Favorite Meals from Eat It Up Guests (Part 3)

Ricotta Donuts from Bistro Europa

Ricotta Donuts from Bistro Europa

Starting Monday, we began posting a series of blog posts featuring favorite meals from several of our podcast guests from 2012. We simply asked them “What was your favorite/most memorable meal(s) from 2012?” and hoped for the best. Some sent long answers detailing meals at some of the best restaurants in the world while others simply sent a couple sentences; in both cases we really enjoyed reading the responses and learning about some new places that we need to try. Meals ranged from local dives to home cooked meals spent with family to trips across the country. We’d like to thank everyone who participated in both our podcasts and these articles, hopefully you ate as well as our guests did.

Today is Part 3 of 5, they’ll be posted every day this week. We hope you enjoy and look forward to more 2012 Year End Coverage!

In the ultimate irony for a chef, my wonderful girlfriend happens to be a vegetarian. So on our trip together in Chicago this past spring we dined at the Green Zebra, a great vegetarian restaurant in West Town. It was a five course meal of contemporary and sophisticated vegetarian dishes and expertly prepared by Chef Shawn McClain and his kitchen. The highlights of the meal were a Hen of the Woods Mushroom Pate and a simple yet an unbelievable dish of an organic farm egg, smoked potato puree, and country sourdough. That was the best food I ate all year.

There were a lot of great meals but what stands out more that any one meal are 3 first bites. The first bite of those ricotta doughnuts (pictured above) at Bistro Europa (after which I giggled audibly), the first slurp of the wheat noodles at Kaydara (after which I sighed happily) and the first bite of a pork Bahn Mi at Saigon Sandwich in San Francisco (after which I ran back to the hotel & evangelized about its awesomeness.)

I’ve been thinking about this one a lot since you sent me the message and nothing really stood out immediately. Then I was thinking that cant be, there is so much delicious food in Buffalo. I realized that working so much this year on the business meant that I wasn’t able to go out as much. However, here are the few items I really enjoyed in 2012:

The WTF burger (peanut butter and bacon jam burger) from Roaming Buffalo, it’s an odd combination that makes a really good flavored burger. I may have been obsessed with this over the summer. Roccos traditional flat bread pizza. It was something about the mozzarella and fresh basil that made it really tasty. Also the drinks at Vera, they have some amazing cocktails in a great atmosphere.

Pretzels from Center City, source: roadfood.com

Pretzels from Center City, source: roadfood.com

I’m going to not go with a meal, but the food I’ve eaten the most this year, which are these soft pretzels from Philly. I’ve found myself in the “City of Brotherly Love” a fair amount of times this year and each time I made sure that come midnight I was standing 816 Washington Ave, aka Center City Pretzel Company. This is really nothing more than a garage door for a warehouse that is opened at the stroke of midnight and you can buy soft pretzels as they come off of the conveyor oven for dirt cheap. I order obscene amounts and eat them for days, even after they have gone stale and they are borderline inedible. They are my addiction, and whenever I’m in Philadelphia I know I will be waiting for my piping hot pretzels like a junkie waiting for his sweet, sweet fix.

This is hard for me to choose, since I love food and eating so much, and I feel like I could have thousands of varying answers to this question for a variety of different reasons. I personally wanted to base this answer more around the full experience of the meal than just the food itself.

Given that, I would say my absolute favorite meal of 2012 would have to be Thanksgiving dinner with my family. With our big cross-country move on the horizon in early 2013, we decided as a family to just have dinner with the immediate family instead of the large crew it normally is. As nice as having a large extended family is, it doesn’t leave a lot of visiting time with my parents as they have hosted it the last few years (usually 20 people or more, which isn’t even half of the family) and inevitably my parents spent most of the time cooking, cleaning, prepping, etc. It’s generally a mad house and hard for everyone to just relax and enjoy each other.

As Mark and I have the last few years, we picked up a pasture-raised turkey this year from our amazing farmer Pierre from Sojourner Farm in Olean, a few days prior. This is always by far the best turkey I have ever had. Then of course, we made lots of delicious seasonal and traditional sides to compliment it, many of the vegetables this year came from our CSA with Porter Farms. I spent most of the day in the kitchen with my parents cooking, prepping and readying all of the dishes and components, laughing and drinking. Every single bite of everything was absolute perfection. A day and meal I will never ever forget.

