Our travels this year took us through Southern Oregon, Southern Idaho, the Upper Midwest, Wisconsin and then south through Chicago, Kansas City, Texas and points west. When not tasting wine we’re seeking out either regional cuisines or creative cooking. Here’s a list of the meals that left the most favorable impression.
1. Alinea, Chicago
Well, it’s one of the best restaurants in the world for modernist cuisine. Grant Achatz is about as creative as one can get in the kitchen. I can still taste the wood-smoked veal cheeks in a coating of fried wild rice. Here is my comprehensive review.
2. 5 Fusion Bend, Oregon
James Beard Award semi-finalist Joe Kim, is creative in a different way seamlessly blending Asian and European flavors. Toro with Italian truffle, Unagi (eel)/ oatmeal cookie nigiri, Sweet and Sour Tortilla Soup made with tonkatsu bone broth, Raman Carbonara with tonkatsu broth, pork belly and a quail egg, Seared Foie Gras with raisin puree and granola, and Beef Bourguignon Be-Bim-Bap. It all worked. (See my review of fusion cuisine in Bend here)
3. New Sammy’s Cowboy Bistro Talent, Oregon
Inspired by Chez Panisse, this iconic farm-to-table mom-and-pop restaurant had only four items on the menu for lunch but they were scrumptious and the wine list is quite amazing. A total commitment to quality. (see my review here)
4. Gib’s On-The-Lake Kewaunee, Wisconsin
This is a supper club on Lake Michigan. Supper clubs are a Wisconsin thing—high quality, made-from-scratch, traditional dishes in a convivial atmosphere where patrons hang out for the entire evening. Gib’s served an outstanding lasagna, delicious broasted chicken, and poutine made with local cheese curds. Traditional fare in a unique setting. (My review of Wisconsin regional cuisine is here)
5. Knife Dallas, Texas
You really shouldn’t visit Texas without ordering a big steak. When I heard about this 36 inch Ribeye dry-aged for 240 days I just couldn’t resist. Yes, it tasted funky, but good, but good. (the review is here)
6. Lorella Ashland, Oregon
A genuine farm-to-table restaurant, they served one of the most interesting dishes I had this year–Grilled Celtuce with Braised Frisee, French Lentils, Sauce Gribiche and Grilled Bread. Distinctive, original and very tasty. (see my review of Southern Oregon food here)
7. Chez Panisse Berkeley, CA
This was my first visit to the restaurant that arguably kicked off the food revolution in the U.S. It didn’t disappoint. Nothing too fancy or original, just perfect execution. The grilled lamb chops and braised shank dressed with yoghurt and mint sauce, accompanied by crisp, smashed then fried potatoes and greens, was the epitome of the up-dated, French country cooking for which Chez Panisse is known. (See my review here)
8. Gates Bar-B-Q Kansas City, MO
In KC I go for the burnt ends, and Gates had the best in town. They have the right ratio of crispy, burnt pieces and fatty, succulent pieces. (See my review of Kansas City barbecue here)
9. Basque Market Boise, Idaho
Friday at lunch the Basque market cooks up an authentic seafood paella outside in a traditional paella pan accompanied by the best croquetas and other pintxos this side of the Atlantic ocean. (see my review of Boise Basque cooking here)
10. Solly’s Grill Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Leave it to Wisconsin to discover how to get more dairy products on your plate. Butter burgers are an institution invented by Solly’s in the 1930’s. They slather about a quarter cup of butter on a hamburger bun which melts when the hot burger is placed on it. It is as decadent as it sounds. (My review of Wisconsin regional foods is here)
11. The Boiler Room Fargo, North Dakota
I mention this place because it transforms the hot dish into something delectable. A hot dish is a cheap casserole with tater tots and meat held together with mushroom soup. The Boiler Room transforms it by caramelizing the onions, and using lightly breaded sweet potato fingers in the shape of “tater tots” playing the role of starch, all bound together with sausage gravy, bacon and some quality cheddar cheese. Delish. (See my review of upper Midwest regional dishes here)
Cross posted on Edible Arts on 12/28/2017.