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International beat: The top 10 dishes of 2011

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.

Gongurra-goat

Gongura goat curry

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.

Braised oxtail soup

Braised oxtail soup

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.

Ba-Mee Moo Dang

Ba-Mee Moo Dang

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.

Pizza specials from El Burro Pollo

Pizza specials from El Burro Pollo

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.

IMG_23586. 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.

Redfish, grits and shimeji mushrooms

Redfish, grits and shimeji mushrooms

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.

Toothpick beef

Toothpick beef

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!

Escondidinho de carne seca

Escondidinho de carne seca

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.

Thali platter - second course

Thali platter - second course

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).

Ajiaco soup - Las Arepas de Julia

Ajiaco soup - Las Arepas de Julia

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

10 comments Add your comment

Bubb

December 28th, 2011
8:50 am

Thanks for sharing. It all sounds and looks great.

Slim with the Tilted Brim

December 28th, 2011
1:12 pm

Hector Santiago’s pizzas looks like da’ bomb…

Kristen

December 29th, 2011
10:44 am

Many thanks for mentioning Botekim! What a wonderful addition to East Cobb/Marietta that place is. And that dish is AMAZING!

Kim

December 29th, 2011
12:06 pm

That Pizza LOOKS dangerous…..OMG…gotta have some of dat.

jennifer

December 29th, 2011
12:13 pm

The Korean BBQ sammie at Heirloom is one of the best sandwiches in the city. Can’t wait to tackle the rest of this list!

PapaDoc

December 30th, 2011
10:16 am

Heirloom is the best. Really tasty BBQ all the way around but the Korean Pork is my go to. Love this place, and the chefs!

Best Stuff of 2011 « how do you food?

December 30th, 2011
10:45 am

[...] Year. And I wasn’t going to do one but became inspired by John Kessler’s (food writer crush) list of stuff he’s had this year. So I took a stab at selecting the best damn food I ate in [...]

jay

December 30th, 2011
10:03 pm

I’m at Heirloom at least once a week for lunch. I’ve tried BBQ from all over the south. This is the best I’ve ever had.

Jadzia

January 1st, 2012
10:46 am

So glad you mentioned Heirloom, the pork sandwich is definitely awesome. I would like to add that the dish that makes me “get up & go & get some” in a moment’s notice is their beef brisket. There is no other like it in Atlanta, dare I say outside of Texas. I order the platter with “some fat on it” – tender, velvety, smokey, divine. I’m going to check out all the items on your list!

[...] has published his list of the best dishes of the year. Now it’s my turn. I should point out that Gene and I went about this a little differently. [...]