As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, industry types, and bloggers. We've already covered best standbys, top newcomers, and biggest dining surprises. Now, Best Meals. Readers, please add your thoughts to the comments.
[Carbone by Daniel Krieger]
Q: What was the single best meal of 2013?
Helen Rosner, executive digital editor at Saveur: The Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, I had a flawless meal — maybe the best I've ever had, all things considered — at Carbone. The food was great—rigatoni alla vodka, scampi, lobster fra diavolo, all the hits—but it was the confluence of everything else that pitched it over the top: The intimate, lushly decorated back room, the '50s and '60s vinyl soundtrack, the terrific service, the gorgeous wine, the two (maybe three?) perfectly constructed Gibson martinis I downed. The mood was smoky and convivial, from the moment I walked in until I finally, reluctantly left. (The restaurant hasn't quite matched that memory on return visits, but I can't imagine it ever will. It was magic, whatever it was.)
[Eleven Madison Park by Krieger]
Kate Krader, Food & Wine restaurant editor: One was at Faviken, and it was flat-out amazing with dishes like last year's cured pork, and savory mixed grains with beef broth filtered through a terrarium style glass tea pot. Then you go drink Champagne in the sauna and a few hours later, you sit down to an unbelievable breakfast spread.
More to the point here: At Eleven Madison Park, I had another single best meal. They nail every single detail: the nitro cocktail in the kitchen; the smoked sturgeon with caviar; the little barbecue with grilled lardo wrapped mini corn cob; the carrot tartare ground tableside; the picnic basket cheese course. But here's the thing: my friend and I had been joking about Beerios (you know them from college: beer + Cheerios for breakfast) and so some one ran out and got a box of Cheerios. So they could make Cheerios milk. So they could make us Beerios tableside. I wanted to sit there and drink deluxe Beerios forever, which makes it my single best meal of 2013.
Joe DiStefano, Chopsticks + Marrow blogger: The tasting menu at Bear was simpli extraordinary.
Talia Baiocchi, Punch editor in chief: 15 East. Omakase. Since all of our seafood is apparently going radioactive my fancy sushi experiences have been feeling a bit more memorable in general.
[Marea by Krieger]
Nick Solares, Serious Eats meat bureau chief, amNY features writer, and publisher of Beef Aficionado: St. John in London but in NYC I had a 10-course chef's tasting menu at Marea a few weeks back that was utterly ethereal - White was in the restaurant and the place was firing on all cylinders.
Kim Davis, The Pink Pig: My first meal at The Elm.
Levi Dalton, Eater wine editor: Pok Pok. We brought some old Tahbilk Marsanne and did it up. My friend who has been there a thousand times ordered up what seemed like half the menu. It was great. I love that place.
Amanda Kludt, Eater editorial director: I had a kickass meal at The Pass & Provisions in Houston. Such a great vibe there, five star service, excellent fun, thought provoking food. But my capital letters Meal Of The Year was at Dinner in London. I didn't really do my research before going there so I wasn't prepared for how on point that entire restaurant is. Also, meat fruit. In New York, my meal of the year was at Neta back when Nick Kim was still running the show.
Charlotte Druckman, author and senior editor at Medium: In NYC? At a restaurant? The Skirt Steak tribute for Anne Rosenzweig at Annisa. But, those were special circumstances. If I'm picking a "normal" restaurant meal, then, the first thing that pops in my mind is La Vara, so I'm going with that; not going to over-think it. I just wanted to keep eating everything on the table, and I felt completely content.
[Empellon Cocina by Daniel Krieger]
Ryan Sutton, Bloomberg critic: The Grant Achatz-Alex Stupak tasting menu riff on Thanksgiving at Empellon Cocina ($325 all inclusive). I love Thanksgiving perhaps more than any other holiday — the friends, the family, the football, the pie, the booze. But I can think of few American meals that are as tasteless and as boring and as static as Thanksgiving usually is (at least where I'm forced to eat it). In fact it's such a static meal that many of us have come to want and expect the bland flavors. It's institutionalized culinary mediocrity. So what these guys did with Thanksgiving fare was pretty much the same thing that The Torrisi Boys did with red-sauce fare, which is to say they almost completely rethought a tired concept and stuffed it full of awesomeness. There was pumpkin beer with a "head" that didn't deflate. There was a Parker House roll course with pecan pie spread and turkey schmaltz (classic blending of sweet and savory). There were ribbons of white meat packed with flavor and dark meat amped up by one if the best moles I've tasted outside of Rick Bayless' Chicago flagship. They defied tradition and it worked. I have a lot of respect for that. No risk, no reward.
