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

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

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

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

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

6. Strawberry Balsamic Pie at Four & Twenty Blackbirds — The single-mindedness of this Dakota pie shop enthralled dessert-fanciers this year, no less than the obscure location of the tidy shop, almost on the lip of the Gowanus Canal. We don’t love all their pies, but the strawberry balsamic — tart and sweet at the same time, with none of the frivolity of plain strawberries — kept us craving pie all summer. 439 Third Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-499-2917

5. Mayu Ramen at Terakawa Ramen — The superficial appearance of this type of ramen can be a bit disturbing — brooding and dark, with little flecks of black. The dark scum on the surface turns out to be garlic oil, though why it’s black has never been properly explained. The flavor is heavenly, underpinned by a limpid, pork-bone broth, and enlivened with pickled ginger. 18 Lexington Avenue, 212-777-2939

4. Wasabi Arctic Surf Clams at Yi Lan Halal — It sounds like the name of a band, right? But this Northern Chinese dish, which wears its Japanese influences on its sleeve, features pristine and strikingly red clams in a salad with shredded cucumber and a tingly wasabi dressing. And it demonstrates the ineffable modernity of Northern Chinese cooking, Flushing-style. 42-79A Main Street, Queens, 718-886-3622

3. Polish Taco at Happy End — Goulash is great. Potato pancakes are great. This new Polish standard found at one of Greenpoint’s most delightful small cafés features a bigger-than-ever-before potato pancake wrapped around a generous serving of stewed meat. And if it wasn’t intended to resemble a taco in the first place, I’ll be very surprised. 924 Manhattan Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-383-9862

2. Yellowtail Crudo at Anella — Anella is the Cinderella story of the Greenpoint restaurant demimonde — a place that started out poor, and ended up the pride of Franklin Street. The yellowtail crudo is a case in point, and one of the best uses of raw fish I’ve seen all year. Dig that back garden, too! 222 Franklin Street, Brooklyn, 718-389-8100

1. Braised Whole Fish Filet With Soy Bean Sprouts in Roasted Chili Spiced Broth at Land of Plenty — This verbose dish from newcomer Land of Plenty will knock your socks off, possessing three vectors of hotness (chili oil, toasted red chilies, and Sichuan peppercorns) that sear, warm, and frizzle all at the same time. Poached in oil, the boneless swatches of fish delight with their bouncy texture, and this dish will satisfy five hungry diners. Really, there’s no better intro to Sichuan cuisine — and on the Upper East Side, too! 204 East 58th Street, 212-308-8788

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