Top 10 Dishes of 2007

Highlights from yet another year of excess.

Every year, I do a dowsing exercise: I skim over the list of restaurants I've visited, letting my eyes hover over each name. Slowly, the most memorable dishes begin to float out from the computer screen. Some of these dishes I didn't actually mention in full reviews (just to taunt you), and a number have since been phased off the restaurant's menu (again, the taunting). To me, they still represent the best of what Seattle has to offer. Here they are, in the order they arose in my perfumed memory: 1. Beef roti at Pam's Kitchen: Ever since I wrote about this Trinidadian-Indian restaurant (5000 University Way N.E., 696-7010), I've found myself nursing a constant, low-level craving for its beef roti: giant, soft flatbreads wrapped around two curries—one with beef, one potatoes and chickpeas—that boost the other's spice signals. 2. Platanos at Mi Chalateca II: How hard could it be to slowly fry ripe plantains until they turn into a hot, blistery caramel-banana custard? It seems like it should be simple, except mine burn before the magic transformation happens. For $5 I give up and return to this Salvadoran restaurant (9710 Aurora Ave. N., 524-3046). 3. Oxtails at Rose Petal: Working out of the sketchiest restaurant I ate at all year (6901 Martin Luther King Jr. Way S.), Helen Coleman won my undying respect for her braised oxtail, whose tender meat drooped out of the nooks and corners of the ridged bone, just waiting for me to pluck it out with a fork. Get greens on the side. 4. Stewed beef at One Pot at the Volunteer Park Cafe: Ericka Burke, co-chef of VPC (1501 17th Ave. E., 328-3155) cooked the simplest of meals at this underground dinner (www.onepot.org) honoring author Nina Planck. We spooned the beef, just stewed in its own juices, onto our plate and sopped up the broth with lard biscuits slathered with raw-milk butter. I felt that if I looked out of the window, I'd see not the surrounding $2 million houses but a few cows and a never-ending cornfield. 5. Ayam goreng kremes at Julia's Indonesian Kitchen: Ezell's finally has a fried-chicken rival. Julia's (910 N.E. 65th St., 522-5528) braises its chicken with spices and candlenuts before battering and deep-frying the meat golden brown. Then, for good measure, the cooks drizzle a flour-and-chicken-stock mix into the fryer to create a cup or so of crispy meat bits for garnish. 6. Campechana at Rosticeria y Cocina El Paisano: I went to this new White Center taqueria (9615 15th Ave. S.W., 763-0368) for its goat birria, but ordered a mixed-seafood cocktail on the side. It contained the best octopus I've eaten all year, the thick white slices sweet and not the slightest bit chewy. Just like in Mexico, I used saltines to scoop the octopus and poached prawns out from a bowl of mild, cold tomato soup chunky with fresh chopped onions, cucumbers, avocados, and cilantro. 7. Veg chettinad at Spice Route: What haunts me about this curry isn't the mixed vegetables but the perfume of the lemon-yellow sauce: oddly floral, underlaid with coconut milk, and redolent with cloves and cinnamon. As I mentioned in my review of Spice Route (2241 148th Ave. N.E., Bellevue, 425-643-4144), it took me a few days before I could eat the half-cup of leftovers in my fridge because I enjoyed their aroma so much. 8. Braised short ribs with parsnip fritter, Elemental @ Gasworks (3309 Wallingford Ave. N., 547-2317): I vaguely remember that this dish came with two glasses of wine—one a gewürtztraminer, one a red something else. But since it was course six, or maybe 10, and owner Phred Westfall had pushed at least one glass of wine for each of the previous courses, the rest is a blur. I vividly remember gasping because the double pairing was so brilliant. As well as the brutal hangover the next day. 9. Skate with brown-butter sauce and roasted porcinis at Union: This is a bistro classic that one of the restaurants I cooked at specialized in, and I've missed both making and eating it. Union (1400 First Ave., 838-8000) executed the dish perfectly—the nuttiness of the brown butter echoing that of the pan-roasted skate. The plump little boletes were a Seattle twist that tasted like they've always belonged to the dish. 10. Croissants, toss-up: I can't tell whether I prefer the croissants at Columbia City Bakery (4865 Rainier Ave. S., 722-9138) or Cafe Besalu (5909 24th Ave. N.W., 789-1463). Columbia City's are a bit more stalwart—though that's like calling the non-anorexic Olsen twin the fat one—but have a ravishingly full-buttered flavor, and Cafe Besalu's more delicate pastries defy time, space, and all USDA dietary regulations. Conclusion: This town's big enough for the both of them. I certainly am. Runners-up: Prawns with bacon, chard, and honey gastrique at Veil; ma po tofu at Bamboo Garden in Bellevue; the giant crab cake at Steelhead Diner; pork belly with peaches at Opal; carnitas torta at Taqueria la Pasadita. jkauffman@seattleweekly.com

 
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