best dishes of 2008…

White truffle at l'Ambroisie
Softball-Size White Truffle
l’Ambroisie, Paris, France

Gastronomic self one-upsmanship was not my intention when 2008 began. But it happened quite unexpectedly. For the past three years, I’ve recapped the top 25 dishes in a year-end review (click here for 2005, here for 2006, and here for 2007).

Annually, I announce with certainty that my lucky streak has ended and that no subsequent year could possibly treat me as well. So far, I’ve been wrong ever year. This year, I say the same, and I mean it.

In the gastronomic department, 2008 will be a hard year to beat.

I kicked off the new year with a frigid eating trip to Minneapolis. In March, I celebrated my 30th birthday in Chicago with more good food. That was quickly followed by two trips to New York.

Iranian Osetra Caviar for
Iranian Osetra Caviar
per se, New York

At the end of July, I headed to Dallas and Philadelphia, and returned to Chicago for a second helping. October found me in Orlando. And, in the last month, I took a quick detour to the Rockies before skipping over to Europe for a two week eating spree.

Along the way, I picked up well over 50 Michelin stars.

I revisited some greats and favorites, like Le Bernardin (New York), Jean Georges (New York), per se (New York), Eleven Madison Park (New York), North Pond (Chicago), and Avenues (Chicago; just before Chef Graham Elliot Bowles’s reign ended).

States-side, I managed to fulfill a few long-awaited restaurant visits, like Paul Virant’s Vie (Western Springs, Illinois); Marc Vetri’s vetri ristorante (Philadelphia); Marcus Samuelsson’s Aquavit (New York City); and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson’s frasca food & wine (Boulder).

Oak Moss
“Oak Moss”
The Fat Duck, Bray, U.K.

Abroad, I finally roasted Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck (Bray, U.K.); put in some face time at “Old Sweary’s” (Gordon Ramsay) home office at Royal Hospital Road (London, U.K.); checked back in at le Cinq, now under Eric Briffard, to see if it is worthy of reclaiming its third Michelin star (Paris); and, at Paul Bocuse Pont de Collonges, France The selection of sweets at Paul Bocuse was wide and deep. This baba au rhum, which had already been soaked in rum, was again doused with a healthy dose of St. James rum at the table. It was so soft that I was surprised that the cake could even stand up on its own. It literally melted away in my mouth, chased with a warm glow that tunneled down my gullet. Half a bun later, I had trouble seeing straight.”>l’Ambroisie (Paris), I set a new record for the most expensive meal I have ever had. (I’m embarrassed to admit the amount; let’s just say that it would make masa look like a steal.)


“Smoke”
per se, New York, New York

And, if all this wasn’t enough, in an eleventh hour rally, I happened upon my best meal of the year at The Sportsman (Seasalter, U.K.).

(For an entire list of restaurants I visited in 2008, consult this list.)

With all of this eating, identifying the 25 best dishes was not an easy task. I considered making an exception this year by expanding the list to 50 dishes. But that seemed like a tedious imposition on you and me.

So, to maintain the integrity of my annual review, I have decided to keep the list at 25 dishes. However, this year, I append a list of 15 “Rest of the Best Dishes of 2008” to lighten my own conscience for leaving them off the top tier.

I can’t deny that the following list is roughly ordered from best to the least best (whatever that means). But, honestly, every one of these 25 dishes was extraordinary. The eating experience is a highly subjective one, and given the right mindset, appetite, and setting, any one of the following could scoot into the top seat.  Some of these dishes may not have been technically flawless or dripping sophistication, but for one reason or another, they carved the deepest imprint into my food memory bank.

Per usual, the Best 25 Dishes are followed with my annual “Just Desserts” review – traditionally, a list of the 10 best desserts of the year. This year, I include a list of 10 “Rest of the Just Desserts of 2008.”

To all the chefs and restaurant workers who made my 2008 a delicious dream, thank you!

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u.e’s 25 Best Dishes of 2008

Click on all of the photos or links for larger format viewing.  The restaurant links take you to my review of that meal, if available, or to the photo set.  To see the 25 Best Dishes of 2008 and the Just Desserts together in one set, click here.

