It’s that time of year again when everyone is posting their “Best of 2016” lists. Although this year it doesn’t seem like anyone’s heart is really in it. Maybe finding anything positive to say about 2016 feels a bit obtuse. I understand the sentiment but couldn’t disagree more. Now more than ever, I think we need to remind ourselves what’s good and true in the world and celebrate it. Besides, I have all these great pictures.
So here’s my “Best Of 2016” list — a look back at the best things I ate this past year. Most are from around DC but there are others from my travels to Austin, Boston, Chicago, Maine, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia and Portland. (Unlike some of my other posts, the entries aren’t ranked in order of preference.)
Thanks to everyone who shared it all with me. Because of your continued friendship and support, I can say that while 2016 could have been a whole lot better, at least it didn’t completely suck.
Manila Clams with Chinese Sausage and Sichuan Chiles, Bad Saint, 3226 11th Ave NW, Washington DC
This bowl of clams with Chinese sausage and Sichuan chile was great on its own, but when I added some of the house rice it turned into a sort of Filipino gumbo that still has me dreaming about a return visit — which I’m dying to do as soon as the lines subside. If the national press could stop gushing about the place for a few months, it’d be much appreciated.
Brown Rice Bread with Cauliflower, Yogurt, Black Garlic and Benne Seeds, Tail Up Goat, 1827 Adams Mill Road NW, Washington DC
This is really a group award for any of the ever-changing toasts at Tail Up Goat. This one with cauliflower, yogurt and black garlic was more accessible than some of the odder combinations — like the famous salt-crusted sardines on charred chocolate rye — but equally delicious.
Raw Royal Sea Bass, Brunoise, Orange, Fish Sauce Aioli and Radish, Kyirisan, 1924 8th St NW, Washington DC
This interruption is for all those who say I never post any dishes that are light and healthy. Ta-da! We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.
Bucatini with Spring Pistou, Ramps, Jalapeno, and Blue Crab, Rose’s Luxury, 717 8th St NE, Washington DC
Regular readers may be surprised not to see Rose’s Lychee Salad with Pork, but even I’m getting sick of my posting about that every week. Besides, unlike the lychee salad, which I can’t ever see Rose’s taking off the menu, this beautiful plate of bucatini may not be around in 2017.
Tagliatelle Bolognese, Alta Strada, 465 K St NW, Washington DC
The first time I had this Bolognese in July it was perfect. The second time it was still very good but lacked the perfect balance and zip it had before. I’m going back in a few days to break the tie.
Ricotta Ravioli with Pecan and Kale Pesto, Tail Up Goat, 1827 Adams Mill Road NW, Washington DC
Watch this space in 2017 for TUG’s goat lasagna with salsa verde, which I haven’t tried yet but looks amazing.
Shaanxi Style Handmade Noodle, Panda Gourmet, 2700 New York Avenue NE, Washington DC
Perhaps the best sub-$9 lunch in DC.
Fluke Veronique, Pineapple and Pearls, 715 8th Street SE, Washington DC
Perfectly steamed fluke with grapes, onion and parsley puree. I wanted to shake the hand of whoever was on grape prep that night. Look at that knife work.
Chicken Mole, Taqueria El Mexicano, 7811 Riggs Road, Hyattsville, MD
My desert island mole. Shut up, that’s a thing.
Coq Au Vin, DBGB DC, 931 H Street NW, Washington DC
There’s no better time of year than right now for this plate of winy, bacony, oniony goodness.
Roasted Chicken, Requin, Mosaic District, 8296 Glass Alley, Fairfax VA
Requin’s roast chicken is the best in town. There, I said it.
Black Truffle Congee with Natto, Egg Yolk and Duck Confit, Kyirisan, 1924 8th Street NW, Washington DC
A perfect storm of umami on steroids.
Bo Ssam, Momofuku CCDC, 1090 I Street NW, Washington DC
Put this pork shoulder into the time capsule to show future generations what pork tastes like. Just wrap it in foil, it’ll be fine.
Lechon Asado, Cuban Style Roast Pork with Sweet Plantains and Rice/Beans, Mi Cuba Cafe, 1424 Park Road NW, Washington DC
The pork’s excellent, but what put this plate over the top are the world-class sweet plantains. So deeply caramelized, they almost look burnt.
Rhubarb Clafoutis with Meringue, Kinship, 1015 7th Street NW, Washington DC
I’m a big believer in homey desserts. Especially anything with fruit and either a custard, a meringue, or an ice cream (or all three, like this one). All it needed was a caramel element and I’d bring it to the desert island to eat after I finished my mole.
