Dish of the Year: Salvation Burger’s Vegetarian Burger
In a year when so many chefs tried to wow us with infinite variations on the traditional American burger, April Bloomfield managed to create the best of the bunch without an ounce of meat. She mashes together golden beets, carrots, carrot juice, French lentils, mushrooms, sticky rice, and sweet potato vermicelli to create a patty that pulls apart with the tenderness of a dry-aged brisket blend. She spikes the burger with warming garam masala, cooling yogurt, and a touch of tomato confit for sweetness. This isn’t a fake meat burger for vegetarians. This is a real food burger for everyone. 230 East 51st St. salvationburger.com.
Dish of the Year: Indian Accent’s Makhan Malai
A South Asian analogue, of sorts, to the French ile flottante. Manish Mehrotra’s take on the Northern Indian street snack is pure cognitive dissonance. This puff of saffron-laced milk, studded with rose petals and gold leaf, looks like a queen’s pin cushion and fills a bowl big enough for two, and yet a single diner can finish it all within minutes. I sampled this dish three times over three visits, and I reckon that number will go way up in 2017. 123 West 56th Street, Indianaccent.com/newyork.
Dish of the Year: Olmsted’s Carrot Crepe
I awarded Olmsted three stars. I named it the restaurant of the year. And so naturally it serves a dish of the year: the carrot crepe. As I wrote in my review: "It looks like a typically fussy salad, atop an orange disc dotted with flower petals. Then you rip through this decorative facade with your fork. Beneath lie soft little neck clams (or sometimes surf clams) and a rich yellow carrot jus infused with the flavor of the sea. Your palate is overwhelmed with butter and brine. Baxtrom has reimagined linguine with clams through the lens of a root vegetable, a French crepe, and the colors of a sunflower." 659 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn. olmstednyc.com.
Le Turtle’s Flaming Chicken
Chicken for two might be on track to outpace steak for two as the signature New York way to shake down diners. So the next time you develop a hankering for this family-sized entree, remember the following: Le Turtle’s $64 Sasso bird is the one to get. Chef Greg Proechel brines it, dries it, steams it, roasts it at three different temperatures, and presents it in smoking, flaming hay. It is awesome. 177 Chrystie St. leturtle.fr.
Aska’s Finnish Caviar
Just as a more tender steak doesn’t mean a more flavorful steak (often it’s quite the contrary), firmer caviar doesn’t necessarily translate to better tasting caviar. Aska is one of the few restaurants to understand this nuance. The Williamsburg restaurant serves Finnish fish eggs so delicate they nearly trembles like panna cotta. Chef Fredrik Berselius essentially uses the roe as a fancy substitute for salt in a fantastic onion broth. 47 South 5th St., Brooklyn. askanyc.com.
This isn’t a new dish to New York, or even this restaurant, but this is the year I started eating it regularly at Guantanamera, and so I’m writing about it. Skirt steak is shredded and pan fried to the texture of soft beef jerky. The ideal time to consume this is at 9 p.m. on a weeknight when the live Cuban music starts. 939 Eighth Ave. guantanamerany.com.
Epicerie Boulud’s Clementine
A whole citrus fruit, boiled in sugar until it takes on the sheen and shape of a polished glass marble. The gently bitter exterior, when pierced, emits an assertively aromatic perfume, which then yields to a liquid, orange core. It is the saccharine apotheosis, a Gusher for gourmands. 1900 Broadway. epicerieboulud.com.
Michael Solomonov made his long awaited New York debut by serving, in the words of my fellow New York critic Robert Sietsema, the "city’s best hummus." I can’t disagree. The chickpea and tahini spread is so preternaturally fluffy it tastes as if the chefs squirted it out of an ISO canister, Ferran Adrià-style. Pictured above is the chicken-topped variety. My personal favorite is the one with ground beef, which packs about twice as much meaty flavor as an (excellent) Shackburger. 75 Ninth Ave. dizengoffhummus.com.
Paowalla’s Burrata Daal
Too many chefs rely on a flood of cream to take the edge off cumin-laced daal. Floyd Cardoz takes a more prudent, more deconstructivist approach, plopping a blob of burrata in the middle of the bowl, letting diners add as much milky fat as desired. Boom. 195 Spring St. paowalla.com.
