Some additions to my year-end list of “best bites”:
La Belle Farms moulard duck liver from CENSORED. We built a beautiful banh mi with this luxurious foie gras balanced with pickled vegetables, mayo, hoisin, sriracha, and nuoc cham, on demi-baguettes from Ba Le Sandwich Shop.
Deep-fried Bourbon Red turkey from Caveny Farm in Monticello, IL. I fried one of these heritage birds last year and it was great, but this Thanksgiving I did another that had been in deep freeze since the previous season. Maybe it was phenomenally juicy and flavorful because it was relatively small—8 ½ pounds.
Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk. This triple cream, washed-rind cheese has been sold at various times at The Cheese Stands Alone and Whole Foods, but the one I tasted had traveled from the creamery’s shop in San Francisco. By the time it got to me it had perhaps gone too far. Slimy, sticky, stinky (in a bad way), we cut into it anyway, and were rewarded with a perfectly safe, full flavored explosion. Sadly, it seems to be an ephemeral pleasure. I bought some this week and the magic was gone.
Shredded Szechuan Cold Noodles at Katy’s Dumpling House in Westmont. Julienned cucumber, ground pork, chilis, and black vinegar dress these remarkably chewy handmade noodles, the likes of which you can’t fund anywhere in the city.
Burrata Caprese at Osteria di Tramonto. A caprese salad in the middle of December seemed like a bad idea, but the heirloom tomatoes were rescued by roasting and I wanted to be buried in this pillowy, creamy, tangy Southern Italian cheese.
Ezra B. Single Barrel at Sam’s. This smooth, almost creamy 12-year-old bourbon with spicy, raisiny notes and a pronounced vanilla finish is an absolute steal at $24.99, and has thoroughly spoiled me against ubiquitous value bourbons like Maker’s Mark.
Lamb stew at Sun Wah. This thick, heavy plate of lamb bits, water chestnuts, and dried tofu comes with a very pungent little dish of liquefied fermented tofu in oil and cilantro that together landed one of the most surprising one-two punches I’ve taken in a while.
Sweet liver at TAC Quick. This rich organ was perfectly tamed by piercing chili, leafy greens, sweet dressing, and crispy larb.
And a few worst bites:
Abalone in foie gras sauce at Mulan. This unfortunate, expensive gastropod gave its life to be simmered in oversalted liver juice and presented like a medical dissection of the female anatomy.
Steak cartoccio at Il Mulino. There’s no shortage of absurdities served at this ridiculous restaurant but this $60 steak special was particularly galling; overcooked and weakly disguised by sickly sweet sautéed mushrooms.