best dishes of 2007…

2007 saw a noticeable change in food trends. Our nation’s culinary drivers began to consciously steer us away from fine dining and toward casual fare. This de-emphasis on luxury in favor of the humble meant that caviar and foie gras became out-paced by brussels sprouts and short ribs; the fascination and wonder with molecular gastronomy […]


2007 saw a noticeable change in food trends. Our nation’s culinary drivers began to consciously steer us away from fine dining and toward casual fare. This de-emphasis on luxury in favor of the humble meant that caviar and foie gras became out-paced by brussels sprouts and short ribs; the fascination and wonder with molecular gastronomy (finally) started to show some wear; chocolate and offal exploded all over the place and; artisanal and local became the only cool way to live and eat. All of this is reflected in the ulterior epicure’s third annual “best of” list.

Caramelized Pork Belly
#20 Caramelized Pork Belly, Bite Club

Personally, 2007 marked a full year of gainful employ. Hot off the heels of a higher degree, I launched into the working world of commuting, voice mail, emails, and, well – work. Rewarding and challenging in its own way, this new life-style posed unexpected demands on, and issues for, the broader narrative scope of my eating.

Although mostly stuck on the back forty (Kansas City) and travel-restricted, I found renewed joy in cooking for myself. I nearly quadrupled my cookbook library and have made satisfying headway into my favorite ones. And, although my hometown is famous for its barbecue, a smokehouse regular I am not. Thankfully, despite my dread and drear of a slow death at the hands of one too many saucy pulled pork sandwiches (I prefer the vinegar-tinged sauces and dry-rubs of the South) or twice-baked potatoes, a slow culinary awakening in the Heartland managed to feed me quite well in the absence of much traveling.

L'Atelier Joel Robuchon
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon,
New York

However, I did manage to get out for some “recreational eating.” In three visits to New York and one to Miami, I effeciently checked off nearly a dozen restaurants on my ever growing *list* including Batali’s shrine of Italian cuisine, Babbo, and Michelle Bernstein’s Miami neighborhood gem, Michy’s. I even managed to squeeze in some hot newcomers who occupied the limelight on the gastronomic stage, however briefly, either due to an opening, like Sam Mason’s Tailor in New York or James Beard Award-winner Michael Smith’s new self-named restaurant in Kansas City, or a change in chef, like Daniel Humm’s arrival at Eleven Madison Park or Michael Anthony’s installation at Gramercy Tavern. And, with the new Michelin ratings for 2008, which included L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, I pocketed nine more stars in my own little culinary collection.

Before the Awards
A star-studded cast gathers for the
James Beard Awards, Avery Fisher Hall

If all that good eating wasn’t enough, I was also honored and privileged with an invitation to this year’s James Beard Awards at Avery Fisher Hall at the the Lincoln Center in New York. The food for this year’s gala was provided by over two dozen past James Beard Rising Star Award nominees and winners. The A-list of chefs included culinary notables like Grant Achatz, Cory Lee, Andrew Carmellini, Christopher Lee, Bobby Flay, Traci des Jardins, Marcus Samuelsson, Fabio Trabocchi, and this year’s winner, David Chang.

Cotton Candy Foie Gras
Just Desserts #2 Foie Gras Cotton Candy
James Beard Awards

Evaluating the hundreds of bites I’ve had in 2007 yielded unexpected twists, turns and results. After thoughtful review, I concluded that many of the most anticipated meals and dishes of the year turned out to be some of the most deflating and uninteresting. Perhaps one of the most talked about dishes of the year, Joel Robuchon’s (in)famous $17 “Langoustine,” I found over-hyped and over-priced. On the other hand, unbelievably tasty treasures were uncovered in the most unexpected places, like an unassuming but unforgettable chopped salad at Joes’ Stone Crab in Miami.

As usual, I am thankful for a full, happy, and healthy year of good eating. I am blessed. Far too many good morsels have crossed these ulterior lips; I wish I could include more of them on my list, like the amazing taco lengua I had at a hole-of-a-tacqueria in the industrial Armordale district of Kansas City, Kansas, or the deviled lamb’s kidneys on brioche that my friend, Dave, a chef, cooked up for me one night (Fergus Henderson’s recipe).

