2011 was momentous eating year for Mister M and I. We were fortunate to squeeze in a ton of travel and experience new and exciting cultures. Of course, those adventures also gave us the chance to sample lots of great food.
I started 2011 on a detox kick. While I was somewhat successful in ridding myself of some bad habits, but I found myself rounding out 2011 thinking less about what my next great meal was going to be and more about how fortunate we are to just have food on the table.
With the impending arrival of Baby Melt in May 2012, I’ve been considering the kind of world I want my child to grow up in and what I can do to make sure he’s healthy. That started with me really honing in on where the food on our table is coming from and, after finding out we were expecting, cooking much more at home. (Which incidentally, was one of my New Year’s resolutions, even though it took me nearly eights months to get there!)
Change, it is a-coming, and 2012 will undoubtedly be more low-key for Mister M and me. Less white tablecloths in exotic locales and loads more home cooking– but also the opportunity to dig into to some local Tampa Bay Restaurants that I simply ran out of time to try this year.
Unfortunately, when the food gods shine down, you do what you can to capture the moment on the fly—lighting and cameras be damned! A food stylist I am not, but here is my recap of the best and most memorable bites and meals from 2011.
Wishing you a healthy and prosperous 2012!
Mister M and I started 2011 off with a bang at Graham Elliot in Chicago. Not only did we get to meet The Top Chef Master himself, we had an amazing prix fixe meal including a finale of a 24 karat chocolate twinkie confection.
Pasta in Positano
Our girls’ trip to Italy this spring confirmed what I already knew: Italians do it better. This bravado was on full display at daVincenzo, a three-generation family-run restaurant in Positano, Italy. This rigatoni in a tomato sauce with meat followed by a zingy lemon sponge cake was unforgettable. We learned that the meals at daVincenzo’s are still lovingly prepared by the family’s Nonna. The food was not fancy, yet it was incredibly cravable.
Burrata at Kitchen Bar 2
Kitchen Bar 2 at Tampa’s Chefs on the Loose was our favorite Kitchen Bar installment. The dish I keep coming back to is the Burrata small plate. Burrata is like buffala mozzarella, only with a creamier middle and made with cow, not buffalo milk. Jeannie Pierola’s version was served like a caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes and a bit of pesto, with the surprise being a lime chipotle sorbet that brought the dish from mundane to magnificent. There was a serious fork war between the people in our party on this dish.
Macho Burger at Chris Madrid’s
I confess that I’m a cheeseburger purist— I loathe bacon, fancy cheese or grilled mushrooms on my burger. I want the beef to shine. So I had guarded expectations about how the Macho Tostado burger at San Antonio’s beloved burger joint Chris Madrid’s–with its laundry list of Tex-Mex toppings–could really be that good. Boy, Mister M proved me wrong. The Tostada burger delivered to our table was a perfect bundle of ooey-gooey goodness. The eggy bun had a beautiful sheen to it. The half-pound patty, pounded thin, spilled out well beyond the bun and was topped with chopped onions, homemade refried beans, crushed tortilla chips, pico de gallo, and cheese for as far as the eye could see.
Big Momma & Naschmarkt
The cheesewurst I had at the roadside stand Würstelstand LEO set a new sausage standard. They call it the Big Momma for a reason, as it’s the Queen of Vienna würstel. The french bread torpedo is perfectly hollowed out from the inside, allowing the bread to completely envelope the sausage and condiments, rendering it fully portable. That same day we had a great afternoon at Naschmarkt, Vienna’s market in the city center, lined with bars and restaurants and lots of vendors selling local produce and meats.
Carne Asada at El Farolito
We tentatively entered this San Francisco Mission District hole-in-the wall looking for burritos, and almost walked out. I’m so glad we didn’t. El Farolito’s knock out carne asada and burritos with homemade salsas served alongside margaritas ladled out of utility buckets were one of the highlights of our West Coast trip.
Dim Sum at Yummy House
Sunday afternoons at Tampa’s Yummy House have become a habit for me and Mister M. The black bean chicken with green beans along with a few rounds of dim sum (the pork filled steamed buns and shrimp balls are our favorites) are our go-to NFL warm up. Considering how terribly our fantasy football teams performed this year, we might need a new tradition. But honestly, I’m willing to forsake fantasy domination in exchange for Yummy House steamed buns.
Sausage and The Salt Lick
Everything is bigger in Texas and our trip to Austin was supersized. I’ve been a Salt Lick barbeque fan for many years, but for some reason, our most recent trip to the Salt Lick Ranch, just outside of Austin, really hit the spot. Texas is known for its brisket but my favorite regional specialty is the smoked sausage, a testament to the Texas Hill Country’s strong German roots. Salt Lick is extra good because their tangy, mustardy sauce is fantastic. For me, eating doesn’t get much better than the Salt Lick pulled pork and sausage platter with a Shiner Bock in hand.
Pasteis de Belem in Lisbon
Despite significant historical sights in the Belém neighborhood in Lisbon, the real reason for the pilgrimage to Belém for me and Mister M—as well as and hundreds of thousands other people each year—was to stop at a nearby pastry shop called the Cafe Pastéis de Belém, home to the little gems of Portugese baking: Pastéis de Belém.
Once you’ve taken a bite you will understand why these confections are so special. The shell is made from a buttery and flaky massa folhada, Portugal’s version of puff pastry. Inside, a luscious, warm, custard calls your name, over and over again. I will never be able to replicate these little desserts, but I’m hoping my new friend and food blogger Isabel Laesig from Family Foodie will teach me how to make a version someday.
David Chang is a freakin’ genius. I’ve jumped on the bandwagon and am a believer. Our meal at Midtown’s Manhattan’s MaPeche was probably the most fun meal of the year— aided by a crowd of great friends and a rockin’ playlist. Every course was memorable but the crispy pig head—which was recommended by just about everyone we talked to about Ma Peche—stood out. Bracing ourselves for an outrageous presentation of an actual pig’s head, we were pleasantly surprised when the pig head packages arrived. The meat inside the crispy puck was moist and complimented by a tangy mustard. And, underneath was a tasty pile of stewed lentils.
Once you go Czech you never go back
Mister M and I’s first stop when arriving in Prague was to Hlucna Samota, a local bar that served Czech favorites. The all-star concoction of pork with potato dumplings, sauerkraut and bacon sounded like a comfort food dream. Then they brought me this trough—with it’s own source of fire—and I thought, they had to be kidding. I learned that Czechs rarely joke about food, so I shut my mouth, downed some Pilsner Urquell and dug in. I could barely make a dent in it, but it was outstanding.