At this time of year, everyone seems to be publishing “best-of” lists. As I’ve only been blogging for barely 3 months, I thought I’d challenge myself to post 3 of these lists: one each for travel, culture, and cuisine.
Today is dedicated to cuisine and, I’m pleased to share with you 10 dining experiences that we really enjoyed in 2015.
In alphabetical order:
Ad Hoc – Yountville, CA
In my last post, I told you about the wonderful Hotel Yountville, located in the heart of the Napa Valley. Remember how I mentioned that many of Yountville’s finest restaurants are located within a stone’s throw of the hotel?
Well, Ad Hoc is literally a 5-minute walk from our digs. The mastermind behind the restaurant is Thomas Keller. Yes, THAT Thomas Keller (French Laundry and Bouchon are also within walking distance, as is his amazing public garden just across the street.)
Keller’s concept for Ad Hoc is simply this:
“We wanted a comfortable place for our community and families to dine. Five days a week we offer a four-course menu that changes daily, accompanied by a small, accessible wine list and our twist on classic cocktails.”
How great is that? When we dined there last June, their Monday night menu featured their traditional fried chicken. Not only was it succulently delicious, the portion was huge, so we were able to take the remainder back to the hotel for that midnight snack.
1st course: stone fruit salad
2nd course – fried chicken w/sides
Plan ahead if you want to go – it’s a small place.
And there’s great value, too: this 4-course menu is currently running at $52 per person. There’s also an additional dish that’s available for a supplemental charge.
CUISINE TIP: Ad Hoc
Angelini Osteria – Los Angeles, CA
Opened in 2001, Angelini Osteria continues to turn out delicious and authentic Italian food night after night. Chef Gino Angelini hails from the town of Rimini in the Italian region of Emilia Romagna and he’s brought his homeland with him.
We try to get there every couple of visits to Los Angeles. We like the casual atmosphere and the serious food. When you go, I recommend sharing several things. We usually start with some kind of salad, split a pasta (their agnolotti di osso buco is sensational), and then either a piece of fish (the Mediterranean branzino melts in your mouth and can easily be shared by 2) or some other entrée.
3 Course dinner for 2 with wine, tax and tip will run you about $220.
Cantine Le Veinte – Miami, FL
Just before boarding Crystal Serenity last May, we spent 2 nights in Miami. I was looking for something new and fun for dinner one evening and landed on Cantine Le Veinte. Opened in August 2014, at a reputed cost of $14 million (!!!), it is a happening scene with delicious food and extremely tasty drinks. We were there on a Saturday night and the 225-seat restaurant was packed. Oh, and there’s a mariachi band, which will stop by your table to play a tune or 2. Service is very friendly and the food is seriously good. Cantina Le Veinte is a place for celebrations, not necessarily for that quiet intimate dinner. It’s a good-time place and we had a ball.
Apps, entrees and Margaritas for 2, including tax and tip, will run you about $150.
Casa Enrique – Long Island City, NY
Opened in March 2012 by executive chef Cosme Aguilar, Casa Enrique has been a big hit ever since. Although Aguilar’s experience had been almost exclusively devoted to French cuisine, his brother Luis persuaded him to open their own food palace where they could feature their family’s traditional recipes. The results have been sensational.
It’s a sweet bell pepper Margarita!!!
Awarded one Michelin star in 2015 (the only Mexican restaurant in New York to be so honored), it just made the list again for 2016. It’s that good.
Tacos de Tinga!
Having said that, Casa Enrique is an unassuming neighborhood place that just happens to serve incredible food. For many of us, it’s a destination stop (no disrespect intended, but I’m not even sure where Long Island City IS!), but well worth the carfare. The Yiddish word “hamish” perfectly describes Casa Enrique – cozy, relaxed, warm and unpretentious.
Apps, shared plates and yummy drinks for 2, including tax and tip, will run you about $120.
Caviar Kaspia – Paris, France
“Buddie, better take care.
