At Commonwealth, chef Jason Fox's progressive American restaurant in the Mission district of San Francisco, there's a cocktail that has garnered more attention than its chef might have anticipated. The Narwhal uses modernist technique, but not cloyingly. The summer version is a high-end slushie consisting of ambrosia melon, lime, filtered sake, mint, and Floc de Gascogne, made with liquid nitrogen. The winter version (pictured) also featured pomegranate seeds.
Why is it so good? It's not too sweet, there's soft ice, tartness, and crunch from the seeds. Call it an opening act cocktail, a palate cleanser, or if you're reverse-coursing, the best way to start a meal with dessert. And that's why it made my list of most memorable meals for 2011.