My fiancee and I love food. It’s our pastime. One of our love languages. Eating and drinking together and with friends is one of the ways we experience the grandeur of God and the beauty of his creation. It’s the subject (one of them) of my forthcoming book.
Because I adore good food and drink, I thought I’d recap 2012 through the lens of culinary highlights. Below are my picks for the best things I ate and the best places in L.A. (all of which I recommend to fellow food-lovers!):
BEST OF RESTAURANT DINING:
- Cliff’s Edge (Silver Lake): Whipped Ricotta with lavender, honey, olive oil
- Red Hill (Echo Park): Arancini stuffed with pork cheek
- Craft (Century City): Cheddar Hushpuppies & Smoked Maple Syrup
- Mesa Grill (Las Vegas): Goat Cheese “Queso Fundido” with rajas and blue corn tortilla chips
- Mess Hall (L.A.): Smoked corn fritters with poblano & pumpkin romesco
- Mesa Grill (Las Vegas): Blue corn buttermilk waffle with blackberry bourbon syrup and vanilla creme fraiche
- Mama’s Fish House (Maui): Mahimahi stuffed with lobster and crab, baked in macadamia nut crust.
- Studio (Montage Laguna Beach): Salmon with Swiss chard, golden raisin and rhubarb
- Ink (West Hollywood): Pork belly, charcoal oil, bbq flavor, petrified yams
- Plan Check (L.A.): Smoky fried jidori chicken, smoked milk gravy, yam preserves, spicy pickled okra
- Craft (Studio City): Butternut Squash Agnolotti
- Wood & Vine (Hollywood): Fried chicken & waffles with maple glaze and sage butter
- Gioia (Park Hyatt Buenos Aires): Homemade ricotta cannelloni with walnuts, spinach and truffle fontina sauce.
- Loft (Montage Laguna Beach): Honeycrisp Apple Souffle with sage ice cream and cinnamon cream
- Charlie Palmer’s (Costa Mesa): Framboise Verrine: raspberry foam, pistachio cremeaux, chambord gelato.
- The Pie Hole (L.A.): Maple Custard pie
- Taste on Melrose (West Hollywood): chocolate brioche bread pudding.
- Ray’s Stark Bar (L.A.): Cherry cobbler with almond streusel and vanilla ice cream
- Ink (West Hollywood): burnt wood ice cream
- Umamicatessen (L.A.): Tres leches doughnuts with cajeta and ceylon cinnamon
BEST OF L.A.
Best place to get coffee: Handsome Coffee; runner-up: Cognoscenti Coffee
Best place to get pizza: Pitfire; runner-up: Pizzeria Mozza
Best place to get amazing cheese: The Cellar Cheese Shop; runner-up: The Cheese Store of Silver Lake
Best breakfast spot: Haute Cakes; runner-up: Huckleberry
Best dessert spot: Pie-Hole; runner-up: Magnolia Bakery
Best chocolates: Jin Patisserie; runner-up: Vosges
Best bakery: Proof; runner-up: Porto’s
Best burger: Umami; runner-up: Father’s Office
Best local brewery: The Bruery; runner-up: Golden-Road
Best beer selection: Mohawk Bend; runner-up: Little Bear
Best food+beer combination: Playground; runner-up: Beachwood BBQ
Best place to enjoy a cocktail without losing your hearing: Wood & Vine; runner-up: The Varnish
Most interesting food: Ink; runner-up: Umamicatessen
Most interesting drinks: The Bazaar; runner-up: Rivera
Best place to spot a celebrity chef: Joan’s on Third
Trends most likely to continue in 2013: pop-up restaurants, supper clubs, fried chicken & waffles, charcuterie renaissance, artisan and homemade everything.
Trends most likely to fizzle out soon: food trucks, savory doughnuts, artisan pop-tarts for adults, bacon in dessert, cupcakes, smoked everything.
My year-end listmaking continues today with my recap of the year in food, an area of culture I am particularly fond of. God gave us taste buds and he made food tasty, and enjoying food is just such a blessed thing; something we shouldn’t take for granted. To celebrate the preciousness and artistry of food and the many ways it can be prepared, here is my list of the 15 tastiest things I ate in 2011, followed by a list of the 10 food trends I’m most excited about this year.
