11 Most Astonishing Dishes of 2011, NYC

11 Most Astonishing Dishes of 2011, NYC

Truffle chawan mushi from EN Japanese Brasserie (click on image to enlarge)

What does it mean to call a dish "astonishing"? Well, it has to be beautiful to look at, innovative within its canon, and perfectly executed. It has to surprise as well as satisfy. Such a designation can occur only once every 100 dishes or so, and here are the ones that impressed and delighted me the most over the last year. Some are always available; others only sporadically so. I would love to sink my teeth into every one of them again.

11. Black Truffle Chawan Mushi at EN Japanese Brasserie (above photo) -- Studded with tidbits of chicken and mushroom, chawan mushi is an Asian take on European custard, delighting the tongue with its smooth texture and eggy blandness. What a perfect backdrop for a shaving of real black truffles. You may never be able to eat the ubiquitous artificial truffle oil again. 435 Hudson Street, 212-647-9196

11 Most Astonishing Dishes of 2011, NYC

10. Jiz Biz at Cupola Samarkanda II -- Buttery cubed lamb organs are cradled in a parabolic cracker that bears a striking resemblance to matzo. Eat by breaking off bits of toki (as the cracker is called), and using them to scoop up liver, heart, and kidneys with raw onions and herbs. It's a dish justifiably popular from Georgia to Uzbekistan, here rendered with great delicacy. 1797 McDonald Avenue, Brooklyn, 212-255-4746

11 Most Astonishing Dishes of 2011, NYC

9. Maitake con Pecorino Sardo at Birreria -- Roasted in a wood-burning oven, these pristine woodland beauties really go to work. Impregnated with green olive oil, concealing a mother lode of pecorino cream, and strewn with microgreens, the flavor and texture is unforgettable -- and smoky, too. Eataly, 200 Fifth Avenue, 212-229-2560

11 Most Astonishing Dishes of 2011, NYC

8. Beid With Lahme Manakeesh at Man'ouChe -- Manakeesh is Lebanese pizza, which may actually be a forerunner of the esteemed pizza pies of Naples. Get beyond the pedestrian description of this flatbread on the menu -- "ground beef and eggs" -- to discover one of the richest pizzas you've ever tasted, totally satisfying in every way. 7701 Fifth Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-200-0150

11 Most Astonishing Dishes of 2011, NYC

7. Raw Barnacles at Tertulia -- Americans are so picky about the sea creatures they eat, and we miss many taste sensations in being that way. Jellyfish? Cheap and everywhere in the sea, yet almost never seen on American menus. Ditto with gooseneck barnacles, which constitute a real passion in Spain. Tertulia flies them in and serves barnacles as they should be served: raw, chewy, and accented with a garlicky allioli -- the Spanish equivalent of mayo. 359 Sixth Avenue, 646-559-9909

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