Thursday, December 31, 2009

Pete '09, The Year in Food

View of the year, Huaca Pucclana, Lima

Traveling extensively again, after about eight years mostly on the sideline, a lot of my memorable meals were consumed in other countries, and I got to try dishes--as well as animals--I had never eaten before.

I traveled to Peru in the summer, and in Cusco and the Sacred Valley I ate guinea pig and drank chicha. In Lima I dined beside a floodlit pre-Colombian ruin.

I made a second Latin American trip recently, for a long Thanksgiving weekend in Mexico City, where I had my most memorable dinner of the year, at La Tecla. Also fabulous were the Tostadas de Atun at Contramar. My first taste of grasshopper was not nearly as memorable, but ant eggs were surprisingly tasty.

Other candidates for best meal of the year are London's fabulous Keralan Indian restaurant, Quilon and New York's own Beacon. My feast at Quilon easily makes my top 5 all-time Indian meals, and my Restaurant Week lunch at Beacon inspired me to write a love letter to Waldy Malouf, the owner and executive chef of that midtown palace of wood-fired cooking.

Another love letter went out earlier in the year to the much humbler Blarney Stone. I also paid homage to another New York classic, P.J. Clarke's, which is conveniently downstairs from my office. At Amy Ruth's I ate Chicken and Waffles, a soul food classic that had eluded me all these years. Amy Ruth's version got a mixed review: great waffles, disappointing fried chicken.

A great cup of Joe (or Juan) is always cause for celebration, and Juan Valdez Cafe also serves fabulous sweet arepas.

In the spring I made the rounds of Brooklyn's kosher and kosher-style delis and discovered that a place that makes spectacular pastrami is capable of serving astoundingly dry and flavorless corned beef (Jay & Lloyd's).

In London, in June, I discovered the exquisite Jamon Iberico, the ham of hams. London also gave me the chance to sample three different Keralan restaurants (perhaps my favorite Indian regional cuisine).

The Chinese restaurant discovery of the year has to have been Hunan House, in Flushing. Finally, authentic (and excellent) Hunan cuisine has returned to New York.

On the Chinese down side, a visit to King Yum, in Queens, an attempt to recapture my lost youth's Chinese food, was a disaster. Kitsch and history could not redeem the dreadful food.

Several visits to several branches of Nyonya gave me the opportunity to write a piece I've thought about for some time, a tribute to Malaysian cooking as the world's great fusion cuisine.

And, of course, at least once a year a restaurateur has to earn my flying invective, and this year a special rant went out to Michael "Bao" Huynh, the conceited Vietnamese restaurateur who is flooding my city with watered-down Southeast Asian food for trendy New Yorkers.

Some of this year's winners:

Waldy Malouf's 10-Herb Chicken

Keralan Thali at Quilon in London

Fish Filet with Flor de Calabaza, La Tecla, Mexico City

Braised Pork Mao Style, Hunan House


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