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Top 10 Tastes 2009

Time to play!

As amply documented by the local press, this was a pretty spectactular year for Oakland - an incredible eight of my top 10 are from restaurants within 3 miles of my apartment, with Commis, Adesso and Pizzaiolo each contributing two items.

Egg yolk amuse-bouche (Commis) - in a year overrun with slow-cooked egg dishes, this was the One Egg to Rule Them All. A single egg yolk, cooked to the consistency of custard, paired with a date puree, an onion cream, and toasted steel-cut oatmeal, it was both innovative while still having a fundamental, primordial appeal. It was remarkable in being nothing like anything I'd ever had, but familiar in a way I couldn't place. My best guess is that the caramel undertones of each of the non-egg components harmonized with each other, and were enriched by the egg, coming together in a way that hinted at sticky toffee pudding, or maybe moon cakes. I haven't had such a disparate combination of ingredients blow my mind since my first time having Ubuntu's goat cheese, nori and radish salad.

Poached, then seared chicken (Commis) - quite literally one of my top 10 bites of the year, as I managed only a small taste of this off a friend's plate. Fantastically silky meat, topped with crisped skin, this dish mocked my reluctance to order chicken in restaurants.

Arancini (Adesso) - these molten umami-bombs set themselves apart from the rest with their luscious, pork ragu centers. Snagging one of these during Adesso's happy hour feels like winning the lottery, but one is never enough - best to order a few plates for your table, and let other people fight for the freebies.

Duck salumi (Adesso) - every time I order this, I marvel at what tastes like orange blossoms in this delicate salumi. I think it's probably the coriander, but in any case, the uniqueness of each of Adesso's gazillion salumi always amazes me, and redeems the house-made salumi movement in the Bay Area (which I find has mostly resulted in a lot of mediocre salumi).

Fried chicken (Ad Hoc) - it's been a good year for me and fried chicken, but Ad Hoc left everyone else in the dust. The salad course was so generous I was nearly full when the glorious bucket of chicken hit the table, but nothing stimulates the appetite like that first bite of crisp-skinned, herb-imbued, juicy chicken. A most pleasant fugue state ensues, ending with a pile of stripped bones and a deliriously sated belly.

Clam Pizza (Boot and Shoe Service) - fat, tender clams, garlic, parsley and chili flakes, on a tender-crisp crust. Outstanding. Unfortunately, when I went back a second time, the pizza was excessively salty, and I was told that there was no additional salt added to the pizza (the clams provide the salinity). I'm still puzzled as to how this is possible - it doesn't seem possible that the saltiness of the clams can vary much from batch to batch, so I'm postulating that the dough was oversalted that day. Nonetheless, my first pizza was so stellar that I plan to give this one another shot in the near future.

Abstraction of Garden in Winter (Coi) - tender, sweet root vegetables, paired with hazelnut-chicory "dirt" (at least, I'm assuming it's hazelnut and chicory, based on what goes into Manresa's version) this gorgeously composed dish was so good it had me and my carnivorous boyfriend scrabbling for every last speck.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pizzaiolo) - this ultra-refined version starred silky handkerchief pasta and gloriously creamy beans in a scant amount of flavorful broth. Pizzaiolo's handmade pastas are really fantastic, and now that Boot and Shoe Service can provide me Pizzaiolo-style pizzas with minimum hassle, I may start going to Pizzaiolo specifically for the pastas.

Gin and Tonic (Pizzaiolo) - this was a great year for cocktails in the East Bay, but Pizzaiolo's G&T still reigns supreme for me. The house-made tonic is spiked with a garden's worth of herbs and melds seamlessly into the gin.

Dulce de leche gelato (Lush) - nearly chewy from the caramel, this is a gelato to savor seated, in silence.

Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

4395 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA

3859 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland, CA 94611

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  1. My top 10 tastes list covers a wider area, and will probably be different if you ask me tomorrow. Thanks for the post, this is fun.

    Cal-Ital pizza at Nick's
    Green Chile soup at Duarte's
    Foie Gras croquettes at Manresa
    Braised Goat Shoulder at Stellina
    Levain Bread at Outerlands
    Any sandwich from Kitchenette
    Brown sugar and black pepper biscuit from Little Skillet
    Ukrainian Sausage from Dittmers
    Pastrami at Refuge
    Sour cherry & meatball dish at Pilita

    1. In an effort to save money this year, I didn't eat out very much but I managed to scrounge up some tasty tidbits:

      The oca salad with avocado & persimmon, etc at the Ubuntu Tuesday night dinner. . I still daydream about this salad. . so simple and yet so perfect at the same time (okay actually ate three meals there this year and each one was wonderful. . .I am especially enamored with Ms. Fox's desserts. . .always order all of them and leave very, very happy)

      The departing gift of fleur de sel caramels from Manresa (with a nod to those foie gras croquettes and the arpege egg. . .I know that's a standby signature dish but there's a reason - it is phenomenal!)

      The fresh avocado rolls @ Champa Garden. . .summer rolls simply filled with the usual suspects. .. what makes this dish special is the creaminess of the avocado against the crunchy herbs and vegetables in this refreshing roll and the dipping sauce.. . really lovely.

      Caffe con Dulce de Leche from Lush. . .rarely on the menu these days but this is the flavor that got me hooked initially. super yum

      Pisco Sour from Sidebar. .I am not much of a drinker but these could turn me into a straight up lush. Delicious!

      Roasted Vinegar Chicken @ BarBersQ - worth the wait!

      Bread & Butter Pickles from LouLou's Garden - AMAZING!

      Give it To Me Guava - chocolate from Socola Chocolatiers

      Prawns and Scrambled Eggs from Fountain Garden Restaurant - hole in the wall, dreary Chinese place in the Laurel District. . this dish is just comfort on a plate for me. . fresh tasting prawns scrambled in eggs with scallions, ginger, garlic and bean sprouts atop steamed rice with hot sauce just about makes my toes curl with happiness. :)

      The tlayuda with tinga de pollo at La Oaxaquena. . . muy rico!

