Last week, I named my restaurants of the year in a list that included venues like Superiority Burger, El Quinto Pino, The Grill, and Cote. Today, I unveil my dishes of the year. Spoiler: My three best dishes are desserts. Eating sweets sometimes felt like the most accessible way to find inspiration at the city’s more expensive new establishments in 2017.
Dishes of The Year
Empellon’s Ice Cream Tacos
The heady aroma of corn lingers outside of Alex Stupak’s Empellon in Midtown, and the one dish that truly delivers on that powerful perfume are the $7 ice cream tacos (picture above). The shell tastes like Corn Pops while the ice cream evokes the vegetable’s tangier, earthier overtones. They are, as I wrote in my three-star review, are “an ode to maize in all its processed glory: pure American gold.” 510 Madison Ave, on 53rd Street, Midtown East.
The Aviary’s White Plate
The server hands you a dish filled with white creams and crisps. You assume that the taste will be as monochromatic as the color palette. As if. Hidden behind the visual blandness are a vibrant collection of flavors and textures: lime sorbet, cashew pudding, tonka bean meringue, coconut brick. Hidden within is also a wallop of ginger. The $18 dish is pure Alinea Group genius, a study in the joy of subverted expectations. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel at 80 Columbus Circle, on 60th Street, Midtown West.
The Pool’s Frozen Yogurt
Pastry chef Stephanie Prida stacks her tangy quenelles of Battenkill frozen yogurt as if they were curvilinear Lincoln Logs. She then pairs them with a salad bar’s worth of condiments, from tart yuzu sauce to whey caramel to tomato jam. I compared the dish’s striking visuals to a Zaha Hadid apartment building in my review, but here’s another point of reference: The $18 treat is a technical counterpoint to the flood of restaurants outsourcing their dessert programs to soft-serve machines. And it’s also an antidote to institutions charging $20-$30 for very average sundaes for two. 99 East 52nd St., between Park Avenue and Lexington Avenue, Midtown East.
Dishes of the Year: The Long List
Gloria’s Crab With Bouillabaisse Sabayon — Diego Garcia cooked at Le Bernardin for four years, which explains why his crab dish wouldn’t feel out of place at that three Michelin-starred temple to fish. Garcia warms the shellfish in a butter sauce and plates it with butterball potatoes and julienned kohlrabi. On top of that goes a bright bouillabaisse sabayon, heady with the flavor of saffron. The contrast of white crab and golden sauce, of warm meat and cool vegetables, is almost as stunning as the price, just $18 for the generous appetizer. 401 West 53rd St., near 8th Avenue, Hell’s Kitchen
The Kebabs at Nargis — Boris Bangiyev’s second location of Nargis, located in Park Slope, serves some of the city’s finest lamb, beef, and chicken kebabs. They’re carefully seared over live coals, producing a gently smoky char that’s on par with the Michelin-starred poultry skewers Tori Shin. And almost all the kebabs are under $10. 155 Fifth Avenue, near Lincoln Place, Brooklyn.
Superiority Burger’s TFT — Brooks Headley already convinced us that meat-free burgers and sloppy joes can taste so good that maybe the vegetarian versions are the real things while the animal protein originals are the poseurs. This same logic can be applied to his tofu-fried tofu sandwich, whose crispiness, squishiness, acidity, heat, and flavors manage to mimic and improve upon most fried chicken sandwiches. 430 East 9th St., near Avenue A, East Village
Uncle Boons Sister’s Rotisserie Chicken — One of the city’s best rotisserie chickens, with flesh that shreds with a gentle twist of your fork, and fish-sauce painted skin that pulls off like an edible, carnivorous banana peel. It’s served over rice, paired with a soy ginger dipping sauce, and a small cup of broth. This one plate meal, compliments of Ann Redding and Matt Danzer, costs just $13, which is barely enough for half a burger in some of the city’s better restaurants. 203 Mott St, near Spring Street, Nolita
Little Tong’s Chicken Soup — Simone Tong’s mixian noodle soup is your light, bright respite from all the super-fatty chicken paitan ramens being hawked around town. The chicken broth, laced with fermented chiles and covered with noir-ish slick of black sesame garlic oil, warms and nourishes without overwhelming. And the signature stretchy white rice noodles make the whole affair feel like an excellent ode to Campbell’s. 177 First Avenue, near 11th Street, East Village
