I travel a lot for both business and pleasure and have the opportunity to eat in so many places; a kaleidoscope of experiences. One has to eat. Better at the most interesting places possible, whether they be simple or haute experience.
Of course, from a travel perspective, there was no comparative culinary experience to my time in Spain, mostly in the region around San Sebastian. The important chefs of the region have taken regional influences, the influence of classic french cuisine and the new innovations brought about by some of the great Spanish chefs to a new plateau of experiences. Simple regional products expressed in new ways that make the product stand on it's own, but with visual and taste highlights that allow these regional foods to reach our senses in such a novel, but well expressed manner, that the gustatory experience is truly unforgettable.
I have to mention simplicity at it's best, expressed by the small shop in New York called Porchetta, that mainly sells porchetta take away sandwiches that are perhaps just the best sandwich experience available, perhaps anywhere. The pork is so flavourful, tender and juicy, the meat stuffed with wonderful elements such as fennel pollen and the crackling included in the sandwich, nicely crispy, but not tough at all. The perfect bun for this, ciabatta.
Locally, Toronto and vicinity has it's own regional players. The Black Hoof.....out on a culinary and nutritional limb with such landmarks as cauliflower soup with bone marrow, lots of charcuterie, lots of what Jennifer Mclagan refers to as "good fats", a wonderful horse meat tartar open faced sandwich....the pure sweetness of the meat quite exceptional. Note Bene, chef David Lee's reduction of his former elevated cuisine to his version of wonderful bistro food, using such great products as his specially reserved 60 day dry aged, Cumbrae's prime beef to which he bastes the end product with the ashes of thyme and rosemary swirled in a balsamic vinegar and fruity olive oil blend. The "new" Splendido's chef Victor Barry does many wonderful executed versions of simple food elevated to a higher level of expression, such as his 60 day dry aged Cumbrae's rib steak, grilled and finished cooking sous vide over several hours, presented medium rare to rare, was perhaps my finest beef experience in Toronto this year!
And, for those of you not familiar with Indian haute cuisine, speak with the talented owner chef "P.K." at Dhaba restaurant to recreate some of the exceptional highlights of his regional cooking that are expressed differently than the regular menu selections at his restaurant. The chef/owner of the new Linda Thai restaurant in the new Don Mills shopping mall created a novel well executed expression of european influenced thai cuisine at a special event organized for one of the local culinary societies.
For a Japanese experience with Kaiseki cuisine and perhaps the truest local expression of this effort, one must journey to Hashimoto. I discussed my desires for an exceptional experience with the chef, and to be frank, with no cost budget as a guide, as I know from personal restaurant experiences at the highest level in Japan why the most interesting and extraordinary culinary experiences there are so costly. The chef was given a totally free hand to source fish and shellfish from anywhere and to create a true Japanese gastronomic experience. The result was expressed at a level I have only experienced in Japan. The fish and shellfish so exceptionally fresh and so beautifully presented with visually complementary tableware elements.
Finally, Chef Michael Stadtlander is back in the game with a restaurant design that expresses his personal taste and desires.......when you see it and appreciate the details, the design elements will take your breath away....even more so with a visit to their washrooms!!.....and then there is the food experience. Michael's personal philosophy and taste presented in such a moving and unique way and visually expressed on his personally handcrafted tableware. For me, being enveloped in chef Standtlander's visual and gustatory expression was a landmark for me in 2009.
These were the highlights of some of my personal culinary experiences for 2009. Wishing you all a healthy gustatory new year filled with culinary delights.