Thursday, June 28, 2012

Thoughts on 2012 thus far (including thoughts from our list of Restaurants to Try in 2012)...

 Let's see.... Where to begin?  I thought I was busy last year at work, but last year had nothing on the first half of this year.  This year has been a killer.  But through it all, Alex and I have managed to eat at a number of really good restaurants - including a few from our list of Restaurants to Try in 2012.  I consider it a huge accomplishment that we have made it to three of the restaurants on our list (Empellon Taqueria, Tertulia and ABC Kitchen) and two of the runners up (Ayada and Zabb Elee).  I know I made a resolution to (try) to knock off one restaurant a month from our list, so I am behind schedule, but I am hoping that we can visit a few more restaurants over the summer so that by August we will have made it to... 5 of the restaurants on the list (not counting runners up).  If we hit 50% of the restaurants on the list by the end of the summer I will consider this whole experience a win!  Either way, we are already ahead of 2011, where we only managed to hit 1 restaurant on our list...  And now that we have knocked off a few restaurants, I have come up with a few new restaurants for our list that either weren't open when I debuted the list originally, or somehow missed the cut - Empellon Cocina, Mission Chinese and Lotus Blue (which edged out the other new Yunnan restaurant Yunnan Kitchen by a hair based on the fact that it opened a month earlier).  My new runners up are Pok Pok NY and Red Farm.

More after the jump!

Sadly, the only restaurant that I was truly impressed with on our list was Empellon Taqueria.  Tertulia and ABC Kitchen were both good, but neither one really blew me away.  At Tertulia we had a few really nice dishes, including their delicious Arroz A La Plancha (pictured above), which the menu describes as "Calasparra rice, snails, wild mushrooms, celery, fennel, Ibérico ham."  We also had a lovely salad with quails eggs, lettuce, asparagus and fried quinoa.  And you can't go wrong with hand sliced serrano ham with pan com tomate.  But none of the dishes really stuck out for me.  At ABC Kitchen we had a lovely roast carrot and avocado salad (pictured above) and a very interesting chicken liver toast, but again, nothing that really did it for me.  I had such high expectations for both restaurants - and loved the atmosphere of both restaurants so much that I felt kind of let down by the meals that we had there.  Empellon on the other hand blew me away.  Everything from the guacamole with the two salsas, to the queso fundido, to the tacos was delicious.  I loved it and I can't wait to try Empellon Cocina.  The only reason Empellon Cocina didn't make our list is because it wasn't open when I wrote the list!  And for the record, the runners up, Ayada Thai and Zabb Elee (larb and papapya salad pictured below), were both quite delicious and I wasn't disappointed in them at all.  Also for the record, when they say dishes are spicy they really mean it.

But I have to say that overall, I am really excited to have re-discovered some oldies but goodies and also found some delicious meals in random restaurants that never would have made my list in the first place.  In the oldies but goodies category, Alex and I have had a great meal at Txikito and Celeste.  I guess Txikito is really only an oldie for me since Alex had never been there before.  But I had forgotten just how tasty that restaurant is.  This is a bit of a spoiler but I thought the meal we had at Txikito was better than the one we had at Tertulia.  As far as random restaurants go, a month ago Alex and I tried to go to Barbuto for dinner but it was packed so we ended up at Recette instead.  And it was amazing - easily one of the most memorable meals we have had this year.  I loved everything, but my particular favorites were the marinated hamachi snack (with sea beans and a delicious harissa foam with just enough heat) and the roasted scallops (served with a beurre blanc, caviar, beets and asparagus).  That caviar beurre blanc was one of the most luxuriously rich and creamy sauces I have had all year and the scallops were perfectly cooked.  Delicious.  We also had another really memorable meal at Whitehall after we had plans to meet friends for dinner in the West Village and then ended up there instead.  One of my favorite dishes there was the Whitehall Salad with baby gem lettuce, ouray cheese, crispy bacon,  poached egg, hazelnuts and pear vinaigrette.  It was what every salad should be, but few are - a perfect blend of flavors and textures, light but satisfying.  We also had the duck terrine (which I really enjoyed) and the mackerel entree (also yummy).  The thing that put this place over the top for me was the cocktail menu.  They had a ridiculous number of delicious gin-based cocktails and I am going to have to go back to try more of them.

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