In 2018 I took a photo of over 700 dishes. I was lucky to experience food on three continents. For notable eateries I was able to eat seven Michelin stars and three restaurants that were in the top 10 on the “World’s 50 Best” list last year. All of this added up to one of the best years yet for travel and new food experiences.

As I reflected upon all of my meals, abroad and at home, I finally arrived at my ten best plates of 2018. “Best” is a bit of a nebulous term these days, especially when it comes to matters of taste. For me this yearly reflection and selection of the “best” plates is about considering many different aspects of food including flavor, preparation, emotion, risk, and story. That being said there are a couple of parameters for these lists:

  1. The list cannot include dishes I’ve had from a particular restaurant/chef in previous years
  2. While these are my 10 favorite from this year, they are listed in no particular order or rank
“Oyster & Pearls”: Sabayon of pearl tapioca, Island Creek oysters, Regiis Ova caviar – Per Se, NYC

One of the most iconic dishes from one of America’s greatest chefs. I have longed wanted to try this dish and our short visit to NYC provided the opportunity. Every bit as rich and refined as I had imagined, these few bites were a delicious introduction to the tasting menu at Per Se.

“Caviar”: Benedict with smoked ham, sturgeon, and hollandaise – Eleven Madison Park. NYC

I woke up at 4am on January 1st to go online and make my reservation for Eleven Madison Park. This was the date/time that reservations became available for February and, as 2018’s Best Restaurant in the World, I knew the tables would disappear quickly. Luckily I managed to snag a table for the exact day and time I had hoped for. Of all the dishes we had during our tasting, this one stood out the most for me. The dish delivered a deftly refined rendition of a NYC classic.

Sea foie gras, dried cherry, rhubarb & ume puree, and mesclun salad – Pai, Honolulu

Fate decided that we should have this foie gras, as it was a dish that we hadn’t ordered (foolishly in hindsight), but rather came as a generous anniversary gift from the chef. The crust on the foie gras is one of the best I’ve ever had, and the complex flavor balance to the fatty offal – with a myriad of sweet and sour notes – was delicious.

Smoked local egg potato salad – ZIGU, Honolulu

It’s easy for these lists to be dominated by luxury ingredients. That makes me all the more excited for a dish that, devoid of those luxury items, still stands out and finds me wanting more. This “crack potato salad” (as described by our server) has wonderful flavors of smoke and fat encapsulated in a creamy potato texture. I would stock my refrigerator with a tub of this stuff if I could.

Pumpkin pork stew: Pumpkin, garlic, ginger, onion, turmeric, and fish sauce – Rangoon Burmese Kitchen, Honolulu

One of my favorite restaurant openings this year in Honolulu was Rangoon Burmese Kitchen. I have had so many delicious bites here and the food, focused on Burmese dishes, is both familiar and new. By far the most humble dish on this list, the pumpkin pork stew is a dish I keep wanting to go back for. This dish delivers a lot of flavor with tender chunks of pork, spice, umami, and just a hint of sweetness.

Burrata, truffle honey, burgundy truffle, raisin, and grilled bread – Senia, Honolulu

It’s no secret that Senia is my favorite restaurant in Hawaii right now. I ate there 14 times last year, and every time it was delicious. One of my favorite dishes last year was this take on burrata. Creamy, warm burrata is elevated with the flavor and aroma of truffle. The honey and raisins add a bold punch of sweetness that cuts the richness of the dish. I had to order more bread to make sure I could soak up every last bit.

“Edge of the Desert”: Peruvian uni with cactus juice – Central Restaurante, Lima

Chef Virgilio’s vision of his restaurant in Lima is to showcase the unique diversity and quality of ingredients in Peru. While his food at both Central and MIL (both restaurants we were fortunate to try) definitely achieve this goal, the one dish I keep thinking about is perhaps the most minimalistic. On the surface this cup holds a few delicate slivers of amazingly fresh Peruvian uni, paired with a light sauce of cactus juice. But once the uni hits your palate the flavors are so complex and delightful. I’m a big fan of Japanese uni, but I dare say that this has (so far) topped all uni I’ve ever had.

“Sudado”: Catch of the day (paiche), sudado reduction, and seaweed – Maido, Lima

Typically a fairly humble stew, Maido’s take is incredibly dense with flavor. The fish was perfectly cooked, but the real star is the sudado reduction paired with the seaweed. Each bite seemed to further develop the complexity of flavors on my palate. I loved the zing of oceanic flavor from the seaweed, which added an air of freshness to the otherwise rich sudado.

Sea Urchin Rice: Chiclayo rice, Atico sea urchin, avocado cream, wan yi, and baby corn – Maido, Lima

Peruvian uni strikes again! I loved this dish. After all the ingredients are mixed together and incorporated, the texture reads like a creamy risotto. The luxurious texture is buoyed by the natural sweetness and brine of the sea urchin. My only regret, cliched as it is to say, is that there wasn’t more.

Crispy Tako: Sunchoke, shiso, and dashi broth – Senia, Honolulu

Before the end of 2018 I had most of this list in mind. Then I had dinner at Senia one last time in 2018 on December 28th. I wrestled with the list and kept finding myself down to the wire, a coin flip, on two dishes. I enjoyed both dishes, but in the end I felt I enjoyed this tako just a bit more. The crisp exterior of the tako juxtaposes with the tender flesh within; a delightful textural contrast. The dashi was beautiful with a subtle wave of flavor that compounded with each bite. The tie breaker for me on this dish over the other vying for a spot on this list was the incorporation of shiso. It’s flavor was subtle, yet undoubtedly present and added another layer to the depth of this plate.

I am incredibly fortunate and grateful for the opportunity to have so many great culinary experiences. I ate a lot of amazing food in 2018. Thank you to all of the chefs, restaurants, and their staffs who make these experiences possible.

I look forward to an even better year of eating in 2019!