The Best Things I Ate in 2019

From beef burgers to beef tartare, this year saw a lot of fantastic beef dishes in a lot of different area codes. Speaking of tartare, I apparently ate a strange and almost alarming amount rare meat; from whale carpaccio in Norway, to octopus tartare in Korea. But don’t worry, I balanced it out with a beet tartare as well. It was hard to nail down the best 18 things I ate in 2019, but after weeks of hair-pulling debates with myself, here is the final result.

18. Smoked Salmon Rosti, The Green Wood
Toronto, Canada

The Green Wood is now one of my favourite brunch restaurants in Toronto because of this dish. It is the kind of thing you wake up craving on a Saturday morning. It combines elements of the Smoked Salmon Eggs Benedict that you love, but without having to succumb to soggy English Muffin nonsense. Instead, the base of this dish is a Swiss-inspired Rosti, made of shredded Yukon Gold potatoes (for maximum starchiness) and fried to a golden brown. The richness is cut perfectly with a little dill, cucumber and sour cream. Gluten-free too, actually.

17. Stewed Fish, 二十里铁锅炖 (Twenty Mile Iron Stew)
Harbin, China

This experience really took “one pot cooking” to another level. My parents discovered a little restaurant on a random walk that turned out to be both a relic in its decor (think 1960’s Chinese posters and murals on each surface) as well as in its cooking style. You select the kind of fish, vegetables and side carbs you want from a handwritten list on the blackboard, and everything (including the steamed buns, which are stuck to the side) are cooked in a large, wood-fired iron vat right in the middle of the table. In a winter city like Harbin, this was the traditionally perfect way to feed everyone as efficiently, economically and satisfyingly as possible.

16. Plain Butter Croissant, Maison Christian Faure
Montréal, Canada

I feel no shame in admitting that I have a plain butter croissant and black coffee for breakfast at least twice a week. The one from Maison Christian Faure was one of the best I have had in my life, and the textbook definition of the perfect croissant. Flakey on the outside, soft on the inside, and rich without any excess oil or grease. I look forward to testing the rest of their confections on my next trip.

15. Arancini, Osteria da Elda
Montréal, Canada

My friend Marie-Claude introduced me to her chef friend Monique Gilles and her arancini and I wish I had a stash of these to nibble on every time I feel super sad or happy. There are many a deep-fried risotto ball out there, but these are special in that they taste equally homemade, and equally restaurant-quality. Don’t forget to pair these with a glass of wine from Osteria da Elda’s excellent selection off the blackboard.

14. The Aloette Burger, Aloette
Toronto, Canada

The next three items on my list are all burgers and are all fantastic in different ways. The Aloette Burger is made with a soft bun (I actually do wish it was a little firmer for slower eaters), juicy beef patty, shredded iceberg lettuce, a signature sauce, thinly sliced onion and a generous slice of beaufort cheese toasted on the broiler. Fun tip: if you go to Aloette during brunch hours, you can ask them to put an egg on top of their burger free of charge.

13. Cheeseburger, Maple Leaf Tavern
Toronto, Canada

Maple Leaf Tavern is a bit of an underrated Toronto establishment. This upscale pub’s signature cheeseburger is exactly what you wish the Big Mac actually was. House-made American cheddar, a firm yet fluffy sesame seed bun, a thick, charred striploin patty, a garlic mayonnaise, and generous smattering of chopped dill pickles. I’m drooling just thinking about this burger now.

12. The (Single) Cheeseburger, Au Cheval Diner
Chicago, USA

This charred, cheesy, succulent, saucy, pickle-y cheeseburger is the physical manifestation of the American Dream. If you can bear to wait in line, Au Cheval is a Chicago institution definitely worth visiting. Although they market themselves as people who like to “put an egg on it”, their cheeseburgers are undoubtedly the crowning glory. Their single cheeseburger comes with a double patty, and their double cheeseburger (pictured above) comes with a quadruple patty. You have been warned.

11. Griddled Corn Flatbread, Momofuku Kōjin
Toronto, Canada

As part of the events of Terroir 2019, I went on a wine hopping adventure with Drink Toronto that led us to the (at the time) brand new Momofuku Kōjin. While the wine was fantastic, none of us could stop eating or talking about these damn corncakes! They’re like the best cornbread you’ve ever had, balanced in sweet and savoury, but with an outer layer kissed evenly by fire and an inner layer that releases warm and fluffy steam when you bite into it. Made with K2 cornmeal and hominy.

10. Egg Fried Rice, Eva Air Boeing 777
International Airspace (credit to Taipei, Taiwan)

I had never flown business class on a long haul flight before this experience, and was completely blown away (yet not at all surprised) by Eva Air’s service and food. But of all the fancy dishes and drinks they served (including medium-rare steak somehow?), I made the decision to go with the most comfortable main dish of all — almond-crusted jumbo prawns with fried rice and vegetables. I think a lot of the great taste had to do with their Chishang Rice, but the ability to eat one of my favourite childhood dishes up in the air on a white tablecloth, served by a flight attendant who kept bringing me exactly what I didn’t even know I needed without asking, was priceless.

9. Australian Wagyu Beef, Carna
Nassau, Bahamas

I was pretty lucky to spend the beginning of gloomy November on a work trip in the Bahamas, which took place at the beautiful Baha Mar complex, and specifically, the Rosewood Baha Mar. All of the restaurants within the complex were top notch, but the one that the most non-resort people flock to is Carna, aligned with world-famous butcher Dario Cecchini. The prices are extraordinary (to be clear, extraordinarily high), but the meat is something special, for sure. Lighting and vibes were not ideal for photography, but I managed to get sort-of a photo above. Everything was objectively high, high quality, with the Australian Wagyu Beef inching to the top spot for me.

