Friday, January 02, 2009

Best of 2008 Part II: The Best Food, in and out of Baltimore

Let's look at the meat of this blog project - the food. Here are my favorite places to eat out, my favorite recipes, and my constant go-to-places for the past year.

My ten favorite restaurants/bars in the greater Baltimore region (in alphabetical order)

Brewer's Art Pub (Mount Vernon) - The fitting final meeting of my sister's friends' "culture club", and one of the final truly pricey outings I have had or will have in a while. A few reasons why it's on this list: It's a pub that can recommend its own microbrews (like its Resurrection Ale) to pair with its food. Also, those delicious buttery mashed potatoes. But the most noteworthy thing? Medium-rare roast pork tenderloin that's so tender you can eat it with a spoon.

Broadway Diner (Highlandtown) - Nutty as a fruitcake Guy Fieri came here not too long ago. The best diner burger I've had in ages (and one of the cheaper ones, too).

Fractured Prune (various locations) - Ever since I first found this place in Parkville, I've discovered a few others around town. Anything with mini-chocolate chips on it is the death knell for your diet. It's utterly ruined Krispy Kremes for me the way Krispy Kremes ruined Dunkin Donuts - every single donut is hot and made to order. Every single one.

Jong Kak (Station North) - Just about every Korean restaurant I ate at this year was a winner, so I had lots of trouble choosing one to put on this list. I wanted to put them on all together, since each was best in its own way: Nak Won has the best pajeon, Jong Kak the best bulgogi and Korean barbecue, Nam Kang the best overall meal (I went back recently, and did not get sick like I did the first time), and Suzie's Soba the best overall dining experience. After much hemming and hawing, I went with the barbecue.

Mango Grove (Columbia) - Most people seem to agree with me: Mango Grove does up South Indian like nobody's business. In a way, it renewed my faith in South Asian food (not that my faith was wavering at all). Though I didn't have their dosa the time I went, it's high on my list for the next time. Oh, and don't even bother with the slight sprinkling of haters.

Minato (Mount Vernon) - I haven't even written about it this year, but I've eaten here so much it would be redundant. These days it is easily my favorite go-back place for sushi. And my buddy Eric, who never really liked sushi in the beginning, just loves this place now. He and Alan go there often. I am glad to have introduced them to it.

Rub BBQ (South Baltimore) - And here's a place that they introduced to me. It's not difficult to stuff yourself on $20 after the tip, and it's also not difficult to spend $30 or $40 here before drinks. They have some of the most tender Texas BBQ this side of the Mississip', and absolutely wonderful corn pudding, in an area crawling with youthful, slightly drunk kickballers. My apologies for using the word "Mississip'". It won't happen again.

Sotto Sopra (Downtown) - For me, just as Mango Grove renewed my faith in Indian, so Sotto Sopra did for Italian. Dara from the Dining Dish met me at Sotto Sopra for the weekly Tuesday night four-course prix fixe Sardinian menu, made by Sra. Daniela Useli. Hands down, the best lasagna I have had in my life. Bravissimi to all y'all at Sotto Sopra.

Thai Arroy (Federal Hill) - The second I left, I understood why there was such a long wait for a seat. It's been a while since I went to Thai Arroy, which is a pity. I had some of the best Thai I've had in a long time at this Federal Hill location. Really, the only things keeping me away, apart from the recession, is the parking in Federal Hill. Delicious tom kha kai and pa nang chicken.

Zodiac (Station North) - When the Zodiac closed down in August, I was bummed. I have had so many good meals at this restaurant, not all of which were followed by a movie at The Charles across the street. I could always get a cold pint of Guinness and one of the best non-diner burgers I could find. It's a damn shame the Zodiac is no more. Whom will the ghost shove down the stairs now?

Honorable mention -

Alonso's (Roland Park) - for the biggest burger I've ever eaten, and some intriguing nopal salsa

Grano's (Hampden) - for staying open longer than any other business in its spot, and for fast and wonderful pasta

Greg's Bagels (Govans) - for its customer service. They give me the wrong thing, and when I bring it back they give me the correct order and a free chocolate chip bagel);

Helmand (Mount Vernon) - for being a perennial favorite. I didn't eat here much in '08, but they're still always good.

Nak Won (Station North) - for their pajeon - I had to put it in somewhere, didn't I?

Nam Kang (Station North) - for redeeming itself from the last time I ate there, when I got very sick. See? No Crohn's flareup-inducing dried baby anchovies this time!

New System Bakery (Hampden) - for that evil yellow cake with the black-and-white icing. A thing of beauty.

One World Café (Guilford) - for those wonderful vegan carrot muffins.

Salty Dog (Dundalk) - for their "$1 a crab" Tuesdays. They're goooooooood.

Weenie World (Dundalk) - for those weenies, the tastiest ones around the Beltway. The woman behind the counter recommends pancake syrup for the corn dogs. She loves them that way.

Lastly, try this place if you find yourself in...

...Washington, DC - Oya (Downtown) was a nice surprise for Washington Restaurant Week, with their tuna roll and tilapia courses. Of course if haute Eurasian (?) isn't your thing, a hike on over to Meskerem (Adams Morgan) is in order for some of the best of a sadly shrinking selection of Ethiopian offerings.

...New York City - I could have gone for the fancier stuff, but Gray's Papaya (various locations) has won me over with its "Recession Special" - 2 dogs + 1 drink = $3.50. And the dogs are better than anything I've had off of a cart.

...Boston - There are lots of places in Faneuil Hall to find a good lobster roll, but be prepared to pay a price for even the mediocre ones (like I did). Since it's not such a far walk from Faneuil Hall, truck over to Mike's Pastry (North End) for real Boston cream pie in Boston!

