We have been blessed this year to be able to have enjoyed many wonderful meals both here in Nashville and in our travels. We were able to visit Los Angeles, Austin, Chicago, Seattle, and Portland, OR this year and thought that it would be fun to put together our own year-end list of our favorites of 2011. Despite our travels we were pleasantly surprised to say that our two favorite meals came in Nashville this year (one from a Nashville restaurant and one from a visiting S.C. chef). There were many memorable moments, dishes and restaurants and here are a few of our favorites this year. Happy New Year and best wishes for a wonderful 2012!!
Overall Best Meal 2011:
(TIE) Catbird Seat, Nashville, TN (10/17/11) – The expectations were high in Nashville for this concept restaurant from The Patterson House team of Ben/Max Goldberg and we can verify that they exceeded these expectations. A small U-shaped restaurant perched above the Patterson House that only seats 30 people and consists of two chefs preparing prix fixe meals right in front of you is not something that you would expect to find in Nashville. However, when we sat down and had our first bite of our appetizer – a trio plate consisting of dehydrated porcini mushrooms surrounding a parmesan cream in the appearance of an Oreo, a baby radish with uni butter and a chicken skin dusted with hot powder and Wonder Bread puree – we knew that this was going to be a special meal. Chefs Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson brought out dish after dish of brilliantly creative and wonderfully flavorful dishes using a variety of proteins (chicken, haddock, lamb, beef) and the drink pairings from Jane Lopes were equally tasty and creative (sake, Belgian beer, wine from Lebanon). Everything worked and we are looking forward to returning this Spring to see what they come up with next. Expect James Beard award nominations for this gem.
(TIE) Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville,TN (9/6/11) – this Charleston, SC restaurant from Chef/Owner Sean Brock hit the road this year to support the Southern Foodways Alliance and we were fortunate to be able to attend when he was guest chef at City House in Nashville. Chef Brock brought some his best dishes from his restaurant which was named the Best New Restaurant in America. this year by Bon Appetit. What we got was about 12 courses of some of the best Southern cuisine we’ve ever had and left fuller than we’d been in years. Pig ears, beef rinds, chicken skins (see below), pork ribs, cornmeal dusted catfish, and peanut butter pie were some of the highlights in this non-stop procession of food. That, coupled with communal moonshine (in grape, mango, and strawberry flavors) and the wonderful vibrant mood of City House made this a meal to remember.
Best Restaurant Atmosphere 2011:
Big Star, Chicago, IL – this cash only Taqueria-meets-Whiskey bar in Wicker Park is by no means the fanciest spot we hit all year but it was the one that we loved the most….and the one we wish was right down the street from where we live! The simple design is spot-on with an outside patio filled with bright yellow chairs surrounding metallic tables and a converted garage inside where you perch up next to the bar and listen so some Honkey Tonk playing on the record player behind the bar. The menu consists of a small selection of fantastic tacos, a good selection of quality beer on tap and one of the better selections of whiskey outside of TN/KY. On a sunny day, with it’s doors open and outside patio filled it is the place we would want to be this year.
Gjelina, Venice, CA
Olympic Provisions, Portland, OR
Walrus and the Carpenter, Seattle, WA
Haddingtons, Austin, TX
Girl and the Goat, Chicago, IL
GT Fish and Oyster, Chicago, IL
Dish of the Year:
Aged Pekin Duck Breast with green garbanzos, tequila braised radish, watermelon and white sesame – Blackbird, Chicago, IL – We love duck and have tried it at many a restaurant….no duck we have ever had before even comes close to this one. We aren’t sure how they did it – maybe the aging of the breast? – but the duck was perfectly cooked, tender and meaty with a wonderful crisp skin. The seemingly disparate ingredients effortlessly complemented the duck and left us in awe. We can still imagine the taste of that duck and Blackbird may have ruined us – for we know that any other duck we will have won’t likely compare.
Ike’s Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings – Pok Pok, Portland, OR
Brisket and Pork Ribs – Franklin Barbecue, Austin, TX
Fine Hand Cut Egg Pasta with ragu – Spinasse, Seattle, WA
Springer Mountain Half Chicken with Sweet Potato Soffritto, Dried Plums and Bread Crumbs – City House, Nashville, TN
Fried Deviled Eggs with Arugula and Caper Berries and Charred Cauliflower with Toasted Breadcrumbs – The Purple Pig, Chicago, IL
Bite of the Year:
Southern Fried Chicken Skins with Husk Hot Sauce and SC Honey – Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville, TN – This sinful standout was our favorite from our co-meal of the year. It sounded scary at first…fried chicken skins??…but we couldn’t believe how good they tasted. The skins were perfectly crisp with just the right amount of sweetness and heat and we had a hard time wanting to pass the dish around to others at our table.
Brick Oven Pretzel with Sour Cream and Crispy Onion Dip – Brave Horse Tavern, Seattle, WA
Plain Glazed Doughnut – Voodoo Doughnut, Portland, OR
“Faux Reos” and Hot Chicken Skins with Wonder Bread Puree – Catbird Seat, Nashville, TN
Crispy Pig Ears – Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville, TN
Sandwich of the Year:
Midnight Cuban Press – Paseo, Seattle, WA – There are good sandwiches and there are great sandwiches and there are good sandwich shops and there are great sandwich shops. The Midnight Cuban Press is a truly great sandwich and Paseo is a truly great sandwich shop. As the shop opens in Fremont – and artsy hippie-ish part of Seattle – lines start to form, and they form fast. I suspect that several of their sandwiches could have topped our list this year but for the winner we picked this one – a huge sandwich filled with ridiculously juicy and tender roast Cuban pork, sweet banana peppers, caramelized onions, smoked ham and swiss cheese inside of a lightly pressed baguette. If we are ever in Seattle again a return trip here would be considered a must.
B.L.T. with Benton’s Bacon – Mitchell Delicatessen, Nashville, TN
Pork Belly Bahn Mi – Bunk Sandwiches, Portland, OR
The Bunk Sandwich – Evoe, Portland, OR
Salami Sandwich – Olympic Provisions, Portland, OR
Dessert of the Year:
Key Lime Pie – GT Fish and Oyster, Chicago, IL – This deconstructed and then reconstructed version of the traditional key lime pie. Arriving in a Mason jar it consists of a deliciously tart lemon-lime curd under a layer of gingersnap crumble and topped with a lightly torched meringue. Simple yet perfect.
Brioche Bread with PB & Nutella – Huckleberry Cafe, Los Angeles, CA
Lemon Curd Drop Biscuit – Little T American Baker, Portland, OR
Peanut Butter Pie with Antebellum Oats, Olive and Sinclair Chocolate + Cocoa Nibs smoked by Alan Benton – Husk Restaurant at City House, Nashville, TN
Drink of the Year:
La Folie – New Belgium Brewing – on tap at Brave Horse Tavern, Seattle, WA – We first had a sour beer (Monk’s Cafe) at our good friend’s apartment in Boston last year and we instantly became obsessed with this style of beer. Every restaurant and bar we went to became a potential chance to find a sour beer. When we first tasted this beer at Brave Horse Tavern in Seattle we knew we would have to find it when we got back to Nashville. Fortunately, we were able to find it bottled as well at specialty beer stores and Whole Foods. Unfortunately, they are all out now. Its red-brown color belies its refreshing and sharp sour apple tart taste but it also has a richness provided by the 1-3 years of French Oak Barrel aging. We’re looking forward to next year’s batch already.