Jamon Iberico, the best jam in the world.
Jamon Iberico, the best ham in the world.

It’s true my husband Justin and I travel largely for the food. We make it our absolute mission to reserve tables at the restaurants we’ve read about and to seek out incredible, authentic meals in all the destinations we visit. As a result, we ate quite well in 2015. I always say the best meals are the ones that stick with you. Here are the restaurants and dishes I can’t stop thinking about.

 

The Burger at Chez Vrony

We started off 2015 with a ski trip in the Alps with my parents. I believe Zermatt, Switzerland has the best restaurants of any ski town in the world, and we made sure to visit several: Zum See, an adorable restaurant in a mountain-side hamlet where desserts are made on site and fresh seafood is flown in daily as well as Chez Vrony, a family owned restaurant in a chalet with a spectacular view of the Matterhorn. The restaurant is known for its burger and the juice patty, made with beef from the family’s own cattle, is served on a seeded bun with coleslaw and bacon. It’s one of the world’s great hamburgers and the view makes the experience even more memorable.

 

While, not the salsify I enjoyed this mackerel dish is a good example of the rustic presentation at In De Wulf.
While not the salsify I enjoyed this mackerel dish is a good example of the rustic presentation at In De Wulf.

 

Salsify in Mustard Powder at In de Wulf

Justin and I were blown away by the meal we had at In de Wulf, a sparsely furnished bed and breakfast with a Michelin star restaurant on the border of France and Belgium. Nearly every ingredient used is grown or raised in this swath of Belgian countryside. The presentation is also incredibly rustic and really echoes the landscape—dehydrated beet root was served in a hollowed out beet bowl and chef Kobe Desramaults loves displaying things on animal and fish bones which is not nearly as off-putting as it may sound. This was the first time in 2015 that I ate salsify and this ended up being one of my favorite vegetables of the year. A skinny relative of the parsnip, it has an earthy flavor and the texture, to me, marries an onion and a carrot. At In de Wulf it was cooked until fork tender and bathed in bright yellow mustard seed powder. It was delicious and reminded me oddly of a French fry. Eater is reporting that the restaurant will close in December 2016 to give the chef time to reflect so go soon!

This duck dish at yam'Tcha fuses French and Asian cuisine.
This duck dish at yam’Tcha fuses French and Asian cuisine.

 

Duck Cooked Two Ways with Cranberries and Salsify at yam’Tcha

We had heard great things about yam’Tcha in Paris so when it reopened in a new location on rue St. Honoré in the spring I called to make a reservation right away. Two weeks later we were there on a Wednesday night and from the instant I walked in I knew this would be a refreshing experience. The restaurant serves French-Asian fusion cuisine and the calming space has low slung wooden furnishings and windows overlooking a zen-like courtyard. Everything we had was excellent, but the duck cooked two ways with salsify, cranberries and blanched almonds was a standout. The tangy cranberries were a perfect contrast to the rich duck and the almonds gave the dish a bit of crunch. The steamed bun that came filled with Stilton blue cheese and pickled cherry in place of a cheese course was also one of the best things I’ve eaten all year. Luckily you can get them at the Boutique yam’Tcha, a tea shop and takeout window, around the corner.

The spaghetti al pomodoro at Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco is the type of dish I could eat all year.
The spaghetti al pomodoro at Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco is the type of dish I could eat all year.

 

Spaghetti al Pomodoro at Osteria La Canonica

I was lucky enough to visit Rosewood Castiglion del Bosco, a beautiful Tuscan resort located in an ancient borgo or village twice this year and both times I had the spaghetti al pomodoro. It may be my favorite plate of pasta in Italy. It is so simple—the most vibrant, tangy and sweet tomato sauce clinging to al dente noodles. There is a unique flourish—a dollop of goat cheese and grated lemon peel, which gives the dish some zip. It’s seriously delicious. The black truffle pizza is also a must!

 

Bistecca Fiorentina at Officina della Bistecca

I think Officina della Bistecca, a restaurant owned by the famed butcher Dario Cecchini, may be the most fun restaurant I’ve ever been to. It’s located in the charming village of Panzano in Chianti 45 minutes south of Florence and every meal is served family style. You sit with 30 strangers and get to know each other over jugs of Chianti and plate after plate of red meat from beef tartar to seared rump carpaccio. Ofcourse the grand finale is the Bistecca Fiorentina or the large T-bone steak Tuscany is famous for and it was cooked to a perfect medium rare and sprinkled with flaky sea salt. I requested the bone and gnawed on it like a true carnivore.

This blue lobster dish was one of the most delicious, and expensive, things I ate all year.
This blue lobster dish was one of the most delicious, and expensive, things I ate all year.

 

Blue Lobster at Le Cinq

My family came to visit Paris in June and to celebrate the birthday of my sister’s fiancé (now husband) we made reservations at Le Cinq at the George V hotel. The three Michelin star restaurant has impeccable service, presentation, and cuisine with a price tag to match. The blue lobster dish with black ribbons of salty cuttlefish pasta, bright grapefruit coulis and rich butter sauce was easy to love and I savored every bite.

This paella was one of my favorite meals of the summer.
This paella was one of my favorite meals of the summer.

 

Paella at the Lake

In late July I went to Sandpoint, Idaho. My parents own a house on Lake Pend Oreille and we usually go there for the first two weeks of August. This year was special because my sister Kerby was getting married there. Before the chaos began, we spent a wonderful week waterskiing on the lake, working out and making amazing meals. My husband, my other sister Haley and I made a paella bursting at the seems with fresh seafood on the bbq. It was the perfect summer meal.