Certainly, not everything mentioned on this list was perfect; that would be impossible (or, I’d rather use the luck on a lottery ticket). But, for one reason or another, the following 25 dishes and 10 desserts managed to leave a deeper impression on my palate than others.

This post marks the third annual edition of the ulterior epicure’s “best dishes” In case you’re curious about the dishes that highlighted the previous two years, you can see and read about my line-up for 2005 here, and for 2006, here.

To see photos of all of the dishes I have selected this year, visit the “best of 2007” collection on my flickr account here. You can also click on the hyperlinked titles to each dish.

1. Fennel-Dusted Sweetbreads (Babbo, New York)
For a sweetbread-lover like myself, this was a dish sent from heaven. When it alighted from on high, for a moment, life paused. It was perfect in every way. The gigantic nuggets dusted in Wondra flour and fennel seed powder were fried to a golden crisp on the outside while remaining molten hot on the inside. Sauced in sweet-tangy membrillo vinegar sauce, the sweetbreads sit in a very rich-flavored mushroom broth with grilled scallions, “duck bacon,” and silky-smooth strands of “sweet and sour” onions, which, together with the membrillo vinegar, undercut the dishe’s richness. It is a spectacular combination of flavors that I hope to return to.
Executive Chef Mario Batali

#2 Pork Belly Steamed Buns,
Momofuku Ssam Bar

2. Pork Belly Steamed Buns (Momofuku Ssam Bar, New York)
Words cannot do justice to how good these fat-filled-steamed dough pockets were. It would be senseless for me to try to describe them. Having had magnificent traditional steamed buns most recently, (last year) in China, I was prepared to be underwhelmed. Au contraire… Everyone should try Momofuku’s version at least once – they’re easily the best (and most expensive) steamed pork belly buns I’ve had on this side of the International Date Line. Executive Chef David Chang

#3 Lamb’s Brains “Francobolli,” Babbo

3. Lamb’s Brains Francobolli (Babbo, New York)
It seems that every year, at least one ravioli dish makes my “Best Dishes” list. In 2005, it was veal ravioli in Argentina. Last year, it was that fantastic quail egg ravioli at the now-closed schwa. This year, it’s Mario Batali’s Lamb’s Brains “Francobolli.” I have a heart attack just thinking about the buttery, creamy wonderfulness. These *perfectly* al dente pasta “postage stamps” were filled with a mix of ricotta cheese and lamb’s brains. I ate every single one. I really enjoyed the sage and butter with a slight hint of lemon and the fresh shaving of Grana Padana. The butter sauce wasn’t greasy or oily, rather it was thicker, almost creamy. Executive Chef Mario Batali

4. Four Story Hill “Boudin Blanc” (Eleven Madison Park, New York)
This tiny poached boudins were served with minced Hawaiian prawns, morels and asparagus. The boudin blanc was almost fluffy inside. There was a nice bounce to the filling and the casing was taut, but not tough or chewy. ChefHumm’s use of truffles was perfect – it was very subtle and didn’t overwhelm the extremely delicate flavor of this very fine chicken meat. This dish also afforded me the joy of savoring the first morels of this year’s season; tiny, tender packages that soaked up the rich demi glace. The small cuts of prawn were plump and tender, the bay scallops were sweet and silky. Despite the small portion, I was amazed at how many bites I got out of the dish. Each element was so flavorful that it relished each forkful. Executive Chef Daniel Humm

5. Warm Tripe “alla Parmigiana” (Babbo, New York)
The sauce is what really made this dish – a slightly sweet, but mostly tangy hearty tomato-based sauce with a significant amount of pepper heat. What a joy it was to cut through the crispy thick-cut rustic bread toast, soaking up some of the sauce, and taking it with a few pieces of the silky tripe. This is one of the most extraordinary tripe preparations I’ve ever encountered! Much to my happiness, it was easily reproduced at home! Executive Chef, Mario Batali

#6 Olive Oil “Bon Bons,”
James Beard Awards

6. Olive Oil “Bon Bon” (James Beard Awards, New York City)
At this year’s James Beard Awards, famed Spanish chef Jose Andres showcased two of his modern gastronomic signature items from minibar, his exclusive six-seat restaurant in Washington D.C.: Olive oil “bon bons” and “Foie Gras Cotton Candy.” These curious candies consisted of a hard crystallized sugar drop incapsulating a shot of bright green olive oil. The thin shell shatters (or dissolves) in your mouth unleashing a gush of shockingly fruity and bright olive oil. The experience was completely surreal; I loved watching the expression on people’s faces as they popped them in their mouths! Jose Andres, Executive Chef of Jaleo, Zaytinya, Cafe Atlantico, and minibar, Washington, D.C.

