Last year marked one of the most disappointing new restaurant harvests in quite some time, I argued in my 2017 round-up. As more Americans saw a country rigged in favor of the rich and the whites, too much of New York’s food scene seemed to reflect this.
Twelve months later, the #MeToo movement continues to highlight a pervasive culture of harassment in the hospitality industry. Fast and casual food chains continue to appear where independent restaurants once stood. And exorbitant sushi and kaiseki spots continue to flood the market.
Yet 2018 has been one of the most transformative years for dining since the Great Recession, I wrote in last week’s Best New Restaurant column.
Today, I unveil the best dishes of the year to you. The top three, along with the long list, frequently highlight how modern Asian dishes – Korean, Indian, Malaysian, Chinese, Uyghur and others – are becoming a wonderfully dominant force in contemporary New York cuisine. Add that to an ambitious and affordable group of entrants representing South America, the Caribbean and Iran, and we have reason to believe that an increasingly diverse and exciting restaurant world is still possible despite all.
The first three
Momofuku Ko Fried Chicken
Expensive chicken in otherwise affordable surroundings is a hallmark of David Chang. At the Noodle Bar, two fried birds order $ 150 before tip, a price that goes up to $ 500 with caviar. So there is something decent about the most expensive restaurant in Momofuku, KB, throwing in a fried chicken dish that costs just $ 6 per piece, service included. The drumsticks are quadruple fried, brushed with yuzu-tabasco frosting and served chilled, a mix of Korean, Japanese and American ideas. They are perfect. 8 Additional place, near the 1st. Street, East Village
Le Sia’s crab boils
If an outside resident asked where to find good crab in NYC, this is the first place I would send it. Sia, by Tina Chen, Yang Liu and chef Zac Zheng, isn’t just one of New York’s nicest modern Chinese restaurants, it’s one of the best places to eat shellfish, period. . This is where I finally fell in love with the Dungeness Crab, while dipping the cotton candy-like flesh in a hot sauce. 11 East 7th St., near 3rd Ave, East Village
Saint Julivert’s peach pig ear terrine
Here’s a surf and turf we’ve never seen before: Alex Raij and Eder Montero take small squares of pork ears, entwined with ribbons of seaweed, and coat them with grilled oysters and chili oil. . On one level, the dish is a brilliant study of layered umami and gelatinous textures. But what’s more striking is a seafood spot in Carroll Gardens that feeds on typical Sichuan offal. The preparation testifies as much to the holistic approach of Saint Julivert of the Seas as it does to a broader desire of non-Asian chefs to adapt Chinese sensibilities to their own menus. 264 Clinton St., near Congress St., Cobble Hill
Dishes of the year: the long list
Literally anything at Kopitiam: Noodle soup with anchovies and pork. Blue balls of sticky rice with palm sugar. Rose milk. Nasi lemak. Rice noodles with chili-sesame sauce. Milk toast sandwiches bursting with pandan coconut jam. The right way to approach Kopitiam, the new all-day cafe by Chef Kyo Pang and Moonlynn Tsai, is literally to order anything. 151 E Broadway, near Rutgers St., Chinatown
Smoked meats at Glady’s Jerk Center: While flame-grilled chicken is a staple of the local jerk experience, Junior Chef Felix does things the old-fashioned way: cooking chili and chili-rubbed meats in a fragrant bath of hot smoke. Make no mistake: this is one of the best barbecue spots in town. 453 Rogers Ave, near Lincoln Rd., Prospect-Lefferts
MáLà Project meat bowls: Amélie Kang, a native of Tangshan and a NYU and CIA graduate, has helped fuel the growing popularity of modern Chinese restaurants in New York City, in part thanks to her surprisingly delicious Sichuan dry pots. Diners choose from an incredibly long menu – there’s rib eye, fish cakes, and spam – to wok-fry in chili oil and peppercorns. Served in a trendy Midtown or East Village setting, MáLà’s dry pots work as a hot, spicy, meaty analogue of the superfluity of the city’s quick and laid-back salad bowls. 41 West 46th St., near Sixth Ave., Midtown
MeMe Eggs in Chili Oil: Libby Willis and Bill Clark’s modern diner serves the best new brunch in town. The main piece of evidence to support this claim? fried eggs eggs on kale, surrounded by a tidy stalk of pepitas and chili oil. The resulting flavors and textures are nutty, slippery, dripping, crunchy and smoky. 657 Washington Ave, near St. Marks Ave, Crown Heights
