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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.

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Manresa Restaurant
320 Village Lane, Los Gatos, CA 95030

Pizzaiolo
5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

Ad Hoc
6476 Washington St., Yountville, CA 94599

Adesso
4395 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA

Commis
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.

          http://www.loulousgarden.com/

          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
              http://www.chow.com/digest/san-franci...

              3. Easter kulich and pascha at Katia’s Russian Tea Room in SF
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/610687

              4, Ubuntu heirloom tomato salad with burata
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/560573

              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
              http://www.chow.com/digest/2009/03/re...

              Homemade Celery Soda at Saul’s
              http://www.chow.com/digest/2009/04/ho...

              Lush Gelato basil gelato
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/618843

              Di Stefano burrata
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/665332

              Pizzaiolo apple turnovers
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/663534

              El Porteno chimichanga sauce sold at Actual Café in Oakland
              http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/677105

              Cheese bread at Brazil Marin
              http://www.chow.com/digest/2009/08/ma...

              Cuban sandwich at Havana Sol in Vallejo
              http://www.chow.com/digest/2009/07/cu...

              Soft tofu with crab roe at Golden Bowl in El Cerrito
              http://www.chow.com/digest/2009/07/go...

              Hopkins Street Bakery jelly doughnuts
              http://www.chow.com/digest/2009/05/re...

              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