“Since the day I was weaned,
“I’m a caviar fiend.
“So Buddie, beware.”
OK, sports fans, get ready to have your socks knocked off. I heard about this joint from my great friend, fellow foodie and nonpareil bridge partner, Gillian, about a year ago. She’d just been there and was raving about it (but in a good way).
AAC CPA lunches at Caviar Kaspia
Located just across from La Madeleine in the 8th arrondissement, the ground level is a caviar take out place (also foie gras and other delicacies). Ascend the staircase to the 2nd floor and – voila! – you’re in a charming and cozy 2-room restaurant.
Here’s the thing:
If, like Cole and me, you’re a caviar fiend, this is your place. When Gillian was there last year, she found the deal of the century at lunch: at that time, for €49 you got the “Raspoutine Set”: a 2-course meal, starting with Traditional Norwegian Smoked Salmon, accompanied by the thinnest, dreamiest blini and drawn butter, followed a baked potato filled with 20 grams of Imperial Beari Caviar. Can you say “decadent”?
Did you lick your lips and say “decadent” yet?
If you happen not to eat those delicious eggs, there are other menu options, as AAC CPA discovered both times we were there.
AAC CPA contemplates his Crab Napoleon – no caviar for him!
I regret to say that the Raspoutine Set is now up to €76, so it’s not quite the bargain that it was last year, but I recommend it anyway – you deserve a splurge now and then, right?
Our lunch there in May with one Raspoutine Set and a 2-course a la carte lunch for AAC CPA, with a glass of wine each, service included, ran about $160.
La Grenouille – New York, NY
La Grenouille is NOT a dinosaur, but it is the last of its kind. People of a certain age – and certainly the Ladies Who Lunched – will remember (fondly or not) the late, great, haute restaurants of the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s: Lutece, La Côte Basque, Pavillon, and La Grenouille. In their heyday, these were THE places to dine, to see and be seen, in New York. As with everything, fashion changes and these legendary restaurants began to fade from view, one by one.
But La Grenouille prevails – in style, as well as in cuisine. You enter the place and you immediately feel special. Notice the floral arrangements. I can’t even imagine what the flower budget is for this joint. Inside, it could be 1965; certainly some of the waiters could have worked there back then (well, maybe not, but it sounded good, so I wrote it). In this rarified atmosphere, you’re going to eat really, really well.
Is this place gorgeous or what?
But it’s not just about the food – it’s about going back in time and having an amazing culinary experience with attentive but not overbearing service.
Dining at La Grenouille requires deep pockets, but it’s worth it for a very special occasion. There are those who think that its time has come and gone. I say hell, no. Go and find out for yourself.
3-course Pre-fixe menu runs $118 per person (some supplements may apply). Last time we were there with our great friends A&K to celebrate our anniversary, our share of the tab ran about $470, including ample wine, tax and tip – not for the feint of heart, financially speaking.
Pap ‘Acorda – Lisbon, Portugal
Our Crystal Serenity crossing earlier this year ended with an overnight visit to Lisbon. As we were leaving first thing the following morning, we opted to go ashore and have dinner in town. We returned to Pap ‘Acorda, a restaurant at which we had first dined in 2001. We’d had a great time back then and wanted to see if lightning could strike twice.
Pap ‘Acorda is a traditional Portuguese restaurant, serving local dishes – lots of fish, stews, grilled meats. The place was exactly as we remembered it. Apparently, it’s been there for about 30 years, so it must be doing something right. Although we arrived at about 8:00 PM on a Saturday night, the throngs were not yet there. We had a wonderful waiter, who explained the menu and made recommendations, including an excellent bottle of local white wine. The service was unrushed and friendly and we had a very leisurely dinner, even as the place was filling up. We must have done something right, as the waiter brought us a fabulous and complimentary chocolate mousse for dessert.
Book ahead to insure that you’ll get a table.
