BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "This has been a particularly rich year for me gastronomically, with lots of travel, so it's harder than ever to single out a single 'best' dish. Ultimately, though, I think it might be a simple snack I improvised for myself one afternoon at home from ingredients brought back from various trips: I toasted a thick slice of sourdough rye (pictured) from a little bakery in a village called Albanyà, in the Empordà region of Catalonia (probably the best bread I had all year; wish I'd been able to stuff more than one loaf into my carry-on), then drizzled it with Pukara Estate Hunter Valley olive oil that I'd brought back from Australia, spread on some doçe de leite (the Brazilian dulce de leche, which I'd bought in a small town in Minas Gerais, Brazil), and sprinkled it all with Maldon salt. Very international. Very wonderful."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "To continue the homebody theme, I think what I'm most looking forward to eating in 2013 are the first really good tomatoes from my balcony garden, just sliced and sprinkled with some of that Maldon, on a warm, sunny day."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "The best thing I ate all year was a salad, actually. At Parallel Post I had a frisée salad with duck confit, hummus purée, peanuts, pomegranates, and a fried duck egg. Let me tell you how perfect it was — when that yolk broke over everything it made the perfect dressing and I wanted to lick the plate clean. Another dish (and not just this year, but every year) is the fresh cavatelli with broccoli rabe that my Nonna and I make together. It's always spot on. She never fails me, ever."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "What do I want to eat in 2013? My nephew's first birthday cake!"
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "I set a bad example in that we do this piece annually, and I can't limit my picks. Case in point 2011's 96-dish list. (Our Entertain editor still gives me a hard time about that list.) I was just as fortunate this year to check some great places off my list, so I don't plan on being any more self-restricting this time round (list to come). If I have to pick just a few dishes as representative of 2012, I'd note the elBulli homage ice dessert (pictured) at Next in Chicago as well as that city's tamale hot dog at Fat Johnnie's Famous Red Hots, the peameal bacon sandwich at Toronto's Carousel Bakery, and an amazing meal at Sushi Yasuda in New York City. Sure, I get that it might seem ridiculous to feature a photo of ice as one of the best things I ate all year, but its playfulness really did make it one of 2013's most memorable eating moments for me."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "As every year since 2004, my most anticipated dish for next year is at Masa. I've never been. I've wanted to go since the Bruni review — I can't believe anything was lost between it and what seemed like an unfounded Sifton slight. Maybe this is the year? Other dining experiences? Husk, Blackberry Farm, The French Laundry, The Catbird Seat, restaurants in India and Japan? I have no idea where 2013's dining adventures will take me. But based on the past few years, I sure am excited."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "Osteria Morini is one of my favorite restaurants in New York, and with good reason. Though definitely on the pricey side, people go there for one thing: pasta. I'm unafraid to say it: Michael White is a gifted man when it comes to pasta. The best thing I ate in 2012 was definitely the Creste with Shrimp and Seppia Ragù. Believe me, I’ve had it several times just to make sure, even at $21 a pop. Blended with breadcrumbs, it’s as rich as traditional ragù, so at first bite, it’s a hard to believe it’s made from shrimp and cuttlefish. And of course, the fresh pasta was cooked perfectly each time."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "Next year, I’m going with an old favorite — Taverna Kyclades in Astoria, Queens. They make a grilled calamari that’s perfectly charred around the edges without being rubbery. Because I live in a faraway land (aka Brooklyn), it’s a dish I don’t get to taste very often anymore."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "Normally, I would just say the best thing I ate all year was straciatella cheese from Eataly (with tomatoes, basil, and balsamic, natch), but Pam Mazzola at San Francisco’s Prospect won me over with a perfect Japanese-inspired fall soup. One bite of her kabocha squash and matsutake mushroom soup and I was instantly transported back to Kyoto where homey, comforting foods are both seasonal and sophisticated. First, there was the soup itself: miso-laced, smooth without being creamy, simple yet refined. Then there were the fixings: Tiny shimeji mushrooms to add texture and flavor, diced Asian pear for a hint of sweetness, and the fusion-y 'tempura crunch' (normally a turnoff, but delicate enough to work). It might not be as elaborate or pricey as foie gras sushi, but it made me want to drop everything and get on a plane to Narita Airport."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "As for next year, all I really want is some really exquisite maguro sashimi. Maybe with some Scotch."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012:"2012 was a stellar year for my taste buds! It'd probably be more appropriate to do a Top 10 list of the best dishes I ate but I'm going to resist. The best thing I ate was without doubt, the stretch bread from Pastabilities in Syracuse, N.Y. I know what you're thinking, 'Bread? Really? The best thing you ate?' And to that I say, YES! It was so good it took all of my power to keep from standing up and clapping in the middle of the restaurant. When you pull this bread apart, the inside is elastic and stretches before it breaks (hence its name) while the outside is light and crispy. It's delicious whether dipped in a little olive oil, or eaten by itself. If you're ever in Central New York, it is without a doubt, a must try! GIVE ME ALL THE STRETCH BREAD!"