8. The Whole Menu (Except for Dessert), Sentralen Restaurant
Oslo, Norway

Sentralen represents Oslo, and modern Scandinavia, so incredibly well. It is a hub of event spaces, a music hall, restaurant and café. The restaurant features beautiful and creative dishes such as traditional Norwegian ham and cheese but in a super stylish way, beetroot tartare, halibut crudo, and Pinnekjøtt on Rømmegrøt (lamb stick meat on sour cream porridge). Most of the meal was delicious and bougie in the right way (boyfriend DW may have some other thoughts), but the three of us at the table (including my friend Maria) agreed that the dessert took the avant garde a little too far. We chose one marketed vaguely as a goat cheese dessert with praline. It was actually a bowl of deep fried kale leaves with tiny specks of praline on top, and a messy-as-heck-to eat shredded blend of cheese. The servers were great and tried their best to remedy the situation, but there wasn’t much that we all could do to keep a straight face about it. Rest of the meal, amazing.

7. Beef Bulgogi, Dokkaebi Bulgogi (Dongdaemun Main Store)
Seoul, Korea

Dokkaebi Bulgogi was a fun Trip Advisor find, and turned out to be conveniently located right beside our hotel. The plastic model of the bulgogi meat tower outside the restaurant looks freakishly realistic and solidified our decision to enter (along with a pitch from its convincing owner). Even in Korea, it is pretty rare to find bulgogi beef prepared almost Japanese Sukiyaki style, with enoki mushrooms, glass noodles, thinly shaved scallions, all designed to cook down together into a harmonious, flavourful soy-based broth. This was an unusual but perfect Christmas Eve meal. Apparently, their jokbal (pig trotters) are pretty famous too.

6. Shanghai Lion’s Head Meatball; Loofah and Dough Sticks, Wangfujing Street
Beijing, China

Wangfujing Shopping Street in Beijing is definitely not the cool place it once was. On a freakishly hot summer day, all we wanted was a nice, proper place to eat away from the sticky stick meat and tourist traps. Randomly, DW and I settled on a nice department store and a place that served some of the most refined and flavourful traditional Chinese dishes ever, with classic flavours but really modern serving styles. The only problem is…I cannot remember the name of the restaurant, and it is driving me mad. I promise to update this post if I ever find it again.

5. Cracked Conch, Fish Central Fish Fry
Nassau, Bahamas

Cracked Conch: Conch, chopped into small pieces, battered in a lightly seasoned egg-and-flour mix halfway between a fish and chips and tempura batter, served with calypso tartare sauce. Despite all the great offerings of our fancy Bahamian resort, my favourite dish was actually a $15 meal from Fish Central Fish Fry with my friend Neisley and her two kiddos on a stormy afternoon. I think it could be said that a taste of the conch is a taste of the Caribbean. Next time, I would love to try the conch salad as well.

4. The Tasting Menu, Canis Restaurant
Toronto, Canada

Canis Restaurant is a Minimalist respite ironically located on the frantic Queen Street West. From the whipped butter and ricotta with their fresh sourdough, to their duck liver tart, their lobster in consommé, their roast duck and their multiple desserts, everything beat of their tasting menu is perfectly executed and super creative. The stemware, stoneware, and restaurant decor also deserve a shoutout.

3. Yuk-hoe and Sannakji (Beef and Octopus Tartate), Gwangjang Market
Seoul, Korea

Gwangjang Market was one of my favourite experiences during my first visit to Korea. Honestly, I think I would have been satisfied with eating anything from any of the many market streetstalls. However, my parents insisted on going to a little place in “Beef and Octopus Tartare Alley” that they had loved from their previous trip. I can’t say I need to eat freshly tartare-d octopus everyday (IT STILL MOVES IN YOUR THROAT!!!) but honestly, what an experience. The sesame oil really makes the dish sing, and I think the beef tartare bibimbap is just as much a hero dish.

2. Foie Gras Croque Monsieur, Liverpool House
Montréal, Canada

What a terrible photo! What a great meal! Liverpool House (part of the Joe Beef family) was a restaurant I had been looking forward to visiting on my own for quite some time. This croque monsieur would have already been nice on its own, but they hollowed out the centre and injected beef tartare into it, keeping the egg centre on the side, along with a few complimentary cornichons. Have you ever seen anything more French? This, along with a great glass of wine, some Halibut in creamy white sauce, and a surprisingly nice conversation with a stranger at the counter, made for a perfect meal.

1. Arctic Trio, Full Steam
Tromsø, Norway

In the end, I had to give this appetizer from Full Steam the top spot on my list because everything about the meal was so special. DW brought me to his university city of Tromsø, we had our first meal there at the student house where he used to work. When it came time to my choice, I suggested Full Steam because it was the coolest, most Arctic-thing I could find online. To both of our surprise, Full Steam is actually situated in the former student house where DW used to work, and so much of it had been perfectly preserved (minus all of the stank of university students). The Arctic Trio came with a whale carpaccio, seared seal, and a cod caviar with accompanying assortment of house-made crackers. The taste of fresh icy Arctic waters in food is actually a very pure experience. This is a great example of how the simplest food can sometimes shine the brightest.

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