Goat brain in Adda: As modern South Asian spots like Indian Accent and Bombay Bread Bar spring to the city, Chef Chintan Pandya (Rahi) offers bold and spirited house-style classics. Among Adda’s finest dishes is the bheja fry: Goat’s brain as creamy as scrambled eggs dipped in a tomato-chili sauce. Scoop it all up with sweet pao bread, then repeat. 31-31 Thomson Ave, near Van Dam St., Long Island City
Slice of pizza at Paulie Gee’s and PQR: Paulie Gee’s stands for old-school pizza restaurants, making simple slices and perfect white slices with enough garlic to qualify as langoustines. PQR, in turn, does the new school justice, topping an airy, long-fermenting dough with sprigs of squash and lardo. They are both as essential members of New York’s pizza scene as any Neapolitan pie-only joint. 110 Franklin St., near Noble St., Greenpoint
Cream of rice at Sofreh: This elegant take on home-style Persian cuisine is a must-have alternative to the city’s Iranian kebab scene. The Prospect Heights establishment, a promising start from Chef Nasim Alikhani, also has one of the city’s strongest new dessert menus. Among the best deals is a Rectangle of Cream of Rice, a pleasantly coarse affair that shows off the lemony aroma of cardamom. 75 St. Marks Avenue, near Flatbush Avenue, Prospect Heights
Fior di latte gelato at Don Angie: Here’s a fun trompe-l’oeil from chefs Angie Rito and Scott Tacinelli, a duo that rethinks Italian-American cuisine. A waiter carries what looks like a mozzarella ball – but it’s really mochi wrapped around fior di latte gelato. The intensely milky interior makes the dessert a clever reinvention of mozzarella. 103 Greenwich Ave., near West 12th St., West Village
Llamita’s squid bocadillo: The quick and laid back offshoot of Llama Inn sells a serious squid sandwich. Chef Erik Ramirez intertwines griddle-seared squid rings with chili peppers (aji panca and aji amarillo), and stuff it all into a soft white roll. The smooth cephalopod snack, dripping with mayo and tinged with heat and smoke, makes a cheaper alternative to a good lobster roll. 80 Carmine Street, near Varick Street, West Village
Namul tart at Atomix: Chef Junghyun Park, using his technical magic, creates a sort of “Tostitos Scoop” from mussel juice and modified starch. He then fills the tart with mung bean sprout, dried fernbrake and thistle leaf, and season it with fish sauce. The final product is similar to high-end caviar in its perfectly complex evocation of the sea. 104 East 30th St., near Park Ave South, Midtown
Roast chicken at the Mercerie: It’s the roast chicken dish of the year. Marie-Aude Rose is not the only local chef to debon a poultry and serve it under its crispy skin. What sets this dish apart, however, is a condiment. The rose decorates the bird with ginger-garlic nougatine discs, adding a touch of sweetness to counter the coarse salts of the chicken. 53 Howard St, near Mercer St., Soho
Lamb with rice at Kebab Empire: The Uyghurs of West China and Central Asia know how to grill. This fact is on display in the young chain of Kudret Yakup, which sells stellar cumin skewers and carrot-flavored polo rice that is both sticky and sweet. The cost of the two together? Only $ 10. 934 Eighth Ave, near West 55th St., Hell’s Kitchen
Una Pizza Napoletana’s desserts: Ice cream – or ice cream – has long been the heart of the pizzeria, and Una is among the best in town. Fabian Von Hauske Valtierra eschews eggs, resulting in nimble frozen desserts that express the flavors of their components with supreme clarity – with heavy doses of salt to further electrify the palate. 175 Orchard St., near Stanton St., Lower East Side
One more thing: I had strong words about Una’s pizzas in my one star review. After hearing positive reports from my colleagues, I returned in December. Shortly after taking a seat at the bar, pizza chef and co-owner Anthony Mangieri recognized me and told me I had to leave. – You are not welcome here, he said. Valtierra, one of the other co-owners, sent a lengthy email apology, in which he said he would have aimed for a “different outcome” had he been at Una that night. He also wrote that I would always be welcome at Contra and Wildair, the other places he runs with Chef Jeremiah Stone.
It’s disappointing when an owner decides which members of the press to let in and which to ban from doing their jobs. This job is to return, with an open mind, to restaurants that have been the subject of severe criticism, as uncomfortable as that may be for everyone. I always look forward to going back.