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "I want the vanilla frosted Cap'n Crunch Doughnut from Voodoo Doughnut in Portland, Ore."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "2012 was filled with amazing dishes, and when I sat down and started to think about the best, I had a laundry list within minutes. There was this amazing Santa Fe chicken dish that a private chef made me in Aspen, Colo., cheese and jalapeño-stuffed chicken breasts in a smoky roasted red pepper sauce, and then the super burrito from Benny's Burritos in the West Village — a tortilla so soft you couldn't pick it up with your hands no matter how hard you tried. I also kept going back to that heaping plate of peppery, crunchy Cajun popcorn shrimp at the Clam Bar in Amagansett, N.Y., in July.
That's just the start of my year, though; my list goes on. In an effort to keep this short (I'm already failing), I decided that the best dish was a mixed mushroom ragù served over a grilled New York strip steak, enjoyed in none other than the comfort of my own home. I stumbled on the recipe in an old issue of Food & Wine that I had lying around the house (January 2011), and was inspired to make it because of its unique ingredients: Dijon mustard, coconut milk, harissa, blond miso, and golden raisins — certainly not any old mushroom ragù recipe. The recipe was written by cookbook author and former Top Chef contestant Stephanie Izard, and the ingredients intrigued me, but it was easy to put together — just minutes of sautéing and then simmering to create this rich, approachable sauce that would go with any chicken, steak, or fish dish. The most unique part (and my favorite) was the coconut milk it mellowed the spicy harissa and gave the ragù a golden red hue that made it appear as if it had stewed for hours. I made that in May, and I'm still thinking about it in December. Sure, maybe it's biased to pick something I made, but I give the credit to the talented Izard.
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "I'm traveling to Charleston, S.C., in the spring for a bachelorette party and I'm looking forward to dragging all of the girls to Husk and enjoying whatever seasonal and Southern creation chef Sean Brock has thought up."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "If it were socially acceptable, I would have stood up and applauded after my first bite of the 100-layer lasagne at Del Posto. I expected 100 layers of pasta and sauce to sit like a brick in my belly but the exact opposite was true. It was incredibly delicate and flavorful. The craftsmanship that went into making it still stuns me."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "I'm DYING to try a lobster roll from Ed's Lobster Bar. Nothing crazy, nothing fancy. I'm just on a quest for a great lobster roll. And yes, I'm embarrassed to admit I've never had one."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "First there were the crispy Brussels sprouts from Steuben's in Denver. 'It's vegetable crack,' the waitress explained to my sister and I as we sat outside our favorite hometown haunch. And right she was: the perfectly fried, salted Brussels sprouts inspired me to not only order them wherever I saw them on the menu, but to recreate my own. They'll never taste as good as Steuben's, though (especially when paired with its long list of comfort foods).