      5 Replies
      1. re: pastryqueen

        Huzza huzza on pisco sours. I can't remember the various places where I had them this year (Fonda's was memorable though!) --- they've all been good.

        1. re: bbulkow

          I did a lot of cooking in this year and most of my drinking out. Had a lot of fantastic cocktails.

          The Pisco Sours at Fonda ARE good. I like them best when Linnet makes them.
          Tonic at Hotsy Totsy.
          Cucumber gimlet at Bourbon & Branch. Not new, just new to me.
          Stone fruit cooler at Redd.
          Ankimo from Hama-Ko in Cole Valley.
          Tuna tartar from Redd (In the words of Russell Peters, <insert English-Medium [Indian] accent> “This was mind BLASTING. Anything can blow your mind, this BLASTED my mind.”)
          Grilled artichokes with Tarragon aioli at Mua (not mentioned on CH nearly enough)
          Zaki’s roast chicken
          Ryan Farr’s Chicharrones
          Wood-fired pizzas from the Pescadero Country Store made with local cheese and produce eaten while drinking pinot noir out of cardboard coffee to-go cups in prep for a day of musselling at the beach. The cups definitely detracted from the wine, but the whole meal just kinda fit the day.

        2. re: pastryqueen

          As I mentioned in another post, I recently had a very similar oca salad at Ubuntu, and I am fairly certain it will make my list too, when I get time to do one. Ubuntu is getting better and better for me each time I eat there (and the fact that hubby also loves it is a big plus!)

          I love bread and butter pickles! Think I am about to do some online shopping...thanks for the mention.


          1. re: pastryqueen

            Help..I'm drooling here for the prawns and scrambled eggies but can't find any Fountain Garden restaurant listed in sf????????????

            1. re: jnredsie

              Fountain Garden Seafood Restaurant

              3836 MacArthur Blvd, Oakland, CA 94619
              (510) 531-8225

          2. I have to add an honorable mention to the peanut butter & chocolate shake at Bubba's Diner in San Anselmo. Best shake ever!

            1. 1. Almost anything from Le Bedaine in Berkeley, especially the smoked sausage and Paris-Brest cream puffs. My pick for best new business of 2009

              2. The entire Basque Dinner at Vineyards Inn in Kensington … especially the Tom and Dave’s coffee. My pick for best dinner of the year

              3. Easter kulich and pascha at Katia’s Russian Tea Room in SF

              4, Ubuntu heirloom tomato salad with burata

              5. Fig and anise bread at Village Bakery in Sebastopol

              6. Roasted beet salad at Brix in Napa

              7. Dark Chocolate, peanuts, star anise, dates, banana at Eve in Berkeley

              8. Ants on a log truffle at Chocoletier Blue

              9. Celery root cake, grape jelly, almond crumble, celery sorbet (another ants on a log) at Commis

              10. Moranga from the sadly now closed Mom’s Kitchen in San Pablo. Who knew blood sausage could be this delicious

              Honorable mentions

              Pink apple sorbet at Humphrey Slocombe

              Beef doner wrap at Real Doner in Petaluma

              Homemade Celery Soda at Saul’s

              Lush Gelato basil gelato

              Di Stefano burrata

              Pizzaiolo apple turnovers

              El Porteno chimichanga sauce sold at Actual Café in Oakland

              Cheese bread at Brazil Marin

              Cuban sandwich at Havana Sol in Vallejo

              Soft tofu with crab roe at Golden Bowl in El Cerrito

              Hopkins Street Bakery jelly doughnuts

              Gravenstein cider at Kowzlowski's in Forestville

              Creme de menthe ice cream at Screamin' Mimi's in Sebastopol

              2 Replies
                1. re: rworange

                  Holy moly, you aren't kidding about Ubuntu's tomato with burrata. YUM.

                2. The crabcake and spicy remoulade sauce at The House

                  1. In no particular order...

                    1) My first Crane melon

                    2) My first cappuccino at Local 123 - first of many.

                    3) Steak Alameda at Sunnyside Cafe - breakfast of champions.

                    4) Pork spareribs with fried taro balls at Jai Yun - but my whole meal was great; I could have also singled out, say, the fried eggplant.

                    5) Smoked sausages at La Bedaine - best sausages ever.

                    6) Caffe with chocolate chips gelato from Lush Gelato - it could have been any number of other flavors: the basil, the creme fraiche, and especially the grapefruit sorbetto.

                    7) Berkshire pork chop with hoppin' john, chow-chow and pork belly from Pican - simply perfect.

                    8) "Almond Joy" dessert at Sidebar - can't wait until they bring it back.

                    9) Burger at Zuni Cafe - my first (and second) was this year

                    10) Poached egg and pork jowl appetizer at Commis - dinner here was by far my best meal of the year; I certainly could have singled out the poached egg amuse as well.

                    Bonus, not in the Bay Area:

                    1) Korean fried chicken at Bon Chon Chicken in Fort Lee, NJ - it's been hard to top this introduction to the world of "KFC"
                    2) "Snout and trout" at Blue Hill at Stone Barn in Pocantico Hills, NY - grilled trout w/ roasted pig snout
                    3) Burger at Marche in Eugene, Oregon - as good as Zuni's.
                    4) XLB and Dongpuo Rou in Richmond, BC

                    3 Replies
                    1. re: abstractpoet

                      I am gathering data from this great thread, thanks everyone.

                      Joining you slightly OT, abstractpoet: where was your second #4 exactly?

                      1. re: grayelf

                        Grayelf: I rarely get a chance to explore on my own in BC, since we always go to my relatives' favorite neighborhood spot--I believe it's called Shanghai Wonderful? I think it moved to a new location fairly recently.

