I’m usually not a fan of end-of-the-year roundups, especially because they tend to happen a few weeks before the end of the year. There’s still life to live, people.
Also, some of them tend to be dripping with nostalgia. I’m all for sentimentalism but sometimes it’s a little too much. I picture someone writing by candlelight, weeping, listening to the Charlie Brown Christmas song (or playing it on a tiny violin).
I’m going to try to steer clear of that in this roundup of Best Dining Moments 2017, but I might not be able to avoid it. There were too many times when delicious food made me cry this year. If you don’t believe me, you can ask someone of the people who were there to witness these moments (if you know them).
What surprises me most looking back on my best dining moments of 2017 is the sheer number and diversity. I forgot that I went to Chicago earlier this year and spent three days eating everything. I also can’t believe I visited that many new cities while juggling a new job.
Everywhere I went, though, I discovered new restaurants and dishes that I’ll never forget. I want to revisit some of the cities soon, at least ones that are within driving distance. For others, I’ll have to rely on my memories to hold me over until the next time I’m in town.
Another common theme of my year in dining was reconnection. I met up with old friends or family in almost every city I visited. I went to see my best friend in D.C., I hiked through Asheville with one of my best friends from grad school, and I saw my cousin in Los Angeles. We talked, ate good food, and reminisced. These moments mean as much to me as the dishes that I consumed.
ANYWAY. Before this gets too sappy, here is my list of Best Dining Moments 2017. It’s highly biased but I hope it gives you a guide for places to visit in the coming year. Here are my picks, in no particular order:
Going to Sqirl was a dream come true for me. I’d wanted to visit since I read about Jessica Koslow’s creations in a food magazine a few years ago. Koslow’s food epitomizes L.A.: Fresh, flavorful, diverse, and fun. I love her baked items but one of my favorite dishes was a sorrel rice bowl with poached egg. I wish I could eat it everyday.
I ate some of the best vegan food of my life at Plant in Asheville. My friend Lyndsey and I stopped by for dinner because I felt bad for dragging her to BBQ restaurants (she’s a vegetarian). I think it’s a testament to how good Plant’s food is that I didn’t miss meat at all while I was there. This applewood smoked portobello mushroom with millet cake was out of control.
As I said before, I almost forgot that I went to Chicago this year. I had one of my best dining experiences ever at Giant. I showed up early and snagged a seat at the chef’s table, so I got to watch them make my entire dinner. I’ll never forget this sortallini guanciale with basil and pinenuts. It’s the perfect antidote to a Chicago winter night.
Please & Thank You
My friend Lyndsey told me that she was going to take me to get the best chocolate chip cookie of my life when I visited her over the summer in Louisville. She wasn’t lying. Please & Thank You’s chocolate chip is so good, I want to marry it. That is not an exaggeration. Soft, melty chocolate chips, warm center…I’m weeping.
I would be remiss not to put Vicia on this list. The restaurant is one of St. Louis’s shining stars in its up-and-coming food scene. It’s getting national acclaim now, which it totally deserves. I came in before the hype last spring and had a three-course meal that blew my mind. I still think about the smoked Berkshire pork.
An old friend of mine from San Diego sent me to Puesto for tacos while I was in town and I’ll be eternally grateful. Puesto’s tacos are fresh, flavorful, spicy, and come with some of the best avocado I’ve ever tasted. I went to curl up with a plate of them right now. Also, can we talk about Puesto’s margaritas?
I had one of the best dining experiences of the year, if not my life, at Antler Room in Kansas City. I define good dining experiences by how much each successive dish impresses me. In Antler Room’s case, the meal kept getting better and better. I did cry at the end but I tried to hide my tears from the waitress. I still dream about the vegetable pakora.
My friend Allison has been telling me about the chicken cutlet and prosciutto sandwich at Parisi Bakery in Manhattan for years. This fall, we finally went to get one together. I thought that I could eat a whole one by myself but Allison assured me that was impossible. After eating half of one, I can tell you she wasn’t lying.
I will always remember Tiger Fork as the restaurant that made me realize that I like Chinese food. Cantonese food, to be more specific. I went with my friend Rachel when I visited her in D.C. this past fall. I loved every dish but I still think about the cheung fun with shrimp and flowering chives. The fish was fresh and it was fun to eat the rollups with chopsticks.
I spent two hours wandering around Brooklyn with my friend Tanya waiting for a table at Lilia but it was totally worth it. The service is impeccable and they have some of the best pasta I’ve tasted in my life. This mafaldini with Parmigiano Reggiano and pink peppercorns is addictive so you’ve been warned.
Okay, I’ll admit it: I saved the best for last. I met my cousin at Erven my last night in L.A. and I was floored. Similar to Antler Room, each dish kept getting better and better. The service was warm and friendly. The restaurant represents everything that’s superior about California dining, which is to say, the ingredients and the presentation. Food at Erven is fresh, local, vibrant, and truly an art form (see: above photo and the one at the top of this post). I can’t wait to visit again soon.