Well, it’s a few months into 2017, so there’s enough time to totally digest (sorry) all the meals of 2016. And like last year, what I will do is break the “best of” into two parts. This first part will be the 10 best meals of 2016; the next entry will be the best dishes of 2016 — excluding the 10 restaurants listed on this list. So I hope you join me in this 2-part journey through a wonderful food year that is 2016!
10) Pujol (19 January 2016)
From that amazing smoked baby corn with powdered chicatana ants to the suckling lamb taco, this was a wonderful night of innovative Mexican cooking. On this evening the “mother” part of their signature “mole madre, mole nuevo” was 865 days old, providing an unique experience for someone not all that enamoured with Mexican cuisine in general. If anything, this dinner actually made me seek out more Mexican food since. Excellent.
9) Ichi* (2 September 2016)
Much like my 2015 dinner here, what is wonderful about dining at Ichi is the total experience. You really feel at home here, especially with the wonderful attentive and friendly service. The cooking is top-notch, doing just enough with the fabulous ingredients as needed — and not more. Restraint is sometimes the hardest thing for chefs to practice. Amazing stuff all night, but one has to mention that superb snapper that nearly killed me… Still my favourite restaurant in Tokyo.
8) Kokkeriet* (11 June 2016)
I’ve not had many good dining experiences in Copenhagen, and I frankly think the city is the most overrated in the Nordic area. But I was seriously impressed with one of the lesser-cheered Michelin places in town, Kokkeriet. Finally some sensible cooking and service that didn’t make me feel unwelcomed, rushed, or bewildered. The veal tongue was fabulous, the humble beet excellent. Star of the night was the poussin, which was one of the best fowl dishes I’ve ever had.
7) La Picantería (4 July 2016)
This is the only lunch listed on this list, and it was a surprise to me. I was not planning anything, but when my server told me they’ll do a special tasting for me, I went with it. And it was awesome. From the amazing seafood to the tripe, it was a total treat of Peruvian cuisine. The crab was gorgeous, the ceviche stunning. Even the duck! This place and its humble, close-to-the-heart cooking blew the biggies in Lima out of the water. Definitely worth that bus ride!
6) Stages at One Washington (28 April 2016)
Chef Evan Hennessey is one of the most talented chefs in the US and this place is one that I would make a huge detour to visit again. A little different from my first (and amazing) visit when Chef ran everything on his own, this meal saw a very functional kitchen team work on some amazing dishes that highlighted New England’s best. Some of the best aspects of this dinner was the wonderful produce, from the beets to mushrooms, from carrots to rutabaga. Amazing talent at work here, and I’ll happily make the detour to come back to this amazing little restaurant.
The next four are all tied at #2…way too hard to rank these amazing dinners. They are listed in alphabetical order…
2*) Konstantin Filippou* (26 September 2016)
Like Copenhagen, I’ve had some challenges with Michelin places in Vienna. But this place really killed it this evening, with some amazing cooking. The service team also smoothly dealt with some unpleasant challenges, but it really shows how good they are. The langostine was amazing, the lobster stunning, and the scallops were dreamy. One of the most pleasant discoveries I’ve made in the past few years food-wise, the irony of having some mind-blowingly good seafood in a landlocked country. Awesome.
2*) Ö (17 June 2016)
I went “home” to Tallinn unexpectedly for one day and of course I drop into my 2nd favourite restaurant in Europe. I’ve had so many amazing tasting menus here that I still await the day they get into both the Michelin and 50 Best categories. The service is amazingly good, excellent pairings, and the dishes are all spectacular in taste and visuals. The raw courses here, from elk tartar to whitefish carpaccio, were awesome, but the cooked dishes were beyond special. The beef from Saaremaa is gonna be a regional star soon, but it’s the stupendous quail from Järveotsa that has me in heaven each time I have it here. Very affordable for this amazing quality too. Never disappoints!
2*) Senses* (1 October 2016)
I was extremely happy to hear that my favourite restaurant in Europe had received its first Michelin star, and I went to celebrate with Chef Andrea Camastra. He again pushed the flavours to the very limit for the dishes presented this evening. Once again, like before, the service is beyond spotless — far more refined than many 2-star places. Amazing wine pairings as usual also, complementing Chef’s amazing creations. His take on gulyas is always one of my favourites, with some extremely intense flavours. The scallops were some of the best I’ve ever had, and that Kobe rib was just divine. I stopped in Warsaw just for this dinner, and I’m glad I did. And will do it again.
2*) Sushisho Masa (4 September 2016)
Often sushi-centric dinners are dependent on rather subjective judgement, but one thing that made this evening at Sushisho Masa amazing — one of the best sushi experiences of my life — is the celebration of the bounty of the sea. Instead of just giving us a wonderful slice of the fish, what is awesome about this place is that they often give you several perspectives of the same creature — such as a contrasting raw versus seared, or different parts of the fish, or even the fish and the liver. You don’t just get a simple slice of flesh, you get to appreciate everything from awabi (abalone) to sanma (saury), from katsuo (bonito) to anago (eel). Just give such a better perspective than a series of different fish. Amazing stuff…
And the very best of 2016?
1) Leo (1 July 2016)
One of the joys of travelling the world is to enjoy not just local cuisine, but the best and most unique local products. And the meal that really defined this effort is Leo in Bogotá. This was the best meal of the year, as Chef Leonor Espinosa brings out the very, very best of Colombia. Some of the dishes that evening was mind-blowing, from the amazing mutton to the awesome tuna coated with hormigas culonas ants. You get so many things that are unique to the region that can’t be found elsewhere, which adds to the joy of this evening. Amazing beverages too for the unique pairing. And that pepper sauce with the caiman? Oh my. Yep, the meal of the year, #1.
Anyway, here they are! I hope you enjoyed this little trip down memory lane with me and my stomach. Next up, the best dishes of 2016!
PS: If you are wondering, here are my 5 “Hall-of-Shame” entries for biggest dining fails of 2016…
Craigie on Main (Boston, 27 April 2016)
Kondo (Tokyo, 5 September 2016)
Maido (Lima, 5 July 2016)
Quintonil (Mexico City, 18 January 2016)
Vetri (Philadelphia, 28 November 2016)