The other 'best' was boeuf bourguignon at Café Constant in Paris.When in Paris, eat boeuf bourguignon: after a few disappointing dishes at other cafés, we finally tracked one down that was as it should be: rich, melt-in-your mouth beef with intense flavors. Hidden around the corner from the Eiffel Tower, the neighborhood spot was a gem and made the City of Light sparkle that much more."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "Whatever new meatball creation the Meatball Shop debuts each week."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "I couldn't pick just one 'best' thing I ate, but I've narrowed it down to three and they're all from my trips home to the Bay Area (sorry New York, I know you have amazing food, but California wins this time). The first are the Gilroy Garlic Fries from AT&T Park, enjoyed while watching the Giants win on their road to becoming 2012 World Series champs. The fresh, crispy fries are loaded with garlic and finished with a sprinkle of Parmesan and flecks of parsley. Yes, they're greasy and yes, they're smelly, but there's no better snack when watching a game. The second is a Dungeness crab roll from Fish in Sausalito, Calif. When crab season rolls around in December each year, the Bay Area celebrates, and Fish Restaurant makes one of the best crab rolls I've had. The soft, buttery roll is piled high with fresh crabmeat and served simply with a pickle. Eaten on their patio next to the water, it's hard to beat. And last on my list is a big, giant burrito from my favorite Bay Area taqueria, Taqueria San Jose in San Rafael, Calif. Their shrimp fajita burrito, with shrimp cooked to order and the works (rice, beans, cheese, guac, etc.), is always the first thing I crave when I step off the plane in San Francisco."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "I'm hoping to find Mexican food in New York that can rival the burritos of California."
Din Tai Fung
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "The best thing I ate this year is the best thing I have eaten every year for the past nine years, Din Tai Fung's xiaolongbao (soup dumplings). Ever since I discovered Din Tai Fung on Xinyi Road in Taipei in 2003, I can't get enough. They are worth the around-the-world flight. Since trying Din Tai Fung's xiaolongbao , I have not only developed an addiction to them but I also can't look at other dumplings the same. What was once an oil shop opened by Chinese mainlander Bingyi Yang, has grown into the world's best purveyor of xiaolongbao. The key is the wrapper, which many restaurants have tried to imitate but fall short by creating wrappers that are too thick or too chewy or fall apart. Each of Din Tai Fung's nearly translucent, plump Shanghai-style baozi (steamed bun) features a soupy filling that makes them sag when grasped between a pair of chopsticks. The soup is made of meat gelatin, which melts during steaming and each wrapper has exactly 18 folds. These bite-sized morsels are served so fresh that the steam is still rolling off the bamboo basket. Should you find yourself near one of Din Tai Fung's more than 50 restaurants around the world, you must try these. You'll thank me."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "Reviewing my life's digestive legacy, favorite dishes have ranged from the tasting menu at Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak in San Francisco to my grandmother's pot roast served with mashed potatoes and caramelized carrots in her 10-foot-by-10-foot dining room in Queens, which still has a rotary phone in it. That's right, Michael Mina preceded my grandmother in the chronology of my favorite meals. I think it's safe to say there is no predicting what foods I will fall in love with in a given year.So when I considered 2012, despite my capricious taste buds and even more eccentric personality, I was humbly surprised to find the best thing I'd eaten was right around the corner. I moved to Astoria earlier this year for two primary reasons — it was cheaper than the see-and-be-seen borough of Brooklyn, and was famous for its culinary prowess. And when I signed the lease on that tiny, albeit cute-as-a-button, first-story apartment, little did I know I was cementing myself within 500 yards of gastronomic ecstasy.
