MY TOP 5 MEALS OF 2015
With 2015 just behind us, it got me thinking of some of my favorite meals of the past year. I was really lucky and was able to enjoy some fantastic, first rate lunches and dinners. I’m still stoked on discovering the East L.A. Corn at Spare Tire Kitchen & Tavern (and don’t forget the lovely Roasted Beet Salad). And while the seafood at The Raymond in Pasadena is tops, Chef Tim Guiltinan’s Dry Aged Prime Bone-in Rib Eye for Two was one of my favorite and most hearty dining experiences of the year. And getting to meet Chef Kaz and dine at the meat fest that is Totoraku was an once-in-a-lifetime experience.
Another highlight was my trip to Boston and Maine over Memorial Day Weekend where several food bloggers, including Gourmet Pigs and Feisty Foodie, and I spent an entire Saturday eating lobster rolls throughout Maine. Damn, that was fun. The following were my favorite meals from start to finish of 2015.
For my birthday in June, I headed up to wine country to Napa to basically fork over all my money to Chef Thomas Keller after I was able to secure a lunch reservation at his famed French Laundry in Yountville. That meant I would make a weekend out of it and also hit up Ad Hoc for Sunday brunch as well as his pop-up at the time, Ad Lib.
This trip was all about French Laundry so imagine my surprise when Ad Lib easily became my favorite meal of the year. Originally opened during renovations at French Laundry, the story goes the Chef Keller didn’t want to lose his staff so he opened a nearby “pop-up” temporary restaurant. The service was still first rate but the atmosphere was a little more casual. Rumor had it that occasionally Chef Keller himself would even make Caesar salads tableside.
Speaking of my favorite salad, we started dinner with a lovely Caesar prepared table side. This was the second best Caesar I’ve had, a runner up to only Dan Tana’s.
The rest of our amazing meal included Sheppard’s Pie, Carrot Risotto, honey glazed carrots, and the most succulent Beef Wellington. We had fine wine, took in the sophisticated yet relaxed setting surrounded by wonderful service, although our main server was very personable and kept it breezy, and just loved every minute of it. This dinner really kicked off a birthday weekend of a lifetime in style.
During my Thanksgiving trip to Tokyo, I was dying for sushi. I knew it would be impossible to dine at Chef Jiro’s Sukiyabashi Jiro, a 10-seat, sushi-only restaurant featured in the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. I was hoping to dine at Jiro’s son’s sushi restaurant but we couldn’t get squeezed in without a reservation. The Japanese are sticklers for protocol and don’t like to “squeeze” anybody into an empty table.
So on my last night during a fantastic trip visiting a dear friend (a pediatrician in the Air Force), we were taken to the unassuming Uokou in Fussa—about 45 minutes outside of Tokyo where the U.S. Air Force Base in located. This was a find by the lovely Yuko, a native of Fussa. Without her we never would have found this place. There’s not a lick of English to be found on the menu, nor is English even spoke inside. It’s strictly Japanese only but we had our local guide and actually had the place to ourselves, which was pretty shocking considering just how amazing the sushi is here. And Chef Koji Ohoshi was so personable and accommodating and just loved the fact that we were willing to try anything. He was out of yellowtail but sent over so many fresh and fantastic cuts of fish that I was in sushi heaven.
We started with beers and egg and tuna, before moving on to sake and salmon and tuna sushi. The octopus was first rate, as were rolls with egg, tuna, shrimp and cucumber. The huge oysters were delicious as were the salmon roe and other treats. This was the perfect capper to my whirlwind Tokyo trip.
WORKSHOP KITCHEN + BAR
During a trip pre-summer trip to Palm Springs, I had the pleasure to check out Workshop Kitchen + Bar, an adventurous and daring restaurant where the kitchen and bar program are both absolutely stellar.
Founded by Chef/Owner Michael Beckman, Workshop Kitchen + Bar features a market-driven menu comprised of seasonal food highlights harvested from local farms and offers a bar program unlike any other desert establishment. A winner of the prestigious James Beard Award for Outstanding Design, it was the only SoCal restaurant to take home a James Beard Award this year and is the first Palm Springs restaurant to ever have won one.
