I decided mid way through the year that I wasn't going to do a best meal or best dish list this year because there were already way too many great ones in the mix. From the delicious and fun visiting chef Pop Up Series hosted by chef Michael Schwartz at Harry's Pizzeria, to the great monthly themed dinners hosted by chef Aaron Brooks at Edge Steak & Bar, to some wonderful wine and champagne dinners along the way and of course, the "underground and experimental" dinners we throw with some creative and talented chefs over at Cobaya Miami.
But some of these meals were truly exceptional and memorable. And I wanted to go back and give them the credit they deserve.
I must admit that ranking these meals was very difficult as all were truly outstanding. As with my normal "tiers", these rankings take all facets of the meal into consideration. While food is the primary component, phenomenal wine or simply a great time will bolster ones rating.
I intended on limiting the list to my Top Twelve for 2012 but it was impossible to cut down to 12. Thus, I went with my top Fifteen plus a tie.
Big thanks to all of the chefs, kitchen crews, managers, sommeliers, bartenders, servers and support staff for making 2012 another happy year for my belly!!
#15 Cobaya Dunch @ neMesis Urban Bistro
#15 J & G Grill Tasting Menu
#14 Hurricane Sandy Relief Dinner @ The Dutch
#13 Chateau Palmer Dinner @ Edge Steak & Bar
My twelfth best meal of the year came via the awesome visiting Chef Pop-Ups hosted by Michael Schwartz at Harry's Pizzeria. I attended several of these dinners last year and they were all very enjoyable experiences. Animal Pizzeria featured the return of local boys Vinnie Dotolo and Jon Shook. I've followed their enormous success out in Los Angeles and was really looking forward to finally tasting their cooking.
The boys along with Schwartz and chef Herron delivered a delicious meal from start to finish with a couple damn that was good! moments sprinkled in.
If you have not attended a Harry's Pop Up dinner I would highly recommend doing so. They are not cheap BUT it's certainly less expensive than flying all over the country to try the food of some of the best chefs across the nation. Thank you chef Schwartz for bringing them to us.
BELOW is my original recap following the dinner.
As you probably know by now, Chef Schwartz has been hosting kick ass pop-up dinners with visiting chefs at Harry's Pizzeria. I've attended and really enjoyed visits from Jonathan Waxman, Marc Vetri and Jonathan Sawyer. Nevertheless, it was Animal Pizzeria that really made my toes tingle the moment word was leaked. I immediately blocked off the calendar and eagerly waited for tickets to go on sale.
Vinnie Dotolo and Jon Shook have been killing it out on the west coast since they opened Animal in 2008. Their daily changing menu is inundated with awesome sounding treats. Looking at the menu online from time to time is self inflicted torture. Unfortunately, I've never been out to LA so I've had to admire their work from afar despite their Florida backgrounds.
Vinnie and Jon were both born in Florida and met on their first day of culinary school at the Art Institute in Ft. Lauderdale. They worked together under Michelle Bernstein at the Strand in Miami Beach before heading west to Vail, Colorado where they worked at Wildfire. They eventually moved to Los Angeles and worked together again under Ben Ford and Govind Armstrong at Chadwick. After the restaurant closed they started a catering company which they still operate. That led to a Food Network show, Two Dudes Catering.
Since opening Animal they have received numerous accolades including Food and Wine Best New Chef in 2009, Rising Star Chef by Star Chef and two James Beard nominations.
In 2011, they added a second restaurant to the family, Son of a Gun.
The pop-ups Chef Schwartz throws are real treats for food lovers like me. Although I would have loved to have seen the Animal boys really mix it up with some of their more aggressive offerings, they did a fantastic job. This was another great meal and a really fun night.
Chefs enjoying a post service bourbon toast with Chef Schwartz.
|Photo via Frodnesor|
Flawless Kumamoto oysters topped with a nicely contrasting cucumber-serrano mignonette gelee.
Next was one of my favorite bites of the night, a crostini topped with porcini mushroom and a terrific truffle fondue. Not pictured was an awesome pizza with a nice kick. It featured escarole, garlic chives, chili oil and mozzarella.
The first course was a local triggerfish crudo paired with a colatura vinaigrette and some fresh herbs.
Pickled and raw beets, creme fraiche and breadcrumbs comprised one of the best salads I've had all year. I loved each component of the dish plus it came together as a whole perfectly. My picture doesn't do it justice.
The second course started with a dish I've seen on their menu at Animal, Chicken-Fried sweetbreads with a lime aioli. These are sweetbreads even non sweetbread fans enjoyed.
Second course part two featured another dish from their menu at Animal, balsamic pork ribs. These were so freakin good
Sommelier Eric Larkee poured some nice wine all night. Pictured above is a 2010 Grosjean Pinot Noir.
Last out of the wood burning oven were huge bone in rib-eyes topped with pickled charred onions. I enjoyed several slices plus the meat off one of the bones. Rosemary fried potatoes were a nice side along with some really tasty wood roasted corn with toasted garlic pictured below.
The evening ended with a nice yogurt like panna cotta topped with mango and hog plum jam.
I enjoyed meeting chef Shook after the dinner and I look forward to heading west in the near future and dominating the Animal menu..
I highly recommend attending a future pop-up dinner at Harry's Pizzeria. You can find more information regarding future dinners and the visiting chefs here.