We began and ended our year in our little corner of Minneapolis, Minnesota, but we also traveled halfway across the world to Tokyo, Japan. That means we got to eat lots of amazing food this year. Somehow, I managed to narrow it down to my favorite, most memorable bites. I will also note that this was the year I got a real “smart phone,” got lazy and stopped taking my camera everywhere. Photos have suffered for my laziness, my apologies.
Here we go:
* Cassoulet and scallop crudo – Corner Table, Minneapolis
On our fourth wedding anniversary, K and I celebrated at Corner Table. The food and service are unparalleled in the MSP and these two seasonal dishes have stuck with me. The scallop crudo was sliced to the perfect thickness, no grit, pops of salt and citrus zest and herbs. It just melted in my mouth. The cassoulet wasn’t even mine — K ordered this dish and I got two bites. It’s crunchy, creamy, meaty, full-bodied perfection in every bite. It’s like a food hug. I have been dreaming about it (no joke — I’ve had three dreams centered around this cassoulet) ever since. If Nick and Thomas take this cassoulet off the menu before I’m able to get back in and eat my way through a bowl of it, I might die. My love for this cassoulet is that serious.
* Mushroom fries and Kalua pork sandwich – Lake & Irving, Minneapolis
K’s brother, sister-in-law, niece and nephew came to town to visit when it was supposed to be spring but it was still endless winter in Minnesota. But the environment at Lake & Irving was warm and inviting, those tempura Portobello fries might as well just have been called “Umami Perfection” and the signature smoked pork sandwich with a delightful pineapple slaw was a bright spot in a dark winter.
* Frog legs – Coup d’Etat, Minneapolis
It was a hot, sticky, sunny summer day and my friend Emily and I met up to sit on the patio outside Coup d’Etat in Uptown. We ordered a few bits and bites and bubbles and I told her K and I were adopting a baby. Her genuine excitement and support was lovely and overwhelming. And then I took a bite of the perfectly crisp tempura batter, the creamy frog meat and the sticky, spicy honey Sriracha glaze and it sealed the deal of summer afternoon perfection.
* Cod – Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis
Cod. It sounds so simple. But this Atlantic cod over Tunisian couscous with black garlic, romesco and yogurt sauce easily places in the top three fish dishes I’ve ever experienced. Welcome back to Minnesota, Chef Kaysen. Sorry for the terrible photo, but I WILL be back to eat all your fishes!
* Pretzel dog – Cafe Zentral, Minneapolis
Wait, seriously? Yes. I met up with my friend Lisa for lunch and she recommended the signature house made hot dog wrapped in a pretzel bun. Throw in some garlic sauce for good measure and holy moly — perfect meat to bread ratio, perfect snap on the sausage, perfect salt crunch on the bun, perfect creamy complement with the sauce. I REALLY wanted to eat so many more of these, but a time limit and decorum prevented me from doing so. Therefore, I will be back to Cafe Zentral (upstairs from Brasserie Zentral) to eat many more of these pretzel dogs.
* Ramen – Shodei Keisuke, Tokyo, Japan
It was nearly impossible to find the little “ramen alley” in which Shodei Keisuke was located. It was ninety bajillion degrees and in no way was it appropriate “ramen weather.” Was this the best ramen I’ve ever had and would I cross the ocean again to experience it? Yes and yes. Light and citrus-y with the most perfect pork belly and fresh herb pops. Incredible.
* Fresh tofu, Wasyoku Sake En, Tokyo, Japan
This white blob sitting in a pool of brown sauce was so pure, so exacting and so simple — it is fresh tofu and it has ruined all other tofu for me forever. It was smooth, creamy, mild, cool — like homemade cheese, but nuttier. And now that I’m lactose intolerant, this was the best stand-in for cheese I could ever have possibly asked for. I’m months away from this bite and I can still taste it. Amazing. I’ve since researched making fresh tofu and it seems so labor intensive and difficult to find fresh soy beans, it’s probably easier just to go back to Japan and eat it all. ALL THE TOFU!
* Soft scrambled eggs with pickled pigs feet, Piccolo, Minneapolis
This dish is the only one consistently on the menu at Piccolo. There’s good reason for it. Soft, creamy, expertly scrambled eggs. Piquant bits of pork. Very subtle truffle butter. Delicate shavings of Parmesan. Fresh pops of chive. Everything melds together into three or four mouth-watering bites of comfort food childhood happiness. I always try new bites at Piccolo and yet I will continue to order this perennial dish. Because I love it.
* Fried rice a la Thomas Kim
Egg whites, bacon, mayo, crispy rice — I don’t know what else went into this miracle dish or how it was made. When Chef Thomas Kim of The Rabbit Hole did a Chef’s Night Off event at Kitchen in the Market, this fried rice was an accompanying dish to so much goodness, but it was the one I kept going back to and sneaking bites from. The meal was family style and I was trying not to be a fried rice hog. It took every ounce of my self-control not to grab this hot skillet, some chopsticks and run away into a dark corner and eat the whole crunchy, fluffy, bacon-y wonder myself. The chef has vaguely hinted at sharing the recipe at some point, but if he does not, I humbly suggest he put this on his menu. I’ll be there in a second to eat a whole pan (or six) myself.
* Lamb chops with cumin-dusted couscous, charred eggplant puree and ginger-scallion relish
Top Chef night is back and, since Bravo has decided to no longer share recipes, we’ve been punting and interpreting them ourselves. This was our version of Chef Mei Lin’s lamb dish. We used our sous vide machine to gently cook the lamb chops then K seared them in a hot pan and they were the most pristine bites of lamb we’ve ever had. For that, we have ourselves to thank. (not so humble brag)
And we thank you for sticking with us in 2014! We look forward to all the potential and opportunity 2015 has to offer and the food … oh, the delicious 2015 food!