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Presenting The Maestro's 2019 Big Drunk Gay Awards

Well folks, we have entered a new year, and even though I am one month late on the new year, it was just over one year ago that I created this little blogging project. I hope you've enjoyed my mindless ramblings. It is helpful for me to journal my experiences––it keeps my rather poor memory fresh about the things I love the most, and makes me happy to hear that both of my loyal readers also enjoy my little culinary diary.

I decided to reflect back on last year and pick some of my absolute favorite bites, sips, and adventures, or at least some that were most memorable! Here I'll go through the meals, bars, wineries, and destinations I shared with y'all on the blog in 2019, and give you my vote for the best of the best, as well as a runner up that deserves an honorable mention.

I present The Maestro's 2019 Big Drunk Gay Awards!

Best Casual/Cheap Meal: Pizza in Rome at Forno al Campo de' Fiori. There's something magical about eating fresh, hot pizza with exceptional Italian ingredients sold by the pound with an Italian lager on the streets of Rome.

Runner up: Linlongfang in Shanghai. Hole-in-the-wall with cheap xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and scallion oil noodles. Insanely good, authentic, and less than $10 for two people.

Best White Wine: 2007 François Villard Des Poncins Condrieu at Écriture in Hong Kong. In general, the wine program at this place was most impressive, but this wine in particular stood out with its full body, age, and partial skin-contact fermentation.

Runner up: 2000 Bernkasteler Riesling Spätlese from H. Thanisch at SingleThread. Robust, oxidized, complex, and slightly sweet, it was a magnificent expression from one of my favorite Riesling producers in the world.

Best Red Wine: 2014 Whitcraft KickOn Ranch Pinot Noir during my Santa Barbara visit. Might be the coolest, most interesting red wine I've had. Planted next to a jalapeño farm, this vineyard produced savory and vegetal but gloriously velvety Santa Barbara pinot in this bottling. I was so sad I didn't get to take a bottle home, but hope I'll be able to find it one day!

Runner up: Domaine Faiveley "Les Fuées" Chambolle-Musigny at SingleThread. A classic Burgundian pinot expression from one of the great pinot producers.

Best Cocktail: Kumiko's salt-roasted sweet potato old fashioned. The best whiskey drink I have ever consumed. Hatozaki small-batch Japanese whisky, kuromitsu (black sugar syrup), imo (Japanese sweet potato), kinmokusei (olive flowers), and green cardamom. Bonus points for the sphere of ice that Sammy chips BY HAND.

Runner up: Also at Kumiko, the Sea Flower. Gin, glorious Japanese things, and the essence of the sea in the salted seaweed rim.

Best Destination: Banff National Park. Unparalleled natural beauty, crystal blue water, spectacular weather in the early summer. A tragedy I only got eight hours here, but I'll be back post haste.

Most Pleasant Surprise: Salad of chicories, dates, marcona almonds, broccolini, and sherry vinaigrette at HSL in Salt Lake City. Slightly bitter, but with savory almonds, tang from the sherry, sweetness from the dates... best salad I've ever had. This was surprising because I hadn't given it a second look when perusing the menu, but took the recommendation of the waiter despite not thinking it sounded that great.

Best Vegetarian Dish: Watermelon, green curry, salty almonds, and microgreens at Rooster & Owl in DC. Exciting, inventive, and unlike anything I've had.

Runner up: "Bread" at Ultraviolet in Shanghai, with a tangy butter sauce, Yunnan black truffles, parmesan foam, and enclosed under a dome of cigar smoke. Paul Pairet's signature dish, and for good reason.

Best Seafood Dish: Black cod at SingleThread, smoked in cherry blossom and then glazed with miso and torched, and served with Bloomsdale spinach from their farm, tofu skin, matsutake mushroom, scallions, and a lemongrass and lemon verbena dashi. So thoughtfully composed, with subtle and complex flavor combinations, and perfectly paired with the accompanying sake. Heaven. Probably gets the award for best dish overall.

Runner up: Salmon nigiri at Kashiba in Seattle, including salmon from Puget Sound, just yards away. Yowza.

Best Meat Dish: Squab with smoky soy glaze and squab "tea" at Mako. Simple, salty-sweet, perfectly cooked and crisp, with the perfect complement of the "tea" to sip.

Runner up: The beautiful duck with different preparations of squash from SingleThread––a very close second.

Best Overall Restaurant Experience: Easy. SingleThread Farms. In fact, not only the best this year, but perhaps the most meticulous and spectacular meal I have ever had the privilege to enjoy. Go here.

Runner up: Mako, a pristine and thoughtful omakase experience in Chicago, made all the more special by grabbing drinks with Chef Park and some new friends afterward.

Here's to another year of food, wine, spirits, and high spirits! Keep your friends and family close always, and remember––here's to those who wish us well, and those who don't can go to hell.

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