My wife Jun and I got married in 2017, but we put off our honeymoon until 2018 given that we were having a destination wedding where we spent some quality time with our families so it was not feasible to plan another trip immediately thereafter. After much planning, the honeymoon turned into an epic two-week trip where we traveled throughout Greece (primarily in Santorini where Jun had always wanted to go), Croatia (in Dubrovnik because of our huge Game of Thrones passion) and southern France. Before our honeymoon, we also visited our motherland Korea for a post-wedding reception for families and acquaintances in the country. Lastly, we had a chance to catch up with my parents who were in Chicago for my mother’s business trip. During our trips in 2018, we were able to check out some fantastic restaurants showcasing memorable dishes that we had not seen in New York City. Here are the top dishes I have tasted in 2018 (based on the order we had visited the restaurants).
Top Dishes of the Year
1. Seasoned Dandelion Noodle @ Kwonsooksoo (Seoul, Korea) – KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10) (https://kenscale.com/2018/04/24/kwonsooksoo/)
It is unfortunate that I got really sick after our anniversary dinner at Kwonsooksoo in Seoul, Korea, but not in my view because of the food (we were constantly under the weather for hectic schedules in Korea leading up to the post-wedding reception). I still can’t forget, though, this delightful noodle dish with smoked sea bream sashimi on top. Mix it up with colorful herbs on the side as well as perilla oil, and you have an undisputed winner among many outstanding dishes from chef Kwon Woo Joong.
2. Steamed Fish with Red Pepper Powder Sauce @ Kwonsooksoo (Seoul, Korea) – KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10) (https://kenscale.com/2018/04/24/kwonsooksoo/)
My (close) second favorite dish at Kwonsooksoo was this steamed fish with red pepper powder sauce inspired by the Korean “maeuntang” (spicy fish stew). Growing up in Korea, I was often turned off by the smell of these stews but the kitchen at Kwonsooksoo worked magic to ensure that the fish was prepared perfectly with the spicy kick that makes you dig for more. It was an elegant and beautiful dish that fully displays the potential of a “modern” version of Korean cuisine that is carefully thought out.
3. Grilled Calamari @ Katina Taverna (Santorini, Greece) – KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.25/10)
During our honeymoon in Santorini, Jun and I learned a critical lesson that you should not be dining on the caldera side if you want to eat well. On the other hand, there were some modest operations away from the caldera that gave us a lot of pleasure with simply prepared fresh seafood dishes. Given that we didn’t try that many dishes there, I ended up not posting a full review on Katina Taverna at the Ammoudi Bay, but there is no denying this succulent grilled calamari is one of the best dishes we’ve had in Santorini.
4. Roka Salad @ Roka (Santorini, Greece) – KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10) (https://kenscale.com/2018/06/29/roka/)
A quiet restaurant located far away from the center of Oia, Roka is a restaurant not to be missed. It may not offer the same view as other overpriced restaurants on the caldera side, but it offers one of the best salad dishes Jun and I have had in 2018. The beautiful combination of lettuce, goat and cow cheese, caramelized walnuts and figs may look like a run-of-the-mill salad you see at one of those shops in New York City, but the fresh ingredients and the way they work together in your mouth will offer so much more than it looks.
5. Fava Beans Puree with Grilled Calamari @ Roka (Santorini, Greece) – KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10) (https://kenscale.com/2018/06/29/roka/)
Santorini is known for its fava beans and Roka has a stunningly delicious puree with grilled calamari and capers on top. I absolutely loved the way the mouth-watering puree combined with smoky sensation of calamari worked together to stipulate my taste bud. Again, the dish shows how a simply prepared dish can still be profoundly satisfying; next time I’m at a Greek restaurant in NYC, I’ll definitely check if there is a similar dish that is as good as the one I’ve had at Roka.
