My Favorite Restaurant Meals of 2017

When you’ve been food blogging for long enough, your old posts can act as your own personal culinary archives. What was I eating in December of 2010? The answer is just a few clicks away. (Looks like it was spaghetti and gingerbread cake.)

There’s a gap, now, in that data from July 2015 to September 2017, when I stopped blogging, and future historians and biographers will have no idea what I ate during that period. Not since the burning of the Library at Alexandria has there been such a loss for civilization. But here I am, ready to remedy some of that by sharing my favorite restaurant meals of 2017. Really, the idea to do this came to me while scrolling through all of the pictures on my phone from this past year. It’s been an insane 365 days: we’ve ping-ponged from Mexico City to Washington State to Provincetown to Florida, with frequent stops in New York, where Craig was working on his latest movie, Alex Strangelove. And, not to rub it in, but we’re ending the year in Paris. Paris! OK, I did just rub it in. But come on, it’s Paris, and Craig’s never been and we’re using all of our miles to go. We are très excited.

But back to the meals we ate in 2017. They run the gambit from fancy and decadent to casual and low-key. Obviously, the ranking is totally arbitrary. I can’t say that the deliciousness of the food at AbcV was really that much dramatically better than the food at Trois Mec, but I’d been to Trois Mec before, and AbcV was brand new, so that’s why it gets the edge.

And so, without further ado, here we are… my favorite restaurant meals of 2017.

1. The Willows Inn (Lummi Island, Washington State).

Some restaurants are so beautiful, and the experience of going there is so breathtaking, that the restaurant would have to REALLY screw up to not make it your favorite meal of the year. Dinner at The French Laundry comes to mind. And El Bulli. The Willows Inn, on Lummi Island in the Pacific Northwest, belongs in the same category. We were lucky enough to receive a gift certificate from Craig’s parents as a Christmas gift a few years ago, and this past July, we decided was the time to use it. We flew to Bellingham, where Craig’s parents live, and then drove their car on to a ferry. Did you know that cars could go on ferries? I had no idea.

Once we arrived, we were seated on a patio where lots of little bites came out, along with our cocktails. These little bites were actually my favorite bites of the whole dinner, which isn’t a disparagement of the dinner, but more a comment on how delicious these little bites were.

Everything was caught or found locally (including those wild plums) and treated with the utmost care. That mussel was smoked in a box filled with rocks from the surrounding San Juan Islands. And everything there was super casual, despite the seriousness of the food. It was a perfect restaurant for me and Craig because I like fancy restaurant food and Craig likes a laid-back atmosphere. So this was a perfect dinner in a perfect location and, hence, it was my favorite meal of 2017.

2. Le CouCou (New York, NY).

Some restaurants are so hyped, they’re bound to disappoint. Other restaurants are hyped the appropriate amount, and not only do they deliver the goods, the goods are even better than the goods you’d been fantasizing about. Such was the case with our dinner at Le CouCou in New York.

It all started, actually, with a phone call. Knowing how popular the place was, I just called up one day and told the person who answered that I was coming to New York, dying to eat at Le CouCou, and would come at any time on any day that they had available. I think my enthusiasm and openness did the trick, because we scored a prime reservation and a beautiful table with a view of the open kitchen. But, first, there were drinks at the gorgeous bar.

I don’t remember what we drank, but I do remember feeling really classy drinking it.

We were shown to our table where, with the help of our server, we navigated the classically French menu. And then the food started to come out.

Everything was so polished, like it jumped right out of the pages of a classic French cookbook and landed on our table. But sometimes fussy old French food can taste flat, and here, everything popped. Especially that braised endive, which was probably my favorite dish of the whole night, braised, as it was, in bright, acidic orange juice with lots and lots of butter.

Everything at Le CouCou was spectacular, which is why I posted all of the pictures of our meal, because I just want to emphasize that. I’d happily go back, but we’re going to go one better: we’re having lunch at the chef Daniel Rose’s new restaurant in Paris, La Bourse et La Vie. I’ll be sure to report back.

3. The Canteen and Liz’s Cafe (Provincetown, MA).

This summer, we took a big trip to Provincetown with a bunch of our friends and had a blast. Many meals were had, some more formal than others, but the best of the bunch took place at two places: Canteen, which is situated right on the water, and Liz’s Cafe, a brand new spot run by a sassy proprietor named Liz.

Sometimes your favorite meals of the year have nothing to do with the food, really. Not that the food at either of these places was bad; in fact, it was often great. But my enthusiasm for these meals has much more to do with the context: the friends we were with, the setting (which was often beautiful), and, most importantly, the frosé.

In case you’re unaware of the phenomenon, frosé is frozen rosé; like a rosé slushie. And we drank a lot of it at Canteen. It went particularly well with this lobster roll, though it also was fun to drink just by itself.

Liz’s Cafe didn’t have frosé, but it did have a bar shaped like a boat.

And excellent clam chowder, fried fish sandwiches, and pie (not pictured).

And then there was Liz, who frequently joined our table and gossiped about the locals. She’s a real character but she runs a tight ship and on our next trip to Provincetown, I know where I’ll be having brunch.

4. Pujol, Maque, and Contramar (Mexico City, MEX).

We went to Pujol in Mexico City last January, one of the world’s best restaurants, just before it was completely re-conceived and reopened by its creator, Enrique Olvera. So we were there, really, for the end of an era, and what we experienced when we ate there was a sort of a “greatest hits” menu of ants on a baby corn served in a giant hollowed-out gourd and, perhaps most famous of all, the dish with two types of mole served with warm tortillas for dunking.

