Rancho Santa Fe, California —Rancho Valencia’s stylish farm-to-table restaurant, Veladora, should be as much of a draw as its famous spa. The braised and lacquered veal breast achieved a rich texture, enhanced by a light winter-onion soubise. Al dente smoked carrots and crunchy “puffed grains” provided just the right textural contrast.
Bavaria, Germany — One of the most visually striking dishes I had all year was the crayfish with yogurt, cucumber, amaranth and cress at Luce d’Oro, the cozy gourmet restaurant of Schloss Elmau in southern Bavaria. The delectably fresh ingredients created a delightful interplay, and the flavors paired beautifully with a rare 1994 Kirchmayr “Solist” Grüner Veltliner Spätlese Trocken.
Königstein, Germany — The staff at this hotel restaurant in the elegant town of Königstein on the outskirts of Frankfurt managed to be at once highly professional and exceedingly good-humored. Our dinner was unforgettable, most notably the succulent Livar Monastery heirloom pork with fragrant morels, cauliflower, hazelnut purée and sublime Madeira-bacon sauce.
Lummi Island, Washington — Inspired by his time at Noma, chef Blaine Wetzel takes the local cuisine movement to its extreme at The Willows Inn without sacrificing flavor. Beets don’t rank among my favorite foods, but Wetzel’s luscious glazed version tasted sweet, aromatic and herbaceous, studded with creamy disks of bone marrow and locally foraged sheep’s sorrel. I’ve never had better.
Tasmania, Australia — After donning heavy rubber waders, we followed our guide into the limpid waters of Coles Bay, just off the Freycinet Peninsula and one of the most beautiful places in the world. He explained the working of the 150-acre oyster farm in the still waters surrounding us, then ushered us to a wood-plank table on stilts. There, he shucked some of the most delicious oysters we’ve ever tasted — plump and gently iodine-rich, accompanied by a nice glass of flinty local Sauvignon Blanc.
Paris, France — If wild salmon is a rarity everywhere today, the prince of these fish is perhaps those from the Adour River in southwestern France. Humble before its remarkable quality, chef Philippe Labbé of L’Abeille poached a round lozenge to a remarkable succulence and garnished it simply with grilled sliced almonds, fresh almond purée and a citrus compote, which elicited the fish’s natural flavors with striking elegance.
Venice, Italy — It’s a challenge to find the restaurant Antiche Carampane on a back street in Venice, but perseverance pays off when you taste the tagliolini with granseola (spider crab) that’s the house speciality. The delicate ribbons of freshly made pasta are the perfect foil for fine flakes of sweet, gently briny crabmeat in a delicate sauce of seafood bouillon, olive oil, herbs and tomato, and this deeply flavored dish is also remarkably light.
Paso Robles, California — JUST Inn embodies the ideal wine country inn, with an elegant setting, delicious food and its own superb wines. The dish that brought this all together for me was the succulent Colorado lamb loin, pink at the center, with potato purée, fennel, pickled mustard seeds and an unusual smoked tomato demi-glace that accented every flavor on the plate.
Hermanus, South Africa — Not only was the dining room at this charming small property delightful, but the service was properly engaging and the menu was full of intriguing choices. Best of all was the generous portion of slow-braised springbok shank, off-the-bone tender, with crisp potato wedges and al dente vegetables. I relished the opportunity to try this South African dish and cannot imagine it being better.
St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada — The sophisticated setting of the dining room at this outstanding inn proved an ideal complement to the exceptional food. While I found everything delicious, I particularly enjoyed the grilled quail Rossini stuffed with porcini and spinach accompanied by a fresh herb risotto and an indulgent Port sauce.