Wednesday, December 19, 2018

2018: Favorite Restaurants & Food-Related Items

What were some of my favorite restaurants of the past year?

Let me continue the lists of my best recommendations and favorites of 2018. I have already posted my three Top Wine lists, my Favorite Wine-Related Items, and my Top Ten Favorite Restaurant Dishes, and now I want to address my Favorite Restaurants of the past year as well as some of my other Favorite Food-Related Items

This is certainly not a complete list but it is more a sampling of memorable restaurants and food items I've experienced and/or posted about over the past year. This is also a purely subjective list, based on my own preferences, and makes no claims about being the "best" of anything. But all of the items here have earned my strong recommendations and I hope you will enjoy them as well. For more Restaurant reviews, you can just search my blog posts for the past year.

Favorite Hot New Restaurants: This category includes several restaurants that have opened in the last few months, which have already impressed me, but which I haven't yet written a review. In early 2019, I'll likely review these worthy restaurants (after additional visits).
     Tonno in Wakefield: This is the second location of Chef Anthony Caturano's Italian Seafood restaurant. I eagerly anticipated its opening and it easily lives up to my high expectations.
     Kamakura in Boston: Chef Youji Iwakura has brought Japanese Kaiseki cuisine to Boston and the restaurant is aesthetically cool and the food is killer.
     Feng Shui in Burlington: The sixth location of this Chinese restaurant opened near the Burlington Mall and their lunch buffet is compelling, and their cocktails are quite good.
     Home Taste in Arlington: A second location of this Chinese restaurant, they specialize in delicious hand-pulled noodles. hand-made dumplings, Chinese casseroles and more.
     Aaron's Taco Cart'el in Stoneham: A small, casual and tasty spot for tacos, burritos and nachos, where  customization rules.

Favorite New Haitian/Dominican Restaurant: From delightfully flaky Paté to Jerk Beef Sliders, from savory Griot to a Cream Corn Souffle, Infused Kreyol in Malden is making delicious and compelling food. It's a tiny spot that once was home to a bakery but it's well worth seeking out. This isn't a cuisine you often see in the Malden+ area and thus there was a need for such a restaurant. Prices are very reasonable, service is usually very good, and the freshness of their dishes is impressive. And their Paté was one of my Top Ten Restaurant Dishes of 2018.

Favorite Suburban Italian Restaurant: Il Casale, with locations in Belmont and Lexington, is killing it, especially with their wine dinners. Such professional service, exquisite food, and interesting drinks, from wine to cocktails. Their popularity, judged by how they can sell out an entire restaurant for a wine dinner when most other places are lucky to fill a table or two, is indicative of how well they are received in their community. And their Ragu Bianco was one of my Top Ten Restaurant Dishes of 2018.

Favorite South American Restaurant: In Watertown, the former owners the famed Cambridge restaurant Salts, have started a new restaurant, La Bodega By Saltswhich reflects owner Analia Verolo's homeland of Uruguay. Much of the menu consists of small plates, a great way to experience a number of dishes, which either have Uruguayan or Spanish roots. The food is fantastic, the wine list has plenty of Uruguayan wines, and their cocktails are stellar. Service is excellent and the restaurant itself is cool, especially where they have reused an old railroad car. And their Chivito was one of my Top Ten Restaurant Dishes of 2018.

Favorite Japanese Restaurant: Chef Chris Chung is rocking it in Inman Square in Cambridge at Momi Nonmi, a casual Japanese izakaya with some Hawaiian influence. The food is amazing, with ingredients that are fresh and high quality, including rarities not commonly found in the area. The cuisine is also inventive and innovative, with plenty of special dinner events. Chef Chung's culinary skills are top notch. They also have an impressive Sake, Shochu and cocktail program. Again, this is another small restaurant but one you should not miss. And their Teppanyaki Loco Moco was one of my Top Ten Restaurant Dishes of 2018.

Favorite Tasting Menu: Around since 2016, The Table at Season To Taste, located in North Cambridge, offers a four-course tasting menu each evening which changes every 4-6 weeks. You have two options for each course and the food is delicious and inventive, supported by an excellent wine program. It is a small and cozy restaurant, with an open kitchen, and you receive very professional service. And their Brown Rice & Sweet Potato Congee was one of my Top Ten Restaurant Dishes of 2018.

