Happy New Year! I know it’s a few days late but I wanted to do a round-up of my favourite bites of 2013. This was an epic year for me on the food front! I met some great foodie friends in Calgary and have been eating out more than I’d ever before. In fact, I’ve been too busy eating out that I’ve not been keeping up with this blog! Besides visiting my usual favourite food destinations of San Francisco, Vancouver, and Portland again, I made a trip down to Georgia to experience some great Southern fare in Atlanta and Savannah. I also got to visit Newfoundland last summer to experience some true Newfie food. In no particular order, here are my top 20 most memorable bites of 2013:
1. Pork Belly Plum Salad – State Bird Provisions, San Francisco, CA
State Bird Provisions was on the top of my list of places to try while visiting San Francisco last June. The meal did not disappoint and it was worth the hour and a half wait for a table. The highlight of my meal was the Pork Belly Plum Salad. This combination seems so simple but the taste was AMAZING! The pork belly pieces were perfectly crispy while the sweet plum bites provided the sweetness and acidity as contrast and cut the fattiness of the pork. There was no doubt this was a knock out dish. I still think about this dish all the time. This was probably one of the best pork belly preparations that I’ve had to date.
2. Cod & Chips – By the Beach Restaurant, Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, NL
In landlocked Calgary, good fish and chips are hard to come by at the best of times. I don’t even get my hopes up for great fish and chips as we simply just don’t have an abundance of fresh fish. When I was visiting Newfoundland last summer, I made it a point to get my fill of fish and chips or ‘fee ‘n chee’ as the locals would call it. Of all the famous places around St, John’s, Newfoundland for fish and chips, the place that impressed me the most was By The Beach Restaurant in Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, located about half hour outside of St. John’s. Luckily for me, this place was just down the road from where I was staying. I went back as many times as my schedule would allow. Though the chips were really good (and I did try it on my first visit), what I really went back multiple times for was the fish. I liked that the batter was perfectly light, crispy and not greasy at all. The cod was always flaky and moist. This was definitely some of the best fish and chips that I ever had. After this visit to Newfoundland, I don’t think I can ever look at fish and chips the same again. Short of going to England, I would say Newfoundland has some of the best cod and chips that can be found in North America.
3. “Angry” Mussels – JCT Kitchen and Bar, Atlanta, GA
I would never have expected Atlanta to have mussels that totally knocked my socks off as it’s not really a coastal city. When I was researching for places to eat in Atlanta, I noted that the ‘Angry’ Mussels from JCT Kitchen and Bar were featured on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate and was really intrigued to check it out. The ‘Angry’ Mussels, prepared with peppered bacon, Serrano chile and onion, is a winning combo and definitely the signature dish at JCT Kitchen and Bar. The mussels were so flavourful and I loved the spicy kick from the Serrano chiles. If I’m ever back in Atlanta again, I’d definitely go back for more ‘Angry’ Mussels.
4. Codfish Cakes – Chafe’s Landing, Petty Harbour, NL
I was intrigued to try these Codfish Cakes at Chafe’s Landing in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland because they were featured on Food Network’s You Gotta Eat Here! Made with flaked salt cod, fried onions, and buttery mashed potatoes, these cakes are fried to a crisp golden brown and served with pickled vegetables. I loved how fluffy, toothsome and flavorful these codfish cakes were. I’d tried codfish cakes from other places in St. John’s but these by far were definitely my favourite. I hope to make it back to Newfoundland again soon to get my fill of fee ‘n chee and codfish cakes.
5. Coconut & Passionfruit Cream Puff – Beta 5 Chocolates, Vancouver, BC
I’d first fallen in love with this style of cream puffs when I tried them for the first time at Crumble & Flake Patisserie in Seattle, Washington two years ago. I was super excited when I learned that Beta 5 Chocolates in Vancouver started making these gourmet cream puffs last year. These delectable cream puffs have a distinctive crackly topping called craquelin and have various flavoured fillings. Of the four varieties that I tried – coconut & passionfruit, blueberry yuzu, banana cream, and salted caramel, my favorite by far was definitely the coconut & passionfruit followed by blueberry yuzu. The flavours in the coconut & passionfruit totally reminded me of the Coconut Passion Fruit Bavarian slice from Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, which is my all time favourite dessert.
6. Slow Braised Beef Ravioli – downtownfood, Calgary, AB
It’s no secret that downtownfood has become one of my favourite restaurants in Calgary. Since my first visit last March, I’d been back for numerous meals. Out of the many lunches and dinners that I’ve had at downtownfood, one the most memorable bites for me was actually this Slow Braised Beef Ravioli in the miso, foie gras broth and topped with fresh shaved truffle that I had on my very first visit to downtownfood. It was simply out of this world! I don’t think words could adequately describe how good this dish tasted. This dish had my favourite luxury foods – foie gras and truffle, all combined in one and they came together in perfect harmony. I loved the flavours in miso, foie gras broth and wanted to savour every drop of it.
