This is the third year in a row that I have published a list of my favorite tastes of the year. My personal rules for the tastes: they have to be something that I first tried in 2008, and they must knock my socks off. I am lucky that every year I am able to taste new dishes that completely change my culinary point-of-view. This year I delved more into Thai food, and spent a lot of time in San Francisco so not many dishes are from out-of-town. The tastes, in no particular order are:
Chicken noodle soup, Thai House Express. I was introduced to this soup in January of this year and have had it many, many times since. I enjoy the light broth of the soup and always order it with thin egg noodles. When chili paste is added from the condiments provided on the table, it makes for the perfect bowl of soup. 901 Larkin Street at Geary, San Francisco.
Burger and duck-fat fries, Spruce. Much to the consternation of the New Yorkers who read Serious Eats, I had the audacity to declare the Spruce hamburger as the best hamburger in San Francisco. New Yorkers could not believe that a great burger could be served on an english muffin. I stand by my decision, and can’t think of many places I’d rather spend an evening than the Spruce bar with a burger and a cocktail. 3640 Sacramento Street at Spruce, San Francisco.
Sunchoke salad, SPQR. When a chef shuffle at SPQR occured last January, I was worried. After opening in October 2007, SPQR quickly became a favorite on my restaurant rotation and I didn’t want the food to change. I needn’t have worried. Chef de cuisine Chris Behr turns out solidly awesome food and I’m never disappointed. One of my favorite bites all year was their sunchoke salad served with tangerine pieces, radicchio and toasted almonds. The combination of flavors makes for a perfect bite. 1911 Fillmore Street at Bush, San Francisco.
Arctic char crudo, Bar Crudo. 2008 will be known as the year that I finally tried Bar Crudo. I was enchanted by the flavors of nearly every dish, but especially enamored of the arctic char with wasabi tobiko. Magic. 503 Bush Street over the Stockton tunnel, San Francisco.
Nam prik noom, Renu Nakorn. My first taste of the delicious nam prik noom — a chili dip served with crudite — was at Lotus of Siam this year in Las Vegas. While it was delicious at Lotus, I preferred the dish when I had it at Renu Nakorn in Southern California. Lotus of Siam’s roots were born out of Renu Nakorn, so the dishes were very similar with Renu Nakorn’s spice level being perfect. I can’t wait to eat this again. Renu Nakorn re-opened this year in a lovely space after being closed for several years and is well worth a trip if you’re in Southern California. 13019 Rosecrans Ave near Hwy 5, Norwalk.
No-Knead Bread made by me. Until this year, I had never made a loaf of bread by myself. I’m not saying that the bread I made was perfect, and about 15 loaves later it’s still not. But I will always remember that first taste of my first loaf of bread.
Kanom krok, San Bruno Thai Temple. Kanom krok — the popular Thai dessert that is made of sweet coconut cream and batter in the equivalent of an Ebilskiver pan — was a new taste to me this year. I tried kanom krok at several places, and my favorite bite was the one I tried first at this Sunday Thai temple brunch. 310 Poplar Ave at Crystal Springs Road, San Bruno. Sundays only, best to go around 11.30 or noon.
Butterscotch budino, Mozza. It was hard to choose just one bite at Mozza to feature, as it was one of my favorite places in Southern California this year. The budino is a perfect dessert — a butterscotch pudding topped with salted caramel and served with rosemary pine nut biscotti. I’m not a fan of overly sweet desserts and this dish struck the perfect balance between sweet and salty. 6602 Melrose Ave at Highland, Los Angeles.
Mussel Salad, Bar Jules. Jessica Boncutter opened Bar Jules early this year, and I was lucky to spend many an afternoon there with friends enjoying the fresh, local and delicious food. The mussel salad pictured above is a perfect representation of the food that I loved here in 2008, and I can still remember the perfectly cooked mussels contrasted with aioli and simple boiled potatoes. 609 Hayes Street at Laguna, San Francisco.
Ankimo, Sebo. No taste deserves its own, completely separate, blog post more than the ankimo at Sebo. Thinking of evenings at Sebo this year makes me break into a wide grin. It’s the combination of absolutely impeccable sushi, combined with the personality of the chef owners and the company that I enjoyed there. I never really understood the draw of ankimo, which is monkfish liver, until I tasted it at Sebo. While I still typically am drawn to the uni at Sebo over the ankimo, I have ankimo on the list for the sheer fact that it changed my mind and my culinary perspective. My dining partner and I were so exuberant about it one night that we convinced Loretta Keller, owner of Coco500, to re-open her already paid check to have an order of ankimo. She thanked us. 516 Hayes Street at Octavia, San Francisco.
Happy New Year, all. And here’s to many, many great tastes in 2009.