Black Sea Bass Tartare
2008 #1 Black Bass Tartare
Le Bernardin, New York, New York

1. Black Bass Tartare
Executive Chef Eric Ripert
Le Bernardin
New York, New York

The black bass tartare made me consider moving to a small fishing village on the Mediterranean. That entire dish was magic, actually. I couldn’t tell you what I loved more – the silky, but almost waxy texture of the fish, or the conversation of flavors: tangy meets grassy, salty meets floral, all ricocheting off the clean, fresh bass as a sounding board. Or, perhaps it was the warm slices of toast, rewardingly crunchy on the outside with a thin, steamy layer on the inside that provided just the right vehicle and contrast for the cool, supple tartare.

4th Course: Le
2008 #2 Le “Sandwich” Tiede a la Truffe Fraîche
Michel Rostang, Paris, France

2. Le “Sandwich” Tiede a la Truffe Fraîche
Executive Chef Michel Rostang
Michel Rostang
Paris, France

The ingredients, I venture, involve two pieces of toast, one stick of butter, a good truffle’s worth of shavings, and a dash of sea salt. These items meet on a griddle. Decadent. Simple. Spectacular.

Plat Principal: Escalopines de Bar
2008 #3 Escalopines de bar
l’Ambroisie, Paris, France

3. Escalopines de Bar
Executive Chef Bernard Pacaud
l’Ambroisie
Paris, France

Considering that this dish alone cost more than a meal at per se (*cringe*), I’d say that it had pretty high standards to live up to. Thankfully, it delivered everything that was promised. The scallopine of sea bass were cooked perfectly and sat atop thinly-sliced artichoke hearts swimming in a sea of golden Osetra caviar the size of small pearls (I’m not kidding). The creamy butter sauce was spiked with a tinge of acid, which went wonderfully with the briny, salty, fish eggs. I made sure every little bead was eaten. This dish was the high altar of gastronomy.

Monkshill Farm Breaded Lamb's Belly
2008 #4 Monkshill Farm Lamb Belly
The Sportsman, Seasalter, U.K.

4. Monkshill Farm Lamb Belly
Chef and Owner Stephen Harris
The Sportsman
Seasalter, The United Kingdom

This little morsel was utterly devastating – a thin slice of impossibly tender lamb belly meat layered with collagen and fat, crumbed and fried until it developed a crunchy shell. It was served with nothing more than a sweet mint sauce. I’m still recovering from the realization that I can’t have this at every meal.

Toasts Brules d'Anguille
2008 #5 Toasts Brulés d’Anguille
Pavillion Ledoyen, Paris, France

5. Toasts Brulés d’Anguille
Executive Chef Christian Le Squer
Pavillion Ledoyen
Paris, France

Listen up folks, this is one for the history books – a truly outstanding dish. Thin strips of eel were set on toasted avenues of dark bread and glazed with a red wine reduction sauce.  Two squares of hollowed waxy potatoes held pools of horseradish cream.  I am a sucker for any form of smoked seafood, especially eel. And the pairing of smoked eel with a slightly sweet, mostly tart, glaze, together with a horseradish cream was a combination that Le Squer knocked out of the park.  Of all the very good dishes I had at Ledoyen, this one, above the rest, impressed me the most.

Brown Crab Risotto
2008 #6 Brown Crab Risotto
The Sportsman, Seasalter, U.K.

6. Brown Crab Risotto
Chef and Owner Stephen Harris
The Sportsman
Seasalter, The United Kingdom

It was the color of dark caramel and tasted like a million simmered brown crabs in each bite. The flavor profile skirted the coast of Brittany, delicately balancing minerality and natural sweetness. It was intense, perfectly executed (the risotto was porridge-like, without being gruel-like; it was soft and pourable, not stiff and austere), comforting, and the Platonic ideal of what it is. It’s the kind of dish better had at night as it would leave you utterly useless for the rest of the day otherwise.

Chicken Liver Pate
2008 #7 Chicken Liver Pâté
The Sportsman, Seasalter, U.K.

7. Chicken Liver Pâté
Chef and Owner Stephen Harris
The Sportsman
Seasalter, The United Kingdom

It’s simply a quenelle of chicken liver pâté on a bed of shaved button mushrooms dusted with Parmesan. But it’s not just simply a quenelle of chicken liver pâté on a bed of shaved button mushrooms dusted with Parmesan.  Inoculated with Sauternes, this slightly sweet and heady pâté left me undone.

