Most Memorable Meals of 2015

Hi, it's Sean. As a chef, keeping up with what others are cooking is part of my job and a great way to stay inspired. This means I enjoy more than my fair share of fantastic dishes throughout the year. Here's a bit about the restaurants and plates that stood out the most this year in the order I savored them.

The Grey, Savannah, Georgia

Photo via The Grey

Photo via The Grey

No, the name is a not a nod to the worst Liam Neeson movie made but rather the restaurant's home in an impeccably renovated 1930's Greyhound bus station - think comfort meets Art Deco. The doors had been open less than three months when we popped in, a time when many restaurants still struggle to pull together trained staff, consistency and timing. This just wasn't the case with our visit on a busy Friday night. The staff was efficient and friendly and owner Johno Morisano was hands-on by delivering cocktails, running plates and chatting with guests. Not in the "we're going down in flames" sort of way but rather with a relaxed "I want to be part of this experience" vibe.

All of this is in addition to chef Mashama Bailey's flavor rich and well executed meal. Whether it was the pickled oysters with lardo and serano chile or her seafood boudin with visible chunks of crawfish, shrimp and Carolina rice served with prawn chips, her combinations of simple well balanced flavors and texture resulted in outstanding dishes.

Angel's BBQ, Savannah, GA

The locals insisted a stay in Savannah wouldn't be complete without a stop at Angel's. The place is only open 4 days a week and once they sell out for the day they close up shop so we found our way there by 11am and waited in line - not something I'm willing to do often. It's true, big flavor abounds in this tiny place. But most noteworthy and the reason Angel's is on this list is the vegetarian collard greens with peanuts they served up. It wasn't clear if these are regularly available or if they just happened to have some prepared for a special event with a pork-free menu that night, but these things were damn good. They also offer, and V happily accepted, a vegetarian sandwich option.  Inspiring from a down-home bbq joint.

The Girl and the Goat, Chicago, IL

Photo via The Girl and the Goat

Photo via The Girl and the Goat

I stopped off for a beer and snack and ended up eating a meal (or two) bar-side. They didn't mention it on the menu but many of the starters could be prepared in half portions so one could get several dishes and not feel too glutinous. It's been 6 months since my visit and I'm still craving those funky, spicy, crunchy and refreshing sautéed green beans with fish sauce vinaigrette and cashews. Super addictive.

Try the oven roasted pig face - a roulade of pork cut thick and roasted in a wood oven with several sauces (tamarind, cilantro, red wine-maple) that sound like they could compete but really just end up balancing each other out and carrying the weight of the pork. It's then topped with a fried egg (cause why not?) and fried potato sticks for crunch. Wow!

Calavera, Oakland, CA

Photo by Shelly Hamalian via Calavera

Photo by Shelly Hamalian via Calavera

I was in San Francisco to work an event and made the most of it with a visit to friends' newly opened Mexican restaurant, Calavera. The place was packed and they fed us right - although probably more mescal than I really needed.

Generally, I am not a big fan of trout or trout roe. It's too similar to salmon which brings out PTS flashbacks and an uncomfortable gag reflex. I mention this because it just makes the next statement all the more meaningful. The Guacamole de la Serpiente Enplumada, guacamole with smoked trout and trout roe was OUT OF THIS WORLD! That bit of smokey richness of the trout paired with spicy avocado and clusters of salty juicy roe were nothing short of outstanding. I think I just drooled on my keyboard.

Emeril's Restaurant, New Orleans, LA

Photo via Emeril's Restaurant

Photo via Emeril's Restaurant

I had the pleasure of heading to the big easy for Emeril's annual fundraiser weekend, Carnivale du Vin where I spent the day prepping for the big event with chefs from around the country. Afterward we all ending up back at Emeril's Restaurant and with the man himself on the line for most of service, we were treated to, well, the whole menu I'm pretty sure.  

Everything was solid - there was no resting on one's laurels here. The menu's roots in tradition where obvious and mainstays like Emeril's BBQ shrimp were as good as ever. Then there were the dishes with a little twist, like the Truffle Fried Chicken. Think chicken sous vide with truffles, then breaded and deep fried to a crispy pile of fragrant deliciousness served with all the fixings. Fellow fried chicken lovers, consider treating yourself to this version.

Casa de Carrie and Sean, DC area

Photo via Modernist Cuisine

Photo via Modernist Cuisine

And last but 100% not least, is a dish from a fun dinner hosted in our friend's home. One sip of their perfectly rendered Caramelized Carrot Soup with Toasted Coconut had the entire table wide-eyed and pleading for details. Their adaptation of the Modernist Cuisine recipe paired with good company was a reminder that the best meals are those that are not only delicious but also enjoyed together.