7. Beef cheek and marrow – Posto Pizzeria & Bar, Calgary, AB
Though I’ve tried various preparations of beef cheek and bone marrow at different restaurants around town, the one that really stood out in my mind is the version from Posto. This is definitely the star of the show at Posto and a must order item. The beef cheeks were melt-in-your mouth tender and really flavorful. The bone marrow has a hint of citrus which made it taste refreshing and not overly rich. The sunchokes and mustard greens provided a nice contrast to the richness of the beef cheek and bone marrow.
8. Sunworks Farm Chicken Liver Parfait – Cucina, Calgary, AB
Of all the chicken liver pates, parfaits, and mousse that I’ve tried to date, this Sunworks Farm Chicken Liver Parfait from Cucina is the one that impressed me the most. I was hooked after the first bite and have gone back to Cucina several times because I was craving this parfait. What really makes the dish is the sweet-tart sour cherry-balsamic cipollini jam, which helps to cut the richness of savoury parfait. The flavours of the parfait itself are very well-balanced and the taste of the liver is not overpowering.
9. Brunswick Stew, Community Q, Decatur, GA
I know this bowl doesn’t look like much but this Brunswick stew from Community Q BBQ totally knocked my socks off! Apparently, the Brunswick stew is one of their famous side dishes. For those unfamiliar, Brunswick stew is a traditional Southern dish. It is a tomato-based stew containing various kinds of beans, corn, and okra. The key ingredient that sets this hearty stew apart is the use of smoked(bbq) meat. I loved the pulled pork and beef brisket at Community Q and the smoky flavours of the meat really shone through in the stew.
10. Bay Shrimp Salad – AQ, San Francisco, CA
While visiting San Francisco last year, a foodie friend of mine recommended that I check out AQ for dinner. The menu at AQ combines new and traditional Mediterranean flavors with cutting edge cooking techniques using fresh, locally-sourced seasonal ingredients. The dish that really caught my eye was the Bay Shrimp Salad with green almond, spring garlic, sea urchin ice cream and mustard oil. I was really intrigued by the sea urchin ice cream but wasn’t sure what to expect. Surprisingly, the sea urchin ice cream was delicious and worked really well with the other elements of the dish without being overpowering. I’m a huge fan of sea urchin and was impressed that they could make the ice cream work in a savoury dish. The shrimps were sweet and had a nice crunch while the green almond provided a nice textural and flavour contrast. I would say the sea urchin ice cream is definitely one of the most interesting things I got to try in 2013.
11. Oven Roasted Oysters with Port Wine – Big Chef Restaurant, Richmond, BC
I almost always prefer raw oysters over cooked oysters but these Oven Roasted Oysters with Port Wine really impressed me. I’d tried this dish for the first time at Big Chef Restaurant on my recent trip to Vancouver in November. My friends and I were curious to try this dish because it won the 2013 Chinese Restaurant Awards Critic’s Choice Signature Dish Award for the seafood category. Indeed, this dish was perfectly executed. The oven roasted oysters were crispy on the outside and was finished with slightly sweet and tangy port sauce. Normally, I’m not a huge fan of sweet dishes but the flavours in this dish really worked. I can’t wait to go back to Big Chef to have these oysters again on my next trip to Vancouver.
12. Southern Style Fried Chicken – CHARCUT Kitchen Party Pop-up, Calgary, AB
It has not been easy to find great fried chicken in Calgary although things have improved a little in the past year with the opening of several Korean fried chicken places like Wow Chicken and Yum Yum BBQ. However, it’s still hard to find great Southern style fried chicken . The CHARCUT team along with guest chef Brandon Baltzley really nailed it with the fried chicken parts they served at the CHARCUT Tribute to Low Country Cuisine Kitchen Party Pop-up back in October. Instead of just frying up the usual chicken breast, thigh, and wings, all the parts of the bird were battered and fried. Even though I’m not usually a fan of offal, I loved the fried chicken hearts and liver along with the chicken skin and chicken thighs. This was definitely the best fried chicken I’ve had in Calgary and rivals the fried chicken that I had while visiting Savannah, Georgia.
13. Spinach and Chard Veloute – Chef Paul Rogalski (Rouge/Bistro Rouge), Calgary, AB
I tasted this Spinach and Chard Veloute with fennel fondue, bleu benedictin and crabapple gastrique at the downtownfood UrbanAgProject Harvest Gala back in October. This was the dish prepared by Chef Paul Rogalski of Rouge and Bistro Rouge. Amongst the many tasty dishes by various well-respected local chefs, this was the course that really stood out for me. The bold flavours of the blue cheese was nicely balanced by the spinach and chard veloute. All the flavours in the dish came together in perfect harmony. This was one of the best soups that I’ve had in a long time.
