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There aren’t but four ingredients in this cornbread: cornmeal, eggs, buttermilk, and bacon. Baked in a skillet, it’s brushed with melted lard hot out of the oven. The result is a loose, cake-like crumb, slightly smokey, and encased in a structured, crunchy shell. It is incredible, a bronzed round of heaven on earth.
I know I said that I didn’t have a favorite dish among the six served at the Friends of James Beard Foundation Dinner in Kansas City this November. And I didn’t – all of them were fantastic in their own way. But there were two that I would most like to have again, and I include them here, at numbers 27 and 28. What gripped me about Mendes’s bacalao was its texture: supremely silky and slightly warm.
29. Line-Caught Wild King Salmon (saison; San Francisco, California)
(Wrapped in “sacred pepper leaf,” with onion escabeche, anise hyssop, sea beans, and sauce of roasted bones with clarified butter. Salmon skin dusted with squid ink powder.)
30. Carnaroli Risotto (The Meadowood; St. Helena, California)
(Roasted Chanterelles, brown butter, young walnut.)
I wasn’t surprised when Christopher Kostow’s risotto arrived at my table perfectly cooked and delicious, with a pool of brown butter and a little party of chanterelles gathered on top. But it was the meaty crunch of young walnuts that launched this comforting bowl of rice from great to extraordinary.
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31. Picchione Tapiss-Bouche (Il Canto; Siena, Italy)
(Pigeon with onion, cardamom, and rum.)
The warmth of spices and rum, the bitter bite of silky onions, and a slight hint of licorice – this was a beautiful collection of flavors and textures to accompany two juicy pieces of pigeon.
34. Rotisserie Duck Over Rice (momofuku ssam bar; New York, New York)
(With ginger-scallion, ssam sauce, crispy shallot.)
A bowl of warm, fluffy rice takes me back to childhood. And that’s exactly where this comforting dish took me. The duck was fantastic – stuffed with duck sausage and roasted whole on a rotisserie. The skin was crisp, the meat moist and tender, and the flavor outstanding. You can order it with a chive pancake, or lettuce to make a ssäm. But the duck and rice alone, without more, was perfect for me.
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36. Heritage Rice Porridge (Red Medicine; Los Angeles, California)
(Egg yolk, sea urchin, hazelnuts, ginseng, brassicas, Echiré butter.)
This is a classic, and I made a pilgrimage all the way to Pierre Koffman’s reprise at the Berkeley for it. I wasn’t disappointed. The jiggly glove arrived just as I had imagined, soft and sticky, filled with a fluffy, almost airy chicken mousse studded with morels and sweetbreads. This is a dish of chefs’ dreams, worthy of emulation by Marco Pierre White and Gerard Craft alike.
38. Burricotta with Braised Artichokes (osteria mozza; Los Angeles, California)
(Pinenuts, currants, and mint pesto.)
The sweetness of currants, the breezy fragrance of mint, and the woodsy scent of pinenuts all seemed magnified in the milky fat of burricotta, which came nestled on tender leaves of artichokes stacked atop a toasted slice of bread. This was rustic, yet entirely sophisticated. If you want to recreate it at home, the recipe is in the Mozza Cookbook.
39. Fermented Black Bean Agnolotti (blackbird; Chicago, Illinois)
(Morels, pea vines, sherry and fresh wasabi.)
I was really hesitant about agnolotti filled with Chinese (fermented) black beans – too strong! – but it turns out that the beans were incorporated into the pasta – brilliant! The flavor of the black beans was perfectly balanced, subtle even, carried to its fullness by the creamy and tangy fresh cheese within. The pasta came with morels, fried in butter so that they developed a crispy hull. With just a splash of sherry vinegar, this was truly an amazing dish.
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41. Anson Mills Buckwheat “Scrapple“ (Husk; Charleston, South Carolina)
(Spicy maple pig ears, poached Green Grocer egg, Hollandaise.)
44. Nata de Leche (El Cardenal; Mexico City, Mexico)
Nata de leche is basically sweet cream. And in Mexico, they eat it with nothing more than warm corn tortillas and a dash of salt for breakfast. I consider it one of the simplest, yet most satisfying pleasures of 2011.
45. Rustic Bean Stew “Ribollita“ (ubuntu; Napa, California)
(Apple-parsnip, parmesan, golden choi blossoms.)
What I loved about chef Aaron London’s version of ribollita was its balance of earthy sweetness with the soulful, almost meaty richness of the beans. There was texture too – crunchy Parmesan breadcrumbs and crisp succulents – and a touch of bitterness from choi blossoms.
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46. Solette au Beurre Noisette (l’Arnsbourg; Baerenthal, France)
(Huile a l’Infusion de Tanaisie, artichaut en texture, Granny Smith; Baby sole in brown butter, oil infused with tanaisie, textures of artichoke, and Granny Smith apple compote.)
47. Poulette (la Bigarrade; Paris, France)
(Glazed eel, compressed endive.)
Although the majority of my meal at this two Michelin-starred restaurant in Paris was seafood, the dish that I remember the most was chicken. Perched at the counter, I watched chef Christophe Pelé baste the bird in a skillet with butter and rosemary until the skin was golden-brown, and the meat was hot and juicy, infused with a piney scent. Perhaps one of the most unique surf and turfs I’ve ever had, this chicken was served with glazed eel and a compressed endive leaf.
48. Taco de Pescado del Dia en Ceniza de Cebolia (Pujol; Mexico City, Mexico)
(Mole verde. Hongas de Iluvia.)
50. Onion (Eleven Madison Park; New York, New York)
(Ricotta, shallot, shortbread, Mangalitsa.)
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Here is a slideshow of all fifty of the best dishes of 2011:
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To return to the best dishes of 2011, CLICK HERE.