rest of the best of 2009…

Here are the rest of the best dishes of 2009: 26. Olive Oil-Poached Cod “En Salade” (Artichoke purée, anise hyssop dressing, lemon zest) Daniel New York, New York Executive Chef Jean-François Bruel The daringly under-cooked scallopine of cod in this dish were exquisite.  Tender as the day is long, they melted in the mouth.  I […]


Here are the rest of the best dishes of 2009:

26. Olive Oil-Poached Cod “En Salade”
(Artichoke purée, anise hyssop dressing, lemon zest)
New York, New York
Executive Chef Jean-François Bruel

The daringly under-cooked scallopine of cod in this dish were exquisite.  Tender as the day is long, they melted in the mouth.  I was initially taken aback by the tepid temperature. I was expecting it to be warm.  But after a couple of bites, it became very clear that this temperature was absolutely correct.  The very essence of Provence, the fish was dressed with a fragrant anise-hyssop dressing shot through with lemon and just a touch of heat.

27. Le Caviar Osciètre
(En infusion de corail anisée, en surprise)
Joel Robuchon at The Mansion
Las Vegas, Nevada
Executive Chef Claude Le Tohic

Rich and decadent.  There is no other way to describe this dish of crab meat dressed with a creamy cauliflower puree layered with anise-infused crab coral gelee and paved generously with osetra caviar.  It’s the type of over-the-top, fantasy indulgence that Robuchon excels at producing.

28.  Shirauo in Sizzling Garlic Oil
New York, New York
Sushi Chef Masa Takayama

These soft, tender shirauo (baby ice fish the size of matchsticks), blanched in hot water to remove the thin skin, came tangled in an extremely hot bowl sizzling with pungent garlic-infused sesame oil. The oil was so clean that it almost shimmered, releasing a beautiful aroma. It had utterly no sesame flavor whatsoever. I sensed the garlic more than I tasted it; it had no lingering power, just an ephemeral stamp on the nose. Magic.

29. Vegetables in Calamari Broth
(Oil “occhipinti” shellfish)
Los Gatos, California
Executive Chef David Kinch

Kinch’s food is timeless, as demonstrated by this sepia-toned gathering of tender baby squid; double-shucked peas; unripened strawberries; and succulents in a rich squid broth dotted with opalescent spheres of occhipinti olive oil. Sophisticated and complex, the composition was primordial yet highly developed in the same bite. The flavor was as rich and deep as the ocean and as fresh as spring.

30 Ginger-Glazed Rock Hen & Udon Miso Bowl
(Buttermilk-fried hen, lemongrass, udon, baby bok choy, miso dashi)
These buttermilk-fried nuggets of dark meat were juicy, moist, and incredibly flavorful.  Glazed with slightly sweet ginger sauce and flocked with chopped peanuts, they were a sticky, delicious, mess. The accompanying soup was spot on – a mild dashi broth full of elastic udon noodles threaded with silky, finely cut bok choy.  Together with the chicken, it was haute Japanese comfort food.

31. “Le Cochon
(Basque pork from Vallee des Aldudes: roasted with sage; butter and homemade fruit vinegar; “Pomme dauphine”, onion cream with raisins and pistachio; Market garden clafoutis)
Central, Hong Kong
Executive Chef Pierre Gagnaire

The slices of pork, coated with a sticky, alluring fruit vinegar sauce, were tender, rosy, and amply layered with fat (skirting that upper limit). The accompanying “Pommes Dauphines” were satisfyingly airy and fluffy.  And the mini “Market Garden Clafoutis,” a fluffy quiche custard infused with the earthy flavor of dark greens and harboring a magenta-stained core of cherry was magnificent.

32. Spinach Ricotta Gnudi
Kansas City, Missouri
Executive Chef Dan Swinney

These were served at a small luncheon with Lidia Bastianich. Servers presented a large skillet full of these tender, moist balls table-side and served each of us. Another server followed with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Light, fluffy, and chock-full of spinach, the gnudi were moist yet not mushy. I could have eaten the whole skillet. Must. Find. Recipe. I have all of her cookbooks. It’s now a matter of finding which one it’s in.

33. Stuffed Pig Trotters
(Chicken mousse, sweetbreads, and mushrooms, served with wild mushrooms and greens)
St. Louis, Missouri
Executive Chef Gerard Craft

An homage to Marco Pierre White, these deboned trotters had been rendered into a supple rind of gelatin and stuffed with a fine and fluffy chicken mousse flecked with bits of sweetbreads and mushroom, both of which melded seamlessly, in texture and flavor, with the mousse. Though savory, the mousse had a clean, subtle sweetness that was echoed in the accompanying shiitakes and oyster mushrooms, which also gave off a robust, beefy flavor.

34. Fried Oysters
Shawnee Mission, Kansas

This dish was, perhaps, the surprise of the year. This unassuming strip mall hibachi steak house cum sushi bar is actually owned by a Chinese couple.  The Chinese food here is pretty good.  However, coated in an ethereally light and flaky batter shell, the plump, juicy fried oysters, fresh out of the shell, were spectacular.

35. Sweet Potatoes
(Pancetta, fried chiles, and pecorino)
San Francisco, California

These wedges of sweet potatoes were magnificent – fried until they were lacquered nuggets of candy.  Commingled with crispy, fried pancetta and chiles, the smoldering heap was topped by a blanket of shaved pecorino.

36. Smoked Veal Tongue
(Mascarpone polenta, pumpernickel, and spicy arugula salsa verde)
The American Restaurant
Kansas City, Missouri
Executive Chef Debbie Gold

One fist pound on the table for the incredible softness. Two fist pounds on the table for the extremely clean, smokiness infused into the strip of tongue. Three fist pounds for the crispy strip of pumpernickel that provided some textural variety.

