As 2022 comes to a close, I am, naturally, thinking about the most wonderful restaurant dishes that I ate and wrote about in the course of the past twelve months. Over the summer, I declared the skate wing at Place des Fêtes to be the dish of the year: quick-cured, cold-smoked, double-fried, and served with a wedge of Meyer lemon, fresh herbs, sauce gribiche, and a toasty, fragrant buckwheat crêpe. I stand by that. At S&P Lunch, my favorite new restaurant of the year, my pick for M.V.P. (sampled only after I published my column on the place) is a sandwich called the FIFTY/50: a schmear of tuna salad and a schmear of egg salad on squishy yet crusty rye, split fifty-fifty with a friend one cold afternoon when we were in desperate need of a snack.
Was 2022 indeed the year of the fifty-fifty? My favorite cocktail was the Perfect, also known as a fifty-fifty, Martini—made with equal parts sweet and dry vermouth, viscous and cold and almost creamy (and the perfect antidote to the realization that I had somehow lost my keys on the way to the restaurant)—at the revived Gage & Tollner. The proportion applies, too, to a dish I got rather carried away describing, in my review of the Lower East Side Spanish restaurant Ernesto’s: the pintxo matrimonio al ajillo, made with one part plump pickled white anchovy, one part dark skinny salt-cured anchovy, arranged together enticingly upon a rectangle of buttery puff pastry.
Another 2022 observation I made was that the Zeitgeist was skewing Early American. The dish that made the biggest impression on me at the Shaker-inspired Commerce Inn was a slice of dense, sticky ginger cake, blooming with warm spice and dolloped with whipped cream. The other dessert that stands out is the single offering at Wenwen, in Greenpoint. I understand why diners line up for the whole fried BDSM Chicken, but the most pro move is to order the fried tangyuan with ice cream, featuring glutinous-rice balls filled with black-sesame paste and plated with vanilla ice cream, condensed milk, chopped cilantro, candied peanuts, and dehydrated-peanut-butter powder—a sweet and savory spectacular.
All of this said, one of the questions that I get asked most often after I’ve introduced myself as a restaurant critic is: do you cook? The answer is yes! Not as much as I’d like to, but at least a few times a week. I’ve been thinking, too, about the most wonderful things that I cooked, and snacked on, and didn’t write about—until now. Here are five of them.
Sister Pie Granola
Every so often, I decide that I should purge my cookbook collection, which spills out of the seven or so shelves that I’ve devoted to it—a combination of purchases, gifts, stoop finds, and review copies sent by publishers. In June, I pulled out “Sister Pie: The Recipes and Stories of a Big-Hearted Bakery in Detroit” (2018), by Lisa Ludwinski, which falls into the final category. I’ve never been to Ludwinski’s bakery, Sister Pie; I haven’t even been to Detroit. And, although I love to bake, I rarely make pies. But before putting the book on my own stoop, I paged through it, to see what I might be missing. Toward the end, in a section called “And Everything Else” (i.e., not pie), a recipe for granola caught my eye. In addition to the expected oats, nuts, and coconut flakes, it called for an unusually generous mix of seasonings: ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and allspice. More intriguing still was the list of seeds: poppy, and sesame, and fennel. But the most surprising ingredient of all was buckwheat groats. I had to try it. I was so pleased with the result—a flavor profile that swings like a pendulum between savory and sweet, and an unprecedented spectrum of crunch peaking at the groats, which toast gorgeously in the oven—that I might never make any other kind. The book has earned a place in my permanent collection.
Rosh Hashanah Dinner from “Honey Cake and Latkes”
Speaking of cookbooks, and buckwheat groats (2022 was, for me, the year of buckwheat): in October, I wrote a Talk of the Town story about the release party for “Honey Cake and Latkes,” a collection of recipes from survivors of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps. It’s a beautiful, incredibly moving text; never before had I cried while reading a cookbook. I decided I would use it to make the Rosh Hashanah dinner that I was hosting. The Ashkenazi dish known as kasha varnishkes has been one of my ultimate comfort foods since third grade, when my dad, tasked with representing our family’s heritage, prepared it for a school potluck. Tova Friedman’s recipe features kasha, or buckwheat groats, toasted and simmered and then combined with mushrooms, onions, garlic, soy sauce, and bow-tie pasta. I made her tzimmes, too, steamed carrots glazed, with dried fruit, lemon rind, and ginger, in honey and brown sugar, to accompany Goldie Finkelstein’s brisket, which, made with an envelope of French-onion-soup mix, among other ingredients, was the biggest hit of the meal.
This past March, Clare de Boer, one of the chefs behind the Manhattan restaurants King and Jupiter, opened Stissing House, a new restaurant in a Revolutionary War-era inn (see: Early America), in Pine Plains, New York. In July, my meal there began with an array of pickles, ham, house-made potato chips and, most strikingly, shavings of Jake’s Aged Gouda, a cheese made in Deansboro, New York, by an Amish family who also run their own dairy farm. Made with raw milk and aged for at least six months, in cream rather than wax (which lets it breathe), it has an incredibly rich, sharp, nutty, caramel flavor that hits the back of your tongue. De Boer buys whole wheels for the restaurant. I might invest in one of those some day, but, for now, I’ve been buying it by the wedge from & Sons Buttery, André Mack’s domestic-ham-and-cheese shop, in Brooklyn’s Prospect Lefferts Gardens, to eat with crackers and tart slices of Winesap apple from the farmers’ market.
Kim’C Market Rice
Among the pantry items for sale at Little Banchan Shop, in Long Island City, are beautiful paper sacks of short-grain white rice, harvested in Korea and milled in New York, distributed by Kim’C Market, a Brooklyn-based online grocery store that offers national delivery. I’ve been preparing it the way that Hetty McKinnon suggests in her wonderful 2021 cookbook, “To Asia, With Love,” a classic Chinese method that she learned from her mother: “Some call this the ‘first knuckle method;’ it involves touching our index finger to the surface of the rice and adding water until it just reaches the first crease (or knuckle) on our finger.” She’s often met with skepticism when she describes this, she writes: “It defies logic, yes.” But the technique has yet to fail her, or me: in my experience, it produces optimally separate, firm, and glossy grains each time. A scoop of warm rice topped with Little Banchan Shop’s superlative Napa-cabbage kimchi makes a simple, profoundly satisfying meal.
OK Sea Salt
For decades, my parents have vacationed in the same place on the South Shore of Nova Scotia. As a child, I went every summer, and as an adult I make it as often as I can. I am comforted by the fact that it usually feels like nothing much has changed there, but, this past August, I was surprised and delighted to discover something new to eat: local, hand-harvested sea salt. Onya Hogan-Finlay and Kim Kelly are a young couple, artists who moved from Los Angeles to Nova Scotia during the early months of the pandemic, without concrete plans on what they would do. Now, they call themselves the Salty Dykes. They seek out the cleanest local seawater, gathered by the bucketful at highest tide from shellfish-harvesting areas that are carefully monitored by local authorities, then filter it and dehydrate it to form coarse, sparkly, supremely crunchy crystals of salt, which they package in charming pouches made from post-consumer materials, to be sold at local shops, farmers’ markets, and online. Some of the salt they leave plain, some they mix with locally foraged, wild ingredients, including blueberries and cranberries, spruce tips, lovage, and beach rose. I’ve sprinkled it on everything from chocolate-sauerkraut cake (baked from a historical Acadian recipe) to avocado toast. With bittern, a byproduct left over after they’ve extracted the culinary-grade salt, Hogan-Finlay and Kelly make “ritual salt,” which is, according to their Web site, “great for baths and spells!” ♦