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Friends of Eater Recall Their Single Best Meals 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, 2012 in One Word, and the Biggest Dining Surprises of the year. Now, Best Meals. Readers, please add your thoughts to the comments.

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[Eleven Madison Park by Daniel Krieger]

Q: What was the single best meal of 2012?
Robert Sietsema, Village Voice critic: Dinner at Per Se, on my own dime.

Mimi Sheraton, former Times critic: Brushstroke's degustation of unusual, stylish, and seductive Japanese dishes.

Marc Shepherd, NY Journal: It was one of the last ones: Aska.

Ben Leventhal: I always answer this question terribly, because I find immense
pleasure in going back to the same places over and over again. But, as for one-offs, Momofuku + Cafe Boulud for NYC after Sandy was just an incredible meal and a true blast to be a part of. All of the chefs were excited to be there, and, bonus, I found a way around having to go to Ko to get that sweet, sweet shaved foie. A meal I had at Blue Hill at Stone Barns in the first half of the year stands out, because that restaurant always stands out. A private meal hosted by Noam Gottesman and Robert Bohr at Eleven Madison Park gets honorable mention for the '89 Rayas and '70 Petrus that were poured side-by-side. I definitely, definitely enjoyed Topping Rose House enough to put it in this group, too.

Gabriella Gershenson, senior editor at Saveur: In NYC? Kyo Ya in the East Village. The world? Joe Beef in Montreal and Noma in Copenhagen, both worthy of the hype.

Josh Ozersky, TIME columnist: No question about that: the Torrisi New York History Tasting menu I went to with Melanie Dunea. That was the third time I had it. The best tasting I've ever had, no comparison. The tiny room, the food, the vision, the originality, the material culture/props. There's nothing else like it.

Adam Kuban, Slice founder: Four-piece fried chicken lunch from Popeye's in Washington Heights. Sentimental value. It was my first meal after my daughter was born. It was a reminder that Popeye's somehow manages to be both overrated and underrated.

Chris Stang, Immaculate Infatuation: A marathon of a lunch at The Woodshed Smokehouse, Tim Love's new restaurant in Ft. Worth, TX. The food is incredible, and the Texas riverfront location is amazing. I'd hang out there every night of I lived within 50 miles.

Robert Simonson, Times cocktail writer (on the best drinks of the year): Hard to choose. Any of a number of the cobblers I had at Bellocq in New Orleans. But if we're limiting it to New York, the Brancolada at Donna, the Star and Garter at Nomad, Bols Deep at Booker and Dax, L'Americain at Experimental Cocktail Club and the Amaro Zombie at the Bourgeois Pig in Brooklyn would all be contenders. Those all made me stand up and take notice. It takes a lot to do that these days. There are so many new drinks out there. Also the vintage Stinger at ECC, made with 50-year-old Cognac and Creme de Menthe, which was unbelievably profound. The 1964 Bowmore Scotch limited release, which tasted unlike any whiskey I've ever drunk. Wild tropical fruit notes. Like a fantasy. And my first sip of Yellow Spot, a pot still whiskey just released in Ireland, was memorable. And, of course, the last Manhattan I had at Bill's Gay Nineties before it closed forever in March. Often it's context that makes the drink great.

Jordana Rothman: Bamonte's in Williamsburg: Table wine and sambuca; veal francese; parmesan in a shaker; and 30 people comprising the best possible company in New York City. Drink and cheer in a good room is all the lady truly needs.

Jay Cheshes, Time Out New York critic: It's a toss up between the new New York-themed tasting menu at Eleven Madison Park and the over-the-top roast chicken at The Nomad. Humm and Guidara are killing it!

Darin Bresnitz, Snacky Tunes/Finger on the Pulse: Joe Beef — Every once in a while you build up a restaurant experience in you mind and make it an almost unfair high bar upon which they must clear. I had done this with Joe Beef over a two year period and they not only cleared it, but shattered all records. Excellent service, great platings and the ability to check off meats from my eating bucket list (horse tartare).

