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.
Here is Part Five. You can read all of the other parts here.
Tim Stevens (Co-owner of Ballyhoo and Lucky Day): As it turns out when I am opening a new restaurant / bar I tend to not eat out a awful lot so this was a tough decision. I have to go The Grange on this one though. It was a mixed order with oysters, citrus scallops and pastrami sang. The freshness and flavors were unparalleled. A meal I wish I had more time for again!
Dima Maddah (Buffalo Eats Instagrammer): I have a love affair with Ballyhoo’s mac-n-cheese so when Lucky Day Whiskey Bar opened I was ecstatic to learn Tim and Morgan were bringing their mac n cheese to the full menu at Lucky Day. From start to finish my favorite meal included the $2 oysters they have Fridays and Saturdays, a side of the Ballyhoo mac-n-cheese with a short rib hand pie. Pro tip: scoop the mac n cheese up with their homemade chips that come with the hand pie for an extra heavy food coma.
James Roberts (Chef/Owner of Dobutsu and Toutant): My favorite meal is more of a favorite food trip consisting of many meals. This past spring I traveled to Hong Kong to do some street food R&D for our new restaurant Dobutsu, and got wayyy more than I bargained for.
Every turn and every little shop was a new and exciting local cuisine item that I had never experienced in that way. We had a traditional dim sum brunch in a big hall and I had one dish at the suggestion of my host that I would never have tried on my own, steamed Chicken and Fish Maw (the swim bladder). It was so subtle and sweet, savory from the chile soy you were given to dip it in, just amazing.
We also had a fresh seafood lunch on the shore of lamma island in a little village we had to hike over peaks to get to. We showed up to this little restaurant, sweaty from the 100 degree heat and 2 hour hike and were seated on the patio under a strong ceiling fan, brought small towels in ice buckets and crispy cold liter beers with the menus. After perusing the all chinese menu for a minute or two, our host asked us to come up to the wall of tanks where fisherman were literally bringing in fish and shellfish every couple minutes from the boats right off our patio dock, to pick our lunch. I’d point at a mantis prawn or an basket of abalone and she would explain how they were cooking it that day and we help fingers of how many we wanted of each, it was surreal! after picking a few crustaceans and crabs and two whole fish prepped different ways, we sat back down and what seemed like no time at all the dishes started coming out..all were so simple. each dish highlighting just the freshness of the seafood and few accompaniments and nothing more. Lobster with ginger noodles, pan fried grouper, steamed black bass, abalone, mantis prawn and fried garlic, and the sweetest red shrimp, live just minutes before. It was so special mostly because of the simplicity.
he rest of the trip was filled with amazing street food, lots of random cart noodle shops, traditional pekin duck, lots of chinese bbq goose, suckling pig, duck and chicken, as many dumplings as i could fit in, and some incredible cocktail culture. There was way too many to list and certainly more than this story, but all in all, my favorite food experience of this year and maybe of my life. Highly recommended. Like a supercharged NYC, Toronto, New Orleans and San Francisco all stacked on top of one another. (Previous Favorite Meals: 2012, 2013)
Photo Gallery from James:
Nick Guy and Lizz Schumer (NYC Based Writers, former Buffalo Eats bloggers): We moved to New York City from Buffalo this year, so we’ll focus on some of our out of town favorites. In April, we went to visit Lizz’s brother in Dallas and had the best barbecue in the country at Pecan Lodge. The Trough is a collection of all their meats, including our favorite — the beef rib. Every adjective you’d use to describe BBQ? Yeah, it’s that, but the best possible version of it The smoke permeates the meat beautifully, it’s crusted with an awesome bark, and the meat inside is perfectly moist. Five of us could barely finish the tray, but we muscled through.
For our first wedding anniversary in October, we took part in the tasting menu at Hearth in the East Village. This lovely restaurant focuses on simple, rustic, seasonal food. The tasting menu features 12 dishes, with a heavy emphasis on vegetables. Almost everything we tried was outstanding, including some of the softest, most pillowy gnocchi this side of the Atlantic. Other standouts included beautifully tender beef, a cauliflower symphony even cruciferous-hating Lizz lapped right up, and pickled vegetables with an explosively sprightly bite.
