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.
10. CHENNAI KATI ROLL at BIRYANI CART
Giving the Food Cart walking tours for Urban Oyster this year has not only been fulfilling (because I get to use my food knowledge to show people great places to eat), but also filling (because I get to sample lots and lots of street food).
My most exciting discovery from a food cart this year was a dish New York foodies have been talking about for years. Meru Sikder from Biryani Cart has even won the People’s Choice Vendy Award two years in a row. And I can only imagine it has quite a lot to do with his kati rolls.
Kati rolls are often referred to as Indian burritos. Chicken, lamb, or vegetables are marinated and grilled with any number of seasonings. Then it’s wrapped up in a handmade chapati bread that is pan-fried on the cart. They come in any number of sauce and spice options, including an Indian-spicy that’s not on the visible menu.
The chennai chicken roll is made with a sweet chili sauce that has the right amount of heat for an American palate and all the perfect soft and crunchy textures and rich and buttery flavors as all the kati roll options. Meru is opening a second cart in 2011 called Juicy Wings, where he will be spinning a take on american chicken wings. I can only imagine what will make my Top 100 list next year from the new cart.
I’m never surprised when the tour attendees “ooh” and “aah” over our kati roll tastings. They’re truly something special. And if you want to hear more about these wonderful little wraps (not to mention taste them), you’ll have to sign up for the tour. Price: $6
|46th Street and Sixth Avenue
9. ARROZ DE PATO at ALDEA
I don’t hear about Aldea as much as I used to. Maybe it’s been overshadowed by newer nuevo Latin restaurants like Nuela and Casabe. But if there were any justice, George Mendes would get constant praise for his innovative and delicious Portugeuese menu.
His most famous dish is the Arroz de Pato (Duck Rice), which is a brilliant play on a paella. The rice is made with saffron (as any good paella dish would be) and features three different parts of the duck (the rich confit, the gamey breast, and the crispy skin), but it’s well-dispersed and light enough that only Daffy would take offense.
Also mixed in with this classy paella are bits of chorizo and surprising bites of black olives. There’s also dots of apricot puree on the side that give the richness of the duck the perfect sweet contrast.
It’s an amazing complex dish that was so enjoyable to eat. I really could have eaten three orders of this and would have gladly. The only problem would have been my empty wallet and my growing waistline. Dios mío! Price: $25
|31 West 17th Street (between Fifth Avenue and Avenue of the Americas)
8. ICE CREAM CAKES at QUALITY MEATS
One of the biggest treats of the summer was when Quality Meats (a high end steakhouse in Midtown) started acting like a little kid. For just a few months, they transformed their charcuterie bar into a brilliant Willy Wonka-esque candy counter. Pork carcasses and cleavers were replaced by gigantic gummy bears and ice cream scoopers. They sound like they’d be out of place in the middle of a high end steakhouse, but they somehow worked perfectly. It’s every businessmanchild’s fantasy!
The star of the summer were the personal ice cream cakes. It was like a brain freeze trying to decide between the flavors they offered. Over the course of a few visits, I managed to try all three: the Pie Smash (blueberry cake with lemon meringue ice cream and raspberry frosting), the Cherry Monkey (banana cake with cherry-pistachio ice cream and vanilla frosting), or the Monster Mash (peanut butter cake with chocolate cookie monster ice cream and caramel frosting).
The cakes were all a little too beautiful to eat. But I didn’t feel that bad digging in and discovering some perfect and interesting ice cream and cake combinations. I’m a sucker for caramel and peanut butter, so I think the Monster Mash was my favorite. But the other two were amazing. The pistachio, cherry, and banana are an amazing threesome (none are too sweet but together make a perfect ice cream combo) in the Cherry Monkey. And the Pie Smash was surprisingly light, tart, and sweet all at the same time.
I have begun counting the days until next summer to taste these all over again. And again and again and again. Price: $8
|57 West 58th Street (between Fifth Avenue and Sixth Avenue)
7. PIZZA DEL PAPA at KESTÉ
I tried lots of pizzas this year, but one stood out as being so unique and traditional that I’ve been back many times since to share it with friends.
I’m talking about the Pizza del Papa (pizza for the Pope) at Kesté. Of course, I visited this traditional Neapolitan pizzeria on my pizza video over a year ago. So I’ve written on and on about their perfect tender, charred dough and their fresh flavorful toppings. But it bears repeating,
My favorite pie features the colors of the Vatican flag and the flavors of heaven. The toppings are butternut squash cream, artichokes, blistered red and yellow pepper, and a special smoked mozzarella cheese. This pizza was like taking a bite out of a campfire, but with gooey cheesy goodness. And without the actual burning sensation of a fire in your mouth. The only burning sensation I had was the desire to eat it all over again. Price: $16
|271 Bleecker Street (between Morton and Jones Street)
6. CAULIFLOWER SALAD at TANOREEN
If you were to ask me about my least favorite vegetable, odds are the word “cauliflower” would come to mind. I’ve always found it colorless, bland, and overly chewy. Broccoli’s sad albino brother.
So if somebody could make me forget my issues for a spell and re-consider the flowered vegetable, it would have to be pretty spectacular. And that’s what happened with the caulfilower salad at Tanoreen, a popular Middle Eastern neighborhood restaurant in Bay Ridge in the far reaches of Brooklyn.
The cauliflower is sauteed and browned until the florets are incredibly crispy and exhibit a smoky flavor. Then the monster vegetables are drizzled with fresh and earthy tahini sauce, a sweet and tart pomegranate molasses, plenty of lemon for bright acidity, and some crunchy parsley springs. It’s an experiment in balanced textures and flavors. And it’s a success.
Every menu item I tasted was phenomenal. Chef Rawia Bishara has a brilliant way of making Middle Eastern dishes taste livelier and fresher than I’ve ever experienced. In fact all the food was so good, we ordered some extra helpings to go just so we could re-live them without making the trip to Bay Ridge again so soon. And now that those leftovers are long gone, it’s time to find a reason (and a mode of transportation) to get out there again. For cauliflower no less! Price: $6.50
|7523 3rd Avenue (between Bay Ridge Parkway and 76th Street)
Bay Ridge, Brooklyn
Photo Courtesy of: flickr.com