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Favorite Dishes of 2012

In compiling this list, I faced the difficult task of choosing dishes that stood out on their own, outside the context of the meals in which they appeared. My favorite dishes from this year are very different from my favorite meals, which can be viewed here. For me, 2012 was an incredible year. It brought me from Noma to Sukiyabashi Jiro, from Tickets to Saison and Masa. Nearly 200 Michelin stars later, 2012 was the most diverse eating year of my life. But despite the many dishes I've consumed (and pounds I've gained) in fine-dining restaurants, the dishes that stick out in my mind this year are the simplest ones. Not the caviar and foie gras from Europe, but rather the shellfish tostadas from Mexico's Baja peninsula and fresh fish from Tokyo.

Of all the places I’ve visited this year, these are the dishes that particularly stood out ranked one through twenty five.

Favorite Meals of 2012

There is no question that 2012 was the best eating year of my life, with experiences in places ranging from Copenhagen to Kyoto. To create this list, I examined the dining experience as a whole, factoring in the progression of dishes and overall story they told. I can only hope 2013 will bring as much culinary excitement as this past year has. One theme that links my top 10 meals of 2012 is the focus on intensification of flavor. Cooking with fats is not the only way to maximize flavor. The Japanese intensify flavor by aging, cooking over a wood-burning fire, or using a pure umami-rich dashi broth. In Denmark, many of my best dishes were served raw or still alive. This theme, a focus on intensifying an ingredient's natural flavor, led to a reduction of fats being used in the cooking process of many dishes. An unintentional side effect of this is the health benefit of lighter cooking. Chef Joshua Skenes of Saison, for example, didn't even realize he was cooking without butter. The Japanese have been doing this for thousands of years, but recently other restaurants like Relae and 41 grados have sprung up embodying similar principles.

Next: Paris 1906

My recent meal at Next, Chicago, was extraordinary. The concept of the restaurant changes every three months, opening with Paris, 1906, a meal based on Auguste Escoffier's legendary cookbook Le Guide Culinaire. All the dishes on the menu included the page number from Le Guide Culinaire from which the recipe came. Chef Achatz and Chef Beran's precision and attention to detail made this meal as focused and delicious as the cuisine of the great chefs of traditional modern French cuisine. After two meals at Alinea, one of my biggest complaints was the lack of progression and seemingly disconnected structure of the meal. Next's Paris 1906 menu, on the other hand, was extremely concise and structured, telling a story and sharing the experience of eating in the city of lights at the turn of the century.