We followed our meal with cocktails at Amor y Amargo, Sother Teague’s amaro-focused lounge. The tiny barroom only holds a handful of people, and all cocktails feature spirits only — no juices, no mixers, no problem. It’s amazing what bitters can be in the right hands, and the depth and complexity of these cocktails are well worth the trip. We ended up having an hours-long conversation with a Canadian couple and a Mexican brother and sister, our own little North American conference. It was one of those nights where the conversation and the drinks were equally satisfying, in such a fantastic setting that, despite the booze, it was hard to forget.
Finally, we fell in love with New York’s summer markets, including the Queens Night Market and Smorgasburg. These huge collections of incredibly varied food vendors offer dishes both familiar and exotic. For just a few bucks a pop, you can get everything from regional Chinese to Russian dumplings to Barbadian fish balls. We loved tasting our way around the world, enjoying old favorites and discovering new ones. We also stumbled onto Dan & John’s Wings at Smorgasburg and yes, they’re legitimately good. Wings may not sound terribly exciting, but when you finally stumble upon some that are worthy of the Buffalo name in the wing desert that is NYC,it’s an occasion.
Adrianne Salmon (Creator of @buffalobrunch): I will never forget my dining experience at Joe Beef in Montreal in January 2017. Before we even entered the building, we happened upon Chef-Owner David McMillan who shuffled us to Joe Beef’s sister restaurant, Le Vin Papillon, to grab an aperitif before sitting down for our reservation at Joe Beef. After sipping down a couple vermouths at one of Montreal’s finest wine bars, we headed down the quaint Little Burgundy street to Joe Beef, where we cozied into a booth and proceeded to tell our server to take the reins for our drinks and meal. She started us with a light-bodied, earthy Pinot Noir that she promised would pair well with all of our courses. It was heavenly on its own so she immediately had my trust.
“Well, how do you feel about horse tartare?” she asked us after we told her that she can bring us anything because we’re adventurous eaters. We said bring it on, and the first dish to arrive was a bone marrow that had me licking the bone like a neanderthal. Next came the horse tartare – generous portions of decadent raw horse meat atop two crunchy pieces of toast and finished with salty, savory wild boar bacon. As if we weren’t already being treated like Quebecois royalty, a foie gras custard was placed in front of us, accompanied by a crunchy croissant and cured ham. It’s not really a meal in Quebec if there’s not foie gras and in true form, this was the best foie gras I had ever had up until that point. Next, the dish we had anticipated – the lobster spaghetti. They always keep it on the menu and oh my god, I could eat that dish every day for the rest of my life. For the final course, an entire duck (flawlessly medium rare) smothered in beef gravy and black truffle shavings took the meal to that next level – a meal I will never forget. I rolled back to the Airbnb and slept like a newborn baby. Hallelujah, Joe Beef!
I would be remiss not to give honorable mentions to some of my favorite brunch dishes in Buffalo for the year – the dipping eggs 2.0 at The Dapper Goose, the croque madame at both The Grange Community Kitchen and Lait Cru Brasserie, the chicken & waffles at Carte Blanche, the lobster roll at The Black Sheep, the chicken poblano hash at Casa Azul, and a pork rillettes omelette from Toutant. As for sweets, Butter Block Buffalo and Elm Street Bakery still have my heart.
- Triple Pork Ramen at Seabar. Three times the Pig, Gluttonous and breaking the Egg Yolk gave the dish some Velvety Richness. one of those Guilty Pleasure (Guilty cuz of all the stuff in it but Pleasurable cuz it tastes so Good)
- Zanahorias en Escabeche at Casa Azul. One of the Best Vegetarian Dishes in Buff, consisting of Blistered Carrots Pickled Cauliflower, Chipotle Requeson and Rice Chicharron
- Oxtail Pierogi at The Mess Hall. Pasta filled up with Rich Fatty Oxtail, with some Meaty Beech Mushrooms with Creme Fraiche and Pickled Red Onions to help cut through the Richness and the Beef Reduction that was a Rich Meaty Sauce.
