Tuesday, Feb. 20, 2024|
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There’s no better way to see a destination than to eat around it. (Dreamstime/TNS)
Every year around this time, Google Trends releases its top searched recipes of the year. In 2023, there was a surprise: TikTok trends dominated the list as usual (lasagna soup, cottage cheese), but there was also a dish that will never again make an appearance on the list. It was Coronation Quiche, a cheesy, vegetarian number that celebrated Britain’s newly crowned King Charles. That quiche might have flooded the internet this year, but I didn’t have one bite of it. Even if I had, and even though I have a thing for cheese, it’s highly doubtful that Coronation quiche would have made it onto my list of the best dishes I got to eat in 2023. I’ve eaten in literally hundreds of restaurants and tasted a thousand dishes; now is my moment to look back. Last year, my theme was butter; this year, I gravitated towards birds, in particular a glorious, bacon-butter roasted chicken at Dovetale in 1 Hotel Mayfair in Central London. (It’s been a great year to eat chicken — shout out to the rotisserie options at Bebe Bob in London and whole roasted bird, at Sailor in Brooklyn, New York.) Meaty duck featured in exquisite stuffed pasta at another new hotel restaurant, Cafe Carmellini in New York, and also in an intense game bird sauce for pasta at a fantastic East Village joint, Foul Witch. Although in my job as a restaurant editor, I primarily focus on new and new-to-me dining spots, there are a couple innovative dishes on this list from established hangouts that had to feature on my roster. One of the very best came courtesy of chef James Lowe at Lyle’s in London for a very delightful reason: Though he has been cooking for a couple decades, he hadn’t served tuna. The fish “is ubiquitous around the world, on menus everywhere. But it’s the first time it’s been fished off the coast in the UK since the 60s,” he says. “To be cooking for 20 years and all of a sudden have an ingredient I haven’t cooked with, it’s great fun.” In fact, so unfamiliar was a whole tuna to the chef that he and his team had to watch YouTube videos to master the art of butchering a 200-plus kilo (more than 440 pound) fish, a procedure that took over five dining room tables the first time they tried it. The dish he settled on for the fall, while the fish was in season, was sublime tuna belly alongside a toast that was topped with fatty scrapings from the bones; you’ll find more details below.
I hit a couple different countries in my culinary travels: Korea, Norway and Scotland, and of course my regular restaurant stomping grounds, New York and London. There’s no better way to see a destination, in my opinion, then to eat around it. And with that, cheers to all the great dishes you’ve had this year and to all that are coming in 2024.
CORNISH BLUE TUNA AND BLACK TRUMPET MUSHROOMS, LYLE’S
This seminal Shoreditch dining room—especially lovely during the day when light comes streaming through the window—highlights exceptional British ingredients. Recently, Cornish tuna joined the list. Chef Lowe serves slices of the deep red belly, warmed ever-so-slightly so the rich meat melts in your mouth. Alongside is a thin slice of toast, brushed with rendered tuna fat and piled high with tuna scrapings that are so smooth and buttery it’s essentially a luxurious paste. The accompaniment varies; when I ordered the tuna, it was earthy grilled black trumpet mushrooms with a puddle of vinaigrette to give an umami blast to the fish.
SALTED ICE CREAM, CADET
A compact wine bar that’s made waves from its home on Newington Green since it opened in the fall of 2022, Cadet never serves more than a handful of dishes that are invariably terrific. Last year, chef Jamie Smart’s game mousse-topped toast with pear and mushrooms was my very favorite food. This year, Smart and chef Julie Hetyei have a new go-to dessert, an ingeniously-seasoned and fragrant salty ice cream. “The idea was to reduce waste and use the leftover salt from preserving different kinds of citrus (miyagawa, bergamot, mandarins). The salt is then dehydrated and toasted in the oven, releasing an intense citrusy/roasted/chocolate aroma,” says Hetyei. The resulting scoops are supremely creamy with a taste emphasized by the perfumed, salty punch.
