You've read Gustavo and Dave pick out their Top 5 Dishes of '09. Now it's my turn! At first I thought this would be an easy task, but it is not. To pick out just five dishes out of the hundreds I've sampled this year is like asking a toddler to choose only one toy -- he'd rather have the whole store shelf.
If you just count the restaurants I've reviewed for this fine paper, that's roughly about 50 places, most of them good. And if you add those that I visited for my personal blog, Monster Munching, that's over 100. Multiply that by appetizers and desserts, and I've got a lot of data.
So to make it easier on myself, I've narrowed it down to those dishes eaten at establishments that I've reviewed for The Weekly this year. But this doesn't meant that I don't consider Alebrije's tacos acorazados that Gustavo introduced me to one of the best of the year (it is!); or the bun rieu at Quan Hop; or Cafe Hiro's steak dinner; or the frozen custard at Marc Burger...see what I mean?
Herewith then, is my list. To find out more about the restaurant, address, other dishes, et al, click on the convenient link I put in. It'll transport you to the review of said place.
5. Roasted beef marrow bones at Brasserie Pascal
You'll never look at a beef bone the same way again after you've seen it split and roasted like Pascal Olhats does it at Brasserie Pascal. The exposed marrow glistens and sparkles with a careful crusting of salt. There's not much of it, and you end up never wanting to share. Tablemates become instant and bitter rivals to extract, to scrape, and to relish the fruit of the bone. It quivers like divinely meaty pudding and melts like butter when you spread it on toast. A spoonful of its clean-tasting, fatty jiggle sends shivers of glee at the discovery that there's even more to love about eating a cow.
4. Fried fish at England Fish and Chips
Utilizing hot oil, the fry cook alchemist at England Fish and Chips transforms what was once liquid batter into golden cocoons of crunch encasing cod fish. The specimen is cut into the formidable length and thickness of a billy club, sliced off from a whole filet. This is not one of those preformed or machine-molested travesties that passes for fish at other joints. This is the real thing, with a dense, firm, unshakably hearty constitution indicative of its freshness. Its flesh separates into supple flakes but doesn't cower from a malt-vinegar dousing or a tartar-sauce dunk.
3. Pork tenderloin with lychee puree at The Crosby
Other than the lechon kawale, sisig and crispy pata, if I had to pick one other pork dish to eat before I die, it would be this one from The Crosby's seasonal menu (read: to my knowledge, it's not offered anymore). It's perfectly roasted, cut on the bias, has a little bit of blubber stuck on to its underside and tastes like a pig should taste. Roasted eggplant, oyster mushrooms and papery straws of deep-fried leek accompany the porcine steak, but the most inspired add-on is a swipe of sauce made from pureed lychees, which takes inspiration from pork's natural partner: applesauce.
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2. Queen's chicken at May Garden
If you think the best Chinese chicken dish is found under a heat lamp at Panda Express, this is not the dish for you. It is not for the squeamish. First, it's served chilled, having been taken out of the fridge only moments after you ask for it. Though it is fully cooked, it looks almost raw, like barely boiled chicken. There's no extra-tasty crispy batter to hide what you're about to consume. You see it all: The skin is pallid yellow, floppy, pimply pores visible. It's hacked by cleaver into chopstick-pickable chunks, but the bird's skeletal structure is more or less intact, still fully recognizable as an animal. To enjoy the dish is to get up close and very personal with it. You use your front teeth to scrape meat from bone, to nibble off the wonderful jellied skin, maneuvering each piece of the poultry carcass around in your mouth to extract every scrap, spitting out any bone fragments that may have come loose during the process. And it will better (and healthier) than Panda Express' Orange Chicken.
1. Short rib burritos from Kogi
You could say it's the thrill of the chase, the sense of communally being a part of a phenomenon that adds to the flavor of Kogi's food. But I for one think that their burritos are delicious despite it all. It's about the only thing I order these days from the roving truck. Their tacos are gone too quickly to justify a two-hour or even a 15-minute wait. But the burritos? They're just tangy-tasting and use the same filling, with a few more stuff added in because with a bigger tortilla, they've got more room to play. And that's what Kogi is about: getting out, finding the truck, having a fun time with friends doing it.