Tuesday, December 22, 2009

2009 In Review: Favorite Restaurants

Let me continue a review of my top recommendations and favorites of the past year, 2009. Yesterday, I provided a General Summary of 2009 and now I want to touch on some more individual events and items, including some of my favorites in certain categories. This post will concentrate on my Restaurant favorites. Future posts will discuss my other food, wine, spirits and Saké favorites.

This is certainly not a complete list. It is more a sampling of memorable matters I have experienced and posted about over the past year.

Favorite Brunch, Traditional Fare: For bacon and eggs and similar such fare, you must check out brunch at Craigie on Main. They put their own spin on this traditional fare, turning the simplest of dishes into a wondrous delight. Besides the usual fare, they also have some nontraditional items which are equally as delicious. It is a place to take someone you wish to impress.

Favorite Brunch, Non-Traditional Fare: For a tasty, albeit non-traditional, Dim Sum weekend brunch you must go to Myers & Chang in the South End. They have plenty of creative and tasty Asian small plates, for only $3-$6 each. Sit at the counter and watch them cook and prepare our food. I have eaten more brunches here this year than anywhere else.

Favorite Decadent Breakfast: The Lobster & Swiss Cheese Omelet at Becky's Diner in Portland, Maine, is certainly not your usual breakfast. But the sweet lobster meat, of which there was plenty, really makes for a great filling for the cheesy omelet. And at only $13.95, it was a good value too. Why not splurge for breakfast?

Favorite Asian Restaurant: Besides their Dim Sum brunch, Myers & Chang serves excellent food for lunch and dinner. Plus they have a full bar, with interesting specialty drinks and Saké. And did you know that about 85% of their clientele is women? Men take notice!

Favorite Asian Buffet: For only $10, you can order the Japanese/Chinese lunch buffet at the new Taipei Tokyo Cafe in Woburn. You'll find everything from sushi to dumplings, fried rice to chicken fingers. They bring out small portions of each dish, which helps ensure the food stays fresh, and they continue to restock the dishes when they empty. As it is a bit under the radar, it is never overly crowded like some other Asian lunch buffets.

Favorite Local Asian Dish: U-Me, a new Asian restaurant opened in Stoneham this summer. Their Szechuan Wings just blew me away. Very crispy and meaty chicken wings, slathered with a sweet and slighty spicy sauce, are so much better than the usual chicken wings you find elsewhere. They are so addictive, I have to order them nearly every time I dine here.

Favorite Local Restaurant: For the second year in a row, Bistro 5, in Medford, is my favorite local place. Chef Vittorio creates intriguing cuisine, with the freshest of ingredients, and the restaurant has an intriguing wine list. This past year I have attended some excellent wine dinners there, including an Heirloom Tomato Dinner, Spirited Gourmet Dinner, and Paolo de Marchi Dinner, all of which really pleased my palate.

Favorite New Local Restaurant: I was extremely pleased this year at the return of one of my favorite Chefs, Steve Bell, to the newly opened Bobby’s Grille in Wellesley. The restaurant reminds me of the former Savory Tastes Cafe and the food is equally as compelling. Prices are reasonable, the food is plentiful and I think this restaurant will only continue to get better. Kudos to Chef Bell!

Favorite Italian Restaurant, Innovative: Though you can find plenty of traditional Italian cuisine in Boston, it is much more difficult to find something innovative. For the best of the innovative though, you must seek out the cuisine of Chef Charles ("Chuck") Draghi at Erbaluce. His ever-changing menu items do not rely on butter, cream or oil, and his food thus seems much lighter but without any sacrifice of flavor. Plus, his Italian wine list is superb, with many esoteric choices.

Favorite North End Restaurant: There are plenty of options in the North End, so where should you dine? Well, I have thoroughly enoyed Antico Forno, located on Salem Street, a bit off the beaten path. With its brick oven, the restaurant adds an interesting twist on many of their dishes. They also have an excellent, thin crust pizza. With reasonable prices, and a newly renovated interior, this is fine choice.

Favorite Pasta Dishes: From the Papardelle with Bolognese to the Chestnut Bigoli, Sportello is making an impressive debut. Another piece of Chef Barbarba Lynch's culinary empire, this restaurant is located in the Fort Point area of Boston. The pasta and sauces perfectly complement each other, and the casual, diner ambiance of the restaurant is quite fun.

Favorite Southern Restaurant: A new southern restaurant, Tupelo, opened in Cambridge this year, near Inman Square. You'll find cheap, delicious fare including the exceptional fried grits! With some of their desserts coming from Petsi Pies, you will enjoy your entire meal, from appetizers to desserts. It is a small, casual place and has recently started serving brunch.

Favorite New England Steak House: Though Boston has plenty of very good steakhouses, it was a restaurant in Connecticut that impressed me the most this year. The David Burke Prime Steakhouse, at Foxwoods Casino, warranted two posts, one to discuss the place and the other to describe the food. Their dry-aged steaks are exceptional, as is most of their other food. From their caesar salad served tableside to their creative desserts, you will savor each bite. It is not cheap, but is well worth the price.

Favorite Las Vegas Steak House: My meal began with the Bone Marrow Flan, an intriguing and tasty appetizer. From the start, I was impressed. Cut, Wolfgang Puck's Steakhouse in the Palazzo, is a pricey but excellent steakhouse with fine food, excellent service and a lengthy and appealing wine list. It is also well worth a splurge.