A small panini shop called Il Bambino has mastered their craft so ingeniously, it's no wonder its become a local dining celebrity. My favorite order? Fried eggplant panini with lemon aioli, arugula, hot peppers, and Asiago. And while the ingredients do a fine job of representing the restaurants sheer creativity, it's the moment those ingredients amalgamated along the ridges of my tongue and cheek, that a fit of culinary righteousness commenced. Reliving it, eyes closed in my midtown swivel chair, I find myself chanting in a disconcerting whisper, 'Meal of the year! Meal of the year!' Excuse me."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "I'm planning on kicking off 2013 in Montreal, so in the year to come, justly speaking, I'm looking forward to waking up somewhere in the Mile End neighborhood on New Year's Day and biting into a tried and true Montreal bagel. I'm a New Yorker, I know it's a touchy subject, but my palate has a wanderlust like no other."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "It's never an easy task to mentally go back and figure out what really stands out as great meals of the year, but for 2012 there are certainly a couple items that come to mind, and they also happen to be some of the best things I've ever eaten. First, the pastrami at David's Brisket House in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. It's a tiny restaurant with just a few scattered tables and chairs, but when Dr. Brown's Diet Cream soda is in the self-serve fridge, you know you're in for a quality deli experience. The pastrami served is unlike anything in the city, with all the smoky, peppery flavors you'd expect, but with the texture of the most mouthwatering, falling-apart barbecue you've ever had. It's also a lot less expensive than its more-famous Manhattan counterparts, and even the 'small' sized option is enough for two meals. Second, I have to heap some praise on the lamb burger at April Bloomfield and Ken Friedman's The Breslin, on Broadway just south of Herald Square. A patty of the highest-quality lamb available is seasoned with just a little salt, seared on a flattop and topped with a slice of feta, and slivers of raw red onion. It's like no other burger I've had, and is one of the few restaurant items that I ever truly crave. Come to think of it, I can go for one right now."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "Next year I'm hoping to finally have the opportunity to try Michael White's famous fusilli with bone marrow and octopus at Marea. I've already replicated his uni and lardo crostini at home, but this dish takes a little more skill than I possess."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "Trying to choose your favorite dish of the year is like choosing a favorite child if you happened to have dozens of them. Where to begin? Some might say to go with ones that surprised you the most. The strawberry and blue crab soup at Husk in Charleston, S.C.; the leek and lobster terrine at Calliope in New York; or the escargot croquettes in a velouté topped with parma ham from Le Beurre Noisette in Paris certainly fit that bill. The sea urchin at Neta in New York and the octopus with fried chickpeas from Ruxbin in Chicago definitely made me think again about dishes I thought I already loved. Some things like The Jardeniere at The French Laundry or the caviar, langoustine, and beef tartare at Le Bernardin are like master classes in finding perfect ingredients.
But if someone has to eke out a win, I guess it would go to the stinging nettle soup with passionfruit and Jerusalem artichoke four ways from The Tasting Room in Franschhoek, South Africa. Not because it was definitively the best dish of the year (again, see the previous contenders — how could I choose?!) but because the setting, each of the 12 courses, and the service at the restaurant was so perfect. After a day in wine country to get to come into a relaxed but beautiful setting where the waitstaff will simultaneously become your friend and teacher, was truly perfect. The dish wins because it had the best context surrounding it. And it didn’t hurt that I was on my honeymoon."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "In 2013, I am looking forward to going to Japan and eating all the ankimo (monkfish liver) that I can find, since that is my newest obsession. Cheers to another great year to come."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "Leaving out all too many, my favorite foods of 2012 have been narrowed down to three. Rosarito Fish Shack's langosta tacos were absolute heaven. Hearty chunks of lobster, with just enough pineapple, chipotle mayo, cilantro, and onions to make the dish zing, but without bogging it down. Pure tortilla, lobster, and flavor. Then there was Zingerman's Food Coma Gift Box (thank you, Mom) peppered bacon farm bread, chile Cheddar bread, and roadhouse bread. A-mazing."
BEST THING I ATE IN 2012: "One way to remember what I ate this year would be to go through my bank statements. Then, to narrow it down, I could find the most bloated bill. However, that's not the most important criteria that I considered when thinking about the best thing I ate in 2012. Eating is an experience, and it goes beyond just the food. This summer I went to festivals and gorged on better-than-your-average-festival food. Outside Lands showed me the best of San Francisco, including clam chowder in a bread bowl from Woodhouse Fish Co. The Great GoogaMooga in Brooklyn, N.Y., served lobster rolls from Luke's. I traveled to Charleston, S.C., and shucked my own oysters (food is better when you have to work for it). Columbus, Ohio, traveled to New York in the form of Jeni's ice creams sweets truck and its seasonal flavors. Just this past week I was in Cincinnati eating my mothers eggplant Parmesan, and it really doesn't get any better than that."
MOST ANTICIPATED 2013 DISH: "Looking back on the past year, I'm incredibly lucky to have eaten what and where I did. Going into next year, I'm looking forward to blood orange season, and soft-shell crab season."