Mine is sorta long, sorry. I have such a lousy memory I did this from the reviews I do for my own personal record. Ummm, yeah we’re retired and not on a budget so we eat out a lot!
“Low & Slow” Spicy Barbecued Pork Ribs at Picán/Oakland. Magnificent coffee-molasses sauce with a heat that sneaks up on you. The first rib tastes mild, the second rib has some heat, by the third and fourth you’ve been walloped upside the head and are sweating. Also that Sexy Spicy Bacon at brunch, but it’s easy to make that one at home.
Glazed chicken wings at Pho Ao Sen/Albany. Nothing else there impressed us (we are not pho lovers), but these wings did. They are deep-fried then tossed in the wok with a very light thin sauce - more a glaze - of fish sauce, garlic and red chile flakes. We hate glopped up wings, but these were delicate and utterly delectable.
Sauerkraut braised with cranberries at Speisekammer/Alameda. A delightful surprise that they should put on the regular menu; only available with the Schweinebraten sandwich.
XLB at Sichuan Fusion/Richmond. Previously good, but this time they were stellar, as good as anywhere we’ve had in the Greater Bay Area. Haven’t been back, though, to see if that was a one-time whiz or if they’ve gotten a different cook. The Uygar-style lamb was also different, maybe a little too much dry rub but wow, what a chile wallop! Big surprise from a restaurant that’s been (sometimes) painfully erratic over the years.
Barrel Room/Oakland did two lovely dishes as they worked through their usual rotating country menus: Italy produced a fine goat cheese gnocchi / meyer lemon béchamel, brown butter, sage, walnuts. Latin America in May gave us a terrific spicy mushroom sauté with cilantro rice that wowed an entire party of ten.
La Folie/SF: Slow Baked Ocean Trout, Green Farro with Morel Mushrooms, Wilted Tatsoi, Poblano Purée. First time I’ve seen the ocean trout here (One Market always has it, but only as a starter). A toss-up as to what was better: the exquisite fresh trout or the soft-cooked, luscious farro underneath.
And also: La Folie’s Edam Cheese Soufflé, with Fromage Blanc Sorbet, Crispy Bacon, White Sesame Tuile. Divine ending to an always exquisite dinner. For some reason we had never tried this on previous visits, but we will definitely include it from now on!
The kimchi fried rice at Zen Asian Tapas, Alameda. Always well-executed, this time it was super-spicy and really zinged the taste buds.
Bocadillo (little sandwiches): Foie Gras, Crispy Serrano Ham, Backyard Orange Marmalade, at Bravas Tapas/Healdsburg. Chef Cody Thomasen is cooking up a storm, and this was the single best foie gras prep we’ve had since La Folie’s 2013 Foie Gras Torchon in Spiced Peach Consommé. Plus the patio is killer, with music by the Rolling Stones and Creedence. Woohoo!
Also at Bravas: Hot Rum Balls: Spanish Fried Pastries with Rum Glaze. First time a Stark restaurant has impressed us with dessert. Boozy and wonderfullllllll…
BurtoNZ Bakery/Windsor. We tried them all (except for the veggie one). The chicken, the mince beef and cheese, and the steak & potato, win our vote. Go early. Bring some home. Do not miss stopping by.
Anything Chef Philippe Colasse at Walter Hansel Bistro/SRosa makes, but especially his foie gras, beets, the pork chop, and any dessert. He is hands-down the best French cook in the Wine Country, even giving our long-time fav Perry Hoffman (late of Etoile) a run for the money. He actually deserves to be at Auberge du Soleil or John Ash, with an upscale quiet dining room instead of the too-loud country-casual space formerly occupied by Zazu.
Whatever Chef Sophina Uong makes. We followed her from Picán to Revival, and as long as she works in the Bay Area, we will make that restaurant a destination.
Anything at Jeninni Wine Bar + Kitchen, Pacific Grove. The chef is Jeffrey Weiss, who studied charcuterie in Spain under the prestigious ICEX culinary scholarship, which allowed him to live in Spain, learn the regional cuisines, and cook in the kitchens of top Spanish chefs. He won the 2015 Best Chef/Restaurant popular vote from Edible Monterey Bay, deserved so. The eggplant fries are to die for; they turned my DH into an eggplant lover after 60 yrs!
Prosciutto pizza at Lucia @Bernardus Lodge/Carmel Valley. Nothing else at the meal impressed, so we were taken by surprise when the pizza was…well, terrific is the only word. And it’s hard to impress us with pizza, there’s so many good ones around. The best quality flour always makes a difference in the texture and the taste. We sat by the fireplace in comfy chairs and relaxed.
The veal chop and the gnocchi plates at Il Cortile/Paso Robles. If we could pick this restaurant up and move it close to home, we would do so. No silly garnishes, no fads, no surprises. Just exquisite quality, flawless execution, utter simplicity. As memorable and perfect as my first dinner at La Bourgogne 45 yrs ago.
Yong Su Suan/LA for their unique and eccentric Korean kaiseki banquet. You will never look at Korean food the same way again.
Anything at Passionfish/PacGrove. Is it any surprise that Monterey/Carmel is our favorite eating destination? For this May visit, the tuna tartare in a spicy tangerine-cilantro sauce with a fennel-apple slaw, and the “spoonable 12 hour lamb breast” with Meyer lemon tajine/goat cheese sauce, stood out.
The lovely, home-style aush, beef noodle soup at Pamir Afghan/Dublin.
The Chicken Liver Mousse by Pasta Shop, Market Hall Rockridge/Oakland. A jar of that and a quarter wheel of Brillat-Savarin and I’m a happy camper. I don’t know how we overlooked trying this before, except that it’s a tiny jar and doesn’t look impressive.
The great value of Michael Warring’s Modernist tasting menu. Not perfect, but a truly charming experience by two very nice people who are working hard to live their dream.
The brief joys of Chef Joseph Humphrey at The Farmer and The Fox @Cairdean Winery. Amazing, brilliant, unusual gastropub food in a superbly comfortable, quiet restaurant. Alas, he left soon after and the great food disappeared with him. May he eventually resurface somewhere soon, hopefully Oakland where he lives.
The equally brief joy of discovering Creminelli prosciutto, briefly sold by Williams-Sonoma mail order. Also alas, the partnership fell through quickly and although we have found his outstanding salume (the wild boar is exceptionally tasty) at various delis and restaurants, the prosciutto is no longer available in Northern CA (Creminelli is based in Utah).
Those were the highlights of 2015 for us!