Happy New Year!
2012 was another big year of living, and though I’m not as diligent with the old blog anymore, my appetite remains. As in years past, I wanted to put together a few thoughts and photos from some of my favorite dining, cooking, and drinking moments from the year that was. Humble-brags…yes, fair; but I greatly enjoy looking at photos and recalling memories, and it reinvigorates me to see a quick summation of my education and progress. The years fly by, but I’m visually reminded that so much has happened; so many adventures, laughs, and ruckus times with family and friends.
Unlike last year, I’ve quickly thrown this all into one post, and to be quite candid, I simply have too much work to do after a lazy holiday to sit here and spend hours putting together a description of each photo. Looking upon each collection (and you can click each photo below to launch a Flickr slideshow), I do see some trends.
Man, I dig some sushi – I can’t get enough. The very first photo below is winter crab wrapped in kelp and rice, topped with salmon eggs (ikura), sea urchin (uni), and shiso from Sushi Huku. Unreal. The ninth photo is a slab of bluefin tuna presented during an omakase at Tomo. I probably eat the controversial fish two or three times a year, as a special occasion treat, and I want to make it count. Tomohiro-San delivered. Not quite traditional sushi, but closely related, at L’atelier in Vegas, I had a thin layer of raw scallop topped with olive oil and uni and chives, the most beautiful and delicious bite of my meal.
Fried chicken. Everyone relates fried chicken to Southern food, a stigma to some, but I think we should own it. Prince’s hot chicken (photo #5) blew me away, figuratively and literally. Closer to home, the version at One Eared Stag (#18) was the best I had in a non-traditional locale. I also found out why the Colonnade (#21) earns so many accolades, Ashley Christensen delivered the goods with her crunchy and sweet honey-laced chicken magic, and I inhaled duck fat fried wings so quickly at The Slurping Turtle in Chicago, we couldn’t place another order quickly enough.
Which leads me to travel. I love it, and greatly enjoy stalking where I will eat, torturing myself with decision. McCrady’s tasting menu blew my away in Charleston (#2, #3). The breadth of the Holy City is overwhelming. The shrimp and grits at Hominy Grill (#16) are classic. But Charleston is not afraid to reach. Kung Pao sweetbreads (#15) at Two Borough’s Larder were executed flawlessly, as was an intriguingly delicious “porchetta tonnato” (#17) at FIG, a restaurant that has somehow retained cool kid status for ten years.
Nashville showed of its soul and small town culture, but with a growing city’s amenities. Vegas excited, not so subtly displaying the stars hidden in the smoke-thick veneer. Raleigh pressed on, quietly presenting itself off as one of the best cities in the South. I made my first real visit to Chicago, and I can’t wait to go back. What an invigorating and happening place, even during a riot. I can’t wait to see where and what I will eat in 2013.
It was another huge year for imbibing too, with some surprises. Friends continue to spoil me with rare and expensive treats. I had my first taste of Coche-Dury (#1) and Krug Clos de Mesnil (#8). Six liters of twenty-three year old Champagne (#6) sung and stole the show for an entire weekend. I discovered I could be an ass and say things like, “Barolo really drinks like Pinot after twenty to thirty years.” (#5) I sampled young DRC (#18), and was invited to an Armand Rousseau dinner (#20) that was perhaps the finest showing of Burgundies I’ve have or will ever see.
But I continue to seek out the less known and affordable. Not only does my budget require it, but it’s simply fun and some amazing wines can be found. I’ve had a couple wines from the Canary Islands (#4), an island rich with volcanic soil which delivers unctuous, mineral-rich, and sometimes volatile experiences via their patron saint of importation, Jose Pastor.
Many of my favorite (and affordable) wines this year can be credited to Eric at Le Caveau in Chamblee. Particularly, he’s turned me on to some cool Italian, Austrian, and German wines. I know he has some great Jura and Loire stuff too, but I have to leave something for next year. He taught me about Paulo Bea (#12) with their sick reds and crazy orange wines, a Karthauserhof riesling (#11) was outrageously pure and right, and I can’t get enough of the distinctively bright and acidic Northern Italian wines such as the Lagrein from Heinrich Mayr’s Nusserhof estate (#10). If that doesn’t quite sound Italian, it’s because the vineyard is near Bolzano, in the part of the Italian Alps where over a quarter of the population speaks German. A friend once showed me a picture from a visit there, where he’s eating a stunning plate of gnocchi at a restaurant in the town square, while students danced in the background in lederhosen and drank from steins during a celebration. I want to go to there.
I’ve also sampled a fair share of good beer in 2012, which has never been easier to find in Atlanta. A quick trip to Hop City will send me with numerous bottles which are changing the way I drink beer. Not only are they well crafted, I’m learning they can be quite interesting and subtle, similar to the reason I geek out on wine. Green Flash out of San Diego is my brand of the year (Le Freak, West Coast IPA, and especially Rayon Vert being my favorite), but this Epic Larger (#2), an Imperial Pilsner out of New Zealand, was my absolute favorite.
Finally, I finish with cooking. I wish I had done more of it this year, but this being my first year in a tiny condo with hardly a kitchen, it’s been tough to take on major projects, and most of my larger scale cooking was done with friends at their homes.
Together, we took on some larger experiments, educational nights where we would do things like cook a few ducks every way we could conceive (confit in #11). We replicated the concept with lobster some months later (lobster crudo in #20), and another time worked with meats on the grill and smoker, following the gospel of Adam Perry Lang, grilling a rib roast with “burnt ends” (#16) and slow smoking some wings (#17). In that same vein, my brother smoked an incredible rib roast, maybe the best home cooking I had all year (#6).
I would have liked to have worked my way through a few more of my cookbooks, though I did make a fair dent in Plenty from Yotam Ottolenghi, a great vegetable cookbook (endive in #10).
Fancy or time consuming can be fun and interesting – I played around with sous vide quite a bit (compressing some chicken thighs in #8), and trying countless egg recipes to find that exact temperature, but there are some “simple” dishes that are tough to beat. Fresh, hot smoked salmon (which we pulled out of the rivers ourselves) has been a recurring treat (#4). An all-day smoked suckling pig wowed a crowd (#3). I slow simmered a bowl of Texas red chili with a homemade chili puree that was completely uncomplicated but so damn satisfying (#13). And a long time favorite, I spent a few Sunday evenings with family, over a huge bowl of Italian Sunday gravy, full of spicy sausage, tender pork loin, beef braciole, and soul (#19).
Most of my best meals in 2012 were spent sharing a table with the friends and family in my life, often with a fine wine, maybe a good joke, and it’s an experience I hope to replicate often this year.