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The 13 Best Restaurant Meals of 2013

It’s hard to follow-up the formidable dining year that was 2012, with its list of heavyweights including The French Laundry and Noma. Remember, there have been many, many tremendous films over the years since the 12th edition of the Oscars celebrating the films of 1939. That year’s Best Picture winner was “Gone With The Wind.” “The Wizard Of Oz” was also a nominee. Hollywood hasn’t had such a same year 1-2 punch since Gable and Garland. I don’t know if yours truly will have a year like 2012 with Keller and Redzepi. But we’re always trying.

Ramon Freixa, Madrid

Ramon Freixa, Madrid

2013 started strong and never let up even if no destination quite achieved the nearly impossible levels of excellence consistently reached by certain kitchens and dining rooms in Copenhagen and Yountville. This year ultimately was a debate between a dynamic Basque chef in Madrid and one of the emerging forces of the gastronomic world from his emerging on the grand scene flagship dining room in Mexico City. In between, we learned that Portugal knows how to cook far more than just salt cod. The best meals in New York aren’t always reliant on Michelin—or The New York Times—stars. Los Angeles is becoming a real force on the dining scene and not because of chefs who adore the media limelight (that’s for sure in one case). Hotel restaurants aren’t always “hotel restaurants.” (Well, they usually are, but this list has two entries from that category (!)). And the year’s funkiest, most thrilling meal took place in a near pitch black underground bunker—in our nation’s capital after an over four hour long wait.

Pujol's Green Squash Tamal

Pujol’s Green Squash Tamal

I guess in that spirit, I should write a four hour long article? I’ll give you a pass on that.

In a moment, we’ll unveil the year’s 13 best restaurant meals. (more…)


The 13 Bites That Defined 2013

What a year for eating. My first bites of the year were in a New Years Day early morning daze at Blue Star Doughnuts in Portland, Oregon (Valrhona Chocolate Crunch was the best amidst stiff competition. These were hands down the best doughnuts of a pretty doughnut-free year). If that’s how a year starts, then the eating surely will continue at a high caliber. Just with less cholesterol.

Belcanto's Skate "Jackson Pollack" and Its Inspiration

Belcanto’s Skate “Jackson Pollack” And Its Inspiration

We’ll break down the trends and analytical stuff in another category this week. This is about those thirteen bites that I still think about and remember almost every detail of. Sure, I could list thirteen bites alone from Pujol or Alma. That wouldn’t be very exiting, would it? Each one of these was an absolute masterpiece that reminded me why dining out can be so special.

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Restaurants: Ramon Freixa, Madrid

Usually, two dozen or more course tasting menu marathons actually involve that many courses in succession, one after another, until you start imagining your fork to be swirling lemon macarons.

The restaurant Ramon Freixa in Madrid’s ritzy Hotel Unico in the elegant Salamanca shopping and residential neighborhood, in theory, provides you that many miniature bites while experiencing the tasting menu. You’ll have roughly the same number of tastes as at any of the world’s great tasting menu temples that Vanity Fair‘s Corby Kummer earlier this year deemed “totalitarian.” Ramon FreixaExcept, each “course” at Ramon Freixa has close to four components that aren’t merely “tastes.” The entertaining English translations breaks down the tasting menu into “The Beginning” (essentially four amuse-bouches), “The Origins” (crisp wafers covered covered and “salchichón” salami, along with a fried sardine dish), “The Previous” (four more small bites at one time), then the “Courses” (4 sets of courses with 3-4 creations within each course), “Sweet Wait” (a Black Forest themed chocolate mousse and cherry number), “Dessert” (again, one course with four different plates), and then your finishing chocolate bites. This makes football game plans seem elementary.

Looking back at the sheer amount of food set before me over the course of three and a half hours this past summer, it’s startling that I felt merely content afterwards. Perhaps that’s what Madrid’s 95 degree July weather does to you. It’s good for sweating all that jamon Iberico off.

"Crac- oil- thyme" and stuffed olives with Vermouth

“Crac- oil- thyme” and stuffed olives with Vermouth

It’s a different tasting menu method than I’m used to. For better or worse organization-wise, and I’d say more for the worse since you’re more likely to let something get cold, Freixa’s kitchen yielded a tomato- centric concept and a goat dish that might hold off stiff competition at the end of December for 2013’s dish of the year. Then again, I’d have to choose between the two. That won’t be trivial. (more…)