Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Promote Michigan’s Top 12 Eats of 2012

It’s no secret that I LOVE to eat! It’s my favorite pastime...and fortunately, it’s also my job! As I travel around Michigan throughout the year, I’m always taking mental notes and posting photos on my social media channels to chronicle my culinary adventures (if you are fan/friend/follower of mine, you are well aware of this fact).

People often ask me, what my favorite restaurant is…and that just doesn’t seem fair (like a parent singling out a favorite child). I love many restaurants…but often there are specific dishes that stand out in my mind, that I crave for days and weeks (or sometimes months) after I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. Here is my recap of my Top 12 Eats of 2012…a little trip down foodie memory lane!

#1 Catfish BLT — Chef Brian Brown at the now defunct London Grill in Plainwell. So good I had it twice within one week, just before the restaurant closed after 20 years of service to the community. This delicious summer dish featured heirloom tomatoes grown by Chef Brian himself…serving as the “bread” in between which breaded pieces of catfish and homemade mayo were sandwiched, topped with strips of crispy bacon. I still have a picture of this dish on my phone, and eagerly show others (including other chefs) the picture as I relive the moment, whenever possible.

#2 Gnocchi — Chef Matt Millar at Reserve Wine & Food in Grand Rapids. Served in the summer with heirloom tomatoes and in the fall with smoked rabbit, both featured the lightest, fluffiest, tastiest gnocchi I have ever tasted. As I sit and write this, I’m contemplating a “tie” with the Pork Belly Hash (boasting a beautifully fried egg) which was a popular item early in the year on the winter menu. Full of color and flavor (as most of Chef Matt’s dishes are) it was simply delectable! Last year, Chef Millar’s pierogies (with leeks and chestnuts) rated as my #1 eat. Of note, Chef Millar was nominated for a James Beard Award in 2012.

#3 Chilean Sea BassRed Ginger in Traverse City. I guess I never really believed people when they said this is among the most wonderful fish dishes – until I had it over the summer. This tiny filet had perfect caramelization and the texture was much like lobster – meaty and flaky all at the same time. A bit pricy, even by my standards, it is definitely a “treat” to be savored.

#4 Lamb RaguMichael Symon’s Roast in Detroit. Funny, when I went back to pick up the picture of my Facebook, I noticed that even then I referenced this would make my list of best eats for the year. Ironically, it wasn’t the dinner I ordered – but thankfully one of my friends let me try a bite…and it was incredible – rich, flavorful and filling. I tried, unsuccessfully, to trade my entrée for this one – but I did get to have a few more bites before it disappeared from the dish.

#5 Vitello Carciofini — Chef Jeffery "Hoffa" Hoffman at Café Cortina in Farmington Hills. Not typically one to order veal, I enlisted the recommendation of owner Adrian Tonon during my first visit to this amazing Italian restaurant in suburban Detroit. Mouth watering and dressed with artichokes (one of my favorites) in a white wine cream sauce, it was a delicious way to end a hot summer evening – dining under the twinkling lights on the elegant patio.

#6 Kale Salad — Chef Christopher Madsen at at the JW Marriott in Grand Rapids. So good, I had it every chance I could. Kale – a “super food” is super tasty as its cut coarsely in this salad, with juicy currants, crunchy pine nuts and freshly grated parmesan cheese atop.

#7 Goat Cheese & Crab Ravioli — Chef Robb Hammond at Food Dance in Kalamazoo. I’m working my way through this menu, and have lots of favorites, but I’m a sucker for ravioli – especially when it encompasses goat cheese and crab! These little pasta pockets were packed with flavor. I also loved the tiny edible flowers that decorated the top.

#8 Porchetta — Chef Steven Grostick at Toasted Oak in Novi. Into every life, a little pork must be served…and that is certainly the case at this award-winning restaurant. Thankful I took a guest with me on my first visit, so that we could order and sample more. From a fine selection of charcuterie to one of the most amazing cornbread muffins I’ve ever tasted, to this beautifully rolled porchetta, it was a long and delightful evening of wining and dining.

#9 Shrimp & Grits — Chef Justin Dalenburg at Tavern 109 in Williamsburg. Admittedly, I hadn’t had grits since I was a kid and I honestly wasn’t thrilled about this dish but took it as a recommendation from my server. Always trust your server! It was full of flavor, textures and colors – perfect for the cold, rainy day that it was.

#10 Whitefish Grenoble — Chef Tom Rose at Four Roses in Plainwell. A tradition in my hometown of Plainwell – started at the former Aries Café (where Chef Tom earned his wings), this amazingly delicious entrée is one of my absolute favorites and has been since the first time I had it way back in high school. A flaky whitefish filet, topped with lemons, capers and tomatoes, with a side of Jasmine rice and veggies. Always a treat!

#11 Tabbouleh — Chef Kristin Karam of K2 Edibles in Traverse City. I found my liking for the fresh, Middle Eastern salad while visiting Jordan in 2005. Luckily, I’ve found a local source that is more than happy to supply me when a craving hits. A private chef and caterer, Kristin is a regular at Left Foot Charley Winery and also sells pre-packaged Lebanese foods at the Underground Cheesecake Company, both located in The Village at Grand Traverse Commons.

#12 Wood Fired Toasted S’more — Chef Matthew Pietsch at Salt of the Earth in Fennville. With a restaurant widely renowned for its local produce and fabulous pork products, I expect you think it’s strange that I single them out for a dessert. But if you’ve ever had this monster s’more, you’ll know why it made the list. Big enough for a table of four, it’s baked in the wood-fired oven and boasts a decadent cake filled with chocolate and topped with a heap of marshmallow. Other online reviews call it “out of this world” and “masterpiece” and all are true. Definitely a fitting way to end an evening (and this list).

I look forward to visiting even more restaurants in 2013 – including some close to home and those spread out around the state of Michigan. Your recommendations are welcome!

Bon Appetit!

No comments: