Over the last two years we have sat down with 106 different people to record 103 episodes of our podcast, Eat It Up. Simply put, it’s been amazing. We’ve made new friends, heard great stories, gained new insights into the restaurant world and have been inspired to make Buffalo Eats even better. Last year we asked the 57 podcast guests from 2012 to tell us about their favorite meals from that year and we got 44 responses. This year we asked all 106 guests from both years and got 79 responses. Some of our guests sent us 30 words and others sent 800.
Today is part five (of five) featuring 14 podcast guests, check back next week for our personal top 5’s. To see all of our 2013 Year End Coverage, click here.
James Roberts (Executive Chef at Park Country Club, #19). My favorite meal of 2013 had to be my solo dinner at Ippudo in NYC during my logistics and transport trip for the Nickel City Chef James Beard Dinner. It was a whirlwind 72 hours; driving equipment non stop to NYC. hopping around to a bunch of new/cool bars and restaurants (some new, some classics), then having dinner at the Beard house, then late night snacks with the Nickel City Chef crew post Beard house, then back to Buffalo the next day.
The Beard Dinner was excellent and an accurate representation of each participating chef’s style of food and a great collaboration effort from the Nickel City Chef Team as a whole. But for some reason, I’ve been on a serious ramen/ Izakaya kick lately. Now Ramen may be my favorite food in the world, always has been. But in the last two years, I’ve found myself researching ancient techniques and new ones, trial and error productions of stocks and broths and toppings and noodles, following all levels of Japanese pubs and restaurants all over the world. It has really become a rabbit hole type obsession. Then there is Ippudo, some say the best in the US, lots say the best in NYC, including Donnie Burtless. I had eaten there before and frankly I choose a no frills little ramen shop on St. marks as my personal favorite called Setagaya. But late on my first night in NYC after dropping off the gear at the Beard house and bidding adieu to the team as they went and enjoyed a fantastic meal at Del Posto, I sought out on my own to cram as much influence into my brain as I could In my short time in the city. I made my reservation at Ippudo as soon as they opened and was told to wait for a text message when my table was ready. When my seat was ready, I sat down right at the counter, all by myself and had one of the best pure Izakaya experiences I have ever had. Started with a shiso cocktail, and a Tako Wasabi appetizer of raw octopus and grated fresh wasabi root, then onto blistered shishito peppers with Togarashi and lemon, multiple caramelized pork belly buns, a little cold sake, and finally their classic Shiromayu Ramen with an onsen egg (ramen pictured above).
Everything was great, don’t get me wrong, but the ramen was exceptional. Light fatty broth, full flavored, not too many garnishes, tender pork, soft egg, chewy but not too firm noodles, served smoking hot. just excellent. In hind sight, it may not have been my favorite ramen ever, but the total experience of sitting there by myself, taking in all the yelling orders back and forth, all the cooks making everything right in front of you, the broths boiling away, all the customers chatting and laughing it up, beers and sake flowing, service ultra-efficient but nearly invisible. I’ve had some great meals in 2013, including an excellent off the cuff road trip to Farmstead in providence with my amazing wife in February, but this experience as a whole was definitely the best.
Teddy Bryant (Sous Chef at Lloyd Taco Trucks, #43). My favorite Meal of 2013 was at Miss Hot Cafe. We started with the Shanghai Dumplings and the Ox tongue and tripe salad, then had Salt and Pepper Frog legs and the BBQ pork belly. It was really really good and I have been back about four times already.
Julia Burke (Freelance Writer and Booze Expert, #39). Fried walleye sandwich at Old Fashioned in Madison. Huge salad with local greens and house vinaigrette almost but not quite overshadows a toasted, fat country bread masterpiece packed with the best fried fish filet I’ve ever had in my life, shredded cabbage, shaved radish, and house-made lemon-caper tartar sauce. I had it on an apartment-scouting trip to Madison and even now, after four months living in a foodie paradise, it remains one of my favorite meals. But we just call it The Number 36.
Chris Lindstrom (Creator of Food About Town, #92). 2013 has been a memorable year for me overall. I got myself engaged in January, April marked the start of my food blog and I’ve been fortunate to have eaten some amazing food both in the WNY area and around the country. Narrowing it down to one local spot and one from my travels is difficult, but two places stand out to me as being the most memorable.
