Top 10: Unbeatable Entrees

People always want to know what my favorite restaurant is, what my favorite dish is, who the best chef in town is. It's impossible to answer. My brain is catalogued in such a way that I need to answer the question with a question: what type of cuisine? what type of restaurant? how do you define best? I need to dig through the recesses of my mind to figure out the answer. Even then, my answer may change depending on the day. If you asked me right now, broadly, what my favorite Asian restaurant is, I'd say Fork & Stix.

It reminds me of summer with the bright flavors of Southeast Asia and coconut milk. Ask me again in winter and it might be Lulu or Yummy17, somewhere I can get a piping hot bowl of soup.With regards to my the 'best' or 'top' dishes, I always go back to one thing: what do I desperately want to eat again? It has nothing to do with being from a fancy restaurant or the dish's complexity. These are the 10 dishes that I've had in the first half of this year (well, a little more than the first half) that have stayed with me the most.

Southern's

Hot Chicken

Rick Lewis' fried chicken is: juicy, well seasoned, crispy, spicy. What more could you want?

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The Peacemaker's

Clam Roll

I'd be happy eating the fried clams on their own. As chef Kevin Nashan said, "It’s got the sweetness of a scallop, the brininess of an oyster—absolutely delicious." The batter is light and crispy—no oily mess here. Shove that into a toasted bun with some aioli and you've got sandwich perfection. My recommendation: order the fried clams (minus the roll) as a starter, then get the brisket po' boy for your main. You're welcome.

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19063891989_55aabb8bee_k

Wee Nam Kee's

Cereal Prawns

Continuing on the trend of delicious things that are terrible for you come the cereal prawns. Wee Nam Kee deep fries prawns until crispy, then tosses them in a mix of cereal, curry leaves, and sliced chilies stir fried in butter. The cereal coats the prawns, giving them a crunchy, buttery, spicy exterior. Not one to waste things, I take the left over cereal and put it on my rice, chicken, greens—basically anything left on the table. Or, if it comes down to it, I spoon it directly into my mouth.

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Publico's

Smoked Tuna Collar Taco

I have had A LOT of food at Publico this year, but the smoked tuna collar tacos stood out the most. The fish was cooked to perfection, and the woodfired smoke gave it an intense, almost bacony, flavor. Topped with a pickled fresno chili and housemade 'super' ranch dressing, it's tough to beat.

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Candlenut's

Wagyu Beef & Buah Keluak

Surprised to see a one-bite starter on the list? Me too. Flavors in this tiny starter were huge. Fall apart tender Wagyu beef rip and buah keluak sambal, all on top of a fluffy turmeric egg crepe. Eaten together, it was an explosion of wonderful, confusing flavor. This was the first time we'd had buah keluak, an Indonesian nut with a taste reminiscent of a Mexican mole. Mix that with whatever else they put in their sambal and you get an intense, chocolatey, spicy sauce. I've never had anything like it before. Bonus points for blowing my mind.

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19665811579_efeeabae2a_k

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20165287116_87d7faf297_k

Artichoke's

Slow Roasted Lamb Shoulder

Dark lighting and a messy plate don't do this dish justice: it was a beast. This is as good as — or maybe better than — the whole lamb shoulder served at Kapnos in DC (one of my top 10 last year). The lamb just completely fell apart when you pressed into it, letting each hunk of meat get coated in a mix of zhoug coriander sauce, toum garlic sauce, and meat juice. The mix of the spicy zhoug, herby coriander, and garlicky toum made it sort of taste like a giant, amazing doner kebab.

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Russ Bodner's

Sheep's Milk Ricotta Dumplings

Simplicity continues to reign supreme with Russ' Dinner Lab dish.  Fresh vegetables—picked up directly from the farms on his way from Alabama to St. Louis—were sautéed in a mix of butter and crawfish stock, along with pillowy ricotta dumplings. St. Louisans don't often get this kind of fresh "new" Southern food, which is a shame. I could eat this every day.

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20150415-SRP_5699-Edit

Pastaria's

Chorizo-Date Avec Pizza

When Perry Hendrix of Chicago's Avec returned to St. Louis for a pizza collaboration with Pastaria, magic happened. The pizza's base was a sweet and smokey piquillo pepper-tomato sauce, topped with chorizo-stuff Medjool dates. If this was a full time menu item, I think it might even knock the Salume Beddu Nduja pizza out of the top position. The dates themselves were incredible. Where does the chorizo end and the date begin? I don't know. I just know this pizza was spicy, smokey, sweet, and the best I've had this year.

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Husk's

Belly Ham Soft Rolls

These Cheerwine Glazed ham sammies were astoundingly good. Like one of the best things I can ever remember eating good.  I’ve only been fortunate enough to eat day-after-Christmas ham leftovers a few times, but take the deliciousness level of those leftover ham sammies and imagine replacing your Honeybaked Ham with the most delicious ham ever created, a freshly baked soft roll, pickled onions and cucumber, then a little smoked Duke’s mayo. The rest of our meal at Husk was fantastic, but these stole the show.

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Brasserie's

Vegetable Tart

You probably thought this one was going to be another fried, meat-filled dish, didn't you? No, my friends, one of the year's most pleasant surprises came from Nick Blue at Brasserie by Niche. It was one of those rare nights where I wasn't feeling hungry, so I ordered the vegetarian dish, expecting it to be light. I couldn't have been more wrong. This thing was massive on both the physical and taste scales. Lentils, cauliflower puree, caramelized onions, and all sorts of other roasted veggies were piled high, blowing me away with the multitude of flavors and textures.

Honorable Mentions

I didn't want to repeat anything that was on last year's list, which is why you don't see the Niche Egg and Josh Galliano's fried chicken.

Bianca Pizza at Pizzeoli

Lamb Wellington at Sidney Street Cafe

Shrimp Fat Curry at Silk Rodeo: Thieves in the Night

BBQ Pork Bun at Tim Ho Wan, Singapore

Gnocchi with Morels at Five Bistro

Seoul Taco pizza at Katie's Pizza and Pasta

Beets at Niche

Blue Swimmer Crab Curry at Candlenut

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