Dominique Ansel's Sage Brownie: Dessert of the Year
Cronut creator Dominique Ansel is possibly the world's most recognizable pastry chef, so it's fitting that he's created the best brownie in the universe. He wraps the chocolate-y cake in cedar paper, adds sage, and then adds BLOWTORCH. The taste is otherworldly, as if the confection was smoked under pine needles in the Russian taiga. A dish that's typically a monochromatic dessert — something you toss back into a communal cake box after a single questionable bite — is now a delicacy that unfolds with the complexity of a French black truffle. Pro tip: Let it steep in cedar paper for a few days to let the forest-y flavors deepen. 137 Seventh Ave.; (212)-242-5111; dominiqueanselkitchen.com.
Fennel Cockle Veloute at Gabriel Kreuther: Dish of the Year
This is the fancy French name for chowder at a fancy French restaurant. But make no mistake — the Alsatian-born chef would draw epic queues if he hawked it from a shack in Long Island's South Shore. Unlike other creamy chowders that are high in fat and low on flavor, Gabriel Kreuther's soup is seafood to the power of three: a gorgeously briny clam broth, a mound of raw blue shrimp, and a crown of black tobiko. But we'll have to talk about that seven grain tuile replacing the oyster crackers. 41 West 42nd Street. (212)-257-5826; gknyc.com.
The Fuku: Dish of the Year
David Chang wants you to mispronounce his haute "FU" to Chick-fil-A. Whether topped with stinky daikon slaw, aromatic cilantro, or just plain pickles, no other chicken sandwich packs so much flavor or character. The wildly juicy interior isn't a one-note breast — it's a mess of fatty, gelatinous thigh meat. And the exterior is all spicy, salty crunch. Fuku is a reason to believe that fast casual dining can serve as an affordable gateway drug to the more ambitious world of sit-down dining. But for that to happen, a greater challenge lies ahead: keeping the sandwich as messy and quirky and delicious in the far corners of America as it is in the East Village. 163 1st Ave or 15 West 56th; momofuku.com.
Fung Tu's Fava Bean Curd Terrine
Chef Jonathan Wu uses something called kuzu starch to transform fava beans into a dense tofu. Some folks say luxury is silkiness. I say opulence takes many forms, including gorgeous grittiness, especially if it involves transforming a legume into what's essentially a savory cake frosting, topped with cilantro and bacon. Happy birthday. 22 Orchard Street; (212) 219-8785; fungtu.com.
In this era of chicken as the new steak — a luxury item meant for stuffing with foie gras and truffles, or as part of $140 poultry tasting menus — Georges Mendes brings it back to basics. $18 gets you a full chicken meal. Half a bird is butterflied, charred over the embers, paired with a giant order of fries, and accompanied by a bottle of piri piri sauce. The result is something smoky, tender, crispy, spicy, and insanely juicy. You don't need any appetizers before. Or desserts after. This is your one-plate meal. This is the dish I ordered the most in 2016. 835 Sixth Ave; (212)-290-7600; lupulonyc.com.
Wildair's Spicy Tuna Toast
The name pretty much says it all. Wildair chefs Fabian von Hauske and Jeremiah Stone have taken spicy tuna, the oft-derided staple of mall food court sushi, and paired it with toast, the overpriced normcore dish of 2015. The result is tingly, crunchy, umami-rich bliss. It is the culinary equivalent of "two wrongs make a right." 142 Orchard St; (646) 964-5624; wildair.nyc.
Bruno's Pepperoni Pizza
Bruno, one of this critic's restaurants of the year, naturally serves the pizza of the year. It's a built-from-scratch revamp of a greasy American classic: the pepperoni pie. The killer ingredient is homemade ranch dressing, which cuts the tartness of the tomatoes and the smoke of the sausage. It is an ambitious New York take on Middle American pizza. 204 East 13th St; (212) 598-3030; brunopizzanyc.com.
O Ya's Cocaine Omelet
Nancy and Tim Cushman's high-end sushi joint, which started out as an omakase with menus priced at $185 and $245, now offers a la carte options, just like at the Boston flagship. Among the best of the nigiri options is the chive blossom omelet over rice, a portrait of eggy bliss fortified with wagyu dust, which looks like cocaine and tastes like dry-aged beef. Cost: Just $9. 120 East 28th Street; (212)-204-0200; o-ya.restaurant.
Mission Chinese Food's Lamb Soup
Imagine the concentrated funk of The Breslin's lamb burger distilled into a broth and fortified with transparent cellophane noodles. It's a $16 journey to Kashgar or Kazakhstan by way of New York's Chinatown. Well done, Mission Chinese Food. 171 East Broadway. mcfny.com.
Hometown's Lamb Belly Banh Mi
New York over the past decade has turned itself into one of the country's great barbecue hubs, and Hometown in Red Hook is the city's greatest barbecue joint. The smoked lamb belly banh mi, loaded with meat that's as squishy as pâté, epitomizes what the U.S. barbecue movement needs to do if it wants to be as relevant as any other culinary movement — it needs to break free of the shackles of tradition and evolve. 454 Van Brunt St; (347) 294-4644; hometownbarbque.com.
