Best Plates of 2007

January 2, 2008

“What was your most unforgettable meal at a local restaurant in the past year?” We posed that question to a collection of our food-obsessed friends, and received some wonderful (and wonderfully unexpected) answers. What follows are their picks—from simple noodles to a fabulous fondue—as the most memorable dishes of 2007.

 

Crispy Pig’s Brain

Most chefs will tell you that going through life knowing only the pleasures of grilled tenderloin is akin to a romantic repertoire that starts and stops at the missionary position. On a fittingly drizzly October evening at Fuel, I found gustatory bliss tucking into an unforgettable dish of pig’s brain—crispy pig’s brain to be exact. What a difference an adjective can make. Armed with technique learned at the famed French Laundry restaurant, a top-notch specimen (naturally raised, purebred Berkshire pig from Sloping Hill Farm on Vancouver Island), and the mantra “If you fry it, they’ll try it,” chef Robert Belcham tossed me a culinary curve ball—and I loved every morsel. Soaked for two days, poached and marinated for one more, the brain is then dredged in flour, eggs, and breadcrumbs, fried in clarified butter and served with a parsley root remoulade and Dungeness crab mayonnaise. Why crab? Belcham admits the crowd-pleasing crustacean is the front, meant to warm people up for the frontal lobe. Plus, a healthy dose of crab brains adds flavour and texture to the mayo. As you may imagine, this dish doesn’t regularly appear on the menu, but Belcham encourages guests to call down and the kitchen will do its best to oblige.—Murray Bancroft, food writer and menu consultant

 

Fish Soup

Soup is the food writer’s friend, the soothsayer of how the rest of the meal might taste. But too many are the soups that look lonesome and beige: some cream of cream, others overly redolent of salty chicken stock too long forgotten on the back burner. My favourite year-round provenance-in-a-bowl, the one that rouses me no matter the weather, is Jean-Francis Quaglia’s fish soup at Provence; it’s best taken at their False Creek location, Provence Marinaside. It’s an elixir of long-simmered, even pungent, fish stock smoothed with white fish, and raised again by a cayenne-spiked rouille with rafts of crostini and a little Gruyère. Although always a hospitable bowl at lunch or dinner, the fish soup is best at weekend brunch, when it’s in first-rate condition (even though you may not be). At once restorative and soothing (and, at just $8, larcenous), it dispatches last night’s clangor while quietly focussing the mind.—Jamie Maw, food editor

Rabbit Stew

I’m a downtown girl at heart, but French country cooking rules my stomach. So whenever I’m in the mood for a romantic evening, I drag my boyfriend to the suburbs for La Régalade’s lusty casseroles and braised meats. Last spring I fell hard for Alain Rayé’s slow-cooked rabbit stew. The lean meat boasts as much rich flavour as the chef’s beef bourguignon or lamb ragout, but is less heavy (which means more room for his sinful butter-creamed potatoes). Chef Rayé stews his lapin à la Provençale with diced tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, black olives and fistfuls of thyme. I love tearing the meat off the tiny bones and sucking them dry.—Alex Gill, restaurant critic, The Globe and Mail

 

Linguine alle Vongole

In 2007 I logged over 200,000 travel miles. And despite the fact that an In-N-Out cheeseburger can revive body and soul at midnight in San Diego, I always found myself craving delicious morsels from home. One such longing was for the Linguine alle Vongole at Cioppino’s. Pino Posteraro’s incarnation of this standby is lyrical, authentic, and addictive. Eschewing cream, gooey tomato sauce, or foreign mollusks, he tosses up perfect-sized portions of tender linguine and delicate Manila clams generously moistened with fragrant clam nectar, pungent garlic, fine olive oil, and decent white wine. Speaking of wine, you’ll want a crisp Verdicchio or Gavi from Massimo Piscopo’s legendary list.—DJ Kearney, wine consultant and sommelier instructor

 

Braised Pork Cheeks

At the bar, David Wolowidnyk wooed us with his “Jolicoeur,” a whimsical combination of elderflower berry syrup, Sauvignon Blanc, and muddled green grapes. The meal itself started with handmade, Yukon-Gold-potato gnocchi, roasted tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. If they don’t have this on the menu in heaven, I’m not going. West's braised pork cheeks followed—comfort food at its best. The pork cheeks were nestled next to sweet whole shallots in a light reduced braising broth—a dish that warms the soul. And I admit to having a weak spot for finales: Rhonda Viani blew us away with a lemon pineapple almond frangipane tart with crème caramel ice cream and almond tuiles.—Lesley Stowe, owner, Lesley Stowe Fine Foods

