In 2016, I found myself exploring the culinary scene in Orange County, St. Thomas, Las Vegas, and of course, New York City. As always, when dining out I totally eat my heart out without worrying too much about fat and calories. This approach allows me to live in the moment and truly appreciate all kinds of food. Looking back at this year, it's interesting to see how I am stepped out of my comfort zone with certain foods, in other words, this past year I indulged in some red meat and I don't typically eat it. I hate to admit this, but I actually enjoyed it, especially short ribs, oh ma gawwwwwd, what have I been missing all my life?!? When the host of a restaurant tells you what their signature dishes are, you can't help but give in and try something new. Due to the lack of health benefits of red meat, I don't think I'll ever become an "official" red-meat eater, but at the very least I can appreciate a little beef every now and then. Without further ado, here is my list of the 15 Best Things I ate in 2016. Enjoy!
1. Pesto Lasagna @ La Lanterna di Vittorio, New York City (west village)
Often voted one of the most romantic restaurants in New York City, La Lanterna di Vittorio had been on my list forever. Considering I’ve been in the NYC area my entire life, I had the option to dine at this charming little restaurant nestled in the West Village many times before, but I chose to “save” it for the right person. Call me crazy, or a hopeless romantic! I finally dined at La Lanterna in 2016, about ten times this year. The dish that has me coming back for more is this authentic, soft, creamy, delicious Pesto Lasagna which will have you too reminiscing about Italy with every bite. Favorite restaurant of 2016!
2. Tiramisu @ La Lanterna di Vittorio, New York City (west village)
And speaking of La Lanterna, another favorite item at this restaurant is the Tiramisu. I’ve had my fair share of Tiramisu when dining at Italian restaurants, La Lanterna’s version is by far the best version and one of their specialty desserts made in-house. This dessert is light and creamy, perfect with just the right amount of coffee liqueur and cocoa powder. At other establishments, I’ve found Tiramisu to be either too creamy or have too much cocoa powder. La Lanterna’s version is simply perfect! The best dessert of the year.
3. Mastro's Restaurant, Newport Beach, CA (locations all over, including NYC)
I’ve never actually dined at Mastro’s, I just sat at the Bar to relish in this Butter Cake which is sinfully delicious. This decadent dessert probably has thousands of calories, but it is well worth it. Mastro's Butter Cake has a cheesecake filling in the center, is topped off with vanilla ice cream, and then finished off with a strawberry sauce. It is the perfect dessert that is both sweet and very slightly savory. Another best dessert of the year.
4. Animal Style Grilled Veggie Burger & Fries @ In-n-Out Burger, Orange County, CA
I visited Southern California many times this year, and each time I went there I indulged in an Animal Style Grilled Veggie Burger. I vividly recall the first time I ate an In-n-Out burger this year, it was in March, and after 4 long years. The first bite sent me to heaven. The combination of sautéed onions, pickles, cheese, and veggies in their “special sauce” is just so incredible. And let’s not forget the fries, I get those too on the side with their “special sauce.” A one-time meal for me each time I visit SoCal and all under $5.
5. Amber Roll @ Orange Roll and Sushi, Tustin, CA
One of my favorite sushi places in California, and cheap too. I head over to Orange Roll and Sushi whenever I’m in the mood for good, affordable sushi. I’ve tried a couple of rolls here, but the Amber Roll prepared with shrimp tempura, crabmeat, avocado, and crunch mix is my all-time favorite. And look at the size on these, I can’t even get through one roll. The Siracha and spicy mayo on top seal the deal. Yum!
6. Tuna Tartare @ STK, Las Vegas (locations all over, including NYC)
This year I ordered Tuna Tartare at practically every restaurant that served it, but it was STK’s version that was the best. Avocado with tuna tartare in a soy honey emulsion topped with taro chips. Tuna Tartare which is prepared with Asian flavors is a favorite of mine, and the fresh avocado and tuna combination was sensational. Additionally, I absolutely love the complimentary Blue Cheese Bread starter at STK, that bread alone is worth the trek to this upscale restaurant.