7. Lamb’s Tongue with Fava (Casa Mono, New York)
I love a good lamb’s tongue dish, and as you will see, two make it on to this year’s list. Casa Mono’s was like corned beef version deep-fried in a nicely goldened bread crumb coating. The flavorful and tender tongue is sliced and served warm, topped with fava beans on a bed of peppery-bitter arugula. There was also some nice roasted pepper sauce (perhaps an aioli?) served on the side. I didn’t bother with the sauce, the tongue was outstanding on its own. Chef de Cuisine Andy Nusser

#8 “Elevages” Perigord Foie Gras
Eleven Madison Park

8. “Elevages” Perigord Foie Gras (Eleven Madison Park, New York City)
A good cut of smooth foie gras au torcon is not far from my heart. This puck of goose liver is one of the most beautiful specimens I have tasted. Not only was the presentation gorgeous, but the flavors were subtle, nuanced, and sophisticated. The exceptionally smooth and creamy foie was marbeled with veins of dark Venezuelan cocao which were mirrored in the cocoa swirled into the toasted brioche rounds that accompanied the dish. The foie was surrounded by quince gelee drizzled with olive oil. The wine pairing, Heidi Shrock Beerenauslese, demonstrated why John Ragan’s wine program is particularly strong. Here, the Beeranauslese really picked up the cocoa, which I had a hard time discerning on its own. Executive Chef Daniel Humm

Beef Marrow
#9 Beef Marrow, Blue Ribbon Bakery

9. Beef Marrow (Blue Ribbon Bakery, New York City)
I admit, I’ve never really been that big of a fan of bone marrow. I find the stuff too greasy and gloppy. However, since I first read about Blue Ribbon’s bone marrow many years ago, I’ve been wanting to try their version. Three things make Blue Ribbon’s bone marrow outstanding: 1. They provide plenty of toast. 2. Sea salt. They served coarse sea salt on the side. After slathering the sloppy marrow across the bread (which makes the perfect mop for this dish), I dusted the toast with *crunchy* sea salt. 3. Red wine sauce. Rich, thick, complex and wonderful. At first, I scooped the marrow out of the top of the bones but soon discovered that it was better enjoyed by pushing the marrow out the bottom end and mixing it with the wine sauce before spreading it on the bread.

10. Braised Niman Ranch Short Ribs (Women of James Beard Dinner, 40 Sardines, Overland Park, Kansas)
This was probably the *best* short rib dish I have ever had. The flavors were amazing and the meat was wondrously soft, marbled with silky strands of gelatinous connective tissue that melted in the mouth. While the first couple of bites were a bit too salty, especially with crushed olives, the natural juices and the cherry tomatoes added a perfect hit of sweetness. The short rib meat is topped with chiffonade of Thai basil (if my tastebuds are correct), which injected a wonderfully fragant, spicy and meaty aroma. Since, I have, quite successfully, replicated Goin’s short ribs recipe from her cookbook, Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Susan Goin, Executive Chef of A.O.C. and Lucques.

House-cured Gravlax
#11 House-Cured Gravlax, Perry Street

11. House-cured Gravlax (Perry Street, New York City)
Every dish I had at Perry Street on a balmy May day was *technicolor* vivid. Among the many colourful dishes I sampled, the house-cured gravlax was the only one that truly gripped me by the tongue. Silky strips of house-cured salmon gravlax were draped over a thick cut of toasted brioche. What you can’t see initially, is that the brioche cleverly encases two barely coddled (poach is really too harsh a method to describe barely-cooked state of these eggs) eggs. The eggs were topped with a butter emulsion (think loose, whipped hollandaise) and then covered with the salmon. Cutting throught he brioche unleashed an enthusiastic *ooze* of creamy yolk, foamy butter, and a tumble of cloud-like egg white. The real treat for me was the thoughful bed of herbs that had been layed beneath the brioche – a mix of dill and tarragon, which became naturally incorporated into the buttery yolk mixture as you scooped up each bite. This was a traditional brunch favorite elevated to the highest level. Executive Chef Jean Georges Vongerichten

