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Khachapuri adjaruli at Georgian Dream

Sietsema’s 15 Best Dishes of 2017

From cheesy breads to stellar burritos, Eater’s senior editor talks favorites from the year

Khachapuri acharuli from Georgian Dream
| Photo by A. E. Davis

Painful as it was to pick the ten worst dishes of 2017, doing the opposite is a joyous activity. The best part about being a restaurant critic is stumbling on a dish that is really delightful — one that stimulates the senses and leads you to attack it rather than just eat it. If that dish is found in an unexpected place, or features unfamiliar ingredients and techniques, all the better. Here are the 15 best things I ate this year.

DaXi Sichuan

Millet Congee at DaXi Sichuan — Congee is usually a very plain dish from the comfort food repertoire of southern China. But Flushing Sichuan newcomer DaXi redefines congee by replacing the rice with millet, making it incandescent yellow, and adding slices of sea cucumber sashimi, an ocean creature I’d never before tasted in fresh form. The result generates excitement with every bite. 13620 Roosevelt Ave #2R, New World Mall, Flushing

Gumbo at The Gumbo Bros — New York City is undergoing a Cajun-Creole revolution, featuring the overlapping cuisines of New Orleans and the Cajun country of Louisiana and Texas. Instead of big ticket restaurants, we’re getting small shops specializing in po’ boys and gumbos. The Gumbo Bros offers three of these gumbos: chicken and andouille, seafood, and “z’herbs”: a green vegetarian concoction usually eaten on Good Friday. 224 Atlantic Ave., between Court Street and Boerum Place, Boerum Hill

Veal Tongue Trapizzino at Trapizzino — The trapizzino is an Italian street snack that debuted in Rome in 2008, and now it has deliciously come here. My favorite features boiled veal tongue, soft as glove leather, in a very Florentine salsa verde pungent with anchovies and capers. Other Italian and Italian-American fillings available, and there’s no better light lunch in town. 144 Orchard St., at Rivington Street, Lower East Side

trapizzino
A selection of Trapizzino
Photo by Nick Solares

Green Curry Duck at Thai Diva — Duck appeared to be the fastest rising meat of 2017, and Thai restaurants in Queens and Manhattan were some of the most aggressive users. A great example was tucked away in Sunnyside at Thai Diva, a green curry that perfectly showcased the dark mellow flesh of the waterfowl in a complex sauce that started out mild, but became hotter with each subsequent bite. 45-53 46th St., between Greenpoint and 47th avenues, Sunnyside

Cotechino at Santa Panza — Cotechino is a fresh sausage (one that must be cooked) that originated in northern Italy’s Modena. At Santa Panza, it was presented as a special this year, poised on a puck of polenta and peppered with lentils. The sausage is exceedingly rich and porky, and this setting showed it off spectacularly, proving one should always keep one’s eyes on the specials at this new Bushwick pizzeria. 1079 Broadway, between Lawton and Dodworth streets, Bushwick

Xiao Long Bao at Shanghai You Garden — Early in the year, Eater New York reported that master soup dumpling maker Zhou Jianhua had left Flushing’s Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao and relocated to the new and modern Shanghai You Garden. What makes a great soup dumpling? A very thin skin that bulges dangerously, rich gravy, a bland meatball of modest size, and a tendency to burst if you don’t lift it up very carefully. 135-33 40 Rd., between Main and Prince streets, Flushing

Smelts Fra Diavolo at M. Wells Dinette — This crazy museum canteen, only open Thursday through Monday afternoons, has a menu that’s mainly specials. These are often so good, you want to visit again and again, even if the museum isn’t offering anything you’re interested in. The most memorable dish this past year was a set of smelts smothered in a gloriously bright tomato sauce — with a bit of heat, too. MoMA PS1, 22-25 Jackson Ave., at 46th Avenue, Long Island City

Lahmajoun at Manousheh — Don’t dare call it pizza! This Lebanese flatbread, which doubtlessly preceded pizza historically, and may have even inspired it, comes topped with a fine mince of meat and vegetables. With a squeeze of lemon it comes alive. Several other great toppings are available at this shoebox of a restaurant just off the NYU campus. 193 Bleecker St., between MacDougal and Minetta streets, Greenwich Village

Basil Eggplant at Happy Stony Noodle — Taiwanese food was in ascendance this year, and one of its best purveyors was Elmhurst’s Happy Stony Noodle. One of the surprising elements here is the use of Southeast Asian basil, and no better showcase than basil eggplant, featuring the purple vegetable in a light sweet soy sauce with a powerful licorice-y taste. 83-47 Dongan Ave., near Broadway, Elmhurst

Burrito Santanero at Santa Ana Deli — Time to stop moaning that the burritos in Bushwick are not as good as the ones in San Francisco’s Mission District. Long-running Santa Ana Deli serves up a burrito Santanero just like the Mission’s burrito mojado, smothered in three sauces to resemble the Mexican flag. What gets put inside is your choice, but I’d recommend lengua (tongue) or chorizo (skinless sausage). 171 Irving Ave., at Stockholm Street, Bushwick

Khatchapuri Acharuli at Georgian Dream — The bread of the year was certainly khatchapuri, which exhibits several regional variations in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. This one features dough fashioned into a boat and baked with cheese in the center. As it’s served, a raw egg yolk and pat of butter are put on top for spectacular effect, encompassing bowl, bread, and dip in a single entity. 8309 3rd Ave., between 83rd and 84th streets, Bay Ridge

Assorted dishes turn at a 45 degree angle and aligned, including dumplings, composed salads, and meat stews.
A spread of food from Georgian Dream
A. E. Davis/Eater NY

Sausage Pie at Louie and Ernie’s Pizza — Neighborhood pizza continues to flourish in the five boroughs, as demonstrated by this wonderful parlor dating to 1959 in a residential neighborhood on the way to the Throgs Neck Bridge. The white pie is justifiably famous, but I prefer the wonderful sausage pie, with big lumps of fennel pork sausage, a piquant sauce, and plenty of good cheese. 1300 Crosby Ave., at Waterbury Avenue, the Bronx

Zucchini Sformatino at Fiaschetteria Pistoia — The food of Florence, Italy is a particular delight, with its own distinctive dishes, few of which reach these shores. That’s why I was so excited to find this sformato (an elegant, coarse-textured flan) at Alphabet City’s Fiaschetteria, laden with green summer squash and parmigiana, with a fried cheese wafer sticking out the top like a sail on a small boat. 647 East 11th St., between Avenue B and C, East Village

Casablanca Chraime at Nur — This dish, a lovely-to-look-at fish stew from Morocco, demonstrates the pan-Mediterranean bent of this Middle Eastern Flatiron restaurant from chef Meir Adoni. The stew features mussels and poached fish in a fussed-over tomato fumet, with couscous and a Persian pumpkin pickle on the side. And when you’re finished, there won’t be a drop of that sauce left. 34 East 20th St., between Broadway and Park Avenue South, Flatiron

A stew with tomato, poached fish, and mussels, with a side of housemade couscous and pumpkin tershi
The stew with tomato, poached fish, and mussels
Photo by Jenny G. Zhang

Thieboudienne at Fouta — Nicknamed “cheb,” this West African rice-based concoction is the national dish of Senegal. It usually consists of fried rice flavored with tamarind, stockfish, and tomato, topped with a multiplicity of vegetables and fresh fish stuffed with cilantro and green onions, but every cook makes it differently. The version at this Senegalese and Guinean restaurant in the Soundview section of the Bronx is faithful to its rich culinary tradition. 1762 Westchester Ave., between Commonwealth and St. Lawrence avenues, the Bronx

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