37. Braised Bean Curd with Shrimp Roe
Yung Kee
Central, Hong Kong

Every component in this dish was wonderfully done.  The tofu was soft and silky within, enveloped in a thick, fried outer skin that had soaked up the oceanic, briny, and cured savoriness of the shrimp roe.  The meal could (and should) have started and stopped here.

38. Jamison Farm Herb-Crusted Lamb Belly
(English peas, rhubarb and mint)
The American Restaurant
Kansas City, Missouri
Executive Chef Debbie Gold

The lamb belly had been braised until it barely held together. It’s lamby musk (an aroma I know many do not take to with the same enthusiasm as I) was apparent even before I tasted it. Blanketed with breadcrumbs, the block of melting layers of meat, fat, and collagen sat atop a sweet-tart-savory rhubarb and onion compote and attended to by English peas and mint purée – lovely reminders that this was simply a dish of humble origins.

39. Marin Sun Farms Goat in Different Forms
(Sprouted seeds/nuts/beans, wheatgrass; braised shank, sous vides shoulder, milk-cooked loin, roasted leg)
San Francisco, California
Executive Chef Daniel Patterson

This was spring in the form of a beautiful and colourful collage of goat, nuts, and seeds. What is so amazing about this dish is that each cut was perfectly cooked and distinct in flavor. The nuts, seeds, and legumes were all bright, fresh, and grassy. It was a refreshing romp through the fields showcasing terroir in both raw and its ultimate forms. Balanced and thoughtful, this dish brought a specific perspective to the table.

40. Scrambled Eggs & Tomato Sandwich
Australian Dairy Company
Kowloon, Hong Kong

The scrambled eggs at Australian Dairy Company are a thing of wonder. And most seem to agree – the scrambled eggs are heavily favored by the regulars here. These eggs were not so much scrambled as they were aerated.  They’re light – as fluffy as a textbook French omelet – buttery, and moist.  Sandwiched between buttered toast (the thick, white slices were as good as white bread can possibly get) with a juicy slice of tomato, they were awesome.  I had a hard time setting the sandwich down.

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Here are the rest of the Just Desserts of 2009:

11. Baba Grand Marnier
(Roasted mango, vanilla ice cream and lime sabayon)
The Modern
New York, New York
Pastry Chef Marc Aumont

This baba was fluffy, soft, and thoroughly drunk with Grand Marnier. Surrounded by a frothy surf of lime sabayon, it was served with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Boozy, refreshing, and comforting.

12. Coffee-Orange Sorbet
St. Louis, Missouri
Then-Pastry Chef Matthew Rice

Tasting two parts coffee and one part orange, this incredibly smooth ball of sorbet struck a unique balance among sweet, tart and bitter.

13. The John Dory Sundae
The John Dory (Closed)
New York, New York

Executive Chef April Bloomfield This tiny martini glass of bold, gingery ice cream was topped with softened, caramelized slices of pineapple and crunchy bits of coconut.  Demonstrating that flavor goes a long way, each spoonful packed a pleasantly tropical punch.

14. Summer Peaches
(Farmer’s cheese, candied pistachios)
Jean Georges
New York, New York
Executive Pastry Chef Johnny Iuzzini

Anything with juicy, ripe peaches invariably carry the day.  I’m not sure that Iuzzini has ever served this dessert from his Desserts FourPlay cookbook at Jean Georges. He made it for a special dinner I attended at The American Restaurant in Kansas City. The cheese was a blend of ricotta and Green Dirt Farm’s fresh goat cheese. The candied pistachios added crunch. Simple and straightforward, it was a delicious abbreviation of summer on a plate.

15. Coconut and Jasmine Ice Cream Bombe
(Blueberry soup and feuille de brick tuile)
Santa Fe, New Mexico
Pastry Chef Elizabeth Terras

More of a baked Alaska than a bombe, the dome of ice cream beneath a turban of meringue was a swirl of milky white coconut ice cream and purple jasmine ice cream. At the bottom was a pool of blueberry sauce. The colors and flavors were beautiful.

16. Japanese Green Tea Sponge
(Caramelized peaches & plum sorbet)
Bar Charlie
Las Vegas, Nevada

This pretty, pastel collection of matcha sponge cake, juicy peaches, and plum sorbet made a a light, summer-focused, and delightful dessert. A thin layer of bruleed sabayon added a light, creamy richness that tied everything together beautifully.

17. Apple Sorbet
(Fennel cream and basil gelee)
New York, New York

What an unique and combination of flavors.  This was refreshing and wonderfully crisp.  I especially like the caraway seeds garnishing the top of this puck of apple sorbet layered with supple fennel cream.

18.Red Beets & Chocolate
(Molasses and coffee ice cream)
Blue Hill at Stone Barns
Pocantico Hills, New York

The coffee ice cream, together with the beets and chocolate, produced a petrol-like aroma.  In wine, I tend not to like that flavor profile.  But here, I found it fascinating because it almost made the coffee seem like more of a savory rather than a sweet.

19. Sous Vide Caramel Apple
(Hot buttered rum, honey ice cream, golden raisin jam, and butter pecan feuille de brik)
Kansas City, Missouri
Pastry Chef Megan Garrelts

This knocked itself out of the ballpark. The hot buttered rum was just simply fantastic. One really does need to gather all of the components into one bite in order to get the full effect. That’s not an easy task, given the many components, but well worth the trouble.

20. Baba au Rhum, “Monte Carlo Style
the miX
Las Vegas, Nevada
Executive Chef Alain Ducasse

Paul Bocuse still has the final word on baba au rhum in my book, but Ducasse turns out one fantastic rum-soaked cake. At the miX, atop the HOTEL at Mandalay Bay, the baba is served with your choice of two rums and freshly whipped cream.

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