SNAILS BOURGUIGNON WITH POMME PAILLASSON, THE MIDLAND GRAND DINING ROOM
Escargot have been all over London menus this year, from popular Parisian-style dining rooms to the terrific pastis butter-soaked version at the new Wolseley City which comes with an array of implements to coax the crustaceans from their shells. At the Midland Grand, there’s no need for little forks and tongs. Instead, chef Patrick Powell has crafted a dish that makes them a genius garnish for a crispy potato cake with a double dose of porkiness from guanciale and the spicy sausage paste nduja. The potent red wine-flavored bourguignon sauce makes an unexpectedly happy accompaniment to the snails.
WHOLE ROASTED CHICKEN TO SHARE, DOVETALE
Two simple words explain the greatness of the roast bird at the sprawling dining room at One Hotel: Bacon butter. Chef Tom Sellers has made chicken a destination dish at Dovetale, gorgeous enough to outshine most centerpiece holiday birds. (It competes for attention with the restaurant’s supersonic, £27,500 Knickerbocker Glory cart.) He uses free-range Somerset Saxon birds that forages on wild herbs; on its way to the table it’s brined in a salty, lemony mixture so the flesh is juicy, then brushed with enough bacon butter to flavor the crispy skin and turn it mahogany brown. For £78 ($99), it happily serves 3 to 4 people.
BBQ MAITAKE, AKARA
In Borough Market, this airy new restaurant is the more casual sibling of owner Aji Akokomi’s ambitious West African tasting menu spot Akoko. The compact menu features the namesake dish, akara, or puffy black bean fritters, stuffed with ingredients like braised ox cheeks. Entrees highlight an ingredient grilled to maximize flavor and texture. The crispy-tender barbecued maitake stand out: The mushrooms are spiced with a potent-sweet mix mustard, ginger, honey and get heat from African birds eye chilis; it’s also flavored with sosu kaani, a Scotch bonnet-fueled Senegalese hot sauce. At £12, it also happens to be a great bargain.
FETA, HONEY AND FENNEL SWIRL, THE DUSTY KNUCKLE
It’s impossible to pick a best bakery in London—I’ve tried. But one of my top destinations for any and all baked goods is the Dusty Knuckle, whose main location is hidden down an alley and around a corner in Dalston. The loaves are terrific, the sandwiches get attention on social media, but the best treat is a golden brown swirl of laminated dough, studded with fennel seeds and small chunks of savory feta peaking through the honey brushed top. The result is a spectacular, flaky and savory-sweet masterpiece with a hit of licorice-spice at the end.
GRILLED PERSIMMON AND BITTER LEAF SALAD WITH BARREL-AGED FETA, CATALYST
Most Londoners will know Catalyst as one of the city’s outstanding coffee roasters. But on alternate Friday nights, the cafe turns into a mini restaurant with a menu of small plates, brainstormed by co-owner Alexander Gkikas courtesy and chef Deniz Nisancioglu. A dish that makes a frequent appearance, and reflects the duo’s Greek and Turkish roots, is a masterpiece of a salad. It’s stocked with endive and fruity, charred persimmon, and creamy, barrel-aged feta and tossed with a tart dressing that highlights the flavors and sweet pistachios for excellent crunch.
MILLEFEUILLE WITH TOMATOES AND MOSES SLEEPER CHEESE, CLAUD
Chef Joshua Pinsky has spent a lot of time thinking about the classic French dessert millefeuille, also known as the Napoleon. “I wanted to create a savory version that let these light, flaky pastries have their time to shine,” says the Claud chef and co-owner. “I thought to myself…why does it always have to be sweet?” And so the chef embarked on an excellent adventure, layering shatteringly crisp golden pastry sheets with seasonal ingredients from the nearby Union Square Farmers Market. In the fall, it might be mushrooms. In the summer it was juicy to bursting colorful tomatoes that tops oozy, brie-like Vermont cheese that peeks over the sides like an invitation.
SPACCATELLI WITH AGED GAME BIRD, FOUL WITCH
Chef Carlo Mirachi put Bushwick on everyone’s culinary map as chef and co-owner at pizza palace Roberta’s and the fine dining counter Blanca. Now he’s in Manhattan’s East Village, overseeing the kitchen at this terrific buzzy restaurant. He’s always been good with pastas; here he dresses bucatini-like spaccatelli pasta with an intensely meaty, livery and lightly tomato-y sauce made from air-dried ducks and squab and finished with walnuts and parmigiano cheese. “It’s basically an a la minute ragu,” says the chef. “It was inspired by a pasta my great aunt made when she found me outside the train station in Pisa on my very last legs.”