Dinner for 2 with apps, entrees and a bottle of wine ran about $155, service included.
No website; address: Rua da Atalaia 57, Bairro Alto, 1200, Lisbon 1200-037, Portugal; phone: 1-346 4811
State Bird Provisions – San Francisco, CA
How about some dim sum, American style? That’s the concept at this wacky, far-out place in the Fillmore. (I say this with total respect and admiration.) Created by Nicole Krasinski and Stuart Brioza, formerly of the well-loved Rubicon which closed in 2008, State Bird is one of the toughest tables in town. You’d better plan 60 days in advance if you want a reservation, or take your chances as a walk-in (in which case, you give your cell # to the maître ‘d and you’ll get a call when a table is available – not my preferred way to dine).
Be very careful when you’re handed a menu: your inclination will be to order a few things before you see the trays circulating the room – these are, most likely, the dishes you’re going to want to try. What’s on the trays changes daily or, even, during the course of the evening, so exercise restraint.
Co-Owner Stuart Brioza working his magic
Garlic-fried bread with burrata
State Bird continues to evolve even now. It is a really fun way to spend an evening – the vibe is hip, lively and the grub is so, so good.
Dinner for 2 with about 10 plates and a carafe of house wine ran about $155, tax and tip included.
Tuome – New York, NY
I have to thank my physical therapist Dan – who worked who worked me over but good last summer – for introducing me to Tuome. You see, Dan – like me – is a foodie and, in between my screams of pain (yes, he’s really good at what he does, and my shoulder thanks him to this day), we chatted almost exclusively about great food and where to get it.
Very early on, Dan told me that I had to go – “yes, make a reservation right now!” – to Tuome in the East Village. Chef Thomas Chen, formerly of Eleven Madison Park and Commerce, set out on his own in August 2014. It’s easy to think that Tuome is the new trendy place in the Village where all the cool people go, but it’s much more than that. The inventiveness and ingenuity of the menu sets it apart. There are very few choices here: 4 small plates, 4 big plates, and 4 sides. There’s also a dessert du jour. But, as Maggie Smith’s character in Gosford Park was fond of saying: “Yummy, yummy, yummy!!”
If you like deviled eggs – and who doesn’t like deviled eggs?? – you must try them here – they’re not only deviled, they’re crispy, too.
Crispy deviled eggs
The main attraction here is the Pig Out for 2. Think Beijing Duck, but it’s from the pig instead. And gorgeous on the plate. It’s also $52, the most expensive plate on the menu – and totally worth it.
The Pig-Out for 2 – do I have to share?
I would go back to Tuome anytime and think you should try it, at least once.
Dinner for 2 including 1 cocktail and 1 glass of wine each, two apps, the Pig Out, and a shared dessert ran about $160, tax and tip included.
Via Corata – New York, NY
This newish Greenwich Village eatery is the brainchild of Rita Sodi (of the fabled and fabulous I Sodi) and Jody Williams (of the acclaimed Buvette). If, when you enter Via Corata, you face away from the street, you would think you’re at a gastroteca somewhere in Tuscany. It feels that authentic. The all-day menu features small dishes to share, lots of charcuterie and cheeses, an entire vegetable section, pastas, fish and meat. The wine list is varied and very Italianate. And their barman makes a delicious Negroni, one of my benchmarks for assessing an Italian restaurant.
The food is delicious and beautiful on the plate; the service is friendly and gracious.
Look at those artichokes!
The only downside is that Via Carota doesn’t take reservations. If you’re willing to dine early or late, it shouldn’t be a problem for you.
Dinner for 2, with cocktails, a carafe of wine, apps, a shared pasta and entrée ran about $160, tax and tip included.
Oh – and this just in: the New York Times’ food critic Pete Wells just named Via Carota to his top-10 list (it’s #6, actually) for the year. Bravo!
So that’s my top of the top for cuisine in 2015. Next up: my favorite cultural events of the year.