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The Best Restaurant Meals of 2016

Food writers and critics pick their favorite meals of the year

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As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, writers, and experts. This year, we asked the group eight questions running the gamut from meal of the year to top restaurant newcomers. Their answers will appear throughout the week. Responses are related in no particular order; all are cut, pasted, and (mostly) unedited herein. We've heard about the top standbys, hot newcomers, best dining neighborhoods, words of the year, surprises, and grievances. Now it's time for the best meals of the year. Please add your own in the comments.


Q: What was your favorite meal of 2016?

Amanda Kludt, Eater editor-in-chief: Le Coucou, for dinner, because of the food above all else but also the price, the tapered candles, the soap in the bathroom, the dishware, all the rabbit parts come in, the outfits on the servers, the chandeliers, the host's gorgeous blue dress, the tall toques on the chefs in the open kitchen, the bread service, the petit fours. It was so nice to go to a restaurant for adults, full of small luxuries, that didn't bankrupt me.


Ryan Sutton, Eater critic/data lead: I ate incredibly well outside of New York in 2016. I can barely go a day without getting lost in a Sqirl daydream; if Jessica Koslow ever decided to hawk her sorrell rice bowls in New York it would easily replace pain au chocolat as my breakfast of choice. And every so often I find myself daydreaming about Clown Bar in Paris, where I spent two evenings this summer sipping orange wine and sampling small plates practically worthy of a trip across the Atlantic (brains in ponzu sauce is the real deal). But since we’re talking about New York, I’ll say best meal was at Aska. I don’t think there’s a single other tasting menu chef in the city who's doing more to disrupt the middle-of-the-road fine dining mindset than Fredrik Berselius, who embraces a pantheon of funky (yet approachable) flavors, from dried seaweed with mussel emulsion to offal-y crab broth to crimson scallop roe to squid and kelp tarts to burnt lamb hearts to ultra-dry-aged beef. There’s also something particularly wonderful about having a warm, creative, civilized haute-gastronomy spot near the Williamsburg waterfront, an area that’s too often associated with soulless condos like The Edge and the bros who inhabit them. Or let me make this a touch more personal: Eating at Aska (and riding my Citibike there) helped me fall in love with West Williamsburg again.


Matt Rodbard, TASTE editor-in-chief/Koreatown co-author: MIMI. During my first visit, I made a future reservation before finishing dessert. The stone crab and sea urchin salad is my restaurant highlight of the year. And while the talented young chef Liz Johnson has left town, I feel the pace has been set and this place is around for the long haul.


[The dining room at Wildair on the Lower East Side]
[Daniel Krieger]

Helen Rosner, Eater executive editor: I did some A+ fine dining this year, with serious blowout meals everywhere from Blue Hill at Stone Barns to Momofuku Ko to Noma. Is this a humblebrag? Maybe! But it's also important context for just how much it means when I tell you that any random Tuesday night I spent this year at Wildair, drinking weirdo skin-contact whites and eating xo clams and radishes with seaweed butter and vinegary grain bowls, was more thrilling, more creative, and more flat-out fun than anything else.


Devra Ferst, senior editor at Tasting Table: This one's a tie. At Baroo, where Kwang Uh is fermenting things I didn't even know one could ferment and working them into dishes that defy categorization, I had some of the most exciting flavors I've come across in years.

In Tel Aviv at DOK, everything down to the table salt, is sourced from Israel and Palestine, which is a feat when you realize the entire region is only the size of New Jersey. The dishes were somewhat familiar, but the flavors far more intense—fresh cheeses from small dairy farmers, lightly cured fish caught the same morning pulled in from the port that's only a few miles away. Add to that an open storefront that spills out into the street and a great soundtrack and the place feels like a restaurant I could easily become a regular at — if it weren't 5,600 miles from home.


Daniela Galarza, Eater news editor: Le Coucou was consistently excellent.


Foster Kamer, Mashable managing editor: I had some incredibly innovative, interesting food in this city this year, one of the best years for new New York restaurants in a while. That said? I finally went to Peter Luger after living here for 11 years with my best friend the night before he left for three months—on a walk-in. Tracy Morgan was in there, screaming at everyone to shut the fuck up about Kevin Hart when he's in a restaurant, just killing the room. And the steak genuinely lived up to the hype in a way I was utterly convinced it would never be able to prior to eating it. The entire thing was utterly perfect.


