo “Soho” (not to be confused with the adjacent Palermo “Hollywood” district), sits unassuming Bar Uriarte. True to its name, this chic industrial joint has an impressive bar where the local hipsters descend for Uriarte’s famous pastries. By day, the crowd is a muted mix of working professionals out for an upmarket luncheon.


Veal Ravioli at Bar Uriarte.
Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Originally uploaded by
ulteriorepicure.

I would walk to Alaska for Bar Uriarte’s recipe for (15) veal ravioli – silky pasta pillows filled with finely textured veal – as if the cooked meat had been passed through a tamis. The fat ravioli luxuriated in an intensely beefy clear broth with a lovable company of velvety spinach, fleshy ivory trumpet mushrooms and just-so-softened peanuts.Dining al fresco at Katrine along Buenos Aires’ swanky “Boardwalk” in the Porto Madero district landed me the most delicate (16) sea bass I have ever had. The generous cut of fish sat triumphant atop a hill of smoky grilled vegetables, lording over a bevy of plump Patagonian clams and circled with a drizzling of thick and rich Argentinian honey. It was a splendid combination of smoky, savory, and sweet.

I slipped out early during a vapid opera at the famous Teatro Colon, and crossed the bustling 9 de Julio (the widest avenue in the world) to the posh Panamerico Hotel. There, on the second floor in Restaurant Tomo 1, sisters Ada and Ebe Concaro literally stopped the show with a plate of (17) veal brains Milanese and sweetbreads. The brains were crispy on the outside but molten-lava-soft inside. The sweetbreads as well were just-crusted over but yielded a beautifully tender interior. The offal duo was accompanied by silky braised endives and roasted grape tomatoes. The offal-lover in me was singing arias that would have outdone the opera across the avenida!

Back to Europe, near the tres chic Place de Vendômes and a arrow’s shot from the Tuileries in Paris, I marveled over a happy trio of (18) grilled chiperones stuffed with pigs feet and lobster. The wonderfully tender and plump packages were topped with crispy garlic chips and fresh basil leaves and sauced with a bright curry-citrus foam. A delightfully smoky rasher of crisp bacon on a bed of sauteed leeks played a significant supporting roll. I was singing Michelin two-star chef Alain Detournier’s praises and wondering why he hadn’t gotten his third.

Down in the hot and lusty capital of Spanish eating, Barcelona, “Madame” Gaig (prounced gatch) rewarded me with a stunning gem of the then-fall mushroom season at her husband’s eponymous restaurant. Detouring from my multi-course menu, my gracious hostess, who had overheard that I love mushrooms, ran to the table enthusiastically with a puffy parchment pillow. Releasing a cloud of steam as the pouch deflated with her deft knife-skills, Mme. Gaig revealed one of the most beautiful mushrooms I’d ever seen – dark rounded fleshy cap with a knobby off-white stem.

A couple of minutes later, Mme. Gaig returned with the (19) Bordeaux mushroom plated – cap and stem separated. The gorgeous fungus glistened with a savory, slightly sweet, demi-glace and came accompanied by a bevy of tender white beans. Simplicity, which is what Chef Carles Gaig is known for, speaks volumes! I don’t know why the folks at Michelin don’t just give chef him his second – or even third, star! If his cooking won’t impress you, his and his wife’s humility and charming hospitality certainly will!

Most of my better eating during my five months in Europe was enjoyed while traveling through the idyllic countryside of Europe. Indeed, it seemed the more remote the location, the better the food!

At a provincial farmhouse in Belgium, Michelin three-star chef Peter Goosens at Restarant Hof van Cleve presented a (20) plump Zeeland oyster glistening with shallot vinaigrette on a magic velvet carpet of beef carpaccio.

In the mysterious backwoods of the Austrian Alps, in the sleepy village of Werfen, two-Michelin starred Chef Rudolph Obauer and his brother, Karl run a small 10-room hotel. No not underestimate this humble cottage of a restaurant on the town’s main – only – street. Ducking in out of the snow and ice, I happily retreated into a four-hour multi-coursed meal of which dish of (21) veal liver layered with foie gras carpaccio partied in a earthy celebration with cepes (both sauteed and fresh carpaccio), with fresh thyme and a luscious truffle sauce. Perfection!

Tucked amidst the rolling Vosges mountains of Alsace-Lorraine, I fell in love with Michelin three-starred Chef Jean Klein. How could not love a man who serves you a (22) cream of Vichyssoise with tartufi bianchi d’Alba? The pungent “garlic-shroomy” aroma of the white truffles hit my nose like a load of bricks, knocking me straight up in my seat before I even saw the dish. The bowl of silken earthy-sweet potatoes and savory leeks with a touch (or more) of heavy cream came blanketed with a fresh falling of the magical “white stuff.”

A fellow Michelin 3-star in Germany, Dieter Müller was not to be outdone by such a culinary coup. At the equally remote Schloss Lerbach nestled in the sloped glades on the outskirts of Cologne where three-star Müller showers diners with an indulgent 19-course “Amuse bouche” lunch progression, the renowned chef countered Klein’s Vichyssoise element-for-element with (23) soup made of earthy-sweet chestnut instead of potato and tender savory morsels of guinea fowl instead of garlicky leeks topped with tartufi bianchi d’Alba.

