When I devised my “best of” list this year, I couldn’t help but notice that most dishes listed here had a common theme: comfort. On a personal level, I didn’t particularly have a daunting year, so I’m not sure why my choices gravitated this way.
The other commonalities these dishes have are flavor, texture and/or ingredient nuances that made them stand out more than average comfort food. And to be honest, my top four choices could vie for the top spot on any given day, depending on my cravings.
So without further ado, I present my top 10 choices for 2011.
10. Gongura goat curry – Sri Krishna Vilas
The gongura goat curry tastes similar to most all slow-simmered Indian curry, but gongura leaves makes this dish stand out in a crowded field of curry. Initially the leaves impart sourness, but it mellows into a fruity profile that works well with this thick and spicy dish.
9. Braised oxtail soup – Wong Kee BBQ and Peking Duck
The soup’s subtle and milky broth punctuated with a little rice wine instantly won me over. The added bonus is its tender and sticky sections of oxtail nearly rendered of all their fat with just soft meat and gelatinous tendon remaining.
8. Ba-Mee Moo Dang (Roast pork with noodles) – Tuk Tuk Thai Loft
Ok, you can probably travel up to Buford Highway and get a Chinese or Vietnamese relative of this dish for half the price (Tuk Tuk’s rings in at $13 for lunch), but I literally found the bottom of this bowl in less than two minutes.
Normally, I don’t care for Thai because I feel most Thai restaurants in metro Atlanta (and America for that matter) stray from the cuisine’s flavor pillars of sweet, sour, salty and bitter and tend to just focus on the sweet aspect.
This dish had it all – highlighted by tender slabs of roast pork laid on top. Mix all the ingredients up, spoon over some of the shallow pool of broth at the bottom for moisture and dig in.
7. Pizzas – El Burro Pollo
These creative Latin pizzas have several conditions: 1) they are only available during Pura Vida’s Saturday-only burrito concept — El Burro Pollo, 2) El Burro Pollo is only open at lunchtime, 3) these pizzas are not regular menu items but specials for that day, and 4) they may or may not be offered as specials.
I was lucky enough to try two variations of Chef Hector Santiago’s pizzas made with flour tortillas as the base/crust. Both were lightly swabbed with a spicy red chile sauce then topped with ingredients from spicy chorizo sausage and tomatoes, to pig cheeks and green chile cheese. The pizzas are then baked until the base reaches a crispy consistency.
I want to eat this every day.
6. Korean bbq pork sandwich – Heirloom Market BBQ
Georgia, meet Korea.
Heirloom BBQ’s Cody Taylor and Jiyeon Lee represent the marriage of metro Atlanta’s upwardly omnipresent Korean community and the barbecue-loving south it inhabits.
Taylor and Lee have stayed true to both of their backgrounds and present a ridiculously good smoked pork sandwich flavored with Lee’s gochujang (red pepper paste) marinade, topped with kimchi slaw and served on toasted potato buns.
5. Redfish, grits, shimeji mushrooms – Empire State South
I’m cheating here a bit since Empire State South falls under Kessler’s beat rather than mine, but I can’t help it – I still think about this dish!
A flaky, fall-apart slab of redfish topped on creamy grits with slippery shimeji mushrooms strewn about. The American South meets the Far East at this popular year+ old restaurant that continues to bring in the accolades.
4. Toothpick beef – Bobo China
This town loves Sichuanese food and I have eaten quite a lot this year. You can find varying styles of common Sichuanese dishes from restaurant to restaurant, and most results are marginal at best. But the one Sichuanese dish that sums up the “in your face” attitude of this cuisine (to me at least) is the toothpick beef from Lawrenceville’s Bobo China.
Beef strips are tenderized, seasoned and individually skewered with toothpicks, deep-fried and covered in toasted sesame seeds. The dish is crunchy, salty, spicy and contains a nutty sesame finish. (Offset the strong flavors and spices with some steamed white rice.)
One caveat, the toothpicks are still embedded in the pieces of beef, so be careful!
3. Escondidinho de carne seca – Botekim Brazilian Bistro
The best way to describe this dish is that it’s like Shepherd’s Pie, but with more umami. It’s made with carne seca, a type of air-dried beef bursting of flavor and plopped in a creamy center of mashed potatoes. Go eat this, my meat-and-potato loving friends.
2. Thali platter (second course) – Thali
For this particular dish, I specified the second course. While the first and third course certainly had their merits, it was really the middle course that left me awestruck. The restaurant only serves vegetarian dishes and they do it beautifully.
The course consisted of roasted cauliflower with peas, tender nibbles of lentil dal, a thick potato curry seasoned with cumin and coriander, a thin but full-flavored serving of spicy mulligatawny soup and mushy tindora (ivy gourd) that is a little bitter in flavor.
This course comes with flat roti bread and oily, puffy puri (fried bread) if you want to try your hand at dipping. And for a set price ($14.99) all food items will be replenished upon request (on all courses too).
1. Ajiaco soup – Las Arepas de Julia
My favorite dish in 2011 is Colombian ajiaco, a chicken potato soup made (with love) at Lilburn’s Las Arepas de Julia. Potatoes appear as small, waxy chunks that bob around the surface and the starchier papas Criollas (Colombian yellow potatoes) and russets have partially broken down into a thick base for the soup.
The ajiaco also contains soft, shredded chicken, herby guascas (parsley-like, native to South America) and a piece of corn on the cob that pops of nutty sweetness.
A small ramekin of heavy cream and capers comes on the side and should be stirred into the soup; it transforms the broth into a creamy bowl of heaven.
by Gene Lee Food and More blog