Credit: Jeffrey Marini

What’s the best restaurant? Most aggravating question I’m ever asked. There is no best restaurant, and anyone who thinks they can name one doesn’t get out enough. But there are those that perform uniquely, excel in ways that others don’t, and remain on your mind long after you’ve digested. Last year, I had no choice but to choose Next. Considering the subsequent 12 months, I didn’t have much choice but to choose Phillip Foss’s El Ideas. The ever-resilient Foss, fired from his secure, sustaining gig at the Palmer House’s Lockwood, fed his family by mounting one the city’s first food trucks. And when that faltered he turned his commissary into another pioneering concept, the first of a growing group of fine-dining restaurants located in unlikely or outlying neighborhoods. It was a welcome return to Foss’s beautiful abstract plates, which carry the illusion of modernist manipulation but are in fact relatively classically prepared. With assists from cooks Kevin McMullen and Scott Manley, and for a time from Andrew Brochu, and greased by veteran front-of-the-house man Bill Talbott, dinner at El is an intimate dinner party, with a casual but more-controlled-than-Schwa destruction of the traditional barriers between kitchen and dining room. Foss celebrates its first birthday next month by adding more seats and an extra night of service on Tuesdays, and by hosting a collaborative dinner with chef-authors Alex Talbot and Aki Kamozawa of the blog Ideas in Food.