2007 Top 12 Restaurants Outside Los Angeles

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Best Food Of The Year

These bites inspired me more than any others over the past year.

Here are the 12 most impressive meals I ate in 2007, regardless of cuisine or price, excluding Los Angeles. Most people opt for a Top 10 list, but since it’s an arbitrary number anyway, why limit myself? The entries appear by date of consumption.

1. Redd – Yountville, CA – February 17, 2007

Despite Thomas Keller’s stranglehold on Yountville, with three restaurants and a bakery, Richard Reddington has carved out a distinctive niche by pairing vivid flavors with sleek design. Our explosively flavored starter featured rectangles of soy caramel glazed pork belly, apple puree and matchsticks of rutabaga. Caramelized diver scallops were perfectly cooked and paired with floret-studded cauliflower puree, shaved almonds, balsamic reduction, capers and golden raisins. Crisp-skinned Tai snapper was set upon fennel puree, chickpeas and black olive sauce. The late great R.W. Apple, Jr. praised pastry chef Nicole Plue during her prior stint at nearby Julia’s Kitchen. With good reason. Her cheesecake panna cotta was topped with diced rhubarb and paired with fluffy rhubarb crepes “suzette.” Even better was the Citrus Tasting: feathery Meyer lemon cake with a sweet Meyer lemon glaze, a tangerine float with tapioca pearls, and a single S’more with grapefruit-crusted marshmallow. After dining at five high-profile Napa Valley restaurants, including Keller’s Ad Hoc, my thoughts kept returning to one restaurant: Redd.

2. Pizzeria Bianco – Phoenix, AZ – April 7, 2007

In 1996, I ate at Pizzeria Bianco for two straight meals. Eleven years later, Chris Bianco’s wood oven-fired pizzas haunted me (in a good way). Eleven years is an eternity for a restaurant. Would Bianco’s current pies match the pizzas of my memory? No. They were better! We ordered one pizza with sauce and one without. The sauce-laden Sonny Boy held a thin layer of robust tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, Gaeta olives and salami shipped from New York, made crispy in the oven. The crust was excellent, with a good chew, and not a dry centimeter to be found. Our sauce-free selection was the Wiseguy, topped with candy-sweet wood-roasted onions, phenomenal house-smoked mozzarella, and spicy cuts of fennel sausage from Schreiner’s Fine Sausage in Phoenix. We expected to encounter serious pizza, but were blindsided by the Spiedini. Skewers of incredible Italian fontina were wrapped in crispy prosciutto di Parma. No chance I wait another decade for a return trip.

3. Crosstown BBQ – Elgin, TX – May 12, 2007 [CLOSED]

Located across town from Elgin’s other barbecue big guns, this relatively anonymous metal building has plenty of character. To demonstrate how rugged Crosstown BBQ is, one five-foot patch of wall featured a mounted wild boar head, incisors bared, plus framed photos of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. There were also multiple wall-mounted deer heads. In one instance, deer hooves were even used to prop up the rifle that killed the animal. When we stepped up to the counter to order Crosstown’s oak-smoked meats, pitman Traco Fowler lifted a metal lid, revealing a bin of sausage links, each a yard long. We got half a yard of sausage, which was gritty and greasy, with a taut, pepper-flecked skin. The sausage links are all stuffed in-house. Ribs were rubbed with a spice mixture and smoked for about two hours, until bronzed and caramelized, with a tremendous chew. We also got several slices of tender brisket, plus a couple slices of the ultra-smoky, chewy, smoked-until-black burnt ends. House-made sauce was served hot, orange, spicy and vinegary. Crosstown BBQ might not be as old or storied as fellow Elgin smokehouses Southside Market and Meyer’s, but it still proved to be our favorite of the three.

4. The Salt Lick BBQ – Driftwood, TX – May 13, 2007

The Salt Lick BBQ has become a Lurie family tradition. My father first ate at the now-legendary Hill Country barbecue establishment while attending grad school at UT in the late ‘60s. My father, brother and I now convene in Austin each spring to eat obscene amounts of barbecue, and the trip always ends at The Salt Lick. No need for a menu. Unless you’re a half-wit, the only viable option is to order family style ($15.95 per person) – unlimited portions of sliced sausage links, pork ribs and beef brisket. All the meats came slathered in burnt-orange sauce. The ribs were especially succulent, with bronzed skins and tender meat that was infused with sauce and smoke. The brisket was juicy, with a nice quarter-inch smoke ring and caramelized crust. The links could have featured crisper casings, but they were still juicy and had good flavor. The most eagerly anticipated part of the plate is always the burnt ends – prized caramelized brisket crusts that form when the slathered sauce is buffeted with oak smoke. Our meal also included stellar bowls of German potato salad and cole slaw. After 40 years in business, The Salt Lick surprised us with a new accompaniment: habanero barbecue sauce, adding another note of complexity to the original sweet and spicy formula. For dessert, the slice of fresh-baked pecan pie was excellent, topped with candied pecans, with a syrupy filling, and a satisfying crust.



Joshua Lurie

Joshua Lurie founded FoodGPS in 2005. Read about him here.

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