This is really a tough one. Looking back on my cupcake entries, I can't believe I've never blogged about Billy's carrot cupcake-- I think it might be my favorite cupcake from the bakery. Of course, I like everything from Billy's, but assuming my Billy's bias disqualifies the bakery from competition, I'd have to go with an Amy's Bread black-and-white cupcake. As I recall (I haven't had one in a long time), the cake is chocolatey and dense, and the frosting is thick and just right. Mmmm.
Non-cupcake cake-type food
This one has to go to the pumpkin square from Billy's Bakery (forget what I said about Billy's being disqualified...). Only available in the fall and winter months, the pumpkin square is a huge hunk of moist pumpkin spice cake slathered in a thick coat of cream cheese frosting, all decorated with chopped pecans. I miss it. I really, really miss it.
This category had the most competition, by far, as pretty much every meal I eat involves salad. To be honest, I think the winner is actually a salad I had way back in December at Beppe, a meal that for various reasons I did not blog. But since that salad doesn't actually technically appear on LWF&D, it probably can't win, so instead I'm granting a four-way tie among the squash salad from Bar Blanc, the grilled veggie and haloumi salad at Pera, the cremini mushrooms/pears/fontina/walnuts/truffle oil salad at Cavatappo, and the "Eleven winter greenhouse greens and herbs" salad from Blue Hill. Yes, I know that's sort of a cop-out, but honestly, each one of these salads fulfills a different sort of craving, so I couldn't pick just one. If you're a salad lover, try to hit all these hot spots-- they all offer something special and creative, way above and beyond the usual mixed mesclun.
Mac & Cheese
I've been eating a lot of papaya salad lately, since it's just so darn delicious. In general, I've found that the papaya salads in the city are remarkably consistent, varying mostly in size of salad, level of spice, and quality of ingredients. In this category, I'll have to give the award jointly to Land and Spice, Land due to ingredient quality and Spice due to value (the substantial salad is only $4!).
The honorable mention in this category belongs to Vong, whose papaya salad only didn't win by a landslide because it's not a "traditional" version (green papaya, green beans, tomatoes, crushed peanuts). But don't worry, Vong will get its due, I promise.Veggie Dumplings
French fries fall into the same category as mac & cheese, in that I love them to death but can't really eat them that often. But usually when a dining companion orders something with fries, I manage to snag a fry to two, you know, just for research purposes. So far, the best fries I've come across were at a somewhat unassuming Murray Hill bar named Opal. For some reason, there was something about these fries-- maybe the way they were cooked; maybe the way they were seasoned; I just don't know-- that made them the best fries I've ever eaten. If you like fries, go to Opal and see what you think.
While any number of fine establishments could be mentioned honorably in this category (because, let's face it, even a bad fry is a good fry), I'll give the honorable mention to Box Frites at Citi Field. If you like the crisp, shattering-exterior kind of French fry, these will be the only fries you'll ever need.
RIP: Gone, but not forgotten
There's a tie for this award, since two particular closures have rent my heart during this blog's life span. First, in the "legitimate restaurant" category, was my beloved Elm Court Inn. This place was such a part of my childhood, I can't even imagine the Berkshires without it. On a totally different scale, my love affair with NYC Icy burned hot (or cold?) and fast-- and then was over. NYC Icy, you tempted me for one short summer, and then-- and then-- you were gone. The fact saddens me still.
I was lucky enough in the course of my travels to come upon an absolute favorite wine-- something that I'd order above all else on any given wine list. It was actually a post-Valentine's-Day-dinner nightcap at Cavatappo that did the trick; in my tipsiness, I ordered a glass of lambrusco bianco, and an obsession was born. The lightly effervescent, mouthwatering elixir is the perfect antidote to a bad day. Oh, and it's great with food.
While nothing really even comes close to lambrusco bianco in my own personal wine pyramid, I'll give a nod to a wine I tried at I Trulli. Known as erbaluce, it was an incredibly tasty white wine I've never had before or since. Definitely worth a try if you ever see it on a wine list or at your local wine store.
What's the best wine bar I've been to, you ask? Ahh, good question. There are simply so many-- wine bars seem to be a dime a dozen these days. But a good wine bar, that's a different story. The winning mantle here has to go to Riposo 46, a recent discovery on my travels through the world of wine. It's a tiny little postage-stamp-sized bar in Hell's Kitchen, but it serves delicious wine, incredibly tasty food (try the cheese plates, seriously), and precious little attitude. It's my new neighborhood go-to.
Two honorable mentions must be made here. One is to Aroma Kitchen & Wine Bar in the East Village, a place for which there's a soft spot in my heart. Two factors prevent it from being my favorite wine bar: one is its location, so far from my home, and two is the fact that it's really more restaurant than wine bar. A second honorable mention goes to Cavatappo, the wine-bar version of the restaurant, both of which are near AV's apartment. Home of the fabled lambrusco bianco, Cavatappo definitely gets the job done on weekend nights-- especially when it's warm enough to sit outside and escape the combined din of slightly-too-loud music and tipsy patrons.
You didn't think there even needed to be a category for Best String Cheese, now did you? Well, had I not discovered the holy grail of string cheese, there wouldn't be one. But as it is, Wawa string cheese is the best on the planet-- milky, salty, and oh-so-stringy, it's worth driving out of your way for. Not that I have. Several times.
One could easily say this year was the year of haloumi. From sea to shining sea, I sought out the best haloumi I could find-- and boy, did I find a lot of it. In New Zealand, Peter Gordon's haloumi was packed with flavor while the O'Connell Street Bistro gave me slabs of teeth-squeakingly delicious cheese. Back in NYC, I found haloumi heaven at Pera, Taboon, and Dafni. If you haven't ever had the pleasure of the firm, grilled, salty, tangy marvel that is a good slab of haloumi, make your way to the nearest Greek or Mediterranean outpost and give it a try. You won't be sorry.
The honorable mention here goes to Eleven Madison Park on behalf of AV, who determined that if he ever had to spend the rest of his life in one restaurant bathroom, EMP's would be his choice ("it has more amenities than my apartment!"). I concur-- they're quite nice, just one of the many, many things I love about that restaurant.
While I admit that my experience with restaurant hummus remains somewhat limited, I do have to give a well-deserved nod to the best I've come across, by far, in the past couple of years. Hummus Kitchen, a new addition to Hell's Kitchen (with another location on the Upper East Side), makes fabulous, homemade, still-warm hummus that is the ultimate comfort food. For a cheap, healthy, filling meal, Hummus Kitchen provides. Don't skip the homemade pita, either, available in both regular and whole wheat.
I must give a shout-out in this category to the no-longer-with-us Elm Court Inn in the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts. This charming, rustic Alsacian restaurant was a fixture of my childhood, and I've had several of the best meals of my life there. When it closed, a bit of my childhood closed with it.
So there you have it, folks-- a round-up of my blogworthy experiences thus far. I hope, in some small way, this helps you make some dining decisions of your own. And as always, if you have suggestions of places I should try, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!