Smoked Hudson Valley Duck Breast
2008 #8 Smoked Duck Salad
momofuku noodle bar, New York, New York

8. Smoked Hudson Valley Duck Breast Salad
Executive Chef David Chang
momofuku noodle bar
New York, New York

Everyone said that Chang’s duck salad is one of the best dishes at momofuku noodle bar. Everyone is right. This tender, sliced duck breast meat was perfumed with cinnamon and served with whole-grain mustard seeds, sour cream, and topped with fresh arugula. The flavor and textures were creative, thoughtful, and exciting.  I get shivers every time I think about it.

AlmondTortellini
2008 #9 Almond Tortellini
vetri ristorante, Philadelphia, Pennyslvania

9. Almond Tortellini
Executive Chef and Owner Marc Vetri
vetri ristorante
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Unlike most tortellini, which are tough and meager, these soft pockets filled with a creamy risotto of Carnaroli rice dusted with crunchy bits of toasted almonds, were fat and happy. These tortellini, lightly bathed in a pungent white truffle sauce, were made even more thrilling by the wine pairing (Bolognani, Teroldego 2006 “Armilo,” Trentino). The dark red juice, slightly earthy and spicy, picked up the toastiness in the nuts and cheese in an electrifying storm of flavor. This course, especially with the wine, was a good stone’s throw ahead of any other dishes I had at vetri ristorante, and indeed, ahead of most dishes I had in 2008.

DiNic's Roast Pork Sandwich
2008 #10 DiNic’s Roast Pork Sandwich
Reading Terminal Market
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

10. DiNic’s Roast Pork Sandwich
DiNic’s, Reading Terminal Market
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

You gotta get it with “the greens,” they said.  They were right. The greens are essential. So is the sharp Provolone. DiNic’s sautees baby spinach with some oil (I wouldn’t be surprised if they used some drippings from the pork as well), salt, and enough garlic to make it spicy. The silky mass is layered on the pork with some sharp Provolone cheese – which is also essential – in a long, soft submarine roll nestled in a red plastic basket. It far surpassed any cheese steak I’ve ever had, whether in Philly or elsewhere. Big enough for two as a full meal, four or five as a snack, this gargantuan tube of juicy goodness is a steal at $6.50.

Duck Breast and Foie Gras Ganache
2008 #11 Duck Breast and Foie Gras Ganache
Aquavit, New York, New York

11. Duck Breast and Foie Gras Ganache
Executive Chef Marcus Samuelsson
Aquavit
New York, New York

Describing the effect that the foie gras ganache had on the perfectly cooked strip of duck breast meat is difficult. It may be impossible. On the one hand, it acted like a sauce for the duck. But, really, the duck (and everything else) was an accompaniment to the foie gras. It was duck on duck.  It was sweet, yet savory, creamy – almost milky, yet cakey in some parts. It was surprisingly light. It was *magic.*

1st Course: La Terrine de Foie Gras
2008 #12 Terrine de Foie Gras
Michel Rostang, Paris, France

12. La Terrine de Foie Gras
Executive Chef Michel Rostang
Michel Rostang
Paris, France

Foie gras can be very good.  But, for me, it’s not irresistible; I enjoy it as an accent more than the focus.  This terrine, however, was the most exciting foie gras dish I had in 2008. Rostang confidently side-steps cliché and convention and plays  up the savory side of foie gras – pairing it with leeks and black truffles – thereby ingeniously directing focus onto the inherent sweetness in the liver.  The block of silky liver was layered with sweated baby leeks and topped with a black truffle consomme and black truffle julienne.  Refusing to pander to the common sweet-seeking palate, this pungent and beefy treatment brought out a side of foie gras I’ve never experienced before.

Roasted Pork 'Havana'
2008 #13 Roasted Pork “Havana”
Norman’s at the Ritz Carlton
Orlando, Florida

13. Roasted Pork “Havana”
Executive Chef Norman Van Aiken
Norman’s at the Ritz Carlton
Orlando, Florida

I was completely unprepared for the impact that Van Aiken’s Latino-fusion food would have on me.  It was a pleasant surprise.  This was unlike any pork I’ve ever had in my entire life.  It was rosy, tender, juicy and crusted with the most alluring mix of spices, which penetrated the meat entirely. The pork was served with a soft, fluffy tower of “Haitian grits;” black bean-sweet corn “salsa;” smoked plantain crema; and  “21st Century mole,” which was a glossy demi glace, thick and slightly sticky.  These rich flavors and textures were offset with a fragrant shower of fresh lime juice.