                        Don't know if what I had was anything close to the best versions of those dishes in Richmond, but to my taste, they were as good as anything I've had in Taiwan.

                        1. re: abstractpoet

                          Thanks for assuaging my curiosity, abstractpoet. I haven't been to SW (so many Shanghainese places here) but it consistently gets solid reports. We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming :-).

                    2. Sea Salt's fried eggplant with puréed eggplant

                      Mua's burger

                      Great China's steamed surf clams

                      Great China's fried oysters

                      Adesso's little fried balls made from salami ends

                      The bean salad at the Soul Food Farm benefit at Pizzaiolo

                      Camino's slow-roasted tomatoes with rosewater, from a Daniel Boulud recipe in Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking

                      La Ciccia's braised chicken gizzards

                      Wood Tavern pastrami sandwich

                      Lers Ros's tom kha kai

                      1. Like many, this year was a year for our family to economize, so my top-10 is devoid of any high end stars. But thanks to so many great tips from the hounds on this board, we managed to have some great eats. Its hard to pick just 10, and in many cases a coin toss to pick a particular dish. Here, shooting from the hip, is my 2009 top-10:

                        1) Braised, battered, and fried sausage shooter, Mission Street Food
                        2) Croque Monsieur, Butler and the Chef
                        3) Koh Moo Yang (sliced pork shoulder) at Lers Ros
                        4) Panzanella salad from Cafe 15
                        5) Pain au chocolat, Sandbox bakery
                        6) Roasted beet salad at Outerlands
                        7) Sardine and avacado toast, Contigo
                        8) Cappuccino at Local 123
                        9) Brussel's sprouts at Nombe
                        10) Nachos at Peurto Allegre (Which will always be on my top-10. Forever.)

                        1. More economizing here--and it was a year where I reacquainted myself with the kitchen.

                          Not at home:
                          The hamburger at West Berkeley Bowl
                          Lentil soup at Everest Cafe
                          Wild boar pate at Le Bedain
                          Zaki chicken
                          Real pastrami sandwiches at a deli in Long Island
                          Rotten City pizza slices

                          Home-cooked: Lots of stocks and sauces for the freezer:
                          San Marzano tomato with garlic and basil, for pizzas and pasta sauces
                          Fish stock from carcasses from West BB, for in chowders and bisques.
                          Chicken stock from Zaki birds, makes an excellent lentil soup.

                          And fresh garbanzo beans, steamed in the shell. Fresh cranberry beans in seafood chowders.

                          7 Replies
                          1. re: ernie in berkeley

                            Where do people get wild boar these days? Is there enough wilderness left to have sufficient to shoot?

                            1. re: Kim Cooper

                              Feral pigs are a real problem in Marin and elsewhere. This article is from 2001, but I don't think things have changed much.


                              1. re: Kim Cooper

                                Wild boar are hunted in Sonoma County too.

                                1. re: Shane Greenwood

                                  Wild boar/feral pigs are indeed a big problem in California -- because they root, they can denude and destroy an ecosystem. They're basically a non-native invasive species, and the State of California practically begs you to hunt them:

                                  California Code of Regulations, Title 14
                                  § 368. Wild Pig.
                                  Wild pigs may be taken only as follows:
                                  (a) General Season: Open all year.
                                  (b) Bag and Possession Limit : There is no daily bag or possession limit for wild pigs.

                                  1. re: Ruth Lafler

                                    Two restaurants in Santa Barbara were featuring preps this week, unfortunately, didnt' get a chance to try either one but both sounded fantastic.Petit Valentin had a confit of wild boar short ribs and Seagrass was offering wild boar pasta.

                                    Living in Germany years ago, we loved it every time we tried it. Why isn't it more prevalent in the bay area?

                                    1. re: PolarBear

                                      Truly wild game is hard to put on restaurant menus because after its shot it has to be handled and processed under FDA regulations. I believe most if not all of what is labeled "wild boar" is farm-raised.

                                2. re: Kim Cooper

                                  Wild boar you have to hunt yourself, but Highland Hills Farm sells pastured "wild" boar (they raise them just like pigs) at the Berkeley farmers markets. You can also get boar and other game through Polarica.

                              2. 1) Eggplant with sun-dried yoghurt, walnuts and fried onions at Zare/Flytrap. I don't think this restaurant is getting enough praise. Really original flavors and well executed dishes.

                                2) Braised pork ribs during Sunday izakaya at Sebo

                                3) Fried boquerones at Contigo

                                4) Raviolo stuffed with ricotta, egg yolk, butter and white truffle at SPQR

                                5) Giant clam with yellow chives at R&G

                                6) Vitello "tonatto" at the new Quince

                                7) slow cooked egg with sea urchin at Saison

                                8) Ricotta and new olive oil pizza at A16

                                9) Tuna sandwich at Pals takeaway

                                10) chestnut stuffed pasta with spigariello at SPQR

                                1. Some good 2009 eats in San Francisco:

                                  I liked my muffaletta from Bocalone. Not the real deal but curiously addictive.

                                  Foie gras at La Folie is special. So is everything else. Service is up to the quality of the food.

                                  Tony Gemignani makes a pretty good pie at Tony's Pizza Napoletana. I like sitting at the bar. I like going back to the wood-fired oven and chatting with Tony. I like this place.

                                  Honorable mention has to go to the new chef at SPQR and its utterly charming wine boss (I'll follow her anywhere). The new-fangled (not fried) brussels sprouts were wonderful. I understand they are no longer available. pity, they were damn good. SPQR continues to grow.

                                  Nostalgia award goes to the bar at the Washbag. Quiet introspection requires a martini, straight up with two olives, and a savvy barkeep. I wish them well.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: steve h.

