favorite dishes of 2019…

– As you’ve probably noticed, this blog went silent over the summer. During that time, a wonderful team of smart people at WordPress and Automattic were working hard behind the scenes, giving this site a desperately needed makeover. While there are loose ends that still need tidying, I encourage you to start clicking around and […]


As you’ve probably noticed, this blog went silent over the summer. During that time, a wonderful team of smart people at WordPress and Automattic were working hard behind the scenes, giving this site a desperately needed makeover. While there are loose ends that still need tidying, I encourage you to start clicking around and exploring some of the new features, which include an interactive map and a more robust search engine. Also, tags for locations, restaurants, and chefs – which are still being added (you’ll find them at the bottom of each post) – will provide useful shortcuts to finding other, relevant content.

Ideally, this new site would have relaunched with everything in place. But as we entered the home stretch of this interminably long year, I decided that the interest of getting out long overdue material about 2019 far outweighed the vanity of perfection (which, let’s be honest, this site will never achieve). So, please keep in mind that there might be a few pictures out of sorts and quite a bit of unfinished cross-referencing. There’s a new index of chefs, as well, that has yet to be fully completed (you’ll find it in the menu at the top). So, if after clicking around, you still can’t find what you’re looking for, the search function (the magnifying glass at top right) will be the most reliable tool. Hopefully, all of the glitches will be resolved in good time. However, if you find any major snags beyond these issues, please do let me know.

Now, onto the business of properly closing out 2019.

“Banana Pancakes”
Angler Los Angeles

Memories of last year, which I described a few months ago as standing in dazzling relief against this year’s grim proceedings, seem even more vivid now. If 2020 has taught me anything, it’s that faithfully and consistently recording life preserves an invaluable trail of memories to savor in less busy, and sometimes less lovely times.

After panning through the countless plates I saw in 2019, many of the same, familiar gems from previous years sifted to the top.  This is not surprising.  As I wrote last year: I like what I like. And if consistency is a virtue, I’ll be happy to return again and again for them. While it may not make these annual posts exciting, hopefully the consistency is reassuring.     

This is the fifteenth year that I’ve memorialized the very best of what I’ve eaten in the preceding year. And throughout those years, I’ve made many disclaimers and qualifications that give this post, and the subsequent two posts (my favorite desserts, and my favorite meals from 2019), the context they require. Namely: (a) where and what I eat is increasingly dictated by work, (b) although I don’t pay for a lot of it, none of what I eat earns a sponsored mention here (or anywhere else on this blog), and (c) all of it is opinion. 

As in past years, my favorite dishes from 2019 span a wide range. They include everything from humble cornbread in a skillet and a simple salad, to a clever cultural transposition of a Chinese classic with French ingredients.

Rice appears quite a few times – there’s a porridge, and an intensely spicy jollof rice inspired by the flavors of West Africa. And there’s an abundance of seafood: langoustines in Spain, flat fish on the coast of Kent, lubina at a Mexican wedding, trout in Tennessee, and more. And beef had a particularly strong showing. There was a tourte of veal, aged beef beautifully grilled, and a wonderful brisket wearing a tangy coat of mustard.

The sum of it all is that I ate very well in 2019, and in light of the events of 2020, I’m very grateful for it.

(La Mercerie; New York, New York)

If I’m going to pay $26 for a small salad, it had better be this good. There wasn’t a lot to it. But what was in it was perfect: the velvety lettuce, the waxy potatoes, the tender nuggets of tuna confit, the beautifully boiled egg, and meaty olives. There were threads of salted anchovies, and slivers of onions, softened and charred. It hardly needed any dressing at all. The salad also came with some sliced baguette and a really nice wedge of butter.

Cane syrup, sea salt.
(Farm Bluffton; Bluffton, South Carolina)

Chicken, ginger, chili oil, soft egg.
(Tartine Sycamore; Los Angeles, California)

It’s remarkable that rice porridge at a bakery known for its bread and pastries would make such an impression on me. To be honest, I avoided this seemingly misplaced line item on the menu at Tartine Sycamore (which is otherwise pitched towards the avocado toast generation) the first few times I visited. I regret that. Because, since that first time I tried it, I don’t think I’ve been to Tartine Sycamore without it.

Beans, Hatch chiles, and white cornbread.
(Boulette’s Larder; San Francisco, California)

(Daniel Calvert for the Twelve Days of Christmas;
The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)

Chard and black truffle.
(The Barn at Blackberry Farm; Walland, Tennessee)

(Malcolm Lee for the Twelve Days of Christmas;
The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)

Mojo de jingibre.
(Los Cabos, Baja California; Mexico)

With Enrique Olvera and Daniela Soto Innes cooking, this was no ordinary wedding dinner. It was a multi-course, family-style feast that ranged from tacos to churros, and supplemented by a flood of quesadillas from the comal at midnight. The highlight was the fillet of lubina, dressed elegantly in a shimmering gown of its own scales that had been crisped in sizzling, hot oil. This was served with baskets of warm corn tortillas.

