Favorite Foods of 2014

2014 was a good year for food. It was a year that involved an unprecedented amount of travel, due to the record number of friends getting married this year, and many of their ceremonies took place internationally. As a result, this created many opportunities for interesting meals–breakfast sushi at Tsukiji market or unripe strawberries in Copenhagen are not experiences that can be easily had back at home.

While the international meals were memorable, the majority of my favorite meals took place in New York, and Kansas City and New Orleans weren’t too shabby, either. Honestly, with so many chefs training at the same restaurants and then setting shop elsewhere, you can find really good cooking anywhere. But that also means that many of the meals and food trends seem all too similar. It’s amazing how many small plates, Brooklyn-esque farm-to-table restaurants exist in the world.

I personally preferred those meals that still retained their regional traits to the ambiguous New World Global cuisine that proliferated everywhere else. So my favorite food moments in 2014 crosses many borders and price points, a reflection of the glamorous and janky meals that were unique to the cities I ate them in. In no particular order, here is a round up of my favorite foods in 2014.

1. the z-man sandwich from oklahoma joe’s in kansas city

oklahoma joe's - the z-man sandwich

2. the melt-in-your-mouth sea eel from nakamura in tokyo

nakamura - 18 sea eel

3. the epic peking duck dinner at decoy in new york

peking duck

4. the ricotta gnocchi from the eddy in new york

ricotta gnocchi with oyster mushrooms, squash, rosemary and hazelnuts

5. the husk meringue with corn mousse dessert from cosme in new york

husk meringue and corn mousse

6. the duck carnitas from cosme in new york

duck carnitas with white onions, radish and salsa verde

7. the duck fat rice with kale and chinese sausage from tuome in new york

rice with kale, chinese sausage and duck fat

8. the beef tartare from manfreds in copenhagen

beef tartare with watercress

9. the breakfast sushi from tsukiji market in tokyo

image

10. the omakase at sushi nakazawa in new york

nakazawa hamming it up with shrimp

11. the whitefish donburi bowl from ivan ramen slurp shop in new york

ivan ramen slurp shop - smoked whitefish donburi

12. the kale and wild mushroom risotto from gato in new york

kale and wild mushroom paella with crispy artichokes and egg

13. the lobster ravioli from cherche midi in new york

homemade lobster ravioli

14. the #1 bagel sandwich from black seed bagels in new york

black seed - sandwich 1

15. the butcher’s steak at st. anselm in new york (my pictures were so crappy and not post-worthy, but i would highly recommend that you brave the no reservation policy and make the trek out to brooklyn for this amazing piece of meat)

Mediterranean Throwdown with Bobby Flay at Gato

There’s no question that Bobby Flay knows how to cook. You don’t get to be Iron Chef or have several TV shows under your belt by being just ok. But I wonder if all those Throw Down challenges maybe impacted his palate a bit. Maybe he developed a propensity for really strong flavors after years of competing to make the best jerk chicken or cheesesteak or whatnot, all of which are not shy with flavors.

That was my issue with the food at Gato. The food at this Mediterranean Noho restaurant (France, Italy, Spain were all represented here) was very uneven. Either Flay hit it out of the park, or he put too much seasoning in something. You could tell that all the technique was there, but the flavors in the majority of the dishes needed to be scaled back.

scrambled eggs with almond romesco, boucheron cheese and tomato confit toast
scrambled eggs with almond romesco, boucheron cheese and tomato confit toast

The famous scrambled eggs, for instance, was one of the biggest offenders of overseasoning. I loved the texture of the eggs, which were the silkiest and creamiest scrambled eggs that I’ve ever had, and the hint of heat from the chili oil was a nice touch. But the flavors of the goat cheese were just so overwhelmingly dominant in each bite, so much so that I felt like they should have renamed this “goat cheese with scrambled eggs”. The small pieces of crunchy, golden toasts were great, but there weren’t enough of them to sop up the eggs, and they did nothing to offset the goat cheese.

burrata with black olive oil and beets
burrata with black olive oil and beets
eggplant with manchego, oregano, and balsamic
eggplant with manchego, oregano, and balsamic
mussel and razor clam salad with saffron pickled shallots
mussel and razor clam salad with saffron pickled shallots

Our trio of bar snacks suffered from the opposite problem–they didn’t leave enough of an impression. Which was interesting, because they were also a little overseasoned, yet I totally forgot about them the next day, unlike those eggs. The eggplants were warm and meaty, but the balsamic on them was a tad too sweet. The mussel and razor clam salad was light and refreshing, but the citrus notes were very strong. My favorite was probably the burrata, which was creamy and luscious as good burrata should be, but I’ve had better renditions of this cheese elsewhere.

At the end of the day, I didn’t really crave second servings of these small snacks. Maybe that’s the point–the bar snacks shouldn’t overshadow the appetizers and entrees, and they should just quickly whet your appetite with apertifs? But I think they play a pivotal role in serving as teasers for the good food to come, and based on the previews of these snacks alone, I would have probably skipped the movie.

Flay did make a comeback by throwing down an amazing kale and wild mushroom paella, as well as an excellent crab risotto. This man really knows how to work it with rice. I noticed on Wikipedia that he lost to some guy on an arroz con pollo challenge, but that must have been some bullsh*t, because there’s no way he’d lose. This is his thing, this is his jam. It’s like saying Morimoto lost a sushi throwdown challenge. I think he probably needs to “lose” some episodes so that he doesn’t alienate viewers and appears humble and likeable or some nonsense like that.

kale and wild mushroom paella with crispy artichokes and egg
kale and wild mushroom paella with crispy artichokes and egg

I would come back just for the kale paella. The crunchy, slightly charred bottom layer of rice, also known as socarrat, was glorious. The rice had this extremely satisfying, chewy texture, and the way the grains had locked in the flavors of the golden, pan-seared scraps was just incredible. The artichoke, which was indeed extra crispy, and the kale were both moderately seasoned, a nice counterbalance to all the excitement going on with the rice. There was also a delicious runny egg in the middle of it, which was meant for mixing and mingling all the comforting, hearty flavors together, a la bibimbap style.

crab risotto with garlic bread crumbs and calabrian red chile
crab risotto with garlic bread crumbs and calabrian red chile

While the paella was crispy and crunchy, the risotto was soft and creamy, as it should be. What struck me about the crab risotto was how strong and “crabby” it tasted. I’d definitely expect this from like a Singaporean street hawker, but not from a Western restaurant. I loved how briney each spoonful was, because it meant that there was real crab meat in there, and that the kitchen was being generous with it. It also reminded me of the awesome Korean crab soup jigage that my mother used to make for me as a child. If you don’t mind intense crab flavors, then this is definitely the dish for you.

Much like his show, Bobby Flay wins some and loses some at Gato. Unfortunately, I think the losses edged out the wins, and I’m really in no hurry to come back to the restaurant. That also played a factor in why I declined to order dessert. I wanted to leave on a high note with memories of the paella, instead of a potentially disappointing and overseasoned dessert. I’m going to tune out from the Throw Downs at Gato going forward, but I might be open to some reruns involving paella.


Gato
324 Lafayette St (between E. Houston and Bleecker St)
New York, NY 10012
(212) 334-6400