I love to cook, but I also love to go out to eat. It’s a major dilemma! This year, I was lucky enough to try out so many incredible new restaurants. When I was brainstorming my top 5, I was seriously stumped. How could I choose just 5?! Well, after much thought, I’ve come up with a list. From fine dining, to vegan, to Texas BBQ, here it is!
1. Carbone , NYC
Italian-American food gets a bad rap. At Carbone, the Torrisi brothers are out to change that. Classic Italian-American dishes are transformed into fine-dining fare by using the highest-quality ingredients treated with the utmost care. You wouldn’t believe caesar salad and veal parmesan could have such finesse. The ceremony of the place brings you back to 1960’s checkered tablecloth joints. Thank you to the incredible waitstaff at Carbone for making my night so lovely!
2. Frankin’s BBQ, Austin, TX
After all, I am a Texas girl at heart. When I had the chance to visit Austin this year, I knew I had to stop by Franklin’s. The reputation of the place precedes itself. This was quite apparent when I arrived to a line wrapped around the door! I ordered the brisket, complete with all the fixings. Sadly, by the time I got to the counter, they had sold out of ribs. I had to beg the table next to mine for a taste of theirs! A girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do. Both the ribs and the brisket were INSANE. So tender. So flavorful. Smoky, crispy, rich, melt-in-your-mouth. Like nothing you’ve ever had. The sides might not be all that special, but who cares. No one comes for the cole slaw anyway!
3. Tao Downtown, NYC
I’m a dumpling junkie, and Tao Downtown is right up there with Red Farm for having my favorite in the city. I went to Tao Downtown recently with a few couples and simply had the best night. We shared a ton of small plates including plenty of their exceptional dim sum and a banana leaf-wrapped bass filet so light and fragrant, I swoon thinking about it. The atmosphere and decor is a bit LV but it makes for a very fun night out in Meatpacking. I will be back soon!
4. Cafe Gratitude, Venice, CA
Who would have thought one of my favorite restaurants would be vegan? This place isn’t any old health-food spot. Their menu is packed with dishes so creative and unique that it’s hard to choose. You hardly even think about the fact that there’s no meat or dairy involved. What’s fun about this restaurant is their totally L.A. vibe. It also didn’t hurt that we rode out bikes to lunch that day! When you sit down, your waiter asks, “What is your intention for the day?” Although that kind of thing would be laughed out of New York City, it was a refreshingly soulful experience! The menu includes dishes titled things like “humble,” “fulfilled,” and “whole,” with ingredients like cashew creme fraiche and brazil nut parmesan. I loved my kale salad with sesame-wasabi dressing, avocado, sea palm, nori, cucumbers, carrots, cilantro, basil, and green onions. Yum!
5. Mozza, Newport Beach, CA
I visit Newport Beach all the time, as my mother lived there for so many years. Our hands-down favorite place to eat there is Mozza. I swear the pizza is better than any you’ll find in New York! Even better is their butterscotch budino. I loved it so much, I my son later gave me the cookbook to make it at home. The budino had the smoothest texture, with a nearly burnt caramel flavor. I’m telling you, this was an INTENSE dessert. The sea salt on the top cut through the sweetness perfectly; I simply can’t think of a dessert I’d want more than this. I haven’t tried making it yet, I’ll soon give this recipe a stab. If you try it, please let me know how it turns out!
Butterscotch Budino (from the Mozza Cookbook)
- 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 cups heavy cream
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 egg
- 3 egg yolks
- 5 tablespoons cornstarch
- 5 tablespoons butter
- 1 1/2 tablespoons dark rum
- 1/2 cup heavy cream
- 1/8 vanilla bean, scraped
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons corn syrup
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1/4 cup whipping cream
- 3/4 cup crème fraîche
- 1 1/4 teaspoons fleur de sel
Yield: 10 servings
To prepare the budino, combine the brown sugar, water, and salt in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium-high heat. Cook to a smoking, dark caramel, about 10 to 12 minutes. (The sugar will smell caramelized and nutty and turn a deep brown.) Immediately whisk the cream and milk into the caramel to stop the cooking. The mixture will steam and the caramel will seize, but will become smooth again as you whisk. Bring the mixture to a boil and reduce the heat to medium.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg, egg yolks, and cornstarch. Temper the hot caramel cream into the egg mixture by adding a cup of caramel at a time, whisking constantly. When half the caramel is incorporated, pour the egg mixture back into the remaining caramel, and boil while whisking constantly until the custard is very thick, about 2 minutes. Remove the custard from the heat and whisk in the butter and rum. Strain the custard through a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps and divide among ten 6-ounce ramekins. Cover with plastic wrap and chill for several hours, or up to 3 days.
To prepare the caramel sauce, heat the cream and vanilla in a medium saucepan over medium heat until simmering. Add the butter, turn off the heat, and set aside. In a large heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Cook over medium-high heat, swirling the pan just slightly to gauge the caramelization, until the sugar becomes a medium amber color, about 10 minutes. Remove the caramel from heat and carefully whisk the cream mixture into the caramel. Be very careful—the caramel will steam and bubble. Whisk to combine. Place the pan in a large bowl of ice water to cool.
To serve, whip the whipping cream in a chilled medium bowl until it begins to thicken. Add the crème fraiche and beat until thick and fluffy. Spoon 1 tablespoon of the warm caramel sauce onto each budino, sprinkle with 1/8 teaspoon of fleur de sel, and add a dollop of whipped cream.
What were your favorite restaurants of the year? Share them with me! I’d love to know. Comment, Facebook, or Tweet at me with your list!