                                    Guess I have a big sweet tooth compared to others! i also didn't hit many high end restaurants and was out of the country for awhile...but

                                    Seafood tostada at Primavera
                                    Anananas goju at Sakoon (mountain view)
                                    Olive oil ice cream at Humphrey Slocombe (I like so many more, but this is a perennial favorite)
                                    Passion fruit chocolate macaron at Paulette
                                    Lemon or honey chocolate at chocolatier blue (or rechuitti burnt caramel)
                                    Poco Dolce burnt caramel tiles
                                    Scallops at Redd
                                    kinako mochi at benkyodo
                                    Veggie sampler at Helmand Palace
                                    Curry leaf dosa at Dosa Place - comfort food, not amazing but yummy

                                    Honorable mentions:
                                    At home - chocolate caramel cremeaux, some of my husbands outstanding soux vide meat from Marin Sun Farms, slow oven roasted San Marzanos from Mariquita Farm, many batches of lavender peach frozen yogurt and chocolate caramel sorbet
                                    In France - so many, but Patisserie Lac passion fruit chocolate, Arlequin chocolate sorbet, pineapple-mint sorbet, and chestnut gelato, Passion fruit banana chocolate macaron Maison du chocolate, my entire meal at Bacchanales in Vence...
                                    Bonnat 100% bar

                                    1. re: jsaimd

                                      OK - I have to retract for two items I just tasted but MEANT to try last year : ).

                                      Humphrey Solcombe candy cap ice cream (you can get it temporarily at the Ferry Building Far West Fungi) - mmm.... mapley yumminess.
                                      Chocolatier blue grapefruit rosemary - I think one of the best flavors he has ever had.

                                  2. Trying to economize wasn't exactly new for me this year. I hit a lot of happy hours and shared a lot of small plates. Crab-oysters-bacon-ahi-avocado and shrimp often were involved. Some of it blurs, but this is what stands out:

                                    Brie beignet with black currant sauce at Rendez Vous, Albany
                                    Ahi tuna tartare with avocado, vanilla bean, chorizo at FIVE, Berkeley
                                    Calamari, Ponzu, SF
                                    Bread pudding, Soluna, SF
                                    Chicken curry bahn mi, Cam Huong, Oakland
                                    Charcuterie plate, Cafe Rouge
                                    Zaki's chicken
                                    Squid with white beans, Lalime's (Yes, the old Lalime's.)
                                    The big chilled plate of oysters, mussels and shrimp at that Italian place in Tiburon right next to the ferry stop. Pretty touristy, but also fresh and simple and fun.
                                    Last of all -- when I ended up unexpectedly spending the night at Oakland Kaiser I had a bowl of vegetable soup that was very restorative. It sort of haunts me.

                                    1. My best bites of 2009 (caveat: some of these have been around for a long time but I just had them for my first time in 2009):

                                      1) Chilaquiles at Tlaqueplaque in Willow Glen.

                                      2) Spicy Rice Cakes at Momofuku Ssam Bar in New York.

                                      3) Every bowl of ramen I had at Santa Ramen in San Mateo.

                                      4) Cotton Candied seared Foie Gras popper at The Bazaar in LA.

                                      5) The Poc Chuc (marinated pork) at Poc Chuck in the Mission.

                                      6) Applewood smoked beignets at Frances in the Castro.

                                      7) The pork jowl appetizer at Commis in Oaktown.

                                      8) The al pastor taco at Taqueria San Jose in the Mission.

                                      9) The Channa Bhatura with Poori at Dosa on Fillmore.

                                      10) The "Vermont" (smoked pork and cheddar link with hash browns) at DBGB in New York.

                                      11) The egg roll from King Egg Roll in San Jose.

                                      12) The Mozarella tasting from the Mozarella Bar at Mozza in LA.

                                      13) The filet and foie at Fleur de Lys.

                                      14) The pork belly dish at Lers Ros (this was undoubtedly my top bite from 2009).

                                      15) I feel obligated to include a pizza on this list, given the explosion of pizza places in SF this year. Although none of these newcomers can dethrone the undisputed king of them all, The Cheeseboard in Berkeley, I have to say that my favorite slice of 2009 was the Broccoli Raab at Pizzeria Delfina, slightly edging out Beretta and Flour + Water.

                                      16) The "mu shu bacon" at Willi's Wine Bar in Santa Rosa.

                                      17) White truffle risotto at Marinus at Bernardus in Carmel.

                                      18) Blue Crab and beer at The Quarterdeck in Arlington, Virginia.

                                      19) Lobster Burger at Citronelle in DC.

                                      20) The ciopinno at Tadich. I had never had it before this year, and I'm now a full-fledged convert. It's the best I've ever had.

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: PulledPork

                                        I meant to say the "applewood smoked BACON beignets" from Frances, but perhaps an even more glaring ommission from the list was leaving off the bacon fat injected veal and eggs with foie gras hollindaise from Commander's Palace in New Orleans.

                                        1. re: PulledPork

                                          The lamb & pork albondigas at Frances are right up there for me. The beignets are nice, but those meatballs were sensational.

                                      2. In no particular order:

                                        1. The duck on the truffle dinner menu at Oliveto. Possibly my favorite duck ever.
                                        2. Tum Yum Noodle Soup (w/ vermicelli) at Chai Thai.
                                        3. Black sesame cake at Commis. The unexpected, nearly frozen cubes of candied cucumber were delightful. I'm not a dessert person, but this made me giggle.
                                        4. Duck salami w/ Meyer lemon at Adesso.
                                        5. Gin, tomato, lemon, salt, pepper, and chile at Camino. Like a Bloody Mary, but better because it's made with gin.
                                        6. Pear gelato at Lush (though I could also have said the Caffe con Dulce de Leche gelato).
                                        7. Pappardelle with fresh porcini mushrooms at Oliveto.
                                        8. Rogue River Blue Cheese. Why does this have to be so spendy, and so hard to find?
                                        9. The really garlicky bean dip at the Soul Food Farms benefit at Pizzaiolo. Not sure who was responsible for it, but I couldn't stop eating it.
                                        10. Yes, yes, the pork jowl and egg at Commis. I tried not to say it. I wanted to be original. Oh well.