Japanese Kobe Beef Shabu-Shabu
#12 Kobe Beef Shabu Shabu

12. Japanese Kobe Beef Shabu Shabu (James Beard Awards, New York City)
Can anything be served elegantly to hundreds of people at a mill-around gala? Michael Mina can do it. At this year’s James Beard Awards the former winner of Best Chef California astounded me with an ingenius method of serving Kobe beef, shabu shabu – en masse. Raw slices of Kobe beef were rolled around scallion and ginger and the bundles were nestled in a small individual double-ply plastic cups. Each cup could be run under a *piping hot* tap of consomme and served a la minute. This ensured that the broth was served hot and allowed each guest to decide how long they wanted to let the meat steep. It was not only a brilliant presentation, but it was, by far, one of the most outstanding shabu shabus I have ever had. The broth was complex and flavorful, and the meat was incredibly silky and fresh. Michael Mina, Executive Chef of Michael Mina (Las Vegas and San Francisco) and Stripsteak in Las Vegas

13. Short Ribs Falling Off the Bone (Michy’s, Miami)
The short rib dish at Michy’s in Miami give Susan Goin’s (see #10) a run for their money. Comfort food is Michelle Bernstein at her best and these moist, flavorful – juicy almost – and silky soft hunks of short rib meat were no exception. Although the strands parted easily and visibly, in the mouth they melted away without any work. The accompanying “Moroccan carrots” contributed to the greatness of this dish: each cube tasted like a 100 carrots spiced with Moroccan seasonings. They were unbelievably sweet and intense with flavor, it was surreal. Executive Chef Michelle Bernstein

14. Cocks Comb with Cepes (Casa Mono, New York City)
This is the dish that made me want to visit Casa Mono. I was not disappointed. Both the cock’s comb and mushrooms had been cooked to gelatinous perfection in a dark, slightly sweet sauce reduced to sticky glaze. I especially enjoyed the dusting of spiced Marcona almond bits on top, which had been coated in some kind of red pepper mixture with a significant amount of heat. They were a little sweet and provided a wonderful textural counterpoint. A garnish of scallions not only offered a nice colourful contrast, but added a welcomed grassiness to the otherwise heavy and dark flavors. Chef de Cuisine Andy Nusser

15. Berkshire Pork “2 Ways” (Justus Drugstore, Smithville, Missouri)
This unassuming restaurant in sleepy Smithville, Missouri serves one fantastic pork chop. It was impossibly flavorful, moist and juicy – it almost was squirting juice. The accompanying pork shoulder was every bit as good as the chop – the strands nearly unseaming at the thought. Executive Chef Jonathan Justus

#16 Fried Cauliflower, Momofuku Ssam Bar

16. Fried Cauliflower (Momofuku Ssam Bar, New York City)
This dish of cauliflower was not only flavorful, perfectly executed, and satisfying, but it was fun to eat. The cauliflower had a nice golden crusty outside, but was perfectly cooked – still a bit firm – on the inside. What really made this dish for me was the fish sauce-based broth with a tinge of sweetness that flavored the whole dish from top to bottom. Everything else was icing on the cake – from the fragrant delfino that perfumed the whole dish with a grassy cilantro-like aroma, to the crispy rice puffs that contributed a nice festive, crispy mouthfeel. Executive Chef David Chang

Local Brook Trout
#17 Local Brook Trout,
Blue Hill at Stone Barns

17. Local Brook Trout (Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, New York)
This coral-coloured filet of local brook trout rested on a bed of summer corn and local chanterelles. The fish was barely cooked – in wonderful silky limbo between flaky and raw. The fillet glistened with a light but flavorful and naturally sweet tomato-based sauce flecked with smoky coriander seeds and briny capers (one of the only non-local ingredients I spotted at this temple of farm-to-table eating). This was satisfyingly simple, yet extraordinarily sophisticated dish highlighting the best of the season and the local land. Executive Chef Dan Barber

