Sunday, January 5, 2014

13 Best Eats of 2013…

bWell I added a couple new restaurants to my “bucket list” in 2013 – but not as many as I wanted to. Yet, I seemed to fill myself with some amazing, mouth-watering, delicacies from some of my favorite eateries. Needless to say, I didn’t go hungry! Ironically, several salads made my list this year – and I’m not talking the boring iceberg or bagged salad varieties – but tasty, unique and flavorful treats!

With an anticipated move to the Traverse City area during the summer of 2014, I expect I’ll be finding some new places to be wined and dined – meaning my recap next year should be better than ever.

For now…here’s a quick trip down my culinary road from the past 12 months.

#1 Lamb Reuben – Reserve Wine & Food, Grand Rapids.
The first time I had this mouth-watering sandwich I fell in love (and somehow knew it would hold its own as #1 on this year’s list). Served on crusty rye bread, the brisket-style lamb with all its juicy flavor melded with the homemade sauerkraut and sweet dressing in the most delicious way. I remember the first bite sitting at the bar…and how each bite after was taking slowly and deliberately so I could savor each and every one. I raved about this sandwich from the onset – and encouraged others who were there for lunch to give it a try. I think I must have consumed 4-5 of these throughout the year (careful to not overdo it and detract from the awesomeness of the meal). I was back in GR just before Christmas and had to have just one more before the end of the year – just as incredible as that very first bite!

#2 Radish Salad – Salt of the Earth, Fennville
This became my go-to salad when visiting Salt throughout the summer months. I’ve always been a fan of radishes – but add chevre and a tart citrus dressing too it and I was hooked. Most people don’t think to do anything with radishes other than serve them raw – but roasting or even boiling them provides a totally different, mellowed flavor with still a hint of dense crunch. The added creaminess of the cheese made each bite a bit of heaven.

#3 Roasted Marrow – Roast, Detroit.
This delicacy has been recommended to me for a few years, but I hadn’t found it…until earlier this year. While walking through downtown Detroit following the kick off reception for the Pure Michigan Governor’s Conference on Tourism, I convinced my group of colleagues to stop off for an unforgettable dinner. The ever-adventurous eater, I quickly spotted the marrow on the menu and quickly requested two orders for the table. Turns out the rest of the group wasn’t as open-minded as I was – good thing the salty treat was pleasing to me because I think I ate about 10 crostini pieces with it slathered on top.

#4 Pork Belly Tacos – at JW Marriott, Grand Rapids.
What’s not to love about pork belly wrapped in a tortilla? A long-time fan of fish tacos (which is also on the menu – and available for a mix-and-match with the pork belly taco), this is one of my favorite light lunches. Served with an avocado cream, cilantro and guajillo salsa, and a handful of tortilla chips they’re full of flavor and texture!

#5 Rabbit Loin, Rack, Liver, Bacon & Chards – Red Haven, Okemos.
With its ever-changing menu, this premier farm-to-table eatery just outside of Lansing pulled out all the stops when a group of 20 brewers showed up for an extensive dinner back in June. Basically, they delivered a couple plates of everything on the menu. With a nod toward rustic, I was excited to find rabbit, duck and lots of root vegetables and fresh produce in every appetizer, salad and entrée served up. Since the menu changes so frequently, don’t expect to find the same combination today that you had last year, last month or even last week. Just be open to trying it all…you won’t be disappointed.

#6 Gazelle Salad – Terra GR, Grand Rapids.
When I went to the grand re-opening of this Eastown eatery (formerly Trillium Haven) I was served up a variety of items from the new menu – and the one that sticks out in my mind (and the one I’ve craved from time to time since) is this salad with green lentils, faro, walnuts, seasonal greens and vegetables with a cumin vinaigrette.

#7 Stacked Heirloom Tomato Salad – Food Dance, Kalamazoo.
About one of my favorite summer treats is a good heirloom tomato salad – the more colors and sizes, the better. This bright dish also featured two other favs – black beans (from Michigan’s own Kirklin Farms) and avocados. A light tomato juice surrounded it all, making it juicy and full of flavor. This is a seasonal special of course, as Food Dance makes a solid practice of not serving vegetables out of season. Look for a variation of this mouth-watering dish next summer.

#8 Beet Salad – Palate, Milford.
Friends and colleagues have been raving about this new restaurant – and my only experience had been in the “Brewer Hospitality” area at the Michigan Summer Beer Festival (which was top notch, both in 2012 and 2013). So, when I found myself in this neighborhood in November – I had to stop by and check it out. Despite unpleasant memories as a child of mass-produced canned beets, in my adult life I’ve found them to be a flavorful, hearty, earthy treat – when prepared properly, as it was at Palate. The addition of goat cheese and multi-colored tomatoes in the mix was a bonus! Color, texture and flavors – all key elements in my fav dishes – all came into play in this dish.

#9 Pork Rillette – Soup Spoon Café, Lansing.
I’ve found a fondness for rillette – pork, lamb, duck – doesn’t matter the source, it’s the rich creaminess of the shredded meats blended with its own fats was delicious spread out on slices of crusty baguette. The combination of the cornichons, pickled onion and fig jam made for a great accompaniment for this delicious appetizer. Kudos to the restaurant also for its impressive Michigan craft beer selection!

#10 Roasted Root Flatbread Pizza – Stormcloud Brewing, Frankfort
One of Michigan’s newest craft breweries opened this past summer just blocks away from Lake Michigan. In addition to a variety of gourmet flavored popcorn (like garlic chipotle, coconut sriracha, lime and sea salt and bacon and chives – my fav) they’re noted for their gourmet flatbread pizzas. The Roasted Root is loaded with root vegetables – beets, turnips and parsnips, along with garlic herb oil, caramelized onions, roasted garlic, roasted garlic and goat cheese, drizzled with a horseradish sour cream.

#11 Fish Tacos – Twisted Rooster, Grand Rapids
Always a go-to item on the menu, I first discovered and fell in love with fish tacos here. The pale ale battered fish is served up with fresh aromatic pico de gallo, white cheddar and sweet crispy noodle slaw, topped with a cilantro sour cream and a side of tortilla chips. An impressive list of Michigan beer and wine can also be found – and the Chateau Grand Traverse Riesling pairs well with this dish, in my opinion.

#12 Brussel Sprouts, Bacon & Triple Cream Brie – The Laundry, Fenton
Just about anything served up in a skillet is appealing to me – presentation aside. Something about the seasoned cast iron adds to the overall flavor of the dish, if you ask me. As brussel sprouts are my favorite veggie – and everything is better with bacon – this was an ideal choice off the menu. The triple cream brie was a big bonus, melting into all the crevices of the sprouts. I had been wanting to get to this eatery for some time, after seeing all the attention they give to Michigan beer. I’m looking forward to returning as there are dozens of other menu items I just can’t wait to try!

#13 Strawberry Martini – Four Roses, Plainwell.
You can’t have a best of list without dessert. I loved everything about this dish – from the presentation in the martini glass to my favorite fruit, topped with a delicious Grand Marnier whipped cream. One day, when I was at the restaurant for lunch AND dinner – I had this dessert twice (don’t judge me). Later in the season, blueberries found their way into the glass – which didn’t break my heart in the least. Can’t wait for summer to indulge in this semi-healthy dessert again!

I look forward to visiting even more restaurants in 2014 – and of course, your recommendations are always welcome!

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