As 2007 has come to a close, I give pause to think about where I had some of my best meals of the year, and here they are in no particular order!
Eleven Madison Park, New York
I ate at Danny Meyer’s elegant Madison Square restaurant six or seven times. Chef Daniel Humm, sommelier John Ragan, Sam, Will and on and on—they are all the very best at what they do. Tuck into the chef’s suckling pig or any of the perfectly prepared fish. This restaurant is a marvel; if you take a peek into the kitchen you will see more chefs than there are seats in the dining room, and there are as many service staff as guests. Everything is elegantly appointed yet there is no air of stuffiness, nothing suggests to us that we need to pop the collar and tilt the nose. The embrace is warm, the food and service are peerless, and the view of the Flatiron Building is only a bonus.
Prune, New York
This East Village spot is superhonest, supergood! That about sums it up. Brave, er, candid enough to serve radishes and butter, Triscuits and totally amazing Bloody Marys with a little beer-back. The tiny room really is full-contact, but it is all a warm and superfriendly embrace. I could eat here every day.
Tra Arte e Querce, Monchiero Alto, Italy
Best truffles, best wine, best comfort—it sums up the Langhe for me. Clelia is in the kitchen, and her husband, Ezio, a famous truffle hunter, runs the room of five tables after a morning in the woods foraging for those beautiful white dirt biscuits that will be shaved on just about everything. The wine list consists of a cabinet filled with bottles from all the best growers—at least the ones I champion (old-school). They’re so good, you can close your eyes and pick anything.
Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, Colorado
Just a little neighborhood restaurant bringin’ it every night! Now in the interest of full disclosure, I help make wine with the restaurant partners, Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan MacKinnon-Patterson. (They make Scarpetta Wines.) But hey, we wouldn’t be partners if we didn’t get along at the table! And what a fine table it is. Bobby has articulated a vision of warm perfection for the staff, which never fails, and Lachlan on the pans is a thing of beauty. They riff on Friuli, which is one of the most culinarily diverse and least well-known regions of Italy. There are no checkered tablecloths or mozzarella, and Italy has never been better.
Al Bagato, Trieste, Italy
You can feel the confluence of all of the cultures that converged at the tip of the Adriatic in this sublime fish restaurant. A dish like seppie in humido (cuttlefish in broth) can be found in many parts of Italy and is usually a variation of cuttlefish cooked in a broth, plus or minus peas and tomatoes. I order it every time. Here, however, the cuttlefish come bathed in a rich, deep red sauce that reminds me of a mole I have had in Oaxaca. In this dish, you see the influence of all of the trade routes that converged here. Unique and very special.
Redd, Napa Valley, California
What’s not to love about Richard Reddington’s joint in Yountville? He’s in the kitchen virtually every night creating all kinds of fun things to eat that never, ever lose that fundamentally important element of food – that it be yummy.
Some no-name restaurant at the foot of the stairs to the Gianicolo in Rome, Italy
The Gianicolo is a hill in the western part of the city. This restaurant literally is a man’s home (it's easier to find than it sounds), and you eat in the kitchen and whatever it is that he’s cooking. Wine choices are red or white, and both are perfect.
Merle, Lyon, France
This is a tiny little joint serving shellfish in the main market (Les Halles) of Lyon, where everything is at its peak. Great oysters and shrimp. Expert shuckers, cold "pots" of Mâcon, friends and too much fun. I love this place.
L’Ambroisie, Paris, France
Wow. Never, ever have I had a meal as contemplative as this one, in this small, Michelin three-star in the Place des Vosges. I found myself staring at the small ripples my heartbeat made in my glass of water.
Troisgros, Roanne, France
If you have never had a reason to go to Roanne or even France for that matter, now you do. This is the nicest place I can imagine spending a few days and never leaving. Marie-Pierre and Michel Troisgros are the most gracious, kind and generous hosts. They will be there to greet you with a smile every morning, noon and evening. The smiles are genuine, the care real, and they are certainly tapped into the psychic-somm-network, as it feels as though they know what you need before you do! The property has beautiful, light and airy rooms, lovely little nooks to lounge in and the friendliest staff, plus a most amazing wine cellar. They don’t put everything they have on the list just to impress; the wines on the list are the wines that are at their best at that moment. Add all of this to the most skilled and confident kitchen, and there you have it—perfection. Among many great menus and dishes I’ve had there, a recent mid-afternoon meal of whole grilled blue lobster (expertly served table-side one half at a time lest the other get cold) with a bottle of Coche-Dury Meursault Perrières 2000 goes down as one of the most wonderful treats ever.
Other yummy things:
• The meatball sami at Bahn Mi 1 in NYC
• A clayuda (picture some meat and a tortilla burned atop coals on a dark street in the middle of the night) in Oaxaca
• Crif Dogs in New York’s East Village (get the BLT dog, per Robert Bohr of Cru!)
• The white pizza at Restaurant A16 in San Francisco
• Salumi at Avec in Chicago
• Barbecue of some variety almost every night in Australia’s Barossa Valley
• A square at Spumoni Gardens in Bensonhurst.
• Anything chef Masa Takayama of Masa hands you
• And anything at friends’ homes—these are the best!
I can’t wait to see where and what I end up eating in '08! Please share your best experiences and any great dining recommendations you have. Cheers and best wishes to all!
Todd Storch — TX — January 9, 2008 7:20pm ET
Scott Barber — Dallas, TX — January 9, 2008 11:20pm ET
Mark Francone — CA — January 10, 2008 12:14pm ET
John Osgood — New York, NY — January 10, 2008 12:18pm ET
Jim Callen — January 10, 2008 12:24pm ET
Anacleto Ludovic — paris france — January 10, 2008 1:29pm ET
Stephanie A Hubbell — winter — January 10, 2008 8:34pm ET
Glenn S Lucash — January 11, 2008 10:46am ET
Richard Betts — denver airport at present — January 11, 2008 2:29pm ET
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