The Best Dishes I Had in 2017, from New York to London to Fargo
It’s been a very good year for rice, writes Bloomberg's Kate Krader
The grain is normally on the bottom of my carbs list—bread and pasta tie for first place; potatoes come in a distant second. But in 2017, I discovered an array of superb rice-oriented dishes, from Japanese-styled hand rolls erupting with caviar to highly spiced Korean cakes made from rice flour. It’s the most valuable ingredient on the list of best dishes I ate in 2017, which spans the U.S. and Europe.
I also fell for a bird, specifically chicken, piled high on a plate with a thick, shaggy, fried crust. And I delighted in a butcher’s shop worth of beef cuts, prepared for tableside grilling. All right, and vegetables. And fruit, which I encountered in glazed, fritter form.
In fact, one classic for which I couldn’t find an example I loved was the burger. In a year when cuisines from all over the world had moments in the spotlight, the burger took a backseat. No doubt it will come back stronger than ever in 2018; for now, it’s time to celebrate the greatness of 2017 in all its edible forms.
Split Pea Tlacoyo | Atla, New York
For the uninitiated, tlacoyo are torpedo-shaped fried snacks made from ground masa; they’re known as the iconic street food of Mexico. At Atla, the terrific all-day café on a SoHo corner, chef Daniela Soto-Innes fills them with seasoned bean puree. What makes these so good is the potent corn flavor that comes through in the crispy, tender cakes and the play of textures they provide, with the creamy avocado and tangy crumbled cheese on top.
Spanish Charcuterie, Del Mar | Washington
Near the bar of this new waterfront restaurant from Fabio Trabocchi, a carver stands next to a leg of 36-month aged jamón ibérico, knife in hand, offering a taste. That’s a very appealing way to eat the exceptionally rich, silky ham. Another way is to order it from the menu. The top-of-the line cured meat, called 5J or Cinco Jotas, goes for $26 an ounce, and the short slices are thick. The jamon is arranged on a “volcano” plate, the shape of a miniature lamp shade, with a lit candle inside; the purpose is to softly melt the fat on the ham. As you peel off slice after slice, the meat goes from cool to room temperature to slightly warm, with each piece tasting better than the last.
Foie Gras Ribbons with Orange Chips | The Pool, New York
As a general rule, the dishes that dominate Instagram are prettier than they are delicious. Meet the exception. At the splashy Pool (sorry) in the Seagrams Building, chef and partner Rich Torrisi has reinvented the foie gras terrine, shaving chilled slices of the velvety liver into ribbons that are arranged in an ice box to stunning effect. Better still are the accompanying chips, made from plain old Florida oranges. They’re thinly sliced, doused in syrup and then oven-dried so they’re as light and crispy as potato chips. The luscious foie gras spread on those sweet, salted citrus crisps is one combination you’ll never, ever forget.
Apple Cluster | Sandy’s Donuts, Fargo, N.D.
We’ve seen way too many donuts over the past year. Which is why I ordered the apple cluster at Sandy’s, a no frills shop with a decades-old vibe. While dozens of donuts are on display, you can’t help but notice the Cluster, a twisted mass of golden-brown dough that’s roughly the size of a small skating rink. It’s studded with chunks of caramelized apples and covered in a crinkly sugar glaze that looks like a thin sheet of ice. It’s too easy to break off chunks; to stop eating them is impossible. The problem? I just found out Sandy’s delivers.
Crudites & Dip | Little Jack’s Tavern, Charleston, S.C.
Little Jack’s is renowned for its tavern burger, an American cheese-topped, griddled patty that is quite juicy and delicious. The place deserves no less recognition for chef John Amato’s crudité, served with green goddess dressing. The raw vegetables change seasonally, with crunchy carrots and radishes invariably in the mix. Key to the dish’s vibrancy is the glow-y dressing, made from avocado. At Little Jack’s, they whip in egg yolks and finish it with olive oil and chunky salt, so it’s as rich and thick as a mousse, with a hit of sweetness and herbs. “We always try to balance a crave-able fatty dish like that burger with a crave-able healthy option,” explains co-owner Brooks Rietz. Healthy? Maybe not, but crave-able, absolutely.
Caviar Hand Roll | Uchu Kaiseki Bar, New York
Chef Samuel Clonts stands over a little hibachi grill behind the L-shaped, eight-seat counter at his tiny kaiseki bar/Japanese whisky spot. He runs a square nori over the flame, then shapes it into a cone filled with warm, sticky tsuya hime rice imported from Yamagata. (It’s so good it gets a “Special A” rating in Japan.) To that, Clonts adds heaping spoonfuls of golden osetra caviar before gently handing it over the counter. It takes all kinds of self-discipline not to snatch it from him.
Mushroom Bruschetta | Luca, London
Good bread is a given these days, so it has to be truly remarkable for me to take notice. Such are the potato loaves at the Brit-Italian Luca, from rising star chef Isaac McHale. They’re almost sponge-like inside, with a contrastingly dark crust. McHale sources bread from a nearby bakery, then uses it for bruschetta. Thick slices are griddled and topped with a potent, creamy aoli redolent of wild garlic. On top, McHale adds tender sauteed chanterelles that he’s obtained from Scotland; they taste like the forest.
Butcher’s Feast | Cote, New York
New York has more than its fair share of steakhouses. Cote, one of the best new restaurants of 2017, is part steakhouse, part Korean barbecue, and it maximizes both influences. The Butcher’s Feast, which is a combination of chef David Shim’s favorite cuts from the dry-aging room, could just have been an excuse to display a butcher block of richly red meats next to the table-top grill for the benefit of social media. But the meats, which might include 45-day, dry-aged rib-eye, chunks of American wagyu, and the Cote galbi (marinated short rib) are all intensely flavorful and charred—some tender, some chewy. It’s an excellent venue in which to showcase them. Owner Simon Kim says he came up with the idea because he has trouble deciding what to order at steakhouses. “I would want to taste the rib-eye, but also some elegant filet and maybe, some wagyu. The Korean barbecue format allows you to have smaller cuts of meat; this brings it all together.”
