Since the holiday season is here, let’s talk about the best/ memorable/ worst dishes/ meals that you ate this year. The meals that took you to orgasmic culinary heaven? The dishes that you wouldn’t wish upon your worst enemies (or maybe you would)? What did you love/ loathe about them?
There are tons of great tips on the SFBA Best/Favorite Bites threads @ernie_in_berkeley has been creating:
Here’s my picks for 2016, including several I never got around to reporting about, but loved :
Best and worst overall
Best local meals were a flawless meal at Liholiho and a meal at Din Tai Fung, which had room for improvement, but anticipation and excitement on our group’s part elevated it.
The two foods that best satisfied personal cravings were the chao bing at Boiling Beijing in San Bruno, which was a proxy one night for the umami and wok charred goodness of East Coast lo mein, and the Hong Kong style chow mein at Cooking Papa.
Best meal of the year: Star Noodle in Lahaina, Maui
Worst meal of the year: Raliberto’s Taco Shop in Crescent City where I ate what might have been the worst burrito I’ve eaten in California. Despite going there after an exhausting hike, I tossed half of it out.
Rancho Gordo beans on toast at Della Fatorria. Pureed beans whipped with olive oil and Laura Chenel Chévre, on Rosemary Meyer-Lemon Toast. Delicious. Northern California on a plate.
The chevron (english muffin-egg-bacon-cheese sandwich, tomato, green chile, mayo) Parkside in Stinson Beach makes their English muffins in house, and nailed the quality and ratio of ingredients for a breakfast sandwich.
Egg Hopper w/ Jidori egg at 1601 in SF SoMa, kind of like a bowl shaped dosa with an egg in the middle. I’m not familiar with Sri Lankan cuisine, but for my palate, felt that the rest of their Sri Lankan inspired dishes could use more spicings.
SF Hawker Fare’s rice ball salad with fermented pork and also the rare brisket
Favorite noodles were the pickle shredded pork noodles 榨菜肉丝 at Yum Noodles in Santa Clara and the #25 noodles w/ fried egg at Ha Nam Ninh in SF Tenderloin’s.
Little Gem’s Hen of the woods mushrooms, heirloom beans, tuscan kale-bacon stew. Super savory.
SFBA Pieces of Meat
Toothpick lamb at Chendu Style in Berkeley
Inexpensive and delicious hand-grabbed pork bone at Taste of Jiangnan.
Spicy tripe at Bei Fang style in the Sunset
Pork chop at Cockscomb in SF, SoMa. Big enough for a large family.
Hanlin Tea Room’s sweet cream bun.
Butterscotch drink at 20th Century Cafe
Chocolate rice dumplings at Hakkasan
Butter mochi at Liholiho
Out of the SFBA:
I’ve been working on my top bites for 2016 list, but haven’t finished it yet.
In no particular order:
Chicken in Brioche at Nomica. The sauce and jus soaked brioche under the chicken is like the world’s best stuffing. I took the dry parts of the brioche home and made savory bread pudding and bread crumbs with them.
Pozole Verde and Freshly Fried Chips and Salsa at El Buen Comer. Not fancy but still really good, and those chips!
End of an Era Dinner at Bar Tartine on NYE, last night of service. I’ve had a lot of meals at Bar Tartine, both with clients and on my own, and this was one of if not the best. Way too much food, but I took the leftovers to a party, stashed them in a fridge, and then took them home for a late night snack. The Steamed Egg Custard with Beef Tartar, Tonnato, and Bottarga sounded weird but was amazing.
Tori-Paitan Ramen w Duck Chashu at Mensho Tokyo. Not as good as Ginza Kagari, but I love the rich, thick broth.
Fried Chicken Sandwich and Chicken Biscuit w Sausage Gravy at Rusty’s Southern. Such nice people running this place and I love the giant fried boneless thigh on the sandwiches. I prefer to sub the non-creamy slaw with the fried chicken.
Out of SF:
Tori-Paitan Ramen with Seasonal Vegetables at Ginza Kagari in Tokyo. The best bowl of ramen I’ve eaten. I had to take a break from ramen after eating this b/c I knew that nothing would compare.
My entire meal at Tempura Matsu in Kyoto.