Hot Smoked Trout
2008 #14 Hot Smoked Trout
Aquavit, New  York, New York

14. Hot Smoked Trout
Executive Chef Marcus Samuelsson
Aquavit
New York, New York

Barely cooked, the fish had the consistency of custard and was slightly perfumed with smoke. As if this wasn’t brilliant enough, the fish was topped with silky enoki mushrooms and finished with a subtly sweet-tart warm apple-horseradish broth, poured table-side. It was a concert of flavors that could be picked apart, or enjoyed as a whole. I could see this dish being equally satisfying in the summer as in the winter.

Canard au Sang servi 'à la Presse'
2008 #15 Canard au Sang
Servi ‘à la Presse’
l’Ambassade de l’Ile, London, U.K.

15. Canard au Sang servi ‘à la Presse’ (First service)
Executive Chef Jean-Christophe Ansanay-Alex
l’Ambassade de l’Ile
London, The United Kingdom

Was it the blood (which was pressed out of the carcass table-side) in the velvety civet sauce, which approximated the texture and flavor of a fine Mexican mole? Was it the incredibly marbled breast-meat of the Challans duck? Was it the the coins of tart-sweet, glazed turnips? Yes. All of these elements made this course one of the most unforgettable dishes I have had this year.

Sweet Sour Crab Salad
2008 #16 Sweet Sour Crab Salad
112 eatery, Minneapolis, Minnesota

16. Sweet Sour Crab Salad
Executive Chef Isaac Becker
112 eatery
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Different from most of what Becker cooks at 112 eatery, this salad was a refreshing Asian-inflected composition. Dispensing with the creamy, this salad was a simple mix of greens, crab meat, and fresh herbs. The dressing was key – sweet and sour (as the name suggests) with a definite hit of chile heat. The crispy fried shallots added a wonderfully savory, crisp texture. I don’t generally like mint, but the use of whole fresh mint leaves, along with cilantro, was just perfect.

Pintade Pochee en Vessie
2008 #17 Pintade Pochée en Vessie
Guy Savoy, Paris, France

17. Pintade Pochée en Vessie
Executive Chef Guy Savoy
Guy Savoy
Paris, France

One bite of this guinea fowl breast meat and you’ll understand why the French poach their birds in pig’s bladders. This. Was. Utterly. Fantastic.  The bird was birthed from the bladder and carved table-side. The breast, exuding natural juice, was smothered with a cream sauce kissed with curry and served with truffled basmati rice.  The thighs and legs, no less moist, were kept warm and served in a second course, along with more cream and rice.

Canard de Challans a l'Hibiscus
2008 #18 Canard de Challans a l’Hibiscus
l’Arpege, Paris, France

18. Canard de Challans a l’Hibiscus
Executive Chef Alain Passard
l’Arpège
Paris, France

Delivered into the right hands, Challans duck, with its well-marbled breast, is just exquisite. The dark meat here, as welll, was excellent. Passard renders the skin crispy, with a beautiful hibiscus glaze encrusted with crystals of salt. The thick baton of duck breast, sided with a nugget of the hind quarters was served with a tangy, rich-flavored sauce. The duck was served with a quartered red beet, beet “noodles” – wide ribbons of thinly-sliced beets, which looked like pasta, but were actually slightly cooked beets. The duck was also served with a quenelle of fluffy marc d’orange.

Golden Sweet Onion Crêpe
2008 #19 Golden Sweet Onion Crêpe
vetri ristorante, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

19. Golden Sweet Onion Crêpe
Executive Chef and Owner Marc Vetri
vetri ristorante
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

This, perhaps more than any of the pastas, is Vetri’s best known dish. I can certainly see why. It was amazing. It’s not a crêpe in the traditional sense. Caramelized sweet onions are stuffed and rolled into a crêpe. The roulade is sliced, topped with grated cheese, and baked. The gratinee round is plated on top of a creamy truffled fondue. It’s like a hundred bowls of French onion soup condensed into one tiny puck. It’s salty, it’s sweet, it’s creamy, it’s soft, and it’s crispy. It’s intense.

