Best of 2018 (outside of Pgh)

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

Seafood Advieh with Basmati Rice topped with Persian saffron

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!

Best Meals of 2016 (Non-Pittsburgh Edition)

Hey everyone! Sorry it’s been such a long hiatus since I’ve posted, life just has a way of getting away from you. I’ve decided to return with my two “Best Of” lists: first up is my top 5 meals of 2016 not in Pittsburgh. Tune in on Saturday the 31st for my top 15 best plates of 2016 in Pittsburgh. This was quite a fun adventurous year, with culinary adventures in Baltimore, Bedford Springs, and Las Vegas. Let’s get into it.

#5. Di Pasquale’s Marketplace / April 29, 2016 / Baltimore, MD

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Baked in their brick oven located within the dining room, the Fig Jam, Honey, and Mozzarella pizza was one of the most memorable bites my wife and I had in our trip to Baltimore in April. Overflowing with molten, gooey, creamy fresh cheese over the sweet bite of the fig and honey, with pillowy outer crust and cracker thin crunchy crush beneath. Unfortunately, I think this was one of the specials of the day, so it may not be available every day. That being said their grilled chicken caprese and meatball hoagies were outstanding and served on their fresh, homemade bread. Di Pasquale’s is a can’t-miss stop on any trip to Baltimore.

#4. Woodberry Kitchen / May 1, 2016 / Baltimore, MD

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Our last meal in Baltimore was Sunday brunch at the charming Woodberry Kitchen. Looking like a giant cabin, complete with open bakery, 20 foot tall stacks of firewood, and a lovely loft overlooking the entire restaurant, Woodberry was an outstanding meal from beginning to end. I was so impressed with their homemade ‘Batch 13’ hot sauce that I bought a bottle to take home with us. The magnificent stamp on the entire meal were their homemade pastries. We chose to sample the Blueberry Lavender donut and the Sour cream coffee cake, topped with blackberry jam and streusel. Perfectly balancing sweet toppings (the icing and jam) with savory, fresh, and light bodies to their pastries, it was the best ending to an incredible meal and even better trip. I would absolutely return to the Woodberry for brunch each time we’re in Baltimore. (PS –  They Might Be Giants fans be on the look out for the lyrics to “Women and Men” written on the walls where their restrooms are)

#3. Golden Eagle Inn / August 21, 2016 / Bedford Springs, PA

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You can read the full write-up here, but an absolute stand out of my trip with my wife to Bedford Springs for my birthday this year was brunch at the Bed and Breakfast we were staying at. From the make your own Bloody Mary Bar to the meatball frittata and tater tots, but the best was the fried chicken, biscuits, and sausage gravy. Hot, crispy fried chicken soared through this heavy as a brick (in a good way) dish of biscuits, savory sausage gravy replete with pan drippings, and herbed olive oil. Wonderfully seasoned and peppery bold, it was a confident and wonderfully composed dish. Just what you want to last you all day during a long road trip back home.

#2. Aburiya Raku / May 19, 2016 / Las Vegas, NV

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Unfortunately, I never took the time to write up the expansive and outstanding meal that we had our last night in Las Vegas at Aburiya Raku, where chef Mitsuo Endo has been a Semifinalist for the James Beard Award for best chef in the Southwest 5 years in a row. The meal was a mix of skewers from their robata grill, made with such high quality ingredients as both Iberico and Kurobuta Pork as well as their hand-raised, humanely farmed Asajime Chicken, in addition to smoked pork ribs, sliced pork loin, Colorado Lamb, crispy asparagus (okaki), homemade tofu, grilled rice cakes (yaki onigiri), and Sake. An incredible dining experience, with over 15 courses, one of the finest and the course that made one of the biggest impressions, was the shishito pepper topped with smokey katsuobushi. The charred and grilled peppers combined their smokey spice and sweetness with the woody smoke of the bonito to create an incredible flavor and texture. It was the continuation of the (still-continuing) kick that I’ve been on, seeking out grilled shishito peppers wherever I go. However, where that started was on first night in Las Vegas, at…

#1. Carnevino Italian Steakhouse / May 13, 2016 / Las Vegas, NV

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As with the Golden Eagle Inn, you can read the full write-up here, but Carnevino was easily the finest meal that I had this year outside of Pittsburgh. The dry-aged, bone-in Ribeye for two was an enormous 16 oz ribeye that was carved and portioned tableside in a grand fashion. Perfectly cooked to a bloody medium rare, lightly finished with large flakes of sea salt, and magnificently savage with gorgeous layer of marbled fat, rich and flavorful dry-aged beef. It was a truly indulgent meal from start to dessert, one I don’t think I’ll ever forget.