Although the rise of the food trucks is probably the biggest food news topic of the year for Rochester, the most memorable food I had locally came from Fiamma Pizza e Vino in Gates. I’m a huge fan of Neopolitan pizza and Giuseppe Paciullo from Fiamma is putting out dynamite pies out of his imported wood fired oven. He serves up national level pizza with a perfectly cooked crust and their Margherita (pictured above) is my favorite individual dish in the city.
The other standout experience was a visit to Shiro’s Sushi during my recent Seattle trip. I think most of us are trying to find those places that transform what we know about a cuisine and give a sense of amazement that food can be just that good. The omakase nigiri sushi feast I had at the bar at Shiro’s was my eye opening sushi experience and I’ll never forget it for that. We had amazing quality and well cut seafood from toro to geoduck to uni right out of the shell and everything was seasoned well to fit each course. One of the best meals I’ve ever had and a great highlight to a trip to the Northwest.
Kelly Brewer (Chef/Owner of The Sweet Hearth, #73). I’m a big fan of tapas, so many of my meals out include a selection of appetizers for everyone to share. One of my favorites is the mussels from The Hollow Bistro & Brew in Clarence. They are prepared in a Thai red curry coconut sauce, with Asian veggies and crunchy noodles on top. The sauce is to die for delicious. I’m always tempted to lick the bowl, but choose to soak up every last bit of it with a little (or a lot!) of bread instead. It’s a generous serving, perfect for sharing with a crunchy loaf and a good bottle of wine.
My second choice is from a trip to NYC earlier this year. It was just after New Years, holiday decorations were still up, I hadn’t been to the city in years. After hours and hours of walking, being wide eyed tourists and lost, my friend and I found Urban Lobster Shack in Chelsea. A pricey lunch wherever you are and no exception here (cuz I had two!) – but one of the best lobster rolls evah! The delicate bun was lightly toasted, brushed with melted butter and bursting with perfectly seasoned lobster meat. It was perfection and the roll that all others will be compared to. 🙂
Chris Seymour (Former buffaBLOG Radio Host, #11). I’d have to say my favorite meal was the fried chicken waffle sandwich at The Lodge. Not so much because it was the most amazing thing I’ve eaten but it was one of the most interesting dishes I’ve tried. The chicken was breaded and fried beautifully in between two waffles with the most delicious maple infused cole slaw I’ve ever had.
Bruce Wieszala (Executive Chef at Tabree, #26). I would have to say my favorite meal this past year would have to be the annual Crawfish Boil (pictured above). Even though the food was great and everyone contributed, it was more about a bunch of chefs and their friends and families getting to just relax and spend some time together. This year especially because there were so many new faces. It’s something we rarely ever get to do. It was really great.
Scotty Harris (Cook and Creator of Cooking In Theory, #52). Best Meal Dining Out (Old Favorite Division): Carmelo’s Lewiston. We have only dined at Carmelo’s on a couple of occasions and have always been thrilled. This visit was no exception. This was our first visit since Bruce Wieszala left to take the helm of the kitchen at Tabree. As much as I love Bruce, Carmelo hasn’t missed a beat. Both the food and the service were exceptional and I can’t wait for a return visit. The “Meat Board” showed of T Meadow’s best in delightful variety. Trish had a seafood linguini dish that was delicious, and I had a T-Meadow pork chop cooked to perfection. The unbelievable concert by Chick Corea that followed was icing on the cake.
Best Meal Dining Out (Pleasant Surprise Division): Miss Hot Café. The biggest surprise of the past year was easily Miss Hot Café. I have long awaited the arrival of more authentic (and less Americanized) Chinese cuisine in the Western New York area. Over the past few years, I became aware that there were Chinese cooks capable of producing such food, but only recently have these wonderful dishes and secret menus become better known. Miss Hot Café is the latest to arrive, and it may well be the best. Every dish was filled with delights making it difficult to choose “best” item. Again, I look forward to returning and exploring the menu further. You can read more on our adventure here.
