Don’t you hate those people? All over social media with pictures of their food. Awwhell. I guess that would include me, as well. And now, I want to take it a step further.
Presenting the National Archive of the Top Ten Meals I Have Ever Eaten. I don’t have pictures of the food, thanks The Lord. What I do have is a collection of meals that rank as the top ten of all time, and the name of the restaurant that provided them–regardless of the size, time, shape, location, or cost–which for some was massive.
1. Benu : July 2011
San Francisco, CA
Art food–That’s about the best way to describe what happens at Benu. Corey Lee is a food artist. Okay, the bad metaphors will end there…but the whole molecular gastronomy thing. It can go either way, really. In Benu’s case, it goes really well. Make no mistake, though: don’t bring Dad who’s visiting from Wisconsin whose idea of gourmet is gruyere on his hamburger. It’s about $300/per person if you get the accompanying wine flight. And, you MUST get the wine flight. Part of it is beer, btw. At the very least, share the wine flight. The first time I got it on my own I got just about sick from over-consumption. It’s definitely more than food; It’s an eating-art experience.
2. Nobu : January 2012
I’m surprised how many people are critical about Nobu and its success. The Japanese/Peruvian mix is just about the most creative Japanese food mix on the planet, and because of DeNiro and Co, now one of the most popular. You’ll be surprised how well the food mixes together. Expect a lot of ceviche type sashimi dishes–fresh and light, with really “organic (sorry, not sure what other word to use)” sauces that complement well.
Having said that, visiting the Tokyo Nobu with a girlfriend who used to work for him turned out to be one of the best meals of my life. Had she not have been on that trip, it probably would still top 10 — but this place is better with someone not just in the know, but in the know-know. It’s one of those times I wish I would have catalogued and kept photos of every dish, because it’d be great to recommend them to would-be travelers now. There is a whitefish dish in a vinegar that’s stellar. Also available at Matsuhisha in Los Angeles, but I have to admit it’s not the same. Double-bonus–Nobu’s in Japan isn’t any more expensive than any other Tokyo restaurant, which tend to be 20-30% higher than the US. The more you know.
3. Marriott Hotel : January 2009
Marriott HotelI was doubtful. “Try the buffet at the Marriott Hotel,” my friend said. “Buffet? Really?” But, yes. Really. I probably don’t need to make my disdain for buffets clear here; If you are reading a blog about food you probably feel the same way. This was no ordinary buffet.
More than half of the things on the menu were unpronounceable by anyone that doesn’t speak Cantonese–so, I’ll just say, if you ever find yourself in Hong Kong… I hear the Four Seasons is even better. Next time. Next time.
4. Aqua : Spring 2003
San Francisco, CA
(Restaurant no longer in business)
I suppose I have a fascination with Michael Mina. I was unknowingly introduced to his art at Aqua, where he was a chef for many years. Aqua is no longer open, as Michael Mina came to fame there and went on to other pursuits–namely the 2 Michelin Star restaurant bearing his name elsewhere in San Francisco (still haven’t been there, btw). But, when it was open it was a menu entirely comprised of fish. I don’t believe I’ve ever had fish experience as delicious as that evening. I remember it was a 7 or 8 course meal, with each dish better than the next. It is missed, but fortunately there are still several places to enjoy Mina’s cooking, including Michael Mina’s in Las Vegas, which is also in this list.
5. Lei Garden : January 2009
What does one think when they think of Hong Kong? Dim sum, right? Okay. Well, dim sum is one of my favorite types of food, so naturally one has to get over to Hong Kong to get the best. Like the Marriott Hotel buffet discussed above, this had many things I’d never even heard of. It was not at all like the dim sum one might try in the Richmond district of San Francisco on a Saturday morning. This was a higher level. A much higher level.
I should add I went with locals, so my experience might be different than the average tourist. Interestingly, I think they were curious what I was willing to eat. The answer, obviously, was everything.
6. Nishino : June 2008
I’ve had many discussions (arguments) about the “best sushi in Seattle.” I won’t argue my case for Nishino here, except to say it depends on what you order. What I want to talk about is the wonderful omakase that is offered there. It’s sort of a poor man’s Corey Lee or Nobu. Well, not poor. The exclusive menu will set you back about $80 per person. It’s definitely a great value. Maybe not surprisingly, there is almost no sushi until the very end. Actually, there’s not much raw fish until the sushi portion at the end. But by that time, if you’ve kept up, are not terribly interested in what Nishino is generally known for.
7. Michael Mina’s : March 2006
Las Vegas, NV
Michael Mina’s of Las Vegas Website
I could go on and on about all things Mina…but let me just say this. If you go to Vegas, and need a place to eat, and have an extra $80 from the slots, step into Mina’s in the Bellaggio Hotel and try the lobster pot pie. It’s better than it sounds, and I have to admit, on the menu it sounded pretty good. There’s no great way to describe it, except to say that they cook an /entire/ lobster, with vegetables and other accoutrements, and seal off the top of the pot with a buttery/crusty pastry. It’s a table-service dish; They actually wheel the entire spectacle out to you, cut that thin pastry platter off the top, and reassemble the lobster and vegetables on your plate. They then cover it in a sauce with a French name that any chef with 2 years of cooking school can pronounce. Rest of us just like to eat it. It’s magical. If you are reading this, you owe it to yourself to try this amazing dish.
8. David Burke’s Primehouse : July 2008
David Burke’s Primehouse of Chicago Website
I guess this would be a good place to openly admit that I’m not much a steak person. Every once in a while I’ll order a steak somewhere, but I rarely have a hankering or craving for it. On a small trip to Chicago, however…what’s one to do? You gotta get over to a steak house. I randomly came across David Burke’s place on North Rush street in Chicago. If you go to this place for a steak, make sure to get the bone-in ribeye. It’s not what you are expecting. It’s not like any steak I’ve ever had, for sure. After, they had an ice-cream lollipop tree. Sounds…well…I dunno. Depends on who you are, I guess. But it was one of the best meals ever.
9. Boulevard : May 2004
San Francisco, CA
Boulevard is probably my favorite restaurant in San Francisco. It’s sort of New American/French/some Italian… but it’s consistently good. I could probably check off several dates that could appear in this list, but only one needs to be present, as it represents this place as a whole. I’d say I probably go twice a year, and one of those times I try to bring someone that has never been. The lamb here is exceptional. Fish dishes are always good. I’ve never had a bad meal. Make reservations early if you want to go–it’s considered in the top 5 in San Francisco and fills up quick. If you get there without reservations, try a seat at the bar. Same menu.
10. Pok Pok : March 2013
Pok Pok Website
I’ve been to Thailand. If anything gets me criticized up here, it will be for my take on Thai food–which I find, in general, to not be as good as lauded by everyone else. It’s good, mind you. I’ve just had better. In the US. Yeah, not authentic…okay. I can hear the arguments now. Before you write to me with your critiques… you must try Pok Pok in Portland. It’s simply /amazing/ Thai food–and better than any meal I ever had while in Thailand. Make SURE you get the chicken wings. I think they are called “Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings.” They’ll know what you’re talking about. Get it on.