Favorite Las Vegas Restaurant: Raku, a hidden jewel, is a superb Japanese restaurant located off the strip. The food is authentic, fresh, reasonably priced and absolutely mouth watering. Plus, they have a killer Saké list. You would probably never stumble across this place on your own. It is the type of place that you would never know about unless someone personally recommended it to you. Make reservations as this small place often fills up, especially on the weekends.

Favorite Vermont Restaurant: Seeking a fine French restaurant near Burlington, Vermont? Then make reservations for Café Shelburne, located just outside Burlington. It is a homey place, with traditional French fare, often using local ingredients. I was really impressed with their restrained use of sauces, never overwhelming any dish but ensuring each dish was extremely flavorful.

Favorite Carnivore Dinner: The Whole Hog Dinner at Craigie on Main was amazing, from the food to the company. With Jackie and David, fellow foodies, bloggers and pig lovers, we devoured many different parts of a pig, from the skin to the brains. Chef Maws certainly knows the best ways to prepare every delicious organ and body part. Craigie on Main is a great place for any special occasion, or just when you want something different.

Favorite Desserterie: This was once again an easy choice and for the second year in a row, the award goes to Le Patissier, located in the Troquet Restaurant in Boston. Pastry Chef Sarah Woodfine remains as talented as ever and continues to create innovative and fantastic-tasting desserts. I also don't think it receives enough love from the local culinary community, though I can't recommend it enough.

Favorite Dessert: The bread pudding at the Spiga Trattoria Italiana in Needham is heavenly, and almost makes you want to order it first, before your dinner. Chef Marisa Iocco has transformed this simple dish into something exceptional. You can even try to make the recipe at your own home.

Favorite Cheap Lunch: For only $5, you can go to the Prince Pizzeria and get their all-you-can eat buffet of ziti, garlic bread and pizza. It is a Rt.1 institution which is disparaged by some, but it is a place I recommend. I like their style of pizza, and they offer plenty of different pizza toppings at the buffet. For $5, you will find difficulty finding a better buffet.

Favorite Local Value Dinner Menu: L'Andana, in Burlington, is one of my favorite Italian restaurants, although their dinner menu is a bit pricey. But this year, they introduced their Enoteca menu in their bar/lounge area, a menu of inexpensive small plates. The tasty, high quality food is well worth checking out and the prices won't break your wallet.

Favorite Pizza: The Za Za Restaurant in Saugus makes a unique pizza that I have never seen before, a Bolognese pizza. It was very tasty, with plenty of ground meat, and a fine sauce. I don't know why other places haven't made this type of pizza before as I think it would be very popular.

Favorite Comfort Food: Winter is an especially important time for hot, comfort food, though it has its importance year round. Shepherd’s Pie has long been one of my favorite comfort foods though I am often disappointed with what I find at many restaurants. Until this year. Stearns & Hill Bistro in Melrose makes maybe the best Shepherd's Pie I have ever had, with multiple types of ground meat, a savory gravy, and melted cheese atop the potatoes. It is also very reasonably priced and available for lunch and dinner.

Favorite Comfort Appetizer: You might expect Buffalo Chicken Rangoons to be found in an Asian restaurant, but they are actually at Burton's Grill. With a great crunchy wonton wrapper, the interior is a mix of spicy buffalo chicken and bleu cheese. They are also quite large and I would order these again and again when I return there.

Favorite Holiday Dining Experience: Holiday dining can sometimes be overly expensive and unfulfilling. But the Santa Brunch at The Beehive was excellent on several levels. They had their usual brunch menu, at their usual prices, and there was no fee to see Santa or take your own photos with him. Excellent food, excellent service, and lots of fun.

Favorite Dining Experience: For the second year in a row, my favorite dining experience was not at a restaurant, but rather at the chef's home. The Chef's Table dinners, hosted by Chef Peter Ungar of The Dining Alternative remain one of the best culinary experiences in the Boston area, yet still under the radar of many. This year, I even got to choose the menu for one of the Chef's Table dinners and it was a phenomenal meal, satisfying on so many different levels. For 2010, you should definitely make plans to attend one of these dinners.

For more restaurant reviews and highlights, you can check my blog posts for the past year. Obviously I could not include everywhere that I ate in this review post.

What were some of your favorite restuarants this year?


Dale Cruse said...

No mention of PF Changs? I thought that's what the PF in RichardPF stood for! ;-)

JacquelineC said...

What a great list. Thanks for the shout out/link. We should do it again soon. Maybe try out Ten Tables?

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Dale:
Guess PF Changs needs to up their game.

Hi Jackie:
Thanks and you are welcome too. Ten Tables, or any other restaurant, would be fine with me. After the holidays, we should set up something.

David Dadekian said...

I finally got some time to sit and thoroughly read--and thoroughly enjoy--this list. Not only some well-written opinions, but a great service and a nice shout out too, thank you. We've got to get you two down to Providence for some of the pig magic Matt Jennings can do.

Couves said...

Is the Whole Hog Dinner at Craigie on Main a regular thing? It sounds great.

Hugs from Boston said...

Love the Mesa Grill in Woburn. Have you been there?

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi David:
I definitely want to get down to see Chef Jennings. So after the holidays we should make plans.

Hi Couves:
I am not sure it if will be a regular event or not, but I expect Chef Maws will do it again. If so, I will post about it ahead of time.

Hi Hugs:
Do you mean Masa Grill? I have been there and enjoyed the food. Plus they have good drinks.

Couves said...

Thanks, Richard, you sure know how to take care of this pork-loving Portagee!