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Best Restaurant Dishes of 2007

Throughout the year, F&W editors travel nationwide in search of great restaurants and chefs. Here, their 10 most extraordinary food discoveries, from Tennessee to Oregon.

Slow-Roasted Wagyu Beef

Blackberry Farm; Walland, TN

I’m not a fan of wagyu beef, the fancy, fatty meat from Japanese beer-fed, hand-massaged cattle. New chef Peter Glander at Walland, Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm claims he isn’t a fan, either—which perversely explains why his wagyu beef is so good: He’s figured out how to make the meat succulent, not chewy. Glander quickly sears the sirloin cap in a little thyme butter, then roasts it in a low oven; he serves paper-thin slices of the rosy wagyu with a "broken" beef jus and a colorful tumble of heirloom "wash day" field peas, complete with their magnificent flowers, picked before dawn the day they’re served (1471 W. Millers Cove Rd.; 800-648-4252). —Dana Cowin

Risotto Alla Kristina

James; Philadelphia

I love Philadelphia’s Italian Market (a.k.a. Little Italy), with its old-world shops that stock amazing olive oil and salumi. The last time I was there, though, I was en route to the modern northern-Italian restaurant James. When I asked the counter guy at Claudio Specialty Foods for directions, he assured me there was no such place in the neighborhood. I smiled, walked a few blocks and found James. Everything on James’s menu is appealing, but I adored the risotto alla Kristina. It’s light, made in the Venetian style with a little more broth than most risottos have. And it’s a very personal dish, named for the wife of supertalented chef Jim Burke, because it highlights her two favorite ingredients: Prosecco and oysters. Next time I’m in Philly, I’m going to tell the guy at Claudio’s to try it (824 S. Eighth St.; 215-629-4980). —Dana Cowin

Bo Ssäm

Momofuku Ssäm Bar; NYC

The most essential piece of silverware at Momofuku Ssäm Bar in Manhattan’s East Village is a pair of tongs. At the inspired Asian restaurant from David Chang (an F&W Best New Chef 2006), tongs are vitally important to Ssäm Bar’s signature dish, bo ssäm. I’ve been told that bo ssäm is a classic Korean recipe, but I’d never heard of it before it was set down in front of me and seven friends (the minimum number of people it should be shared with) at one of Ssäm Bar’s communal tables. It’s eight or so pounds of brined, brown sugar–coated pork shoulder that’s been roasted for hours until the skin is supercrispy and sweet and the meat is falling-apart tender. Chang serves it with a host of accompaniments, including rice, a vibrant scallion sauce, pungent kimchi and romaine lettuce leaves for wrapping. Pulling pieces of pork off the shoulder is often an every-man-for-himself situation, so be prepared to grab the tongs and dive in (207 Second Ave.; 212-254-3500). —Kate Krader

Spicy Sautéed Shrimp

Room 39; Kansas City, MO

I’m not sure what possessed me to order shrimp at brunch, let alone in landlocked Kansas City. But I’m glad I went with my instincts. At tiny, brick-walled Room 39, chef Howard Hanna’s plump shrimp, sautéed with chile flakes and served with a salad of oyster mushrooms, cucumber and corn, turned out to be everything I wanted on a Saturday morning: fresh, vibrant and crunchy, with just enough spicy zing to wake me up. Hanna, who was indoctrinated into the local-local mantra at Manhattan’s Union Square Cafe, is now back home in the Kansas City area, sourcing outstanding ingredients from nearby farms: Beautiful oyster mushrooms from Beau Solais in Sedalia, Missouri, and candylike corn from Crum’s Heirlooms in Bonner Springs, Kansas, made this shrimp dish unforgettable (1719 W. 39th St.; 816-753-3939). —Salma Abdelnour

Chicken Liver Fettuccine

Shaun’s, Atlanta

This has been the year of the chicken liver. I know that might make some people groan, but it reflects a couple of trends: Chicken livers are great bar food because the gaminess goes well with wine; they fit in perfectly with the universal downscaling of menus; and of course they’re organ meat, which couldn’t be more chic at the moment (thank you, Fergus Henderson). I’ve tasted an unimaginable number of chicken liver dishes over the past few decades, so I feel well qualified to pronounce the chicken liver fettuccine at Shaun’s in Atlanta one of the best I’ve ever had—and one of the most elegant. Chef Shaun Doty twirls strands of his al dente pasta into a tiny tower, surrounded by plump, beautifully seasoned chicken livers that have been sautéed and topped with a sweet Marsala-enriched sauce. Though Shaun’s chicken livers were my favorite part of the meal, there were other thoroughly memorable, very simple, less trendy dishes: fantastic french fries, a perfectly dressed salad and tender, juicy venison, which helped me understand why people actually eat game meats. But it’s the chicken livers I’ll go back for (1029 Edgewood Ave. NE; 404-577-4358). —Dana Cowin