6. Shrimps on Polenta @ Nautika (Dubrovnik, Croatia) – KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.0/10) (https://kenscale.com/2018/06/30/nautika/)
Dubrovnik, Croatia was as beautiful as advertised; Jun and I loved the old city that was the filming location for the Game of Thrones’ capital King’s Landing. That said, it took us a bit of time to warm up to Croatian food and wine as there were some fairly pedestrian meals during our stay in Dubrovnik. If you are ni the mood for splurging with a beautiful view, however, Nautika is not to be missed, and my favorite dish at the restaurant was this one with shrimps and polenta and almond flakes.
7. Duck and Bobotie @ Jan (Nice, France) – KenScale: 8.5/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.5/10) (https://kenscale.com/2018/07/25/jan/)
At South African Jan Hendrik’s eponymous restaurant in Nice, Jun and I sampled several creative and beautifully executed dishes, and certainly the banana butter was a revelation. The dish that I won’t forget in a while is the duck; while the meat itself was already a standout dish, it was the addition of bobotie (a traditional South African dish of spiced minced meat) on the side that perfectly complemented it.
8. Girolle and Blue Lobster @ La Chevre d’Or (Eze, France) – KenScale: 9.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 9.0/10) (https://kenscale.com/2018/07/28/la-chevre-dor/)
Outside of NYC, La Chevre d’Or was the best restaurant Jun and I had been to in 2018, and for good reasons. Located on the edge of the cliff in Eze, the restaurant was not only a romantic destination but the food from the tasting menu we had was simply breathtaking. Just look further than this beautiful dish of blue lobster in the center with mushroom and hazelnuts on the outside. The immaculate balance of flavor and texture of this starter was simply marvelous.
9. Lamb @ La Chevre d’Or (Eze, France) – KenScale: 9.0/10 (Jun’s Score: 9.0/10) (https://kenscale.com/2018/07/28/la-chevre-dor/)
When Jun and I go for a meat dish, lamb is usually not the first one we think of because of its often gamy feel. At La Chever d’Or, the kitchen put together a dish that had no smell of game but rather tasted like a perfectly grilled beef, with juicy and moist texture that was stunning on every single bite. If other restaurants know how to cook lamb this way, I am confident it could be on the same standing as other meats generally.
10. Skate Schnitzel @ Monteverde (Chicago, IL) – KenScale: 8.25/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.0/10) (https://kenscale.com/2018/10/31/monteverde/)
As always, Chicago has been very kind to me whenever I visit in the dining area. I’m constantly amazed with the energy and versatility of this city’s culinary evolution. While the meal at Monteverde went a little overboard with my parents and my mother’s parties from her business trip in the dining group that required us to choose the family style dinner, and some dishes had seasoning issues, there were quite a few others that I liked very much, including this skate schnitzel with the spicy kick of peperoncino (hot chili peppers) that was simply perfect for the dish.
11. Beef Tongue @ Smyth (Chicago, IL) – KenScale: 8.75/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.75/10) (https://kenscale.com/2018/11/23/smyth/)
Our highlight of the dining in Chicago was Smyth, which figured out a formula to bring out sophisticated New American dishes without the pretense of stuffy, fine-dining restaurants. The dishes at the restaurant are all consistently executed very well, and you can tell that the kitchen really understands how to use ingredients that you won’t often see at other restaurants. How would’ve thought that beef tongue that came out as the last savory main dish would be this good, with texture that is as juicy as any other parts of the beef we know?
12. Roasted Kombu Ice Cream @ Smyth (Chicago, IL) – KenScale: 8.75/10 (Jun’s Score: 8.75/10) (https://kenscale.com/2018/11/23/smyth/)
To my recollection, I have not encountered a restaurant where kombu is the central element of a dessert dish the way Smyth did. Well, the kitchen somehow put together an outstanding ice cream made of roasted kombu, and with all the fermented grains and black apple in it, the dish was one beautiful harmony that will challenge any preconception you have as to what ingredients should make for a perfect dessert.