File under: better late than never?
Try as I may to muster the energy to leave the warm, cozy house on this freezing cold day, I'm finding there are many obstacles. Not least of all being screwing around on the computer, looking through some old photos. I noticed that I have a couple blurry pictures of food, and figured "Hey, why waste these beauties on just me. I'll make another list!"
I kinda like putting together lists. Any sort of non-list post takes a lot of effort, although you probably wouldn't believe it if you read any of mine. The list-oriented posts are super easy, because let's face it, people have low to zero expectations with a list. They just want to see the list. And I have very low expectations for a list. Just show me the list. Most importantly, I'm a navel-gazer from way back, and lists provide a vehicle to look deeply into the glory that is me.
So here's the list of Notable dishes of 2012: the 2014 edition:
Los Angeles, CA
The fact of the matter is this: tuna tartare is pretty simple to make. What made this tuna tartare exceptional was a combination of the balance of the herb and capers and fat of the fish, and those salty, crunchy potato chips, that raw egg, and the excellent selection of beer at Father's Office. I didn't have time for a proper meal here, but I will surely try to get back. Seems like a fun spot with some serious beer and food.
After a morning of taking pictures of things in Santa Monica, I needed a place to eat, and quick. A friend sent a last-minute recommendation. I took one look at the menu and knew Gjelina was for me. I rolled into Venice before noon, thinking the place would be empty. It was packed. People, I have to assume, don't work in Los Angeles. I'm convinced. I'm also convinced that this pizza was executed very well. Great balance, great flavors, great texture. I see people talking about Gjelina quite a bit, and for some reason the pizza is rarely mentioned. And that's a shame. Guanciale, green olive, Fresno chiles, and mozzarella.
There's no explanation for why I haven't been going on and on about this place for the past 2 years. I think I wanted to keep it a secret. By now the secret is very clearly out.
There's so much to love about Pilsener Haus, not least of all being the lack of TVs. The burger has to be right up there with the greats of any burger I've had. I have no idea why it's so good, but it may very well be the pinnacle of a grilled pub burger. Even the bun is not an afterthought. The guys behind the grill will sometimes squash it down when they are busy, so keep on eye on them. And when it's crowded you can wait quite a while for your burger. But there's plenty of great beer to keep you busy while you make sure no one steals your order from the grill. The Pilsener Haus is one my favorite places in NJ overall.
North End Grill
New York, NY
In the future you will see that I like North End Grill. Especially the fish (but not the fries). This octopus was no exception. Lentils? Yes, all day long, please.
Jersey City, NJ
Restaurants with views simply should not have good food. That's just the way it has always been in NJ and NYC (but not the rest of the planet, for some reason). Liberty House doesn't care about that. The serve good food. We had a wonderful tray of Beausoleil oysters for lunch. "They were chilled, but not too cold, and all of that beautiful liquor was still in the shell instead dumped into the ice. Absolutely outstanding," said me, back then.
Kill Devil Grill
Kill Devil Hills (OBX), NC
You'd think you could get a decent fish sandwich without having to go to OBX. I haven't found much around here, though. The Kill Devil Grill is doing a fried fish sandwich perfectly, if you ask me, and you haven't. Fresh, local fish. Fried crispy, shredded lettuce, a ripe tomato, soft bun. This was it. This is a fish sandwich. This is everything a fish sandwich should be and nothing it shouldn't be. I think, as usual, I summed it perfectly when I said "Damnit this was a good fish sandwich."
The Blue Point
Duck (OBX), NC
We just kinda threw The Blue Point in on the ass-end of our trip. It was a side trip during the multi-hour process of escaping from OBX. And it was well worth it.
A pleasant view, great service, retro and fun decor, excellent food, and this burger was the balls. Again, with the ripe tomato. A ripe tomato! On a burger!!!! I'm going to shamelessly steal borrow a reader's comment and paraphrase: every restaurant in NJ should close for two weeks and spend the time at The Blue Point.
Mancinni's Coal Oven Pizza
I would have enjoyed it more had it had the feta as advertised, instead of what I assume was mozzarella. But it was still a great dish. Groundbreaking? Of course not. I and others have been making watermelon salads for years. But it was a great reminder to continue doing it, and a great part of a well-balanced pizza meal.
The pizza is solid at Mancinni's as well, as reported by t:e field correspondent, Curlz. I think it's a style that should resonate with most people. It's not as challenging as Neapolitan-style pizza. It's more crisp, like people in NJ seem to think pizza should be. Don't get me started on people in NJ and what they think about how pizza should be.
MOGO Korean Fusion Tacos
Asbury Park, NJ
I just had to try one, and I'm glad I did. One of the finest things I ate in 2012. I like the way they operate.
MOGO is now open on Cookman Ave (in addition to the boardwalk), which is great for Asbury, and great for you.
Monkish "osso buco"
Fin Raw Bar and Kitchen
Montclair, NJ (and now Summit as well)
Fin is another place that I walked into with low expectations, and came out over-joyed. Part of that joy was due to the monkfish dish that I had during my first visit. I described it as a "super dish." Jeez, when I look back on some of the drivel that I write, I wonder why I even bother? Wrapped in speck, served over mashed celery root. A super dish.
Asbury Park, NJ
It occurs to me that Porta is a well-funded playground for serious cooks. And we are the beneficiaries.
We had the carbonara pizza during our first visit. I loved what they did with it, with its aggressive pork and salt. I think the pizza has gotten even better since that first trip. Jersey City and Newark get ready: Porta is coming your way!
Conch with pickled vegetables
Four Seasons, Nevis
Nevis, West Indies
Says me then: "Tender conch, with pickled cucumber, some sweet peppers, a bit of fresh herb. The "broth" was briny, not much unlike the liquor from an oyster (liquor is the best part of the oyster eating experience). I ordered this dish every day. And so should you."
Says me now: Fuck yeah.
Sunshine's Beach Bar and Grill
Nevis, West Indies
I claim the conch was the best thing on Nevis, but the missus says it was the lobster at Sunshine's. It's hard to argue with that assessment. If the conch and the lobster were the top two, the hammond was the third best thing.
Port Chester, NY
While I was impressed with the selection of tequila at Bartaco, the margaritas fall short of being exceptional. Too much juice and sugar.
But the mess of tacos we ordered was certainly delicious. I was surprised.
Guy's American Kitchen & Bar
New York, NY
Just shittin' ya. The place is dreadful.
There it is. Lint and all. This took me all morning. What the hell was I thinking?
Look out, 2011, it's only a matter of time.