Jordana Rothman, restaurant editor at Food & Wine: Late-summer supper on the patio at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, with my best friend and our adopted little sister: Roasted nectarines with poppy seeds shaken from the dried flower’s stem, and bites of sticky cherry-chocolate loaf and 200% bread in Dan Barber’s bakery. That, or the short-stack of pancakes I ate dressed like Peggy Bundy in a booth at Du-par’s in LA. That was good too.


Bret Thorn, NRN senior food & beverage editor: I think it was brunch, alone, at Buvette. Very straightforward: a little pâté, some roasted beets, toast. But it was perfect. I didn't know toast could be perfect, but it was.


Robert Sietsema, Eater senior critic: Bowl of beef pho with beef balls on the side at the original Pho Binh Trailer in Houston.


Kat Odell, author of Day Drinking: One of the most incredible meals I’ve had this year was at wagyu den Nakahara in Tokyo. Sitting at the counter as chef Kentaro Nakahara cooked our 12+ course wagyu meal was like a study in the true flavor of marbled meat. What you’ve had here in the US is nothing like what’s available in Japan, and if you want to experience the best of the best, Nakahara is the place to do it. But make sure to try and nab a counter seat. I also had an incredible meal a few months ago at La Tasquita de Enfrente. I was in Madrid for one night and went through the tasting menu solo. Here, chef and owner Juanjo Lopez focuses on the purity of singular ingredients — like a plate of porcini raw and sautéed. I was really impressed with my meal at Aska over the summer; that recent Michelin nod is well-earned. In a city rife with tasting menus, Aska offers a unique option rich in plants that seeks to heighten a product’s inherent flavor through primitive techniques like preservation and smoking. Also, not totally dissimilar from the excellent dinner and breakfast I had at Willows Inn on Lummi Island earlier this year. Also loved Alinea 2.0 and Roister … but sometimes you just can’t beat a 50-cent squash blossom taco in Oaxaca…


[The rye millefeuille at Momofuku Ko with a cocktail]
[Daniel Krieger]

Marian Bull, food writer: Momofuku Ko, hands down, right before I left New York—everything felt exciting and worth its fanciness, and we had an aged sake that smelled like mushrooms, and I left feeling decidedly not-weighed-down. The service was at the perfect level of informative but not overbearing. I love that that room manages to be sleek without ever coming off as douchey.


Sonia Chopra, Eater managing editor: I had a truly fantastic meal at Indian Accent this year, but it was the one in Delhi, not NY. Maybe Insa? Smart Korean food, fun bar, coat hooks, punch bowls!


Joe DiStefano, Chopsticks + Marrow blogger/food tour guide: It’s a tie between the soon dae gook at Tang, and the Mr. Crispy grilled cheese at Astoria Bier & Cheese.


Melissa McCart, Eater NY editor: Soto (now closed), Little Pepper. Outside of New York, everything I ate at Pizzarium in Rome.


Laurie Woolever, food writer/Appetites co-author: Dinner at Peasant a few months ago — tripe, a pork liver and polenta special, octopus, clams and ricotta cake, in a beautiful grown-up room with professional friendly service and a completely approachable, appropriate and thoughtful wine list. So good to see a place of its age consistently delivering pleasure.


Minetta Tavern Photo: Nick Solares

Minetta Tavern sign by Nick Solares

Charlotte Druckman, food writer/cookbook author: I wasn't going to do anything to acknowledge my cookbook's pub day, but then I thought, life's too short. Plus, I knew if I stayed home I'd probably be all "How come no one is acknowledging my pub day?" and pout because I'm silly like that. So I asked the only people I can count on—my parents—if they wanted to take their firstborn to dinner to pat her on the back. Mom was busy. Dad was free! I booked a table at Minetta Tavern, where I hadn't been in ages. I had a martini, Dad, scotch; we shared the little gem Caesar and another (special) salad, the cote de boeuf (comes with marrow bones), broccoli rabe, mushrooms, and, for dessert, a chocolate souffle and it was exactly right. The PERFECT meal. Thank you, JPD.


