Love or love to hate the Michelin Guide? I, for one, continue to find their star system valuable. It doesn’t necessarily mean I agree with all the ratings, but I’ve experienced more hits than misses while following its star system. And yes, I’m aware of the continued controversy always shadowing the selection process. I keep close tabs on all of the U.S.’s rankings and often post about Miami’s potential for a guide: here (2018), here (2016), and here (2014) too.
My travels this year brought me to many new and tried and true starred restaurants. I’ve continued to think and talk about these bites long after I returned home.
This is not a list of how these experiences ranked overall, although I will talk about that briefly toward the end. These are the dishes at each spot that captured my full attention. The ones I OMGd through. The unforgettable ones.
15. Cashew-Crusted Soft Shell Crab Tempura The Inn at Little Washington*** Washington, VA
14. Sushi Nakasawa* Washington, D.C.
13. Beignets & Foie Gras Bresca* Washington, D.C.
12. 150 Layer Lasagna: Lobster & Clams Fra Diavolo Pineapple and Pearls** Washington, D.C.
11. Foie Gras Eleven Madison Park*** New York, NY
10. Chicken & Foie Gras: Roasted Fruit, Pommes Purée Le Coucou* New York, NY
9. Box Crab: Grilled Baby Corn, Basil, Kani Miso Singlethread*** Healdsburg, CA
8. Dungeness Crab: Seaweed & Whey Atelier Crenn*** San Francisco, CA
7. Sweet Butter Poached Nova Scotia Lobster Mac & Cheese: Mascarpone, Enriched Orzo, Creamy Lobster Broth The French Laundry*** Yountville, CA
6. Hudson Valley Moulard Duck Foie Gras: Sesame Seed Tuile, Murray Family Farms Grapes, Pearson Farms Pecans, Greek Yogurt. Per Se*** New York, NY
5. King Crab: anchovy sauce Sushi Noz* New York, New York
4. Turbot & Chestnut Honey: Potato and Turbot Mousse, Crisp Chicharrón minibar by José Andrés* Washington, D.C.
3. Quail The Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare*** New York, NY
2. Quail: Brined with cheongjang, yondu, mirin, soju, garlic, jalapeño, salt, sugar, and deep fried with sweet rice flour paste plus spruce honey glaze. Atomix** New York, NY
1. Eggs on Eggs on Eggs: Caviar and Toasted Brioche The Modern ** New York, NY
As usual, the majority of the New York restaurants shined best (over California and D.C.). This time, (new to me) Atomix and Sushi Noz blew me away. Their approach, refreshing, bright-eyed, and groundbreaking. Old favorites, The Modern, Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare, and Per Se, remained class acts from start to finish and worth the detour. While, I hate to say it, Eleven Madison Park lost their magical mojo somewhere, and I hope they find it soon. What. The. Hell. Happened?
I’m not a stranger to Washington, D.C., but this was my first food-centric visit. I found myself comparing their culinary scene to Miami’s at every turn. I couldn’t help but be overly critical at (1) the guide’s decision to publish there before South Florida (money talks?) and (2) the quality of restaurants. Not surprisingly so, minibar by José Andrés set the bar sky-high, and IMHO can compete with any two/three-star establishment nationwide. I will be back the second I can do so. On the other hand, I’m still trying to figure out what went wrong at The Inn at Little Washington. Sure, it’s an incredibly charming and beautiful spot, but my visit severely lacked in the food and service department. It’s good enough to visit for a celebration, proposal, or important night, but not when you are comparing Michelin-quality, three-starred dinners. Thankfully, the Bresca, Pineapple and Pearls, and Sushi Nakasawa dinners were significantly more enjoyable. Miami might not have a minibar comparable, but when looking at the big picture, I still feel South Florida does it better. Sue me. More on these trips soon on a separate post, too much to discuss in a short paragraph.
The luminous West Coast gems weren’t too far behind their east coast cousins. My 2019 kicked off with Atelier Crenn, and it’s one I’m still discussing in detail a year later. Memorable, to say the least. Singlethread should top everyone’s restaurant bucket list. Dinner at The French Laundry missed a few service marks when compared to prior visits, but otherwise continued to impress with near-perfect courses and stellar supplements (hello bread and desserts).
I’m not sure 2020 will ever compare to this year in starry dining, but I will certainly try to make it as special. Tock, here I come!