Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2013. I have already posted my Top Ten Wines Under $15, Top Ten Wines Over $15, Top Wines Over $50, Favorite Wine Related Items and Favorite Spirits and Drink Related Items. Now, I want to concentrate on my Favorite Restaurants of the past year.
This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable restaurants I have experienced and/or posted about over the past year. You will even find Favorites from outside Massachusetts as I traveled some this past year.
There is also a section later in this post called Consistent Favorites, and it includes a list of a number of local restaurants which have been my favorites for subsequent years. Restaurants which are consistently good certainly deserve recognition, and I have tried to note some of those places to which I return again and again. I hope you enjoy all of my recommendations.
Top Restaurant Experience: Though I have had some excellent dining experiences in the Boston area this past year, my top dining experience was in Los Angeles, at N/Naka, a kaiseki inspired Japanese restaurant. A superb presentation, killer flavors, exquisite service, and an excellent Sake/wine list. In addition, my dining companions, including Adam of Wine Zag, helped to make it a great experience. I couldn't complain about a single thing at this restaurant and it receives my highest recommendation. And Adam is a great dining companion, in all cities across the U.S.
Favorite Outside Dining Experience: No, it wasn't some patio experience. Instead, it was on a beach in Provincetown, a delicious, evening Clam Bake. From, the tasty clam chowder to the steamed lobsters, the food was very good and the setting was so New England. We ate before a small fire pit, and there were even coyotes that wandered by to check out what was going on. The event was put on by Ptown Parties and if you visit Provincetown, you could hire them to do a clambake for you.
Favorite Restaurant Comeback: Prezza, in the North End, is one of my favorite high-end Italian spots but in July 2012, they suffered a significant kitchen fire. They didn't reopen until January 2013, due to extensive renovations, but I am pleased to say that their quality hasn't diminished in the least. Chef/Owner Anthony Caturano is still creating some of the best Italian cuisine in the city and Prezza continues to receive my highest recommendation.
Favorite Seafood Restaurant: Boston should have more top notch seafood restaurants than it does, but my favorite is Island Creek Oyster Bar, located in Kenmore Square. Fresh seafood, plenty of oysters, a nice wine list, and a fun ambiance all make for a very good restaurant experience. If family or friends are coming from out of town, seeking seafood, then you should send them here.
Favorite Italian Restaurant, Somerville: For the last few years, my Favorite has been Posto though they have seen a number of significant changes this year, from a new Executive Chef to an inaugural Director of Operations. Fortunately, those changes have not diminished the quality of the food at all. It remains an excellent destination in Somerville, a casual Italian restaurant with delicious pasta, pizza and appetizers.
Favorite Spanish Restaurant: Another repeat winner, Chef Deborah Hansen of Taberna de Haro in Brookline continues to share her for passion for Spanish cuisine and wines. The restaurant also has the largest Sherry selection in the city. This year, I attended two fun events there, including tastings with Bodegas Beronia and Gonzalez Byass, accompanied by Chef Hansen's delicious tapas.Now that the restaurant has essentially doubled in size, there is even more reason to check it out, and sample fine Spanish cuisine.
Favorite New Cafe/Bakery: Chef Lee Napoli, the owner of Chocolee Chocolates, opened the Bread+Butter Cafe & Bakery in the North End. Rather than offer Italian baked goods, she makes a variety of items, many French inspired, and much of it is very compelling, from light and buttery croissants to the sublime Queen's Pastry. This cafe adds some diversity to the North End neighborhood, and you should check out Chef Napoli's pastry expertise.
Favorite New Chinatown Restaurant: It isn't traditional Chinese cuisine. In fact, it is more a fusion of pan Asian cuisine with some American influences, which could end up as a travesty, but Shojo (and more Shojo), makes it work. With approachable and delicious cuisine, it can be a gateway restaurant for people who are wary of eating more traditional Chinese cuisine in Chinatown. Even their fried pickles are tasty! Go for lunch or dinner, and I bet you enjoy the food as well.
Favorite Bar/Restaurant: I really need to visit jm Curley more often. Up front, it appears to be simply a bar and if that was all it was, that would still be cool. However, they also have a hidden dining room in the back, their secret steakhouse. Many have raved about this place, and my initial experience showed me the reasons for their raves. The simple food was very well down, and indicative of the potential of the rest of their menu. Go to jm Curley to have a drink, and then stay for lunch or dinner.
Favorite Meat Dish: The Venison Loin at Prezza. A large hunk of perfectly cooked and flavorful venison, accompanied by amarone risotto. As good as any cut of beef.
Favorite Poultry Dish: The Slow-Roasted Pheasant Breast & Confit Leg at Craigie on Main was amazing. Moist, tender meat and crispy skin made this a sublime dish which will remain in my memory for a very long time.
Favorite Suburban Casual Burger Joint: At the Burlington Mall, Bobby's Burger Palace will satisfy your burger craving. With about ten different burgers, crispy fries (as well as sweet potato fries), and creamy milkshakes, you have all you need for a casual and comfortable burger meal. Prices are reasonable too. When I have a burger craving, this is one of my main go to spots.
Favorite New Suburban Breakfast Restaurant: I love a good breakfast, and the new Iron Town Diner in Saugus satisfies that desire. Hearty plates of food, reasonable prices, and lots of variety make for an excellent experience. Egg dishes, omelets, waffles, French toast, pancakes and more. And the pancakes are light and fluffy, some of the best around. Breakfast is available all day too, though they do make good lunch options as well.
Favorite New Suburban Thai Restaurant: Wakefield already has three Thai restaurants so did they really need a fourth? Well, the new Phu Ket makes an impressive debut with plenty of exciting and delicious dishes, all at reasonable prices. Dishes from Spicy Lobster Soup to Saigon Dices, are bursting with complex flavors and elevate this Thai restaurant over the others in the Wakefield area. If you love Thai, then you must check out this newcomer.
