By Kristin Donnelly, Kate Heddings, Kate Krader, Christine Quinlan, Tina Ujlaki, Food and Wine Magazine: F&W's editors are constantly searching for the best new eating, drinking and traveling experiences. Here, the 10 best restaurant dishes of 2010 that were so unforgettable we can't wait to have them again.
Braised Leeks with Mozzarella & a Fried Egg:
FnB; Scottsdale, AZ
Charleen Badman's terrific leek gratin, topped with mozzarella, a fried egg and mustardy bread crumbs, is so popular it has a Twitter hashtag: #leekapalooza. So when it was tweeted that the dish was coming off the menu (the small, sweet leeks Badman sources were going out of season), a crowd of 40 people showed up that last night "for their eggy, gooey situation," says GM Pavle Milic. (Good news: The gratin came back on the menu in November.)
Insider Tip: FnB has an all-Arizona wine list. Best match for the leek gratin: 2008 Dos Cabezas Toscano red blend, made in Sonoita, Arizona.
Lamb Salad with Fregola:
Osteria Stellina; Point Reyes Station, CA
"My motto is, 'mostly local, mostly organic...or stuff I really like,' " says chef-owner Christian Caiazzo. At his Marin County restaurant, he has accessto plenty of gorgeous, conscientiously sourced ingredients like the ones in this awesome salad. The roast lamb, sweet onions and arugula are all local; the chewy fregola and the capers in the salad's piquant dressing are not. Before opening Stellina, Caiazzo ran the grilled cheese stand at the Point Reyes Station farmers' market. He now has grilled cheese sandwiches on his lunch menu, and they're an occasional special at dinner—made with stuff he really likes.
Smoked Pork Jowl with Pickles:
"Smoked pork jowl: It's like bacon to the bacon power," says chef and co-owner Tim Byres. He launched Smoke late last year, hanging elementary-school pictures of the staff on what he calls the "grandma wall" and building a backyard smoke house: a concrete shack with a 1905 Franklin cast-iron stove bought on Craigslist for $250. He slowly smokes cured pork jowl over pecan wood and serves thin slices of the luscious meat as an appetizer with as many pickled ingredients as possible, including house-made half-sour pickles, pickled chiles and pickled mustard seeds stirred into the blackstrap-molasses garnish.
Scallop Sashimi with Meyer Lemon Confit:
Forage, Salt Lake City
Viet Pham and Bowman Brown have turned an old bungalow into a minimalist restaurant and brought refined, very modern cooking to Salt Lake City. The $49 three-course menu might include excellent anise-spiced elk, but the best dish is one of the amuse bouches: a sliver of scallop sashimi with lightly sweet Meyer lemon confit, crunchy toasted buckwheat kernels and—pushing it over the top—tiny pieces of compressed apple, vacuum-packed to concentrate the flavor.
Chef Sean Baker's vegan charcuterie does not involve a bunch of vegetables masquerading as salumi. In fact, the only similarity to a typical charcuterie plate is the wooden board Baker sets the food on. Arranged on that board are five or so inspired vegetable dishes that might include fantastic roasted broccoli with a vegan version of the Italian tuna-based sauce tonnato (made here with seaweed and miso). Another great thing about Gather's charcuterie: Unlike the cured-meat kind, his changes seasonally.
Insider Tip: There's no salumi platter at Gather. But carnivores can sample house-cured meats like coppa and bresaola in salads.
Pappardelle with Sea Urchin and Cauliflower:
Saison, San Francisco
Saison used to be a pop-up spot where customers had to walk through the kitchen to get to the very casual dining room. Now, after remodeling, it's a real restaurant with a real entrance. What chef Joshua Skenes hasn't changed is his commitment to detail. He makes everything from scratch, from the butter to the pasta, which he prepares with wheat that he stone-grinds every single day. That pasta is key to his incredible "just-ground" pappardelle with sea urchin, cauliflower and crushed chile—a plate of silky pasta with briny seafood and a hint of heat. It's sometimes part of the prix fixe menu, which changes constantly. When asked why he opted for prix fixe, he replies, "You have to trust us." You should.
Pork Rillette Hand Pies:
Olympic Provisions; Portland, OR
Sweet or savory, hand pies appeal to anyone with a practical nature: They're tidy and easy to eat. No fork or knife! Olympic Provisions, a small restaurant with a superb deli counter, makes the most delicious pork rillette–filled ones. Jason Barwikowski simmers pork belly and shoulder with wine and garlic for hours, mixes it until it's almost smooth and packs it into flaky pastry. He loves his pies because they're good for breakfast, lunch or dinner. How practical.
Malted Custard French Toast:
Could there possibly be another French toast prepared with as much attention as the one at this bright little place in Chicago's West Town? Here's how Charlie Trotter alum Jeffrey Mauro makes his supersonic version: He dips thick brioche slices in a vanilla-and-malt-spiked custard (inspired by Ben & Jerry's malt ice creams). Then he slowly cooks the slices sous vide in a hot-water bath so that every inch of the brioche absorbs the custard. Just before serving, he caramelizes the French toast in a hot pan, then serves it with marinated fruit (quince in the winter), sweet citrus-flavored whipped cream and a sprinkling of pink peppercorns. It's all part of Mauro's commitment to breakfast, which is so big he won't serve dinner past 9 p.m. so he can get to bed early. "I have breakfasts to make," he explains.
Pasta with Lamb Ragù:
At Coppa, co-chef Jamie Bissonnette doesn't list all of his purveyors on his menu. "I'm sick of reading menus like that," he says. But that doesn't mean ingredients aren't important to him. For this exceptional restaurant dish, he tosses large hollow pasta tubes (paccheri) with chunks of lamb, tomato ragù and grated Pecorino. Bissonnette finishes the dish with mint from the same pasture where the lamb grazed. When he can't find paccheri, he makes sheep's-milk-ricotta gnocchi instead.
Insider Tip: Coppa serves a special late-night menu from 11 p.m. to 12:45 a.m. with snacks like warm salt-cod crostini and house-made charcuterie.
Island Duck with Mulberry Mustard:
Torrisi Italian Specialties, New York City
For chef-owners Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, this dish's name is an inside joke and a serious reflection of their food philosophy. The pair use only US ingredients for their Italian-American prix fixe dinner menu. For instance, their ducks come from Long Island, New York. "We think it's funny to say 'island duck'; it sounds exotic," says Torrisi. The succulent bird has a pungent, sweet mulberry-and-mustard-oil glaze that's reminiscent of the mostarda he and Carbone made at Manhattan's elegant Café Boulud. The berries pay homage to the restaurant's Mulberry Street address. "Another one of our stupid jokes," Torrisi says.