Special Recognition Award Winners
Mr. Harper's favorites from the past year of travel
Certain dishes live long in the memory. It will be many years before I forget my rich, creamy escargot appetizer at Le Jardin des Remparts in Beaune, the quail with a crisp glaze of verjus at Café Gray Deluxe in Hong Kong or the marbled beef from Kumamoto red wagyu cattle at Beige Alain Ducasse in Tokyo. Here are my gastronomic highlights from the past year.
Escargo at Le Jardin des Remparts
My escargot appetizer on the shady patio of Le Jardin des Remparts was nothing short of the apotheosis of snail. A hollow falafel-like sphere, when broken, revealed shelled escargot in a traditional butter-garlic-parsley sauce. It oozed into the surrounding ring of fluffy garlic cream studded with more flawlessly tender escargot. Only in France.
Langoustine and caviar at Oriole
Chicago’s Oriole received two Michelin stars in November, an honor well-deserved for its precisely presented cuisine, which is rich with complex flavors. My favorite dish, a jewellike assembly of langoustine, rich lardo, briny Kristal caviar and white asparagus, came on a plate that concealed the next course, a bowl of billowy jamón Ibérico with candied black walnuts, creamy egg yolk and savory Campo de Montalban cheese.
Dulce de leche crêpes at La Bamba de Areco
San Antonio de Areco, Argentina
At the end of our asado lunch on the lawn of La Bamba de Areco, the chef heated an iron. With gaucho-inspired flair, he branded dulce de leche-filled crêpes with the resort’s initials, caramelizing the sugar on the exterior. Paired with vanilla ice cream, they made for a simple but extravagantly delicious dessert.
Six-course chef's menu at Shang Palace
At Shang Palace, the Chinese dining venue in the Kowloon Shangri-La hotel, we opted for the chef’s signature six-course set menu. Among the highlights: barbecued suckling pig and crispy lobster with oatmeal; braised beef short ribs with pears and whiskey; and black cod with fried rice and sakura shrimp. On my next trip to Hong Kong, I will be sure to pay this place a return visit.
Smoked UNI Spoon at UNI
Under the direction of star chef Ken Oringer, this creative Japanese restaurant in The Eliot Hotel puts the focus on seafood. We ordered a series of exquisite small dishes that included the signature Smoked Uni Spoon. Arriving in a spoon, it consists of a generous dollop of sea urchin roe (uni) with quail egg yolk, chives and a zesty dash of yuzu sauce.
Striped bass at Menton
My admiration for chef Barbara Lynch goes back many years. At Menton, Lynch shows her skill in creating relatively uncomplicated dishes that yield deep satisfaction. Such a dish was the main course of striped bass with leeks, miso and mustard. The fish and the leeks were cooked perfectly. Their flavors alone would have made for a fine dish, but the addition of the miso and mustard took it to a new level with depth and nuance.
Red Lantern at Hutong
With a menu that reflects the cooking of northern China, Hutong had long been a favorite of mine. On this most recent visit, we enjoyed several dishes, but the standout, both in terms of the mix of flavors and textures and in the visual appeal, was the poetically named Red Lantern, a beautiful presentation of small soft-shell crabs studded among dried Sichuan chilies.
Quail at Café Gray Deluxe
Having been impressed by Gray Kunz since his days as chef at Lespinasse in the St. Regis in New York, I highly anticipated our dinner at Café Gray Deluxe. Chef Kunz did not disappoint. The star dish of our meal was quail with a crisp glaze of verjus (the pressed juice of unripened grapes), with sides of grape chutney and couscous.
Red wagyu at Beige Alain Ducasse
Japan is legendary for its beef, but the highest grades are often too fat-rich for American tastes. Which is why the succulent beef served at Alain Ducasse’s elegant restaurant on the Ginza is so ideal. From the free-grazing Kumamoto red wagyu cattle raised on the southern island of Kyushu, it’s distinguished by an intense buttery flavor, extreme tenderness and elegant but not excessive marbling. At Beige Alain Ducasse, it comes to the table with a condiment of cep mushroom marmalade and more than warrants its 8500 yen ($75) price tag.
Seaweed-steamed lobster at Casa Solla
San Salvador de Poio, Spain
Amiable Galician chef Pepe Solla took over his family’s rustic stone auberge a few miles outside of Pontevedra 14 years ago and has since turned it into one of the best restaurants in Spain. If the spectacular quality of the Galician seafood dominates the menu, many dishes at Casa Solla display a constrast between marine and terrestrial produce, including the subtle seaweed-steamed lobster with slow-braised free-range chicken and black garlic, which is lightly fermented and deeply caramelized, making it at once soft and deeply flavored.
Perch fillets meunière at Café du Centre
Despite my love of fine cuisine and my admiration for the talented and imaginative chefs that create it, there are times when I just want something simple. On my recent visit to Geneva, I found myself in the mood for no-nonsense comfort food, so I strolled over to the Café du Centre on the Place du Molard in the Old Town, found a table outside beneath an umbrella and ordered perch fillets meunière with frites and creamed spinach. (Perch is one of the principal freshwater fish caught in Lake Geneva.) To accompany this local version of fish and chips, I ordered a bottle of crisp Pinot Gris made from grapes grown on nearby vineyards that are, as they say in Geneva, so steep that the vignerons “need to wear crampons.” There are times when you are conscious of being intensely happy, and this was one of them.