XtremeFoodies Founder: The 20 Best Things I Ate in 2017

By jeffrey_merrihue on January 1st, 2018

I started writing lists in 2012, mostly to remember where I went and what I ate which expanded into XtremeFoodies to have a handy way to share dining recommendations around the world with friends and family. The last two years have been powered by trips to Southeast Asia and Chengdu, where the street food is spicy and sensational. This year’s culinary escapades were focused more on Japan, where the ingredients are finer, the culinary skills are higher and flavors are less explosive. By moving from London to LA, the diversity of European cuisines was replaced by the diversity of LA’s ethnic cuisines, a good but tough comparison. Luckily, Latin America chipped in with some insanely great plates.

Here are the best things I ate in 2017:

20. Gargouillou (gar-gu-Yu) Salad @ Bras, Laguiole, France

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

This famous salad was invented by French chef Michel Bras in June 1978. The inspiration came while running through the fields, gardens and mountains that were in full bloom. This dish contains 50 to 60 vegetables, herbs, grains, leaves and flowers. Each ingredient is either raw, pickled or cooked in its own way and then assembled into a dish that constantly changes.

This dish is one of the most copied creations in the world. The best version I ever tried was at Piazza Duomo in Alba,Italy,  but it was a delight to try the original as prepared by Bras’ son, Sebastian.

19. Beet Butterfly Crackers @ Minibar in Washington, D.C.

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

The butterfly cracker is made with beet batter fried on a butterfly-shaped rosette iron with yoghurt, mandarin orange reduction, freeze-dried beet powder and freeze-dried yoghurt powder. These creative nibbles are representative of how innovation is intersecting with cuisine to create a new form of edible entertainment seen throughout this list.

18. Lobster Tower and Crab Pavilion @ Fishman Lobster Clubhouse, Toronto, Canada

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

Here is the power of a restaurant doing one thing perfectly well. Choose between the lobster tower and the crab pavilion or, even better, order both. The sea creatures are flash fried in green onion and garlic chips then stacked like Jenga towers that topple if you pull a leg from the bottom.

Featured on our list of The 32 Best Chinese Restaurants in the World, this is the place to go with a group.

17. Hairy Crab @ Sushi Saito in Tokyo, Japan

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

Hairy crab is one of the most prized delicacies in eastern Chinese cuisine. And its perfect execution is served at a restaurant with one of the hardest reservations in the world. Chef Takashi Saito’s tiny sushi counter is rated by Tabelog as the No. 1 sushi restaurant in Japan, and his dish is the ultimate intersection of deliciousness and style.

16. Roast Pig @ Hornados Dieguito, near Quito, Ecuador

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

If the suburb of Sangolqui is the holy land of roast pigs, then Hornados Dieguito is the Vatican. Enormous pigs are laid out in all their porky, crunchy glory every morning.  Residents of Quito and the surrounding valley make the one-hour pilgrimage on weekends for a snout-to-tail feast of King Henry proportions. With a fine bottle of Shiraz, the chicharron (crunchy skin) and super juicy meat with all the local trimmings would be a worthy last supper.

15. John Dory @ Regis et Jacques Marcon, southern French countryside

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

Regis et Jacques Marcon lies two hours west of Lyons in a tiny village perched on a hilltop with a micro-climate famous for growing a variety of mushrooms. Fungi shine as a whole John Dory is roasted and served at the table with green asparagus, rosemary flowers, sabayon sauce and, of course, glorious chanterelles. This is perfect, classic three Michelin star dining.

14. Pineapple Upside - Down Cake @ Hali‘imaile General Store, Maui

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

Bev Gannon was one of 12 chefs who banded together in the 1990’s to launch Hawaii’s Regional Cuisine Movement. This dessert from the middle of Maui exemplifies how they promoted unique, local ingredients to create a highly identifiable cuisine. This spectacular cake features caramelised Maui gold pineapple and buttery vanilla pound cake served warm with whipped cream. This dream is served at her original restaurant in the middle of a pineapple plantation.

13. Hokkaido Uni with Black Truffle @ Brooklyn Fare

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

Chef César Ramirez used to be a notorious curmudgeon. But with age and a new Manhattan location, he has become decidedly nicer. He now allows photos and, best of all, the food has gotten even better. This Hokkaido uni topped with sweet black truffle is served on a delightful little brioche and is simply wonderful.

12. Tempura Fig @ Nanachome Kyoboshi

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

While it’s the only 3-star Michelin tempura restaurant in the world, the impossible-to-find little room is unremarkable. As such, the excellence is left to the impeccable combination of perfect and often rare ingredients cooked with an ethereally light tempura batter. This beautiful little Japanese fig captures the simplicity and elegance of this approach.

11. 1,300-day-old Mole Madre @ “New” Pujol, Mexico City

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

The new Pujol has moved to a beautiful site overlooking a lovely garden. A lot of hard work has gone into the new menu as well, with the result a mix of innovation and tradition. Born four years old, the flavours in the classic Mole Madre are allowed to meld, settle and blend to enhance the complex taste and intensify the delicious rich fragrance of the sauce. It is hard to imagine a mole more perfectly rendered than this classic.