                                        4 Replies
                                        1. re: lexdevil

                                          I've been trying to get the recipe for that bean dip. A friend who volunteered knows the person who made it. I'll ask again.

                                          1. re: lexdevil

                                            The Rogue River Blue is a fabulous cheese and this year's release was particularly good. It's hard to find because the production is limited and the producer usually sells out on pre-orders before it's even released. You have to find a cheese store that has been carrying it for long enough that they reliably get a good allocation. Farmstead in Alameda usually has it, and I've been told it's actually cheaper there ($42/lb.) than if you buy it at Rogue River Creamery.

                                          2. In no particular order:

                                            1) Seared foie gras with asian pear coulis and lentils, vanilla bean gastrique - Cyrus, Healdsburg, CA

                                            2) Pad kra pow beef - Thai Siam, Arrington, VA

                                            3) The squash casserole, stewed okra&tomatoes, mustard greens, and perfect fried chicken at Jones Kitchen, Jesup, GA.

                                            4) Pimento cheese panini - Parker & Otis, Durham, NC.

                                            5) Spring rabbit confit with amontillado sherry & country mustard jus with goat cheese ricotta gnocchi, pancetta, escarole, turnips and sugar snap peas - Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC.

                                            6) Family-recipe deviled crab cake at Posey's Steam Room and Oyster Bar - Panacea, FL.

                                            7) The tagatelli bolognese at Trattoria Lucca, Charleston, SC.

                                            8) Maple view dairy buttermilk vanilla bean pie with flat river farm strawberries, berry sauce, and whipped cream - Magnolia Grill, Durham, NC.

                                            9) Perfectly-fried grouper and jumbo shrimp with remoulade - George's at Alys Beach, Alys Beach, FL.

                                            10) Hickory-smoked chopped pork BBQ sandwich with brunswick stew, slaw, and hushpuppies - Allen&Son, Chapel Hill, NC.

                                            1. Chicken Bastilla at Aziza - Definitely top taste of the year - like biting into a puffy sweet-savory cloud of yumminess

                                              Heirloom tomato and burrata salad at Ubuntu - perhaps the best tomato dish I've ever had

                                              Basil Napoleon at Chapeau! - I love classical French desserts, but this was so increidbly innovative and worked better than I could have imagined

                                              Baked eggs with brown sugar bacon for brunch at Foreign Cinema - perhaps the best brunch dish I've had

                                              Burger at Mission Burger - everything I've ever wanted in a burger - so delicious on every level

                                              Lavender and Roasted Peaches dessert at Spruce - really showed me how well lavender can be used if done right

                                              Yucca fries at Limon - a seemingly simple dish, but so perfect on so many levels

                                              Fried oyster po'boy at Cafe15 - just bursting with freshness

                                              Oyster pizza at Osterina Stellina - the first bite, I didn't get any oyster and it was already an incredible pizza. Then I bit into an oyster sourced from less than a mile away, and it was incredible.

                                              Australian rack of lamb at RNM - yum

                                              If we're going to expand 2009 by one day to include January 1, 2010, I'd have to add David Chang's pork buns at Momofuku Ssam to the list - I can't remember the last time I tried such a hyped up dish and it completely lived up to expectations - so fatty, rich, melt in your mouth....

                                              8 Replies
                                              1. re: vulber

                                                I was really disappointed in the Momofuku pork buns, especially compared with the spicy pork mantou at Province (now Mantao, more or less).

                                                Is anyplace out here doing anything like those? The Macao / HK cafes do sandwiches, but they're more Western-style.


                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                  What's the "spicy pork" filling like, exactly? I think Joy Restaurant (in Foster City) does a pretty decent, if not spectacular, version of Taiwanese "gua bao" - but that's obviously not what you're describing.

                                                  I'd wondered why David Chang called his pork buns a riff on Peking duck when they seemed so clearly more of a variation on gua bao. But having made them at home on a couple of occasions now, I can see why -- the flavor profile (with the Hoisin sauce kind of dominating everything else) is very much like Peking duck.

                                                  I think it's a good dish, but I like anything with pork belly. I bet it could be even better with some kind of homemade sauce rather than store-bought Hoisin.

                                                  1. re: abstractpoet

                                                    Province's spicy pork was somewhere between pulled pork and carnitas. Bocanova's pork arepa is the most similar thing I've had since.

                                                    I didn't think Momofuku's pork was seasoned in a very interesting way, and I don't much care for those soft white buns.

                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                      The seasoning/brine is literally just 50/50 salt and sugar. Nothing else, besides the smear of Hoisin sauce on the bun itself. (I thought the flavor you get is pretty amazing considering that that's all there is to it, but I can certainly see how you could have the complete opposite take on it.)

                                                      Does Old Mandarin Islamic have anything on its menu along these lines? I bet they'd do a great job. (Though obviously not with PORK per se.)

                                                      1. re: abstractpoet

                                                        I'm not sure what they could substitute for pork belly.

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          =) Yeah, just realized that and edited accordingly.

                                                          1. re: abstractpoet

                                                            The closet thing I could compare it to here was Heaven's Dog, although these made Heaven's Dog taste like House of Nanking, as I realized that if you prepare the pork to perfection, you only need a very small amount of hoisin sauce, rather than the coating that Heaven's Dog applies.

                                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                    I like the veggie ones at Sogo Tofu in San Jose very much, a variety of fillings available.

                                                2. Folks, the San Francisco Bay Area board has a narrow mission: where to find great restaurant chow in the Bay Area. It's fun to report your favorites from last year, but these posts should help readers in their search for great local chow, so please limit the discussion to Bay Area restaurant experiences. Restaurants elsewhere are off topic, and terrific food you cooked yourself should be discussed on the Home Cooking board.

