daveena | Dec 31, 200901:32 PM     86

Time to play!

As amply documented by the local press, this was a pretty spectactular year for Oakland - an incredible eight of my top 10 are from restaurants within 3 miles of my apartment, with Commis, Adesso and Pizzaiolo each contributing two items.

Egg yolk amuse-bouche (Commis) - in a year overrun with slow-cooked egg dishes, this was the One Egg to Rule Them All. A single egg yolk, cooked to the consistency of custard, paired with a date puree, an onion cream, and toasted steel-cut oatmeal, it was both innovative while still having a fundamental, primordial appeal. It was remarkable in being nothing like anything I'd ever had, but familiar in a way I couldn't place. My best guess is that the caramel undertones of each of the non-egg components harmonized with each other, and were enriched by the egg, coming together in a way that hinted at sticky toffee pudding, or maybe moon cakes. I haven't had such a disparate combination of ingredients blow my mind since my first time having Ubuntu's goat cheese, nori and radish salad.

Poached, then seared chicken (Commis) - quite literally one of my top 10 bites of the year, as I managed only a small taste of this off a friend's plate. Fantastically silky meat, topped with crisped skin, this dish mocked my reluctance to order chicken in restaurants.

Arancini (Adesso) - these molten umami-bombs set themselves apart from the rest with their luscious, pork ragu centers. Snagging one of these during Adesso's happy hour feels like winning the lottery, but one is never enough - best to order a few plates for your table, and let other people fight for the freebies.

Duck salumi (Adesso) - every time I order this, I marvel at what tastes like orange blossoms in this delicate salumi. I think it's probably the coriander, but in any case, the uniqueness of each of Adesso's gazillion salumi always amazes me, and redeems the house-made salumi movement in the Bay Area (which I find has mostly resulted in a lot of mediocre salumi).

Fried chicken (Ad Hoc) - it's been a good year for me and fried chicken, but Ad Hoc left everyone else in the dust. The salad course was so generous I was nearly full when the glorious bucket of chicken hit the table, but nothing stimulates the appetite like that first bite of crisp-skinned, herb-imbued, juicy chicken. A most pleasant fugue state ensues, ending with a pile of stripped bones and a deliriously sated belly.

Clam Pizza (Boot and Shoe Service) - fat, tender clams, garlic, parsley and chili flakes, on a tender-crisp crust. Outstanding. Unfortunately, when I went back a second time, the pizza was excessively salty, and I was told that there was no additional salt added to the pizza (the clams provide the salinity). I'm still puzzled as to how this is possible - it doesn't seem possible that the saltiness of the clams can vary much from batch to batch, so I'm postulating that the dough was oversalted that day. Nonetheless, my first pizza was so stellar that I plan to give this one another shot in the near future.

Abstraction of Garden in Winter (Coi) - tender, sweet root vegetables, paired with hazelnut-chicory "dirt" (at least, I'm assuming it's hazelnut and chicory, based on what goes into Manresa's version) this gorgeously composed dish was so good it had me and my carnivorous boyfriend scrabbling for every last speck.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pizzaiolo) - this ultra-refined version starred silky handkerchief pasta and gloriously creamy beans in a scant amount of flavorful broth. Pizzaiolo's handmade pastas are really fantastic, and now that Boot and Shoe Service can provide me Pizzaiolo-style pizzas with minimum hassle, I may start going to Pizzaiolo specifically for the pastas.

Gin and Tonic (Pizzaiolo) - this was a great year for cocktails in the East Bay, but Pizzaiolo's G&T still reigns supreme for me. The house-made tonic is spiked with a garden's worth of herbs and melds seamlessly into the gin.

Dulce de leche gelato (Lush) - nearly chewy from the caramel, this is a gelato to savor seated, in silence.

Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

4395 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA

3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

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