Speaking from the gut, 2007 proved to be a year just like any other: We (the Indy food staff) ate a lot, discovering both amazing and horrifying dishes locally and abroad. Many readers probably did the same such is the thrill of dining out. Just for kicks, and to leave this year thinking positively, we decided we'd review our favorite dishes. Each of us picked something worthy of getting momentarily poetic about. For the record, we did not discuss our picks beforehand. Hence both David and I picking meals we had in Chicago as our faves from afar ... who knew?
Monika Mitchell Randall
Local: One dish springs to mind the lamb loin at Nosh. I liked several of the new restaurant's small plates, but the lamb won me over.
It arrived at the table with a pink blush from a quick sear. The two juicy slices of loin were accompanied by a mint and shallot salad, and chutney with slivered garlic. Each bite was a mix of savory and sweet not easily forgotten. I've always felt safe in recommending it, and thus far, no one has called to complain.
Nosh, 121 S. Tejon St., 635-NOSH (6674), nosh121.com
Afar: As a total Food Network junkie, whenever we travel I try to hit up at least one "celebrity" restaurant. In Las Vegas, Bobby Flay's Mesa Grill was on the menu. If something can be simple and complex at the same time, it was the yellow cornmeal crusted oysters with green curry sauce and mango pico de gallo.
I was happy I got to try this dish before everything began to taste like fire. The crispy coating with a hint of salt, and the succulent bite of oyster ... wonderful. The sweet of the mango and spice of the curry whipped me out.
Local: It's a far cry from the high-wire theatrics of many modern sushi chefs, as Shinji Shibuya favors simplicity and subtlety. Yet his uncompromisingly fresh rolls frequently shine, like the special scallop roll he made me on a recent Friday night at Shinji's.
He topped an unassuming California roll (made, as always, with fresh shrimp rather than krab) with milky white wafers of baby scallop, just off the plane from Japan. I literally cooed as the sweet, soft and creamy scallop melted over my tongue, leaving just a whisper of oceanic brine to refresh and rebalance the palate. A real beauty.
Shinji's Sushi Bar, 308-M S. Eighth St., 475-0669
Afar: Chicago. In a city overpopulated by legendary steakhouses, the predominantly vegetarian Green Zebra is not to be missed. It's tofu-free, farm-to-table eating at its best.
Among six stellar dishes, the semolina gnocchi ($14) dazzled. No bigger than a thumbnail and sauted in sage butter until just crisp, each gnocchi delivered an incomprehensibly rich and intense flavor package, aided by an emulsion of minced sage and savoy cabbage, fava slivers, crispy sage leaves, and some spectacular gumball-sized heirloom tomatoes. Tossed in the pan only at the last second, the tomatoes warmed through but remained firm, so they literally popped in right over the top of each little gnocchi as I ate them, adding a layer of warmth, some acid to cut the richness, and enough sweetness to mingle with the semolina and sage. The flavors and textures washed over me for a full two minutes after each heavenly bite. Amazing.
Local: A lot of good this will do you now, but the first dish that came to mind when I began reflecting on a year of dining locally was the famous lobster bisque from SoupMan.
I know, how clich. And from a chain, to boot. So shoot me it was freakin' good. Unlike the restaurant, which lasted something like two months, the bisque lingered on in my memory.
It proved the pinnacle of what a gourmet soup and, moreover, a bisque should be: not too heavy or fishy, but rich and velvety, with real chunks of meat. We'll probably never know the recipe, which just adds to the allure.
Afar: While in Evanston, Ill. , I enjoyed a meal at a colorfully decorated caf called Tapas Barcelona. The Spanish-themed menu featured small plates intended for sharing over wine or sangria. With a random mix of seafood- and spice-inspired items, my friend ordered a $5.50 plate called dtiles con tocino, or dates with bacon.
On a plate garnished by a thin, red lake of bell pepper coulis, a handful of large, baked dates rested, skewered by a toothpick in a bacon hug. Looking no more remarkable than any other finger-food treat, it blew me away when the sinewy, pasty warmth hit my tongue: instant foodgasm.
I've had bacon wrapped around many things in the past cantaloupe, honeydew, English muffin, quail but the date beat all. And the red pepper flavor added just the most subtle layer of earth to match the fat and sugar.
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