Erik Torkells, Tribeca Citizen: I do not understand why Joel Viehland of Community Table in Washington, Conn.—90 minutes north of Manhattan—isn't the toast of the food world. His cooking is seasonal and local and incredibly creative and smart, and yet it's never boring or overly intellectual. My last 10 meals there beat everything I had in New York City this year.
[Contra by Bess Adler]
Andrew Steinthal, one half of Immaculate Infatuation: Contra. Specifically the time they had a kobe beef entree and monkfish tail on their $55 tasting menu. Once they lose a bit of their "we're so awesome" attitude, this place has a chance to be one of the best restaurants in the city.
Danyelle Freeman, Restaurant Girl: A recent, snowy Saturday night at Sushi Ko. I paid 6.5 times normal rate on Uber (yes, really) to get down to the Lower East Side to honor my reservation because they take your credit card to hold your seat. (It's only an 11 seat sushi bar, so who can blame them really?) I'm so glad I sucked it up because it was one of those blow your mind kind of meals. The fish was so fresh I felt like I was eating in Tokyo, except that there was a white guy with tattoos all over his arms behind the sushi counter. Every dish was better than the next and fiercely original, entirely worth the hefty price tag.
Lockhart Steele, Eater co-founder: A late dinner at Lure Fishbar on the night I got engaged.
Foster Kamer, senior editor at Complex: In New York: I had an incredible meal at Perla that was balls-to-the-wall great, and moreover, stupid fun. We sat at the bar for three hours and I think, at one point, convinced them to play Get Rich or Die Trying from the top. Not in New York: Clancy's, in New Orleans, was immaculate. A dinner at Zahav I had on a day trip to Philadelphia was stunning. Same with Superba Snack Bar in Venice Beach. But this one ends where it did last year: At a birthday dinner at Restaurant R'evolution that I didn't have to pay for. Get to New Orleans. Get someone else to pay. Go with god.
[Diner by Daniel Krieger]
Scott Solish, Eater nightlife editor: My final cheeseburger and bloody Mary brunch at Diner before moving. After four years of having at least one a month, it is still a plate of glory.
Bret Thorn, Nation's Restaurant News senior editor: October 4: Dinner at Aamanns-Copenhagen during the Nordic Festival. What they did with squash should not be discussed in polite company.
Ben Leventhal, Eater co-founder: In April, I happened to be at Lucali Miami right after it opened and might have had the four best pizzas in my life. Speaking of, I was at Pizzeria Bianco in October and good god can that guy make pizza.
Kat Kinsman, Eatocracy managing editor: The deck was clearly stacked here, but the 10-chef blowout for Hearth's 10-year anniversary was one for the ages. When Colicchio, Chang, Benno, Wise, Frosolone, Kaden and a host of others are showing off for each other — and celebrate the marvelous Marco Canora and Paul Grieco — magic is bound to be made. And the thing that made it digestible, and not the last dock upon the River Styx as we glided along on our gluttony punishment barge: the proceeds went to benefit a local charity that feeds the homeless every day.
Robert Sietsema, Eater contributing editor: A spectacular omakase from the new sushi guy at Hasaki in the East Village.
Gabriella Gershenson, Every Day with Rachael Ray food features editor: In New York: the chicken and rice large format meal at Ma Peche. It's basically halal cart chicken on crack, it's pretty unbelievable, and fun, and a really good value if you get enough people together (two chickens cooked sous-vide then fried, seasoned rice, iceberg salad with chicken cracklings, chickpeas, pita—the works). Outside of New York: Le Vin Papillon in Montreal, a wine bar-restaurant from the Joe Beef family. Divinely executed shareable plates, many with a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern bent (eggplant with kofte and pomegranate molasses, squash baba ghanoush, cauliflower smothered in fried chicken skins), plus truly exciting wines. They also have the pacing down. Honorable mention to the Restaurant at Meadowood—it was light, clean, flavorful and fun fine dining, when so much fine dining is oppressive or a snooze.
