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.
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
BBQ pork nuggets
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
Halibut with mushrooms and peas
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
Cavatelli with lamb raguI 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]
Foie gras pear tart
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
Sea bass with pesto sauce
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]
Ile flottante ("floating island")
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
Dry-aged N.Y. strip
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
Grilled drumfish with tomatoes
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
Ankimo (monkﬁsh liver)
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
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