I look forward all year to writing this post. It’s an opportunity to reflect on all the amazing food adventures I was privileged enough to experience over the last 365 days. The inner “categorizer” in me gets to come out and play, too.
Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. Unlike last year, I had NO problem coming up with several Worsts. But, the inner optimist in me realizes the bad meals make the good ones all the more glorious.
1. Wayfare Tavern: The cold, soggy, overpriced fried chicken was an insult. I am still reeling. At least they have a cool bar so I can fathom going back.
2. Umami Burger: I still do not understand the buzz about this place; and it’s still raging out of control. The bun-to-patty proportions were so off the mark that what was placed in front of me barely resembled a burger. The pretentious ketchup serving spoons just annoy me. Can you just bring me the bottle?
3. Hecho: I can prepare salmon better than Hecho can and I know I’m no Julia Child. If you want to be charged $18 for a piece of fish that’s been purchased at Costco, dropped on a grill, flipped, and put on your plate – then, this is your place (by the way, I have noticed all the initial buzz about this place has totally disappeared).
4. Slanted Door: Of the six or so dishes I had here, not all were awful (only five). This was disheartening in itself, but when the bill was placed in front of me, I felt like I was socked in the stomach. As you’ll see in my “Best of” list, expensive is okay, but the value MUST be there.
This is the tough part. 2011 was full of so many good meals for so many different reasons. However, specifics about the five listed below stand out in my memory weeks, months, and probably years later.
1. Gary Danko: I distinctly remember telling someone after my meal at Gary Danko that it was an amazing experience but not something I’d want to do again. It was too expensive, too loud, too MUCH. What I didn’t anticipate was, eight months later, to still think about that meal every day. It still makes me smile. I can still recall every bite of all five of the courses. I still call up Adrienne and recall specific moments or bites. That is priceless.
2. Picco (Larkspur): Simple food done brilliantly well. Risottos, tartares, bruschetta: we see these options everywhere. But nobody can execute as well Bruce Hill does as Picco. That avocado bruschetta stands out as one of the best single dishes all year:
3. Osteria Stellina (Point Reyes): It’s worth the haul to taste this pizza. The crust, the innovative toppings, and fresh cheese come together better than any other combo I had all year.
4. Gamine: Burger, burger, burger. After much reflection, I have to say this was the best burger of the year. Close second: Don Pistos and Parallel 37. Traditional, this burger is not; but if it feels this good to be wrong, I don’t want to be right.
5. Quince. Fat Angel. Quince was a lovely meal, but now that I have to describe it, I can’t come up with a single specific (and I think I had five courses!). Truly great meals ingrain themselves to memory to the point where I can recall each bite. So, in its place is Fat Angel, a neighborhood spot that was undoubtedly my most frequented spot this year. Alone, on a date, with a group: this place fits the bill. The wine is on tap, the small snacks (including a butter platter) double as an afternoon tide-me-over or a light dinner, and the bread pudding is killer. In a year where dessert didn’t do much to impress me, this bread pudding stands as the best dessert of the year. And it’s two blocks away.
And for those who don’t fall into the above two buckets:
1. Road Trip Worthy (especially on a sunny day): Marshall Store in tiny Marshall, CA. If you’re driving too fast, you may miss this shack on the side of the road. The oysters, which are plucked same-day, are four times as big as any oyster I’ve ever seen. They’re also dressed brilliantly: bacon and Worcestershire, cheese and spinach. Grab a beer, sit outside on the picnic tables, and take in the beautful waterfront views.
2. The Happiest Hour: Garibaldi’s: No, this is not the hippest crowd (most need hip replacements). But, the Happy Hour menu is out of this world. Small bites, large bites, wine, beer, and specialty cocktails are all half off from 5 to 6:30 – SEVEN DAYS A WEEK!
3. Didn’t See That One Coming: Bluestem Brasserie. The early reviews of this place were mediocre and the empty dining room didn’t add to my confidence. But my lamb burger and french fries completely dispelled my skepticism. It’s still fairly new so I can only hope it continues to get better.
4. Best Come From Behind Victory: I was so furious after my first visit to Mamacita that it took me three years to go back. I didn’t have a chance to review it individually, but I went about two weeks ago and thoroughly enjoyed my meal. Yes, it’s high end Mexican (which I still think is an oxymoron) but the portions seemed bigger and the quality is quite good. The fish tacos were fried perfectly, the chips and guac couldn’t have been done better, and the brussel sprouts were covered in enough “stuff” that I forgot I was eating a vegetable. Pics below.
I say it every year: I am not sure how this year can exceed the last, but I know it will. By the way, if you’re headed to Mission Beach Cafe, Namu, Red Door Cafe, Bar Terra, Refuge, Heirloom Cafe, Pacific Cafe or Park Tavern: call me.