Best Bites of 2021 | Food and wine

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In Jackson Kalb’s evolution of the mozzarella stick, provolone replaces mozzarella, and the fried appetizer is oversized into a round big enough for two. It retains all the magic of melting, gooey cheese, but with a slightly nutty flavor. Kalb serves it with a mouthwatering vodka sauce that made me wonder why fried cheese is never served with anything else.

It took my breath away every time I encountered this butter terrine, first melting gently on a stack of pancakes, then again when it arrived on a plate as part of the bread service at Lutie’s. Chefs Bradley Nicholson and Susana Querejazu alternate layers of cultured butter and brown butter in a saucepan, chill until solid, then slice the terrine to reveal a lovely strip of striped butter that adds a multitude of flavors to any dish.

We are living in a renaissance of fried chicken. The amount of excellent fried chicken available across the country is overwhelming, but at his new restaurant, Moon Rabbit, Chef Kevin Tien (a 2018 Food and wine Best New Chef) makes a version that stands out from the crowd, and not just because he serves the meat still attached to the bird’s claws. The ga chien is inspired by Tien’s Vietnamese heritage and is lacquered in a chili-maple fish sauce, almost as if the chicken had been confit. The outer layer shatters with every bite, revealing tender and chewy meat.

This chef’s riff on Jollibee’s Filipino fast food classic is the perfect comfort meal. Chefs Tom Cunanan and Paolo Dungca mix al dente spaghetti with hot dog bolognese and sprinkle it with melted Gouda cheese. It’s deeply flavorful but also has a touch of sweetness from the banana ketchup in the sauce. Why not love a giant plate of carbs covered in cheese and mixed with slices of hot pink hot dogs? It’s a dish that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but just seriously enough to be the best version on the market.

I never thought that one of my favorite dishes of the year would be inspired by a TikTok trend. Chef Peter Cho decided to make his own version of the “wrap” video, where the tortillas are divided into four quadrants, topped with four different ingredients, folded on top of each other and toasted. He uses a square of nori as a base, layering each quadrant with rice, egg ribbons, and vegetables like carrots and purple cabbage. Cho stuffs the center of the gim-bap with fried nori tempura for crunch. It’s served with a deceptively simple sauce of tamarind and French mustard.

Dhmaka may be the best Indian restaurant in the country right now, and it’s definitely the most interesting. The menu is dedicated to under-represented regional dishes not commonly found in the West, and the sleep hit is the Pamplet Fry. It is a dish of pomfret, a delicate butterfish, which chef Chintan Pandya marinates with garlic paste, turmeric, red chili powder and ginger, then fried until it is golden. The result is a succulent, flaky fish that is easy to tear with the hands.

Shrimp and Prosciutto Tortellini

Don’t call this fusion, but rather a masterful partnership between the Italian dish of tortellini with brodo and ozoni, a Japanese New Year’s soup made with mochi. Plump tortellini are stuffed with salted prosciutto and tender shrimp, to float in a pool of crystal-clear dashi. The bowl is completed with slices of kamaboko (fish cakes) with a pink edge and chopped green onions. It’s a really fun texture playground to eat.

Before I finally made it to New Orleans, I had been stalking Bronwen Wyatt’s cakes on Instagram @bayousaintcake for months, wistfully gazing at the vast array of edible flowers and buttercream scribbles that adorn each one. Wyatt is part of an ongoing movement of pastry chefs who have left restaurants and are selling amazing baked goods direct to customers. The cake tastes as amazing as it looks: airy layers of chiffon cake with olive oil, scoops of fig leaf cream, and rose and geranium jams. It’s all wrapped in a tangy crème fraîche buttercream and decorated with its signature buttercream twists. And yes, I took a million pictures of it before I dug.



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