Alice Levitt's Best Restaurant Dishes of 2008
Over the holidays, a multitude of fellow celebrants all asked me the same question, "What were your favorite restaurants this year?" Of course, for someone as obsessed with dining out as I am, that's loaded. Where to begin? Sakura and Naru in Williston are favorites. For a meat-normously grand time, you can't beat Souza's. Then it occurred to me: just tell people about the new stuff - restaurants that are out of the way, opened recently or have introduced cool new dishes. For you, dear reader, I have boiled it all down, without any of the verbal hemming and hawing that was involved at Christmas dinner!
Cafe Mediterano — One of my favorite places since they opened, Cafe Mediterano has given me a new reason to love them. For $25 they now offer a Bosnian feast, an enormous platter, crammed with cevapi, gyro meat, marinated chicken and sausages. A Mediterranean salad and perfectly crisp and puffy battered fries accompany the meat, which comes wreathed in chef/owner Barney's ambrosially soft, buttery lepinja rolls. My boyfriend James and I are disgustingly excessive eaters and we cannot finish a plate. Bring the whole gang. Then bring them again. You won't be able to stop. Seriously.
Drunken Noodle House — Right next door to Cafe Mediterano is another great deal. At lunch, the Thai spot's entrees top out at a ridiculous $5.95. Even at dinner, the glorious duck dishes are $11.95. My pick, from a uniformly well-balanced, delicious litter, is the crispy tamarind chicken. Imagine cracklin's bathed in a perfectly spiced tamarind and rice vinegar reduction. Or just let me imagine, you go eat.
M Saigon — With the closing of Shelburne Road's Little Saigon, five years ago, a hole was left in my soul. A meatball-shaped hole. M Saigon has filled it with their Vietnamese BBQ pork and egg rolls. Vietnamese meatballs are dense — like melon-baller to the pig's ass dense — and these are marvelously so, with a sweet and smoky flavor. The dish comes with fried pork egg rolls and sits atop vermicelli and fresh vegetables. Throw on some fish sauce, et voila, you've got yourself one of my favorite meals.
Stella Notte — Though the restaurant is not new, this gem, in the shadow of Smuggs, was new to me in 2008. Though ostensibly Italian, the kitchen here cooks up some of the best comfort food around, some with a continental flavor, some not. My favorite is actually a special, though it has been on the menu all but one of the many times I have dined there. The half duckling with blueberry glaze is accompanied by a mushroom risotto that's almost as much cheese as it is arborio. The duck is always shatteringly crisp, with a not-too-sweet berry zest and flesh that elegantly falls off the bone.
Wings Over Burlington — Best ribs in Chittenden County. Seriously. And the best wings. If left to my own devices, my night would always end in saucy tears after cramming a full rack of meltingly tender-crisp Golden BBQ (mustard barbecue sauce) ribs and over half a pound of Spicy Teriyaki boneless wings down my resistant gullet, in a wonderful deal referred to on the menu as simply "Ribs & Chicken". Yes, I have a problem. So should you.
Hoagie Hut — It's far from new, in fact both interior and exterior appear to be unchanged since the dawn of the Cold War, but no one to whom I mention it is aware of the wonders within the strange little strip mall spot. And it is a diversity thereof for sure. Want a grilled bologna sandwich? Go for it! Filet mignon or perhaps a surf and turf plate? They've got that, too. And it's all good. Though I have not weighed one of the hoagies, I feel confident in saying they are over two pounds. This is the real, Man vs. Food-style deal. So why do I feel the need to order a plate of honey-stung Fried Chicken on the side? Can't help it. No matter how much the owners laugh at me, I can't overlook the structural perfection, the textural magic of dem bones.
Sadie Katz Delicatessen — Dr. Brown's sodas, egg creams, sweet blintzes... You don't even need a main course to make a great meal at the cute little Jewish deli. But I recommend that you do. And make it a double. My deal of choice is the half sandwich and small soup. Get a lean pastrami — a cuddle of a sandwich, hold the schpeck — and a cup of the matzo ball soup, as comforting as Bubbe prepared, but with the most ephemerally light matzo balls I have ever had. Then get the blintzes.
Some other favorites:
- Charcuterie at the Sunday Brunch at Butler's, Inn at Essex, Essex
- Bacon cheeseburger and cheese curds at A&W Drive-In, Middlebury
- Steak and Fresh Mozzarella Sandwich at Ground Round, South Burlington
I must also pay my respects in a wrenchingly sad farewell to some old friends: