Now, I’m facing the next year and am both eager and wary of what the future may bring. There is one thing I can be sure of though, and that’s the best gourmet experiences I had in 2009. So, Happy New Year and here’s to sharing more gourmet travels with you in 2010!
Best Bang for the Buck – Chocolateria San Gines, Madrid
This is a bang for the buck that’s satisfying for all the senses. A short walk off a pedestrian street and in a tiny alley is where you’ll find Chocolateria San Gines. Open 24 hours, they serve freshly-made churros and thick chocolate to dip them into all day long and into the night. Great for a mid-morning pick-me-up or a late afternoon treat. Aside from jamon Iberico, this is my other favorite Spanish snack.
Best Bistro – Itineraires, Paris
This new and cozy bistro in Paris’ 5th arrondissement was a revelation. A young chef, his wife out front greeting diners, fantastic prix-fixe menu, modern interiors and best of all, really good food. This will stay on my Paris TO GO list for a long time.
Best Breakfast – Break of Dawn, Laguna Beach
No one does big breakfasts like the Americans do and this out of the way restaurant located in a nondescript strip mall in Laguna Beach is a perfect example. Ex-Ritz Carlton chef who leaves the busy hotel kitchen to set up his own place and spend more time with his family. The result is impressive – breakfast classics like corned beef hash, french toast and oatmeal are on the menu alongside an Asian-influenced spicy Hawaiian sausage with rice, eggs and pickled shredded papaya or a Mexican-influenced chorizo and scrambled eggs. Mugs of fresh drip-coffee, free iced water, large tables filled with families makes it almost like a diner.
Best Hotel Buffet Breakfast – Woods, Geneva
Hotel buffet breakfasts are all starting to blur into one – assorted breads and pastries, yogurts, cold cuts, cereal and a small selection of cooked items (scrambled eggs, sausages, bacon) kept warm in chafing dishes. Well, not at Woods in the Intercontinental hotel where breakfast was an aesthetic experience – a large wooden table piled high with baskets of assorted breads and pastries, artisanal jams and honeys then a cold section of marble-topped shelves where yogurts, fresh fruit, fresh juice in individual carafes and cold cuts were laid out and finally, a hot food section where a granite topped counter with built-in warmers kept the food in the serving dishes hot.
Best Chinese – Hakkasan, London
Another Alan Yau and Christian Liagre partnership, this time with Michelin star as well for the creative Chinese haute cuisine. I went there first in 2002 when they just opened and was already impressed with what they had created. Seven years later, it’s still a pleasant shock to the senses – dark, sexy interiors and sexy, snappy servers just add to the atmosphere and honestly with food this good, I can tolerate the attitude. Lunch is a bargain but the dinner bill can become astronomical with the colorful cocktails and first growth wines. No photos are allowed so I wasn’t able to document my lunch there so you’ll just have to imagine it.
Best Home-Cooked Meal – Mahnaz’s Persian Kebabs, Marbella
Mahnaz invited us over for a traditional Persian dinner of kebabs – both chicken and lamb – served with grilled peppers, tomatoes and buttery long-grain rice. She also made fesenjan, the traditional lamb and pomegranate syrup stew. Persian comfort food at its’ best.
Best Japanese – RAKU, Las Vegas
My sister and her husband had been raving about this tiny off-strip restaurant for ages so when we finally made it there in February, our expectations were high. After lots of little plates – creative Robatayaki-based dishes, super fresh sashimi,
Best New Gourmet Discovery – Foie gras carpaccio, Paris
I have Tonger to thank for taking us to Comptoir de la Gastronomie, a deli/restaurant near Les Halles. He insisted I order the foie gras carpaccio and I was glad I did. The plateful of paper-thin slices of foie gras drizzled with honey, balsamic vinegar and sprinkled with sel de Guerande. It made for a terrific cold lunch and it was such a pleasant surprise to try foie gras in a new way.
Best Tapas – La Moraga Iberica, Puerto Banus
Best Thai – Busaba, London
2009 was all about recessionista dining and this Alan Yau concept and Christian Liagre-designed Thai restaurant brought the best bang for the buck with its’ spicy flavors, generous portions, modern interiors, efficient service and most of all, reasonable prices. Perfect for both yummy mummies and slummy mummies, businessmen and tourists, families and couples – the large communal tables and shared dishes make for convivial dining.