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Galarneau's 10 best restaurant dishes of 2015

During my year as The Buffalo News’ designated eater, I got to enjoy the work of some of the region’s most talented cooks.

Here are 10 dishes that punctuated some of my year’s most memorable meals. They’re not necessarily the biggest plates, using the rarest ingredients, or the specialty of the house. They are dishes I was eating when something clicked for me, helping me better understand the restaurant’s particular recipe for excellence.

Corn soup

Corn soup from Carmelo's with a lump crab salad on top. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

Corn soup from Carmelo's with a lump crab salad on top. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

This chilled corn soup would have been a stunner even without its luxe crab accent. The work that Carmelo Raimondi put into amplifying the corn broth at its heart, making it creamy without using palate-dulling cream, helped me recognize that no dish is taken for granted in his Lewiston restaurant.

Info: Carmelo’s, 425 Center St., Lewiston, 754-2311

[Read the restaurant review of Carmelo's & see a photo gallery]

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BBQ pork nuggets

The Black Sheep’s pork nuggets are served with housemade ranch dressing. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The Black Sheep’s pork nuggets are served with housemade ranch dressing. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

The best pork Steven Gedra can get comes by the pig, more expensive than mass-produced meat, and more time-consuming to use. To make it pay, he has figured out how to sell practically everything but the squeal. Everything you want from crispy bar food – but housemade right down to the ranch dressing – these nuggets are gold.

Info: The Black Sheep, 367 Connecticut St., 884-1100

[Read the restaurant review of The Black Sheep & see a photo gallery]

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Halibut with mushrooms and peas

Hutch's North Atlantic halibut with mushrooms and peas with a thyme broth. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

Hutch's North Atlantic halibut with mushrooms and peas with a thyme broth. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

Sure things abound on the menu of Hutch’s, one of the safest bests in Buffalo fine dining. Yet despite the bison steak and soft-shelled crabs, my first choice for a repeat would be the halibut, a special made especially memorable by its delicate framing of sweet peas and asparagus, fresh from the farmers market.

Info: Hutch’s, 1375 Delaware Ave., 885-0074

[Read the restaurant review of Hutch's & see a photo gallery]

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Cavatelli with lamb ragu

Cavatelli pasta with Stillwater Farm lamb neck ragu, carrot confit and asiago pressato, served by Craving chef-owner Adam Goetz in the James Beard House in Manhattan. (Andrew Renneisen/Special to The News)

Cavatelli pasta with Stillwater Farm lamb neck ragu, carrot confit and asiago pressato, served by Craving chef-owner Adam Goetz in the James Beard House in Manhattan. (Andrew Renneisen/Special to The News)

I met this dish in Manhattan, during Adam Goetz’s showcase dinner at the James Beard House. Its sublime combination of fresh pasta with soulful, silky braised lamb helped me realize that local chefs are developing an indigenous cuisine that ought to put Buffalo on the culinary map for something beyond chicken wings.

Info: Craving, 1472 Hertel Ave., 883-1675

[Read Galarneau's report from Goetz's James Beard House meal]

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Foie gras pear tart

This is a foie gras and pear tart with a guajillo-maple glaze from Bourbon & Butter in the Hotel @ the Lafayette. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

This is a foie gras and pear tart with a guajillo-maple glaze from Bourbon & Butter in the Hotel @ the Lafayette. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

Amid an amusement park’s worth of thrilling dishes, drawing on a variety of cuisines, this French-by-way-of-Mexico dish exemplified what can happen when cooks decide to color outside the borders.

Foie gras and fruit is a classic pairing, then chile caramel, fruity in its own way, added another delicious dimension.

Info: Bourbon & Butter, 391 Washington St., 253-6453

[Read the restaurant review of Bourbon & Butter, then see a photo gallery]

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Sea bass with pesto sauce

San Marco's sea bass is pan-seared with white wine, lemon and herbs, finished on the grill and topped with a creamy pesto sauce. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

San Marco's sea bass is pan-seared with white wine, lemon and herbs, finished on the grill and topped with a creamy pesto sauce. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News)

A recent meal full of carefully calibrated Northern Italian cuisine left me pondering this dish. It was a perfectly cooked slab of seafood that managed to walk the narrow path between overkill and satisfaction.

Toasted nuts and cream pesto sauce could overwhelm delicate fish, but in this case its elements combined to make beautiful music.

Info: San Marco, 2082 Kensington Ave., Amherst, 839-5876

[Read the restaurant review of San Marco]

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Ile flottante ("floating island")

The Ile Flottante has been a staple of the Rue Franklin for more than 30 years. It has poached meringue afloat in a creme anglaise with caramel and toasted almonds. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

The Ile Flottante has been a staple of the Rue Franklin for more than 30 years. It has poached meringue afloat in a creme anglaise with caramel and toasted almonds. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

At the end of my meal at one of the oldest fine dining restaurants in Buffalo, after beautiful dishes that delivered old satisfactions in new ways, this dessert arrived.

Its gorgeous merger of form and function, not original, just classic, solidified my opinion that we ought to be grateful for this French-inspired jewelbox.

Info: Rue Franklin, 341 Franklin St., 852-4416

[Read a restaurant review of Rue Franklin & an in-depth piece on Ile Flottante]

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Dry-aged N.Y. strip

The 28-day dry-aged NY strip with fingerling potatoes, wild hedgehog mushrooms, arugula and parmesan from Tempo. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

The 28-day dry-aged NY strip with fingerling potatoes, wild hedgehog mushrooms, arugula and parmesan from Tempo. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

My year in dining included several self-described steakhouses, but the beef that most deserved a do-over was Tempo’s aged N.Y. strip, tender, funky and exquisitely charred at the edges while rosy at heart.

Framed with hedgehog mushrooms and a spray of arugula and Parmesan-Reggiano curls, it was an all-star steak.

Info: Tempo, 581 Delaware Ave., 885-1594

[Read the restaurant review of Tempo & see a photo gallery]

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Grilled drumfish with tomatoes

Toutant's wood-grilled Gulf red drumfish "on the half shell" is topped with a vinaigrette marinade and stewed preserved tomatoes. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

Toutant's wood-grilled Gulf red drumfish "on the half shell" is topped with a vinaigrette marinade and stewed preserved tomatoes. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

With his grasp of Southern culinary idioms and precise operation, James Roberts has Buffalo diners believing in his fried chicken, biscuits, cornbread and barbecue. Yet memory lingers on the grilled drumfish, accented with preserved tomatoes and vinaigrette.

I’ve had great fried chicken before, but I’ve never had fish like that.

Info: Toutant, 437 Ellicott St., 342-2901

[Read the restaurant review of Toutant & see a photo gallery]

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Ankimo (monkfish liver)

The Ankimo ("foie gras of the sea") is steamed monk fish pate served with cucumber, radish sprout and a light soy sauce. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

The Ankimo ("foie gras of the sea") is steamed monk fish pate served with cucumber, radish sprout and a light soy sauce. (Sharon Cantillon/Buffalo News file photo)

Among the authentic flavors offered by Kuni Sato, Buffalo’s leading Japanese chef, is ankimo, monkfish liver formed into little discs, just like foie gras torchon.

Served with radish sprouts and pickled cucumber for contrast instead of fruit, ankimo reminded me how fish can be feast-worthy as any animal.

Info: Kuni’s, 226 Lexington Ave., 881-3800

[Read the restaurant review of Kuni's & see a photo gallery]

Did we miss your favorite dish? Send yours to agalarneau@buffnews.com

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