Tennessee Hot Fried Chicken, Revival, Minneapolis
A residential corner of Minneapolis is not where you’d expect to find monumental fried chicken. But chef and co-owner Thomas Boemer, who was raised in the South, spends three days making his phenomenal chicken, starting by soaking the pieces in a buttermilk mixture, then coating them with a seasoned batter and frying them in lard. There’s the option of southern-style fried chicken, but the buttery, red Tennessee-hot-sauce version is the best move; Boemer’s procedure imbues the shatteringly sturdy crust with a beautiful, deep brown. The juicy pieces are piled on a slab of white bread that absorbs the sauce dripping down.
Malted Pancakes, Hazelnut Maple Praline, Brown Butter | Sunday in Brooklyn, New York
The brunch menu at this homey spot starts with cold-pressed juices. Thankfully, you quickly reach the other end of the health spectrum, where you'll find the towering pancakes for which Sunday in Brooklyn has become renowned. The pancakes are made with malt so they’re exceptionally fluffy with a slight tang, and they come doused with a mix of maple syrup and hazelnut butter, plus an additional pat of brown butter on top. Chef Jaime Young calls them “cartoon pancakes,” but the flavour is quite serious.
Udon Noodles with Shrimp Tempura | Koya, London
If, like me, you are waiting for udon to take center stage in the universe of Japanese noodles, welcome to Koya. The London operation, which has a new outpost in the Bloomberg Arcade, has a cult following for its handmade, fat, chewy noodles. Koya’s menu offers iterations of the dish, from a non-classic breakfast version with fried eggs, bacon, and shitake, to cold udon with a hot beef broth. Absolutely stunning are any of those noodles served with prawn tempura, including cold noodles with hot broth, or served with dipping sauce. Chef Shuko Oda has a trick to making her flaky tempura coating: She coats the prawns with batter, then adds an extra sprinkle of it to the hot oil, filligreeing the crust and helping it absorb more of the dashi-spiked dipping sauce.
Baked Beans with Sage, Garlic, and Chili | King, New York
I never really cared about beans before I walked into King. Now I’m obsessed, at least with the version served at this pretty, intimate dining room. Chefs Clare de Boer and Jess Shadbolt evoke a sense of Italy in their various versions, which are sometimes served as a side to hangar steak. The chefs treat borlotti beans in a conventional way. (They are soaked, simmered, and then baked with a head of garlic, chile, and herbs.) What takes this dish entirely over the top is the olive oil in which they drown the plump beans. It’s the latest vintage from two primo Italian producers, Capezzana and Fontodi. “We celebrate whenever the oil arrives,” says de Boer. “The flavor of the oil just blossoms when it hits the warm beans, and it’s intoxicating.”
Char in Melted Honeycomb | Steirereck, Vienna
This is a dish that doubles as dinner theater. Steirereck, a glass-walled restaurant situated in a central Vienna park, sits at No. 10 on the World’s 50 Best list. Its specialty is cured Arctic char, an innocuous, pale-hued fillet of fish that arrives at your table in a wood box. The server will slowly pour molten honeycomb on top. You’re left to snack on blood pudding bread (Steirereck has one of the world’s great bread carts), watching the wax portion harden and turn a light gold color. After 10 minutes, the wax is hard enough to be peeled off by your server. You’ll discover that the fish has an enchanting honeyed sweetness as you sample it with a dollop of intense lime crème and a “caviar” fashioned from yellow carrots.
Extra Spicy Shell-On Shrimp | Ssam Bar, New York
The words “extra spicy” exert a powerful pull on me. So, now, does the ingredient “rice cakes.” Singapore-born executive chef Max Ng of David Chang’s Ssam Bar puts both in this dish, which features tiny, fried shrimp with chewy, addictive rice patties and chunks of potato. “Eating shell on shrimp is one of the most enjoyable elements of seafood. The true star of the dish is the shrimp,” says Ng. I respectfully disagree. The star is the decadent butter, infused with Sichuan peppercorns, bird chilis, and chili powder, pooling at the bottom of the bowl and giving the seafood and rice cakes a perfumed, powerfully spicy bath.
Black Cod with Summer Vegetables from the Farm | Single Thread, Healdsburg, Calif.
Kyle Connaughton has spent a serious amount of time cooking in Japan. In his wide-open kitchen at Single Thread, which doubles as an inn with a handful of stunning rooms, the chef has a wall of donabe, or Japanese earthenware pots, that he’s collected. While I’m sure he doesn’t play favorites, the dishes that are cooked in these vessels have remarkably concentrated flavors. Rich black cod is braised with a rainbow’s worth of vegetables from the five-acre farm tended by Connaughton’s wife Katina, including squash blossoms, Easter Egg radishes, Chioggia beets, and sunburst zucchini. Pay attention to the charred negi onions, which deliver unexpected sweetness to the luscious fish.
Mama Ly’s Fried Rice | Madame Vo, New York
In this age of enlightened Asian dining, it seems silly to enthuse over a dish of fried rice, But hear me out. At Madame Vo, a stylish Vietnamese restaurant in Manhattan's East Village from Yen Vo and Jimmy Ly, the rice itself is superb, plump, and tender, glazed with a soy sauce mixture. It’s studded with chunks of exceptionally sweet and funky flavored, homemade Chinese sausage, as well as shrimp, strips of fried egg, and slices of pungent fried garlic, a terrific makeover for the take-out standard.
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