Favorite Brunch: At Ledger Restaurant & Bar, in Salem, they have an excellent Brunch Menu, from a 22-ounce Bloody Mary to their home-made Donuts, from Eggs Benedict to Banana Bread. Excellent service, a patio during the summer, and a menu of enticing dishes. Have a breakfast dish or a more lunch dish, such as a Fried Chicken Thigh Sandwich or a Breakfast Burger. And their Chicken & Waffles was one of my Top Ten Restaurant Dishes of 2018.

Favorite Fusion Cuisine: Though it was only available for several days around Cinco de Mayo, the "Grexico" menu, a combination of Mexican and Greek cuisine, at Committee was fusion cuisine at its best. The various dishes seamlessly blended ingredients from both cuisines, creating delicious and inventive dishes that thoroughly impressed me. Grecomole, Guajillo Hummus, Churros with Merenda, and much more. I hope they will hold this event again in 2019, and I could easily see this fusion cuisine centering a new restaurant. And their Lamb Barbacoa Tacos was one of my Top Ten Restaurant Dishes of 2018.

Favorite Chef's Return: Famed Chef Marisa Iocco returned to Spiga in Needham, transforming their Italian menu but maintaining some of his well-known specialties. You'll find dishes like Guazzetti, a unique Italian stew and Spiga might be the only local restaurant serving this item. Their Pizza is excellent and their Pasta dishes are killer. A cozy spot, it is open for lunch and dinner, and is worth the journey to Needham. And their Timballo was one of my Top Ten Restaurant Dishes of 2018.

Favorite Restaurant Dessert: After enjoying the savory options from Chef Marisa Iocco at Spiga, you can peruse their Dessert menu but I think your best option is her famed Bread Pudding, which I first enjoyed several years ago. I've even recommended people start their meal with the Bread Pudding so you ensure you aren't too full after dinner to enjoy it. Every spoonful is absolutely delicious, a hedonistic treat which I cannot recommend enough. Great texture to the bread, a nice blend of sweet and salty in the sauce, and nice hints of vanilla. We really need a bakery that specializes in Bread Pudding.

Favorite Hidden Restaurant City: Malden has plenty of interesting restaurants, especially Asian ones, but you wouldn't suspect that some fascinating dishes are "hidden" within rather ordinary appearing spots. From its storefront, you'd think Classic Pizza is your typical pizza and sub shop however they also have a small, but delicious menu of Indian dishes, including a killer Chicken Tikka Masala. Jay's Pizza also appears to be a normal pizza and sub joint, but they also sell Nepalese Momos, dumplings. In 2019, I'll be checking out other pizza joints in Malden to see if any others are hiding more unique and tasty dishes.

Favorite Food Book: Written  by Gabriella Opaz & Sonia Andersson Nolasco, with photography by Ryan Opaz, the compelling Porto: Stories From Portugal's Historic The Bolhão Market succeeds on many levels. It discusses the history of Portuguese cuisine while also telling intimate stories of the various vendors at the Bolhão Market. This is not some dry travelogue but rather a seductive lure intended to convert you into a culinary lover of northern Portugal. It will work well as a reference guide as well, something to turn to from time to time to better understand Portuguese cuisine. Highly recommended.

Favorite Culinary School: NECAT is a local culinary school which trains people from challenging backgrounds, from ex-convicts to recovering addicts, from the homeless to the chronically unemployed. NECAT fills an important need for culinary help while helping numerous people achieve a better life. It is such a worthy school, helping to transform lives, and it really touches my heart. It helps individuals while also helping the community, having recently celebrated its 5th Anniversary. I continue to try to raise awareness of NECAT so that its good work can continue and even expand.

Favorite Food Trade Event: Once again, I have selected the Seafood Expo North America (SENA) as my favorite. It is a massive trade event, a three day event showcasing purveyors of seafood and related vendors. You'll find tons of free seafood samples and learn plenty, from sustainability to cooking. The Seafood Show is an engaging event and you can read my latest articles here: Part 1Part 2Part 3The Seafood Show is compelling on many levels and I look forward to attending the next SENA in March 2019. Hope to see you there too.

Favorite Food History Article: This year, I'm especially proud of my article, "Water Doughnuts": Some Bagel History. I found numerous fascinating newspaper articles, dating back as far as 1930, about bagels. There were Recipes for making bagels at home, information about various flavored bagels, canned bagels, pizza bagels and more. More writers need to use old newspaper archives in their research as you never know what intriguing information you will find.

What were some of your favorite restaurants this year?

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