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Jan 1, 2009 07:41 PM

Top 10 Tastes - 2008

It’s that time of the year again!

Coming up with a top ten of new (to me) dishes was a lot more difficult this year than last year. For various reasons, I ate at restaurants a lot less this year, and when I did go out, I had a tendency to return to favorite restaurants and order favorite dishes. Several of my top 10 were fantastic the first time I tried them, then merely ok on repeat visits (I made note of this if it happened).

In no particular order:

1. Foie Gras Two Ways (Cyrus, Healdsburg) – the terrine en croute component. This was a foie gras terrine with Smithfield ham mousse in the middle, wrapped in compressed genoise. It was the pairing with a Riesling that made this dish - without the Riesling, the foie gras component dominated. With the Riesling, the flavor of the ham mousse emerged, and the transition of flavor from foie gras to ham in the span of a sip of wine was remarkable.

2. XO Diced Mushroom and Pork dumplings (Koi Palace, Daly City) – my first time trying these super-juicy dumplings, I sent an arc of the delicious, spicy broth across the table. Now I know to nibble them gingerly over the mini-foil cupcake liners they come in, as to not waste the addictive soup.

3. “crab butter fritter” (Koi Palace) – not an actual dish, these are the bits of batter clinging to the crab butter inside the carapace of the deep-fried Dungeness crab that accompanies the crab XLB. Oh yeah, the XLB and the deep fried crab legs are pretty good too.

4. Boccalone lardo on a plain pizza crust – I flipped when I found this at Rockridge Market – the sweet, sweet seasoned lard brought to mind a bacon-y buttercream. I experimented with the paper thin slices, and found this to be my favorite – plain pizza dough, baked on a stone, and topped with slices of lardo.

5. Boccalone pepato salami – the first time I tasted a paper-thin slice of this ultra-fatty salami, I was blown away by the winey, almost floral qualities. I later found that in thicker slices, the subtleties seemed to fade, and the flavor becomes flat. Most recently, I bought one at Rockridge Market and was stunned to see plastic shrink-wrapping under the paper wrapper. It was extremely disappointing – the sausage was waxy in texture, had lost all the characteristics I loved about it in the first place, and actually had a sweetness that reminded me of Chinese sausage. I will not be buying this again, but the memory of the early salamis garners this one a spot on the top 10.

6. Zuni burger – the best burger I’ve ever had, by a long shot. Ultra-juicy and flavorful, just a perfect burger.

7. Hainan chicken rice (Kopitiam, Lafayette) – on my first visit, this dish was absolutely amazing. Flavorful, fluffy rice fragrant with ginger and chicken fat, and tender, juicy chicken. On a subsequent visit, it was merely ok – I think it may have been because it was the end of the day, and the rice had been sitting around for a while. I’m going to give them another shot, but will aim for earlier in the day.

8. Sweetbread "salad" (Oliveto, Oakland – Truffle Dinner) – this was actually a rich stew of truffle cream-napped artichoke, cauliflower, and sweetbread.

9. Achari Gosht (Hyderabad House, Palo Alto) - tender but well-browned lamb (enough that most cubes had a satisfying crust), in a really delicious, complex sauce. Lots of caramelized onions and whole spices (I was only able to identify fennel, mustard seed, and cumin).

10. Zuni Balsamic Bloody Mary – the best Bloody I’ve ever had. I often find the flavor of spicy bloodys to be one-dimensional – they tend to be dominated by the spicy component, but the flavor of Zuni’s has a remarkable roundness to it – a savory, almost meaty quality from the red onions (or maybe shallots).

Looking forward to seeing other people’s lists…

Zuni Cafe
1658 Market Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Koi Palace Restaurant
365 Gellert Blvd, Daly City, CA 94015

Market Hall Bakery
5655 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

Hyderabad House
448 University Ave, Palo Alto, CA 94301

Cyrus Restaurant
29 North St, Healdsburg, CA 95448

Kopitiam Restaurant
3647 Mt Diablo Blvd, Lafayette, CA 94549

Oliveto Cafe
5655 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

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  1. 1. Croissants at Murray Circle / Farley Bar Sausalito

    2. Anything at Ubuntu in Napa ... my restaurant of the year ... narrowing it down ... maybe heirloom tomatoes with burrata ... or the roasted strawberries ... or ... holy cow-less ... the VEGAN asparagus ... how about that ... a vegan dish in my top 10

