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Remembering the Biggest Dining Surprises of 2012

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As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, bloggers, and readers. We've already covered Best Standbys, Top Newcomers, Best Restohood, and 2012 in one word. Now it's time for the biggest dining surprise of the year. Readers, please add your thoughts to the comments.
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[Atera by Daniel Krieger]

Q: What was the biggest dining surprise of 2012?
Ben Leventhal: Frankly, I'm surprised Atera worked. The combination of neighborhood, price point, and concept felt incredibly risky to me. So, I tip my hat to Matt Lightner. I'm pleasantly surprised that, if only a small bit, we stopped comparing Manhattan and Brooklyn and started to accept them as two distinct ideas.

Chris Stang, Immaculate Infatuation: Discovering Kajitsu. That place is incredible. No idea why it took me so long to try it.

Adam Kuban, Slice founder: That Patsy Grimaldi returned to the location he started out in and, with Juliana's, is now in competing against the pizzeria he sold years ago yet bears his surname.

Jordana Rothman: That anyone felt obliged to shoot the messenger on Guy Fieri's behalf. That no one has mentioned we're now paying $15 for a fish head on a plate.

Gabriella Gershenson, senior editor at Saveur: The impact that a hurricane could have on the restaurant industry. Not surprising: the resilience of said industry.

Josh Ozersky, TIME columnist: New Yorkers embracing the New Scandinavian Dining, to which I assumed everyone would be as skeptical / hostile as I am.

Robert Sietsema, Village Voice critic: A general tendency to experiment with fringe ingredients, from strange shellfish to offal to rabbit to unusual cuts of beef and pork

Kat Kinsman, Eatocracy managing editor: The beef tendon Viva China taco at China Poblano shocked me into silence. I'm a tendon fan generally speaking (I'm a sucker for texture), and this was a revelation — both supple and crisp, dressed in a piquant Sichuan peppercorn sauce and topped with a Kumamoto oyster. Paired with a mezcal-kissed margarita, I'm in my happy place.

And the seasonal salad variants at both Hearth and August (in New Orleans) were among the most thoughtful, celebratory things I ate this year. A freakin' SALAD!

Jay Cheshes, Time Out New York critic: Frej, which is now Aska?hell the whole Kinfolk Studios experiment

Mimi Sheraton, former Times critic: Persistence of uncomfortable settings. Or the "coq au vin" at the Breslin...it was also the single best, most amazing dish I had in 2012.

Andrew Friedman, author and Toqueland editor: The roller coaster rollout of Eleven Madison Park's New York experience — anticipatory New Yorker preview, Pete Wells's stinging instant reaction in the New York Times, and the restaurant's equally swift recalibration.

Danyelle Freeman, Restaurant Girl: Empellon Cocina. Truth be told, I wasn't the biggest fan of Empellon Taqueria, but I love Alex Stupak's second solo venture. The Mexican menu's wildly interesting, innovative, and yet, still very much authentic.

Scott Solish, Eater nightlife editor: The ribeye at Perla was unreal. Close second was the ribeye at Reynard.

Bret Thorn, senior food editor, Nation's Restaurant News: Fort Reno, which brought tasty barbecue to Park Slope.

Josh Beckerman, blogger and foodie magician: The Foodie Magician is still single.

Alexander Hancock, Eater associate editor: Bayou in Staten Island. I lived in New Orleans for around five years and I actually really enjoyed Bayou. Also love what that crew did after Sandy. The whole EMP revamp was a hilarious, too, and maybe a little surprising.

Marc Shepherd, NY Journal: 1) The success of out-of-town chefs. Matthew Lightner (Atera), Danny Bowien (Mission Chinese), Andy Ricker (PokPok), and Mads Refslund (Acme) all had big hits, despite not being from here. 2) The ascent of the New Nordic style at places like Frej, Aska, Isa [before it got dumbed down], Acme, and Atera.

Levi Dalton, I'll Drink to That: The freaking Sandy flood. I mean, I moved here from Florida to get away from hurricanes. Specifically to get away from the hurricanes. Well, those and tramp stamps. And they seemed to have followed me here. This is bad news for everybody but the tattoo artists.

And also this: I am surprised that these guys who are all about the food at their stripped down Brooklyn chef counters aren't, even just a little bit, about the wine. This is the real downside of the emergence of the chef-restaurateur over the restaurateur. Chefs rarely know that much or care that much about wine, and when chefs do the deciding wine is left off the table.

Kim Davis, the Pink Pig: Restaurants turning in to supper clubs (Blanca, Frej) and vice versa (Um Segredo > Louro).

Kate Krader, Food & Wine restaurant editor: The success of out-of-towners in NYC. They've invariably gotten killed. And this year Danny Bowien, Andy Ricker, and Matthew Lightner did so well. It makes me excited for next year when Ken Oringer & Jamie Bissonette, Heston, etc., come to town.

Foster Kamer, senior editor at Complex: Besides the fact that I'm supposed to act like I should give a shit about Gwynnett Street? Honestly, nothing really surprised me except for how much money I found myself spending at Perla. Repeatedly. Like, I don't have that kind of money. What the fuck is wrong with me? Also, I guess, the Audacity of GoogaMooga,. Honestly, it kind of feels like we all got stupider this year. That said, I think the success of Lucky Peach and Mark Bittman's transition into being a columnist both took me off-guard in a good way. That's about as far as it goes. [But seriously, I don't get the Gwynnett Street hype. The room sucks, the service is spotty and weird, and the food is good, I guess, but it doesn't deserve a tickertape parade just because it's off the Graham stop and those guys used to work at WD-50. Seriously: Do. Not. Get.]

Amanda Kludt, Eater editorial director: I think the obvious is that a hurricane could come in and affect the industry so catastrophically, that the city — in some cases arbitrarily — could be so divided between the successful and the ruined. I think a lot of wonderful stories of selflessness and charity and resilience came out of this event, but I also think we'll see the sad effects of this throughout 2013.

Ryan Sutton, Bloomberg critic: Gwynnett St. You know, this place wasn't even on my radar until Pete Wells reviewed it. So the night his column ran I swung by and had a pretty darn good meal. Thing was, I couldn't find my own angle for a writeup. I needed a hook. So I waited a few months and started going back and man, the place got even better. And then I realized, hey, Gwynnett is doing crazy stuff with vegetables, serving carrots like eighteen different ways and turning paprika into streusel and grinding pistachios into this amazing tofu-like substance. And they're doing this all in East Williamsburg. I mean, Blanca is in Bushwick, but that's a proper fine dining destination and we now know Blanca can get away with that. But Gwynnett is a neighborhood joint serving pig's blood dumplings, turnips with iberico mousse, seaweed-crusted ocean trout and pig's head terrine in pork broth. And the place is actually packed. If the shuttering of Isa 1.0 made me cynical about the future of an envelope-pushing neighborhood spot in Brooklyn, Gwynnett St. gave me renewed hope that we're in for pretty amazing and exciting and affordable stuff in 2013 not just in Manhattan, but in the further reaches of Kings County and elsewhere.

Greg Morabito, Eater editor: Hurricane Sandy. Like many people, I thought this would basically be Irene all over again — some restaurants would close for a night, some would stay open, and everyone would get back to business as usual in 24 hours. I still can't believe how many businesses were affected by the storm, and how many of them are still picking up the pieces.

· All Coverage of Year In Eater [~ENY~]

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