7. Milos Special @ Estiatorio Milos, Las Vegas (locations all over, including NYC)
Greek food is so often overlooked, but it has loads of flavor and is relatively healthy compared to many other cuisines. The Milos Special consists of lightly fried zucchini, eggplant sitting all around tzatziki, and kefalograviera cheese. Essentially, you begin by taking the spoon and stirring it all around so the Milos Special tower sort of falls apart. Outstanding and a must-do at Estiatorio Milos!
8. Watercress Avocado Salad @ Victor’s Cafe, New York City (theater district)
My full-time job is relatively close to Victor’s Café, and every time I pass by, I think about the Watercress Avocado Salad I once had at this exceptional Cuban restaurant. Avocado, watercress, and red onion salad topped with mango vinaigrette are slightly sweet and just perfection. I love the generous portion of avocado in this delectable and healthy salad.
9. Margherita Pizza @ Raaza, Jersey City
Located in the Van Vorst Park district of Jersey City, Raaza’s Margherita pizza is prepared with fresh tomatoes, handmade fresh mozzarella, basil, sea salt, and California Extra Virgin Olive Oil. The pizza here reminds me of Italy as it tastes so light and fresh. You won’t leave Raaza feeling heavy at all. One of my favorite Pizza spots in Jersey City.
10. Lemon Ricotta Hotcakes @ Shortgrain, Jersey City
One of the best pancakes I’ve ever had… soft and delicious that have a slight bite to them, and it's the ricotta cheese that gives these pancakes that bite. The combination of lemon and fresh berries make these pancakes to the next level. Shortgrain is a cute café that offers plenty of healthful options and is one of the best brunch places in Jersey City.
11. Eggplant Bruschetta @ Blue Orchid, St. Thomas, USVI
My favorite restaurant on vacation this past year was Blue Orchid. Located on a hilltop in St. Thomas, this restaurant not only boasts outstanding food, but also spectacular views of the island. Practically everything I ate at Blue Orchid was exceptional, but it was the Eggplant Bruschetta that was my favorite dish. Crostinis served with a side of roasted eggplant, sun-dried tomato, Roma tomatoes, roasted peppers, and fresh mozzarella with a drizzle of pesto. Excellent!
12. Miso Sea Bass @ Havana Blue, St. Thomas, USVI
Also located in St. Thomas, Havana Blue was the most romantic restaurant I visited in 2016. There were many favorite dishes at this restaurant including the Lobster Tostadas and Diablo Choco Fondant, but it was the Miso Sea Bass that was jaw-droppingly delicious. Miso lemongrass sea bass over garlic spinach and a smoked wasabi mash. Sea bass is my favorite fish, even more than salmon. The sea bass tasted like butter, it literally melted in my mouth. I have no more words for this dish, just delectable. I would go back to St. Thomas in a heartbeat just for this one dish.
13. Mole Enchiladas @ Tortilla Republic, Laguna Beach, CA
California is home to some of the best Mexican food in the country and Chicken Enchiladas are my favorite Mexican dish. At Tortilla Republic I happened to try both their Suizas Enchiladas and Mole Enchiladas, but I preferred the Mole over the Suizas. Pulled chicken stuffed into a corn tortilla and topped with mole de poblano, crema, and queso fresco was unbelievably delicious. The chocolate sauce was not too bitter, it had just the right amount of sweetness. Best Chicken Enchiladas!
14. Braised Short Rib Enchiladas @ Red O, Newport Beach, CA
As mentioned above, I don't typically eat red meat, but when I had a taste of Red O’s Short Rib Enchiladas I was dumbfounded. Short Rib Enchiladas topped off with a red guajillo Chile sauce, melted Monterey Jack Cheese, and comes with a side of red rice and black beans. The meat is so incredibly tender, juicy and flavorful. This is the kind of meat that literally falls of the bone. Additionally, the red rice and black beans have depths of flavor with just the right amount of salt. Outstanding dish!
15. Truffle Risotto @ Fig & Olive, New York City (fifth avenue + locations all over)
And last but not least, Fig & Olive. The classic combination of mushrooms and truffle is one of my favorites. If you love this combination, Fig & Olive is the place. With many locations around the country, Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue location is my favorite. This risotto prepared with cremini mushrooms and parmesan cheese is rich and so delicious. Orgasmic experience, the first bite will send you to heaven!
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And that's it! Now your turn!
What’s the best thing you ate in 2016? Name of dish, restaurant, and location? Share!