Warm Lamb's Tongue Vinaigrette
#18 Warm Lambs Tongue Vinaigrette,

18. Warm Lambs Tongue Vinaigrette (Babbo, New York City)
A few things made this warm salad a great success: First, I enjoyed the use of vinegar. It really helped cut through whatever gaminess might have been in the tongue and it paired perfectly with the chanterelles. Second, I loved that this salad was served warm. The mat of arugula beneath the lamb was just wilting by the time you got down there – and had soaked up all the sauce and juices. Lastly, the perfectly poached egg was the crowning touch (quite literally). Piercing the egg, the yolk oozes out and coats the salad with just the right touch of creaminess, which, the vinegar also helped offset. Executive Chef Mario Batali

19. Cumin-Spiced Swordfish (Michael Smith, Kansas City, Missouri)
I haven’t ordered swordfish at a restaurant in about 10 years. (No, not because Tony Bourdain says not to.) I just don’t enjoy the texture or taste of swordfish – too meaty-steaky and sometimes distastefully ferric. However, this dish was too tempting to overlook: cumin, preserved lemon, braised artichoke, and garbanzo beans. The fish was flaky and moist and the flavors nuanced. The cumin rub was smoky and assertive, without being overwhelming. The artichoke hearts were firm, but still silky and I especially enjoyed the tang of them artichokes, together with the preserved lemon vinaigrette, against the salty-smokiness of the fish. Executive Chef Michael Smith

20. Caramelized Pork Belly (Bite Club, New York City)
Tucked away the private home of Daniel and Alicia is a clandestine supper club known to New York food fanatics simply as “Bite Club.” The couple, who operate anonymously, cater elaborate multi-course meals for friends and insiders. I attended one such private dinner party – a gathering of an eclectic and eccentric mix of gastronomes – where Daniel served a wonderful rendition of caramelized pork belly. Each piece had a nice layer of fat running through two strands of expertly caramelized and melt-away pork meat; the flavor of which was not unlike Chinese char sui (or bbq) pork. Chefs Daniel and Alicia

Chopped Salad
#21 Joe’s Chopped Salad
Joe’s Stone Crab

21. Joe’s Chopped Salad (Joe’s Stone Crab, South Miami Beach, Florida)
I abhor iceberg lettuce, and I can’t believe that an dish containing the blasted stuff could make it on to this list. When I see/hear people ordering it, I want to tear my hair out. Let’s just all admit that the famous steak house “Wedge” is just a vehicle for blue cheese and bacon – it’s not a salad at all. This said, Joe’s “Chopped Salad” – a mix of iceberg, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and carrots tossed with canned black olives, honey-roasted peanuts and feta cheese managed to tame my violent objections to the appearance of the otherwise worthless lettuce. It was the vinaigrette, actually… it was wonderful. It could have made moldy bread taste like a slice of heaven. I asked, and the server happily provided me with the recipe (it was printed on a business-card ready for handing out, although it can also be found on the restaurant’s website), and have since made it at home.

22. Frico with King Crab and Scallion (Lidia’s, Kansas City, Missouri)
Lidia Bastianich is famous for a lot of things, but perhaps my favorite recipe in her repertoire is frico. A specialty of the Friuli region of Italy, frico are thin crepe-like discs of melted and slightly crisped Montasio cheese filled sandwiching a warm and inviting mix of ingredients. I’ve tasted (and made) many of Lidia’s frico fillings. But, the potato, scallions and lumps of king crab stuffed in one at her restaurant in Kansas City this past year is by far the best combination I’ve experienced. It was so good, in fact, it inspired me to haul back a hunk of Montasio from Di Paolo’s in New Yorks’ Little Italy (it’s not sold here on the back forty) to make a batch. Chefs de Cuisine Dan Sweeney and Cody Hogan

23. Salumi Sampling (Felidia, New York City)
I will not soon forget the grand assortment of eight house-cured salumi – including cooked goose, veal testina, coffee-cured wild boar, and juniper berry-cured duck – that were presented to my friend and me by Chef Nicotra at Felidia. The thinly sliced meats had been layed out on a wood-framed board lined with wax paper, dusted with micro-greens, pickled ramps, fiddlehead fern tips, and drizzled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Magnifico! Executive Chef Fortunato Nicotra

#24 Passionfruit-Poached Char

24. Passionfruit-Poached Char (Tailor, New York City)
I tend not to like “fruity” meat/fish courses – but Sam Mason’s passionfruit sauce was more like a lemon butter sauce than a sweet-tart curd, as I had imagined. The char was deliriously silky – as if it were (dare I suggest) sous vides. The flesh hung in that nirvanic state of warm rawness that flirts with barely-cooked. Large peels of coconut helped balance the flavor and texture of this exotic dish! Executive Chef Sam Mason

