I don’t know how my “Best Meal” fits in because it was the first big meal I cooked for my family at home after selling the diner. It was terrific, we loaded up the smoker, had a couple of grills going, the beers were cold and the sun was out. Along with the brothers and sisters we had a couple little ones running around, some medium sized ones in front of the TV or iPhone, a Great Grandmother and a Great-Great Aunt in attendance, some cousins and some friends. This was something that had been missing from our lives for quite a while. We could get together when we were owners but there was always a rush to everything and something always occupying our minds. When we finally had the opportunity to just sit and relax and soak up the family it was a divine treat! Better than we could have hoped for. Done right owning a restaurant is like having three families…your own, your staff and your customers. And while it is nice to have three families the time restrictions of owning a great diner means that while the latter two families get your attention and the best out of you, your own family always gets the least of you.
- Michael Khoury, Guest Host for Eat It Up and Donnie’s Best Friend/Food Mentor (Ep #30)
Oh man… this is a lot of pressure, Donnie. But here goes. Two meals come to mind. One was at one of the best restaurants in NYC and the other was at a hotel breakfast buffet. I’ll be as brief as possible.
WD~50: I’d heard about Wylie Dufresne’s science lab of a restaurant in the Lower East Side. I’d heard about molecular gastronomy. I’d heard about these 12-course, expensive tasting menus that were popular in NYC. Well one day my roommate and I decided to experience one for ourselves. And “experience” is definitely the appropriate word here. Each course had purpose, creativity, and amazing flavor. Each plate was just the right size and beautiful to look at. Each course was brought out at the perfect time (I’d never thought about “pacing” at a restaurant before). There was always more than meets the eye in the dishes. Some plates even had a sense of humor. But it all made sense and it just fit.
Some courses were as simple as preparing lamb (a meat I’m VERY familiar with) the right way, and it was the best bite of lamb I’ve ever had. Some were wackier… a poached egg served with an edible “shell” made from some kind of safe-for-consumption plaster, a classic everything bagel with cream cheese and salmon that was actually not a bagel at all but made from ice cream, or a “foie-lafel” sandwich with foie-gras stuffed falafel balls. It’s one of the only times I remember a dinner really making me smile. I haven’t had anything like it since.
Breakfast buffet at the JW Marriott in Lima (pictured above): Yep. As in Lima, Peru. For some reason, my company thought it would be a good idea if I went to Peru for a week. Don’t worry about the details. Just know that I couldn’t wait to eat as much ceviche and lomo saltado as I could fit, while drinking as many pisco sours as I could handle. But for breakfast, we’d grab a bite off the breakfast buffet. It was full of all sorts of eggs, sausages, tamales, fish, vegetables, and cold cuts, all of which tasted alright. The sausages came in 3 varieties, identifiable by color: red, white, and then black, which was blood sausage. Well it was the blood sausage that I unexpectedly fell in love with. No matter what else I piled on my plate, I couldn’t get over the flavor of this ugly looking sausage and went back to it repeatedly. I’d had it once years ago and it had tasted nothing like this one. This one had a deep flavor, well seasoned, a little spicy, and kinda oily too. I still think about it occasionally because it was so delicious and so unique!
Even though I did a lot of traveling this year, my favorite meals were actually eaten here in Buffalo. The Margie Meal (made vegan with seitan) from Amy’s Place, and the shitake mushroom sushi roll from Kuni’s were my favorites. As far as beverages go, Flying Bison Sarsaparilla in a growler from Village Beer Merchant was easily one of my favorite sodas this year (as reviewed here: http://www.thirstydudes.com/review/2916).
My best dish was 2 pieces of kanpachi belly sushi at Cultured Pearl restaurant in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. It literally melted in my mouth. It had a super creamy, buttery texture and were topped with finely sliced fresh scallions. It tasted like classic toro on steroids.
Alright, here goes nothin. My first memorable meal of 2012 was at Ballyhoo’s (Key Largo, F). It’s a crab and seafood shack on mile marker 98. They do all you can eat Stone Crab for like $45. I think crab may be my favorite seafood but, like most of the things in my head, that’s an ever-changing debate. The cool thing about Stone Crab is that it’s one of the few animals that you can take a piece of its body and the mofos grow it back! Talk about sustainable seafood! Could you imagine whacking a ham off of a pig and it grows it back?!!? That sounds like my version of heaven. So I suppose that’s my first memorable meal.