Spicy Peanut Noodle Box

With my schedule of getting up early and going to bed early, I’m all about casual dining. There is no place I’ve frequented more often or enjoyed more in the last year than The Noodle Box on West Fourth Avenue. I’ve tried everything on the menu; the one dish I keep going back to is the spicy peanut noodle box. It’s a hearty dish of flat egg noodles laden with coconut milk and peanut sauce—to which I add some wok-fried prawns and chicken. Everything’s there—it’s hot, sour, salty, and sweet—so it’s the perfect dish to wake me up.—Simi Sara, host, CityCooks

 

Short Rib Burger

My most memorable meal was at the Ocean Club in West Vancouver. The mini short rib burgers were absolutely orgasmic. Tender, fall-off-the-bone, slowly roasted short ribs combined with a carmelized onion spread, sandwiched between a pillowy soft mini bun surrounded by golden crisp yam fries. The only thing that came close was the Herder Chardonnay that we swirled and slurped.—Caren McSherry, owner, Gourmet Warehouse

 

Veal Scaloppine Limone

At La Buca, our own 30-seat New York neighborhood joint, we had appies of frico con rucola, fried alpine cheese with a tomato ragout. The combination was beautifully rich, with just the right acidity. Then I had a classic dish—veal scaloppine limone with potato pie. The ingredients were clean and simple; Chef Andrey Durbach really lets the food do the work. To drink we worked through a bottle of Ten Mile Proprietary Red—a Cali blend. Then finished off with the tiramisu (just boozy enough) and called it a night.—Gerald Tritt, co-owner, Vera’s Burger Shack

Spot Prawns

Last summer, Steve Johansen of Organic Ocean Seafood headed up to the Sunshine Coast, set his traps, and came back to the Fisherman’s Wharf at Granville Island to a crowd waiting for the best local shellfish you can get. All his spot prawns used to go to Japan, but now we get to enjoy them. Blanch them for two seconds—just long enough to make it easy to remove their shells—and eat them raw, with a bit of soy and wasabi. Or make a highly seasoned, aromatic vegetable broth and pour it over the prawns. It cooks them perfectly. Let them cool in the liquid, then drain and serve them with a spicy aïoli. Pure heaven.—David Hawksworth, chef, West

 

Feast of Fields Tasting Menu

At the Feast of Fields festival in Whistler this summer, I heard that Chef James Walt at Araxi was preparing a tasting menu featuring the same farm-fresh ingredients I’d been admiring that afternoon. I promptly put my name on the guest list. The next three hours were like a love song to the place we call home. Course by course it came—sole sashimi with Tofino Dungeness crab and miso dressing, heirloom tomato gazpacho with fresh zucchini flowers, Lillooet garlic-crusted halibut with local chanterelles and homemade gnocchi, Fraser Valley duck with Berkshire pork and potato puree, Pemberton berries with almond nougat glacée. Each ingredient was lovingly plucked, carefully prepared, and elegantly plated. —Chris Gonzalez, food writer

 

Ice Cream Sandwich

At Chow, I had an impossibly silken butternut squash soup with cheddar, crisp apples, and house-made chorizo gave way to organic pork belly (sigh) on a sweet onion puree. But it was the dessert—a pistachio frozen nougat “sandwich” with caramelized Bosc pear and cinnamon syrup—that haunts me still. The contrast of sweet and salty, crunchy and smooth, played delightful havoc with my tastebuds. Chef Jean Christophe Poirier began with an old fashioned ice cream—a mix of whipped cream and meringue—then rolled it in the chopped, roasted pistachios. “Then we added pears and cinnamon—simple,” he says. “But it’s just crazy how well cinnamon and pistachio go together.” Indeed.—Fiona Morrow, food writer

 

Chocolate Fondue

First, a confession: to me, appetizers, mains, and such are basically hurdles you have to clear on the way to dessert. Now the revelation: one night last summer, at the unprepossessing Bin 942 on Broadway, I had a quick dinner with friends, one of whom suggested the chocolate fondue for dessert—warm cinnamon doughnuts, candied-pecan-stuffed marshmallows, and various fruits (pear, strawberry, banana), all for dunking in molten Belgian chocolate ganache. The portions are incredibly generous—three of us barely finished it. I was back a week later, and this time we didn’t make the mistake of ordering dinner. The sumptuous fondue, for two, with a bottle of Merlot, was dinner. If a single dish can be baccanalian—a riotous, indulgent, orgasmic revel—this is it.—Jesse Spencer, food writer

 

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