2015 was a deliciously decadent year for me. We explored a huge number of new and new to us restaurants in NYC, had a gastronomic adventure in Portland, Maine, and had a truly epic meal at the Michelin star tasting menu restaurant EIPIC in Belfast. Here are some of the best things I had all year.
Babu Ji is hands down my favorite restaurant of 2015. Something about the playful menu, delicious dishes, and self serve beer fridge resonated with me and I cannot wait to go back. Every dish from the wacky appetizers to the funky indian version of an ice cream cone were top notch. If I lived any closer, I’d be dead from eating here for every meal.
Don’t let the haters convince you, Roberta’s is worth the hype. It’s also my pick above Marta and Paulie Gee’s for best pie in NYC. The ambiance isn’t much, and getting there is a pain, but it’s a chill place with the perfect pizza.
New for us, I believe it opened last year, was the excellent Upland. Upland is the pinnacle of upscale but unpretentious awesome food. The menu is California inspired, but really goes wherever they can find good food. It’s rare for a place to have both the best pasta (buccatini) and one of the top three burgers on my list. The beer menu was pretty tight too. Great place for a third date, the kind without pretension where you want to see how your date deals with a messy burger.
It speaks well to the burger scene in NYC that I can’t choose between Upland or Black Tap for best burger of the year. Black Tap is what I was told Minetta or JG Mellon would be, a delicious, fairly plain burger that speaks for itself. While Minetta and JG Mellon felt unloved to me with pathetic mushy buns, bland raw onions and pickles, and uninterested staff, Black Tap was a powerful punch of perfectly medium seasoned Pat LaFrieda (same as Shake Shack and Minetta) meat on an awesome potato bun. It’s not that hard to get your bun situation under control, but so many places fall flat here. This is a burger I will dream about for weeks.
Though the Bao is known for soup dumplings, I thought the chili oil wontons here were actually the most amazing dish. The soup dumplings were pretty great, probably the best I’ve had, but these wontons were something I wish I could get delivered weekly.
Thanks to our Filipino friend Irish (or is it Irish friend Filipino?) we finally tried Filipino cuisine at Maharlika. The brunch here was something unique and special. The purple waffle and fried chicken not only looked like something from another planet, they tasted out of this world too. Plus I discovered banana ketchup. I’ll never look back.
One of the more anticipated openings of the year, back in January, was Mission Chinese food. We somehow made it in the second week they were open and experienced a great meal from start to finish. The cocktails here are awesome as well. My favorite was the kung pao chicken which was spicy, tangy, and sublime. They change the menu pretty much monthly, apparently serving burritos one month and pizza the next, so these dishes probably don’t exist anymore, but they were great.
Dirk the Norseman
It’s quite possible that Dirk the Norseman stands out for three reasons unrelated to quality. First, I’d been trying to get there for over two years after hearing so many good things. Second, we went twice in two weeks. Third, the beer list is awesome and beer always tastes like divine ambrosia after running a half marathon. Still, the schnitzel and poutine were awesome and hit the spot. Some of the best beer I’ve had this year as well.
Marta, the fairly new upscale pizza joint by Shake Shake owner Danny Meyer, sits in a hotel lobby, but has some of the best pizza and appetizers in the city. The beer list was good too. The pizza lost out to Roberta’s to me, but was nearly as good. Plus, any place who is brave enough to serve a spicy cuttlefish is a hit with me. More places need to embrace this squishy fish.
Seattle is quickly becoming my second home due to work travel. I also love the city, so we got out there a few times for personal reasons as well.
Good luck finding a great restaurant in Seattle not owned or influenced by Tom Douglas. Tanaksan is his asian fusion offering in Belltown and often has a long line. We enjoyed the brunch so much we went back for dinner the next day. Pro Tip: I thought brunch was far superior, and the wait was way shorter. The brunch items were more inventive and unique, in an ingredient combination way, whereas the dinner had more adventurous ingredients.
Lobster Landing, a fairly non-descript shack by the piers is an easy detour while driving up 95 to Maine. It was the first Lobster Roll of our week of non stop lobster rolls, and the best. The temperature was perfect with warm melty butter and tons of meat. As with a burger, the bun can make a huge difference, and the crisp toasted roll here was exceptional.
Eventide Oyster Co
Eventide, probably Portland’s hottest restaurant, can have a wait of three hours on some nights. Get in early and it can be significantly less. Even still, it’s totally worth it. Every dish here was incredible, showcasing the wide variety of flavors from the sea. The oysters are the star, and beside the also excellent Walrus and Carpenter in Seattle, this is the only place I’ve enjoyed raw oysters, thanks in large part to the presentation and staff. The lobster roll here was also awesome, and different from any other. The octopus salad was nearly as good as those in Croatia, the apparent capital of delicious octopus.
Best of all though were these fried oysters in bbq sauce. They were so good we put in an order for a second set of them after tasting the first one.
Best of all, they are super dog friendly! Definite candidate for meal of the year.
If Seattle is my domestic home away from home, Ireland is quickly becoming my international one. After running the Belfast marathon in May, I made it to Dublin for Web Summit in November, and up to Belfast for the weekend.
Shu, the go to restaurant of our friends in Belfast was an amazing, unpretentious but solid meal. The steak was one of the most perfect pieces of meat I’ve ever had. The fried squid was simple but flavor packed, especially with the excellent sauces.
For sure the most over the top meal of the year was at Dean’s EIPIC. Dean, apparently Belfast’s Tom Douglas, owns all the top restaurants in the city as well. This one is a newly awarded Michelin Star recipient, and the tasting menu was impeccable. The proteins were each delicious, the fish, the partridge, and especially the venison. It also had the best cheese tray I’ve ever had and some truly exceptional service that made it really memorable. It was also one of the most fun nights out of the year, in no small part due to the big wine pairing.
The Pig’s Ear
The Pig’s Ear, a surprise discovery in Dublin was an amazing find while wandering the touristy area of the city. It was located in a tiny space above the main street with hardly any signs, and turned out to be culinary heaven. The pork belly here and the venison tartare were exquisite. After having the venison tartare here, I don’t understand why more restaurants don’t have it. Service was also great here and made me feel less weird about dining alone while on a work trip.
While pretty much every single seafood dish we had in Croatia was life altering and amazing, Luna on Hvar stood out as the best meal due to a combination of awesome seafood, good wine, great atmosphere, and impeccable service. It also happened to be my birthday meal. The octopus here was tender and chewy and so well seasoned it brings a tear to my eye. The traditional fisherman’s stew was also perfection, even on a hot night. The space on the roof with a view of the night sky was wonderful, and the service was without a doubt the best we had in the country.