Salumeria Italian Hoagie
2008 #10 Italian Hoagie
Reading Terminal Market
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

20.Italian Hoagie
Salumeria, Reading Terminal Market
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

The thing to get at the Salumeria is the Italian hoagie – slices of coppa, spicy capicola, and mortadella with “the works:” Provolone, onion, roasted red peppers, vinaigrette, and red chiles . I tossed in artichoke hearts for good measure. All of this is layered on a split hoagie. Whereas the DiNic’s roast pork sandwich (2008 #10) is pillowy, warm and comforting, the Salumeria’s Italian hoagie is stalwart and gruff. You won’t linger over this sandwich like you might with others; it rewards with quick workman-like satisfaction.

Warm Maine Lobster
2008 #21 Warm Maine Lobster
Picholine, New York, New York

21. Warm Maine Lobster
Executive Chef Terrance Brennan
Picholine
New York, New York

This dish featured a fat lobster claw draped over a crispy cake of basmati rice soaking up a thick, spicy and fragrant kaffir lime-lemongrass coconut curry sauce. Gutsy, fragrant, and full of body, it was an unexpected delight coming from a kitchen known for its heavy Mediterranean influences.

Prime Carne Asada
2008 #22 Prime Carne Asada
Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana
Fort Worth, Texas

22. Prime Carne Asada
Executive Chef and Owner Lanny Lancarte II
Lanny’s Alta Cocina Mexicana
Ft. Worth, Texas

I think this dish should be renamed the “Primal Carne Asada.” This was prime beef at its prime. I’m not exactly sure of the measurements of this legendary round of beef, but collectively, every ounce of the perfectly-grilled, juicy, and flavorful tenderloin was worth the $40 price tag. It was attended to by large roasted shallots melting within their papery skins and a papa relleno, a captivatingly crispy-shelled torpedo of mashed potatoes stuffed with blue cheese. The Dijon demi-glace, which was part tangy, part spicy, and rich all over, was nuanced, complex, and well-crafted. Laced throughout each bite, the sauce tied everything together wonderfully.

Grimaud Farms Muscovy Duck
2008 #23 Grimaud Farms Muscovy Duck
Eleven Madison Park, New York, New York

23. Grimaud Farms Muscovy Duck
Executive Chef Daniel Humm
Eleven Madison Park
New York, New York

The server presented the bird, with its plumage of lavender, table-side before whisking it away to be carved and plated. The skin was crackling crisp, perfumed with lavender honey and spices (I recall getting a smoky hit of cumin), *and* the breast meat was moist and flavorful; there was just enough fat between the two layers for measured indulgence. I barely needed the rich veal demi glace that was presented. No less impressive was the square of duck confit (obviously prepared separately) topped with an equally crispy sheath of duck crackling.

Lamb Tartar
2008 #24 Lamb Tartar
L2.0, Chicago, Illinois

24. Lamb Tartar
Executive Chef Laurent Gras
L2.0
Chicago, Illinois

Probably the most visually stunning dish of 2008, the Lamb Tartar featured a gold-dusted rainbow garden patch rising above a two-tiered carpet of raw meat: on the bottom, magenta minced lamb; the top, exceedingly sweet milky-white tendrils of chopped ebi, or Japanese sweet shrimp, it was every bit as wonderful to behold as it was to eat. Together, the unexpected coupling, with floret cut-outs of pickled peaches and fresh tarragon in tow, had everything to lose, yet managed to shoot the moon. It was spectacular.


2008 #25 “Le Pot Roast”
Vincent’s, Minneapolis, Minnesota

25. “Le Pot Roast”
Executive Chef Vincent Francoual
Vincent’s
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Sometimes, all a boy wants is some stewed meat.  It was probably a swift 20 degrees below zero when I ordered this dish.   I have never had pot roast this good nor do I ever expect to again.  Chef Francoual produced  the softest – almost creamy – cut of pot roast I have ever had.  It came with a wonderfully rich, but clean, stew sauce and a mix of perfectly cooked root vegetables.  For a few brief moments, my dining companion was talking to himself.