- Confit Chicken & Clams at The Grange Community Kitchen. A Spanish Surf n Turf, Crispy Skin, Sweet Clams, Spicy chunks of Chorizo, Shisito Peppers (for extra Heat), Sherry Aioli,Fideos Pasta all in a Saffron/Tomato Broth and
- Seared Halibut at Roost. Over a Porcini Mushroom Sauce with Shaved Fennel Salad & Fresh Blueberries, Fish that flaked apart with no Problem, the Fennel added a nice refreshing Element, Blueberries gave some Tartness and the Porcini sauce had an Earthy Flavor.
Rick Criden (Buffalo Eats Instagrammer, Meat and Seafood Guy): From meals at Shango to Toutant, Black Sheep, Lombardo’s, Marble & Rye, Roost and so many others, the common denominator has been the company we keep. For me, the food will always be stellar, but it’s the conversation at the dinner table and laughs shared that make a meal memorable.
As an example, Black Sheep brunch with my friends RJ and Lindsey (Barrel + Brine) Jen Boye and Steve Gedra will stick out for me. Sure, the eggs Benedict was one of the finest I’ve had in quite some time and the game of scones is just filthy good, but it was the three or so hours we spent talking and laughing that made the day.
I love what I do for a living and am lucky enough to be friends with a lot of really good people. The hospitality business can be truly draining at times, but at the end of the day we’re all just a bunch of fucking weirdos that wouldn’t be happy doing anything else.
Jay Braymiller (Owner of Stillwater Farms): 2017 was an interesting year (aren’t they all?). The farm chores keep us pretty close to home, but when we get the rare chance to dine out our first stop is the true shining star of the Southtowns, The Grange.
Favorite dish there is always the citrus marinated scallops on a carta di musica cracker. Every time without fail, they are the most fresh, bright, and wonderful way to begin a meal. The only problem is they are so good, that I could definitely eat enough to make it my entire meal and not even explore the rest of the brilliant menu.
Best meal of 2017?
Didn’t take long to figure this one out, and full disclosure the menu was packed with Stillwater lamb.
When Mike and Christian of Marble and Rye suggested they host a dinner event which featured our lamb and wines from Paradise wines, we jumped at the offer. Arriving and immediately being greeted with a glass of cava is a great start to any meal.
Five courses of lamb could be a bit much, but the skilled chef highlighted the flavorful nuances of the tongue, shoulder, fat and rib of this animal. The first course, oyster with whipped lamb fat pearl was incredibly inventive and delicious.
Although wonderful, the carbonara with house made bucatini and lamb bacon really stole the show and was the hands down favorite of our group. Most things that consist of pasta, egg, and fresh bacon could make anyone drool, but this ingenious and perfectly executed dish was what dreams are made of.
But the meal was more then just the delicious plates; it was our gracious hosts whom I now call friends. It was the perfectly paired wines and the company of my sister, two of my daughters, and a room full of new friends that really made this meal so memorable.
Like all farms that provide products to local restaurants, the days on the farm can be long, the winters cold and the process of getting the highest quality food to the chefs a constant struggle. Evenings like this keep us all going and dreaming about sharing our next meal with some of Buffalo’s finest.
Sexy Slices (Creator of @sexyslices): Reids. I grew up in Lockport and Reid’s has been comfort food since I was little. It’s a shack by the canal that’s still standing by god’s grace alone, but they serve dirt cheap burgers, dogs, and fries that I get an itch for every few months. I got stuck outdoors in the rain and drove to Reid’s soaked to the bone. I sun-dried myself sitting on the blacktop in front of the order counter looking at the Erie Canal and demolished my all-time favorite order. Double cheeseburger w/slice (onion) & sauce (signature sauce), white hot (unsmoked hot dog) w/sauce, fry well (extra crispy) w/vinegar, enough pickles to kill a small animal, and a kid’s-sized shake ½ strawberry ½ chocolate. It’s a salty greasy,savory, and sweet familiarity that does under $10 in damage unless you start rambling during your order. That meal was the lynchpin in my favorite day of summer 2017.
