My Favorite Restaurant Meals of 2009

This was the year of El Bulli, the year of Barcelona, the year of Austin, Texas and San Juan, Puerto Rico. In other words: this year was a pretty extraordinary eating year for yours truly, The A.G., maybe my best eating year on record. I’ve gone through my archives and studied all the restaurant meals I’ve consumed and I have a team of doctors and the crew of A&E’s “Intervention” standing by, ready to escort me to intensive decadence therapy once I share with you my Top 10 Restaurant Meals of 2009. Are you ready? Starting at #10, here we go.

Note: these aren’t necessary new restaurants (though many of them are), these are just restaurants I went to for the first time in 2009. Also: click the titles to see my original posts.

10. Porchetta

110 E. 7th St. New York, NY 10009-6108 (212) 777-2151



Bread and meat are not a glamorous combo, unless the bread is a beautiful French roll and the meat is a slow-roasted slab of pork shoulder positively doused in herbs and spices and garlic. That’s what you get at Porchetta in the East Village, a tiny hole-in-the-wall with just a few stools in the window where you can sit as you pound down your sandwich. No matter, you don’t go for the ambience, you go for the grub and this grub is seriously good.

9. Rhong-Tiam

541 Laguardia Place New York, NY 10012 (212) 477-0600



This one’s a bit of a cheat: I’d been to Rhong-Tiam in 2008. But it wasn’t until this year that I experienced two of their most notoriously spicy dishes: their Larb Gai and their Pork on Fire. These dishes weren’t just elements of a dinner, they were events. There was much laughter and crying and sniffling and the blowing of noses; at one point, at the Larb-Gai dinner, the waitress brought us free Thai iced teas, our faces were so red. But the pain was a happy sort of pain, to quote John Cougar Mellencamp: it hurt so good.

8. The Magnolia Cafe

2304 Lake Austin Blvd. Austin, TX 78703 (512) 478-8645 (


As expressed in my recent American brunch post, I love eating breakfast out. And the breakfast at the Magnolia Cafe in Austin, Texas was a game-changer for me: it introduced me to a breakfast dish I’d never had before, and one that so inspired me I created my own dish based on it (see: Eggs Adam Roberts.) The dish? Migas. Eggs scrambled with tortillas, pico de gallo and–my favorite new ingredient–pickled jalapenos. Add to that the freshest tortilla of my life and a side of gingerbread pancakes and I was in breakfast restaurant heaven.

7. James & Momofuku Ko

605 Carlton Avenue Brooklyn, NY 11238 (718-942-4255) (

171 1st Ave. New York, NY 10003 (212) 777-7773 (


I pair these two restaurants together for a reason. At James, in Brooklyn, you have fairly conventional upscale food in a truly charming, inviting and comfortable space; at Momofuku Ko you have revolutionary food in a hostile, antiseptic and uncomfortable space. I ate dishes at Momofuku Ko that I will never forget–kimchi consomme, shaved foie gras and lychees–but, because the environment was so inhospitable, it took away from our enjoyment. At James, I ate food that was very good if not extraordinary but we had such a fun time and such a great rapport with everyone who worked there, it made for a fantastic evening. Both restaurants have their place and are about equal in my estimation for very different reasons. I suppose the lesson is, when you’re spending lots of money on dinner, sometimes the environment matters just as much as the food.

6. The John Dory (no longer open)


How sad that April Bloomfield’s seafood restaurant didn’t last the year. It was a really quirky space; my family sat astride a giant fish tank and everyone’s face was a shade of aquatic blue. I suppose that quirkiness was part of its demise, but the food–like all of Bloomfield’s food (especially at The Spotted Pig)–was divine. That oyster pan roast (which was really like a dreamy, creamy clam chowder) and the chorizo-stuffed calamari are dishes that will live in my memory for a long time.

5. Locanda Verde

377 Greenwich Street New York, NY 10013-2338 (212) 925-3797 (


I ate twice this year at Andrew Carmellini’s Locanda Verde and both times the room was buzzing, the feeling was festive and the food was intense, rustic and deeply comforting. The grilled bread with sheep’s milk ricotta, a deceptively simple dish, was perhaps the most emblematic of everything wonderful about this restaurant; clean flavors, fresh ingredients and enough flair–olive oil, herbs–to make you sit up and pay attention. I can’t wait to go back.

4. Sfoglia

1402 Lexington Ave. New York, NY 10128-1621 (212) 831-1402 (


You may notice a theme here in my restaurant choices. I reward places that I find comforting, I prefer rustic food, and clearly Italian food is a favorite. Sfoglia, then, is a grand slam when it comes to what I look for in a restaurant. Like going to a talented Italian cook’s house, the fresh bread comes hot out of the oven, the pastas are homemade, the dessert (which you see above) is assembled with such love and care, you almost don’t want to cut into it. Right across the street from the 92nd Street Y, Sfoglia is a gem; unfortunately, it’s so small, reservations are hard to come by. But, trust me, it’s well worth the effort.

3. Marea

240 Central Park South New York, NY 10019-1457 (212) 582-5100 (


It’s almost obligatory, if you’re a New York City food writer, to name Marea one of the best restaurants of 2009. And for good reason. The food at Marea, despite its shiny surfaces and posh clientele, is food from the soul, specifically the soul of Chef Michael White. Standing at the back of the restaurant, surveying the scene, he stands like an eager party host, one who won’t rest until he knows everyone in the room is happy. The dish you see above, the celebrated fusilli with octopus and bone marrow, is truly one of the best things I ate this year.

2. Paco Meralgo

C/Muntaner 171 08021 Barcelona, Spain 934-309-027 (


We spent ten days in Barcelona this summer and ate at many of the city’s most celebrated restaurants–Hisop, Cal Pep, Bar Pinotxo, Commerc 24–but none excited me more, made me happier to be in Spain than the meal we ate at Paco Meralgo. This place was the real deal, a restaurant firing on all cylinders, cooking exquisite Spanish food with absolutely no pretense. Considering my #1 pick for meal of the year (and probably of my lifetime) you might understand why I appreciated this place so much; it was a refreshing contrast, no foams or deconstructions, just straight-forward Spanish food cooked expertly. If I ever go back to Barcelona, I know where I’m heading first.

1. El Bulli


My El Bulli post is probably my favorite post I’ve ever done in the history of my blog. I say that because never before had I such a huge story to tell, such a uniquely outrageous experience to relay, and–most importantly–the ability to share a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with so many who, like me the first few years, tried and tried to experience it for themselves without success. Many people ask: “Was it really worth the travel? The cost?” The answer is an absolute “yes.” “But was the food really that good?” “Yes!” But it’s not even a question of bad or good. The way I describe it; it was like going to Picasso’s studio, sitting in a different room, and every few minutes a woman hands you a small painting and says, “the master would like you to have this.” With Ferran Adria in the kitchen, it’s an apt comparison. I hope you start your 2010 right by applying for a reservation (do so here). Actually, it’s a perfect way to ring in the New Year: they begin accepting e-mails in January. Do what I did and say you’ll come whenever (be flexible) then cross your fingers and wait several months. Will it happen for you too? Here’s hoping.

Related Posts:

The Best of 2009 (Or The A.G.’s Gift-Buying Guide)

My Top 10 Restaurant Dishes of 2008

2008 Wrap-Up

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