CLICK HERE to see the 15 dishes that shouldah, couldah, wouldah, but didn’t make the 25 Best Dishes of 2008 list.

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Just Desserts

8th Course: La Poire Caramelisee
Desserts #1 La Poire Caramelisée
Michel Rostang, Paris, France

1. La Poire Caramelisée
Executive Chef Michel Rostang
Michel Rostang
Paris, France

I don’t even know how to describe this dessert.  It was fantastical.  It was whimsical.  It was serious. It was sophisticated.  It was sublime.  It was warm.  It was cool.  It was dark.  It was light.  A crisp cigar piped with a pear cream sat on a chocolate and pear clafoutis.  A touch of silver leaf here, a dollop of chartreuse jelly there, I was rendered speechless.  The experience of eating this was life-altering.

Ten Hours Oven-Cooked Apple
Desserts #2 Ten Hours Oven-Cooked Apple
Le Bristol, Paris, France

2. Ten Hours Oven-Cooked Apple
Executive Chef Eric Fréchon
Le Bristol
Paris, France

These cylinders of rolled apples were spoon-soft and had a beautifully fragrant flavor. The four apple cylinders sat on a pastry crust studded with nuts and spiced with cinnamon and coriander (there was a very slight hint of muskiness that I thought perhaps was cumin; the server checked with the kitchen – it was coriander). The cider sorbet was incredibly intense – a sour hit of alcohol. This was an exquisite composition that exceeded my wildest expectations.

Chocolate Tart with Tangerine Ice Cream
Desserts #3 Chocolate Tart
Tangerine Ice Cream
The Sportsman, Seasalter, U.K.

3. Chocolate Tart with Tangerine Ice Cream
Chef and Owner Stephen Harris
The Sportsman
Seasalter, The United Kingdom

This wicked chocolate tart slayed me. The pastry crust was very thin, serving only as a structural support for the filling: a tannic noir de noir love child of mousse and ganache. The pie was blanketed with a super-fine dusting of shaved dark chocolate. I *heart* citrus and chocolate. Here, the coupling was enhanced by the blissful bitterness of the chocolate, which twitched with the high tang of cold steel, approximating the upper register of the citrus spectrum. The tangerine ice cream alone was suitable for gastronomic framing. It sat on a dehydrated wafer of tangerine so crisp that one could mistake it for sugar glass.

Tarte Sablée à la Châtaigne
Desserts #4 Tarte Sablée à la Châtaigne
l’Ambassade de l’Ile, London, U.K.

4. Tarte Sablée à la Châtaigne
Executive Chef Jean-Christophe Ansanay-Alex
l’Ambassade de l’Ile
London, The United Kingdom

Chestnut desserts are usually crude and frumpy.  This one broke the mold.  The sablée crust to this “tarte” was only a ring. The interior consisted of a ring of chestnut mousse with a core of lemon confit (think lemon curd the consistency of very fine and silky apple sauce) topped with a vexing whiskey sabayon. This other-worldly creation was crowned with a iridescent sugar glass dome.

Dessert: Tarte Fine Sablée au Cacao Amer
Desserts #5 Tarte Fine Sablée au Cocao Amer
l’Ambroisie, Paris, France

5. Tarte Fine Sablée au Cocao Amer
Executive Chef Bernard Pacaud
l’Ambroisie
Paris, France

How can something so pitch dark be so light? A l’Ambroisie classic, this slice of “tarte fine sablee” was like a wedge of air. The bitterness of the chocolate was as rewarding as its lightness. The tart was dusted with bitter cocao and served with a quenelle of intense vanilla ice cream. It was simplicity that seemed impossible to replicate. This is what God eats for breakfast.

Huckleberry Brioche
2008 #6 Huckleberry Brioche
frasca food & wine, Boulder, Colorado

6. Huckleberry Brioche
Executive Chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson
frasca food & wine
Boulder, Colorado

After a bold and flavor-forward feast, this simple cut of pillowy brioche, paved with crème fraîche and warmed blueberries (which bled their berry goodness into the creamy spread), was a stunning and simple end.  The square of pastry was accompanied by a dip of house-made yogurt ice cream on a bed of white chocolate shavings.  Tart, with a mellow, sweet middle note, this dessert was balanced and tidy.

