My best meals this year are distinguished by the cities I was in at the time, so I will separate them as such.
My first trip of the year was to San Francisco, where I enjoyed:
1. Jamón Ibérico - good grief, glorious stuff. This is the first year it has touched my palate. How did I live so long with out it? My friend was cooking dinner that night and served it as an appetizer. We peeled it off the wax paper and it just melted in the mouth. Afterwards, there was a bit left and she said "please, someone, finish that." No one stepped forward. I could not let it go to waste. Clearly. I finished it all. Glorious slice after slice of it. This is why I have a fat roll that defies my waistbands.
2. Dinner at Contigo, a new (at the time) Spanish restaurant that was already doing a very brisk business. I had cava and my friend and I shared several small plates. I will try to remember them:
* coca de txistorra: catalan flatbread with housemade basque sausage and raddichio
* calamares a la plancha: squid with harissa and arugula (so very perfectly cooked, was fab)
* sardinas fritas: fried sardine filets, fried sardine bones, fried slices of meyer lemon (so good!)
* croquettas de buey: crispy beef fritters and mizuna
We finished with a cup of thick, perfect Barcelona style chocolate caliente into which we dipped churros that were so crisp and so fantastic, I kept eating them until I was well past the point of pure enjoyment and more into the territory of embarrassing overindulgence with chocolate dripping off my face and sugar coating my blouse. Unattractive, yes. But so worth it.
3. Dim sum. OMG. Dim sum! What could be better than spending Saturday morning in a dining room surrounded by hundreds of Chinese people (I was literally the only caucasian person to be found) and dish after dish after dish of dumplings (pork and shrimp, shrimp, shanghai, shark fin) and sliced meats (five spiced beef, cold sliced pork with vinegars) and buns and rice porridge with thousand year eggs and just endless cups of jasmine tea? What could be better than the heavy clink of crockery, the sweet steam wafting from towers of bamboo steamers being wheeled around the room on carts, the steady sound of Chinese being spoken and contented, happy, yumyum sounds all around me? Nothing. Really, nothing could be better. Afterward, I was full for a week. I don't remember the name of the restaurant now, but it was truly a pleasure and joy. I wish I could go every weekend.
Next trip was to Berlin, where I had:
4. Life changing bouillabaisse at KaDeWe in the Feinschmeckeretage. KaDeWe is a huge, high end department store (similar, I suppose, to Harrods in London) with a floor devoted to gourmet delights... and folks, it is truly a sight to see. Food stalls as far as you can see, run by some of the best gourmet purveyors in all of Europe. In addition to food of every variety, one can belly up to the many bars and enjoy exquisite culinary examples of cuisines from around the world. We went to the bouillabaisse bar and there, I learned what fish stew is supposed to be. I'm not the same since.
5. Facil - At the Mandala Hotel in Berlin, the restaurant Facil serves a "refreshing combination of elegantly light fare accented by purist luxury and modern avant-garde since July 2001. Facil is the perfect place for unconventional gourmets seeking a culinary experience, people who prefer casual clothes to formal dress codes and simply want to relax and spend an enjoyable evening downtown." which is a well-worded way of saying that if you eat here, you will have beautiful, incredibly lovely haute cuisine served, paradoxically, in the most blissfully un-pretentious way, all the while being treated like royalty. Your handbag, should you have one, will have a stool of it's own, so that it needn't be sullied by resting on the floor. Your waitstaff will smile at you so fondly and with such a glitter in their eye, that you will believe, for a minute or two, that somehow you are not only their favorite person ever, but also are in on a very, very special secret and that just you and these lovely people know it. The wine will be perfect, the food will be perfect, the dining room will be minimal and serene and gorgeous and the entire experience will make you wonder why you were not born much, much richer and much, much more interesting so that you could live life surrounded by such perfection all the time. At least, it did me. I have no notes or photos of the food at Facil. I was too busy soaking in the experience to do anything other than LIVE it.
6. Hot chocolate and apple strudel at the original Café Einstein on Kurfürstenstrasse. Here, your hot chocolate arrives in its own small pitcher, accompanied by a dish of dense cream and a cup. You spoon the cream into the cup and then pour the rich, thick chocolate over the top. Then, you die a little. And then, you eat the same fabulous Apfelstrudel that has been eaten by artists, authors, philosophers, musicians, intellectuals and the bohemian gliterati for decades. And you die a little more. *sigh* Oh, Berlin.
Back in New Orleans, I had some wonderful meals this year. Highlights included:
7. The tasting menu at Restaurant August on my birthday. Spectacular. Five courses of decadence, 5 glasses of lovely paired wines. Also, a beautiful vegetarian tasting menu for Kid Cayenne that rivaled my dinner in deliciousness. Absolutely wonderful.
8. A food lover's trip through Acadiana, which included a stop at Richard's Seafood Patio in Abbeville, where I ate 3 pounds of boiled crawfish and a bowl full of grilled oysters in butter with bread for the sopping up.
You remember that fat roll I told you about? A lot of it was made eating the above.
9. Duck, duck duck. I love duck (as I'm sure I've mentioned ad nauseum) and I've had some very nice duck dishes this year. Two of my favorites were were the roasted Muscovy duck breast with Tuscan kale, butternut squash, sage, and satsuma coriander jus at Lilette and smoked duck and chestnut pasta (below) at the Green Goddess.
I should try to round this list out to 10, but I feel like these 9 truly represent my best eating experiences of 2009. May the new year bring many more for all of us. Happy New Year!