Finally, on my tour of the more nether tables of Europe, I headed to Can Fabes in the quiet town of Sant Celoni along Spain’s breathtaking Costa Brava. Here, Spanish 3-starred Michelin food-god, Santi Santamaria, welcomed me heartily into his kitchen before for a quick turn before my meal. After touring the *gleaming* kitchen and a spectacular sunken wine cellar, I nestled into the rustic, but homey dining room to enjoy a multi-coursed menu which featured (24) Pigeon ‘bastilla’ with figs and nuts.

I had no clue what this might be until it was served and immediately made the connection. Santamaria’s “bastilla” was the Catalun version of one of my favorite Moroccan specialties – basteeya – traditionally an egg, chicken, cinnamon, (and sometimes dried fruits) and nut mixture wrapped in a phyllo and dusted with powdered sugar. Instead, Can Fabes’ “personal-pan” bastilla treasured tender morsels of spiced pigeon meat. The sugar powder-dusted phyllo cake sat on a bed of re-constituted dried figs and nuts that had been sauced with pigeon jus. Simple, yet complex, this was one of the most creative presentations of pigeon I’ve ever encountered. The encased-cooking method really preserved the moisture and tenderness of the fowl meat.


Smoked salmon terrine at Restaurant
Esszimmer. Salzburg, Austria.

Originally uploaded by
ulteriorepicure.

Finally, if one Michelin-starred Restaurant Esszimmer had been open during Mozart’s time, I’m sure their (25) smoked salmon terrine would have inspired a host of symphonies. A bright pink-orange cut of fresh salmon dotted with its own briny mouth-popping roe lay atop clear cool grassy dill aspic. All of this was elegantly circled by a crown of baby frissee, crispy carrot chips and toasted pinenuts.

Just desserts…

I’m not a big sweet-tooth, but quite a few pastry chefs successfully plied their way into my heart this past year. But, who could blame me? Could you resist an alluringly dark (26) Jivara chocolate-glazed chocolate mousse dome encasing a core of pistachio mousse? I think not. Especially if it’s served by as charming of a man as Chef Sandro Gambo** in his gastronomic nest, NoMi, perched above Chicago’s classy Magnificent Mile.

In the Grand-Duchy of Luxembourg’s low-lying Grund district along the lazy River Alzette, just as summer was falling off of the calendar, two Michelin-starred Chef Ilario Mosconi seduced me at his eponymous restaurant with the last of the forests’ warm-weathered treasures: a bowlful of (27) wild forest strawberries. Tumbled together with briny and meaty morsels of Niçoise olives (yes, that’s right – olives) and laced with chiffonade basil, the naturally sweet little berries were topped with a scoop of refreshing basil gelato. Forest met garden met the sea in this ode to Mother nature!I couldn’t resist answering the Italian-Luxembourgian Siren’s call and I returned to Mosconi a few months later where my divining sweett00th rewarded me with a bright orange dish of cold “filtered” (28) persimmon soup with a scoop of Gorgonzola gelato drizzled with chestnut honey. As before, Chef Ilario Mosconi manage to harmonize an otherwise unthinkable combination of ingredients. This dessert was truly amazing!


Espresso-chocolate-cardamom custard
and Earl Grey ice cream at
Blackbird Restaurant. Chicago, Illinois.

Originally uploaded by
ulteriorepicure.

At Blackbird where Chef Paul Kahan has bewitched me in years past with great food, renowned Pastry Chef Tara Lane absolutely stole my heart with a beautiful plate of (29) floral-bitter Earl Grey ice cream and espresso-chocolate-cardamom custard. Lane perfumed this dish with a sprinkling of lavendar sugar crystals and fresh strawberries.

Kurt Scheller’s in Warsaw, Poland advanced perhaps the most simple, yet exquisitely sexy sweet treat of the year – a scoop of (30) cinnamon ice cream drizzled with honey. While it sounds like a surfeit of sugar, the more-creamy-than-sweet ice cream, spiced with cinnamon,

The hills came alive again at Restaurant Esszimmer in Salzburg where the sinfully tempting (31)‘Kurbiskernschmrrn mit trauben kurbiseis’ would have sent Mother Abbess and Maria retreating with the fear of God to the convent for prayer. This was a pumpkin version of the traditionally Austrian pancake. The buttery pumpkin hotcakes, studded pumpkin seeds, came with slivered sauteed white grapes and pumpkin sorbet and garnished with fresh strawberries and gooseberries.

Equally simple yet spectacular was a fat (32) quince poached in pomegranate juice enjoyed at Haci Abdullah in Istanbul, Turkey. Chilled and halved, it’s hollowed-out tummy spilled forth a stunning cornucopia of moistened dried fruits and nuts that had been stuffed inside. A generous dollop of clotted cream kept me from being carried off by the bright and tang of the fruit juices.

I have…

eaten very well. I’m blessed. I’m thankful – especially to those who prepared the food that I enjoyed. I’m poorer… but I don’t regret the investment as my palate has become immensely more sophisticated that it was a year ago.

I’m excited for the treasures that 2006 has in store for me. We’re nearly a quarter of the way through – and I’ve already started to keep track. I hope I can look back at this year with as much admiration as this past one!
… and now I’m hungry.

* Sadly, since my visit, Dahlgren has closed Bon Lloc. When I visited in September, 2005, the Chef had told me that he intends on opening a new restaurant with a completely different take on food. I look forward to sitting at Dahlgren’s table again!

** Unfortunately, Sandro Gamba has since left NoMi and has fallen off of my radar. Despite
attempts to discover his whereabouts and plans for the future, I have not confirmed his location. Alas, I hope I may enjoy his food again.

~ by ulterior epicure on March 12, 2006.

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