Noodles, fritters, dumplings, soups and heaping towers of shellfish: It was a year of great eating in and around Seattle.
In November, I named my favorite new restaurants reviewed in the past year. Now, on to my favorite dishes:
1. Long before she had any formal training making soba noodles, Mutsuko Soma grew up eating her grandmother’s homemade noodles. Now at her tiny Fremont restaurant, Kamonegi, Soma makes soba daily, using flour milled from Washington-grown buckwheat. She serves them three ways: seiro (cold noodles with hot dipping sauce), nanban (noodles in hot broth) and bukkake (cold noodles together with chilled broth and garnishes). But it’s the noodles themselves that rank as my No. 1 best bite of the year. To make something that tastes so agile and alive using only buckwheat flour and water is no small feat, and it is all done by hand.
2. Sawyer’s bone-marrow matzo balls in pho broth provide a glimpse into the playful mind of chef Mitch Mayers. When the improbably light dumplings meet in a profoundly fragrant, marrow-enriched broth, it’s the best kind of culture shock.
3. Perfecte Rocher’s flor d’api stood out among a panoply of astonishing dishes on a summer tasting menu at the exclusive, 10-seat Tarsan i Jane. Petals of spinach-cloaked celeriac (api) arranged on a thin, crisp buckwheat pancake resembled a pressed flower (flor), but there was nothing demure about the way those flavors and textures tangoed on the tongue.
4. At $28, uni lobster bisque was among the more affordable, and most unforgettable extravagances at Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi.
5. Le Messe may be known for its fresh pastas, but Brian Clevenger and his crew make one of the best roast chickens in town. “Mary’s chicken” starts cooking on the stove, finishes in the oven, and ends up with brittle, salt-and-peppered skin whose golden hue rivals that of its butter-rich sauce.
6. Khoudra is a Moroccan fritter similar to falafel. At Itto’s Tapas Bar they put it between halves of batbout, their house-made flatbread, add tomato, cabbage slaw and cilantro aioli, and call it a burger. I call it magnificent.
7. Travis Post’s neatly wrapped Sichuan dumplings, plump with pork and glistening with chile oil, are ridiculously good. Small wonder it is the most popular dish by far at Plenty of Clouds.
8. At Homer, bliss began with chef Logan Cox’s lamb ragu and tahini scooped from a small bowl with a torn piece of fluffy, charred flatbread straight from the oven.
9. Central Smoke’s Texas-style smoked meats were each so good it’s impossible to choose a favorite. Chef Mike Whisenhunt’s sweet-hot, crusty ribs equaled the exquisitely supple slices of prime beef brisket and rosy lamb shoulder.
10. Cortina’s sumptuous shellfish tower wowed a crowd with king crab and Dungeness, two kinds of local oysters, mussels, shrimp and a whole, cracked lobster all fetchingly arranged on iced tiers with lemon halves wearing little booties and three side sauces.
11. At Kamonegi, Mutsuko Soma transformed duck liver and pressed soybean curd into a creamy, quivering mass of deliciousness dubbed “foie gras tofu.”
12. One of the most elegant soups I encountered this year was at Hiro Tawara’s Japanese kaiseki restaurant, Wa’z. Slender somen noodles in chilled, lime-brightened dashi was the high point of July’s Star Festival tasting menu.
13. At Mercato Stellina, I watched them make cacio e pepe by tossing cooked tonnarelli noodles with two kinds of cracked pepper in the molten cavity of a wheel of Parmigiano-Reggiano. It was quite a show, but the real star was Joe Obaya’s house-made pasta.
14. Tamari Bar’s sashimi posed like Ziegfeld girls on a spiral staircase, dolled up with tobiko pearls, radish and cucumber rounds, scallion and spicy sprouts. The array, including sockeye, albacore belly, octopus, mackerel, hamachi, yellowfin, scallops and spot prawns, tasted as delectable as they looked.
15. Linnea Scott, Sawyer’s “Chief Dough Officer,” turns out pillowy flatbread and an impeccable pretzel pan d’epi shaped like a stalk of wheat, but it’s the “cheesy bread” that lingers most fondly in my memory: a spicy melt of pimento cheese and ‘nduja tucked into delicate, cracker-crisp flatbread.
16. Banh khot, mini turmeric pancakes sweetened with coconut milk, are among the Vietnamese street snacks at Taylor Hoang’s District One Saigon. With shrimp and chopped scallion nestled in each, the pancakes are a unique treat whether you pop one in your mouth, as is, or wrap it in a lettuce leaf with fresh herbs.
17. At the Villasenor family’s restaurant, D’La Santa, I discovered chicharrons de queso, crispy cheese boats made from a blend of mozzarella, Parmesan and cotija. Filled with fresh, unadulterated guacamole, they become “crispitos,” next-level avocado toast.
18. Super Bueno’s peppy, guajillo-salted watermelon with pop rocks was superfun to eat.
19. Can’t stop thinking about Jerk Shack’s sensational coconut milk caramel bread pudding. It’s over-the-top rich even before the mini loaf is browned on all sides in butter and burnished with caramel sauce.
20. At the end of a year fraught with political drama and environmental angst, I found solace in a ginger-stoked Tibetan noodle soup called thukpa at Mani’s Kitchen. Mani Chhetri was born into a Hindu family in Bhutan, lived for a time in a Buddhist country, and adopted Christianity. He left his homeland for the woman he loved, then fled her country to save his life. They ended up together in Seattle, running restaurants and raising their two children. Their story — and his soup — gives me hope for our country and our world.
Happy New Year! May all your meals be interesting in 2019.
This story was or corrected at noon Thursday, Jan. 3. An earlier version omitted bite No. 8.