Restaurants & Bars 15

Top 10 Tastes - 2008

daveena | Jan 1, 2009 07:41 PM

It’s that time of the year again!

Coming up with a top ten of new (to me) dishes was a lot more difficult this year than last year. For various reasons, I ate at restaurants a lot less this year, and when I did go out, I had a tendency to return to favorite restaurants and order favorite dishes. Several of my top 10 were fantastic the first time I tried them, then merely ok on repeat visits (I made note of this if it happened).

In no particular order:

1. Foie Gras Two Ways (Cyrus, Healdsburg) – the terrine en croute component. This was a foie gras terrine with Smithfield ham mousse in the middle, wrapped in compressed genoise. It was the pairing with a Riesling that made this dish - without the Riesling, the foie gras component dominated. With the Riesling, the flavor of the ham mousse emerged, and the transition of flavor from foie gras to ham in the span of a sip of wine was remarkable.

2. XO Diced Mushroom and Pork dumplings (Koi Palace, Daly City) – my first time trying these super-juicy dumplings, I sent an arc of the delicious, spicy broth across the table. Now I know to nibble them gingerly over the mini-foil cupcake liners they come in, as to not waste the addictive soup.

3. “crab butter fritter” (Koi Palace) – not an actual dish, these are the bits of batter clinging to the crab butter inside the carapace of the deep-fried Dungeness crab that accompanies the crab XLB. Oh yeah, the XLB and the deep fried crab legs are pretty good too.

4. Boccalone lardo on a plain pizza crust – I flipped when I found this at Rockridge Market – the sweet, sweet seasoned lard brought to mind a bacon-y buttercream. I experimented with the paper thin slices, and found this to be my favorite – plain pizza dough, baked on a stone, and topped with slices of lardo.

5. Boccalone pepato salami – the first time I tasted a paper-thin slice of this ultra-fatty salami, I was blown away by the winey, almost floral qualities. I later found that in thicker slices, the subtleties seemed to fade, and the flavor becomes flat. Most recently, I bought one at Rockridge Market and was stunned to see plastic shrink-wrapping under the paper wrapper. It was extremely disappointing – the sausage was waxy in texture, had lost all the characteristics I loved about it in the first place, and actually had a sweetness that reminded me of Chinese sausage. I will not be buying this again, but the memory of the early salamis garners this one a spot on the top 10.

6. Zuni burger – the best burger I’ve ever had, by a long shot. Ultra-juicy and flavorful, just a perfect burger.

7. Hainan chicken rice (Kopitiam, Lafayette) – on my first visit, this dish was absolutely amazing. Flavorful, fluffy rice fragrant with ginger and chicken fat, and tender, juicy chicken. On a subsequent visit, it was merely ok – I think it may have been because it was the end of the day, and the rice had been sitting around for a while. I’m going to give them another shot, but will aim for earlier in the day.

8. Sweetbread "salad" (Oliveto, Oakland – Truffle Dinner) – this was actually a rich stew of truffle cream-napped artichoke, cauliflower, and sweetbread.

9. Achari Gosht (Hyderabad House, Palo Alto) - tender but well-browned lamb (enough that most cubes had a satisfying crust), in a really delicious, complex sauce. Lots of caramelized onions and whole spices (I was only able to identify fennel, mustard seed, and cumin).

10. Zuni Balsamic Bloody Mary – the best Bloody I’ve ever had. I often find the flavor of spicy bloodys to be one-dimensional – they tend to be dominated by the spicy component, but the flavor of Zuni’s has a remarkable roundness to it – a savory, almost meaty quality from the red onions (or maybe shallots).

Looking forward to seeing other people’s lists…

Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Koi Palace Restaurant
365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015

Market Hall Bakery
5655 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

Hyderabad House
448 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

Cyrus Restaurant
29 North St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

Kopitiam Restaurant
3647 Mt Diablo Blvd, Lafayette, CA 94549

Oliveto Cafe
5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

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