Best Meal Dining In: Sous Vide Turkey Legs. Like many Western New Yorkers of a similar inclination, I’ve been experimenting at home with sous vide cooking techniques – essentially cooking food in a water bath maintained at the serving temperature in a sealed environment (a zip lock or vacuum-sealed bag). I described the process in my blog. Everything I have tried or tasted that was prepared in this manner has been exceptional, but perhaps the most wonderful work to Turkey legs placed in a bag with seasoning and some olive oil and cooked sous vide for about 72 hours – essentially making confit. When ready to eat, the legs were removed from the bag and placed under the broiler to crisp the skin. I admit to not being a big fan of Turkey, but prepared this way it was sublime.
I look forward to new adventures in the upcoming year.
Renee Allen (Chef/Owner of R&R BBQ Truck, #42). Best chicken souvlaki wrap: Amy’s Truck. You can get souvlaki at many places in buffalo but there’s is by far the best! Best Burgers: Knight Slider Food Truck. “The Hoff” is my favorite. Best Stuffing: my Aunt’s house on Thanksgiving… homemade and sooo good! Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday! Best cornbread: made by my mom (she bakes for the restaurant and food truck.) We started grilling it and it’s amazing in these cold months w/ a hot bowl of chili. Def my fav winter comfort food! Best Ravioli: Oliver’s on Delaware, fresh ricotta ravioli they just melt in your mouth. Best taco dip: made by my boyfriend and I on vacation in the Adirondacks. It was a mix of seasoned ground venison, pepperjack cheese, red pepper and corn salsa, mashed potatoes and hot sauce. We ate all of it and a whole bag of chips in one sitting! Some things are just too good to stop eating. It’s hard to list all the good food I ate this year but these things stick out in my mind the most!
But was it good? After hearing about all the hype for a month, I had to do it. I’m a sucker for hype. I had to taste this thing for myself. So at 6:45 AM, on a hot morning in July, I met my coworker at Dominique Ansel’s bakery in SoHo where there was already a line of 100+ people. By this point, Cronutmania had fully erupted. CNN was interviewing some of the people that were ahead of me. The bums around the area had created a black market by sleeping in front of the bakery, thus guaranteeing themselves “first in line” status. Then they’d auction their spot off to people who arrived late. I didn’t need to pay for a spot. I did the quick math when I arrived. Ansel was churning out roughly 300 Cronuts/day at that point. Each person was limited to 2 Cronuts. I was, at worst, 120th in line. I was safe. Two and a half hours later, I got my Cronuts.
But was it any good?? I’m not sure why Cronuts got as much attention as they did. It’s part donut, part croissant. So what? We’ve been putting out all kinds of gimmicky, fatty foods in America. There’s a restaurant in Vegas that prides itself on the amount of calories it puts out per meal. People have died there. At county fairs we deep fry anything and everything (deep fried butter, anyone?). My theory is that America has a special love affair with donuts and donut-related things. I’m not entirely sure why, though. But when Krispy Kreme arrived in Buffalo, and that HOT NOW sign came on, people were swerving across 3 lanes to get in. A minor league baseball team created a burger sandwiched between 2 glazed donuts and people went bananas. And now this.
Was.It.Good? But I respect the Cronut. Ansel apparently put months of work into crafting this delight. It wasn’t just some quickly thrown together marketing gimmick, unlike that other stupid hybrid sensation from this summer. He set out to make a finely crafted pastry. After all of the attention he got, he easily could have opened a chain of Cronut shops around the world. But that’s not what he wanted to do. He continued to put out his classics like the DKA, madeleines, and canneles. He continued to innovate by following up the Cronut with a frozen s’more. I respect that. And I think he raised money for charity as well, which is nice.
WAS IT GOOD?!?! Yea it was pretty good. I’m really not that into sweets.
My opinion, in case you were actually wondering: the DKA, in my opinion, is better than the Cronut and can be had at any hour of the day. Don’t get me wrong, if there was a plate of Cronuts in front of me right now, I would absolutely house them. But I would never wait in line for them. Especially not for 2 hours in 90 degree heat after forgetting to bring water with me. Dominique Ansel is a fantastic bakery full of all kinds of great stuff. You aren’t missing out if they don’t have any Cronuts left. But seriously, i’m not that into sweets.
Ken Legnon (Sushi Chef at Seabar, #74). The best meal of 2013 (and also of my life) was in West Palm Beach at my friend’s restaurant Sushi Jo. He’s the guy that taught me the ways of sushi all those years ago which has allowed me to get my current job with Mike at Seabar. I spent the week of Thanksgiving in Palm Beach working for the Jacobs family, catering their Thanksgiving festivities and on Black Friday I decided to go see my buddy Jo. He happened to be there that night, which was odd because he now owns five successful sushi bars in the area.