Fresh Bartlett Pears
Desserts #7 Fresh Bartlett Pears
Michael Smith, Kansas City, Missouri

7. Fresh Bartlett Pears
Executive Chef Chef Michael Smith
Michael Smith
Kansas City, Missouri

Warm pears and Parmesan: Brilliant.  Brilliant.  Brilliant.  These pears were excruciatingly ripe – you could eat these with a spoon.  The one component that I was not expecting, was a good dose of fruity olive oil drizzled along with the honey.  A celebration in simplicity, this was a dazzling dessert.

Texas Blueberry Pie
Desserts #8 Texas Blueberry Pie
York Street, Dallas, Texas

8. Texas Blueberry Pie
Executive Chef Sharon Hage
York Street
Dallas, Texas

Though I initially faulted this pie for its heavy-handed inclusion of citrus, it haunts me to this day.  There was very little pie crust, which would normally irk me. But the generosity of the filling – a beautiful, thick wedge of Texas blueberry heaven – was comforting and satisfying in a way that few pies are.

Le Multi-Saveurs
Desserts #9 “Le Multi-Saveurs
l’Atelier de Joel Robuchon
New York, New York

9. Les Multi-Saveurs
Executive Chef Joël Robuchon
l’Atelier de Joël Robuchon
New York New York

Of all of the outstanding dishes that L’Atelier has to offer (and that I have tried), this is the one that most encourages me to run, not walk, in returning for another meal. I rarely fawn over a dessert. And, it’s not that the savory dishes at L’Atelier are so lackluster as to make this dessert seem better. This dessert IS just that much better. The perfect bite is achieved by shattering the chocolate stick studded with gold-leafed feuillatine and plunging one’s spoon through the ginger ice cream, red fruit puree and pushing down through the dense Jivara chocolate ganache at the very bottom so that all layers and a piece of the crunchy stick are captured. It’s like chocolate and cherries – but a thousand times better. I cannot emphasize how good the chocolate, red fruit puree and ginger ice cream went together. Of course, the crunch from the chocolate feuillatine stick was indispensable to the success.

Delices et Gourmandises
Desserts #10 Baba au Rhum
Paul Bocuse, Pont de Collonges, France

10. Baba au Rhum
Executive Chef Monsieur Paul Bocuse
Paul Bocuse
Pont de Collonges, France

The selection of sweets at Paul Bocuse was wide and deep.  This baba au rhum, which had already been soaked in rum, was again doused with a healthy dose of St. James rum at the table. It was so soft that I was surprised that the cake could even stand up on its own.  It literally melted away in my mouth, chased with a warm glow that tunneled down my gullet.  Half a bun later, I had trouble seeing straight.

CLICK HERE to see the next 10 best desserts I had in 2008.

~ by ulterior epicure on January 2, 2009.

8 Responses to “best dishes of 2008…”

  1. Awesome little article. It makes for some very interesting reading.
    Some surprises, all pleasant though.
    I have been drooling myself over the memory of a couple of those…

    FYI, the runners-up links are not working.

  2. Awesome list with a lot of interesting dishes!
    I´m wondering which camera and lins do you use for shooting the beatiful pictures, especially night time ?

    All the best
    zwampen

  3. Yet another awesome list. I was a little surprised to see nothing from Bluestem on here considering how often you eat there. Any thoughts on that?

  4. snekse: Thanks. Yes, I ate at bluestem at least a dozen times this year. It is a great restaurant – one of my favorites in Kansas City. If you look on my “Rest of the Best” list, you’ll see one from bluestem. Alas, as I said, I did a LOT of good eating, and it was so difficult to whittle down my list.

  5. Beautiful. I wish I could say I’ve been to HALF those places. I have had the pea soup at Bluestem though, and it’s incredible. Going there tomorrow with the Mrs. for our anniversary. Great place.

  6. What a coincidence. I just got back from dinner at bluestem. Enjoy your dinner and happy anniversary.

  7. Variety of very delicious dessert and food

  8. Just ended up on this site through a link and wanted to inform you that the layout is a bit messed up, the menu looks a little distorted. At least in Safari, so the problem might be related to my browser.

    Just wanted to let you know about it so you could look into it if you want to…

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