Okinawan-Style Pork

O Ya; Boston

A short description of O Ya might put some people off. It’s a restaurant best characterized as Japanese–New England fusion with an enormous menu that changes nightly and a non-Asian chef/co-owner, Tim Cushman. And it’s in a part of Boston called the Leather District. But Tim (who grew up in the area and has spent a lot of time cooking in Japan) and his wife, Nancy, make everything work. The most brilliant item on the menu is luxurious Okinawan-style braised pork with earthy rice beans, Tim’s take on his mom’s baked beans. He replaces the traditional salt pork with flavorful kurobuta pork and serves it with Asian beans in a soy-spiked maple sauce and a garnish of scallion-ginger oil and micro chives, "because beans love onions. And pork does, too." Japanese visitors want Tim to open a restaurant in Tokyo. He’s thinking about it (9 East St.; 617-654-9900). —Kate Krader

Ike’s Sticky Wings

Whiskey Soda Lounge; Portland, OR

Last summer I spent three straight, dripping-hot evenings in Portland queued up for the city’s best Thai food. What started in 2005 as Pok Pok—a takeout stand in a former shack—has expanded into a restaurant-bar called the Whiskey Soda Lounge. After I finally snagged a seat there, I ordered Ike’s Vietnamese fish sauce wings. The deep-fried wings—lacquered with fish sauce, sugar and garlic—were incredible with my tamarind whiskey sour. "In Thailand there’s a class of dishes called khap klaem—food served with alcohol," chef-owner Andy Ricker explained. Now I can’t imagine eating the wings without a whiskey sour (3226 SE Division St.; 503-232-1387). —Nick Fauchald

Duck with Mustard Spaetzle

Hen of the Wood; Waterbury, VT

Winter in Vermont gets cold enough to freeze your eyelashes, and I was still defrosting as I looked over the regionally focused menu at Hen of the Wood in Waterbury. I ordered the duck breast with whole grain– mustard spaetzle, not for the bird but because the 20-below temperature outdoors made me crave the spaetzle. The tiny dumplings were flawless: pillowy, nutty and clearly made fresh that day. However, its duck is what I still think about. Chef-owners Eric Warnstedt and Craig Tresser took over the bistro two years ago and share the cooking, so it’s unclear which of them brined, lightly smoked, then pan-seared the duck to give the moist meat wonderfully subtle juniper, allspice and pepper flavors and an extraordinary crispy-caramel skin. But I warmly thank whoever was responsible (92 Stowe St.; 802-244-7300). —Emily Kaiser

Maitake Consommé

Chez TJ; Mountain View, CA

In addition to being the center of the Google universe, the San Francisco suburb of Mountain View is home to funky Chez TJ. Its Victorian setting provides an incongruous backdrop to chef Christopher Kostow’s avant-garde food, as in his heady maitake consommé. Kostow brings out every bit of the intoxicating flavor of the meaty, nutty mushroom (also known as hen-of-the-woods) in his mahogany-hued broth. I also loved Kostow’s playfulness—the consommé arrives in a teacup with an oversize tea bag holding the mushrooms (938 Villa St.; 650-964-7466). —Tina Ujlaki

Pizze Bianca

Pizzeria Mozza; Los Angeles

"Learning to make pizza was on my to-do list," says Nancy Silverton, who perfected the art of bread baking at Los Angeles’s La Brea Bakery. "It was something I put off until I didn’t have a choice." That obligation came when Silverton (an F&W Best New Chef 1990) and star chef Mario Batali found a space for what would become their restaurant, Osteria Mozza, with a pizzeria attached—the future Pizzeria Mozza. After installing a big Italian wood-burning oven, Silverton began working on the pizza dough. The crust she came up with is chewy and charred, loaded with glorious Cal-Ital toppings like egg, speck and squash blossoms. I especially love Pizzeria Mozza’s most decadent selection—the Bianca. It’s covered with creamy mozzarella (Silverton is L.A.’s mozzarella queen), pungent Fontina and the truffle-infused, aged-cow’s-milk sottocenere, as well as a few well-placed crispy fried sage leaves. The dish was Silverton’s idea ("I love the look of a white pizza"), but she consulted with Batali on the components. Now she’s waiting to see him in action: Though he’s rumored to be an expert pizza maker, Batali has yet to make Silverton a pie (641 N. Highland Ave.; 323-297-0101). —Kate Krader

Published December 2007
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