Shuko's Toro Sinew
Jimmy Lau and Nick Kim use Binchotan charcoal to char the bejesus out of toro sinew, a nearly inedible piece of connective tissue that magically takes on the texture of foie gras. The delicacy is placed in a hammock of nori and topped with nuclear-powered Thai bird chiles to bomb your palate back to its senses. So what you have is a piece of food waste transformed into something that would make Paul Bocuse weak at the knees. 47 East 12th St; (212) 228-6088; shukonyc.com.
General Tso's Cauliflower at Babu Ji
I'm told that Matsuri, a Murray Hill tempura den, hawks nightly tempura tastings for $200 per person. Perhaps one day I'll give it a whirl if they ever start serving Babu Ji's stunning gobi Manchurian. This is a plate of deep fried florets in a Heinz 57-style sweet-spicy sauce. Chef Jessi Singh calls it "General Tso's cauliflower," a misnomer because that Chinese-American dish, typically made with chicken, never has as much depth of flavor as Babu Ji's vegan masterpiece. 175 Avenue B; (212) 951-1082; babujinyc.com.
Oatmeal at Semilla
Pam Yung places a quenelle of brown butter ice cream atop fermented oat porridge. The mush is hot and savory at first, until the frozen dairy melts and turns the faux-breakfast into dessert. Now you know why Semilla is a four-star restaurant. 160 Havemeyer St, Brooklyn; (718) 782-3474; semillabk.com.
Roberta's Takeout Garlic Knots
Call it culinary cognitive dissonance: There is perhaps no item in the larger gastronomic world that simultaneously smells as sublime yet tastes as mediocre as the garlic knot. So kudos to Roberta's for completely rethinking this creation. The ethereal pastry, which is brushed with parsley butter, boasts the flaky texture of a savory Cronut. 263 Moore St, Brooklyn; (718) 417-1118; robertaspizza.com.
Upland's Yuzukosho Duck Wings
So instead of chicken wings, Upland serves crispy duck confit drumsticks. And instead of Buffalo sauce, the kitchen uses the mag-lev hovercraft of a spice known as yuzukosho — a magic carpet blend of fragrant citrus and incendiary chiles. Ten years from now, sports bars across the nation will be serving these and we'll have chef Justin Smillie to thank. 345 Park Avenue South; (212) 686-1006; uplandnyc.com.
Casa Enrique's Mole de Piaxtla
Long Island City is home to one of New York's finest Mexican restaurants: Casa Enrique. Its signature dish involves a sauce that would pass muster at Daniel, Le Bernardin, or Per Se. This dish is called mole. Chef Cosme Aguilar takes sesame seeds, plantains, almonds, raisins, chocolate, and seven different chiles, and he forges these staples into something that looks like pen ink. Do not be deterred. The layered sweetness is followed by bitterness and then a lingering heat. This is all poured over a perfectly heady chicken, but really, the true luxury here is the mole. This dish is an axiomatic argument that an affordable, rustic dish can be just a complex and compelling as something expensive and refined. It is an argument to take Mexican food as seriously as fancy French food. 5-48 49th Ave, Long Island City; (347) 448-6040; henrinyc.com.
Oiji's Buttered Rice
Do you like the flavor of movie popcorn? Well that's what the chefs at Oiji make their al dente rice taste like. If only AMC theaters sold something so perfect. A+. 119 1st Avenue; (646) 767-9050; oijinyc.com.
Ivan Ramen's Tonkotsu Tsukemen
Tonkotsu is the fettucine alfredo of ramen dishes. It's too rich, and it's served in portions that are too large. Pork bones are boiled until all the fat, marrow, and calcium has turned the broth into something that looks like fondue. So props to Ivan Orkin for finding a way to make this dish a bit more digestible – by serving it in the tsukemen style. The noodles are dry. You dip them in a modestly-sized bowl of tonkotsu broth. There's enough to dip and sip, but not enough to slurp. Your GI tract will thank you. 25 Clinton St; (646) 678-3859; ivanramen.com.
Mu Ramen's Tonkotsu
If Ivan Ramen makes uber-indulgent tonktosu more manageable the easy way — by serving it in a super-small portion — Mu Ramen takes a more complicated approach. Chef Joshua Smookler skims off as much fat as possible without emulsifying any of it back in at the end. The result is an unprecedented silkiness, without any of the gritty finish one might encounter at Ippudo. Think of it as a low-fat tonkotsu, even if it's not quite low in fat. 12-09 Jackson Ave, Long Island City; (917) 868-8903; ramennyc.wix.com/popup.
Urchin and Hozon at Ko
The best way to explain this inexplicable Ko dish is as a study in the color orange, because there's no other rational reason why Hokkaido sea urchin sits next to a Momofuku-branded miso-like product called chickpea Hozon. The papillae of the sweet uni brush against the tongue gently, while the delicate grit of the garbanzo mimics that same rug-like texture. Doesn't sound appetizing, does it? Well then accept my apologies, because it just tastes good dammit! Four stars. 207 2nd Ave; (212) 254-3500; momofuku.com.
Superiority Burger's Meatless Burger
I know what you're saying: The Superiority Burger doesn't taste like beef. Well, neither do most fast food hamburgers (at least not like any beef you'd want to eat). Think of the $6 sandwich, by ex Del Posto chef Brooks Headley, as a hot vegetarian terrine that happens to pack a better char (and more depth of flavor) than most any commodity patties. If Americans hooked on McDonald's ate here, there wouldn't be any McDonald's left. 430 E 9th St; (212) 256-1192; superiorityburger.com.