Favorite Meals from Eat It Up Guests (Part 4)

Onion Soup Croquette from Mike A's

Onion Soup Croquette from Mike A’s

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

Here’s my top food experiences from 2012.

Joel Robuchon’s two restaurants in Las Vegas. L’ataliere: Casual tasting style, sat at food bar and talked with cooks. It was an 18 course extravaganza, small plates, big flavors great presentation and well balanced. Well worth the $550.00 for 2 people. Joel Robuchon Restaurant: Probably the most beautiful and luxurious restaurant I’ve been in or seen, anywhere in the world. Bread service was worth he trip alone, 20 types of artisan breads and rolls, served french style by the bread waiter. Normandy butter was flown in three times a week. Then we had dinner (six courses). Highlights for me were a veal blanquette and sea urchin. Both Sherri and I had 6 courses and each of us had a personalized menu. After dessert, they brought over a chocolate trolley with probably 50 types of chocolates, caramels, petits fours, macaroons. etc. Second best coffee I’ve ever had too. Dinner for 2 was $700.00 and I don’t drink! However, there is a reason Chef Joel Robuchon has more Michelin Stars (28) than anyone on Earth… HE DESERVES THEM !!!

Hamura Saimin: the best noodle shop ever, located in Lihue, Hawaii.  The restaurant is in an ugly industrial back alley near the airport. Great ramen style noodles served with extra spam by ancient Filipino ladies. Really great food and we always meet someone really cool from somewhere else in the world. This dinner was a little cheaper, $18 for two (with free refills). Purple Pig (Chicago): Great rustic food, Spanish influence, great cheeses. The best thing there – Crispy pig ear salad with arugula, jalapeno pickles, and fried egg. I’m gonna steal this prep! Dinner for 3 was only $80.00 and got us 2 hours worth of eating great food. Daniel Boulud’s Bistro Modern (Miami): The charcuterie presentation that Chef Jarod created for us made everyone in he dining room stop in there tracks when it came out of the kitchen, and the Boudin Noir was the best part.

Closer to home: Chef Edward Forster (my Chef at the Lafayette restaurant) made a lot of good food but there are three things that really stood out: Vietnamese Style scallops with fish sauce and finger lime, Onion Soup Croquette (pictured above), and his latest Foie Gras with Concord Grape. Dinner at Saigon Bangkok reaffirmed why I love Asian food. Ellen Gedra’s Sticky Toffee Pudding at Bistro Europa. Oxtails from Gigis!

My most memorable meal of the year was easily Dinner With Danger at Rue Franklin. The atmosphere is inviting and warm, and they started us off with some hors d’oeuvres and a few twists on classic cocktails. Chef Kley aimed to present us with a traditional French cuisine experience. With a delicate poached seafood sausage and duck confit, his mission was aptly accomplished. The food was incredible!

It would have been enough to make that the most memorable meal of the year for me, but what sealed the deal, was when I was on my way to the lavatory, and found one of my customers choking, performed the Heimlich maneuver, and saved his life.  That was a first for me, the customer was also a friend, and I will remember that meal forever!

rou jia mo from Xi'an

rou jia mo from Xi’an

  • S.J. Velasquez, Multimedia Content Coordinator at Buffalo.com (Ep #16)

I ate some strange things this year, and most of them came from urban China — my favorite meal of 2012, included.

My usual diet excludes beef and pork, but I got a little adventurous the last few years and have been trying out meat dishes I’d otherwise avoid. Unbelievably to me, my favorite meal of the 2012 was a pork sandwich — a “Chinese hamburger,” to be [not very] precise. The real name of the dish roughly translated to the English alphabet is rou jia mo. It’s essentially braised pork tucked inside a crispy “bun.” (see above) The bread reminded me more of a New York City bagel or a hot pretzel than a hamburger bun. The meat is tender, greasy and flavorful.

I’ve been told that Xi’an is the Chinese hamburger capital of the world, which makes sense, because I ate them almost every day I was in Xi’an. They’re available just about everywhere, including dingy alleyways. I found that food carts in alleys serve the best rou jia mo, in my opinion. I really cannot compare Chinese hamburgers to anything I’ve eaten in America, not even hamburgers. I, for the record, hate hamburgers.

