Review of 2016 (NYC)

New York City has no shortage of great restaurants, but in the ultra-competitive restaurant industry in this city, the turnover has never been more volatile. For all the awesome openings this year, there were also many high-profile closures such as Betony, Telepan and Luksus where I had pretty good meals. With the rising rents and minimum wages, a lot of restaurants are struggling to keep up at barely profitable level. On the other hand, some of the new restaurants such as Olmsted have shown a blueprint of how to operate a restaurant at economically viable level without sacrificing quality of food. I also really liked the multi-faced directions the restaurant scene this year was headed, from the renaissance of classic French bistros to the influx of new Indian restaurants. Finally, I’ve also been fortunate to finally visit some of the preeminent restaurants in the area for the first time such as Daniel, Blanca and Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Here are my top restaurant visits and dishes of the year. I missed out on some other openings this year such as Aska, Italienne, Fowler & Wells and Flora Bar that I intend to visit early next year. Happy New Year and may 2017 bring another productive culinary journey to the greatest city on Earth!

Top Restaurant Visits of the Year

  1. Ichimura at Brushstroke – KenScale 9.5/10
  2. Blanca – KenScale 9.0/10
  3. Blue Hill at Stone Barns – KenScale 9.0/10
  4. Sushi Zo – KenScale 9.0/10
  5. Daniel – KenScale 9.0/10
  6. Pasquale Jones – KenScale 8.5/10
  7. Le Coucou – KenScale 8.5/10
  8. Olmsted- KenScale 8.5/10
  9. Günter Seeger – KenScale 8.5/10
  10. Le Coq Rico – KenScale 8.5/10
  11. Indian Accent – KenScale 8.5/10
  12. Llama Inn – KenScale 8.5/10
  13. Freek’s Mill – KenScale 8.5/10
  14. Emily – KenScale 8.5/10
  15. Agern – KenScale 8.5/10
  16. Paowalla – KenScale 8.5/10

Top Dishes of the Year

1. Salt baked potato @ Mekelburg’s – Mekelburg’s is the type of place that makes me go back to Brooklyn more often than I used to. A totally unassuming eating space inside a grocery shop, they will make this mean baked potato. The one I had with black cod, crème fraiche and caviar was just so addictive and I didn’t know when to drop my fork to keep digging at it. Who would’ve thought a baked potato dish can be so exciting?

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2. Oyster omelet @ Chomp Chomp – You don’t see a ton of Singaporean restaurant in NYC, which is unfortunate because the rich and diverse taste of the small city-state derived from Chinese, Malaysian and Indian influences is quite satisfying. If you want an intro lesson on Singaporean food, look no further than this oyster omelet dish (“oh lauk”) with garlic chives that displayed a ton of hearty feel without overpowering my palate.

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3. Beef loin @ Blanca – I finally had a chance to visit Blanca which I think epitomizes what fine dining in Brooklyn would look like. You have this single counter in front of the kitchen in action rolling out all these small plate dishes that showcase a remarkable level of creativity throughout the night. My favorite of the night clearly was this little beef loin dish with impeccably juicy meat while minimizing the seasoning to make sure it is the texture that truly chines.

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4. Beef tenderloin stir fry @ Llama Inn – New York City could certainly have more Peruvian cuisine with rich culinary tradition in the dining scene, and Llama Inn was quite a pleasant surprise when I visited this charming space in Williamsburg. Their modern take on Peruvian-Chinese classic dish of lomo saltado (a stir fry of beef steak with onions and other vegetables) is one dish that I would absolutely love to have every once in a while. Every bite of this wrapped in scallion pancake was pure bliss to my taste bud!

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5. Ebi (shrimp) @ Ichimura at Brushstroke – As usual, I’ve been to a lot of outstanding sushi counters this year, but the best one that I’m willing to put in my 9.5 KenScale stratosphere is chef Eiji Ichimura’s unassuming counter inside Brushstroke restaurant. Every ingredient was so fresh and handled with such master craftsmanship, including this silky smooth ebi that I don’t think I’ll ever have a better one than what chef Ichimura put on my table.

