The year’s best dishes—La Posta’s roasted fennel and celery root, rye-laced country loaf from Companion Bakers, fresh corn ice cream, corn kernels, infant pea sprouts and sliced nectarine from Manresa—and more.

It was a great year for knockout flavors and exciting dishes. La Posta's amazing winter appetizer of roasted fennel and celery root, concentrated and almost sweet, tossed with lemon, parsley and salty bottarga di miggione(Sardinian mullet roe)—amazing.  . . . The chicken cacciatore at Avanti with its tomatoey herb sauce, creamy polenta and braised seasonal greens. . . . To die for was the gooey, righteous 100 percent Italian-American manicotti smothered with red sauce at Joey'sin Manahawkin, N.J….The sensuous salmon tartareat Soifcame beautifully packaged for ultimate mouthfeel with an avocado reduction, shallot vinaigrette, crisp garlicky baguette toasts and infant radish sprouts. It went down even better with a crisp rosé. . . . The sweet/salty “pop” of David Kumec's salted caramel ice cream from Mission Hill Creamery. …  Zachary's chili and egg classic, loaded with hot attitude and a mammoth cumulus of sour cream. The black bean chili is impeccable, and the layering of beans, melted cheese and scrambled eggs is truly life-sustaining. . . . One of the year's top entrees was the sensuous prawns with gobs of garlic, tomatoes and basil at O'mei. Complex yet comforting, this dish remains one of my favorites of the decade.

 . . . From the restless culinary consciousness of Kelly “she never sleeps” Sanchez came an outstanding kumquat marmalade. Slathered on toast made from Kelly's seeded sourdough, it was loaded with technicolor flavor. . . . And another exceptional bread experience was the dense, rye-laced country loaf from Companion Bakers, which also knocked me out with their moist, spicy pumpkin gingerbread… An indelible memory of last year was the astonishing ahi tartare appetizer at Bistro Laurentin Paso Robles. Served on a bed of Dijonaise-drenched baby lettuces, this hemisphere of diced crimson ahi arrived splashed with fine olive oil and topped with a cloud of crimson, flash-fried beet zest. . . . On the Other Coast, I swooned over lunch of warm eggy cauliflower and Bayley Hazen blue cheese tart at the 5th Floor Terrace Cafe in New York's MOMA. . . . Perhaps the celestial dessert of the year involved fresh corn ice cream served with toasted corn kernels, infant pea sprouts and sliced nectarine from Manresa. . . I loved a thin-crusted mini-pizza prepared at The Cellar Door topped with ripe figs and Stilton. . . .  Chef Adrian Cruz of Gabriellaprovided a memorable bowl of tagliatelle, sensuous thick pasta noodles tangled with Monterey Bay calamari, octopus and a dice of kobucha squash. Utterly sinfully perfect. Not bad for recession dining.


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