Some of the year's favorite dishes were so potently spiced I tasted them days later. Some were small, perfect things. Others surprised me with flavor combinations I'd never considered, or a mysterious culinary technique I'll never figure out. All were memorable. So without further ado, in no particular order, are ten dishes from the past year I can't get out of my mind.
1. Moroccan spiced lentils with curried apples, Bendean, Berkeley: A series of unexpected pleasures, this bowl of thrummingly spiced lentils was punctuated by tart yogurt, roasted gypsy peppers, and apples stewed with curry powder.
2. Black goat stew with house sauce, Sahn Maru, Oakland: The craziest assembly of pungent flavors: rich goat meat in a mustard and bean-paste broth with aromatic sesame leaves and a spicy, vinegary sesame-paste dipping sauce.
3. Banh mi thit (sandwich #1), Ba Le, Oakland: The ultraclassic Vietnamese sandwich, mastered -- a crisp, warm French roll stuffed with peppery steamed pork, spiced ham, headcheese, creamy pork-liver pate, and pickled vegetables.
4. Roasted chicken with fennel and spring onions, Eccolo, Berkeley: When Eccolo's magicians rubbed a paste of fennel and spring onions into a chicken as it roasted on the spit, it became immeasurably succulent. (Also try Eccolo's fritto misto).
5. Fesenjoon, Mariam, Fremont: One of those simple combinations of ingredients -- chicken, pomegranate juice, walnuts, a few aromatics -- that over time blends into something rich and strange.
6. Duck pot pie, Louka, Danville: The duckiest duck stew you've ever tasted, hidden beneath a butter bomb of a crust.
7. Crepe with burnt caramel ice cream, Sketch, Berkeley: Fresh off the iron, the warm crepe slowly melted the ice cream wrapped inside, its flavor complex and faintly bitter.
8. Lamb biryani, Daawat, Union City: Finally, a version of this legendary dish I could love. Expertly cooked rice, chewy and flavorful. Tender lamb. And fistfuls of spices.
9. French fries, Luka's Taproom, Oakland: Chosen purely for nostalgia's sake, these thick, golden fries were the closest I've eaten to Belgian frites since I lived in Charleroi. Eat them with the non-Belgian but delicious bouillabaisse-style mussels and a snifter-shaped glass of Duvel.
10. Carnitas taco, Tacos El Gordo, Oakland: Late at night, a crowd stands around this taco trailer, mooning over a pot of bubbling fat as the cooks pull chunk after chunk of pork out of it and quickly shred the meat for tacos. Some nights you can find me among them.
Runners Up: Caramel rum cake (Southern Oven, Walnut Creek); broccoli and ricotta pizza (Gioia Pizzeria, Berkeley); chocolate sandwich (Cafe Cacao, Berkeley); kontomire, or spinach with pumpkin seeds (Tropical Paradise, Berkeley); kitfo (Addis, Berkeley).
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