                                                  1. 1. Handmade corn tortillas dipped in black bean puree at Poc Chuc.
                                                    2. Chanterelle mushrooms in bonito butter at Manresa.
                                                    3. Chicharrones from 4505 Meats.
                                                    4. Rice ball salad at Champa Garden.
                                                    5. Carrot mac and cheese at Ubuntu.
                                                    6. Egg yolk amuse bouche at Commis.
                                                    7. Warm Parker House rolls at Canteen.
                                                    8. Fresh from the steamer queso con rajas tamales from Unicos de Cuernavaca.
                                                    9. Pear with thyme truffle from Chocolatier Blue.
                                                    10. Toasted salt rising bread from the Bread Garden which I discovered this year and have become strangely addicted to.

                                                    4 Replies
                                                    1. re: potato or yam

                                                      Oh yeah - the chicharrones and the Poc Chuc tortillas...those are so good.

                                                      1. re: jsaimd

                                                        Amen on those Poc Chuc tortillas. Perfection.

                                                        1. re: PulledPork

                                                          I just noticed when looking at it for another thread, that the tortillas and habanero salsa at Poc Chuc (I like the black bean dip too) were a favorite top taste of mine in 2007: and they would probably still make the list this year!

                                                          1. re: susancinsf

                                                            I love the habanero salsa. Every time I ask them what's in it they say it's just roasted habaneros and onions, but I think they are holding something back.

                                                    2. Off the top of my head:

                                                      - Watermelon Pudding @ Sea Salt
                                                      - Inside Out Burger @ Spork
                                                      - Fried Chicken @ PIzzaiolo
                                                      - Jesus Juice Sorbet @ Humphrey Slocombe
                                                      - Egg Salad Sandwich @ Il Cane Rosso in the Ferry Building
                                                      - Cannele @ La Boulange
                                                      - Japantown Sundae @ Sophie's Crepes in Japantown SF

                                                      4 Replies
                                                      1. re: timpoblete

                                                        I wanted to like that inside out burger at Spork. Didn't do it for me. Loved the concept, didn't really care for the ingredients/flavors/meat quality.

                                                        1. re: PulledPork

                                                          It might be off and on. The first time I had it it blew me out of the park. The second time was significantly inferior to the first. Still, the first one was one of the more memorable tastes for me this year.

                                                        2. re: timpoblete

                                                          Fried chicken @ Pizzaiolo.Happy your experience was better then my blah chicken there.

                                                          1. re: timpoblete

                                                            I just had that egg salad sandwich at Il Cane Rosso a few days ago, and it's fantastic.

                                                          2. Green papaya salad w/ raw crab @ Lers Ros: 2009 was my year of Thai food. I got a much better handle on regional distinctions in cooking not just through visits to Jitlada in Hollywood and Lotus of Siam in Vegas and Tom Yum Eden in Auckland (all of which serve dishes not available in the Bay Area), but also through the study I put in to prepare for those destinations, from which I learned, for instance, how to balance dishes when ordering a Thai meal. On the other hand, there are still a great many things I don't know about Thai food, like the proper way to eat the brined blue crab in Lers Ros's papaya salad. I find it very difficult to eat with the utensils provided in the restaurant -- even more so than most crab -- but I find it far too tasty to leave unconsumed. I've settled on enjoying the crab-flavoured papaya there, while taking the crab home and attacking it in less public surroundings. Worth the effort.

                                                            Nigiri @ Hotaru: So much better than Berkeley sushi, yet near the bottom of Sushi Monster's top tier -- and cheaper than all those listed above it. Conclusion: this sushi thing is going to get expensive.

                                                            Wild prawns @ Venezia: This one's for my mother. Venezia is a place that kind of gets slammed on Chowhound, and it was pretty clear to me that their ingredient quality and execution were a large step below the likes of Pizzaiolo and Dopo (though transplant it to New Zealand and it would compete for best Italian in the country). On the other hand, I took my parents to Chez Panisse and Gary Danko and Koi Palace, and the one place at which my mother ate during her visit here that she still raves about is Venezia, for their wild prawns -- something not particularly exceptional here, but all but unknown in otherwise seafood-blessed New Zealand. It's all relative, isn't it?

                                                            Cheese course @ Gary Danko: Wannabe rustic that I am, I was highly surprised that I preferred Danko to Chez Panisse. This is mostly because we happened to go there on a day when the menu was atypically wrong for me -- though CP's version was undeniably delicious, tenderloin steak isn't one of my preferred meats. But I had read many reports here that Danko was boring, though consistent (the reason I suggested it to my parents). Well, the menu was indeed kind of was boring, and looks much the same now as when we went in the summer. But apparently I very much like immaculately executed boring food, as long as I get to choose what I have. And the fascination with cheese Danko kindled, though not inexpensive on my budget, is at least cheaper than a sushi fascination.

                                                            Chicken @ Koi Palace: Koi Palace might be the Gary Danko of dim sum: a very middle-of-the-road idea of what upscale food means. Whatever, I've never been anywhere else that can make chicken feet so flavourful without making an oily mess.

                                                            Surf clams @ Daimo: Similar to my mother's wild prawn experience, I'd never had live surf clams before, despite six years of going to US Chinese restaurants. After having them at Daimo, I'm kicking myself for not discovering them sooner.

                                                            Pani puri @ Chat Patta Corner: Ah, so that's how it's supposed to be done. Vik's won't take note, but they should.

                                                            Gulab jamun @ Chat Patta Corner: Indian sweets: sometimes they're actually good. News to me.

                                                            Tripas taco @ El Novillo: I planned to do an exhaustive survey of Fruitvale taco trucks, but after some mixed results, ended up hitting El Novillo, Sinaloa and Los Michoacanos repeatedly, and none of these are novel to those who follow these boards closely. Still, sometimes one doesn't have to be original.

