Whether grabbing a table for two for a fancy date night or shuffling up to the bar for a solo encounter, dining out in the city this year gave me a lot of great memories (as well as pounds I can now work off starting in January). Here are the 10 best bites that came my way during 2013, ones I’m dead set on repeating next year.
10. The Marrow, Duck Schnitzel and more
The bar was set low for my duck schnitzel order at this restaurant: I’m used to thinking about nothing more than what I’ll be drinking out of in a German restaurant, and I chose this dish because I wanted to say “schnitzel” in a super sexy voice to see how my date would react. I’m glad I did, because I spent the rest of the evening in awe. Harold Dieterle’s duck version was superb, and I was excited even if my server wasn’t wearing traditional lederhosen.
Though I’ve had my fair share of grits, Kyle Knall’s crispy square rendition topped with Kentucky ham might be the best, thanks both to taste and presentation: ham and bourbon aioli are stacked atop the perfectly structured cornmeal square. This dish proves that having breakfast on a dinner menu — and doing so without the stereotypical fried egg — is a stroke of genius.
8. Ramen Yebisu, Spicy Abura Soba
Though ramen soup gets most of the attention these days, the brothless mazemen at this tiny counter cannot be passed up — you’ll have to ask for extra noodles with your order because they go down quickly. They’re mixed with a thin piece of seaweed, a poached egg, pork, and scallions, creating the dish’s well balanced appeal. Bonus: This is a great place to dine alone.
7. Peels, Secret Burger
For all the burgers I had this year, none were as splendid as the off-the-menu rendition at this Bowery spot. Drenched in melted pimento cheese and topped with strips of bacon, the thick beef patty is a fine sight for drunken eyes. The side of tater tots in a metal bucket are delicious, too.
6. Commerce, Coconut Cake
This former West Village speakeasy is never short on charm. Make sure you end your night with a giant slice of coconut cake, an attainable extravagance that’s bigger than the plate it’s served on. Creamy icing is slathered over a buttery mass before it’s topped with shaved coconut; this dessert is classic, simple, and to the point.
5. Alder, Purple Pub Cheese
Wylie Dufresne is known for some pretty off-the-wall dishes, and he struck gold with this oddly colored appetizer. Use the crispy chips made out of Martin’s potato rolls — yes those soft buns you see lining shelves in stores — to scrape the creamy cheese off a stone slab. Just when I thought the cheese plate was dead, a modern day Dr. Frankenstein helped bring it back to life.
4. Dominique Ansel Bakery, S’mores Pop
2013 will go down in the history books as the year of the Cronut — but with any luck, there’ll also be a mention of Dominique Ansel’s s’mores pop. The baker used a vanilla custard ice cream inside a chocolate wafer, slapped on a layer of homemade marshmallow mix, then stuck it on an applewood-smoked branch. The final act: a light torching in front of my face. The dish had all the benefits of summer at camp without the pathetic sing-alongs.
3. SKÁL, Broccoli
Chef Ben Spiegel’s broccoli at this Icelandic-inspired restaurant isn’t just fresh: It’s transformative. The ends have a burnt crunch to them, which adds to the stunning combination of flavors that comes from garlic, breadcrumbs, and accompanying fish sauce. I was shocked to find I liked it more than the beef tartare.
2. Onomea, Loco Moco Burger
Trying to relax when you have pictures of Hawaii around you definitely helps, but even more satisfying is eating a burger covered in gravy and served over rice. The loco moco burger may not be the most well-known in a city famous for red meat sandwiches, but this version makes the old standby exciting.
1. Nitehawk Cinema, Fast Times at Ridgemont High Dinner
More than ever before, dining out this year was about entertainment, and there are so many factors that separate an ethereal experience from a mediocre (or outright terrible) one. For me, 2013 presented a worthy array of best bite contenders, but none compared to the Fast Times at Ridgemont High beer dinner at Nitehawk. The venue presented dishes just as the actors delivered related lines: The pizza Spicoli delivered to Mr. Hand’s class came to my table at the same moment. Chewing on the 100 percent guaranteed breakfast felt more powerful knowing Brad Hamilton was fired because it did not live up to an asshole customer’s expectations. The scantron-like cake capped off the end of the movie just like it did the school year. Above all, the experience blurred the relationship between reality and fiction, if for only a brief moment.