One of my favorite shows on The Food Network is 'The Best Thing I Ever Ate.' It follows one particular theme each show (like 'breakfast' or 'chocolate') and I never tire of hearing about the favorite dishes of celebrity chefs. While I'm clearly no professional, I do make a point to eat well and love exploring new restaurants anytime I travel. Here's my very condensed list of 15 of my most memorable meals.
1. Bloody Mary - Zuni Café, San Francisco. Before I tried Zuni Café's Bloody Mary, I'd never liked them. But when my parents took G and me for the first time several years back, my mom was so confident that I'd like it that she made me order one and assured me that she'd happily have mine if I didn't. We both had two that day and it's still the best I've had. It's almost more like a gazpacho, with a spicy blend of shallots, bell peppers and tabasco and though I try to make a similar one at home, nothing beats the original.
2. Cookie - Levain, NYC. This tiny bakery in the Upper Westside is home to my absolute favorite cookie. Anytime I'm in New York, I pick up their massive, cake-like cookies and smuggle them back home with the best intention of freezing them for later (I always finish them before I can). I love the simplicity of the store and their offerings, with only four types of cookies (my go-to is the dark chocolate chocolate chip) that are made from the highest quality ingredients.
(image via: pizza)
3. Pizza - Il Pizzaiuolo, Florence. After G and I climbed to the top of the duomo in Florence and experienced major bouts of vertigo, we were in desperate need of wine and pizza, in that order. We obviously enjoyed our fair share of pizza while in Rome and Tuscany, but Il Pizzaiuolo, in Florence, is now the barometer by which I judge all pizza. The crust was substantial yet chewy and the toppings I chose (fresh mozzarella and prosciutto) paired nicely with a large glass of their house wine.
4. Breakfast Sandwich - Pine State Biscuits, Portland. Before our trip to Portland a few years back, I'd heard countless rave reviews about the fried chicken sandwiches from Pine State Biscuits. So when we were in town, we visited their food truck at a local farmers' market and it was easily the most indulgent breakfast I'd ever had. The combination of two flaky biscuits with buttermilk fried chicken was so rich and comforting that it held us over until dinner later that night.
5. Frozen Custard - Top Round, Los Angeles. G and I go to Top Round most frequently for their roast beef sandwiches, but it wasn't until this past summer that we discovered their frozen custard. I'd never had it before, but theirs is like ice cream only creamier and richer. Though there are several options to customize it in fun ways, I like it best with some of their hot fudge and nothing else.
6. Burger - Republique, Los Angeles. I consider myself to be somewhat of a burger connoisseur, so when I heard that Republique's take is kind of an updated spin on In-N-Out, I knew it would be right up my alley. The house-made brioche bun is soft, the dry-aged beef is moist and the straight-forward toppings of iceberg lettuce, special sauce and American cheese round it out perfectly.
7. Donut - Gourdoughs, Austin. We visited Austin a few years back when I gave a speech at South by Southwest. I was a nervous wreck the entire stay leading up to my event, but once I finished, I couldn't wait to enjoy some of the city's best. Prior to this trip, I had always been on the fence with donuts, but after trying the hot, cinnamon sugar one ("Naughty & Nice") from this trailer, I was a total convert.
8. Sushi - Sushi Park, Los Angeles. There's a lot of great sushi in L.A., but this unassuming spot located in a strip mall is my current favorite. There's no real ambiance (besides the fact that there's almost always a good celebrity sighting), but the fish is fantastically fresh and unfussy and is perfectly paced.
9. Most Indulgent Dish (truffle pasta) - Taverna di San Giseppe, Siena. When we were staying in Tuscany, we ventured into Siena for the morning and decided to stay for lunch. We stumbled into this tiny eatery and since truffles were in season, the entire space was filled with the most intoxicating aroma. We both ordered plates of their homemade pastas, which were covered in white truffles, and made us regret the fact that we weren't staying closer so that we could return for all of our next meals.
10. Salty/Sweet Snack - Garrett's Popcorn, Chicago. At my Chicago book signing a few years back, one of my readers brought me a tub of caramel/cheddar popcorn from Garrett's. It was easily the best sweet and salty snack I'd ever had (and a much more gourmet version of the popcorn tubs I used to get from Costco) and makes for an ideal gift as well.
11. Sandwich - Molinari, San Francisco. Even though I grew up right outside of San Francisco, I only discovered Molinari when I was home for the summer while in college. It's a cute little shop in North Beach where you pick your own bread (it has a crunchy exterior and super soft inside) and hand it to one of the sweet guys behind the counter. I've only gotten one sandwich (the Italian Combo) and refuse to try anything else since the combination of meats and cheeses is too good not to order.
12. Cupcakes - Baked & Wired, Washington DC. I don't discriminate much when it comes to cupcakes, but the ones at Baked and Wired were up there with the best. I ordered a Chocolate Satin and it exceeded any expectations. The cake was moist and fluffy and the frosting had just the right amount of sweetness.
13. Margarita - Flora Farms, Los Cabos, Mexico. For my friend's bachelorette party a couple of years back, we went to Flora Farms for dinner and it was such a special evening. The drive there felt particularly sketchy after we got off the paved road and onto a dirt path, but we eventually came upon this pretty little oasis with twinkling lights. The whole meal was memorable, but the carrot margaritas (something I'd never normally order) were the highlight and still count as the best I've ever had.
14. Waffle - The Waffle Window, Portland. I'm pretty open to waffles in any form, whether they're thin and crispy, light and fluffy or toasted straight from the freezer. But these liege waffles raised the bar, with their fluffy crunch and pearlized sugar, and were so good that they didn't even need syrup.
15. French Macaron - Sucré, New Orleans. I typically think French macarons are cute, dainty little treats, but are most appreciated for their Instagram appeal. But the ones from Sucré are not only little works of art, but they have such a depth to their flavors, particularly the salted caramel and pistachio.