2018 held a lot of change and we didn’t get a chance to travel as much as we’d hoped or dine out as often. It doesn’t mean that I didn’t have some incredible meals and I hope to briefly highlight those both with this top 10 list today and a couple of lists tomorrow. The best meals outside of Pittsburgh were mostly in California (where we went for our anniversary), Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
I’d love to hear any feedback you wish to provide, so please reach out in the comments section or at DavidtheGastronome@gmail.com with any feedback at all.
10. Madonna Inn – 3/26 – San Luis Obispo, CA
No trip to San Luis Obispo (SLO) is complete without stopping into the Madonna Inn. Equal parts kitsch and majesty, this landmark castle feels like a love letter to the American Dream. The cakes are enormous and delicious. Dark, rich milk chocolate icing envelope layers of fudgey cake. Best enjoyed with a loved one way too late at night, their desserts are like something out of Willy Wonka or Matilda and served by staff just as mystifying and cheery.
9. Sqirl – 3/27 – Los Angeles, CA
LA is hip. It’s super cool and fun and hip and chic. I am none of these things. The toast at Sqirl looks like something from an Instagram post and is curated to be enjoyed as such. Beyond these simple visual pleasures so, the toast is freaking delicious. Sure it’s beautiful, but it tastes amazing and deserves to be celebrated as such. The house made toast, crispy and crunchy on the outside and soft and buttery within, topped with an excess of homemade ricotta spread so thick it feels like enough for two slices (but thank you so much for including it all on this one slice) and a wonderful tart and bright and herbaceous fruit jam topping it all off. Like the kind of snack you’d fix for yourself if you had these quality of ingredients on hand and no one to answer to. This toast is off the chain (I am not cool).
8. Franklin Fountain – 4/18 – Philadelphia, PA
Ridiculously good hard-churned ice cream served in Chinese food takeout containers. Go, get in line, bring cash, study the menu as you continue to stand in line, look through the binder/menu, stay in line, order succinctly and correctly, enjoy. If your eyes are bigger than your stomach (which is impossible because there’s always room for ice cream), you can always just seal up the container and save it for later. It won’t last long because it’s damn good ice cream.
7. Taqueria El Farolito – 3/24 – San Francisco, CA
Real Mission burritos served by real people in Mission. A huge menu full of authentic cal-mex. Delicious hot sauces and fantastic burritos. Grab your burrito and then walk down to Mission Dolores Park. Enjoy your burrito in the gorgeous weather surrounded by people enjoying nature (and the green…space). It feels like an oasis and was a wonderful break from the urban sprawl.
6. Orchard Market and Cafe – 8/03 – Baltimore, MD
Consider me surprised that I had to travel to a strip mall in Baltimore (Towson to be more specific) to sample some authentic Persian cuisine. A wonderful neighborhood restaurant, tucked away in an unassuming strip mall, filled with friendly staff and locals, Orchard Market was definitely a surprise. The bademjune and the hummus were outstanding appetizers and my entree was full of fresh seafood (huge shrimp, scallops, and Mahi Mahi filets) and seasoned with wonderful middle eastern spices to make an excellent cross between a curry and an Asian stew. Huge portions and a wonderfully exotic menu make me want to return as soon as possible.
5. Abe Fisher – 4/20 – Philadelphia, PA
Easily the finest, modern Jewish dining experience I’ve had. Every single course (chicken liver mousse, borscht tartare, roasted pastrami-spiced salmon) was incredible. The service was outstanding. We were in a large group and missed out on the Montreal Style Smoked Short Ribs (served alongside house-made rye with pickles and mustard) so the waitress made up 4 half-sandwiches for us out of some from the back. This was an incredible experience from start to finish so if you find yourself missing the tastes of the old world and want something fancy and elevated, schlep across the state to Abe Fisher. It’s worth it.
4. Madera – 3/24 – Palo Alto, CA
An exquisite fine-dining experience located on the grounds of the Rosewood Sand Hill Resort, Madera is curated and elevated cuisine in a gorgeous rustic setting. It feels like you’re eating within a gigantic log cabin, but the tables and spaces are separated far enough apart to make each table feel intimate and special. A wonderful staff with outstanding somelliers, they worked tirelessly from beginning to end to create a special meal. Excellent execution and gorgeous food, a real treat in Menlo Park.
3. Koi Palace – 3/23 – Daly City, CA
Best dim sum I’ve ever had in my life. A palatial dining room, full of bridges across multiple koi ponds, with elevated tables on high rising crests and other tables next to functioning fountains. Everywhere movement and noise and carts and food and people sharing an incredible dining experiences. I can only suggest that you have a gameplan going in or you might be severely overwhelmed (and order way too much). We enjoyed the chiu chow dumplings, steamed bbq pork bun, bean curd skin rolls, shanghai dumpings, and the incredibly special Suckling Pig (as soon above) with crispy skin and perfectly roasted fatty meat served over natto.
2. Kin Khao – 3/24 – San Francisco, CA
Michelin-starred for a reason, this unassuming Thai Eatery located on the first floor of the uber-chic Parc 55 hotel took all of my expectations and obliterated them. We were running late and time was short before the kitchen was closing, so we turned our options over to the waiter. We knew we wanted the pork belly, but he helped guide us towards the salted duck egg to go alongside it, as well as the Mushroom Hor Mok (mousse with crisp rice cakes) and the Laab Kua (a spicy crispy onion pork salad) to start with. Along with the Pork Belly (which was like melty, buttery pork magic), we enjoyed the Holy Basil and Snow Jasmine cocktails, all for less than $100. A ridiculous steal in any city, a magical gem in the heart of metropolitan San Francisco.
1. The Bazaar – 3/28 – Beverly Hills, CA
I could write for days on the hours we spent dining at Jose Andres’ restaurant in Beverly Hills. From the table adorned with rose petals, the hand-written card welcoming us to our dining experience, the staff who waited on us tirelessly, each acting in perfect unity, being supportive and attentive without being overbearing, timing the courses to perfection and ensuring our wants were met at every turn. The food was outrageously good. Highlights easily include the croquetas served in a clear plastic shoe and their world famous Foiffle (which is a foie espuma with peanut butter and honey served on a lighter than air waffle). Further baffling the mind was that after the dinner service was over, we were invited to cross the enormous floor of the dining area to a SECOND separately contained dining room to enjoy their dessert offerings. A once-in-a-lifetime meal whose memories will always stay with me and show me what a lavish and extravagant dining experience can be. The height of extravagance and worth every penny.
Thanks so much for taking the time to read through my pick of restaurants not in Pittsburgh. Stay tuned for further (local) lists on the 31st!