10. Smoked Salmon Pizza @ Spago, Los Angeles

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

It is great fun to find a new restaurant with a new technique and then boast about it online, and this annual list often tries to do that. So it was with a bit of self-surprise, as I put this list together, to find I kept thinking about how delicious the salmon pizza invented by Wolfgang Puck at Spago was decades ago. He prepared it at an event this summer and served it proudly as if he had just created it. And, indeed, it is as good as everything else on this list. This entry is dedicated to the classics!

9. Foie Gras @ Vetri Cucina

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

A common theme this year was the intersection of delicious food with artistic design to create entertainment. Chef Marc Vetri's foie gras is brined and smoked, then pressed with black pepper and coriander, sliced over brioche and topped with a seasonal cherry mostarda. Lovely taste, lovely plating, leading to a lovely photo, comes in at No. 9 this year.

8. Wagyu Beef from Tokyo’s Wagyumafia @ LA Mansion

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

A private dinner prepared by the hot shots of Tokyo Wagyumafia was just one perfectly prepared bite after another of wagyu, truffles, uni and other delicacies. Hisato Hamada-San and partners provided the beefy fireworks, while guests brought all kinds of fancy wines from Abreu to Colgin. This stand-up feast was a blur of the imported beef that often went straight from “chef to mouth,” bypassing servers, plates, forks and other unnecessary intermediaries. I look forward to visiting the boys in Tokyo in 2018!

7. Goat Stew Flautas @ Taquizas Gilberto, West Covina, LA

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

The list of very good tacos in the world is long. The list of truly excellent tacos is significantly shorter. These long crunchy flautas (flutes) are fried, then scorched on the flat-top until they are crispy sticks of chili-stained goat stew dynamite. 

6. Cacio y Pepe @ Flavio al Velavevodetto, Rome

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

There are a few candidates for the best Cacio y Pepe in Rome. But Flavio will be on any aficionado’s shortlist. The dish features just three ingredients: tonnarelli (and the resulting “pasta water”), freshly grated Pecorino Romano DOP and cracked black pepper. The starchy pasta water holds the dish together but needs to be stirred at just the right speed and for the exact length of time. Getting the proportions and timing in balance is surprisingly hard to do. The thick and creamy dish is savoury and piquant.

5. Diamond Turbot Fish and Tail @ Saison, San Francisco

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

The open kitchen is built around local ingredients and wood fire cooking with beautiful results. The turbot arrives alive and is sent to meet its maker moments before preparation. It is then slowly grilled and glazed with a sauce made from the bones of the fish and an elixir of seaweed and little fish and fungi that have been cultured for six months.

4. Patagonian Lamb Cross BBQ @ Pire-Hue Lodge, Bariloche, Argentina

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

At the base of the Bariloche ski resort is the only ski-in/ski-out hotel at the resort. While you may end up fighting with the notoriously belligerent Argentinian staff, you will have no quarrel with the signature lamb grilled on a cross-over an open fire. From fire to table is about seven hours, and the flavours and immediacy of this wondrous BBQ grilled with salt, garlic and rosemary are historic. 

3. Belgium Pate en Croute @ Bozar, Brussels

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

This is surely one of the most complex dishes I have ever seen or tasted in my life. This architectural marvel takes two days to make and uses dozens of ingredients including Bigorre’s black pork, duck and goose foie gras from the south west of France. There are many tasty items at Bozar, but make sure to reserve this in advance, as they are made in very limited quantities.

2. “The Bodega” Breakfast Sandwich @ High Street on Hudson, Manhattan

Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

“The Bodega” is the single best breakfast sandwich in the world. It is made with malted sausage, fried eggs and aged cheddar on a fresh baked sage and black pepper buttermilk biscuit. Like most great sandwiches, the bread (biscuit) has a huge effect on the quality of the sandwich, but the other ingredients exist in perfect harmony. It is absolutely heroic.

1. Dentucky Fried Chicken @ Jimbocho Den, Tokyo

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Courtesy of Jeffrey Merrihue

Den is a restaurant with a wicked sense of humour. Soup is served in an assembled turtle. Another dish is served like dirt on an actual shovel. And so it is with my favourite dish of 2017: DFC. The very funnily named fried chicken comes served in a takeaway box with your face printed on it. It is easy to think Den offers more gimmick than substance, but that is not the case. Everything is funny AND delicious. The Dentucky Fried Chicken is served on straw and is beautifully stuffed with a mix of red rice, carrot and pine nuts with a variety of tastes and textures that really are finger-licking good. This dish is a combination of culinary skills, architecture (the box), photography, social media and theatre, and symbolizes to me where cooking has arrived in 2017.

Meet the author

Jeffrey Merrihue is the Founder of XtremeFoodies which is the world's largest network of local food experts. He has eaten at all 125 restaurants that have been on the World's 50 Best Restaurants lists since 2005. He is currently a judge on Iron Chef and has published a book: The History and Science Behind the World's Best Pizzas. You can visit Jeffrey at his Santa Monica restaurant Heroic Deli and Wine Bar. Follow…... More