Wow- it's the end of another year already, and I find myself shaking my head, wondering where the last 12 months have gone. It seems like just yesterday I was going bonkers in the kitchen, cooking for 40 people for the New Years party we threw last year. I'll go ahead and say it with you- time flies when you're getting old!
I know there are lots of "Best Of" lists out there, so I figure why not bore you with yet another one?! Hey, like I said, I'm getting old so I like to sit back and reminisce about the year gone by while I cry in my whiskey about how quickly time is slipping away from me....well, maybe that's not exactly how it goes (I don't drink whiskey) but here's a look back at my favorite dishes and restaurants of 2010.
It's funny: not too long ago, there was an 18 month period in my life where I was ALL about fine dining, tasting menus, sauces squiggled on a plate and tufts of uni mousse sitting prettily in a seafood demi-glace, but I've come to realize that I just want good, rustic, home-style cooking when I go to restaurants. Particularly in this economy, I don't really need bells and whistles (although a nice ambiance, fancy or not, is always nice) but I need my food to taste GOOD and be REAL. Simple enough, right? So my list of favorite places of 2010 reflect that- good honest food made by people who clearly like to eat! Unfortunately, I didn't take photos at most of my outings this year, so I've linked up to some fellow bloggers who did document their own trips to these awesome restaurants.
Colori Kitchen: Handmade pastas, simple preparations and a casual, relaxing atmosphere make this one of my favorite places to get a plate of spinach & ricotta ravioli. BYOB keeps the price down too!
Bacaro Wine Bar: I am so glad I finally got around to trying this tiny, hole-in-the-wall place this year. The kitchen turns out some of the tastiest small plates I've had, and the mostly-Italian wine list is reasonably priced. I eat out (ok, I just plain EAT) a lot, and it's tough to remember the last time I was really surprised by a dish, until I tried the roasted garlic bruschetta at Bacaro. My sister and I had ordered it, and when it came we just both stared at the MOUNTAIN of brown, caramelized whole garlic cloves piled high on a slice of bread. To be honest, it scared us. There was probably a good cup of whole garlic cloves on there, drizzled with just a touch of pesto, and we weren't sure how to attack it. After one bite, I knew I had to have it again and again as the oil-poached garlic was sweet and soft like a good baked potato. I've ordered it every time I've been back, and even made a batch at home which didn't last long. The eggplant stuffed with ground lamb and the saucy burger and pretty much everything else just loaded with flavors that make me happy. They'll make you happy too.
Drago Centro Bar: I know I know, I'm practically a walking advertisement for this downtown Italian restaurant since J and I go nearly once a week some months. I've said it before and I'll say it again- it's the BEST DEAL IN TOWN. The same chefs that are making the fine dining dishes for the restaurant are making the juicy Kobe sliders ($7), pizza margherita ($4) and il gnocco frito farcito ($5) we nosh on while sipping one of four Italian wines ($6 and under) by the glass at the bar. Feel like you need a little girl talk on a random Tuesday night but don't want to overspend on a school night? Did I mention there is no official "happy hour" and this bar menu is available at the very same prices, seven days a week, all night long? Oh, parking is free with validation. The bartenders, waitstaff and managers are insanely delightful and knowledgeable. Guess we know where you're having your next night out with friends.
Allston Yacht Club: Weird name, cool place. Another small plates restaurant, I just went for the first time a couple of days ago, and I'm glad I did. A nice selection of hot and cold items, a good wine list and friendly staff make it a place I'd definitely return. My favorite dishes were the Broiled Shrimp and Feta Gratin (I don't even LIKE feta that much but this was soooo good) and the celery root/apple salad with a Dijon dressing.
Ca Cao Mexicatessen: I'm lucky that this place is just a five-minute drive from my house, because they make the BEST red salsa I've ever had. They also have incredible versions of familiar Mexican favorites like cochinita pibil and also offer traditional dishes you may have never had before, like their famous Carnitas de Pato (duck confit) and Huitlacoche (corn fungus) which you can get in a taco, sope or burrito.
Mori Sushi: Friends visiting from NYC took us here earlier this year, and we were completely blown away at the quality, authenticity and deliciousness of the sushi and other dishes here. Unlike the other restaurants on this list, Mori Sushi isn't cheap, but it is worth every penny. We had two kinds of uni, side by side, fatty toro, broiled anago and unagi and practically everything else on the menu...it was all so special I think we felt we just HAD to try everything. Next time, we'll make sure to pace ourselves.
Terroni's: If you read this blog regularly, you know how much I love Italian food. Terroni's makes me feel like I'm in Italy- the no nonsense service, al dente pastas and thin-crust pizzas that do not come sliced. They don't take reservations, but it's a pretty big place so I've never had to wait too long. I am crazy about their grilled calamari salad, tuna and red onion pizza and Swiss chard ravioli with a bright red sauce I could eat all day. Oh- they also have the richest, darkest chocolate gelato this side of Italy.
Lazy Ox Canteen: This place is cranking out some of the most creative small plates in Los Angeles, IMHO. Don't go by the online menu: most of the day's highlights are written on a chalk board above the bar, and there are no fewer than twenty everyday. Some of our favorites this year included lamb cheek ravioli, roasted cauliflower and hand torn pasta with a runny egg. The rice pudding is legendary...light and airy and unlike any rice pudding you've ever had.
Cham Korean Bistro: Sizzling Hot Bibimbap are three words that make me very happy, and Cham makes a great version in a cast iron skillet so you get more hot surface area to char their nutty brown rice (you can get white, but the brown is better!) in all the right places. I also love their Garden Platters- get your choice of BBQ meat on a sizzling platter, then eat it in whatever combo you want with the lettuce leaves, shiso, pickled daikon and sesame soba noodles that come with it. The Korean tapas they serve at night are not really worth it - stick to the bibimbaps or the Kimchee Rice Gratin. Healthy and happy for the tummy!
Village Bakery and Cafe: J and I go to this Atwater bakery to grab a cup of homemade soup or a grilled portabello sandwich on seven-grain bread, and don't even get me started on their baked goodies. On some days they make these little polenta cookies sandwiched with raspberry jam that are crunchy and sweet and utterly addictive.
1810 Argentinean Restaurant: Finally, a newish Pasadena restaurant that hasn't gone out of business because guess what? It's really good, and really reasonably priced! The menu is pretty straightforward: grilled meats, a couple of pastas and some appetizers, including fantastic fried balls of risotto called arancini. My favorite dish is the grilled steak and vegetable salad.
Favorite dishes from my own kitchen:
Sliders, made for Father's Day:
Garganelli with duck ragu: after 90 minutes, I'll admit I was a bit weary of hand rolling each garganelli but it was worth it in the end.
Mongolian Lamb Chops:
Thomas Keller's Buttermilk Fried Chicken:
Well, that's it for MY personal year in food....what were some of your fondest food memories of 2010? I hope you all have a very Happy New Year and thanks for reading!