Learn about the Top 12 meals outside Los Angeles that I ate in 2008, regardless of cuisine or price level. The entries appear by date of consumption, not according to my level of enjoyment, which was considerable in every case.
1. American Flatbread – Los Alamos, CA – February 16, 2008 [Now called Full of Life Flatbread]
Sunday through Thursday, Clark Staub and his dedicated team utilize American Flatbread as a wholesale bakery, shipping frozen flatbreads to premium grocery stores nationwide. Friday and Saturday nights, as a way to connect with the public, the bakery becomes a restaurant, showcasing flatbreads, salads and desserts made using market-driven ingredients that are always credited to local farmers.
A balanced salad incorporated baby-lettuce, chicories, treviso, celery-like cardoon roots and crumbled egg, all dressed with walnut oil. Sweet Kumamoto and DeBob oysters from Oregon were plated with endive, coarse slices of organic beef sausage and Sotto Aceti – tangy house-pickled olives, beets and carrots.
Staub’s oven burns red and white oak to produce flatbreads with supple, blistered crusts. We reveled in the version with “wood-fired cauldron tomato sauce,” caramelized onions, Arroyo Grande mushrooms, fresh herbs and a blend of whole milk mozzarella, Three Sisters Farmstead ‘Serena” and organic Grana Padano. A sauce-less flatbread sported intense smoke-dried tomatoes, onions, Arroyo Grande mushrooms, cheese and crumbled Cayucos pork sausage seasoned with fennel, red pepper and blue agave.
For dessert, the moist Los Alamos Olive Oil Cake was surrounded by sections of “winter citrus,” including blood orange, Valencia oranges and tangelos.
2. De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies – Trenton, NJ – June 6, 2008 [CLOSED]
It was a tough decision. Should my cousins and I eat at the original De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies in Trenton, or try the new branch in Robbinsville? My cousins seemed to think the original had more character, but the new De Lorenzo’s had Sam Amico, the founding family’s pre-eminent pizzaiolo. We finally decided on an equitable plan: eat pizza back-to-back at each branch and compare the two. The Trenton original was significantly more satisfying.
Sam Amico’s grandfather Chick De Lorenzo started De Lorenzo’s Tomato Pies with his brothers in the ‘30s. The current location dates to 1947. Chick’s descendant Eileen Amico was happy to discuss her family’s tomato pies. The cheese goes down first, with tomato sauce on top and less cheese than normal. Eileen uses fresh crushed California tomatoes, because they’re consistent. The dough’s made fresh daily. Nothing’s ever frozen.
3. Una Pizza Napoletana – New York, NY – June 7, 2008
Anthony Mangieri is a traditionalist, baking “100% Handmade Neapolitan pizza” in a wood-fired brick oven, with a dome imported from Italy. He allows no substitutions or alterations, and don’t even think about asking for condiments. There aren’t any. Mangieri gets flack for charging $21 per pizza, but it’s the best pizza in New York City at this point, and for such a high quality Manhattan dinner, the price is reasonable.
We ordered all four pizzas. Filetti was my favorite variety, by a hair. On every pie, the blistered crust was startlingly good, nice and pliable, with a slightly sour tang. On the Bianca, Mangieri scatters little cubes of mozzarella before sliding the pizza into the oven, where they melt evenly. The combination of mozzarella di bufala, extra virgin olive oil, fresh garlic, fresh basil and sea salt was incredible. Marinara combined San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, oregano, fresh garlic, fresh basil, sea salt. With tomatoes so vibrant, and crust this special, the cheese wasn’t entirely missed. However, cheese certainly added another dimension to the Margherita, which hosted a sauce made from San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and sea salt.
4. Egg – Brooklyn, NY – June 8, 2008
North Carolina native George Weld partnered with Steve Tanner on this unassuming Williamsburg. Even without visible signage, the duo’s eatery has become a Williamsburg favorite due to its beyond-reasonable Southern-tinged menu. Thanks to this meal, Egg may be my all-time favorite breakfast spot.
Our waitress presented a complimentary coffee cup of airy beignets that weren’t too sweet, since there was only a smattering of sugar granules. For Weld’s killer Country Ham Biscuit, the ham comes from Colonel Bill Newsom’s Hams in Princeton, Kentucky, known to be about the best in the nation. The biscuit would be excellent solo, but with the salty slab of ham, sweet homemade fig jam and melted Grafton cheddar, it was insanely good. The breakfast sandwich came with a side of stellar Anson Mills grits, from South Carolina, plus two chile-flecked, char-grilled sausage patties that delivered some legitimate heat. Eggs Rothko cradled an easy-cooked egg in an airy, hollowed-out Amy’s brioche slice, topped with Grafton cheddar. A side of High Hope Farms scrapple had thin, crispy sheathes, a nice outer char and luscious interiors. Sugar-crusted, caramelized grapefruit was served with mint and helped to restore my faith in grapefruit. My only complaint: Egg is 2782 miles from my apartment.
5. Quan Hop – Westminster, CA – June 29, 2008
This stylish Vietnamese café debuted in 2006 courtesy of the Ton family, which also owns Quan Hy nearby. According to our waiter, the name means, “people from Hue who come to be happy and eat,” not that you have to be from Hue to enjoy matriarch Kim Toa Tran’s dishes.
Banh uot cuon thit bo nuong were especially luscious: grilled beef wrapped in steamed rice paper with scallions, served with sesame-studded soybean sauce. Glutinous bánh ít ram are stuffed with crumbled pork and shrimp, scallions and black tree ear mushroom slivers, served atop crunchy fried rice cakes with sweet fried onions and scallions. Com ca sea bass hap gung showcased light but flavorful chunks of steamed sea bass submerged in a peppery broth with julienned ginger, okra, cherry tomatoes, red and green peppers and bitter greens. A terrific Iced Mint Tea incorporated fresh mint leaves, sliced oranges and plenty of sugar.
6. MARKET – Del Mar, CA – July 26, 2008
Carl Schroeder opened MARKET in 2006 after working for culinary superstars Bradley Ogden and Michael Mina in the Bay Area. In Del Mar, he utilizes some of Southern California’s best ingredients, including prized produce from nearby Chino Farm.
Fluffy jalapeño corn muffins, still hot from the oven, came with house-whipped butter. Crispy Duck Confit & Roasted Plums tasted good. Then again, why wouldn’t duck leg and thigh poached in its own fat, coated with spicy-sweet ginger-orange marmalade? Stupendous Pancetta Wrapped Bison New York Strip featured lean but luscious slices brushed with chipotle glaze and wrapped in crisp Italian bacon. The meat was plated on sweet cilantro-spiked corn kernels and topped with smoky string beans. An accompanying spiced bison sausage tamale layered moist masa and rutty sausage patty crumbles.
Pastry Chef James Foran’s Roasted Plum-Sour Cream Cake was a moist pound cake with a crisp streusel top and a central vein of cinnamon-apple streusel. He plated the dessert with roasted plums and a scoop of ginger ice cream plumed with candied ginger.