After a year filled with exciting, mouth-watering food that came from all over the city of Houston -- from a wide variety of restaurants with chefs as unique as their culinary creations -- we thought it would be a tough feat to try and name our favorite dishes of 2012. Sure, we had to re-visit countless meals, dishes, experiences in our heads to try to decide which dishes would come out at the very top. The dishes below represent those we longed for innumerable times throughout 2012 - during breakfast, lunch, dinner, in the middle of the night, and upon first waking up. In fact, they even made appearances in our dreams. When so much lust surrounds something edible, you know that they are simply spectacular. Here are our faves of 2012:
Carla Soriano of Urban Swank
Foie Gras Torchon - Brasserie 19
Topped with bing cherry compote and served atop toasted brioche, this special, "off-the-menu" B19 dish created by Executive Chef Amanda McGraw - was the perfect combination of sweet and savory - super well-balanced, with a nice tart punch provided by the bing cherries and a heavenly marriage of textures created by the buttery foie and the crunchy toasted brioche. I could eat one, right after another, after another of this superb dish - at any time of day, during any season.
Tart Tartine - Étoile Cuisine et Bar
With a sweet tooth as big as life itself, it's no wonder that one of my two favorites is a sweet dish. Chef Philippe Verpiand, chef owner at the newly-opened Étoile, truly outdid himself with his version of the classic French apple tart. Delivered fresh out of the oven, Its light, buttery base and delicately sliced apples, with its home-made caramel sauce and small scoop of vanilla ice cream made me think "oh-la-la" with every passing bite. This perfectly-baked, warm apple delight trumps every other apple tart in the city of Houston.
Shanna Jones of Urban Swank
Homemade Biscuits with Hamburger Gravy - Benjy's on Washington
Biscuits and gravy, a staple when it comes to a great Southern breakfast, are not created equal. The Benjy's location on Washington Avenue should be the version by which all others are measured. This hearty dish is my fave because the two major components of this dish have been perfected: the thick, rich and creamy white gravy that is blended nicely with seasoned chunks of hamburger and the extra large biscuits that are golden brown sporting crispy buttery edges and a soft center - yet, they are strong enough to tolerate the hearty gravy. The chives that are sprinkled along the top add the bite that has long since been the crucial component to a loaded baked potato. Perfection!
Chocolate Mousse - Sullivan's Steakhouse
It is no secret that chocolate is my thing. Although there are many great chocolate desserts that have pleased my palate this year, the Chocolate Mousse (served with fresh strawberries and cream) at Sullivan's has been the most memorable. At first glance, it seems innocent, but after one bite, you quickly reassess. I'm not sure what is better - the perfectly creamy texture of the mousse itself, the spot on ratio of chocolate to heavy cream, or the tower of chocolate shavings that finish off this masterpiece. This layered sensation is a gift that keeps on giving.
Hank Lewis of HankOnFood.com
Homeroom Burger - Bernie's Burger Bus
Over the past year my top Houston burgers list got longer and was revised, and will continue to be revised some more. Several new burger joints opened, and I tried a few that I hadn't tried before as well. However this burger from Bernie's Burger Bus (with tipsy grilled onions, apple wood smoked bacon, cheddar cheese, and a fried egg on an artisan bun) stood out from the competition for its buttery sweet beef, its thick chewy and crunchy bacon, and the satisfaction I felt after eating it all up. Bernie's is still the best Food Truck burger in Houston, and this was the first one I had from them, but it won't be the last.
Jar Jar Duck - Uchi Houston
The name catches your attention, especially if you're a Star Wars fan. The cooking style and presentation is totally unique--cook farm raised duck with kumquat, endive, and rosemary. Bake it in a jar so it stays moist and all the flavours homogenize. What you get is tender, juicy duck infused with sweetness from the kumquat and herbal from the endive and rosemary that is a pleasure to eat and is so wonderfully presented. This dish was served at the Uchi grand opening in January and I since had it in June, and it is outstanding in its name, cooking methods, flavour and presentation. By far my dish of the year!
Cedar Roasted Salmon - McCormick & Schmick's
I always mention the Vancouver Restaurant Joe Forte's Seafood & Chop House whenever I have cedar smoked wild salmon or cedar plank salmon because usually nobody comes even close to getting it right like Joe Fortes. However, the Landry's Family of Restaurants surprised the heck out of me with their Cedar Roasted Salmon, served with a northwest berry reduction and roasted vegetables. The salmon is fresh, delicate and melts in your mouth. The acid of the veggies is a nice contrast to the Northwest Berry Reduction and this is a dish that won't end up going home with me as it always gets finished. I've had it 5 times this year and it was always consistently good.
Felice Sloan of Urban Swank
Nacho Mama’s Oysters - Max's Wine Dive
My love of oysters and for Max’s Wine Dive had me finally trying this dish. The name, Nacho Mama's Oysters, is so true. The combination of crispy fried oysters, house-made habanero salsa, garlic aioli, and fresh cilantro on fried wontons takes the oysters to new heights. The favor profile is extremely simplistic, but somehow still manages to have a wow factor. Hey, I am not questioning it nor am I trying to figure it out! All I got is a big fat satisfied smile and a round of please and thank you's that would make me look like a major kiss ass.
Junk Berry Pie - Royers Round Top Cafe
Close your eyes and imagine a whole bunch of junk - okay that was a little scary! Now close them again and imagine that bunch of junk is…apples, peaches, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, and peaches with a sour cream topping - now we're talkin. This my friends is known as Junk Berry Pie, AKA crack berry pie, and Royers Café in Round Rock, Texas (only about an hour from Houston) is where you can find this lump of love. It is easily one of the best pies I’ve ever tasted. I find myself thinking about this damn pie at least once a week. It would be great if I had a cure for this addiction, but until then I’ll keep hitting the road.
Urban Swank Girls
Spaghetti Carbonara - Coppa Ristorante
When a dish is so freakin kick ass it seals the deal and lands you an executive chef job; you know you have landed on sacred ground (true story folks). That is what Chef Brandi Key of Coppa Ristorante Italiano's version of Spaghetti Cabonara is to us…the HOLY FREAKIN GRAIL of deliciousness. Chef Key puts her personal STANK on this one (that's a good thing), and makes the simple ingredients of: spaghetti, salami toscano, egg yolk, black pepper, and parmesan cream sing love songs to you. In addition to the song, the tableside preparation will have you dancing in your seat and don't be surprised if you are tempted to drink the cream straight from the serving dish (again, true story)!
Happy New Year!!!
~ Urban Swank