It was all very delicious and I’m glad that we ate there, but it also felt a little rushed and regimented. I was very aware that we were on the clock, so to speak, and there’d be another party coming to our table in a few hours and they needed us gone. For those reasons, I actually had a better time at Cosme, Olivera’s New York restaurant, which would also be on this list if I had the space. The feeling there was way more relaxed and the food just as good. (We also ate, this year, at Atla, Olivera’s new casual restaurant in SoHo. We’ve achieved the Olivera trifecta.)

My favorite meal in Mexico City, though, was at a casual brunch spot called Maque.

Abutting a park in the Condesa district (which, sadly, was badly hit during the earthquake), this place had such a warm vibe and such great hospitality. A waiter came by with a tray of pastries when we were seated at our table out on the sidewalk.

And the food, when it came out, hit the spot in the way the best Mexican food does: spicy, stewy, and deeply comforting.

Perhaps the most recommended restaurant in Mexico City is Contramar. Everyone tells you to eat there. And those people are right.

As you can tell from those pictures, Contramar is known for its seafood, and the tuna tacos–maybe their most famous item–truly were great. The only mistake we made was not ordering dessert. We’ll do that next time.

5. AbcV (New York, NY).

One of the most stunning meals that I ate this year was at the newly opened AbcV in New York’s Flatiron district. It was nice to eat there right when it opened, before the reviews came out, so I could form my own opinion about it. Helping me form my opinion was the co-founder of Jarry Magazine, Lukas Volger.

We really were dazzled by all of the food as it came out. Sure, some of it was pretentious (I could’ve done without the beverage menu featuring Vibrations, aka Restorative Tonics) but the food, when it came out, really spoke for itself.

Healthy eating never felt so naughty. (AbcV, feel free to use that blurb on your cookbook.)

6. Trois Mec (Los Angeles, CA).

Well, I just told you about this one (click here to read the post), so I won’t bombard you with pictures again. But my dinner with my friend Ryan on a Monday night (a Cyber Monday night, to be exact) at Trois Mec was definitely one of my favorite meals of the year. Everything was so inventive and exciting and it was so great to see Ludo Lefebvre, the subject of the most recent Mind of a Chef, there in the kitchen overseeing everything. In a city as spread-apart as L.A., it’s easy to forget how casually one can just go eat at a world class restaurant, but Trois Mec is right there on the corner of Highland and Melrose with Petit Trois, Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza, and Chi Spacca all waiting for you to enjoy them. All you have to do is get into your car and drive.

7. The Union Square Cafe (New York, NY).

The legendary Union Square Cafe re-opened in a new location this year and, as far as I’m concerned, it’s even better than the original. Everything we ate there was so delicious, especially the famous tuna burger, pictured above. We were joined by our friend Tim Federle, author of Better Nate Than Ever and co-writer of the upcoming animated film Ferdinand. In his spare time, Tim works as a food model.

The service, of course, was top notch. So much so that when our server heard us debating about which dessert to get, she brought us out both desserts, one of them on the house. That’s the Danny Meyer touch.

(I swear there were two desserts. Maybe we ate the other one before I took this pic?)

8. Cosa Buona (Los Angeles, CA).

Alimento is probably our favorite Italian restaurant in L.A. It’s the kind of place you go for upscale Italian food in a casual setting: chicken liver crostini, incredible homemade pastas, etc. So when we heard that the chef, Zach Pollack, was opening up a pizza joint in Echo Park, I shouted: “Sign me up!” OK, I didn’t really shout that, but we were definitely super excited to go there when it finally opened. I mean, look at this garlic toast.

And these mozzarella sticks. They’re insanely delicious.

The salad’s just what you want to balance everything out.

And then there’s the pizza.

And, of course, cannolis.

Really, what more could you possibly want in a pizza joint? Excuse me, I think I know where I’m having lunch.

9. Via Carota (New York, NY).

Boy, Craig really should get a commission for the amount of times he’s featured in this post.

On a random Sunday in a random month in the West Village, we were looking for a place to have dinner. I remembered that Jody Williams, of Buvette, and Rita Sodi, of i Sodi (two of our favorite New York restaurants) had opened a place together. That’s all I knew, but then there we were on the doorstep of Via Carota and there was a table for us, if we wanted it. We wanted it. And the meal that transpired was just lovely.

No need to go into detail, those pictures pretty much tell the story, except add great people-watching, charming waitstaff, and sparkly Aperol spritzes and you get the idea. On a spring day (I’m pretty sure it was a spring day), there’s probably no better place to eat in New York.

10. Prune and Hearth (New York, NY)

Prune really is my favorite restaurant in the world. It’s so idiosyncratic, so clearly the vision of its owner, Gabrielle Hamilton, who also happens to be a genius writer. You know that question they’re always asking in the New York Times Book Review: who would you invite to your dream literary dinner party? Well, eating at Prune is like eating at such a party; you’re having a meal in a genius writer’s house. And everything she makes is perfect, in my book.

This dessert, by the way, was a whole orange cooked in sugar syrup and it’s just insanely good.

Now my other favorite chef in New York is easily Marco Canora. He’s so beloved in his field, and you can see why. His food is so smart, made with so much passion and skill. If you don’t follow him on Instagram, you’re really missing out. His stories are brilliant cooking demonstrations.

His restaurant, Hearth, is now Craig’s favorite place to eat in New York. Working on his movie, he ate there all the time and I frequently ate with him. My pictures of the food there aren’t so great because it’s so dark, but here we are at brunch with our friends Ola and Andrzej.

Everything that we ate there was so delightful (especially since legendary pastry chef Karen DeMasco makes all of the muffins and pastries, as well as the desserts). It’s perfect for a weekend brunch, and even better for a weeknight dinner. OK, here are some very dark pictures of a dinner there. Actually, maybe they’re not that dark.

That should give you the idea… it’s oh so good.

And that, my friends, were my favorite restaurant meals of 2017. Now your browsers are just as clogged as my arteries.