If Time Out New York can do it, so can I. I’ve been inspired and satiated by Time Out’s 2009 Top 100 list and look forward to conquering their 2010 list very soon. But from now until the end of the year, I present my own Top 100 Dishes of the year in reverse order. Look for another five dishes every few days.

50. LOBSTER ROLL at LUKE’S LOBSTER

There’s a good chance if I had the money, I would eat lobster every day. And when I spent some time in Maine, I did (even though I didn’t have the money!) Since I was a kid, I loved the sweet buttery meat.

Problem in New York (and most places outside of Maine) is that the crustaceans are so darn expensive. So a cheaper option would be to get the meat out of the shell and on a roll. Great! Except those don’t come cheap either. In this city, they usually run you between $20-$30.

Earlier this year, Luke’s Lobster came along and made my dreams come true. Thanks to Luke’s father (who is a lobsterman in Maine), they get a good deal on their product and are able to sell the lobster rolls to us for a fraction of the price it would normally cost. They also offer the rolls in a half portion so you can get your lobster fix for under $10. That’s unheard of in this city!

And the lobster rolls are fantastic. A buttery hot dog bun holds up the generous briny lobster meat with just a hint of mayo. It sounds good, doesn’t it? I may go get myself another one right now – since I can finally afford it! Price: Half ($9) Whole ($14)

LUKE’S LOBSTER
93 East 7th Street (between First Avenue and Avenue A)
East Village
(212) 387-8487
242 E. 81st St. (between Third Avenue and Second Avenue)
Upper East Side
(212) 249-4241
lukeslobster.com

49. CRAB CAKE at DEL FRISCO’S

I’m not a steakhouse kind of guy. Although I did work at one for a few years. Everybody knows they’re the most profitable (tip-wise) restaurants in the city. But there’s not a whole lot of innovation and food education going on in the kitchen. After all, it’s just meat and potatoes.

But at my former employer, Del Frisco’s, there was one dish that consistently blew my mind. And I ate it almost every night. Now that I’ve been away from the restaurant for over 2 years, I still dream about the fantastic crab cake. And it’s hard for me to order the dish anywhere else because I know it won’t be as good.

I’m going to sound a bit like a salesman here, but it’s 2 ounces of fresh jumbo lump crab meat, miraculously held together without any breading, just a hint of mayo, and some peppers for texture. Then the cake is baked, not fried, so it’s not greasy and weighed down with oil. Instead, you get bites of meaty, rich crab meat and the only problem is, there’s never enough.

The topper is the layer of Cajun lobster sauce underneath the crab cake. It gives it a punch of heat and ensures that you will have to use some bread to clean the plate, long after the crab meat is gone.

So the only reason I still go into Del Frisco’s (besides to say hello to some old friends) is to get one more taste of that addicting crab cake. Price: $16.95

DEL FRISCO’S
1221 Avenue of the Americas (at 49th Street)
Midtown West
(212) 575-5129
delfriscos.com

48. SURF AND TURF at LE BERNADIN

When I worked at the aforementioned fancy steakhouse (Del Frisco’s), they were very specific about the verbiage they wanted us to use when selling the lobster tails with the steaks. It couldn’t be “surf and turf”, it had to be “steak and lobster”. I think the powers that be there thought “surf and turf” brought to mind images of lower quality chain restaurants.

Yet the classiest of all NY restaurants has a Surf and Turf right on their prix fixe menu. But clearly Le Bernardin is not serving lobster tails and porterhouses.

At Eric Ripert’s amazing seafood focused palace, he offers a beautiful combo of Wagyu beef and escolar with a pairing of eggplant fries, sea bean salad, pesto sauce, and red wine.

Escolar is also known as white tuna or butter fish and has an incredibly meaty and buttery flavor. Not unlike lobster, but much more delicate and refined. It holds up perfectly well to the seared beef. Ripert, of course, is a master at pairing flavors and textures, so the beautiful eggplant fries are soft and light and the red wine livens the whole dish up.

No question this “surf and turf” is better than any “steak and lobster”.

LE BERNARDIN
155 West 51st Street (between Sixth and Seventh Avenue)
Midtown West
(212) 554-1515
le-bernardin.com

Photo courtesy of: laissezfare.wordpress.com

47. BRISKET at HILL COUNTRY BBQ

This year one of the big new restaurant openings was Hill Country Chicken, which is the sequel to Hill Country BBQ, focusing on Southern-style fried chicken. I’ve heard mixed things about the restaurant and haven’t gotten myself there yet. But if the food is anywhere close to as good as the original’s beef brisket, then what am I waiting for?

Hill Country is modeled after BBQ shops in and near Lockhart, Texas (where I was lucky enough to visit last year). They allow you to order the meat per pound or per piece. For instance, you can prevent a heart attack by coming in for a taste of the brisket and ordering just two slices. They wrap it up in paper and you can take a seat at one of the communal benches.

The brisket here comes in two forms – lean and moist. Either way, you’re going to get hit with a burst of smoke, creamy fat, and perfectly tender meat. It doesn’t need it, but I like to squirt a little bit of the tangy BBQ sauce for some brightness.

The meat just falls apart and melts in your mouth. It’s some of the best barbecue I’ve had in the city. It makes me want to hit the road and travel the country searching for the best barbecue in every region. Or I could just come down to Hill Country. Market Price.

HILL COUNTRY BBQ MARKET
30 West 26th Street (between Broadway and Madison Avenue)
Flatiron District
(212) 255-4544
hillcountryny.com

46. LONG ISLAND DUCK BREAST at THE MODERN DINING ROOM

There are two rooms at the Modern restaurant, which was my former employer. The Bar Room is the more casual area with delicious small plates that can make up a full meal (and often do) and the Dining Room, which consists of a more luxurious meal made up of prix fixes and Chef’s Tasting Menus. And just because I worked in the Bar Room does not mean I often got to sample the food in the Dining Room. Every once in a while we would luck out with something special, but most times I barely got to sample their bread.

I did come in to dine for dinner in the Dining Room earlier this year and besides being treated like a celebrity by the staff and my co-workers, I had an exquisite meal prepared by Chef Gabriel Kreuther. Every dish was beautifully composed and took my breath away. But the one that really stood out was the Long Island Duck Breast.

It’s crusted with an amazing earthy black trumpet mushroom marmalade and cooked to a perfect medium rare. The duck has a slight gamey flavor which plays in with the funky sweetness from the marmalade. Also on the side is a classic Alsatian food called fleischschneke which is a rolled up pastry stuffed with duck confit. And then a drizzle of banyuls vinegar brightens the dish up.

And the most amazing part is that the duck is sliced and portioned out table side by one of the servers. I’ve seen this happen at every table that orders the duck, lest you think it’s just for me since I know the staff.

THE MODERN DINING ROOM
9 West 53rd Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenue)
Inside the Museum of Modern Art
(212) 333-1220
themodernnyc.com

Photo Courtesy of: lawandfood.blogspot.com

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About the Author

Brian Hoffman is a classically trained actor who is now a full-time tour guide, blogger, and food obsessive. He leads food and drink tours around New York City, which not only introduce tour-goers to delicious food, but gives them a historical context. He also writes food articles for Gothamist and Midtown Lunch in addition to overseeing this blog and a few food video series, including Eat This, Locals Know, and Around the World in One City.

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