Our Best Bites of 2016

By | April 12, 2016

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[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

It’s hard to make many positive generalizations about 2016—it was a fraught roller coaster of year. But one thing we can safely say is that it was studded with some amazing eating experiences. From some favorite Serious Eats recipes to a warming serving (or three) of soup dumplings, here are the best bites of food we enjoyed last year.

Raw Oyster

(Tsukiji Market, Tokyo)

Walking around the shops surrounding Tsukiji, the historic fish market in Tokyo, I bought a huge, freshly shucked oyster for a few bucks. The fishmonger poured a little shoyu-dashi on it, then handed it to me, and I kicked it back. The pure, sweet, briny sea flavor was my first bite of the day—an amazing way to be jolted out of a sleepy, jet-lagged haze. —Daniel Gritzer, Culinary Director

Squid Ink Pasta

(Oceana, NYC)

My favorite bite of any year depends on two factors: how seriously delicious the bite is, and the people I’m eating it with. At a recent holiday dinner with close friends at the extraordinary New York seafood restaurant Oceana, newly installed Chef Bill Telepan served us perfectly al dente house-made fresh squid ink pasta. (The secret: Bill tells his cooks to use a timer for every order and set it for exactly two minutes.) A topping of candy-sweet bay scallops and delicate Jonah crab seasoned with green chilies and garlic made each bite of the pasta nearly flawless. But what really elevated the evening, and the bite, to perfection was the company. In these troubled times, it’s indeed a treat to share a great meal with people we really care about. —Ed Levine, Founder

Stella’s Double-Chocolate Cream Pie

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

Admittedly, I’m an annoying dessert-eater: I really only like chocolaty desserts. That means Thanksgiving tends to be a problem for me. I hate pumpkin pie; I don’t want even one bite. Thank goodness Stella introduced this chocolate cream pie just before the holidays—it’s heaven in pie form: deep chocolate, covered in fluffy Swiss meringue with warm vanilla notes. I was a little nervous about trying this recipe, since it’s a bit labor-intensive, what with all the toasting sugar and hand-beating egg whites in a double boiler. But, thanks to Stella’s clearly written steps and helpful videos, the pie came out perfect—the hit of my Thanksgiving table. Even my dad went for seconds, and he’s an even more annoying dessert-eater than me. —Ariel Kanter, Marketing Director

Tacos

(Mérida, Mexico)

Just as the crust is the most important element of a pizza, the tortilla is the most important part of a taco. I forget that far too often up here in the US, where tortillas take a backseat to fillings. My wife, Adri, and I took two trips to Mexico this year, and I continue to be amazed by how much better freshly made tortillas are than those that are even a few hours old—soft, supple, and tender, with a nice elastic stretch and charred corn flavor. My best bite of the year was the first bite of the first taco I ate in Mérida. My next several hundred best bites of the year were the bites I took of every other taco we ate during our trips. —J. Kenji Lòpez-Alt, Managing Culinary Director

Daniel’s Croque Madame

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

In Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, Chihiro and her parents encounter an empty park filled with food. After sampling some of the dishes, her parents become ravenous and gorge themselves until they turn into literal pigs, which sets her off on an odyssey to find a cure. That resembles what I went through as I ate a croque madame made by Daniel Gritzer earlier this year—an uncontrollable urge to compulsively eat as much as I could, self-control be damned. From the way we demolished those sandwiches in a matter of minutes, you would think we, too, were momentarily transformed by his cooking. —Leang Chaing

Chee Cheong Fun

(Kong Wah Bakery, NYC)

On my second day at Serious Eats, hangry and insufficiently caffeinated, I stumbled into a Chinese coffee shop/bakery kitty-corner from our old Grand Street office, and halted when I saw a familiar but long-lost sight: a small pyramid of chee cheong fun, wide rice noodle sheets slicked with oil and rolled up into pudgy cylinders with bits of pork, dried shrimp, scallions, and sesame seeds. Something that, as kids, my sister and I would share as a midday snack during trips into Chinatown, and something that had become my white whale since the only coffee-shop-cum-restaurant I remember serving them, New South Wind, closed in 2009. Something that Daniel, our culinary director, likened to “a savory Charleston Chew,” whatever that means. Unwrapping the rolls from their plastic sandwich bag and biting into one chewy, savory chee cheong fun, I swear, I felt like everything would be okay in the world. It’s been one hell of a crazy year, and that chee cheong fun felt like a reminder, one that I keep coming back to—that sometimes, what is lost doesn’t stay lost forever. In fact, like that chee cheong fun, it can be found again. Just not necessarily in the same place or in the same form, and never when you expect it. —Marissa Chung, Office Manager

Stella’s Alfajores Con Cajeta

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

I had never heard of alfajores before I started reading through Stella’s recipe, and the tantalizing description that accompanied it, back in April. Before I finished editing, I’d resolved to bake them, and when I finally did, I was hit with a double epiphany. One, there aren’t enough cookies made like this in the world: sandwich-style, hiding a smooth caramel-like filling, but soft and tender, so that they don’t shower your lap with crumbs when you bite into them. Two, now that I had this recipe, I could rectify the problem posed by epiphany #1. My husband is a total baking novice, but he loved these alfajores so much that, rather than wait for me to make them again, he had a (highly successful) go at them himself—stand mixer, homemade cajeta, and all. —Miranda Kaplan, Editor