25. Salt-Baked Branzino (Sardinia Enoteca + Ristorante, Miami Beach, Florida)
I haven’t a proper salt-baked fish since I was last in Milan (circa 2004). I love the salt-baking method. The crust seals up the flesh producing impossibly fluffy and moist meat, as it did here. At Sardinia Enoteca + Ristorante, an up-and-coming Sardinian-focused restaurant in Miami Beach where everything is wood oven-fired, the salt-baked branzino is extraordinary. First presenting the crusted cooked fish, our server removed it to the kitchen where he deftly re-plated the entire fish as if some magical force had just simply zapped away the skin, crust, bones and head – both filets, laying one on top of each other, were complete and unruffled. As a final touch, the server drizzled some extra virgin olive oil over the fish at the table. The meat was wonderfully textured. The flavor was clean and pure – with a slight saltiness along the surface where traces of the crust lingered to season the dish.

“Just Desserts”

For the second year, I’m separately acknowledging the 10 best dessert courses I’ve enjoyed in 2007.

Coconut Tapioca
Just Desserts #1 “Coconut Tapioca,”
Gramercy Tavern

1. Coconut Tapioca (Gramercy Tavern, New Y0rk City)
The simple title, “Coconut Tapioca,” completely under-estimates the sophistication of this pre-dessert course. Gorgeously-plated, this stay-over from the days of former Gramercy Tavern pastry chef, Claudia Fleming, featured a quenelle of passion fruit sorbet on a passion fruit caramel tuile adrift in a pool of creamy coconut tapioca surrounded by an emerald ring of cilantro syrup. The flavors, textures and were immensley successful. The composition was tart, sweet, crunchy, chewy, nutty, grassy and buttery – a rapturous revelation. I’m still trying to track down a (reasonably affordable) copy of Fleming’s out-of-print cookbook, Last Course, which includes the recipe. Pastry Chef Nancy Olson

2. Cotton Candy Foie Gras (James Beard Awards, New York City)
Though not fancy, some of the best bites I can think of come on a stick. Jose Andres’ Cotton Candy Foie Gras, another creation from his laboratory, minibar, was no exception. Along with the Olive Oil “Bon Bons” (see #6 above) presented at the James Beard Awards, Andres pulled out these unforgettable one-bite wonders: a single cube of foie gras rolled in crushed caramel stuck on a stick and enveloped with a gossamer coat of cotton candy. Creative, fun, and sexy, it brought out the kid in all of the tuxes and gowns that night. Jose Andres, Executive Chef minibar, Cafe Atlantico, Jaleo, & Zaytinya, Washington, D.C.

3. Green Pea Cake with Strawberry Ice Cream (Felidia, New York City)
Wow. My companion knitted his brows over this novel combination – green peas and strawberry. I thought it made sense. And, it certainly tasted very good. The pea cakes were more like pancakes. They look crisp and dry, but they were moist and cakey. The fresh, sweet green pea flavor paired wonderfully with the strawberry ice cream. Pistachio brittle guilded the lily. This combination of flavors was so wonderful that I spun my own inspiration from it for a dinner party I hosted not too long after my dinner at Felidia. Executive Chef Fortunato Nicotra

Tasting of Ice Creams
Just Desserts #4 “Tasting of Ice Creams,

4. Tasting of Ice Creams (Cru, New York City)
Requesting to deviate from the dessert on the tasting progression at Cru was perhaps the smartest menu decision I made in 2007. I’m sure that chocolate dessert that I was supposed to get was very good. But, don’t regret the tasting of ice creams I requested. The flavors – all five of them – *popped* with exciting flavor and appeal. The one that I found especially compelling was a coconut curry ice cream. It was so good, that I emailed the pastry chef to request her recipe for it. She generously shared it with me, and I reproduced it with much success in my kitchen. Pastry Chef Tiffany McIsaac