Clam Pizza at Pasquale Jones
The key elements to a clam pie are soft mollusks (freshly shucked, out of the shell), and a touch of cream to evoke a white New England chowder (one day they’ll make a Manhattan clam pie). Some folks like to add something green (a touch of cilantro or parsley) and that’s precisely what elevates the Pasquale Jones version to greatness —chef Ryan Hardy tosses in a few strands of broccoli rabe. The greens crisp up under the oven, mimicking the wispy shape of seaweed and packing a gentle bitterness to offset the salt and fat. Perfect. 187 Mulberry St. pasqualejones.com.
Curly Fries at Quality Eats
Off the top of my head, I know three places to get curly fries: a suburban bowling alley, Arby’s, and Michael Stillman’s Quality Eats. Curly fries are often wrongly maligned because of their shape (symmetrically wiggly), their color (spray-on tan), and their flavor (indistinctly spiced), three qualities that make them better, not worse. At Quality Eats, they come in a paper bag and are topped with parmesan. If you dip them in ketchup, you will have your citizenship revoked. They cost $5 and you should eat them now, not later. 19 Greenwich Ave. qualityeats.com.
High Street on Hudson’s Red-Eye Danish
A pastry filled with coffee-spiked cream, garnished with an ornamental ham flower, made and dusted with the powdered sugar of the cheese world: parmesan. Not since the McDonald’s McGriddle has such a perfect sweet/savory breakfast treat been released upon the innocent masses. 637 Hudson St. highstreetonhudson.com.
Lilia’s Insane Agnolotti
This is a dish of breathtaking contrasts. The salt of the pasta acts as foil to the sweetness of the honey. The gentle tartness of the dried tomatoes cuts the fats of the cheese. And the aroma of saffron fully intoxicates the diner. 567 Union Ave, Brooklyn. Lilianewyork.com.
Nishi’s Buttered Noodles
I had strong words for Nishi in my formal review, but I was a big fan of the buttered noodles, Joshua Pinsky and David Chang’s gonzo take on cacio e pepi. Instead of pepper, salt, and pecorino, Momofuku uses butter, pepper, salt, and a fermented chickpea paste called Hozon. Subbing out the cheese means the dish loses its aromatic funk, but adding the Hozon gives the pasta a mind-bending sweetness that plays off the salt quite brilliantly. It’s not supposed to be an equal to cacio e pepe; it’s rather a deliciously compelling dish in its own right. 232 Eighth Ave. nishi.momofuku.com.
Le Coucou’s Bourride
Daniel Rose clarifies the deliciously cloudy seafood stew known as bourride and turns it into an edible art show tidal pool. This looks like a polite dish but the flavors are anything but. The funk of concentrated fish and the sucker punch of garlic give the palate such a hearty workout that you’d be forgiven for pairing this masterpiece with a gin martini. 138 Lafayette St. lecoucou.com.
Hearth’s Variety Burger
Kudos to Marco Canora for refusing to play it safe with burgers, and forging a patty from brisket, chuck, heart, and liver. As I wrote in my three star review of Hearth: "It is, without a doubt, the biggest risk a New York chef has taken with a hamburger since Daniel Boulud stuffed one with foie gras and truffles over a decade ago, and it's easily one of the standout dishes of the year." 403 East 12th St. restauranthearth.com.
Detroit Pizza by Emmy Squared
Matt Hyland wants to help break New York pizza away from its Neapolitan-leaning status quo, and he’s done just that with both Emily in Clinton Hill, where his crusts take their cues from the chewy pizza-making traditions of New Haven, and now at Emmy Squared, where his pies tip their hat to the square ways of Detroit. The key to his masterpiece is the frico exterior, a gorgeously burnt layer of cheese that substitutes for crust. Sutton Says: Order the Hawaiian pie, which involves coating pineapple chunks with chiles to keep the sweetness in check. 364 Grand St. pizzalovesemily.com.
Bolivian Llama Party’s Saltena
There’s nothing even remotely new about the saltena, a traditional Bolivian empanada that requires you to slowly drink the soupy, meaty interior (called "jigote") before nibbling away at the sweet pastry exterior. But what’s new to New Yorkers is a reliable Manhattan vendor that sells them: Bolivian Llama Party at Columbus Circle’s subterranean food hall. I’ve eaten these more than any other dish this year. Located underneath 57th Street and Eighth Ave. blp.nyc.