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Gadling Contributors' Favorite Restaurants Of 2012
I take pictures of my food at restaurants. Do you hate me now? Yeah, I thought so. I do it because I'm a food writer and I use the photos to jog my memory when I'm writing about a restaurant. But also sometimes I do it for the same reason a lot of other people do: because I'm so smitten with the taste of what I'm eating that I want something to take with me when the flavor has long disappeared from my palate. There's an anti-foodie backlash, that dismissive irony that hipsters gave to the world – the one that says: we can't be enthusiastic about anything and if we appear to look that way, it's just because we're being ironic.
Remember when you had to go to an Italian specialty shop to get olive oil? Or when the only tacos you could find were made of ground beef and impossible-to-melt cheddar cheese? No? Well, trust me. The year 2012 is a much better time to be a lover of food than the past decades. It's a good thing that we care about what we eat; that we want to know where it comes from; that we're supporting more farmers and fewer corporations. And it's okay to be so crazy about what you're eating that you can't help but snap a picture of your plate. Go ahead.
Below is a list – in alphabetical order – of Gadling writers' favorite restaurants of 2012. No word on if they snapped shots of their food. They did, though, leave very satisfied.
There's been so much talk about the triumph of Nordic cuisine the last couple years. I spent my first time in Scandinavia-in Stockholm, to be exact-eating my way through the handsome city of water and islands. My favorite meal was at chef Jacob Holmstrom's restaurant, Gastrologik, where I feasted on a multi-course dinner. Dishes included a smooth crème of rooster liver, deep-fried cod belly, and fork-tender reindeer.
L'Osteria Monteverde, Rome
I spent one night in Rome earlier this year and my friend Pancho took me to this unassuming restaurant in the Monteverde neighborhood. It's part of a trend in Roman dining right now where a talented chef takes over the space of a neighborhood eatery outside the center of town (where the rents are cheaper), does little to the décor, and quickly transforms the place into a destination restaurant. The menu listed what seemed like some tricked-out versions of classics but I went with the traditional carbonara and didn't regret it.
In New York, there were just too many to keep it to one, so I'll briefly mention my faves: Ngam in the East Village for an impressive fusion of American comfort food and northern Thai cuisine (the massaman curry pot pie makes me salivate); Mission Chinese Food on the Lower East Side for just about everything on the menu; and ditto for Fort Defiance in Brooklyn's Red Hook which hit the mark on everything I ate there.
Bernys, Bateman's Bay, Australia
This summer a friend and I drove Australia's little appreciated south coast roads from Sydney to Eden. Along the way, we stopped off in the seaside town of Bateman's Bay. Eager to get an insider's view of the popular tourist destination, we asked a group of local fishermen where to get lunch. They recommended Bernys, a brightly painted but ramshackle place serving up fresh oysters, a dozen for a mere six Aussie dollars. We piled back into the car with two loads and headed to the nearest beach. Parked at a picnic table, we spent a blissfully lazy hour snacking on our mouth-watering mollusks.
Flatbush Farm, Brooklyn
I really loved Flatbush Farm when I was there and had this incredible bean dish, and an incredible polenta dish. But they change their menu all the time, depending on what's seasonal, which is part of the charm.
I have only love songs to sing for Barboncino, a newish wood oven pizza place on Franklin Avenue. Their basic, cheese-less marinara pizza, as sweet as it is garlicky, makes you wonder whether cheese is a cover-up for inferior sauces. Delicious and the perfect portion for one. For brunch, the egg pizza is surprisingly good, and well-paired with a Nutella calzone. Decadence.