Toothpick Lamb and Spring Onion Chicken in Pepper Sauce at Chengdu Taste in the SGV, with a Jonathan Gold sighting! The lamb is addictive and the bright green pepper sauce looks so fresh, like it can’t possibly be spicy!
Ikura and Uni Bowl at Tukiji Itadori Bekkan at the Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo. Ikura and Uni Bowls are one of my top indulgences and I found this one by chance, when I was forcing myself to leave my last meal in Tokyo unplanned.
I forgot to share my own meals:
Last year, because of kids being young, we mostly ate at hole-in-the-walls and Asian eateries where bringing kids are the norm. Some were specialists and served up perfectly delicious dishes, though not necessarily memorable. A few were ‘I am still dreaming about them’ memorable. We had a chance to sneak in a few high end meals during a trip.
Yum Bistro’s Crab shrimp fish garlic steamed glutinous rice. All that crabby greatness steamed into the rice.
Kumino’s fried wonton and that memorable dipping sauce and chicken karaage. Though the wonton dipping sauce hasn’t reached the same height after my first time having it.
Hong Kong- Ming Court’s drunken har gau. My best hargau ever- the subtle huadiao aroma interplayed with the bright sweetness of the shrimp to create this unforgetting little morsel of heaven.
Hong Kong- Tasting Court’s Wild Clam Scalded with Sake. Similar effect from a different alcohol and a different shellfish.
The Nomica chicken sounds great.
Oh cool, I’ve been wondering about Rusty’s. Any other recommendations there?
2016 Best and Worst Eats
[Total Dine–outs in 2016: 151 restaurants (includes repeat visits to our favs, so roughly about 90 new restaurants]
– Uni risotto at Iyasare/Berkeley. Chef Kamio knocked our socks off in October. His cooking is even better than it was when he first opened. Everything was excellent, but the uni risotto has been completely reworked from the opening menu. It’s now even better: absolutely ethereal in a rich, aromatic matsutake broth. You could pay twice as much elsewhere per person without getting a better single dish.
– Tortino, Belotti/Oakland. 5–star creamed spinach. Almost as good: Agnolotti, Tagliatelle, and Gnocchi. Skip the entrées; they’re good but those pastas will spoil you for anyone else’s noodles. That glace de viande Chef Belotti makes and uses is simply divine. We call Belotti the best French restaurant in the EBay: Lombardian cuisine is the least like Sicilian and the most like Austrian/French.
– Sticky Ribs, Bo’s/Albany. Just like Picán’s, but not spicy, and less expensive. Meaty and yummy.
– Spicy Lamb with Soft Tofu, Sichuan Fusion/Richmond. Almost more a soup than a stew. An unusual dish, and so far our favorite of the four completely different but similarly-named lamb dishes at SF. One note: SF has two chefs, and they season food differently. What we got may not be what you get, on any given day.
– Mantoo, Khyber Pass/Dublin. I love this dish. It’s equally good at Pamir/Dublin, but made differently. Khyber wins for value; bigger serving and a little less expensive.
– Empanadas, Tambo Peruvian/Oakland. So much better than elsewhere. A thin crisp dough, generous high quality fillings. Makes other empanadas resemble leaden doorstops. Makes up for Tambo’s too frequent “sorry, we’re out of that dish”.
– Chocolate–raspberry pie, Pietisserie/Oakland. More a thin double–layered chocolate cake of ultimate bittersweet, with a fresh raspberry filling. It’s a Recchiuti chocolate raspberry truffle in cake/pie form. Adults only: this is really, really serious bittersweet. Whip up a quart of Strauss heavy cream and send yourself into bliss. Or a coma.
– Falafel, Ba–Bite/Oakland. Yup, it’s true. Making falafel from scratch, from beans soaked and resoaked numerous times, combined with fresh spices instead dusty dried ones, does make a difference. My DH hates falafel, but he loved these and fought me for the last one.
– Housemade blue corn tortillas, Calavera/Oakland. We were fortunate enough to visit Calavera when the great and underrated Sophina Uong was cooking there. Our group had an amazing meal. She is one of the few chefs we will follow wherever she lands next. But the tortillas are a standard menu item at Calavera, so they’re good no matter who’s in the kitchen.
