Puerto Rico

Best Dishes: of 2016

Another year, another list. Who doesn't love a list?

I was very fortunate to have eaten some amazing food this year. Some dishes were indeed in NJ. Some were pretty close to NJ. Some were not very close to NJ. The one thing they all have in common is that made my eyes light up with joy for one reason or another.

Dishes can get my attention and fill me with glee for many reasons. They can be simple but executed flawlessly. They can be intricate affairs that leave me wondering what the hell is going on. And they can be something that I've simply never experienced. If there's one thing I love, it's eating something completely new to me.

Here are some of the bet dishes that I ate in 2016. And please, no arguing, these are the correct answers. They were all exceptional dishes.

 

Squid Ink Pasta with Guanciale and Squid
Jockey Hollow : Morristown, NJ

Jockey hollow pasta

I really can't get enough of this squid ink pasta, guanciale, and calamari dish at Jockey Hollow in Morristown, NJ. It is, without a doubt, one of the best pastas dishes, and best dishes, I've ever had.  A symphony of flavors and textures and perfectly executed. The whole dang restaurant is great.

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Eating in Rincon, Puerto Rico: Burgers at Kahuna Burger Bar

Kahuna burger bar rincon deck

I have extremely low expectations for a restaurant or bar if any of the following apply:

1) it's close to a beach
2) it's ridiculously popular and crowded at night
3) it has live music
4) it has a kitschy name

Kahuna Burger Bar meets all four conditions. Yet managed to really impress.

It was a real scene, as the kids say, the night we walked past and first noticed the place, on our way back back from a fantastic meal at Pool Bar Sushi (great place). But it piqued my interest, if only for the bar scene, which made me feel like I was missing some action. I hate missing some action. It just seemed "fun," even for someone old and grumpy like me. Research was in order! Some googling of Kahuna Burger, located in the Casa Verde Hotel, led to some dreadful pictures of burgers that didn't look very appetizing. Just as I suspected. I tried to get it out of my head.

Against my better judgement, we headed over for lunch one day. Fully expecting the place to be packed, we got there at noon, sharp. We were the only customers. I think people sleep a bit late in Rincon. Or they're out surfing in the morning and don't think about lunch until much later than me (I start thinking about lunch at about 10 pm the night before).

Kahuna burger bar rincon interior bar

Kahuna has an indoor oval bar and some rail seating, along with some high-tops and picnic tables on the deck, which is where we packed in our crew.

A scan of the cocktail list yielded a margarita that sounded like it was almost on track to being a proper cocktail (I asked and the lime juice was to come from a lime...good start). The inclusion of Jose Cuervo silver was the big problem. And I don't recall if the menu specified Cointreau. I asked the lovely bartender if I could sub in Milagro and ensure Cointreau, stating that I'll pay the up-charge. She said don't worry about it, same price. Nice! A bit sweet, but Milagro and Cointreau and lime juice and some sugar in a plastic cup with ice in Rincon on a sunny 84 degree day is better than what you probably drank last week. You dig?

The food, you say?

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Best dishes: of 2015

  Orvieto

Putting together a year-end wrap-up list like this is sort of a pain-in-the-ass, I've come to realize. I have to figure out what dishes I want to include, find a photo, remember something halfway interesting or at least accurate to say about the dish, type it all in, spellcheck, look up web sites, etc. It takes a lot time, and at the end of the day very few people care what I put into my face. And I'm sure as shit not getting paid for it. But, it's a nice walk down memory lane for me, so once I get going, sifting through the photos and thinking about the experiences, it turns out to be quite a lot of fun, as I ignore the reality that you may not give a toss about any of it.

But then I have to type words and stuff, and I put it off for 3 weeks. It turns into a task. A task that I just recently tackled.

So why isn't this list New Jersey-focused you didn't ask and probably didn't even wonder? Well I'll tell ya. I used to include only New Jersey/NYC restaurants in these lists (I think), but I've been told that there is some value to some people to include stuff from other places. The fact that many of the dishes on this list are from outside of New Jersey shouldn't be a surprise. When I travel, I'm obviously carefully picking restaurants that I think will be outstanding. And let us not ignore the fact that when you're traveling, things just taste better. New experiences put more lead in my pencil than anything. When I'm stuck in New Jersey, conversely, I don't spend enough time eating out, and too often go back to the same places where I know I can get a good meal. But, there are several restaurants on this list within a stone's throw of New Jersey, so even if you don't ever plan on leaving the Garden State, perhaps something on this list will appeal to you.

Enough explaining. On with it.

Here's a list of exceptional dishes that I enjoyed in 2015. In no particular order other than perhaps chronological.

 

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Eating in Rincon, Puerto Rico: Lucky 13 BBQ

Lucky 13 BBQ sign
Lucky 13 BBQ
looked super on paper. The website listed a bunch of cocktails, and a good mix of BBQ, tacos, and small plates with Asian twists. Our group of fun-lovers figured this would be a great place for lunch. 

Lucky 13 BBQ interior

When we arrived I was a bit surprised to see how small the place is. The interior really doesn't have much proper seating (other than a smallish bar and some couches), and the covered outdoor area has mostly high-top tables (not necessarily ideal for groups with children). There are some standard tables with umbrellas set up on the patio/parking lot, but they weren't an option on this very typically sunny/rainy/sunny/rainy Rincon January afternoon.

We had plenty of time to review the menus, as the single server on duty was quite busy doing everything that needed to be done. We mapped out our meal and cocktails, and were very much looking forward to getting into some BBQ and tacos and small plates with Asian twists. This eventually sort of happened, but not without some bumps in the road.

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