14. Broek Acres Pork Trio – downtownfood, Calgary, AB
There is no doubt that my first visit to downtownfood last March was one of the most memorable meals that I’ve had in Calgary in years. Not only was I blown away by the Slow Braised Beef Ravioli, I was equally impressed with their Broek Acres Pork Trio, which consisted of pork belly confit, 48 hr brined and sous vide pork loin, and crispy pork rinds accompanied with kohlrabi puree, shmeji mushrooms, and asian BBQ sauce. This dish was totally a pork lovers dream! The pork belly confit tasted amazing and made the dish that much more decadent! I was also impressed with how moist and flavourful the slices of pork loin were. And of course, I loved the crispy seasoned pork rind. We could still hear it crackling as the dish was served at our table. I could eat a whole dish of the crispy seasoned pork rinds alone if it was available. This dish really had the wow factor. It has actually been many years since I’ve been impressed with a pork entrée and this one really did it for me.
15. Charred Shishito Peppers – Model Milk, Calgary, AB
These Charred Shishito Peppers seasoned with sea salt and Korean chili by Chef Eric Hendry were simply AMAZING! I tried it for the first time at one of the Sunday Suppers at Model Milk. I’ve had shishito peppers many times before but never prepared this way. These are hugely addictive and I really wish I could have had the whole plate to myself but unfortunately I had to share them with my dining companions. I never knew shishito peppers could taste this good!
16. Bacon Caramel Popcorn – Holeman & Finch, Atlanta, GA
I went to Holeman & Finch to try out their famous burger, which was featured on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate. I was expecting to be totally wowed by their hugely popular double patty cheeseburger but what ended up impressing me was actually their Bacon Caramel Popcorn. This was the perfect salty-sweet combination and the smoky bacon really made the dish. Let me warn you, this popcorn is really addictive! This is a must order item if you go to Holeman & Finch.
17. Smoked Sturgeon – L’abbatoir, Vancouver, BC
This Smoked Sturgeon with fava beans, avocado, grapefruit and mint was one of the most memorable dishes that I had this past year. It was the highlight of my meal at L’abbatoir. I was surprised at how the combination of flavours were perfectly balanced. The delicate flavours of the smoked sturgeon was beautifully contrasted with the creamy avocado and the citrusy notes from the grapefruit. This is a must order dish if you go to L’abbatoir.
18. Fried chicken – Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room, Savannah, GA
It’s no secret that I’m a fried chicken fiend so I’m always in search of the best fried chicken. When I was researching for my trip to Savannah, Georgia, I came upon numerous glowing reviews about the fried chicken at Mrs. Wilkes’ Dining Room and so I was really curious to check it out when I was visiting Savannah. There’s a reason why this fried chicken at Mrs. Wilkes’ was featured on Food Network’s The Best Thing I Ever Ate . This was definitely some of the best fried chicken I have ever had. The skin was perfectly seasoned and crispy while the meat was succulent and juicy. It did not taste greasy at all. If you ever visit Savannah, you definitely should try this fried chicken at Mrs. Wilkes. It’s worth the line-up and the wait!
19. Beer Battered Kimchi – Model Milk, Calgary, AB
This Beer Battered Kimchi was one of the side dishes at one of the Sunday Suppers at Model Milk back in August. This particular Sunday Supper had featured an Anju Pop-up with Korean inspired dishes by Chef Roy Oh. With the closure of Anju 1.0 in June 2013, we were really looking forward to get a sneak peek of what new dishes might be on the menu when Anju 2.0 opens. I sure hope this Beer Batter Kimchi will be on the new Anju menu as this was the highlight of our meal. I loved the light crispy batter with the crunchy spicy kimchi. I was hooked after the first bite. It’d be the perfect snack to go with an ice-cold beer.
20. Truffle Popcorn – Muse Restaurant, Calgary, AB
I would have never guessed that this plain-looking bowl of popcorn would have impressed me so much amongst all the beautifully plated courses with luscious ingredients that I had for the Mushroom & Truffle Tasting Menu at Muse back in November. But it was the taste of the popcorn that totally blew me away. Tossed in butter and Italian truffle oil, this popcorn was to-die-for! Throughout the whole meal, I couldn’t stop thinking about this truffle popcorn. I wish they would put this on the menu so that I can get several orders of this to snack on.
State Bird Provisions
1529 Fillmore St
(between Ofarrell St & Geary Blvd)
San Francisco, CA 94115
By the Beach Restaurant & Take-out
1608 Thorburn Rd
Portugal Cove-St. Philip’s, NL
JCT Kitchen and Bar
1198 Howell Mill Rd
Atlanta, GA 30318
11 Main Road
Petty Harbour, NL
Beta 5 Chocolates
413 Industrial Avenue
628 8th Ave SW
Posto Pizzeria & Bar
1014 8th St SW
Cucina Market Bistro
515 – 8 Ave SW
Community Q BBQ
1361 Clairmont Rd,
AQ Restaurant & Bar
1085 Mission St
San Francisco, CA
Big Chef Restaurant
#1060, 8580 Alexandra Road
CHARCUT Roast House
#101, 899 Centre Street SW
1240 8 Ave SE
308 17th Ave SW
Holeman & Finch
2277 Peachtree Rd NE,
217 Carrall St
Mrs Wilkes’ Dining Room
107 W Jones St
107 10A St NW