The Gossiping Gourmet: The finest food of 2011

It's become our tradition to publish a year-end list of favorites.

These are the dishes we've most enjoyed from more than 300 or so that we've tasted (for better or worse), in the past year. Rather than a top 10 or any other numbered list, these appear in random order but represent the best of the bunch.


Bayside Bar, 900 Bayside Drive, Newport Beach

Cast-iron seared quail shone above the rest.

It was glazed with a complex sauce that was fruity and spicy, sweet and sour, with great depth of flavor. The little bird was beautifully presented on an earthy Portabello mushroom that sat on a thick buckwheat blini.

The flavors married perfectly.


Bistro Anju, 23964 Aliso Creek Road, Laguna Niguel

The fusion dessert, green tea crème brulée, was a winner.

The creamy custard had a lovely, lingering aftertaste of green tea and the crispy bruléed sugar was perfectly done. Sliced strawberries and blueberries provided the final accent.


The Five Crowns, 3801 E. Coast Hwy. , Corona Del Mar

The artichoke tarte tatin had a thin, buttery pastry shell covered with large, luscious chunks of artichoke hearts that dripped their juices into the crust. It was served with a dollop of whipped goat cheese and a lovely little frisee salad with a light lemony dressing.


Himalayan Grill, 16400 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach

The samosas were gorgeous with their golden brown, blistered crust. The large triangular pastries were filled with soft shredded potatoes, onions and peas, seasoned to perfection. These stood out in texture and flavor.


Pizzeria Mozza, 800 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach

Once you have taken your first bite of Mozza's pizza, you will immediately understand what all the fuss is about.

First and foremost is the crust. With puffy, lightly charred edges and a thin but substantial bottom, its flavor easily stands on its own.

Batali's unique approach to pizza making includes adding honey and wine to the dough, pan-cooking it on a griddle pan on both sides, then adding toppings and finishing it in the pizza oven until it blisters. His method makes for an extra flavorful, crispy crust. It's hands down the best crust we've ever tasted.


Il Barone Ristorante, 4251 Martingale Way, Newport Beach

On our quest for the perfect cannoli, we may have found a contender. Chef Barone orders his ricotta directly from Sicily.

It is subtle and delicate with a hint of lemony sourness. It has been deftly sweetened with a light hand, while bits of dark chocolate add texture and extra flavor to the luscious filling. The crust was thin and so very crispy that it crumbled into the creamy filling with each forkful.


Kasen, 9039 Garfield Ave., Fountain Valley

Six different exquisitely fresh, unusually thick slices of fish rested on a large shiso leaf (a kind of mint), accompanied by shredded daikon radish, wakame seaweed and very mild wasabi (Japanese horseradish). We feasted on toro, yellowtail, kampachi (a milder yellowtail), mackerel, salmon and ahi. Each was better than the last.


Marché Moderne, in South Coast Plaza, 3333 Bristol St., Costa Mesa

The seppia Grenobloise was tender grilled seafood resting on an herb puree, sauced with lemon caper butter dotted with a few sweet whole roasted garlic cloves and a sprinkling of croutons for crunch.

The lemony notes, the hint of garlic and the salty overtones of the capers provided a luscious layering of flavors, making a perfect sauce for the calamari.


Olive Pit ,16365 Bolsa Chica St., Huntington Beach

Erasing the memory of all previous dolmades, the filling was an irresistible mixture of bright balanced flavors, tender meaty turkey, rice, pine nuts, currants and dill. Lifting them up yet another notch was a perfectly balanced lightly sweetened lemon sauce.


Starfish, 30832 S. Coast Hwy., Laguna Beach

Thai red curry seafood stew had a sauce that was rich, sweet, salty and spicy in perfect balance, with added depth from the juices of fresh seafood, white fish, black mussels and unusually good littleneck clams. Red curry paste, kaffir lime leaves and blue ginger seasoned the coconut milk stew.


Three Seventy Common Kitchen + Drink, 370 Glenneyre St., Laguna Beach

The pristine black cod glistened with moisture while the thin layer of skin crackled. This is how fish should be cooked! Enhancing its flavor was a delicious mélange of green lentils, red onion, and salty chorizo made piquant with lemon. The juices mingled on the plate to make a delicate sauce for the fish. A refreshing little salad of parsley and paper-thin slices of radish was the perfect final touch.

ELLE HARROW and TERRY MARKOWITZ were in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. They can be reached for comments or questions at

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