Blueberry with fresh cream gelato, Pineapple and Pearls, 715 8th Street SE, Washington DC
If I’m going to do deconstructed desserts, let it be as delicious as this one with cheesecake-y undertones.
Machi Cure (Smoked Yellowtail, Marcona Almond, Yucca Crisp), Uchi, 801 South Lamar Blvd, Austin TX
Uchi does things nobody else does, like this artistic and delicious plate of Japanese-Southwest-Spanish fusion.
Brisket and Potato Salad, Franklin Barbecue, 900 E 11th Street, Austin TX
It’s not easy to live up to excessive hype. Franklin’s is the Hamilton of barbecue restaurants.
Celery Salad with Caesar Dressing and Colatura Bread Crumbs, Coppa, 253 Shawmut Ave, Boston MA
If I had to pick one dish of the year, this might be it. It was so unexpectedly delicious. I wasn’t even going to order it but threw it in at the last minute. It was cool, creamy and crunchy and gave me a whole new appreciation for celery. In DC, there’s a good celery salad at Etto on 14th Street. With any luck we can make celery the next Brussels sprouts — if radishes don’t beat us to it.
Ahogada Torta (Pork Carnitas, Black Beans and Pickled Onions in a Tomato-Arbol Chile Broth), Xoco, 449 N. Clark Street, Chicago IL
A reminder for those traveling this holiday season: you can also get Rick Bayless’s tortas at Tortas Frontera in O’Hare airport.
Sack Meal #1, White Castle, 2140 S. Wabash Ave, Chicago IL
Eventide Brown Butter Lobster Roll, Eventide Oyster Co., 86 Middle Street, Portland ME
Small but delicious sandwich at this foodie favorite.
Hush puppies with Jalapeños and Scallions with Agave Butter, Central Provisions, 414 Fore Street, Portland, ME
I love hush puppies but there are a lot of mediocre ones out there. These ones are just about perfect — a crisp shell that gives way to a moist, corn-concentrated interior.
Lobster Roll, The Lobster Shack, 346 Main Street, Rockland ME
The Platonic ideal of a traditional lobster roll.
Lobster BLT, Coopers Landing, 9 Main Street, North Haven ME
The perfection of a mid-summer BLT meeting local Maine lobster.
Dorothy’s Pot Roast with Pommes Aligot, Carrots, and Rosemary Broth, Spoon and Stable, 211 N. 1st Street, Minneapolis MN
Chef Gavin Kaysen’s mother’s recipe, made famous by the New York Times.
Szechuan Dumplings with Scallions and Black Bean Sauce, Rainbow Chinese Restaurant, 2739 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis MN
Andrew Zimmern swears by these beauties and he’s right.
Corn Dog with Mustard, Minnesota State Fair, St. Paul MN
For those going to the Fair, please pay attention. Go to the booth across from the WCCO-TV pavilion labeled “Corn Dogs.” Do not, under any circumstances, go to any booth labeled “Hot Dog On A Stick” or “Pronto Pups.” I don’t care if you’re feeling hungry on the Midway or Machinery Hill. Buy a foot-long hot dog or some mini-doughnuts to tide you over.
New York, NY
Chargrilled Burger with Roquefort Cheese & Shoestring Fries, The Spotted Pig, 314 W. 11th Street, New York NY
April Bloomfield may have written a cookbook about vegetables, but she can cook me a burger anytime.
The Classic Board with Pastrami-Cured Salmon, Russ & Daughters Cafe, 127 Orchard Street, New York, NY
The best smoked fish anywhere. I only wish the bagels were on the same level.
Braised Fish Filet with Tofu, Peanuts and Cilantro (Lunch Special), Cafe China, 13 E. 37th Street, New York NY
An unexpected treat. I stumbled on this excellent Chinese restaurant and had this delicious bowl of fish with tofu for lunch.
Sheep’s Milk Ricotta Crostini, Locanda Verde, 377 Greenwich Street, New York NY
The perfect shared appetizer — beautifully grilled bread slathered with fresh, homemade sheep’s milk ricotta.
Warm Parmesan Custard with Caramelized Baby Artichokes, Vernick Food & Drink, 2031 Walnut Street, Philadelphia PA
Vernick does everything well, like this creamy parmesan custard with crispy artichokes and chiles.
Roasted Organic Amish Chicken, Vernick Food & Drink, 2031 Walnut Street, Philadelphia PA
Vernick is rightfully well-known for this chicken. Simple but beautifully done.
Pork Belly Cubano, Bunk Sandwiches, 211 SW 6th Ave, Portland OR
A great sandwich is all about balance and this Cubano from Bunk nails it.