    3. Coconut cupcake at Sage Fine Food Sonoma

    4. Weihnacht's stollen at Hopkins St Bakery Berkeley

    5. Roast Chicken at Zaki Kabob House Albany

    6. Chocolate turtle bar at Chocolatier Blue Berkeley

    7. A three-way toss up: Caramel cake, pulled pork, scallion bacon biscuits at Brown Sugar Kitchen Oakland

    8. Posole at Tortilleria Jalisco Sonoma

    9. Mashed potatoes with fabulous ... fabulous ... gravy at Barbersq Napa ... I KNOW ... starting 2008 I couldn't imagine this joint ending up on my top 10 list

    10, Brazilian chicken and beans at St. John's Simbang Gabi celebration (and it was free)

    Honorable mention:

    Al pastor taco at La Selva Richmond

    Tejuinos out of a van Richmond

    Biscuits and gravy at Mr. T's Coffee shop Martinez

    Paczki at Royal Market

    Holiday blend coffee at Barking Dog Roasters Sonoma

    Tounge at Orson SF

    Hamantaschen at Lotta's Bakery Sf

    Hot Dog at Meyers BBQ Martinez

    Five Dot Ranch hot dogs Napa

    Bonus points: A tie - Thanksgiving at The Franciscan in SF and Christmas at Hs. Lordship Berkeley

    OK, I'm just kidding about that last. Now onto 2009 chowing.

    1. i was looking forward to someone starting this thread. like daveena, i ate out less than usual, and frequented a lot of the same venues and dishes.

      my overall, non-regional top ten would include some amazing food in nashville, korea, laos and new britain, connecticut (outstanding polish food), but here it is for the bay:

      1. chilaquiles at pastores, which i tried for the first time (i think?) on january 1 2008

      2. french fries at spruce: fatty, crispy, french fry perfection

      3. xlb at sunny shanghai in san bruno

      4. a yeasty, delicious waffle at the civic center farmer's market waffle truck

      5. pork stew at avedano's, the butcher in bernal heights

      6. "rabbit rabbit rabbit" entree at the farmhouse inn in forestville

      7. fried sunchokes at ubuntu in napa

      8. chilean empanadas from guisell at the alemany farmer's market

      9. fried chicken at ad hoc

      10. simple, homey and perfect harira (lentil soup) at cafe zituona

      Ubuntu Restaurant & Yoga Studio
      1140 Main Street, Napa, CA 94558

      Ad Hoc
      6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

      235 Cortland Ave, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Cafe Zitouna
      1201 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109

      Farmhouse Inn
      7871 River Rd, Forestville, CA 95436

      3640 Sacramento St, San Francisco, CA 94118

      Pastores Restaurant
      3486 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110

      Sunny Shanghai
      189 El Camino Real, San Bruno, CA 94066

      1. 1. The butter at the French Laundry. From Vermont. Incredible.

        2. Cauliflower "panna cotta" with oyster glaze and caviar, also at TFL

        3. Lamb cassoulet with Rancho Gordo yellow eye beans at the Outstanding in the Field dinner at McEvoy Ranch, Marin.

        4. Seared scallops with pancetta, cherry tomatoes, and corn potato risotto. Cortez, SF. I've given up on cooking scallops at home. These were crispy outside and nearly raw inside.

        5. Pea, asparagus, mushroom, chard mix with risotto cakes. Venus, Berkeley. The halibut that came with this was boring, but the vegetables were the best of Spring.

        6. "Rocker" oysters at Rocker Oysterfellers, Sonoma Co., Oysters with bacon, arugula and a cornmeal crust.

        7. Fried oysters at T-Rex, Berkeley.

        8. Roast Chicken at Zaki Kabob House, Albany

        9. Chicken and mushrooms on polenta with wine sauce, Italian Colors, Montclair. Nothing fancy, but pure comfort food. (Fried chicken at T-Rex is a close second.)

        10. Steamed chicken bun with shiitake mushrooms and ginger at the California Academy of Sciences, SF. Better than it needed to be. A nice surprise.

        1 Reply
        1. re: Glencora


          The French Laundry
          6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599

          T-Rex Barbeque
          1300 10th St, Berkeley, CA 94710

          Rocker Oysterfeller's
          14415 Valley Ford Road, Valley Ford, CA 94972

          Venus Restaurant
          2327 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94704

          550 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

          Italian Colors Restaurant
          2220 Mountain Blvd, Oakland, CA 94611

          Zaki Kabob House
          1101 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA 94706

        2. I like this thread...

          Bay area best bites:

          1. pear crumble pie from Butter Love Bakeshop (followed by her Key Lime Pie. awesome). It's a one woman bakeshop that works by delivery only in SF. The first thing I ordered from her was an amazing galette, quickly followed by many other pies.

          2. baby lobster @ Sushi Sam's in San Mateo. I'd never managed to make it to sushi sam's before last year. I really like their inventive preparations and this one stands out.