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6. Seaweed bucatini @ High Street on Hudson – This year has seen the Big Apple invasion from some of the established Philadelphia restaurants and High Street on Hudson really delivers on the market-driven New American cuisine that offers something for everyone. I’ve had an occasion to try this awesome pasta dish that not only looks beautiful but has magnificent balance of flavor and the black noodle that grew more and more on me as I savored the dish.

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7. Soufflé @ MIMI – MIMI was a surprise hit in the New York dining scene this year, and this modest operation certainly made French bistro food quite exciting. Sadly, chef Liz Johnson that helmed the kitchen is leaving soon, so I wonder what will happen to this restaurant in her absence. Suffice to say though that I would love to come back to this place if they offer the same soufflé (which took over 20 minutes to prepare) that had decadent richness from the speculaas (a type of biscuit) cream.

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8. Tajarin with veal ragu @ Pasquale Jones – The second project from Charlie Bird team was even better than the original one. I was very impressed with this imposing oven where all the magic was happening. Everyone is talking about the clam pizza at Pasquale Jones (and it is definitely one of the best pizza dishes I’ve had this year), but my personal favorite was this off-menu special pasta of egg noodle and veal ragu that looks so simple but is so delicious that I was busier devouring this than the pizza.

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9. Roast beef @ Mr. Donahue’s – More often than not, simplicity is the virtue. A retro diner from the acclaimed Uncle Boons team, there is nothing inside Mr. Donahue’s that makes you scream this is the “It” restaurant of the moment. At the same time, I couldn’t help thinking about the satisfactory dishes here, including this giant piece of roast beef that was prepared to such perfection in texture while maintaining a moderate level of seasoning.

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10. Horseback mackerel @ Sushi Zo – LA is one place in America that I would love to stay for like a week just to tour all of the amazing restaurants in the city. At least I don’t have to do that anymore for Sushi Zo, which decided to open a second location in NYC, and boy am I glad they did! I was very impressed with the high level of consistency in texture of different nigiri pieces. Just look at this beautiful piece of horseback mackerel with soy sauce that was just so fresh and smooth.

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11. Fontina and Brussel sprout pizza @ Covina – I’ve had some outstanding pizza dishes this year but the one that I won’t forget is this awesome pie at Covina. Don’t forget to add egg supplement (for $2 extra). Trust me, the egg makes so much difference to this already delicious thin crust pie. You don’t see any meat in this pizza, but I don’t care; it still displayed so much flavor without a ton of heaviness.

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12. Rice noodle in Thai chili paste soup @ Look by Plant Love House – I’m always a sucker for Thai food, and I’ve been wanting to check out the Brooklyn location of Plant Love House (they’ve recently closed their original operation in Queens to focus on Look) for a long time. I very much enjoyed most of the spicy dishes here, but the star of my visit was this rice noodle with jumbo shrimp, pork patty, bacon and soft boiled egg inside. The soup was so aromatic with spicy kick that I would definitely recommend this if you’re in for a dish to warm your body on a cold night or in desperate need for a hangover cure.

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13. Westermann’s Baeckeoff @ Le Coq Rico – It’s marvelous to see what French people can do with poultry dishes. Let’s start with Le Coq Rico, an implant from an acclaimed chef who already has a three Michelin star restaurant in Strasbourg. The whole chicken dishes here don’t come cheap, but all my sense of guilt for splurging completely disappeared after I’ve start devouring this beautiful bird inspired by a classic chicken dish in Alsace. I would boldly call this the best chicken dish in the city at the moment.

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14. Scallop @ Le Bernardin – I always go to Le Bernardin at least once every summer for lunch and every visit is so inspiring and marvelous. There is always a dish on my next visit that wows me; for this year, this bared cooked scallop with roasted bone marrow and butter emulsion stole my heart. I was swooning over the impeccable texture of the scallop that worked so harmoniously with the other ingredients to bring the flavor to the highest level of elegance.

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15. Potato salad @ Agern – 2016 has also seen some new openings / reboots of New Nordic / Scandinavian restaurants. The most high-profile opening is from Noma’s co-founder Claus Meyer who boldly invaded the Grand Central train station with a giant food hall and Agern. I’ve always appreciated the New Nordic cuisine’s emphasis on fresh ingredients and careful attention to execution, and Agern certainly delivered on that promise. I would’ve ordered this beautiful potato salad dish once more if I could and would love to have this for lunch every day.