Mimi Sheraton, former Times restaurant critic: Hard to choose between four: dinner at Calliope and also at Il Buco Alimentari minus the pastas that are never served hot enough, a lunch at Le Bernardin and a breakfast at Cookshop (not to forget any meal at the wonderfully enduring Five Points under the same management).
Joshua David Stein, Observer critic and Eater contributor: LuksusEstelaBetonyABCCocinaMissionCantina.
Jay Pascual, The Food Doc: In New York City: Momofuku Ssam Bar Late Night Series featuring Zahav. Never could have imagined how good Israeli cuisine could be until that night. In the USA: Ribelle in Boston. In the world: Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy
[Tottono's by Bess Adler]
Marguerite Preston, Eater NY associate editor: The 10-course tasting at Aska was beautiful. But there was also this one time when I stumbled across Totonno's entirely by accident. It was a quiet Saturday in early fall, the place was empty, and even though we had just eaten lunch, my boyfriend and I ordered a plain pizza and a couple of those single-serving mini bottles of wine (the only kind they have.) I did not expect the pizza to live up to every good thing that has ever been said about it, but it did, and we demolished the entire thing. It was just an entirely perfect meal.
Jordana Rothman, veteran food editor/cocktail expert: In New York I'd give it to the collaborative Thanksgiving-themed meal from Alex Stupak and Grant Achatz at Empellon Cocina. The food was so thoughtful, even almost emotional, kicking up all kinds of memories and sensations of holiday tables past. Excellent. Outside of Manhattan, I loved Greenhouse Tavern in Cleveland where I shamelessly ate three nights in a row, demolishing bowls of pig-blood fettucini like a bon vivant Elizabeth Báthory. Louie Mueller BBQ in Taylor, Texas was sort of psychotropic. And Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Of course.
Marc Shepherd, NY Journal blogger: Atera.
Matt Rodbard, Food Republic contributing editor: All I remember is that it was cold out, Sussman was cooking, Noah was hanging and things went late at Mile End. Prob had three of these best meals, actually. Place is pure joy. Out of town I have to shout out Cardamom Hill in Atlanta and Tryne Till Knorr in Malmö.
[The Musket Room by Krieger]
Stan Sagner, Daily News Critic: The Musket Room. Every single dish was spot on. The Duck Schnitzel and Ginger Stout Cake at The Marrow was damn good though.
Chris Stang, one half of Immaculate Infatuation: The French Laundry. Do people know about that place? It's good.
Michael Kaminer, Daily News critic: Dinner at The Cecil in Harlem, a terrific evening of uncommon ingredients in elegant preparations.
Matt Duckor, Bon Appetit multimedia editor: I may get heat for this, but fuck everyone: my meal at Noma met every expectation and then some. If the best criticism food writers can level against a restaurant of this level is that it's, basically, too exclusive and people have heard too much about it, I think you're doing fine. The food is beautiful and subtle. The service is attentive but never over the top or uncomfortable. But the food actually tastes good. And you leave wanting to come back for dishes. Go eat there and tell me that it isn't one of the best dining experiences of your life.
Darin Bresnitz, Snacky Tunes/Finger on the Pulse: The rabbit at Glasserie (I know, I know, fuckin broken record over here). I took me until about my fourth time to go in on the rabbit and it's hands down one of the top dishes I had this year. Also, the Tuna Milanese at Perla blew my mind.
[Mission Cantina by Krieger]
Greg Morabito, Eater NY editor: In terms of pure food pleasure, a recent visit to Mission Cantina was my favorite meal of the year. My dining companion and I did not talk much or even finish our drinks, because all we wanted to do was keep eating that food. The broccoli with smoked queso gets my vote for dish of the year.
But my best all-around meal of 2013 was a splurge dinner at The Elm on night three. The food was eye-opening stuff, but more than anything, I was blown away by how the team successfully integrated fine dining-style service into a casual setting. A sense memory from that visit: perfect squares of livery duck with summer truffles while She Bangs the Drum buzzed in the background.
· All Coverage of Year in Eater [~ENY~]