...the Inland Empire
- It's surprising how much good sushi you can find in San Bernardino County. Hello Sushi of Redlands is one of the best of the bunch. If sushi isn't what you want, seek out the Jumbo Bowl in Riverside, for some of the best Thai I've had in the IE.

...Los Angeles - I'm a sucker for a good hot dog, and Pink's (West Hollywood), now in its 70th year, has the best in the West. Nyala (Little Ethiopia) has good Ethiopian if you're tired of hot dogs.

...Amsterdam - It's difficult for me to point out one or two favorites from my amazing trip to Amsterdam, but a few that you definitely should seek out the moment you leave Schiphol: Bojo (Leidestraat), for delicious Indonesian food (not like that's difficult to find in Amsterdam); Nam Kee (Red Light District), well known for its wide selection of both Chinese and Indonesian dishes; Queen's Head (Red Light District), a charming little gay bar with a beautiful view of the closest canals; and of course, British import Wagamama (Leidesplein). Or just keep it cheap and stop at any of the many, many Albert Heijn locations. You won't be the only tourist mingling with the locals. Stock up on the stroopwaffels if you can find 'em, especially the rum butter ones.

Other favorites -

Favorite supermarket -
Wegman's - I love TJ's and Whole Foods, so why do I constantly find myself here? I must love it if I'm willing to endure this bullshit and still go back.

Favorite farmers' market - The 33rd Street Farmers' Market in Waverly. It's just great.

Favorite wine / beer / liquor store - The Wine Source. They always have such great recommendations, plus I am a big fan of their beer club and their wine and beer tastings.

Favorite customer service - Yellow + Blue Malbec owner/importer Matthew Cain, who quickly caught wind of the leaky container I bitched about in July, left a comment not only describing the recyclability of his package but also saying he would contact the Wine Source and have a replacement waiting for me. He did, and the new one didn't leak. Awesome! Read all about it here and here. Greg's Bagels' is the runner-up for best customer service, as you may have read above.

My five most favorite recipes of the year - There is so much food that I make every day. Some of it comes from recipes I find online, some of it comes from back-of-the-box recipes, some come from cookbooks, and some of it I make up off the top of my head (with varying results). And this doesn't count the food I get from family and friends. Unlike above, here I only include recipes that I wrote about in 2008.

Chincoteague Single-Fried Oysters (John Shields, Chesapeake Bay Cooking) - The toughest part is the shucking. The tenderest part is the oyster.

Cochinita Pibil (Rick Bayless, Everyday Mexican) - It's not easy to find achiote paste in Baltimore, so just make your own.

Microwave Paneer (Julie Sahni, Moghul Microwave) - I always scorch the milk on the burner. It always yields less in the microwave but at least my burn-prone cooking is given safety wheels in the microwave. Goes wonderfully with Sahni's microwave vindaloo sauce.

Lidia Bastianich's Tomato Sauce (Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, Lidia's Family Table) - This is the sauce that Adam Roberts made at the Book Festival. He recommends squooshing the tomatoes with your hands, just like Bastianich does, to get a chunky sauce. I am no fan of chunky sauces, so I just throw it all in the blender for a nice, smooth sauce.

Roast Chicken with Potatoes and Buttered Peas (Amateur Gourmet) - It's restored my faith in chicken. Adam Roberts mentioned this when he came to read from his book at the Baltimore Book Festival.

The next post is the fun post - the absolute worst of the year!


theminx said...

Sounds like you did lots of good eating in 2008! I still haven't been to Brewer's Art, and I probably should give the Koreatown Korean restaurants a try. I'm just not big on the neighborhood....

Happy New Year to you too!

Dora said...

"Broadway Diner (Highlandtown) - Nutty as a fruitcake Guy Fieri came here not too long ago. The best diner burger I've had in ages (and one of the cheaper ones, too)."

Great blog! If you have a moment, I'd love for you to comment on this map ...

Broadway Diner;`@4

diningdish said...

I truly get a kick out of your writing. I'm glad you enjoyed Sotto Sopra - I enjoyed your company that night.

Well wishes for 2009

Dining Dish (aka Dara-not to be confused with Dora)

Dan said...

John: Thanks for the list. I'm envious as you get out to eat much more than I do. I'll have to try Brewer's Art Pub as the restaurant proper was a total letdown. As for One World Cafe, I have yet to have a decent meal there. Next to Donna's I'd say it's the most consistently disappointing place I've been in Baltimore.

Nanc Twop said...

Made to order donuts?!?

I'm moving to Maryland!

btw, my verification word
for this post reflects my
sentiments... essesse!
*just add 'Y's in front of da ess's!

John said...

Dara: Thanks, the pleasure was also mine!

Dan: Yeah, I noticed that about the other things I ate there. Mind you, I've only ever gone in for the vegan carrot muffin. Whenever they don't have them I usually order something as cheap, but usually not as good. And don't be envious of me! I have much less time or money at my disposal this year so the eating out posts will be fewer and farther between :(

John said...

Minx: Thanks, & you should definitely try out something in Koreatown. I've found that I'm generally okay as long as it's not TOO late, but really, I've never actually had any problems around that area. Then again, I always park in the best-lighted areas.

Dora: I'll check it out, thanks!

Nanc: Fractured Prune's website lists non-Maryland locations. I don't know if there are any where you are. Where are you again?

Chodite said...

Good stuff! I just wish my Google RSS reader hadn't failed me and showed this post 4 days late.

Keep up the great work and congrats with your classes.

- Brad in Perry Hall

Term Papers said...

It shows you have great time in 2008.