Favorite New Suburban Healthy Restaurant: Not all chain restaurants are the same, and the new Seasons 52, in Burlington, is part of a chain which impresses. None of their dishes have more than 475 calories, and the restaurant doesn't use any butter. However, the dishes don't lack for flavor, and the menu is seasonal as well. In addition, the wine list has plenty of diversity. Open for lunch and dinner, it is a great place for a fine meal which won't make you feel guilty. I need to return soon to check out the new winter menu.
Favorite Provincetown Breakfast Restaurant: A small, casual spot, Cafe Heaven stole my heart and stomach with their Corn Bread French Toast. Moist cornbread, not too thick, with a nice, eggy batter. The rest of their menu is good too, from their homemade English muffins to their linguica. After breakfast here though, you really should stop by the Portuguese Bakery for a warm Malassada (kind of like a Portuguese donut/fried dough).
Favorite Provincetown Restaurant, High End: With a vodka list of over 260 selections, The Mews Restaurant & Cafe will surprise you. The chef has been there for 24 years, but the menu is not stodgy or old fashioned. The menu is diverse, with some dishes containing an Asian flair, and you'll find everything from Lobster Dumplings to Venison Carpaccio. If you want to splurge while vacationing in Provincetown, make reservations here.
Favorite Provincetown Restaurant, Casual: Gourmet hot dogs and lobster rolls can be found at Lucky Dog Ptown, a small, casual spot that will impress with its flavors. The hot dogs are made from their own recipe, and the Bacon & Blue Dog was excellent, elevating the simple hot dog to a gourmet level. A simple concept that has been executed well.
Favorite Portland, Oregon Breakfast Spot: Making everything from scratch, including grating their own hashbrowns, Sugar Mamas' Cafe offers a fresh and flavorful breakfast. It is a casual spot, with excellent prices, and the big star is their fresh cinnamon rolls, only made on Fridays. It is worth visiting the restaurant just for those cinnamon rolls, though I recommend having breakfast there as well. When I return to Portland, this will be a must stop for me again.
Favorite Portland, Oregon Sushi Restaurant: Sake crawling through Portland with my friend Gordon, we stopped at Masu, which impressed me with their fresh sushi. As they also have a nice Sake list, with about 25 choices, that makes the restaurant even more attractive to me. Give me more of that sea urchin!
Favorite Oregon Diner: Part of a West Coast chain, the Black Bear Diner in Medford, Oregon, provides hearty comfort food at a good price. From tender chicken fried steak, smothered in gravy, to a tasty burger, you'll find something to enjoy. And their homemade cream pies are both large and delicious. For a casual, cheap and good meal, stop by one of these diners rather than a fast food burger joint.
Favorite Los Angeles, California Restaurants: I've already mentioned N/Naka as my top restaurant experience this year, but I need to give kudos as well to Night+Market (Thai street food) and Jose Andre's The Bazaar (Spanish cuisine). Both were small plate places where we ordered a ton of dishes, sampling a fair share of menu items. Again, my dining companions helped to make these even better experiences.
Favorite Montreal, Quebec Chinese Restaurants: While in Montreal, we stayed next to Chinatown so it was natural we dined there at least a couple times. Both Keung Kee Restaurant and Qing Hua Dumplings pleased my palate, delivering good food and inexpensive prices. Keung Kee is almost hidden on a second floor, but it is worth seeking out. And Qing Hua, with its assortment of soup dumplings, is another strong recommendation.
Favorite New Restaurant Idea: Though the Boston restaurant industry is very dog friendly, the poor cat gets short shrift. However, an enterprising entrepreneur wants to bring the Japanese concept of the Cat Cafe to Boston. This is basically a cafe that has numerous cats, which you can pet and play with while you sip your coffee and tea. If you can't own a pet, and love cats, this would be a cool place to spend some relaxation time. Let's hope it becomes a reality.
These are all spots that have been my favorites for multiple years, and are worthy of recognition and recommendation.
Favorite Boston High-End Restaurant: L'Espalier
Favorite Suburban Brunch, Traditional: AKA Bistro in Lincoln.
Favorite Cambridge Brunch, Traditional: Tupelo in Inman Square, Cambridge
Favorite Boston Brunch, Non-Traditional Fare: Myers & Chang in the South End
Favorite Suburban Restaurant: AKA Bistro in Lincoln
Favorite Boston Japanese Restaurant: Oishii in the South End
Favorite Somerville Restaurant: Bergamot
Favorite Underappreciated Restaurant: T.W. Food in Cambridge
Favorite North End Restaurant, Old School: Lucia Ristorante
Favorite North End Restaurant, Fusion: Taranta.
Favorite Non-North End Italian Restaurants: Erbaluce and Coppa
Favorite Suburban Restaurant, Italian: Bistro 5 in Medford
Favorite Italian Restaurant, Somerville: Posto.
Favorite North Shore Fried Seafood: Clam Box in Ipswich
Favorite Mexican Restaurant: The Painted Burro in Somerville
What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?
ADDENDUM: I do need to give kudos to another excellent dinner I experienced this past year, which I unintentionally omitted from this list as I hadn't written about it on my blog. Ever summer, Troquet holds a special wine cellar clearance, selling off some old and intriguing wines at dirt cheap prices. It is certainly one of the vinous highlights of the summer. And this year, I dined there once again with a collection of fine friends, including Adam, Dale, David, Rob, Laura, and Marco. We enjoyed some stellar wines, including a superb Pinot Meunier, which Adam wrote about on Wine Zag. Besides the great wines, the food was stellar as well. Check out Troquet any time, but also look forward to next summer's cellar clearance.