Matt Buchanan, Eater features editor: The kitchen table at Empellon Cocina was the meal I certainly talked about the most; Alex Stupak's cooking was so thrilling it made me not hate tasting menus for a second. (Oh what a burden, to be tired of tasting menus. I know, I'm sorry.)


Patty Diez, Eater NY associate editor: ​​St. Anselm.


Serena Dai, Eater NY news editor: My first meal at Her Name is Han felt pretty special. Even though I’d heard it was good, I didn’t know what to expect or what kind of place it would be for me. (It was the rare restaurant that I didn’t read much coverage of before going.) With each dish, I started to realize that it was the kind of place that I would want to visit over and over again. Lots of meals can be good, but that feeling of unexpectedly falling in love with a restaurant is something else.


Nick Solares, Eater NY restaurant editor: Toss up between the opulent luxury of the 10 year anniversary tasting menu at Porter House Bar & Grill (caviar, truffles, wagyu etc) or the long form tasting menu at the mind blowing Aska.


Hometown Bar-B-Que
[Hometown Bar-B-Que on a sunny afternoon by Daniel Krieger]
Daniel Krieger/Eater

Greg Morabito, Eater Upsell co-host: My restaurant going habits changed drastically in February, when my son was born. I still tried to make the rounds, but eating out became an entirely different experience with a little bambino in tow. For that reason, I started gravitating toward places with counter-service and barroom like vibes — i.e. establishments where it was easy to make a quick getaway, if necessary. Barbecue restaurants were especially great places to dine out with the kid. And over the spring and summer, I made it my mission to hit up all of the good ones.

In my time covering restaurants for Eater NY, the barbecue boom was one of the most interesting trends to follow. And now, I think, it’s no longer a trend — barbecue is a part of the culinary fabric of New York. So, my answer for meal of the year is actually a collection of visits to NYC’s great wood-smoked barbecue places, sometimes to stay, sometimes to go. A few favorite memories:

— A Friday afternoon feast at Hometown Bar-B-Que where the light was perfect, the staff was friendly, the line was mercifully short, and the brisket was unlike any other smoked meat I’d previously tasted. It’s been said many times before, but this place really crushes it.

— A mellow summer lunch at Arrogant Swine where I got to try Tyson Ho’s sensational whole hog, outside brown, and mac & cheese waffles for the first time.

— A lunch at Hill Country on a Saturday in May immediately following an earlier meal at Scott Conant’s wildly disappointing Impero Caffe. The brisket made the afternoon outing worthwhile.

— An early afternoon feast of pulled pork, spicy wings, and beef ribs at Gowanus party spot Pig Beach.

— Take-out visits to John Brown Smokehouse, Mabel’s, and Fletcher’s, all of which are great neighborhood institutions with pleasant vibes. I know that nothing compares to freshly smoked ‘cue, consumed over a paper-lined tray, but the meat is also the best stuff to pull out of the fridge late at night.

Long live NYC barbecue.

Top photo: Le Coucou by Nick Solares

Peasant

194 Elizabeth Street, New York, NY 10012 Visit Website

Aska

47 South 5th Street, Brooklyn, NY 11249 (929) 337-6792 Visit Website

Hometown

454 Van Brunt Street, Brooklyn, NY 11231 347 294 4644

Le Coucou

138 Lafayette Street, Manhattan, NY 10013 (212) 271-4252 Visit Website

Empellon

230 West 4th Street, New York, New York 10014

St. Anselm

355 Metropolitan Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (718) 384-5054 Visit Website

Momofuku Ko

8 Extra Place, Manhattan, NY 10003 (212) 203-8095 Visit Website

Peter Luger Steak House

178 Broadway, Brooklyn, NY 11211 (718) 387-7400 Visit Website

Porter House

4/F, 10 Columbus Cir, New York, NY 10019 (212) 823-9500 Visit Website

Insa

328 Douglass Street, Brooklyn, NY 11217 (718) 855-2620 Visit Website
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