– Rum cake, Kingston 11/Oakland. I believe a friend of the owners makes the desserts. The rum cake is a bit coarse in texture, but the rum is great quality and they don’t hold back on dousing it! Add in the rum raisin ice cream from a local vendor, and you’ve got a boozy delight that’s possibly the best dessert in Oakland.
– Rosewater and Cardamon Panna Cotta, Angela’s/Alameda. Not everyone loves cardamon but I do, and this is a soft, creamy delight. I hate overstiffened panna cotta. If you’re a cardamon fan also, I can recommend the Arabic coffee at Tannourine/SMateo, which I enjoyed with its old–fashioned preparation in late 2015.
– Polenta and pork, Willow Wood/Graton. This is the one dish we never miss ordering here. It’s perfect: fork-tender juicy pork, soft delicious polenta of first-rate quality. Also the gingerbread, which is a true Dickensian delight in cake form. Fresh spices do indeed make a difference…a BIG difference.
– Limoncello cake, Depot Hotel/Sonoma. Depot Hotel makes its own limoncello and their limoncello cake is the best we’ve tasted anywhere – period. Since I grow my own Meyers, be assured I’m fussy about the liqueur. DH nails it, plus their service is excellent.
– Wild King Salmon: baby artichokes, fresh favas, crispy lemon risotto, sorrel sauce: Farmhouse Inn/Forestville. The entire meal was a delight, but especially the grilled salmon. It was so perfect that my spouse, who doesn’t care for salmon and almost always orders red meat, said he preferred my salmon to his steak, even though his steak was excellent. But the salmon was stunning. Exquisitely fresh, richly flavored, cooked to delicate perfection.
– Lapsang Souchong Tea Deviled Eggs and Lamb Naan, E&O Kitchen/SF. Those eggs are expensive but amazing. In a town full of deviled eggs this is one of the few that’s worth the inflated price. The lamb naan is second only to the lamb “naanwich” from Taj Campton Place (which goes on the 2017 Best list); that hint of fresh mint inside is genius. For dessert, the Apple Panna Cotta was amazing for its fresh green apple flavor, with hardly any sugar at all: just the way I like it.
I’ll do the worst bites of 2016 in a bit. We’re trying to get ready for a trip so I may not get it done for a couple of weeks, sorry.
Great list! And quite a varied list of restaurants too. Thanks for sharing. How do you research which restaurants and dishes to try?
How do you research which restaurants and dishes to try?>>
We have a very, very long “to try” list…LOL!
I read a lot of reviews, food forums, and some blogs. I make note of places we might want to try. We have a regular “route” we make around Northern CA where we go midweek for 3-5 days and hit as many restaurants as we can manage.
Just came back from a Monterey trip. Because I try not to cook both before (emptying out the frig) and after a trip (too tired), a 4-1/2 day trip generated 16 different restaurants. 9 were part of the trip: 4 repeats, 5 new.
7 restaurants were local, before/after the trip. 4 repeats, 3 new. The explosion of restaurant choices in Alameda and Contra Costa counties is simply amazing: it feels as if more have opened up in the last 3.5 years than in our first 25 yrs in the EBay (we previously lived in SF for 20 yrs).
Like most people we have distinct likes/dislikes. We love French, Cantonese, Indian, and lots of red meat [grin]. We’re also fond of German/Austrian, Japanese, and Italian. I have more wide-ranging tastes than my DH, but he’s always willing to try something new.
When we travel, we don’t tend to visit Asian or Mexican restaurants because of where we live. It isn’t often one will find better Mexican food or Laotian/Thai food than is found here in the SFBA, for example.
Also, I love to cook. It’s just after 50 yrs I don’t want to do it every day. So we go out for dishes I don’t enjoy making at home.
Finally got it done! 2016 – The Worst Bites
Not anywhere, anytime: the current fad for too-sour, harsh pickles. So not interested. Acidic pickles have their place, but they do not belong with liver. Nor an Eggs Benedict.
Another ‘not anywhere, anytime’: gooped-up, double crusty fried chicken, especially the “drizzled with two sauces” type. Not a style we admire. Doesn’t matter if it’s Gangnam Tofu or Hawker Fare. But then I don’t think much of poutine, either.
