Here's my annual list of the best things I ate this year, in chronological order:
The John Dory - New York, NY
Oyster Pan Roast with Uni Toast
This newish place has served us well when The Breslin next door is too crowded. Run by the Breslin/Spotted Pig folks, the food here is every bit as good as at their other places.
Minetta Tavern - New York, NY
Black Label Burger
Yes, Minetta Tavern makes my list every year, but there's no better burger anywhere than this. Check out a video about it here.
Pier 76 Pizzeria - Staten Island, NY
While the pizza here was absolutely worth a ferry ride from Manhattan, what really sold us was the staff, mostly made up of family members related to the legendary Joe & Pat's in Staten Island. Easily some of the friendliest folks in New York, they seemed genuinely happy to welcome a couple of Southerners who'd made the trek over to sample some of their pies. Here's a writeup.
Graham Elliot - Chicago, IL
The food here certainly veers toward the molecular side of things, but there's not a lot of seriousness here, what with the loud music and casual service. Fine dining can still be quite fun when done like this.
Uchiko - Austin, TX
Some of the best fish I've had in recent memory, and the beef tongue nigiri (pictured) may have been my favorite thing I ate all year.
P. Terry's - Austin, TX
Like an In-n-Out burger, but better.
Black's BBQ - Lockhart, TX
Every time we're in the little Texas town of Lockhart, we eat at Smitty's. This was the year that we finally branched out and tried Black's BBQ, which replaced our old Smitty's standby after a few visits. We've taken to ordering from them online when we need a fix, or when we want to have a nice staff lunch at the office.
Memphis In May - Memphis, TN
Fatback Collective Whole Hog
A bunch of pitmasters and James Beard award winners (Sean Brock of McCrady's/Husk, Donald Link of Herbsaint, Stephen Stryjewski of Cochon, to name a few) formed a competition BBQ team and took third place in the whole hog world championship. Pictured here is the Mangalitsa hog they cooked. We were there to shoot a bunch of pictures during the competition that you can see here.
Maialino - New York, NY
Just a plate of mushrooms, but sometimes all you need is a top-notch ingredient and a skilled kitchen (and a fair amount of butter and stock, I suspect).
St. John - London, England
Langoustines and Mayonnaise
See above, re: simple ingredients and not much else.
Andrew Michael - Memphis, TN
Our travels lately have brought us to Memphis, but sometimes with only enough time to eat one meal. You'd be crazy to eat anywhere but at Andrew Michael if that's your situation. I don't know of any chefs who seem to enjoy what they do as much as Andy Ticer and Michael Hudman. Get here quick so you can say you ate here before these guys were huge.
Southern Foodways Symposium - Oxford, MS
Mike Lata "Lowcountry Idyll" Lunch
We all know that Mike Lata is an amazing chef, and we kind of miss the moustache, but we were amazed to see the quality of food that he and his staff were able to cook for a group of several hundred people at the Southern Foodways Alliance symposium in October. Looks a little similar to the John Dory Oyster Roast from the first entry in this list. Let's hope this dish is the next trend.