Chili crunch and rice.
(Angler; Los Angeles, California)

The comfort of a bowl of steaming rice and a beautiful piece of bass, together a clean canvas on which to showcase a glittering coat of chili crunch, Joshua Skenes’s ode to the “old godmother” of Chinese condiments: Lao Gan Ma.

Caviar, fermented chiles, habanada.
(Junghyun Park for the Twelve Days of Christmas;
The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)

This dish exemplified Junghyun Park’s unique ability to seamlessly fuse ying and yang: the humble comfort of winter melon with the richness of caviar; the deep umami of an Asian stew with the tangy brightness of New World habanada peppers.

Sole in Dulse Butter
Rochelle Canteen

(Kong Hans Kælder; Copenhagen, Denmark)

This dish appeared on this list in 2017.

Black truffle, soured crab apples.
(The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)

The breast of squab was embedded in a farce, wrapped in cabbage, revealing a rainbow of colors in the crosscut. But even more arresting was the texture – each layer so coordinated with the others that one could not tell when one layer ended and another began.

(Elkano; Getaria, Spain)

Elkano is a revolving door of fresh seafood pulled from local waters. Depending on seasonality, there might be goose barnacles, bream, or crab. On this visit in March, there were giant, sweet langoustines, which were simply spliced and grilled.


Mystery sauce.
(Kong Hans Kælder; Copenhagen, Denmark)

This dish appeared on this list last year.

(Rochelle Canteen; London, The United Kingdom)

Why don’t we have restaurants like this in the United States – a casual café tucked in a courtyard of a residential neighborhood serving serious food? Imagine my surprise when I sat down to a beautifully pan-fried sole – head to tail – spooned generously with a butter sauce laced with silky kerchiefs of dulse.

Mustard crust, with fries.
(Birdie G’s; Santa Monica, California)

Tucked among Jeremy Fox’s blue plate specials and winks at Jewish comfort is corned brisket (sometimes tongue), tender and terrific, crusted in mustard. It comes with a stack of fries, and a flag of the California Republic planted smack in the middle.

(The Restaurant at Meadowood; St. Helena, California)

Tenderized by time, flavor concentrated by age, these slices of old beef were accompanied by a buttery sponge of crumpet. This is the kind of simplicity and unapologetic deliciousness that makes Christopher Kostow’s cooking shine.

(Angler; San Francisco, California)

Seaweed butter.
(The Sportsman; Seasalter; The United Kingdom)

This dish has been on my year-end list of favorites every time I’ve had it (as early as 2014) at Stephen Harris’s seaside gastropub on the coast of Kent: a tender slip of sole, the span of a hand, dressed simply in an emerald-green coat of seaweed butter.

(Asador Etxebarri; Axtondo, Spain)

Preceded on the menu by some of the finest seafood I’ve ever had, this bone-on beef chop somehow manages to steal the show every time at Victor Arguinzoniz’s restaurant. It topped my list of favorite dishes the first time I had it 2012, and appeared on the list in 2016, and again in 2018.

(Elkano; Getaria, Spain)

(Ikoyi; London; The United Kingdom)

Inspired by the spicy jollof rice of West Africa, this deeply soulful bowl of rice came as a side dish, but, stole the entire show. Chef Jeremy Chan swapped out the meat for crab, and dressed it up with creamy sea urchin custard, but lost none of flavor. I had the pleasure of revisiting this dish at the Twelve Days of Christmas, where Chan made it with beef.

Saison Reserve caviar, butter.
(Angler; Los Angeles, California)

“Banana pancakes” is a term that I have used to refer to something outrageous (and maybe you have too). For example: The feud between Joe Exotic and Carole Baskins was banana pancakes. So leave it up the madcap Joshua Skenes, to dream up real banana pancakes that live up to its vernacular significance. These fluffy, golden-brown banana cakes were warmed table-side on a griddle, slathered with butter that had been infused with grilled banana peel, and served with heaps (heaps!) of Saison Reserve caviar. Banana pancakes.

Pecan butter.
(The Barn at Blackberry Farm; Walland, Tennessee)

Tender and juicy, and exceedingly flavorful, these two slices of fire-roasted beets were more like medallions of meat than root. The pecan butter seemed like an odd pairing, but it acted more as a rich sauce than a condiment. This side dish to a larger Southern fare presented by then-sous chef Joey Edwards was, perhaps, the biggest surprise of my year.

Beet, blackberry.
(Kong Hans Kælder; Copenhagen, Denmark)

Mark Lundgaard Nielsen’s cooking isn’t only unimpeachable for its precision and correctness, but it is the astonishing freshness and quality of the ingredients he uses that has kept his dishes at the summit of my estimation for years. This fallow deer, freshly hunted (an advantage of chefs in countries that allow restaurants to serve game), was lean yet tender, clean yet flavorful. His sauce work, which is a hallmark of his cooking, is always a joy, as it was here.

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