5. Caramelized Granny Smith Apples (bluestem, Kansas City, Missouri)
Often, the most strange combination of flavors turn out to be the best. Apple, thyme, and black truffle? Joe West, the Pastry Sous at one of my favorite restaurants in Kansas City, bluestem, created a de-constructed apple pie with some unexpected bells and whistles. Dices of caramelized Granny Smith Apples and nuggets of buttery, flaky crust were artistically strewn across the length of an elongated plate. With a swish of sweet apple butter offset by a drizzle of grippingly herbacious thyme aigre dolce the plate was finished with a walnut emulsion. The final kick to this unique combo was a quenelle of black truffle ice cream, which added a layer and level of earthy sophistication that was unexpectedly brilliant. This dessert creatively showcased the best of autumn in one successful composition. Pastry Sous Chef Joe West, Pastry Chef Megan Garrelts

Angel Food Cake
Just Desserts #6 Angel Food Cake,
Michael’s Genuine Food + Drink

6. Angel Food Cake (Micheal’s Genuine Food + Drink, Miami, Florida)
Sweet and heat have always been a great combination to me. But, this dessert – almost too straightforward – was stellar. Who thought angel food cake would benefit so well from a syrup spiked with cayenne pepper? Despite the accompanying syrup and macerated strawberries, the cake itself was both springy and moist, light and angelic. The cayenne syrup and the cayenne-spiced strawberries, however, were devilishly bewitching and addictive… I took longer and longer dunks in the syrup the more I ate. Executive Chef Michael Schwartz

7. Prune Armagnac Ice Cream (The Modern Bar Room, New York City)
You all know how much I *lurve* me some ice cream – especially creative flavors. You may also remember that Jean George’s Prune & Armagnac Ice Cream made my “Just Desserts” list last year. The version I had this year at the Modern’s Bar Room managed to impress me more than Jean Georges’, and therefore deserves a place in this year’s list. What made the Modern’s version particularly appealing was an extra spike of Armagnac. I like my ice creams gutsy. Pastry Chef Marc Aumont

Just Desserts #8 Gingered “Tofu Flower”
Soup, Bo Ling’s

8. Gingered “Tofu Flower” Soup (Bo Ling’s, Kansas City, Missouri)
Mmmm, it’s good – not too sweet.” Isn’t that how the highest Chinese compliment to a dessert goes? Somehow, the humble Bo Ling’s in Kansas City has made it onto my “best of” list twice in a row. Last year, it was their “Imperial Shrimp” that caught my attention. This year, it’s the gingered “tofu flower” soup, a traditional Cantonese dim sum/breakfast item that I enjoyed on the last Saturday of the year. (In Chinese, it’s also known as “tofu brains” due to the silky-soft texture of the tofu.) As is done in dim sum houses across the world, the diner is presented a bowl of “tofu flower” over which a steaming hot ginger-infused broth sweetened with brown sugar is poured table-side. Restoring, comforting, and healthful, it was good – not too sweet.

9. Black Olive Cake (Tailor, New York City)
I’ll admit, after having a spectacular meal at Momofuku Ssam Bar, I wasn’t expecting much to impress me at the newly-opened Tailor. other than the Passsionfruit-poached Char (see #24), hardly a dish caught my fancy. The Black Olive Cake, however, did make me look and taste twice. It was innovative and good. The black olives in the cake were assertive, but managed to be sweet. Overall, the cake was complex and rich in flavor and the crumb was incredibly moist. The accompanying house-made granola provided a wonderful textural counterpoint, especially when served with yogurt ice cream, which was tangy and pointedly acidic. The blueberries were slightly dehydrated and meaty – a great foil for olives. Executive Chef Sam Mason

10. Peach 3 Way (Michael Smith, Kansas City, Missouri)
I can’t say which part of this dish is my favorite. The upside down cake was extremely buttery, saturated with rich peach-butter-brown sugar caramel sauce. Served warm, it was moist, soft, and silky. A nice creamy cold contrast, the peach ice cream was equally as good; a generous dusting of ground cinnamon made it something special. The third component were fresh summer-ripened slices of warmed and soft peaches. Together, this threesome was a wonderful ode to the peach.
Pastry Chef Michael Bump

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12 replies on “best dishes of 2007…”

Small typo/misspelling: “9. Beef Marrow … 2. Sea salt. They served course sea salt on the side.” Shouldn’t that be “coarse?”

I still try to visit Babbo every time I go to NYC, even with a million other places I still want to try.

