Mouths Wide Open (2009)

Our town—what a dish! By Robert Sietsema and Sarah DiGregorio

Some of us look back nostalgically to a decade ago, when food-related matters were far simpler. Each year, there was a score of significant restaurant openings to be covered, a small passle of important new products, a few memorable cookbooks, and just a handful of dishes that knocked us on our collective asses. Now, the food scene has exploded. So many restaurants have opened that we can barely keep track of them, much less write individual reviews on them. Our Fork in the Road blog—with which we're assisted by a pair of new writers, Chantal Martineau and Rebecca Marx—has helped us extend our reach, but sometimes, we just throw up our hands in despair.

And that's why we enjoy doing the "Best Of" issue each year: It helps us take stock of and condense what we feel has been important—foodwise—during the past year, in a form our readers can savor and save. No equivocation here: Every dish, every restaurant, every phenomenon mentioned is worth enjoying. Whether we're talking about the fiery dan dan noodles at Grand Sichuan in Bay Ridge, the juicy grass-fed steaks at United Meat Market in Park Slope, the locavoric milk products at the Lower East Side's Saxelby Cheesemongers, or the octopus fusilli at Manhattan's Marea, all of these dishes are scrumptious, and all of them shout, "Eat me now!"

To accomplish this, we've divided our Best Of recommendations into two sections. In the first, you'll find our picks for the best dishes of the year—the most mind-bending plates that make use of ingredients or preparations that are so right now, if you'll pardon the expression. Who can reflect on the past 12 months and not have a crusty vision of banh mi spring to mind? For that matter, any voracious eater chomping their way through New York circa 2009 is likely to have come across at least one slab of quivering bone marrow, more cupcakes than necessary, a dollop of strangely flavored soft-serve, a dozen fat-dripping hamburgers and new-wave hot dogs, and certainly a floppy pizza or 10. Bacon, of course, has failed to slip back into obscurity, and ramen is still slithering its way around the East Village and environs. Who knows why certain dishes work their way into the collective appetite at a certain time? It's not for us to reason why. It's for us to tromp around the city, mouth open wide, and revel in pronouncing dishes' relative merits. Maybe you'll hate our pick for the best sausage of the year, or the best goat dish of the year—but feel free to curse our names, and let us know which ones we've missed.

In our second section, you'll find the transcript of a critics' smackdown, a bloodthirsty battle-to-the-death that played out on IM. You'll also find the more conventional Best Of categories—like best bistro, best street food, best regional Chinese, and best seafood restaurant. No one loves a good argument over culinary superlatives like we do, and we hope you'll feel free to shout along.

In the end, the "best" is in the tongue of the taster, and we're lucky to live in a city where there are so many contenders for the crown, even for something like cold Sichuan tongue and tripe. But, like we said: No equivocation. These dishes are the most delicious we've tasted this year. Go forth and eat, friends.


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