Friday, December 30, 2011

Second Annual Obligatory-Later-than-Usual Best of the Year List: 2011

Hey you guys... it's me, Noah. It was sort of a big year here at Law & Food (emphasis on "sort of"). I haven't had much to write about in the past few weeks (on top of being extremely busy and due to the fact that I'm currently in France), but as a food blogger, it seems necessary to somehow wrap up "2011 in Food" in a nice little package. So without any further introduction, here's my favorite eats of the year broken down into completely arbitrary categories.

Favorite new restaurantDo or Dine. In a year where I was bored and jaded by the high-end, Do or Dine snuck in through the back door, crashing the party. Where else could you find a try-anything-experimental-vibe while still experiencing a backbone of excellent service, inventive drunk food and creative dishes (like the now infamous foie gras doughnut)? Right now, these guys are the kings of Bed Stuy "fine diving." The picture of "A Fish and Some Chips" is from the pre-Roehawk version (check this one out on Serious Eats).

Best Sandwich: The chicken liver and bacon sandwich at Post Office in Williamsburg. The only reason I haven't written about Post Office yet is because it's nearly impossible to get a good picture in the dim light of this small bar on Havemeyer right near the BQE (OK, and I'm lazy). Picture an American riff on a banh mi. Thick, smoky bacon plays backup to funky chunks of chicken liver, while pickled cucumber, carrot and shallot with frisee mixed with a green apple vinaigrette balances the caloric onslaught. A slightly spicy mayo and crusty baguette completes the effect and you realize that this sandwich is much more than a mere riff.

Best Pizza: Shockingly, my two favorite pies this year were both eaten outside of New York City. Zuppardi's clam pie in West Haven, Connecticut was a revelation of freshly shucked clams on a cold, snowy day. The sausage pie was nearly as good. Almost as good was a pie I ate earlier this year at Star Tavern in New Jersey which proved to be the pinnacle of the bar pie form. Also, for a NYC rec: Best Pizza, Best Pizza, Best Pizza.

Best Cheap Eat for Only a Buck: Maria's tamales. The secret is lots of lard.

Best Chinese: This was the year I discovered the flavors of Henan at Uncle Zhou and Henan Flavor (and its original branch in Flushing, Henan Fangwei). Big Dish Chicken, Spicy Crispy Rabbit in a Big Tray at Uncle Zhou (both times I had it, I must have eaten most of the dish) and anything with those broad, rustic noodles made me very, very sweaty. Check out Dave Cook's review in the New York Times and this video of the demonstration the owner and his chefs graciously did for us, making hand-pulled angel hair noodles seemingly out of thin air.

Best Use of Foie Gras: The double cut pork chop at M. Wells in Long Island City was one of the best "large format" (blech) dishes I ate all year. Two massive, double-cut pork chops, two oversized lobes of foie gras and two baked pineapples covered in a bright red cherry sauce. Close second went to another M. Wells dish, cream of mushroom soup with a big lobe of foie gras as a garnish. I literally licked the plate clean in front of five other food bloggers. I'm that much of a pro.

Best Burger: IT'S A TIE! Sorry, that's too much enthusiasm. I'll chill out now. Yet Holeman & Finch in Atlanta and Brindle Room in the East Village served up some amazing burgers this year. Enough has been written about Holeman & Finch for me to add anything substantial, but few dishes have lived up to the hype quite like this burger.

Brindle Room still flies under the established "Best in NYC" burger radar, but the aged beef is funky and deeply buttery, and the pub-style patty is the perfect size. I've converted many true believers this year with this same spiel. Better than the famous Minetta Tavern Black Label Burger at half the price. It comes topped with caramelized onions and your choice of cheese. Get it with American cheese, and it needs nothing else. Add the house-made "Prison Gangbang" habanero hot sauce to your ketchup and fries, too.

Absolute Best meal: Carlo Mirarchi's tasting menu at Roberta's stands high above the rest in terms of epic gluttony. I had a lot of good meals this year, but nothing came close (except, a glorious meal at Craft, centered around a 30 day dry-aged ribeye for two, and maybe a similar meal at Roberta's a few weeks after this one). The focus on extreme aged meats-- 90 day aged Wagyu and aged whole duck-- changed my notions of how meat could taste. Plus, the sheer technical skills of a perfectly cooked piece of fluke, and the majesty of foie gras with lots of black pepper (along with something sweet and seasonal) made this meal unforgettable.

Well that's all I've got. Have a great new year!

If you're so inclined, here's our 2010 list. We may have lost Steve, but he remains in my heart (and probably eating somewhere really good).


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