Pork Belly Taco from El Gastronomo Food Truck, source: FB Page

Pork Belly Taco from El Gastronomo Food Truck, source: FB Page

For me it’s all about the excitement of your surroundings along with the meal itself. Whether I’m at The Shack near Lime Lake or at Mike A’s,  I have to have an exciting environment to enjoy my meal.  That said, my most memorable combination of meals were from the Ontario Food Trucks at the Eat St. AwesTruck 2012 awards. From El Gastrónomo Vagabundo’s pork belly tacos to Blue Donkey’s gyros, they all blew me away.

Back in April I got very lucky and got the opportunity to attend the Next: elBulli Dinner at Next Restaurant in Chicago run by Chef Grant Achatz, from whom I have had numerous career changing meals over the last five years. This one was no exception.

Twenty six courses in all, all paired with a cocktail, wine or beer, was more of a museum piece that a dinner. It was a compilation of dishes from the over 20 year history of elBulli Restaurant in Girona, Spain, that had closed its door earlier the year before. I had dreamed of working and dining at elBulli in Spain for most of my young career and even traveled to the site as a side trip on a vacation to Spain just to lay in the driveway and soak in the atmosphere. The meal itself was amazing; texture, flavors, presentation, quality of products, the pairings, and showcased Ferran’s whimsical sense of humor in each dish.

Maybe more amazing was the fact that they duplicated the dishes of one of the most influential chefs of our generation and did so without changing it to suit their tastes. As I said, more of a museum piece than a dinner, but a fantastically flavorful and mesmerizing museum piece. Just unbelievable… and I got to share it with three of my favorite people who appreciate the food and the homage just as much as I did. Best meal of 2012 by far I would say…here’s to 2013 being better!

Dessert from Robuchon

Dessert from Robuchon

In July, my husband and I were in Paris, exploring the city and being gluttonous with its amazing cuisine. High off a tour of Pierre Gagniare, Alain Ducasse, and a plethora of macarons from Pierre Hermé, we headed to L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon Étoile (133, avenue des Champs Elysées 75008 Paris).

Prior to visiting, I didn’t know Chef Joël Robuchon designed the restaurant to allow guests a behind the scenes/in the kitchen glimpse at the preparation of their meals. Sitting atop high chairs at a gorgeous, “in the round,” bar-like dining area, we watched with awe as the chefs and line cooks made magic on plates. I loved it. This was the only restaurant where we didn’t have the tasting menu because there were so many dishes we wanted to ensure we tried. Could you blame us, especially with smelling and seeing everything as it’s being made?

My favorite of the first batch of dishes was le crabe royal en salade à l’avocat et mozzarella di Bufala (king crab salad with avocado and mozzarella), which tasted as lovely as it looked. It was impossibly fresh. My top pick of the fish and meat courses was le black cod avec une mousseline de daïkon au yuzu (the black cod with yuzu mashed daikon). I was immediately drawn to the description of it. (I blame Nobu for getting me hooked on black cod with masterful Japanese preparation.) The acidity of the citrus-laced daikon and the savory sauce coating the black cod played perfectly together. For dessert, our server recommended we not leave without experiencing le soufflé. The flavor of the day was blueberry. It was a stunning shade of royal blue and sweet in the most unadulterated way. Our favorite though, was l’amuse-bouche of warm foie gras pudding, topped with Parmesan foam. It was unbelievably creamy.

As with all our favorite Parisian restaurants from this trip, beautiful little dishes kept arriving throughout the meal. (Read: incredible bonus courses!) I adored the tray of madeleines – yes, it was an entire tiny tray! – followed by a delicate coconut mousse, served with banana and passion fruit sorbet. The mousse sat in a small puddle of rum. I literally couldn’t remember all the courses, even after walking back out on to the Champs Elysées. We were in a haze from all the food – not just that day, but from the whole week. Perhaps this meal became my favorite because it built off the unforgettable experiences at the previous two restaurants, and the atmosphere of the restaurant was fun and exciting, but it was the perfect final piece in our ultimate Parisian dining trifecta.

My best meal of 2012 was at Cure, a Pittsburgh restaurant specializing in locally sourced, homemade cured meats. We had a delicious salumi starter, and my main course was the aptly titled Gluttony — pork belly, rump, boudin noir, mustard-sage sausage, mashy peas, bacon, red eye gravy, pommes frites, and a decadent smoked cheddar custard. Game over.

My favorite Buffalo-area restaurant dish of the year was San Marco Ristorante’s Gnocchi del Barone, perfectly pillowy gnocchi in Gorgonzola cream sauce. Also worth noting — even though I don’t drink beer, I’ve still made multiple trips to Blue Monk this year … for the food, especially the Duck Frites.

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Check back tomorrow for more favorite meals from our Eat It Up guests with Part 4! In case you missed it, check out Part 1 and Part 2!

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