Pok Pok NY, New York City
New York is probably the last place you'd expect to find mind-blowing Southeast Asian cuisine – many of the tropical herbs and fragrant spices that make cuisines like Thai so wonderful and flavorful are hard to come by on the other side of the world in a cold-weather climate like New York City. So I was dumbstruck to discover earlier this year that Portland chef Andy Ricker would be opening an outpost of his award-winning Thai restaurant near me in Brooklyn. There's no shortage of standouts on the menu, but the Northern Thai-style specialties are the best: the outstanding Chiang Mai-style Khao Soi soup is a wonderful sensory and flavor overload--crispy noodles, tangy citrus and milky coconut broth held together by a fiery mixture of spices. The "Sai Ua Samun Phrai" (Chiang Mai grilled sausage with spicy green chili dip) is a "punch in the mouth" in the best possible sense of the term – pairing, savory, smoky sausage with bitter squash and a spicy dipping sauce.
Bakery Nouveau. Seattle
Sometimes I go for coffee and baked goods – they make an amazing twice baked almond croissant that's stuffed with marzipan and smothered in butter, but they also make a beautiful custardy quiche and their California club sandwich is avocado, bacon, Havarti, and a not to garlic-y aoli on their own crumbling, delicate croissants. There's nearly always a line and it is always worth the wait.
Wolfnights, New York City
The Brother's Grimm at Wolfnights NYC is quite possibly the most delicious wrap I have ever had in my life, and I don't even like wraps. This little roll of heaven contains spicy grilled chicken, pickled shitake mushrooms, raisins, plantain chips, and a generous dose of chipotle aioli sauce, all wrapped in a freshly made chestnut and chilly dough. Cost? A reasonable $7.95. I go at least once a week.
Longman & Eagle, Chicago
Longman & Eagle has been getting some well-deserved great press for the past couple of years due to a combination of great food, warm atmosphere and the cute six-room inn that they've established above their Logan Square restaurant. The fare could be best described as local comfort food that's pricey but not expensive, while the clientele and staff could be in the same category. The menu changes seasonally, but if you get the chance try the delicious wild boar sloppy joe. And don't forget to sample part of the whiskey menu – their selection is unparalleled.
OAK at Fourteenth, Boulder, CO
Dinner with Grant and Liz, last week. They have a dish of San Marzano tomatoes-braised meatballs and burrata cheese, served on Anson Mills grits. It's like nirvana on a plate.
Thinking about my travel this year, I'd recommend a few places:
One of my favorite neighborhood spots in ladies-who-lunch Nisantasi is open just for lunch. There are no printed menus, just whatever is seasonal and fresh is written on chalkboards. I'm still trying to recreate their watermelon lemonade, and you can't go wrong with a savory pastry or kebab. Even better is the dukkan (shop) downstairs where you can take more treats home.
Pesti Diszno, Budapest
The chalkboard pig outline logo drew me into this "gastropub" (pork was always inviting when I didn't get much living in Istanbul), and it was one of my favorite meals in Budapest. The design and lighting feels like a hip bar, but the waiters still treated us like VIPs even with a baby and no Hungarian. I had one of the best hot dogs of my life there, if you could call such a wonder of meat a hot dog. Fun place to try traditional Hungarian food with a twist.
I've had many a boozy brunch and extended dinner at Beast in years past, and I've returned there more than any other place since I've moved back to NYC. It feels unpretentious and cozy, yet the food is surprisingly innovative and gourmet. The outstanding burger made with a mix of meats, and the fried manchego cheese bites are so good, you'll order a second plate. They also have some of my favorite bathroom graffiti ever.
Carmelo's Brick Oven Pizza, New York City
Growing up, my brother Peter was known as the family garbage disposal. You could put a pile of pig slop in front of him and he'd rave that it was the best thing he'd ever tasted. So I was more than a little surprised when he spent a small fortune on a mobile wood-fired pizza oven a couple years back in order to found a small mobile pizza business, Carmelo's Brick Oven Pizza. He studied the art of pizza making and within a year, he was hitching his mobile oven to the back of his truck and catering parties and events. When he bragged that he made the best pizza in New York, I assumed that he was full of crap. That is, until I actually tried it this year and had to admit that it was just as good as the famous Da Michele in Naples and much better than just about every other Neapolitan-style pizza I've had anywhere. Sometimes the most prolific eaters also make very good cooks.
[Photo by David Farley]