Sous-Vide Thanksgiving Duck Breast

This Thanksgiving, I finally escaped my arch nemenis: giant, unforgiving, totally forgettable turkey (defend it if you must, but you won’t win me over). We ditched the oversized bird for Kenji’s sous vide duck breast recipe, and it was hands-down the most relaxing, delicious Thanksgivings my family has ever had. The oven was freed up for stuffing and roasted Brussels sprouts, and the duck itself was incredibly tender and flavorful, with a perfect edge-to-edge cook. —Niki Achitoff-Gray, Managing Editor

Anything at Guerrilla Tacos

(Los Angeles, CA)

Finding good tacos in New York is mostly a fool’s errand, so it’s a little bit painful just to look at the Guerrilla Tacos website. Right now, I’m half trying to recollect exactly what was on the menu during my visit (there was a foie gras taco, to be sure) and half considering opening a new tab to check flights to LA. —Paul Cline, VP of Product

Soup Dumplings

(Shanghai Café Deluxe, NYC)

xiao-long-bao-laura-togut.jpg

I realize that this is embarrassing for someone who claims to be a serious eater, and long-time New Yorker—but 2016 is actually the year that I tried my first soup dumpling. While it will never top the likes of pizza and macaroni and cheese as a true favorite food, I am proud to say that I am making up for a 30+ year drought of soup dumplings every chance I get. I have my coworkers here at Serious Eats to thank for my new-found love, and will relish every opportunity that we have to bask in the neon pink glow of the lights at Shanghai Cafe Deluxe together. If you go make sure you order at least 1 ¼ orders of dumplings per person, like we do. —Roxy Lane, Social and Commerce Manager

Daniel’s Roasted-Cauliflower Purée

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

My best bite might seem kind of boring at first, but it’s just so damn good. Daniel developed a recipe for cauliflower purée on the same day we shot a video featuring Kenji’s pan-roasted chicken. On its own, the roasted-cauliflower version of the purée was rich, silky, and indulgent—I couldn’t stop dipping my spoon in—but when we used the chicken as a prop for the purée photos and then threw in some frozen green peas for color, the combination was perfect. So simple, but so satisfying. I literally licked my plate. —Vicky Wasik, Visual Director

Chana Bhatura / Liang Pi Cold-Skin Noodles

(Saravana Bhavan / Xi’an Famous Foods, NYC)

Both of these dishes were revelations to me. It wasn’t that their flavors were particularly new, nor was I unfamiliar with the restaurants. It was the fact that I’d been so blinkered in my dozens of visits to both establishments that I’d never branched out from my usual orders. The chana bhatura consists of stewed chickpeas, heavily flavored with hing, accompanied by a massive fried, puffy wheat bread (an oversize puri, essentially) and, crucially, a bunch of raw red onion. It really shouldn’t be legal. The liang pi cold-skin noodles at Xi’an Famous Foods are similarly outrageously delicious; I realize I’m very late to the party on this dish, but to this day, after I eat it, I have an inexplicable desire to eat it for the following three days. It’s important for me to note that these are both vegetarian, and that I used to be one of those people who make the bullshit claim that they never feel full unless they’ve eaten meat. —Sho Spaeth, Associate Editor

Daniel’s Rich and Hearty Beef Barley Soup

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

I don’t get to cook at home a ton, but this beef barley soup was stupidly delicious, and just what I needed on a cold autumn night. Though I originally made it for company, it was so good that my husband and I made something different to serve, just because we didn’t want to share. —Stella Parks, Pastry Wizard

The Spicy Spring Pizza

(Prince Street Pizza, NYC)

This has been a banner year for me in the tasty-dish department. I moved to New York City, and, while the city is distinctly lacking in cheesesteaks, it turns out the food is all right here. I started working at Serious Eats in March and am constantly fed scraps (read: professionally prepared full meals) by our expert recipe developers. Daniel’s crepe-style manicotti was bliss, and I would probably do unspeakable things for Stella’s alfajores con cajeta. I ate my weight in dim sum with my girlfriend’s Grandma Lum in Honolulu’s Chinatown; spent my birthday with my friends Scallop and Pork Belly at Majolica in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania; and marveled at the inventiveness of the seafood dishes at Skool in San Francisco.

But the best bite—the most memorable bite—was a simple slice of pizza. My very first day at Serious Eats, the staff ordered the square, Sicilian-style Spicy Spring from Prince Street Pizza, and it blew my mind. I’ve had way more than my share of pizza over the years, in New York, Italy, and everywhere else, but never a slice quite so…perfect. The golden underside, ordered extra crispy, provides the perfect crunch, while slices of fresh mozzarella layered underneath the sauce guard against the sogginess you often see in lesser thick pizzas. The best part: the pepperoni. It covers every square inch of the surface and curls into thick, crispy, taste bud–exploding cups of grease.

Nine months and several Spicy Springs later, it’s withstood the test of time and remains my favorite. And now that Serious Eats World Headquarters has departed Nolita, the sentimental appeal has only grown stronger. You’d better believe I’ll be making the trek across the East River real soon for another beautiful slice of heaven. —Tim Aikens, Front-End Developer

Stella’s Freeform Peach Galette

[Photograph: Vicky Wasik]

A bite of Stella’s peach galette was something I might’ve talked about for weeks. Crispy crust on the outside, warm and sweet on the inside. I loved it so much that the following weekend, I re-created it all from scratch by following her recipes. It was far from Stella’s creation, but still delicious! —Vivian Kong, Designer

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