Another year has almost passed and I've yet to die of burger poisoning. And as the final weeks of the year play out, it's always fun to look back at the meals that still remain vivid in my memory. This year a few were encountered outside of Dallas and two were even meals I made in my home with the help of local Dallas businesses. Here are my most memorable dining experiences of 2012, provided I don't encounter anything beautiful in the next few weeks.
See also: My Top 10 Food Memories of 2011
Dining at Uchi in Austin (pictured above) Uchi is one of the most hyped restaurants in Austin for good reason. While buying ultra-fresh fish is easy for anyone with the resources, turning those ingredients into a memorable meal takes considerable skill. Nearly everything I at at Uchi was a work of art, including this lemony pistachio dish I ordered for dessert. One of my biggest regrets of the year was not ordering omakase while I dined there.
This cool spring evening was one of the nicest nights I've spent alone at home in a while. Out on my balcony, with an oyster knife in hand and my wonder mutt at my feet, I didn't have to rely on a popular chef to lift my spirits -- all I needed were my well-honed shucking skills. Some ice-cold Lawnmower beer didn't hurt my mood either.
The car accident at Jimmy's Remember when that poor old lady drove her car right through the front of Jimmy's? I got over there as quick as I could, but the car was already removed, and a pair of carpenters had started boarding up the gaping hole. My picture opportunity squandered, I could think of only one consolation: an Italian beef with plenty of hot peppers.
Oak's phantom pork chop I ordered the chop while sitting at the bar, and when I listened to my notes the next day I'd talked at length about the big hunk of pork. The dish captured a time and place in a way that was transformative. My dining companion and myself were whisked away to rural Tennessee and our spirits were lifted. Unfortunately the dish was a special that wasn't offered when our photographer visited the restaurant. I never encountered the pork chop again.
Discovering Manny's brisket tacos I thought brisket tacos were all the same, especially among the Tex-Mex restaurants that sling the beef-stuffed tortillas by the hundreds. But while they have similarities, differences shine through in the small details. I love Manny's brisket tacos with bright and crunchy onions and peppers and a big bowl of that gravy for brisket taco dipping.
Shrimp heads at Yutaka Really, the whole meal was exceptional, and I thought it was over just before these two crunchy shrimp heads arrived like an unexpected bonus prize. They exploded in my mouth with an unreal, crisp texture and fresh flavor. I've been ordering sweet shrimp nearly every time I get sushi ever since, and I've never re-created that perfect Yutaka experience.
Gyro at Chicago's Greek Fest I've been looking for a good gyro all over Dallas for a long time now, and have yet to come up with anything that's even close. So when I stumbled upon Greek Fest in Chicago, and subsequently a hand built gyro cone studded with lamb's fat, it was like my own personal food holiday.
Bolsa Mercado's bratwurst and sauerkraut for New Year's Day I've made this meal every New Year's Day for years now, but Bolsa Mercado's homemade kraut took this meal to a whole new level. It's simple cooking, with braised sausages, potatoes and fermented cabbage, but it's an unbelievably memorable meal. Next year's rendition is just around the corner, and I can't wait.
Bolsa's chicken The second this plate landed in front of me I knew I was in for an amazing chicken dish. You could see how juicy the chicken was, and the shards of skin were so crispy. In the world of classic chicken roasting, chef Jeff Harris might get penalized for cheating, as this preparation is far from traditional. For me though, it was one of the best chicken dishes I've ever encountered.
A feast at Mughlai Normally when I review a restaurant, I take one or two guests with me. Any more and the table gets too noisy and it's more difficult for me to stay focused on evaluating the plates. At Mughlai, though, I really wanted to write about a festive Indian experience. So four of us (crazy huh?) dropped in on the restaurant and proceeded to order enough dishes to feed a small army.
Our table was filled with small, copper karahi's overflowing with rich and flavorful curries. There were other small dishes of condiments and garnishes, and perhaps a touch too much Kingfisher beer.
While the food was outstanding, that's not why this was one of this year's most memorable meals. What made this dinner sticky for me was the experience of sharing a seemingly endless bounty of food with very good friends. It was one of those meals that left you basking in a glowing sense of well-being, not celebrating the intricacies or execution of a single dish, but instead celebrating life.
The curry was pretty good, too.