Some people in SF think Michael Mina is last years news. I still love the place. I had the shabu shabu there last time I visited, and the presentation at the table is also very nice. Pretty sure I posted a photo of it in my flickr stream (haynes) but if not I’m sure I can find it.

Thanks for the writeup!

Shocked to see so many KC area restaurants on the list without Krause Dining leading the pack. I had three amazing meals there last year while Bluestem and 40 Sardines were big dissapointments. I’ll have to give Bluestem another shot.

ventredeporc: Thanks for dropping by. Sadly, I find most of Kansas City’s restaurants inconsistent. When they’ve got their A-game on, 40 Sardines and Michael Smith can be really hot. But, when they’re not, they can be uninteresting to downright bad. bluestem has always been good, if not extraordinary. Lidia’s is also predictably good, as is Tatsu’s. I’ve been to Krause’s a few times in the past year. Maybe I didn’t go on the right nights – but I didn’t see anything of his that could even come close to the 35 dishes I commend to this list.


You did’nt “see anything” that would come close to your top 35 dishes at Krause Dining? Obviously Food & Wine disagreed when they voted Krause Dining 11th on their “Top 100 places you must eat in 2008″…IN THE WORLD. I did not see Bluestem, Michael Smiths, 40 Sardines or Lydia’s on that list. Rightly so, Krause Dining does not belong on a list with those other restaurants. Krause is in a whole different league.
I understand your culinary background is that of an ******** who enjoys fine dining. I believe it may be your lack of culinary training which attributes to your lack of understanding the quaility of every single ingrediant on every single plate that leaves Krause’s kitchen. From micro greens to a light dust of fennel pollen, every detail is carefully executed. I have yet to experience anything close to Krause Dining in the Kansas City area, including all the places on your list.

grange88: That’s (more than a little) unfair. Regardless of what I do for a living (keep guessing), I would like to think that I’m entitled to my opinion as to what the 35 best dishes I had in the past year were. I don’t know what (you or) the folks at F+W ate at Krause’s, but I’m glad they found it worthy of their “Top 100 Places…” That, however, doesn’t mean that it has to be on my top list. Perhaps I didn’t get to see Chef Krause’s “A” game. Micro greens are something of yesteryear to me. Food needs neither micro greens nor fennel pollen to be extraordinary. As for your statement regarding other restaurants in KC vis-a-vis Krause’s, I think we’ll just have to agree to disagree. I have experienced meals at bluestem, 40 Sardines, Justus Drugstore, Michael Smiths, and Lidia’s (with an “i,” not “y”) in the past year that have surpassed my meals at Krause’s. I appreciate Krause’s attention to sourcing and using a broad variety of ingredients, but overall, none of the dishes I tried did that much for me. They’re good, but not particularly memorable.

What a mouth-watering list of foods. I bet you would have enjoyed the meal you recently had in Copenhagen, at a restaurant called Noma, in case you ever visit.

Well, I am just excited to see places I remember in KC on the list… I don’t have a clue about fine dining, but I respect and enjoy a good read about food. I had lunch at 40 Sardines in Nov and it was quite good. I am impressed with Lidias but it’s not my fave place to eat when I go back. (I don’t live in the area anymore so I haven’t heard of Krause Dining and Justus Drugstore…) Your blog is terrific.

thanks not only for your list, but for the photos and detailed description of each wonderful item. i also love the mix of ‘haute’ and ‘not’. bravo.
i definitely agree with you on gramercy tavern’s coconut tapioca dessert. stunning. i can’t say i agree about EMP’s foie gras — when i had it, the gelee was rhubarb whereas you had quince. i found the gelee far too sweet, which threw the dish a little out of balance.

I think this article is great as it shows how foodie tastes vary. Michys shortribs in my estimation was the worst dish of the year while i do agree with you with many others such as Momofukos pork buns.

For 2008’s list, you can’t miss CityZen in the Mandarin Oriental in Washington DC. I recently had the chef’s tasting menu with wine pairings and have never had such a completely thrilling dining experience, from first bite to last. The (first course of )Carpaccio Of Atlantic Fluke with
Fuyu Persimmon, Puffed Japanese Sweet Rice, Micro Peppercress and Pomegranate Vinaigrette and (dessert of) Cheesecake Chiboust
with Soft Graham Cracker and Passionfruit Sauce were particularly outstanding.
Sure to tickle your tastebuds – would love to hear your thoughts.