My Favorite meal was at Francescas Restorante in South Buffalo and it was also my favorite restaurant find for 2012! It’s an Italian restaurant in the heart of the Irish section of South Buffalo and in a beautifully restored building. I had the Eggplant Fra Diavlo, two stuffed Hungarian banana peppers sandwiched between freshly panko breaded slices of eggplant, over Angel hair pasta in their signature red wine sauce, topped with melted mozzarella. It was also the 2012 A Taste of Buffalo Pat Sardina Memorial Award for Best Comfort food!

La Peth Thoat (Tea Leaf salad, source: FB Page)

La Peth Thoat (Tea Leaf salad, source: FB Page)

I would have to say that, for me, the most interesting meal this year occurred when I went to film our Buffalo. For Real Episode at Sun Burmese. I went through the door expecting things to be good but…not THAT good! Their Own No Koksware was superb and exceedingly flavorful, their Curried Beef was even better (and far better than any Indian joint’s in town) but my favorite new taste was their humble but ever exotic (green) Tea Salad. Regrettably, I had never tried tea salad before and it was one of my favorite taste experiences in recent years. It’s just so different and unique, flavor-wise, than anything I had tried in recent memory. It was also prepared perfectly, as was everything on the table.

Recalling this meal slash episode filming at Sun, I fondly remember how every dish I tried blew me away – and I knew immediately that, not only myself but, Buffalo would be a much better place because of it. I also prayed and hoped this new arrival would survive the always perilous first year. Justifiably so, they have done much better than mere survival and have become a mainstay of the Buffalo foodie scene!

Hands down the one thing that stands out in my mind was a dish at Vera this past summer. While my wife Michelle, and Jason and his wife Heather all ordered pizzas, I ordered an amazing duck breast and gnocchi dish that had a red wine glaze and perhaps some prosciutto. Can’t say for sure what the greens were, but what is certain, is that I had no business eating the whole plate yet found myself nearly unable to stop short of scraping every last drop!

Fried Chicken from Omakase II

Fried Chicken from Omakase II

I had the opportunity to to attend a dinner on Rich and Bonnie Tilyou’s farm this fall. The menu featured foods indigenous to the Deep South and we enjoyed watermelon moonshine, roasted suckling pig and the best fried chicken (pictured above) you’d ever want to eat.  Having a meal like that, outdoors on a beautiful fall day and on such a lovely farm, is an experience you don’t soon forget.

Kuni’s “I Love Shellfish” — I don’t have any food phobias, but I don’t generally go in for a lot of Asian cuisine.  However, since it was my dining partner’s turn to choose a restaurant, I ended up at Kuni’s.  I don’t hate sushi, but I won’t do backflips for it either.  And the appeal of saki is a little bit lost on me.  But damn if the “I Love Shellfish” dish wasn’t a revelation:  perfectly seasoned, perfectly cooked shellfish in a bowl of simple gingery broth.  The crab legs were the highlight for me.

Bistro Europa’s Bolognese — Bolognese has become a bit trendy over the last couple years — I suspect because of its deceptively simple ingredients.  It may have been one of my first meals of 2012 in fact — it was definitely memorable enough to be one of the first things to come to mind when I think about what I ate and where last year.  We’d ordered it for the table at the suggestion of a couple of my dining partners, and I didn’t immediately trust the decision.  Bolognese? What’s so special about that?  Everything, as it turns out, when you’re eating it at Bistro Europa.

Rue Franklins’s Traditionally prepared rabbit — To be honest, I don’t remember the exact preparation or name of the dish — just that the rabbit was incredibly tender.  This qualifies as the first time I’ve actually eaten rabbit that wasn’t on the plate as an “ingredient” of some sort.  It was some time after the interview I did with Cheryl and Corey, and my first visit to the Rue to dine, and the over all experience was just fantastic.  The restaurant was quiet, the place was classy but unpretentious, and the service was outstanding.  I’d gotten a great bourbon recommendation from our server, Richard, who I understand is a favorite of the clientele (with good reason).  My dining partner and I finished the meal with a pastis cocktail on the elegant back patio.  In all categories, it gets top marks.

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Check back tomorrow for more favorite meals from our Eat It Up guests with Part 5! In case you missed it, check out Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3!

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