Here are the 15 most devastating dishes I ate in L.A. County in 2008, regardless of cuisine or price level. The Top 15 is listed by restaurant, in alphabetical order.
1. All’ Angelo – Hollywood – Budino di Polenta al Limone con Spuma di Limone [CLOSED]
With the first annual dineLA Restaurant Week winding down, I opted for one final lunch at All’ Angelo, Stefano Ongaro’s lauded Italian restaurant. While Chef Mirko Paderno’s first two dishes were solid, the highlight of the meal was undoubtedly the Budino di Polenta al Limone con Spuma di Limone. The hot slabs of caramelized Meyer lemon and polenta “pudding” were like a moist, super-charged poundcake, made even better by the cascading pour of lemon sabayon. Mirko Paderno has since departed All’ Angelo, but the budino is still available.
2. Bar Pintxo – Santa Monica – Jamon Iberico de Bellota [CLOSED]
Writers and honored guests (including the Consul General of Spain) were invited to Joe Miller’s tapas bar to celebrate the cuisine and wines of Castilla y Leon, a region of Spain. Nico Jimenez, the five-time world champion ham carver, was flown in from Extremadura for the occasion. There were other dishes, but the night will undoubtedly be remembered for my first taste of jamon Iberico de bellota, the remarkable ham made from acorn-fed, black-hoofed hogs. I enjoyed about 20 slices of the nutty meat, with melt-in-your-mouth ribbons of fat, chewy red musculature and crunchy white spots of caramelized amino acids. Apparently the meat contains nothing but “good cholesterol.” Considering the leg cost $1500, at about $90 per pound, that has to make jamon Iberico de bellota one of the most expensive health foods in the world.
3. Brent’s Deli – Northridge – Black Pastrami Reuben
Ron Peskin and wife Patricia purchased Brent’s in 1969, two years into the deli’s existence. The Peskins’ sprawling menu is dotted with highlights, none more remarkable than the Black Pastrami Reuben. A heaping portion of thin-sliced beef arrived on grilled rye with melted Swiss, hot sauerkraut and Russian dressing. The meat was lean and a little spicy. The accoutrements helped create an incredible balance, especially when sandwiched with grilled bread. Adding to the experience: definitive containers of cole slaw and potato salad.
4. Chopan Kebab House – Northridge – Ashak [CLOSED]
It was a little disconcerting to arrive at an Afghan restaurant and find a Morigi’s Pizza sign out front. Upon entering, proprietor Jawed Qayeum explained that Morigi’s was open for 52 years and built a loyal following, so in addition to offering the cuisine of their homeland, he and his wife decided to continue cooking Joe Morigi’s dishes, using his recipes. Qayeum and his wife, chef Naseema, named their restaurant in honor of a “chopan,” an Afghan shepherd. The best dish of my meal: Ashak, ethereal steamed dumplings filled with leeks and coriander, blanketed with yogurt sauce, ground beef, dried mint and paprika. It was a colorful and delicious dish, similar to an exemplary ravioli.
5. Crudobar @ Breadbar – Century City – Black Cod Slider
In a continued effort to give inventive chefs a forum during transition periods, Breadbar co-owner Ali Chalabi invited Noriyuki Sugie, late of Asiate in Manhattan and Tetsuya in Sydney, to craft Spanish-Japanese small plates at Breadbar Century City. Chef Sugie’s menu featured 18 selections. We ordered them all, including Sugie’s incredible black cod slider, a soft bun cradling a delicately fried slab of luscious cod, mizuna and wasabi tartar sauce. The supreme filet ‘o fish came with cornichons and an addictive tomato-based red chimichurri, which had a nice kick.