Lockhart Steele: Blue Hill at Stone Barns on a stormy September Saturday. Yes, of course, but still.

Andrew Friedman, author and Toqueland editor: For pure pleasure: my birthday dinner in the open air of Barbuto on a Saturday night in late June. Sparkling wine, bottle of Lambrusco, ricotta and kale crostini, summer squash salad, the chicken (naturally), and – by the time we were done – an entire sizzle-plate-full of exquisitely crispy potatoes per person. Affogato, amaro, and goodnight. Simple and perfect.

Conflict of interest honorable mentions: Not naming several meals at my favorite restaurant of the moment, Marea, because I'm writing a book with Michael White, or Battersby, because I'm working on a book proposal with chefs Joe Ogrodnek and Walker Stern, although the tasting dinner I had at the bar there in early December was a highpoint of the year: housemade bread with whipped ricotta, parsnip and green apple soup (amuse), warm carrot salad, spaghetti with sea urchin, turbot with mushrooms, braised oxtail with pommes puree, "creamsicle" pre-dessert, lime custard. All for $65.

Danyelle Freeman, Restaurant Girl: It's a close call between Governor and North End Grill, but chef Floyd Cardoz's second act proved just as exciting as his first at Tabla. My first meal at North End Grill was ridiculously good. From the clam pizza to the halibut with pine nuts and clams, the pork bacon with fried oysters and the entire egg section, dinner was dreamy. And the pastry chef, Alexandra Ray, is one to watch. Every single dessert is worth trying, especially the butterscotch pot de creme and the lemon meringue pie.

Scott Solish, Eater nightlife editor: Rolling into Pok Pok at 10 p.m. on a cold Thursday when the place was empty (Mission Chinese a close 2nd).

Bret Thorn, senior food editor, Nation's Restaurant News: The tasting menu at The Catbird Seat in Nashville. The pigeon was extraordinary, and the beverage pairings were pretty ingenious.

Kat Kinsman, Eatocracy managing editor: It's Ashley Christensen at the Beard House vs Ashley Christensen at the Southern Foodways Alliance Symposium. In both, she celebrated the particular bounty of the seasonal South, but at SFA, in the middle of a three-day conference about barbecue, she served only vegetable side dishes, preserves and dessert. And got a standing ovation. That woman cooks with passion, authority, a point of view and a gigantic heart. It's astonishingly satisfying food, yes, but it's also a love letter to the land and the history of all the home cooks, church ladies and chefs who went before her.

Alexander Hancock, Eater associate editor: The single best meal in 2012 was at John Steven's Tavern, a bar in Fell's Point in Baltimore. Had a pound of steamed shrimp and a soft-shell crab BLT, with a chipotle mayo on pretzel bun, and a couple beers. Just absurd in its simplicity, and in the fact that it would never be as good in any other setting. In New York, I had several really great, memorable meals, especially at Al Di La, The Modern, Empellon Cocina, and Mile End, but my best meal was the first time I dined at Calliope. [Full disclosure: My girlfriend used to work there.] Eric Korsh and Ginevra Iverson are great at what they do, and that meal is proof: really great octopus, killer lamb neck, and a solid tomato tart. It was all so good, but I don't think I've ever been as happy as I was by the end of that meal, finished with that baba au rhum and an espresso.

Kim Davis, the Pink Pig: The new tasting menu at WD-50.

Kate Krader, Food & Wine restaurant editor: I had a bunch of outstanding meals in NYC in 2012, including the 20-something course tasting at Torrisi, Grant Achatz at Eleven Madison Park; Atera; Ivan Orkin ramen pop-ups. I was most blown away by a dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns. It's already a terrific dining experience, but we got to sit at a chef's table in the middle of the kitchen, which I believe/hope is something they'll do regularly. Chefs from every station came over and brought us the last sunflower of the season (roasted), the first cauliflower of the fall, and the carbonized pork bones that our apple dessert was roasted over. Chef Dan Barber escorted us to the compost heap where we recovered (well-wrapped) eggplant that had cooked in the heat generated by the compost, and eggs which were soft-cooked in a cooler-turned-egg-poacher, also using energy from the compost. It was just phenomenal, every second of it.

