Paul Cocking’s Gabriella Café served up one of Christina’s best meals of the year.
A summer visit to Milan offered a week's worth of memorable meals, none more so than lunch at the Michelin-starred Il Trussardi, so stylish it felt like walking into a fashion shoot for Marie Claire. Timed for one of the days off from my “Ring” marathon at Teatro alla Scala, the prix fixe meal was joined by a huge balloon of Chianti Classico Riserva, and began with one of the best pasta dishes I’d ever tasted.Agnolotti stuffed with foie gras came topped with the crunchy zest of green apples. Over the bowl of pasta my server poured warm green apple, ginger and watermelon juices. My second course was an impressive bit of cookery involving a large nugget of suckling pig, sided with a fig opulently stuffed with grape must, dried fruit and more pork. A graceful tracery of balsamic reduction added flavor torque to each item. At Gabriella Café, I experienced another radiant pasta creation involving housemade nettle tagliatelle pasta. A sensuous sauce of shellfish and poblanos bathed the pasta, as well as bits of fresh calamari, sea bass, mussels, orange cherry tomatoes and slender ribbons of smoky poblano chiles. It was close to perfection!
At Oakland's Haven, a technique-driven menu supplied a spectacular salad of shredded chicories. Purple and green bitter greens had been tossed with a berry-inflected vinaigrette and mixed with toasted hazelnuts and grapes. The chicories were piled high on a rich glaze of duck liver mousse, so that each aggressive forkful gathered up the mousse creation along with bitter greens and sweet/tart dressing.
Another brilliant Haven dish involved tiny Monterey squid was tossed with very tiny broccolini, cranberry beans and a shallows of romesco sauce. And a meatless entree was without question the finest non-carnivore dish I’ve ever tasted. A thick stew of green herb-laced chickpea couscous formed the base. The dish was embedded with roasted baby artichokes and an enormous slow-cooked egg. Every flavor romanced every other flavor.
At Alameda's Burma Superstar I went ballistic over an order of chile glazed lamb, stir-fried with garlic, jalapeños, fiery red chiles and tons of basil. Another star of this mouthwatering menu was a lunch creation of Tea Leaf Salad. A large platter was brought to the table containing held little islands of chopped romaine, fermented shrimp, jalapeños, roasted peanuts, fresh tomatoes and a central mound of fermented tea leaves that had oozed into a silky sauce. After we’d admired the display, our server tossed all of the ingredients together, squeezed an entire lemon over everything and invited us to feast. It was colossal, that’s all I can say. We didn’t speak, we smiled a lot, we moved our chopsticks as fast as we could, we ate everything on the plate. It was the last lunch I ever shared with the late, great Saul Landau—that alone makes it the memory of a lifetime. But the food was as sensational as the company.
Tapas Tuesdays at Soif has provided umpteen killer apps, such as a pretty $3 plate of Serrano ham, half a soft/hard boiled egg, a slice of cheese, a thin crostini and a slick of mustard. Adding an obscure Italian varietal, I was living large.
Then there was Mud City Crab Shack in Manahawkin, New Jersey, where we enjoyed the definitive crab cake so utterly packed with huge chunks of lump sweet crab meat that there was almost no room left for seasonings. Major crab cakes, moist inside, crisp on the outside—served with luscious, sweet crispy slaw.
Yes, indeed, in these and many other ways, 2013 turned out to be a year of memorable flavors. Here's to a New Year of dining adventurously!