2011 was a ho-hum dining year. Ramen, Korean, Mexican, Japanese, pho, pizza, and burgers were the usual suspects. But most times, it was difficult to figure out where to go for something different and unique. The quest for happy food — food that makes me happy — was never ending. Only a handful of dishes in this city were memorable and really wowed me. Here’s the very short list for 2011.
1. Pork Kimchi Rice (Miso Izakaya)
It’s quite difficult to find a place in Atlanta where you’d like every single item on the menu. I found it in Miso Izakaya. I went to Miso 63 times last year (paying full price at every meal, mind you). I must have eaten literally hundreds of bowls of this amazingly tasty rice: stir-fried, laced with kimchi and pork then topped with egg. A death row dish for sure. But wait, I have other favorites here, too: the eponymous Chlonigiri (a toasted Onigiri filled with flaked salmon), everybody’s favorite the Shoyu Egg (soft boiled egg with the yolk dripping like a waterfall atop a crispy rice cake), and the Corn Kariage (as Cliff Bostock puts it — “Move over popcorn!”)
2. Jajangmyeon (Sam Won Gak)
Noodles in black soybean paste is one of my favorite Asian noodle dishes. In 2010, I ate 108 plates of jajangmyeon all over the city. I took a break this year, save for maybe less than 10 bowls at most. A couple of weeks ago, we came back to Sam Won Gak, the best place in the city for jajangmyeon and oh.my.gosh, the noodles were the best I’ve ever had in my life. The chewy, homemade, handmade noodles are the perfect backdrop for the black soybeanie, smoky, thick sauce. Best in my life.
3. Uni Carbonara (Octopus Bar)
This year’s new comer, Octopus Bar, took our sleepy city by storm by elevating late night dining with dishes a la Miller Union such as braised rabbit pasta, lobster roll, and the best Uni Carbonara in town. The creamy uni sauce in house-made linguine was intoxicating and just plain perfect.
4. Meatballs (No 246)
The juicy, tender meatballs swim in a delicious San Marzano tomato sauce that has the right consistency — not too soupy, not too dry. The best meatball in Atlanta.
5. Banana Pudding (Southern Art)
There is only ONE good thing at Southern Art: Banana Pudding. This to-die-for dessert isn’t your grandmama’s version. It’s a hundred times better. Fresh slices of bananas are sandwiched in creamy pudding, cradled by a thin layer of almond crust, then topped with fresh Chantilly cream. I don’t really have a sweet tooth but this is unbelievable. In fact, craving for a slice when the restaurant was already closed, we were tempted to book a $289 room just so we can have it for room service where it’s only available. Yep, it’s that good.
And there you have it. My very short list of the best dishes I ate in 2011. I’m hoping 2012 will be a better eating year. What were the best dishes you ate last year?