Super Dry-Aged Steak at Cote — Lovers of dry-aged beef don’t just want complex flavor and tenderness. They want ethereal, intoxicating, sometimes borderline rancid perfume. Chef David Shim’s 150-day dry-aged strip is extremely borderline. The words funky or blue cheese-y don’t do this cut justice. Imagine a sweaty spin class, where instead of scented candles the instructor places a few iberico hams in the center of the room. The aroma starts off as sweetly musky, but quickly becomes a bit “extra,” as they say on the Internet. 16 West 22nd St., near Fifth Avenue, Flatiron
Corner Slice’s Slice — David Poran and Michael Bergemann’s light, crispy, low-gluten tomato slice is the best New York has seen since Jim Lahey started selling crudo slices at Sullivan Street Bakery. And quite frankly, it also ranks with Atla’s Avocado toast as one of the top tomato dishes of the year. 600 11th Avenue, Gotham West Market. Hell’s Kitchen
Leyenda’s Mofongo — One of Brooklyn’s best cocktail bars serves a stunning mofongo, one of the classic dishes of Puerto Rico. Consulting chef Sue Torres fries a mash of green plantains, shapes them into balls, pairs them with pernil (pulled pork), and douses everything in a garlicky broth that’s laced with a very non-traditional dose of white vinegar. The bright acid cuts through the fatty, starchy richness, and it keeps you awake long enough to order another cocktail. 211 Smith St, near Butler Street, Carroll Gardens
The Grill’s Pasta a la Press — A tuxedoed waiter at The Grill, as I wrote in my four star review, uses a “tableside torture device to crush poultry parts into the base of a sauce whose notes of blood, salt, and cherrywood recalls the juices that collect at the bottom of a cutting board after a good night of hunting.” The sauce is then ferried back to the kitchen where it’s ladled over a fist full of yellow egg noodles and served in a gold-rimmed plate. It is a perfect American pasta. 99 East 52nd St., near Park Avenue, Midtown
Crab Chupe at Chumley’s — Victoria Blamey, the erstwhile chef at Chumley’s, served an excellent riff on chupe, often made with abalone in her native Chile, in this historic speakeasy. She would steam live Dungeness crabs, blend the meat with aleppo peppers, confit tomatoes, mint, tarragon, and fermented aji dulce pepper, and then stuff it all back into the crab’s shell with a puff pastry topping. The result was a gorgeously spicy pot pie, with the delicate flavor of the crab serving as a conduit for the stunningly complex sweet-spicy tang of the peppers. 86 Bedford St, near Barrow, West Village
Atla’s Avo Toast — It’s almost unfair to call this avocado toast. Chef Daniela Soto-Innes and chef Hugo Vera take a fat slice of ciabatta, smear it with funky goat cheese and smooth avo, lace it with stinging chiles, and top it off with such a polychromatic array of cherry tomatoes that I wondered in my review whether the kitchen took its inspiration from a bag of Skittles. 372 Lafayette, near Great Jones, NoHo
Chinese Tuxedo XO Noodles — Chef Paul Donnelly masterfully reinvents the $5 street snack and charges $25 for the privilege. He swaps out the traditional rice noodles in favor of house made egg noodles, slicked in umami-rich seaweed butter. And for a riff on XO sauce, he uses speck instead of the traditional lap cheong, which he laces with dried shrimp. It’s all masterfully funky. 5 Doyers St., near Bowery, Chinatown
Pho Bac at Hanoi House — Unlike Saigon-style pho, famous for its epic array of herbal condiments, the North Vietnamese version is a leaner affair, with the focus on broth and noodles. And that’s precisely what Orange County’s John Nguyen has brought to the East Coast — a sparkling 16-hour beef soup, whose powerful notes of cinnamon fully permeate the nourishing rice noodles. Soft bites of filet mignon and brisket amp up the beefiness even further. 119 St. Mark's Place, near Avenue A, East Village
Cosme’s Lamb Barbacoa — Chef Daniela Soto-Innes braises her lamb leg overnight in a ton of chiles and serves it covered with a forest canopy’s worth of herbs. On the side are peppers as hot as the sun and a deck of corn tortillas the color of the moon. The $69 brunch-only affair should be enjoyed at the pace of a Thanksgiving dinner, which is to say over the course of 90-minutes, while sipping on cold beers and horchata. This is Cosme’s best dish. 25 East 21 St., near Park Avenue, Flatiron
Whipped Pumpkin With Smoked and Roasted Chicken at Reynard — An everyday Rockwellian feast by chef Christina Lecki, and a highlight of my three star review. 80 Wythe Ave., at North 11th Street, Williamsburg