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16. Dry aged duck @ Freek’s Mill – A neighborhood restaurant in Brooklyn that delivers surprisingly high-quality food is what would make my weekend so joyful. On my first Brooklyn date with my girlfriend, we discovered Freek’s Mill and had a lot to like about this warm and cozy establishment, including its food where I can see the kitchen puts a lot of thoughts into it. I have a pretty high standard for duck, but the dry aged one with cranberry beans and rosemary honey here belongs in one of the top duck dishes I’ve had all year for its rustic touch that was so memorable that my girlfriend can’t stop thinking about it.

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17. Saffron milk @ Indian Accent – This year has seen the opening of a lot of outstanding Indian restaurants, which is a good thing because I can never get enough of Indian food. Indian Accent is one of the top newcomers in this category, starting from its origin in New Delhi. All the food that I’ve had here displayed remarkable balance of flavor and I would dare not skip the muskan malai dessert that has this delightful saffron milk fluff that will wow you the more you dig into it over a short period of time.

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18. Emmy burger @ Emily – 2016 has also seen a lot of newcomers in burger category. I certainly had a lot to like about the classic burger at the newly opened Salvation Burger from the Spotted Pig team, but if I have to pick just one favorite, Emily’s burger will undoubtedly top the list. Combine juicy texture of meat inside a pretzel bun with caramelized onion and cheddar and you get this beautiful thing that gave me pure joy on every bite.

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19. Pork porterhouse @ Sauvage – Greenpoint is not the neighborhood that I frequent during trips to Brooklyn (now that I moved to FiDi this fall, I’m a lot closer to downtown Brooklyn), but Sauvage will certainly motivate me to come back again in the near future. Why? Look at this beautiful pork porterhouse with bok choy and pickled rhubarb. The texture is close to perfection that I don’t even know how the kitchen prepared a pork dish like this. If anyone asks for a recommendation of a pork dish, I would not hesitate to steer that person to this one.

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20. Honeynut squash @ Blue Hill at Stone Barns – I’ve finally cracked the online reservations code (kidding, I was just lucky) and made a reservation at the famed Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I was deeply moved by the profound philosophy of the kitchen under chef Dan Barber focusing on sustainability, and the vegetable-centric tasting menu at Blue Hill put that vision into one beautiful symphony. Will I ever have honeynut squash as good as this in my lifetime? I highly doubt it.

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21. Goat cheese tart @ La Sirène – NYC has seen a ton of hip French bistro openings this year, but that doesn’t mean all the older ones are no longer viable dining destinations. Let’s start with La Sirène, an absolutely charming place in SoHo, that really knows how to prepare French food with soulfulness. My girlfriend and I were absolutely floored by this phenomenal goat cheese tart and ended up coming back a week later with our mutual friends just to savor it again.

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22. Tempura fried scallops @ Olmsted – Olmsted is the critical darling of 2016 dining scene, and deservedly so. Everything in this restaurant is so beautiful, from its backyard garden to all the dishes that displayed a lot of thoughtfulness and creativity. Carrot crepe with little neck clams seems to be the go-to dish from the restaurant (and I agree it is a remarkable one), but my personal favorite was this perfectly fried scallops with impeccable texture which I hope they keep in the long run.

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23. Rabbit schnitzel @ Günter Seeger – Chef Günter Seeger is a polarizing figure in the culinary world, but there is no doubt that his precise and disciplined cooking makes his eponymous restaurant in West Village a worthy dining destination. I have never seen a rabbit in schnitzel form, but the kitchen did a marvelous job putting this together, accompanied by creamed spinach and black truffle, that I had to keep wondering why no other chefs would try cooking another rabbit schnitzel.

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24. Shrimp curry pie @ Paowalla – Paowalla is a return of famed chef Floyd Cardoz to his Indian root and a triumphant one. There are a ton of winners from the early side of menu based on “pao” (a type of Portuguese-influenced bun), and I kept thinking about this awesome shrimp curry pie accompanied by roasted beet salad for its seemingly simple but elegant flavor that displays a ton of rich complexity without overpowering my palate. Welcome back to the Big Apple, chef Cardoz!

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