FLUKE WITH OIL AND GARLIC, FOXFACE NATURAL
A few blocks up Avenue A from Foul Witch, Foxface is the restaurant extension of the cult favorite sandwich shop of the same name. Owners Sivan Lahat and Ori Kushner showcase an idiosyncratic menu that highlights seafood and whatever is freshest from local fishermen. On the ever-changing menu there’s generally a whole fish—sole, flounder, striped bass, and when I got to order it, flaky, white-fleshed fluke. Chef David Santos roasts it in the oven, catching a good amount of that wood-burning flavor, and then serves it in a Spanish-style bath of olive oil spiked with garlic, herbs and a smart hit of vinegar, along with addictive potatoes. “We get back plates with nothing but bones on it,” says Kushner.
DUCK-DUCK-DUCK TORTELLINI, CAFE CARMELLINI
At his swanky new, bi-level restaurant in the Fifth Avenue Hotel, chef Andrew Carmellini fuses together his Italian background and very classic French training (he cooked in three-star restaurants in Europe back in the day). Case in point is his expertly folded tortellini, that’s stuffed with chopped juicy duck; just before they hit the table, the pasta is sauteed in orange juice sauce to glaze them. It’s finished off with molten foie gras sauce that emphasizes the gaminess and a little cherry blossom mosto costo, a fruity punch of liqueur.
SEOLYAMYEOKJEOK, BORN AND BRED
One of the best places in the world to taste Hanwoo beef is at Born and Bred, a restaurant that started as an extension of a butcher stand in Seoul’s Majang Meat market and now has a nearby fancy steakhouse. Chef Min Kyung serves around 20 different courses that each feature very specific cuts that highlight an eye-opening variety of beefy intensity and chew. A standout dish that doubles as a history lesson is seolyamyeokjeok, featuring the dynamic effects of heat and cold. Chef Kyong quickly cooks thin filets of top blade beef—a cut that, when carefully scored, is almost meltingly tender. But he’s not done: The beef is transferred to a bowl of crushed ice for a minute, which recreates preserving methods from back in the day in Korea. The method also helps firm up the beef, which is then returned to the fire so the cold texture quickly caramelizes. The texture and protracted juiciness is mesmerizing, as is the fire and ice show that you watch from the counter.
PORK NECK BARBECUE, GOLD PIG
One thing I learned on my trip to Seoul this year: Pork might be common on menus around South Korea — it’s a staple of stews like kimchi jjigae — but high quality, well-sourced pork is not so easy to find. That’s what makes Gold Pig so special. It’s gotten the attention of pop superstars BTS; bandmates Jungkook and Jimin have eaten there more than once. Probably because of the exceptional meat sourced by owner Park Su-Kyung, that includes cuts like snowflake neck pork, also known as “flowers in bloom,” because of the intense marbling. The sliced meat, presented with labels so diners can see the pig’s provenance, is cooked tableside over charcoal and served with unlikely accompaniments like grilled basil. The only thing better than the tender, moist chew of the meat is its sweet, smoky flavor.
AGED JOHN DORY WITH ARTICHOKE CARAMEL, LYSVERKET
Set in an art museum, in a big windowed, well-designed space looking out on a lake and park, Lysverket would be worth visiting even if the food wasn’t great. In fact, it’s exceptional. Chef Christopher Haatuft crafts a menu that highlights Norwegian products and especially seafood. He puts local John Dory on the menu when he can get it; the firm-textured fish tastes of the sea when its been aged for a few days. The pan-roasted fillet is brushed with lavender mustard, and then crowned with a caramel whose wild flavor comes from nutty artichoke and a splash of pastis. Edinburgh
SHORT RIB AND MUSHROOM PIE, THE PALMERSTON
The Palmerston is the kind of handsome, comfortable corner spot you could spend your whole day in, at least until they kick you out. In the morning there’s a line-up of laminated pastries, like bittersweet chocolate-stuffed croissants and excellent sourdough loaves. At night, the menu slants Mediterranean, but there are a couple firmly British items on it, including chef Lloyd Morse’s special of savory pie for two. Underneath the buttery, deeply browned crust is fatty, falling apart short rib meat, and chunks of mushrooms in a soothing, brothy red wine sauce.
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