I’m still relishing the lovely Foie Gras Cobbler with duck confit and cherries that we had. It was the best foie gras dish I had all year. And I was so impressed by the cocktails. Bar managers Dave Castillo and Michelle Bearden, both formerly of 320 Main in Seal Beach, run a fantastic cocktail program. Their drink menu consists of classic libations like the Hemmingway Especial, a lovely white rum concoction, to the French 75, Sidecar, and Ward 8. Their Original drinks, which are seasonally based, included during our visit the M-80, a fine reposado tequila and mezcal mix that was potent and tasted like a smoky margarita, as well as the Ancho Libre (reposado tequila and anchor reyes), and the Palm Springer—a vodka drink that was both sweet and complex. I fell in love with a drink called Rouge with Mezcal Vida, Suze, Giffard Fraise Des Bois, grapefruit oils, and one cube served in a wreck jar. This was the bar's desert take on a White Negroni "with a little softness around the edges." I found it to be just a lovely Negroni.
THE FRENCH LAUNDRY
It’s hard to imagine The French Laundry not topping any Best Of dinner list but I did have some incredible meals in 2015. The buildup and expectations may have led to a little disappointment…maybe having lunch instead of dinner? There’s just so much to say about dining here. The setting is so lovely. The service is second to none. The presentation throughout our three hour meal was absolutely fabulous.
We started with the classic “Oysters and Caviar”, a Chef Keller staple. A mixture of tapioca pudding and caviar, this dish is legend and it aptly lived up to its reputation. I immediately knew this was going to be something special. And for hours, petite plate after petite plate rolled out with the most dynamic presentation. It is Keller’s repertoire that has made many people debate if this is just the most delicious fare or works of art.
With pastries from nearby Bouchon Bakery, the breads, butter and salt were all unique and leaps and bounds above anyone else.
Other dishes included Hawaiian Hearts of Peach Palm with purple top turnip panna cotta, Santa Rosa plums, tasted cashews and garden shiso; Duck “foie gras au torchon” with poached blueberries, celery branch salad and Marcona almond butter; Sweet butter poached Maine lobster; Four Story Hill Farm poularde (hen) with Brentwood corn, Rainier cherries and Sicilian pistachios; and Herb roasted Elysian Fields Farm lamb with spiced tomato conserva, cauliflower chickpea, garlic confit and Fino Verde basil.
Don’t get me wrong, everything was delicious, but the entrees were tiny and I think I just expected the world. I don’t know if it was really possible for my expectations to be met. I read The Soul of the Chef by Michael Ruhlman and was aware that people have cried after their meal. Even Ruhlman wrote that his life was changed after eating (multiple times) at The French Laundry.
But just before dessert, beginning with an assortment of cheeses and sweets, the meal took an unexpected turn and morphed into one of my favorite dining experiences of my life. Sure, I like dessert, but I’m not that big of a dessert guy but here, it was so incredible. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. Again, the presentation and service were just unparalleled. Everything was so fine and intricate and delicate. And out of this world good! I’ve never had a meal end on such a high note. Again, it just made for a truly special weekend, even if it was all about celebrating me.
THE RUNNING GOOSE
I would have thought it would have been hard pressed for a new, low key restaurant to make my Best Of list but I had just the best time dining at The Running Goose on Cahuenga Boulevard in Hollywood.
This wasn’t one of the new splashy openings of 2015, nor was it some celebrity hotspot; instead it’s a cozy restaurant where the chef just loves to smoke his food. That and the
Salt Cod Churros with lemon and saffron aioli were unbelievably good. While the Salt Cod Churros sounded interesting albeit a little off-putting, they delivered the goods. Prepared with Saffron aioli, lemon, and cool nori, this was a game-changing menu option. I loved the "outside the box" thinking stuffing fish inside a churro. It just doesn't sound right, especially to someone who has grown up eating churros, but it was genius. Consider this reason enough to visit.
Another winning dish was the Smoked Potato with sunflower aioli, spiced sesame, and charred onion. These guys like to “smoke” things and who knew smoking potatoes would create such a terrific dish? There was just so much flavor to this hearty item. This is another must-have.
Another homerun selection was the Smoked Beef Ribs with Worcestershire, rub, onions, and horseradish. The meat literally fell off the bone when we picked up a rib. That’s how soft and tender this was. Smoked for five days, they were so damn flavorful and so delicate. If you only come for the Salt Cod Churros, the Smoked Potatoes and the ribs, you will leave one very happy and satisfied camper.
Story by Jose Martinez
Photography Courtesy of Restaurants Reviewed
Uokou in Fussa
The French Laundry Below