La Marcha/Berkeley: Costillas, confit baby back ribs. So heavy with anise and cheap cassia I almost gagged at the smell as soon as the dish was put on the table. It was like the worst dose of Chinese five-spice magnified twice over. I gave up after two small bites and dumped it back on the plate.
Hawker Fare/Oakland: Crispy Rice Ball Salad (Nam Khao Tod). Talk about a soggy embarrassment. Go to Champa Gardens or Vientian Café, but this one was like a bad joke on non-Asians.
Katrina Rozelle Bakery/Oakland: too sweet and about as French as I am (a third generation Japanese-American from Chicago).
Trattoria Cordo/Berkeley: Bistecca alla Fiorentina. A shame, because everything else we ordered was great. But this was awful – CA beef at its worst. Cut unevenly, cooked ham-handedly, ridiculously chewy, full of gristle and fat.
Riva Cucina/Berkeley: We have visited RC periodically since it opened in 2007. I have ordered the Passatelli alla Salsiccia, breadcrumb pasta, every time. It has descended into awful. Once a textured pasta lightly sauced, with a sprinkling of good Parmesan-Reggiano to highlight a unique pasta no other restaurant bothers to offer, it is now an overrich, gluey mess. There is so much sausage it crowds the pasta off the plate. There was so much salty grated cheese – the exact texture of Kraft’s green can (I’m not saying it was, just that it had the identical appearance and mouthfeel) – that the heavy-as-lead cream sauce tasted grainy and unpleasant.
La Parisienne Bakery/Oakland: bready, doughy leaden croissants. Sweetbar’s are the worst, but LPB was almost as bad. [The best? The delicate, flaky, Parisian–style at Parker–Lusseau/Monterey. Even Fournée/Berkeley doesn’t come close to PL.]
Marzano/Oakland: The polenta was watery and tasteless. The fettucine with mushrooms and peas was not only tasteless; it was greasy with too much oil. A shame, as the spicy octopus and the meatballs were good (but it takes a lot to screw up meatballs in tomato sauce).
Canneti’s Roadhouse/Forestville: The halibut was one of the worst-executed dishes all year. The fish wasn’t fresh. Side of spaghetti squash with sage butter sounded good, but was so soaked in butter it was like eating a salted stick of it. There was no sage flavor discernible, which is odd since sage is a strongly aromatic herb. A beautiful side of properly cooked farro and fresh fava beans encircled the plate. But it was soaked – really, soaked! – in EVOO until it was drowning. And whoever plated this dish then added the EVOO to the dish, so everything rested in a golden slick pool. After I finished the food (hunger makes one desperate), the leftover EVOO almost covered the entire plate.
Crispian Bakery/Alameda: Their croissants are just heavy bread dough. Even worse was the French Onion Soup Bread. Leaden in texture, the sourdough flavor and sweet rye fought one another to a losing draw. The Gruyere strip in the middle was baked so hard and so long, it never softened when I toasted slices of the bread later. It was like chewing on a radial tire.
Juhu Beach Club: Mongolian Cauliflower. No one should be allowed to murder an innocent cruciferous veggie like this. More batter than cauliflower, doused in enough sugar and vinegar to brine an entire vat of Claussen’s Bread and Butter Chips.
The Dock/Oakland: Caesar popcorn. Visited with 8 people and all of us agreed this was vastly overrated. Tasty dressing, lousy quality kernels.
Have you tried the pan fried onigiri at izakaya roku (Market / valencia, sf)? I’m not an expert but I thought it at least had good crunch. I put it into their curry ramen when nobody’s watching
No, we haven’t. We seldom get into the City any longer. Oddly, I’m not a sushi lover, it’s my Hong Kong-born DH who adores sashimi. He never ate raw fish growing up but loved it the first time I took him out. Who’da thunk it, LOL?
Except for futomaki, which is easier to order in restaurants, I prefer to make sushi rather than go out for it. Altho I don’t eat it much, I often make it for family potlucks as everybody else likes sushi.
My single favorite dish of 2016–reminded of it because Jody & I had it again a couple weeks ago–was the grilled squid & white bean salad at Delfina. Perfectly cooked and flavorful.
Gaaahhh…not sure how I managed to suddenly misspell Trattoria Corso as Cordo. Sigh. Mea culpa!