The New Year is often an occasion of reflection, and hopefully of celebration for most of us. It is also often a time of compiling lists, from last year’s top movies to celebrities who have passed on during the year. Looking back on 2015, I tried to pick a dozen or so outstanding “culinary” experiences that stood out from the rest and were worthy of inclusion on a list of favorites. I used my computer’s photo collection as a memory jogger and checked off those pictures that reminded me of a great meal, or a great time, and usually both. The exercise was instructive because as the collection developed it reminded me of something very important. In all of the photos of some meal that I was enjoying, I was also accompanied by the people that I care most about. That circle of friends and loved ones that we dine with is what makes eating “dining”, and we need that circle to make it so. As Epicurus advised over two thousand years ago, “We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.”
With those thoughts in mind, these were some of my 2015 culinary highlights, in no particular order.
A bistro lovers’ weekend in Montreal. An annual event for us, and one that I highly recommend. There is something about eating French food in a French bistro in the very French province of Quebec, that tops a similar experience in New York.
The Schroon Lake Chili Festival, and annual competition and fundraiser for Essex County Fire Departments and EMS units. I was honored to be one of the judges, which was way too much fun.
Cosimo Mondays Monday is our “night off”. No cooking, and no “eating out”. Monday means pizza at the bar at Cosimo’s in Poughkeepsie with the regular band of locals and JoJo at the bar playing ringmaster. We don’t count eating at Cosimo’s as eating out.
A trip to San Sebastian and the Basque region was on our culinary “bucket list”. On our tapas tour across northern Spain and Potugal, we enjoyed some of the best cuisine to be found anywhere in the world. One meal in particular, at Elkano in the seaside Basque fishing village of Gataria, was probably the best meal I had this year.
On the other side of the culinary spectrum, I am thankful for (drum roll) ~ “Hot & Stinky” Adirondack style chicken wings. Instead of putting the blue cheese in a “sauce on the side” with carrot and celery sticks, sprinkle the blue cheese right on the wings. At Sticks & Stones in Schroon Lake, they go one step better and pop them in the wood fired pizza oven to finish the dish. What’s better than that? Why didn’t someone think of this before? Brilliant!
Nothing beats seafood plucked fresh from the ocean, particularly when it comes to conch (the sea snail also used for scungilli). On a fishing trip to Exuma, Bahamas, I stumbled upon a conch shack on the beach, where a local man was fashioning these briny delicacies into a salad with local tropical fruits, for the princely sum of $10. I will remember that conch salad as one of the most spectacular dishes I have ever tasted.
The Uptown in Hague, Lake George. Their summer seasonal opening leaves only a few short months to savor what comes out of this kitchen, for my money one of the best inside the Blue Line. Watch for their opening next June and make it happen.
Long time High Peaks’ favorites Paradox Lodge (Lake Placid) and Eat’n Meet Grill & Larder (Saranac Lake) were joined this year by our new favorite Lake Placid small plate venue, Liquids & Solids at the Handlebar. A recent “pop-up” special event paired guest chef John Vargo of Eat’n Meet Grill with Tim Ellis in his kitchen at Liquids & Solids. The results were predictably spectacular. Throw in complementary cocktails with all six courses fashioned by L&S co-owner Keegan Konkoski, and a hotel room within walking distance became a prerequisite. A full blog post about this event will follow soon.
barVino, North Creek. If you are a regular reader, you already know why we love this place, a wonderful family owned business with an overriding sense of community. (The last time we saw the Bowers family patriarch, Michael was pulling electrical cable up Main Street to service North Creek’s new outdoor street lanterns.) Add an inventive and capable kitchen, a friendly, professional staff, and a great wine bar. What’s not to like?
Aroma Osteria, Wappingers Falls. I savored every moment during this year’s luncheons at Aroma, as my Tuesday lunch table-mate of twenty-five years was moving to Maine, and I knew this weekly ritual was coming to a close. Table # 71 in the corner is now available on Tuesdays for lunch, but I still stop in often to enjoy some of the best rustic Italian cooking in the Hudson Valley.
SubAlpine Coffee, Keene Valley. Yes, a coffee shop. And possibly the best cup of coffee that you will find in these parts, or anywhere else for that matter. The shop is on Route 73, directly across the street from the Noon Mark Diner. This is not “stop in if you’re nearby” coffee. This is “destination” coffee. Go get some.
And last but certainly not least, one of my most favorite things in 2015 was watching the growing movement to provide a living wage for all restaurant workers. Two complementary ideas are gaining traction around the country, and in New York in particular: increasing the minimum wage for service workers, and including a service charge in the menu price to allow for the elimination of tipping. It’s about time, and I applaud both initiatives. Anyone who works full time (or more in many circumstances) should not be living below the poverty line, and if that means the rest of us have to pay a little extra for our meal, so be it. I for one will be more than happy to do that.
Have a safe, healthy, and happy New Year! May you find yourself surrounded by good friends, good food, and much love. ~ Rambler