Since 2012 we have asked our friends about their favorite meals of the year and it’s become an enjoyable tradition. We don’t provide many guidelines for what we want in return. These meals can be home cooked, at their favorite local restaurant or can be from their travels and they can write as much or as little as they’d like.
Today we have a special post from our good buddy Chef Ed Forster, who is currently in the kitchen of The Dapper Goose and still working on his various Workshop Buffalo projects. Ed is a good friend of ours and has served several excellent meals over the years, specifically at Mike A’s at the Hotel Lafayette, his Workshop Buffalo pop ups and Buffalo Proper. He’s also one of a select group of people who’ve participated in every year of our “Favorite Meals” series. Since he went all in with this year’s answers, we decided to give him his own post.
You can read all of the other Favorite Meals of 2017 here.
I had a rad year. I get a little stir crazy here and need to breakout, even if just for a day, so our weekend trips were plenty and a bit more exciting than say Erie, PA. Philly was a great stop through. Take into account the newly opened Royal Boucherie by Chef/friend Nick Elmi and I’m certain Jess and I will be returning in the next few months. Nearby Cleveland and Pittsburgh were really fun weekend getaways. A spontaneous train trip to Chicago brought back a lot of great memories, tastes, smells, and sounds. It was great to congratulate newly Michelin minted and best new restaurant Elske’s Chef duo David and Anna Posey on their first year as belle of the fine dining ball. But the highlights of 2017 in my reflections were simple marlin and roasted chicken.
With two hilarious and awesome travel buds I took a trip to Cuba and was able to see three different cities and three different perspectives of a country largely untouched in time. A fine dining version of Ropa Vieja was tasty, homey, delicious, and crave-worthy in Trinidad that spoke to the cuisine of the island. The meal that sticks out for me was just simple seared marlin with delicious daquiris in Habana Vieja tucked in a 14 seat restaurant. Seasoned with salt, pepper, and lime, its simple and balanced flavor still sticks out. The restaurant changes as what the government makes available, or buys on the side, which is a unique way to encourage “local dining”. Watching the hustle of passersby on the street in a small and busy restaurant with seemingly just two employees, it still gives me dreams of how exciting it would be to run a small restaurant.
The top dining experience for us is a no brainer. Jess and I took what most people would consider to be a trip of a lifetime to France- visiting Paris Center, Reims in the Champagne region, and Montmarte just north of the city center. The food memories from that trip are ridiculous. To recount them all I simply need a glass of pastis and some foie gras terrine if you ever spot me around town and have interest. Bistrot Paul Bert is legendary and the dishes still sparkle. Braised veal tongue and potato dressed in a tarragon mayo with pickled onion was amazing. I had my first experience with Grouse and its beautiful flavors and textures (not speaking of the required buckshot pellets to be found within- savor with care) and a perfect souffle. The Michelin punch card got quite a few holes starting with Atsushi Tanaka’s instagram necessary Restaurant AT. Every dish was creative and exciting, and ridiculously pretty and comtemporary in presentation. Most sauces/ jus/ reductions had unemulsified herb or otherwise strongly flavored and complementary oil scattered over top of them to add fat (in lieu of butter)- a technique i truly appreciated seeing multiple times to add depth and complexity. We had the three star/ top 50 pellegrino list experience at L’ Astrance. Chef Barbot served remarkable cuisine with beautiful produce and flavors worth every accolade he has received. Astonishingly all of that was made better by an amazing wine pairing and wine service experience. L’Astrance does a surprise wine pairing where the wine is revealed and talked about after the course is enjoyed. For us, the wines were exciting and completely unique to what we’ve had before. If Jess had not taken a few bottle photos we may not be able to recount the off the beaten path wines we enjoyed. The most complete and awesome michelin meal we had was dinner at David Toutain. When a meal starts with champagne (which admittingly we started every meal with champagne, because, well, ya know, when in Rome?) and the question “Would you like to enjoy Chef Toutain’s signature caviar with juniper course?” you just try to mumble something resembling yes as quickly as possible. What continued was a “bread service” of slow roasted and dehydrated salsify, celery root risotto, and perfectly roasted duck breast. Every course was beautiful, unique, and paired with super exciting wines to boot. we left that dinner abuzz and excited.
We got to explore the champagne region with personal tours of Lanson and Larmandier Bernier, as well as exploring century old caves at Ruinart. Drinking La Grande Dame Cliquot on the lawn is a perfect way to spend a few sunny afternoon hours and tasting wines that aren’t imported to the US was unforgettable. Tasting some 28 champagnes in a 24 hour period was a privilege that not many will experience. It is also a privilege that I could happily spend the rest of my days enduring.
All of that taken into account, none of those was our favorite meal of the trip (or the year by deduction). We were wandering home from hiking around the cities museums and sights, and saw a fromagerie. In my best high school french, we left with two unlabeled cheeses that were “pas pasteurize” that fulfills what every teen girl writes that she wants to do in paris. Jess and I both muttered “Huh” as we noticed Guy LeBourdonnec’s famed butchery shop by dumb luck. His acclaim as a rogue master french butcher was cemented in the documentary meat and he sources the best cattle available- notably not the french Limousin breed. However when I noticed a feathered head staring at me from inside the case, I stopped. You see some years ago I decided to get my first tattoo on my left forearm. I got a Poulet de Bresse (P, as a rooster, but the blue footed chicken of great esteem which is a symbol of all that is perfect with french cuisine, with three empty michelin style stars on my arm. To me this chicken was the penultimate symbol of french cuisine- a remarkable ingredient given all of the precious care and attention it deserves. Every three michelin star restaurant and its chef has featured it and revered this chicken. The chicken had two different tags to showcase its pedigree and identify it as the real deal poulet de bresse. It was also whole with innards, feet, and head and feathers still in tact. We had planned on snacking on dinner at our house at least once or twice, so I packed two of my kitchen knives with me. We had no oven to roast a chicken at the apartment, so I boned it out so I could successfully cook in it in a pan on the stove. Even just breaking down the bird I was awestruck by its canary yellow fat and sweet aroma. This bird had so much fat I can still feel it on my fingers after breaking it down. We enjoyed it simply with salt in a bit of butter with caramelized turnips and fennel. The lasting memory for me was the sound the fork made against the skin. It had rendered so much over the nearly thirty minutes of cooking it spent on the skin that the tines of the fork hitting it sounded as if it were a pane of glass. This chicken was perhaps the single greatest thing I’ve eaten and was worth the fifteen years I’ve waited. That will be a food memory not just for the year, but for a lifetime. (Ed’s Previous Favorite Meals: 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016)