My second one was definitely when I was in Boston with Bruce Wieszala and Dave Murphy. We ate at my boy Chuck Draghi’s joint Erbaluce in Bay Village. There was like 12 of us including some of my old friends that I always love hanging out with. Chuck went super omakase family style and crushed our faces with wine. We sat there for about 4 hours eating and catching up. Chuck and Joan are such great hosts. His boar rack with grape mosto always kicks ass and all of his pastas are insane. He’s a freaking Level 75 Mage. The next night we went to my other friends’ restaurant The Gallows on Washington St in the South End. If we stayed in Boston, this is where we’d work. It was my 1st time eating there so I was pumped. There was a bunch of us again and the uber omakase/ family style barrage was once again on. Their poutine is ridiculous and the Longshoreman’s Platter was insane.
Eating my 1st sandwich at Jill’s then brand-new Nickel City Cheese and Mercantile certainly sticks for obvious reasons. I’m super proud and happy that she achieved a goal she’s been seeking for so long. The sandwich was good, though I can’t recall what it was. It was clearly the context that was memorable in that situation.
A few pig roasts happened too! The first one was smoked T-Meadow pig tacos that we cooked on Webers in front of the bistro on the day of the St. Patrick’s Day parade when it was 80º for the first Charcuterie Club. Every dog that walked by those grills had to be drug away by their owner. The next one was a 60-ish pound T-Meadow pig that we roasted at my P’s house for Ellen’s birthday. Sumo suits, bourbon, pigger, and a ton of friends was a great day. After that was one Carmelo did at his joint for like 18 of us so we could all welcome our new pig processor. All of the usual suspects were there: Seychew, Tilyous, James and Connie…… We sat around for about 4 hours shooting the shit, eating, and drinking. It was awesome. James made bao for us to put precious packets of porcine pillows in. Killer.
The first time I went to Peking Quick One is up there for sure. Once again, there was like 12 of us (I hope you’re sensing a recurring theme. It’s just as much or more of an element of who you’re with as it is the quality of food or service. At least for me.) We laid into that menu hard. The weird half-cooked sweet and sour potatoes, ma po tofu, cold pork tripe, man….. I’ve had about 3 more of those types of experiences there with various groups. The last of which was this past Monday.
James Roberts’ crawfish boil (pictured above) was once again amazing. I was so hungover I think I drank 5 gallons of Hurricane juice before I felt just ok. There’s nothing like 20 awesome people hanging out in a backyard slugging high alcohol beverages and hunched over a picnic table knuckling mud bugs and corn and mini wieners. I love that.
Thanksgiving with my family was amazing, but the friends coming post-dinner for what has become a tradition was always killer. Painted Meadow turkey, T-Meadow lardo, cranberry, stuffing, gravy, and sliced black and white truffles on Ellen’s white bread. How do you beat that? YOU DON’T. I’m sure there’s more, but that’s what I got for now. Cheers!
So many great choices, it was hard to decide. Believe it or not I love Rack of Lamb. It can be pricey though. The best bang for your buck, tender and sweet was at Panos on Elmwood. Both the food and service is always great. I would love to see them at the 30th celebration of The Taste of Buffalo this summer!
Here is the info on the most memorable dinner of 2012, it was filmed for a Travel Channel contest at Carmelo’s Restaurant in Lewiston. Bruce and Carm went all out and they did a great job.
Road Bros Cocktail: Steam Punk Hard Cider and Hudson Valley Baby Bourbon.
Starters: Butcher’s Plate: assortment of T-Meadow cured meats (pictured above); Farm Stand Salad: Peggy’s Herbs/David’s Asparagus/Coulter’s Strawberries
Main Course: T-Meadow farm Suckling Pig: Carolina BBQ sauce (this was an entire roasted pig carved up at our table.
Sides: Cayuga Pure Organics: Faro Risotto; Hurtgam Farm Braised Chard; Roasted Root Vegetables in port jus.
One of my favorite restaurants in Buffalo is Sinatra’s! Everything on the menu is delicious but lately I’ve been enjoying a meal that I was lucky enough to have made special for me. My favorite meal has been their grilled halibut over spaghetti with olive oil and garlic! It is a great combination!!
Check back next week for more 2012 Year End Coverage! In case you missed it, here’s Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4!