Mister Pizza. The Stinger Pizza. Mother of god this thing was unexpected. I’ve made it no secret that I love Mister Pizza, but I’m always hesitant to order a “specialty” pie because more often than not you’re paying a lot more on a gamble that doesn’t pan out. The Stinger Pizza broke the cycle. I don’t dig stinger subs because it’s egregious. Beef & Chicken aren’t naturally a good pair. They were in a perfect proportion on this pie, favoring the chicken fingers as it should be. The sauce was a funky creamy blue cheese and Frank’s Red Hot mix that actually had good kick to balance the richness. Then there’s that thick molten steak-pocked mozzarella blanket that extends to the edge of the sesame garlic crust (you’ve gotta go custom crust if you’re ordering Mister). Mother of god. Order it. I’m telling you, you’ll be loving life through the entire slice, pal.
Toutant. My favorite restaurant in Buffalo. Behind pizza, my #1 stunner is a good sandwich. The Toutant bologna sandwich is a goddamn masterpiece. One of it’s only few competitors in the field is probably their muffuletta, but that’s for another day. This behemoth is double stacked with house-made griddled bologna wheels you could drive home on, covered in cheese, slathered in spicy brown mustard, and topped with fried onions. The first time I had one this spring, I joked thinking who could possibly finish. Well turns out that’s me. Much to my own surprise, I destroyed that sandwich and it’s a meal I’ll never forget. Toutant is doing this Buffalo staple better than anywhere else I’ve ever had it. Top it with some of their 7-pot pepper sauce and show your friends you’re not a pansy. Good luck.
Mont Stern (Bailli Provincial at La Chaine des Rotisseurs, Food and Wine connoisseur) : Buffalo is blessed to have so much culinary talent and I have had many memorable meals locally. Two that stand out are Oliver’s and Ristorante Lombardo for creating dining experiences that go beyond just cooking good food. Both places have been perennial local standouts but David Schutte and chef Ross Warhol deserve special mention for stepping into their roles at a restaurant that has been among Buffalo’s best for over 30 years. In addition to perennial standby dishes, Ross has been able to prepare many creative dishes that make each meal there memorable. Tommy Lombardo also deserves similar mention for working out of town for ten years, then returning to his family restaurant to help his father and Chef Michael Obarka keep on the cutting edge of fine Italian dining. My wife and I especially love their patio dining in the summer and holiday lunches during the Christmas season.
During my travels this past year, I was able to return to Cervejaria Ramiro in Lisbon with several other people who signed up for a cycling tour. I took care of ordering a variety of fresh seafood including barnacles for everyone to indulge themselves before a week of cycling across the country. Portugal is a hidden gem for farm to table cooking.
In Chicago, I was fortunate enough to dine at Grace which was extremely creative as expected from a Michelin 3 star restaurant. The food was as artistic as it was flavorful. However, being able to dine at the Hambun pop up (above) was the most memorable meal in Chicago. Chef David Park serves simple lunch fare at an unassuming suburban mall by day but at night he does a gourmet Korean tasting menu of preparations rarely seen in the US.
We went to Piemonte in October to tour wineries and attend the Alba Truffle Fair and enjoyed multiple dinners with fresh white truffles. My wife and I escaped the crowds and took a 45 minute drive over narrow curvy roads to Cortemilla, which is the hazelnut capital of Italy. Our destination was Villa San Carlo which is run by Chef Carlo Zarri and his wife. Chef Carlo has been a guest chef in the US on a regular basis and was in charge of the cuisine at major events such as the Torino Olympics and the Milan Expo. They made us feel like family and served us a delicious tasting menu with the obligatory pasta with fresh truffles. My wife’s favorite course was fresh tomato soup topped with a puff pastry. The finale was individual baked Alaskas with our names written in chocolate sauce.
Photo Gallery from Mont: