It's that time again! Here is my top 10 list of favorite dishes for 2013, dominated by pork.
1) The best dish of the year was at Arc in the OC Mix, and it was called "Pig, beans, maple, herb." Slow-cooked pork was falling-apart tender, with lots of smoky notes from the wood fire and a subtle sweetness from maple syrup. It nestled in a bevy of big white beans. The beans, enlivened with herbs, were unctuously satisfying. The dish was a savory communion of pork and beans.
2) Zimzala in Huntington Beach serves the best pork chop my companion and I have ever eaten. The cider-brined meat rested on a mélange of Nueske's bacon, mustard-parsley spaetzle, caramelized onion and a sour cherry pork sauce. The large, fat chop itself was as tender and juicy as it could be.
Brining had softened the meat and left it moist. The entrée was made even more delicious by the wonderful mixture of the salty bacon, soft little spaetzle, caramel-like onions and tart-sweet cherry sauce.
3) The Golden Truffle in Costa Mesa serves a wonderful version of choucroute. Ours featured four different sausages from four different countries and a piece of braised pork belly on the top. We debated which one was the best.
The mildest was the German bratwurst, which was very good. Next, we agreed that the North African mergez, a spicy lamb sausage, was a contender for best in show. French boudin was peppery and juicy, while the frankfurter was as good as any Nathan's ever made in the good old days when it was on Coney Island.
It was the sauerkraut, however, that blew us away. It was nothing like the stuff you get in the jar or on awiener. This is the kind you find in an Alsatian restaurant in Paris. The balance of salty and sour is perfectly nuanced.
4) Bistango in Irvine does a duck confit to perfection. The leg of Muscovy duck had some really crispy skin and moist, tender and slightly salty flesh. A small piece of breast meat was on the plate. The confit was served with a little salad of peppery arugula, sweet strawberries, salty feta and candied pecans, all in a light balsamic vinaigrette — a lovely melange.
5) Charlie Palmer in Costa Mesa serves a small plate of very tender octopus and peewee potatoes with a pesto green grape emulsion (green, in this case, meant unripe), so it was tart and savory. A celery root puree was as smooth as silk with sweet cream. Kalamata olives provided a final salty finish. Each element was delicious on its own but together created a symphony of tastes.
6) Urban Seoul in Irvine serves "Korexican" food. We loved the chorizo kimchi fried rice. It contained pickled red onions, garlic, a bit of kimchi, spicy chorizo sausage and pieces of pork belly and was topped with a sunny-side egg. The idea is to toss everything together and dig in. It was loaded with flavor and texture.
7) The black cod at Okura in Laguna Beach was ambrosial. The silky fish had been marinated in soy and then brushed with a sweet glaze that turned the skin crispy when cooked. The silky flesh was moist and juicy, and the fish rested in a delicate mushroom broth.
8) At the Wine Gallery in Laguna Beach, we had some of the very best short rib tacos around. The meat was very tender, juicy and nicely seasoned and served in crispy corn tortilla shells. Piquant pickled red onions added crunch, guacamole added creaminess and Fresno chilies added a kick. A light sprinkling of cotija cheese and micro-greens were the finishing touches.
9) Bayside in Newport Beach serves sautéed tiger prawns with its famous green risotto with sugar snap peas. Plump, juicy, tail-on prawns had been sautéed with paprika and garlic with just a hint of heat. They lounged on the perfectly cooked risotto, with each grain distinct. There was a bit of crunch from the sweet sugar snaps and just the right amount of cheese in the rice. It imparted flavor but wasn't overly rich.
10) Ennar in Fountain Valley features a salad of thin, tender rounds of squid scattered throughout a mixture of greens, red and yellow cabbage, thinly sliced apples, sesame seeds and tiny enoki mushrooms. It was the marvelous spicy-sweet citrusy dressing that brought it all together. Varied textures came from the soft squid, crispy green apples, sesame seeds and crunchy cabbage.s
TERRY MARKOWITZ was in the gourmet food and catering business for 20 years. She can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.