          3. turkey mole, carne molida & tortillas @ poc chuc. I am cheating by combining these three. But the food here is really outstanding The roasted tomato sauce is fabulous and the tortillas are addicting.

          4. beef tendon appetizer at z&y. We have a xmas eve tradition of gathering in a large group and descending on some random place in chinatown. I cheated and had read some positive things about this place so our visit here wasn't completely random. Our server recommended this dish and it was a highlight for everyone. Tender thin spicy slices of goodness.

          5. pumpkin galette @ the butler and the chef (a thanksgiving special). Our server gave us an extra large slice with what should have been way too much whipped cream. This quickly became my favorite pumpkin dish ever. The pastry here is incredibly flaky but the pumpkin filling really stole the show. Would order it again in a heart beat.

          6. reuben at Morty's deli. Without a doubt the best reuben I've had in the bay area.

          7. inaniwa udon at Maki. Sure it's pricey for udon. But the flavors are outstanding. Perfect comfort food.

          8. salumi plate at zuppa. It's possible I've had this before 2008. But it really is good.

          9 proscuitto and fresh tomato focaccia sandwich at BaoNecci (at Danilo Bakery). Their pizzas are also quite good. The focaccia is thin and crispy and the sandwich was light. I've enjoyed everything I've had here since then, too.

          10. basil granita with ricotta at Luce. This was a pre-dessert course. The combo of the cold basil with the creamy ricotta was really memorable. Great.

          Outside of the bay area:
          I'd have to say I probably had 10 amazing bites at Schwa. Most memorable: candied sweetbreads (dessert) quail egg ravioli (bonus course!), gumball rabbit (a rabbit dish honoring a microbrewed beer) and hendricks gin (a dish highlighting the flavors/ingredients of gin). But seriously if you're ever in Chicago go here. I wish we had something like this in SF (or maybe we do and I haven't been yet...


          and favorite drink of 2008 was a cocktail from TropiSueno. I don't remember what it was called but it had partida silver tequila, chambord and egg whites. I will say for a newly open restaurant they have an outstanding bar program (for tequila drinkers, that is).

          564 4th Street, San Francisco, CA 94107

          Morty's Delicatessen
          280 Golden Gate Ave, San Francisco, CA 94102

          Maki Restaurant
          1825 Post St, San Francisco, CA 94115

          Schwa Restaurant
          1466 N Ashland Ave, Chicago, IL 60622

          Butler & the Chef Bistro
          155 S Park St, San Francisco, CA 94107

          Poc Chuc
          2886 16th St, San Francisco, CA 94103

          Z & Y
          655 Jackson St, San Francisco, CA 94133

          Caffe BaoNecci
          516 Green St, San Francisco, CA

          Sushi Sam's
          218 E 3rd Ave, San Mateo, CA 94401

          Luce - InterContinental San Francisco Hotel
          888 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA 94103

          75 Yerba Buena Lane, San Francisco, CA 94103

          1. Stinky tofu at Sunny Shanghai: Only mildly stinky in smell but the stinkiness lingers on the palate, just like I remember from when I was a kid in Hong Kong.

            Tofu fa at Cafe Honolulu: Great taste of soya beans.

            Everything at Manresa: I know this is a 'top 10 tastes' thread, but I'm having a hard time picking out one favorite dish!

            Prawn mee at Layang Layang: I love the broth.

            Roasted banana ice cream at Bi-Rite Creamery: It's exactly like eating a banana, but in ice cream form!

            Beef pancakes at Everyday Beijing: The filling is juicy and the pastry is flaky/chewy.

            Beef tongue kushiage at Saizo: The tongue is melt-in-your-mouth tender.

            Boston blue shrimp sashimi at Koo: They are on the daily special menus and are the best shrimps I've ever eaten. The fried heads are good, too!

            Tea leaf salad at Yamo: I've only had tea salad at one other place (Mandalay), and I prefer Yamo's version much more. Great combination of flavors.

            Spicy pizza with fried egg at Deflina Pizzeria: I forgot the actual item name again. The runny fried eggs works really well with the spicy tomato sauce, and the crisp crust is delicious.

            Manresa Restaurant
            320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

            Everyday Beijing
            637 South B Street, San Mateo, CA

            Bi-Rite Creamery
            3692 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            592 E El Camino Real, Sunnyvale, CA 94087

            Pizzeria Delfina
            3611 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            3406 18th St, San Francisco, CA 94110

            Layang Layang
            1480 S De Anza Blvd, San Jose, CA 95129

            408 Irving St, San Francisco, CA 94122

            Sunny Shanghai
            189 El Camino Real, San Bruno, CA 94066

            Cafe Honolulu
            888 Stockton St, San Francisco, CA