                                                            The first Sumatran drip they had @ Local 123: They went from this, to a Sumatran that was "not your typical Sumatran", to no Sumatran at all, at which point I reinstated Mokka as my regular. While gently reminding the good people at Local 123 that the world of coffee does not entirely consist of fruit juice-flavoured Central American beans, I'll celebrate that they provided me with the best cup I've ever had.

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

                                                            5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                                                            4293 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA 94611

                                                            3075 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                                                            Chez Panisse
                                                            1517 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                                                            Gary Danko
                                                            800 N Point St, San Francisco, CA 94109

                                                            Chat Patta Corner
                                                            34751 Ardenwood Blvd, Fremont, CA 94555

                                                            Local 123
                                                            2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                                            6 Replies
                                                            1. re: bradluen

                                                              A little off topic, but your comment about Sumatran drip is irresistible. I moved here recently and have yet to find a cup of coffee I like. The local taste seems to favor flowery Central American, or tea-like African coffees. The "strong" coffee option is over-roasted bitter coffee (like all of Peets' roasts - they all taste the same). I'm looking for earthy, smooth, non-bitter Indonesian coffee like a good Sumatra. Any suggestions on where I can get that? I must have tried 50 different coffees already and I'm losing hope. I may have to order from the East Coast.

                                                              1. re: NYprof

                                                                Not Indonesian, but you might give the house coffee at Kefa Coffee in Oakland a try. It's an Ethiopian Yirgacheffe and used to be one of my favorite cups in the East Bay -- though I'm not sure if it's declined since they switched roasters relatively recently. Earthy and smooth is exactly how I would describe it.

                                                                As a bonus, the egg salad sandwich at Kefa was one of the final cuts when I was tallying up my top ten list for this past year.

                                                                Kefa Coffee
                                                                422 29th Ave, Oakland, CA 94601

                                                                1. re: NYprof

                                                                  My guests at Le Garage, Sausalito thought their decaf coffee was excellent. I traced it to Moschetti in Vallejo and the decaf was Sumatran. I also got regular Sumatran and enjoyed that also. I believe that is what they serve at Cafe Leila, Berkeley. You could try it at either place.

                                                                  1. re: NYprof

                                                                    I think my regular at Mokka is Equator's Golden Pawani, but you might like to call Mokka or Equator to check.


                                                                    1. re: bradluen

                                                                      Thank you!!! I can't wait to try these coffees. I love all you Chowhounds!

                                                                    2. re: NYprof

                                                                      If you are in Berkeley/Albany, stop by Tangerine Food Bar. You wouldn't expect it, but they offer great coffee without the burnt/bitter taste.

                                                                      I stop by once or twice a week precisely because like you, I can't stand the dark roasts at other places.

                                                                  2. Grilled Cauliflower and Greens with Soft Egg – Jon’s Street Eats

                                                                    Rico Burger – Rico’s

                                                                    Spanish Style Tripe – Café 15

                                                                    Messer Wot – Enssaro

                                                                    Long Cooked Cauliflower Soft Scrambled Egg, Feta, Croutons – Sea Salt

                                                                    Cabbage slaw - Wood Tavern

                                                                    Chicken Iskender – Alaturca

                                                                    Kao Pad Nam (Fried rice with preserved sausage) – Chai Thai Noodles

                                                                    Papusas – Tomales Mi Lupita Truck

                                                                    Chanterelle Calzone - Dopo

                                                                    4 Replies
                                                                    1. re: 10foot5

                                                                      Forgot one:

                                                                      G. T.'s Kombucha especially Gingerade and GingerBerry

                                                                      1. re: 10foot5

                                                                        Have you tried the mango flavor? sweeter, but it's my new fav.

                                                                        1. re: calieskimo

                                                                          I think I tried a Mango flavor early on, I'll have to go back and revisit.

                                                                          Something about the slight spiciness of ginger with the tartness of Kombucha really works for me.

                                                                      2. re: 10foot5

                                                                        Oh yeah, Wood Tavern's slaw is great. Perfect foil to the rich and fatty pastrami sandwich.

                                                                      3. Still got to have some tasty meals although I don't get to eat out much these days. So here's my top 8 tastes of 2009.
                                                                        1. GNOCCHI À LA PARISIENNE from RN74
                                                                        2. Chicken Egg Roll from Andy's Thai Cuisine
                                                                        3. Fideua negre from Barlata
                                                                        4. Min Uh Mae Woo Tang from Sura
                                                                        5. Cornmeal Crusted Skate from Wexler
                                                                        6. baked sea bass with mango from Sushi Zone
                                                                        7. Finally tasted the Rainbow Salad at Burma Superstar in Oakland
                                                                        8.. Not in the bay area but just had the Fish Tacos from Mariscos German Taco Truck in San Diego. OMFG.

                                                                        4869 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                                                                        Sushi Zone
                                                                        1815 Market St, San Francisco, CA 94103

                                                                        4901 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                                                                        Burma Superstar
                                                                        4721 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA

                                                                        301 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA 94105

                                                                        568 Sacramento Street, San Francisco, CA 94111

                                                                        1. Simple pleasures in '09:

                                                                          La Tesorito torta con todo at La Casita Chilanga on Middlefield Redwood City

                                                                          Tacos de cabeza, tripitas or barbacoa at Los Gemellos truck on El Camino Real also Redwood City

                                                                          1. omg I went & had the gin & tonic at Pizzaiolo after reading your post, & it was like I had never had a g&t before! What on earth do they do to that thing?! I wanted to wear it like perfume. I think I may be ruined for any other g&t... & I'm not even really a drinker.

