JuneBaby’s oxtail stew, Peony Kitchen’s five-spice crispy duck and L’Oursin’s fish soup en croute all make the cut.
1. Chef Edouardo Jordan grew up eating oxtails, which are exactly what their name implies: the bony, gelatinous tail-end of cattle. They were once among the less desirable cuts that often went to slaves in the South. At JuneBaby, his widely lauded salute to Southern cooking, Jordan braises them with turnips, peas and carrots, and uses that braising liquid to bolster a thick, full-bodied gravy. The rich but humble stew is one of his favorite dishes, and this critic’s No. 1 dish of the year.
2. Peony Kitchen’s whole, five-spice crispy duck has skin so thin and crackling you’d think it was ironed onto the tender flesh. This elegant take on Peking duck comes with sugar-dusted and charred lemon slices — such a great idea!
3. En croute means something baked in pastry, but L’Oursin’s fish soup en croute is the culinary equivalent of the geodesic dome. The bulbous golden crust shelters a trove of shellfish and finfish awash in saffron-scented seafood stock.
4. A tiny bowl of creamy tofu topped with uni, Key lime zest and fresh wasabi set off fireworks as it melted in the mouth. The dish was an unforgettable opening salvo to a luxurious omakase meal at Minamoto.
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5. At Art of the Table, the art is in the way superior, seasonal ingredients become something even greater on the plate. There is no better example than their pan-seared black cod in a fennel-steeped broth, with honey-sweetened turnips, spring onion relish and pine nut gremolata as accent notes.
6. Nigella-seeded flatbread fanned out from FlintCreek’s vibrant lamb tartare. It nods to the Lebanese dish kibbe naya, with dukkah spice, rose petal harissa, radish and cured lemon.
7. The multicourse Opus Co. “Feast” ranks high on my list for its inventiveness and value. If I had to pick one standout moment in the whole “surprise me” experience, it would be grilled Neah Bay salmon with kasu “risotto.” Gritty and creamy, the risotto is more like a sauce, made with sake lees, garlic, leek and a touch of fish sauce.
8. The mixiote-style rack of lamb at Mexican-influenced 2120 is a big, flamboyant hunk of meat. After a long time spent cavorting with chilies, herbs and spices, the rack hits the grill, then parties on the plate with black bean sauce, chile-laced quinoa salad and crunchy puffed Spanish rice.
9. The Lakehouse defined summer with the ultimate fruit salad: fresh peaches dressed with sumac, mint and arugula pesto, paired with prosciutto and goat cheese.
10. “Flavors were waves worthy of the Bering Sea,” said a reader who wrote to me raving about the invigorating curries at Kathakali. His favorite is the eggplant curry. Mutton varattiyathu is the one that floated my boat.
11. A formidable array of baked goods earns another nod for JuneBaby — from the flaky biscuits, to the sorghum-sweetened cornbread to desserts like pound cake, coconut cream pie and the cayenne-spiked sweet-potato cookies sandwiching chocolate ice cream.
12. Iconiq’s beef cheeks braised in red miso sauce was the pot roast of the gods.
13. Duck — so very tender and rare, intensely sauced, scattered with cracklings of skin and candied pecans — was a knockout dish at Adana.
14. Gnocchi sauced with brown butter, sage and pancetta isn’t new, but last spring the superbly light gnocchi at Marmite were verdant with stridolo, an uncommon herb with a mild, parsley-like flavor, putting a new twist on a familiar dish.
15. Foie gras, quail eggs and hoisin sauce on pizza? Sounds improbable, but I loved The Pomerol Pizza at China Pie.
16. The miso-braised beef rib bone at Kokkaku is brazenly delicious.
17. Rainy days and Mondays got you down? Ba Bar’s congee with mushrooms and pork belly will lift you right up.
18. Noodles are my go-to comfort food, so I easily succumbed to Raccolto’s dainty cavatelli tossed with copious amounts of butter, cheese and black pepper.
19. Asadero El Mesquite’s asado, a Sinaloan-style feast of grilled meat and vegetables, is filling, festive and fun at a reasonable price.
20. Poutine of the Sea with fresh clams and chowder for gravy? It’s a brilliant idea flawlessly executed at White Swan Public House.
21. New Luck Toy’s “General Oh Tso Good” fried chicken is saucy, spicy and Oh So Great.
22. Whole clams on pizza can be awkward, but Bruciato’s vongole pizza — with its coverlet of briny, lemony clam sauce and grana padana — is pure elegance.
23. Union Saloon re-imagines German potato salad with spicy sausage, pickled celery, mizuna greens and Butter Ball potatoes that are baked, bashed and fried to a decisive crunch.
24. No soggy chips or gluey cheese mar Pablo y Pablo’s nachos. I find myself craving that guacamole-topped tower trimmed with cascabel salsa and pickled vegetables with disturbing frequency.
25. Granola, yogurt and fruit is my daily breakfast. If only every morning it could be Café Hitchcock’s honey-drizzled hazelnut granola with house-made yogurt and chunky apricot preserves, I’d leap out of bed.
Here’s to more great eating in 2018. Happy New Year!