“Strange” is the first word that comes to mind. Its been a strange and sad year in pop culture, politics, and even love life. And by love life I mean food, not the other stuff which is fine thank you, and knock on.. ahem… wood. But that’s another post for another day, that I imagine wont be a free one. During 2016 we traveled a little more than usual, and so the best dishes came from overseas, especially Italy. We also didnt quite have our share of the usual haute fine dining last year, as I continue to discover more and more exciting cheap options in all 5 boroughs. But we did have our fair share of exciting eats, which made the selection difficult as usual.
Porgy at Ssam Bar
Its quite the site when this Long Island Sound beauty arrives in all her glory. Head and teeth and all, without the main bone that was surgically removed. The fish is dressed with the momofuku signature ginger scallion sauce. One bite, and you can tell this is not your average grilled Branzino. Another bite and its an entire Havah Nagilla rendition in your mouth. By the 5th inning, you remember to try the accompanied lettuce and tortillas to make fish wraps. You experiment by adding some pickled bean sprouts, cabbage, and creme fraiche, and you are suddenly the world’s greatest fish taco maker. The fish comes with all these goodies in “Ssam” style.
Octopus at Timna
The usual challenge with these lists is going back to the earlier moths to see if anything stood out. This one did. Some of the best octopus I’ve had in a while in a year filled with glorious octopus (Avlee, Cull and Pistol, just to name a few). Nir Mesika from ZiZi Limona fame tenderizes, sous vide style, the heck out of this thing (I’m guessing by the size and bite, it was enjoying the coast of Portugal a few days prior). Then he finishes it on an open flame like the Bedouin do 200 kilometers south of Mesika’s hometown in Israel. All that smoky goodness, served with black eggplant puree, pickled cabbage and hummus, tells your brain just one thing. Taim!
Mafaldine at Lilia
Just about every other Best List out there this year features Lilia’s striking Agnolotti, which is fantastic dont get me wrong. I would order it again and just about every other thing I ate (If I can get another reservation one of these days. It’s simpler to score a shopping date with Ivanka Trump). But my nod goes to the the ‘imperfect’ Mafaldine or Malfadini that looked and tasted pretty perfect to me. Take your average Cacio e Pepe, change the pasta to something with more texture, sharper cheese like Parmigiano Reggiano, and pink peppercorns, and you essentially got Cacio e Pepe on crack. Top picture
Hummus at Dizengoff
I spent much of 2016 biking to/from Chelsea Market, and wrestling with tourists. Guess who won? This guy! And much of these visits I spent at Dizengoff including two days after they opened when I met the great Michael Solomonov (turns out we have a lot in common, other than fame). Its not just about the hummus and its perfect silky smooth texture and taste, and its hard to get excited about a Hummuseria to begin with. But its much about the whole package. The insanely delicious hot off the oven pita on steroids. (Calling it pita almost sounds insulting), the pickles, the homemade S’hug and the rotating seasonal toppings that make this place so magnetic.
Chicken Wings Skewers at Biang!
Ever since I discovered the magic of Biang, it has become the dining equivalent of Netflix binge watching. I cant get enough of it. The entire menu and its noodle lineup is fantastic, but its all these skewers that you cant find in the Xi’an Famous near you that I’m most attracted. No one that I know prepares Lamb, Enoki Mushrooms and Cauliflower quite like this. But its those perfectly seasoned whole wings that are so big they need to occupy two skewers that I need to have each time, sometimes with a tour group (usually on East Village tours on Fridays). I just love a good wing. And every morsel of this thing just makes me want to run around the room with scissors, naked. Yes I’m seeing someone about that.
Clams Grand Lisboa/Toasted Noodles at Nishi
Two incarnations, two names, one triumph. Some of the original dish names got simplified over time for those unfamiliar with what Ceci or Grand Lisboa got to do with anything. But there’s nothing simple about the entire Nishi noodle lineup (I’ve had all of them just in the past week). The clams are dressed with Oregano based sauce, sitting on top toasted Chow Mein noodles and cabbage. Calling this Cho Mein noodles is an insult to this dish. Its cooked with apple cider that give it this sweet something, like no Chow Mein you’ve had before. And clams with oregano is like a match made in Fukuland. Fukuland is my heaven. You are on a beautiful beach, fed something unique every hour by heavily tattooed bearded men, and heavily tattooed bearded women.
Pretzel at Werkstatt
Yes a pretzel somehow sneaked itself into a best of list. Pretzels are something I usually only eat when I’m about to pass out from hunger, but for this one I drive all the way to Ditmas Park, Brooklyn to have it. It the best pretzel in NYC! Well, that’s what its called on the menu. So make sure to order the right one, otherwise you may wind up with just an “Adequate Neighborhood Pretzel”. And did I mention that it comes with its own Lipitor! Or is it “Liptauer”, a buttery, cheesy, peppery, paprika infused spread that requires a German born pretzel the size of half a pretzel cart to fully enjoy. Forget the mustard and spread this beast with the Lipitor. And if the pretzel will make you thirsty, they have a cure for that too.
Eggplant at Atoboy
Its the year of the simplified dish names; “Lettuce”, “Corn”, “Fish”, “Noodles”. I see it on menus all over, and in some cases (like Nishi) menus actually change entirely to that. Is it a fad, or we just getting dumber. Dont really mind or care. But in some cases, the ingredient doesnt tell the whole story, or even close. The “Eggplant“ at this new playful Korean inspired in NoMad, on first glance looks like a Babaganoush gone horribly wrong. But the makeup of the dish and the result is a lot more revealing. You got layers of smoky eggplant, Dungeness Crab and Tomato Jelly, all easily combined in a spoonful of pure ecstasy. And yeah, reach for the spoon for dishes like this. They are not there for just soups
Fish Inihaw at FOB
Sometimes the best meals come from unexpected places. The homey Filipino in Carrol Gardens surely delivered in more homey way than one. Some if not all the recipes came from the chef’s parents. And when mom and pop didnt quite agree on something, they included both versions on the menu (the two chicken dishes). But the fish here was my favorite, and there was nothing particularly outrageous about it. The day’s fresh fish (Pacific Flounder in our case) simply grilled in banana leaf, and topped with an extremely complimentary tomatoee Adobo. We’ve had quite a few such dishes last year, including in Michelin Star La Vara a few blocks from FOB, but this one left the biggest mark.
Miso Cherry ice cream at Oddfellows
Say it with me. Miiiiso Cherry…. Say it like you mean it. 2016 is the year I took a break from gelato and rediscovered the joys of ice cream, but with a scientific twist. I imagine these odd fellas in a Breaking Bad like lab in a Williamsburg warehouse experimenting on willing humans. I cant think of any ice cream out there that had such an affect on me. The Miso flavor is very evident here, and it works big time. Since I had it, I’ve been bringing tours here on a regular basis, only to see Miso Cherry missing in action. But no worries, they promise. Its coming back very soon.