                                                                            1. Damn, I kept terrible notes for the year. Here's the list off the top of my head:

                                                                              1. The cauliflower at Ubuntu - easily my favorite dish of the year.
                                                                              2. The cheesecake in the jar at Ubuntu - ditto, my favorite dessert of the year.
                                                                              3. The gnocchi starter at Wood Tavern - no matter the preparation, I am just a huge fan of these and happy they added them to the menu, although it means I order my beloved pork belly less.
                                                                              4. The cheeseburger at Sidecar - my favorite burger of the year.
                                                                              5. the BBQ pork neck at Chai Thai (although I liked the weird catfish salad and pork leg too)
                                                                              6. Wavreumont from Farmstead Cheese - a great cheese find. So much more interesting than aged gouda. Although the Testun al Barolo is a close second.
                                                                              7. Local sardines with white beans and fatted calf bacon from Hog Island - just too good.
                                                                              8. Slow cooked octopus from Bar Lata - love it, love it, love it.
                                                                              9. Octopus salad from Marzano -- close second for best octopus of the year.
                                                                              10. Short rib sandwich at Il Cane Rosso - favorite "new" sandwich... pastrami at Wood Tavern is still the best.

                                                                              4 Replies
                                                                                1. re: The Dive

                                                                                  I totally agree on that Sidecar burger, it's great. Have you tried the burger at Mua yet? Both are great new additions for those of us in the East Bay who love burgers.

                                                                                2. unordered, not all of them new (but new to me):

                                                                                  1) sushi sam's edomata: butterfish nigiri
                                                                                  2) la ciccia: squid ink risotto-like pasta
                                                                                  3) range: clam with chorizo appetizer
                                                                                  4) sahn maru: black goat stew
                                                                                  5) serpentine: polenta with runny eggs, chorizo, and rock crab
                                                                                  6) kingdom of dumplings: shrimp + chive dumplings
                                                                                  7) globe: sopressata with egg sunnyside up pizza
                                                                                  8) tacos los gemelos: aporriadillo tacos (altho i had a really hard time picking this over the carnitas tacos from el novillo and the chorizo+potato tacos from el huarache loco; the handmade tortillas pushed it over its competition)
                                                                                  9) scream sorbet: citrus fennel sorbet
                                                                                  10) aziza: celery cocktail (with sage, agave, gin)

                                                                                  totally cheating, but here are some of the runner-ups that i didn't have the heart to cut:
                                                                                  -- gitane: stuffed squid appetizer
                                                                                  -- roli roti: porchetta
                                                                                  -- boccalone: nduja
                                                                                  -- mama's: dungeness crab benedict
                                                                                  -- adesso: deviled eggs appetizer (free at happy hour)
                                                                                  -- champa garden: kaow soy noodle soup
                                                                                  -- la furia chalaca: anticuchos appetizer
                                                                                  -- indus village: paalak aloo
                                                                                  -- boiling crab: shrimp with the whole-shebang sauce
                                                                                  -- rosamunde sausage grill: andouille sausage
                                                                                  -- sketch: lavender ice cream with olive oil and sea salt

                                                                                  2 Replies
                                                                                  1. re: wahbahdoo

                                                                                    My favorite meal of 2009 was at Piperade in SF. I'd been to Fringale years ago and liked it very much. I don't know why I was leery of Piperade. Maybe it's because it's never mentioned here that I've seen. It has been around for a long time and I was worried it was just coasting along.

                                                                                    Was I ever wrong! Amazing from the apps to the dessert. A lovely place that was almost full but not loud.

                                                                                    I remember especially the piquillo peppers with goat cheese and golden raisins. I could have eaten about 3 orders of this.

                                                                                    Everything we ate was delicious, the service was good and the wine fab.

                                                                                    1. re: oakjoan

                                                                                      I wouldn't say Piperade is "never mentioned" here -- a search turned up mentions in 37 threads (not including this one) in the last year. I consider it one of the solid recommendations for someone who is looking for something mid-range and "different" (the Aziza/Piperade/La Ciccia category). But it's always good to have a reminder that even though its profile has dropped the quality of the restaurant hasn't.

                                                                                  2. Limiting myself to things listed as "The Bay Area" (thus including Napa and Los Gatos)

                                                                                    Banana Bread Pudding French Toast with bourbon pecan sauce and chocolate chips – Brenda’s French Soulfood.
                                                                                    A Big Pancake with Strawberries and Vanilla Sauce – Canteen
                                                                                    Chocolate Chip Pumpkin Bread French Toast with Maple Syrup – Dottie’s
                                                                                    Arpege Farm Egg with Maple and Vinegar – Manresa
                                                                                    Into the Vegetable Garden – Manresa
                                                                                    Zuckerman Farm Asparagus and Duck Egg Tempura with Nueske Bacon, Wild Mushrooms, and Truffle Vinaigrette – La Folie
                                                                                    Croque Monsieur with Baked Niman Ranch ham and emmenthal cheese on organic white bread with creme fraiche and cornichons plus organic greens salad - Butler and the Chef
                                                                                    RUSSET POTATO “GNOCCHI” - with Castelmagno Cheese and Shaved Black Truffles from Provence – The French Laundry
                                                                                    MOULARD DUCK “FOIE GRAS EN TERRINE” - Sunchoke-Vanilla Glaze, Asian Pear, Pickled Pearl Onions, Mizuna and Toasted Brioche. – The French Laundry
                                                                                    Organic Free Range Chicken Breast with Black Truffles, Baked Crespelle with Wild Mushroom Ragu, Ricotta, Sauteed Broccoli di Ciccio and Rich Chicken Jus - Boulevard

                                                                                    1 Reply
                                                                                    1. Sorry for the late entry, but a query about lamb offal just reminded me that one of the most remarkable things I tasted in 2009 was the grilled lamb heart skewer at Eden's.

                                                                                      Eden's Turkish Food
                                                                                      552 Jones St, San Francisco, CA 94102