Foster Kamer, senior editor at Complex: Restaurant R'evolution, in New Orleans. Sorry, New York. Nothing our city came up with topped this. I'm sick of our Experience Dining bullshit, where I'm supposed to ascend the Aggro Cragg of Reservation Mountain to get in, and then when I do, lay myself prostrate at the altar of Carlo Mirarchi or Cesar Ramirez like they're going to deliver me from salvation. I'm going to eat, not synagogue. That said: When I told friends in New Orleans I was going to R'evolution, a few expressed caution: It's in the Quarter, it's run by an outsider (Rick Tramonto), and common sense dictates that any restaurant with a $6M reno-job plied into it just can't be that good. And yet: Every dish was stunning. Flat-out, wide-eyed, synapses-firing stunning. Also, the service was perfect, the bill wasn't too terrible, and it exceeded every expectation I had for it, and then some. John Folse: The Based God, The Beast of the Southern Wild himself. We're not worthy.

Levi Dalton, I'll Drink to That: Duck soba at the soba place in the Mizumoto district of Tokyo. I really couldn't tell you the name of the venue. I don't even know if the name has ever been translated into English. It's really good, though.

Josh Beckerman, blogger and foodie magician: Chef's Table at Brooklyn Fare was pretty magical. But so was Eleven Madison Park. But so was Tasty Hand-Pulled Noodles, and New Malaysia restaurant in Chinatown.

Andrew Steinthal, Immaculate Infatuation: As previously mentioned, my annual lunch at Blue Hill Stone Barns was the standout. However, I also had pretty phenomenal meals at both La Vara and Allswell.

Amanda Kludt, Eater editorial director: Not to get too moony here, but my absolute best meal of the year took place at The Wythe Hotel on the night of my wedding when Sean Rembold made some of the best lamb I've ever had. My meal on the rooftop of the Nomad on a lovely summer night wasn't half bad either.

Ryan Sutton, Bloomberg critic: Part of me wants to say that Enirque Olvera/Alex Stupak meal at Empellon Cocina, or virtually any meal I had at Blanca. But let me take a different course. The single best meal I had in 2012 was the tuna fish sandwich I had at 12:30 a.m. after my kidney stone surgery in St. Francis Hospital. It was the first time in five days that I wasn't either pumped up with pain-killing opiates or writhing in excruciating pain, life-altering pain, a level of pain that caused me to throw up my entire Enrique Olvera meal from Empellon an hour after I finished it five days earlier. When I tasted that tuna fish sandwich, which was made with generic tuna, and which was way too cold, and which had way too much mayo, and which was prepared by someone in the hospital mess hall who probably didn't care much about flavor, it was, and I'm not joking here, one of the best things in the entire universe. The feeling of food moving down my esophagus again, the feeling of my stomach accepting it, the feeling of my gums salivating when exposed to the maritime proteins, all of that made me a very, very grateful person. It was pure satisfaction. I then downloaded Casino Royale onto my iPad and watched Daniel Craig eat beluga caviar and drink vesper martinis while I ate a lousy tuna fish sandwich and I kid you not I couldn't have been happier.

Greg Morabito, Eater editor: My favorite meal of 2012 was a dinner at Diner earlier this month. I've had some excellent meals there over the years, but this was the best by a mile. Chef de cuisine Ken Wiss has added some interesting angles to the Diner formula. His food tastes very, very Italian to me. That night we had an excellent salad with bitter greens and balsamic, arancini with a spicy sauce, cobia with autumn vegetables, a juicy seared duck breast, and a rustic, Chez Panisse-style fruit tart for dessert with amaro on the side. It's still one of my favorite restaurant spaces in NYC, and the service is better than ever. I foresee many more trips to Diner in 2013.
· All Coverage of Year In Eater [~ENY~]

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