I sat down and we caught up on the years that had passed and I told him to feed me… omakase all the way. I had 10 courses with sake flowing and even dessert…the courses ranged from santa Barbara uni with shiso, Bluefin toro nigiri, Hamachi kama tartar, cucumber maki rolls with tuna, wild Alaskan king salmon belly crudo, yellowfin chu-toro sashimi, angawa (fluke fin) and home made mochi ice cream. Just to name a few. There might have been more than 10 courses for all I know….I was pretty well drunk by the end of the 2 1/2 hour feeding frenzy.
Steve Gedra (Owner/Chef of Bistro Europa, #27). The first memorable meal that sticks in my head from 2013 begins in Orlando. Ellen and I were in Disney World with my parents gettin’ weird. This place was called LA. Boiling Seafood. (Buff Eats—peep this shit. SOOOOO GHETTO) The theme was Gulf Coast style seafood but…… it was owned and operated by Vietnamese. Totally clean and well lit, but stripped wayyyy down. They served the shit in tinfoil Glad containers. No joke. Mountain of crabs. Glad tinfoil. Po-Boy-tinfoil. Motherfucking bisque….you guessed it, tinfoil. (Just kidding about the bisque, though) Anyways, we were with my parents and my Father can knuckle the fuck out of some crab. So we lit that place up pretty well. Just straight up burled ass seafood with some potatoes and shit. I loved it. Fuck Disney. I’d go back to ORL just for that.
Next up is some gangster shit in Naples. A little place called Chilakil on Tamiami Road. I think I mentioned this place last year as well because I love it. We all know gangster Mexican is hard to come by in WNY. I get super gross and order like 12 tacos (3 buche, 3 lengua, 3 pastor, 3 cueritos), 2 aguas frescas (Jamaica and Horchata), some naayyyyychos, 2 tostadas, and some other shit. It was just Ellen and I. Muy gordo. I love that place. It’s run by a bunch of tiny, bad ass Mexican women who look like they’d rip out your throat if you fuck around. I’m gonna miss this one in 2014.
In February, my lovely wife and me were invited to attend a pig roast at Park Country Club by two of our regulars. You know James threw down some gnar-gnar once he got wind we were coming. I should have written this one down, but I definitely remember some supernova hot sauce. James also throws a Ninja Gaiden crawfish boil at some point in the summer. Buff Eats knows the deal with that one. Hurricanes and bugs with a bunch of great people? I wish it were held once a month.
Sometime in the Spring, Rich Tilyou of piglore hooks up a swine roast at the farm. All of the people you wanna eat pig with are there. Nothing like cookin’ up a hog in front of his cousins. That’s being connected to your food. I distinctly remember Bruce Wieszala and I gazing in wonderment at a stalactite of natural pork jelly that had coagulated on the trotters, glistening in the sun. Then we made out. It was weird.
We headed out to LA in July to see our new niece and nephew that were about 1 month old. We went bonkers at Oo-Kook in Koreatown. Traditional Korean BBQ. $25 all you can eat meat. They just keep bringing out pickles while you roast your meat. You have to eat all of the meat you order, or they hammer you with a $20 per person fee. I really love interacting with my dinner. If you’ve ever eaten with me, you know I revert to a caveman after about 10 minutes. We also hit up the infamous Kogi truck when we were out West. The kimchi quesadilla is the chronic. I could seriously eat that every day. I’d feel some shame, but I’m down with that.
Then we got real busy with the building of our restaurant, so not much has happened since then in my dining world, save for a few good meals at home and some Arirang, Miss Hot Café, and Quick One love. There was also the last Thanksgiving at Europa, which carried well into the morning. That was a bittersweet night. Just knowing we will be somewhere else next year. I know this year will bring newfound loves and returns to old favorites, and that is always encouraging and inspiring.