Best things I ate:
- Blueberry crostata with lemon gelato (Gjelina, Venice, CA)
- Braised Pork Meatballs with Tomato & Grilled Bread (Gjelina, Venice, CA)
- Ricotta Gnocchi with Brown Butter & Trufﬂe Honey (Gjelina, Venice, CA)
- Bourbon Pecan Ice Cream Tart with smoked Mexican salt chocolate sauce, bacon pecan crust (Craigie on Main, Cambridge, MA)
- Short Rib Mac & Cheese (KO Prime, Boston, MA)
- Gluten-free Strawberry Pie (Gluten Freebird, Fullerton, CA)
- Grilled truffle and cheddar cheese with arugula (Charlie Palmer’s, Costa Mesa, CA)
- Fig Bruschetta Pistachio Butter & Red Wine Figs (Barbarella Bar, Los Angeles, CA)
- Jamon Iberico, Spanish cheeses, bread and olive oil (Cafe Roja in Altea, Spain)
- Pressed chicken, bacon, brie and carmelized onion sandwhich (Joan’s on Third, Los Angeles, CA)
- Boeuf Bourguignon Déconstruit: Braised Short Rib, Thumb Nail Carrots, Pork Belly, Candied Garlic, Potato Lace & Chives (Perch, Los Angeles, CA)
- Bacon-wrapped dates (Lola Gaspar, Santa Ana, CA)
- Crispy lentils with Serrano ham and balsamic (Phlight, Whittier, CA)
- Piquillos Rellenos: Stuffed Spanish peppers, Chorizo, Golden raisins, gruyere (Rivera, Los Angeles, CA)
- Prosciutto di Parma pizza, with rucola, bufala mozzarella and certified organic tomatoes from Los Gatos, CA by Robert DiNapoli and Chris Bianco (Pizzeria Mozza, Los Angeles, CA)
Favorite food trends of 2011:
- Brussel Sprouts. What were formerly perceived as the nastiest of all nasty vegetables have enjoyed a renaissance in popularity in recent years. I, for one, have become a believer.
- Good gluten-free. Who says wheat-less food need be dry and bland? The surge in good gluten-free has been a definite blessing for those whose bodies don’t do well with gluten (and those, like me, who have close relationships with those who are g-free :)
- Fine fried chicken and waffles. The Southern staple is now a fixture on the menus of fine dining establishments in the bluest of states. Think Paula Dean meets Wolfgang Puck.
- Sunchokes and other obscure new veggies. Do you know what sunchokes are? Neither did I, until they appeared in an arugula salad I had at a restaurant this year. Turns out these sunflower root veggies are pretty tasty.
- Artisan meatballs. Meatballs are back in a big way. They might be my favorite part of the “neo comfort food” trend.
- Gourmet mac n’ cheese. My favorite is at Beachwood BBQ in Seal Beach, where the mac n’ cheese comes with bacon, green onion, smoked chilis and Gruyere beer sauce.
- Whoopie pies. If cupcakes were 2007-2008 and macarons were 2009-10, I think whoopie pies are the guilty-pleasure confection of 2011.
- Bacon: In chocolate. On donuts. In salads. Wrapping dates. Basically, everywhere. As it should be.
- Pork belly. No cut of meat was hotter in 2011. Boneless, fatty, flavorful… It’s essentially the closest a meat comes to tasting like candy.
- Manchego. The Spanish import was everywhere on menus this year, and for good reason. It’s a wonderfully distinct and yet mild sheep’s milk cheese. Perfect stuffed in things or shaved over a salad!
- Sea salt and other specialty salts. Who knew salt was so versatile? Or that sea salt caramel would take the world by storm in 2011, culminating (as trends usually do) with a Starbucks drink?
Honorable mention trends: Cakepops; Burrata and ricotta mixed with sweet things; Exotic meats and nose-to-tail cooking; Spicyness in cocktails (peppers of all kinds, beef jerky, etc.); Savory sweets (avocado ice cream, maple bacon donuts, scrambled eggs cupcakes, etc); Sour beer; açaí; Gastro-molecular food; Gourmet hamburgers; Kale