Rick Criden (Purchasing Manager and Sales at Schneider’s, #94). In no particular order, here are my favorite meals. Snout to Tail Dinner at Bistro Europa (pictured above), Ramen Midnight Mass with James Roberts, Carmelo Raimondi’s Midnight Mass, Tabree with Penguino (aka Steve Gedra) – we sat at the bar and let Bruce feed us, Brad Rowell’s Midnight Mass, Ed’s first Workshop Popup at Silo City, every meal I’ve had in the past year at Peking Quick One, Tasting Menu at Max of Eastman (in Rochester), every meal I’ve had at Sun Restaurant and Big Fuss.
Nelson Starr (Visit Buffalo Niagara and Rock-N-Roll Guy, #15). I hate to say but there a are a few places and meals I’m NOT going to tell you about because I am keeping them all to myself. They are open secrets to most in-the-know-foodies but I just need them to stay, at least, status quo for a while yet. That is awful isn’t it!? But they are doing just fine so why pack them in with any more hipster food porn voyeurs (oh, sorry Donnie – I didn’t mean you!) There’s already too many of those young, annoying, punk know-it-alls for my bitter tastes.
Enjoyable meals? I kind of love them all because I am certainly a gourmand pig of sorts and, yes, truffles are great. I would have enjoyed more of my own cooking except for the fact that I cooked it and all the tasting along the way kinda ruins the surprise. My friend Craig always makes better food than I can get out but, he doesn’t have a restaurant to promote so, why bother. As far as restaurants I’m NOT going to tell you about…
I enjoyed eating some quite oily but delicious pork product at a small Chinese restaurant in the T of T. This is memorable because it was during the hipster hubub phase and the owners had no idea that they were already “famous”, if one could call it that. The food was pretty spectacular and unique but the most memorable part was just how humble and pre-pretension a place can be. I am sure that the boy at the counter (whose English is about as bad as I can recall in any Buffalo food emporium…and God bless that actually) doesn’t even really know what pretension, cool or cutting-edge is, in any shape or form–brilliant! This restaurant is a total anomaly of the highest accident and a happy one at that. I also liked eating chicken hearts on a stick, gizzard and other naughty bits. I truly believe Sheridan Drive is turning into some sort of Asian food Mecca. I love that I live just one block north of all the action. For once, I loved this joints over-sized menu.
Speaking of more Tonawanda/Amherst exotica, I have been diggin’ me some butter chicken and an eggplant dish to die for (and have you ever eaten an eggplant dish to die for?) called Baingan Bharta. There are more finds under this roof but do stay away from the Hakka stuff in my opinion.
Travelling way north, I had probably the best meal of the year at a cozy little place in Lewiston run by one of the regions best chefs. The chef’s initials are C.R., okay, but that’s as close as I’m getting to spelling it out for ya! I can’t recall exactly what I had other than it was ridiculously good (it must have been the NYS distilled Gin I was drinking too much of). I know it was some locally raised protein and some spicy meatballs and T-Meadow charcuterie. No matter how you slice it, I tasted love, love and more love which is what I love to taste mate. Bravo!
I’ve has several memorable lunches but may I say that some really obscure cook, an upstart, an unknown really is making one hell of a cobb salad. Could we really ask for more…when it is so chocked full of this and that. Eating healthy never tasted so porky with what I call lardons and they call bacon and some of the best chopped then grilled (or is it reverse) chicken thigh this side of championship winning mall version chicken teriyaki (and that’s an odd but honest compliment in my book)–fuck breast. Now if he could only find some fans and open his own place. One can dream can’t he. Someday…
A much needed addition to our otherwise predominantly un-Italian Italian restaurant scene was the much anticipated opening of this little cucina povera, also in my neck of the woods. This really is akin to what “poor” people eat in Italy–take that baked Parmesan and shove it. Ouch, it’s freakin’ hot man. Finally a true peasant food take on some classic dishes and done right with a lot of love and detail…all in an atmosphere near and dear to my heart. Remember to add some fresh grated nutmeg to your creamy sauce and a reggiano heal to your chicken broth. That’s the kind of technique I’m into and, apparently, so is she. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention a bunch of other meals. So, I’ll be remiss and not. Donnie doesn’t pay me y’know and, oh, my fingers are SO sore. If any of these NOT recommendations sound good but you don’t know just where these joints are, that’ okay, I don’t want to run into anyaya anyway. Just kidding but, eating in peace and privacy is one of my few pleasures and almost a prerequisite to a memorable meal for me. Not knowing anyone in my table’s panorama is something I cherish when I can find it. Early, late and weekdays, I say.