I loved this flatbread so much I tried to make it myself.
I loved this flatbread so much I tried to make it myself.

 

Lardon and Heirloom Tomato Flatbread at Saffron

After the wedding my husband and I did a road trip to Portland, Oregon (where we’re both originally from) and we finally did something we’ve talked about for years: we stopped and spent the weekend in Walla Walla Washington. We had amazing local wines and ate some really good food. The best thing was the flatbread at Saffron, a Mediterranean restaurant in downtown Walla Walla. The restaurant is known for this and it absolutely lives up to the hype. The dough is tangy and fluffy and ours came topped with arugula, salty lardons, saffron aioli and the most delicious and sweet chunks of red heirloom tomatoes.

I think this may be the best prepared salmon in France.
I think this may be the best prepared salmon in France.

 

Grilled Salmon on Embers at Les Prés d’Eugénie

Another three Michelin star restaurant experience came in very late August when I went on a road trip from Paris to the North of Spain. I was supposed to rendez-vous with Justin in Bilbao, but it was a long drive and I wanted to break up the trip so I booked myself a night at the gorgeous hotel and spa Les Prés d’Eugénie about an hour south of Bordeaux. The hotel is located in a historic mansion surrounded by a beautiful park filled with palm trees and manicured arbors. The chef and owner Michel Guérard is very famous, he has a cooking school and the aforementioned restaurant has had three Michelin stars for 39 years. He’s known for a more healthy style of French cooking and I enjoyed my meal there immensely. For my main dish I chose salmon grilled on embers with smoked vegetables and chicken consommé. It was the best salmon I’ve had in France. The piece of pink fish was grilled to perfection and the vegetables: crisp asparagus, mushrooms, carrots, caramelized shallots and the richly flavored chicken broth were a beautiful accompaniment.

Gernika is known for peppers.
Gernika, Spain is known for peppers.

 

Pimientos de Gernika and Jamon Iberico de Bellota la Despensa de Jabugo

It’s nearly impossible to choose one standout dish from the plethora of excellent tapas bars in San Sebastián, Spain. Going from bar to bar trying something different at each place is one of the most fun ways to eat. I don’t think I will soon forget the pimientos de Gernika (green peppers with salt and garlic) and the Iberico pork from La Despensa de Japugo at La Cepa. The melt in your mouth slices of pork (from free-range pigs that are fed a diet of acorns) and the savory peppers were so simple and so, so good.

The rustic dining room at Casa Julian.
The rustic dining room at Casa Julian.

 

Bone-In Rib Steak at Casa Julian

Casa Julian, in the small town of Tolosa, is one of the most unassuming restaurants. When you walk in you’ll feel more like you’re in a storage room than a restaurant, but walk back a ways and you’ll find the steak restaurant of your dreams. The windowless room has bottles of aged whiskey and red wine lining the walls, simple wood furnishings and an ancient charcoal grill where you’ll watch as slabs of bone in rib steaks are piled high with mounds of salt and grilled by one of the owner’s sons. I don’t think a steak can be any juicier or more flavorful than this one and the other items we ordered–blistered piquillo peppers, gem lettuce topped with salt and olive oil, and a bottle of ten year old Rioja rounded out the meal.

 

The Entire Tasting Menu at AM Par Alexandre Mazzia

Our foodie Parisian friends told us AM in Marseille was one of the best restaurants in France so we made sure to reserve a table before our visit in September. It’s located in what I would call an up-and-coming area of the famously gritty city and has a simple streamlined dining room with an open kitchen. The tasting menu was a revelation for me. Absolutely everything was unique and original. Marseille is a melting pot and Mazzia’s cuisine mixes local seafood with North African ingredients and French technique. I loved absolutely everything—langoustine with carrot, egg yolk sauce, cumin, rice vinegar and serroc, seafood soup with king crab, orange flower cous cous and pickled onion (a dish that reminded me of lemon pound cake) and the red mullet with broccoli cream, shaved chocolate, cherries, and gravy left a taste on my palate I haven’t experienced much in France, spice. The sea bream cooked in cuttlefish ink and lemon with eggplant and berry coulis was one of the most delicious and beautiful things I’ve eaten all year. At first glance, the delicate fish was completely blackened on the outside but as you started to pull it apart the white flesh started to show giving it a zebra stripe effect.

This pumpkin, caviar and rose petal dish was beautiful and delicious.
This pumpkin, caviar and rose petal dish was beautiful and delicious.

 

Pumpkin, Beechnuts, Caviar and Roses at Noma

My husband and I were so determined to get a reservation at Noma in Copenhagen we woke up in the middle of the night (since we were on the West Coast) so we could call and get online right when Noma’s October bookings opened back in July. It was an absolutely incredible meal and well worth the lack of sleep. It was unpretentious and fun. We ate 50 year old Mahogany clams, toured the kitchens and enjoyed a brandy tasting at the restaurant’s bar after the meal. My favorite dish was a simple one: pumpkin with beechnuts, caviar, rose petals and butter sauce. It was salty, sweet, savory and so pretty on the plate.

 

Steak Frites and Chocolate Mousse at La Bourse et La Vie

For a long time, the traditional French dishes I loved as a child alluded me in Paris, but when I went to the new La Bourse et La Vie I finally had the meal of my 8-year dreams. The steak frites were perfect—a medium rare piece of tender beef accompanied by absolutely delicious twice-cooked frites— they’re steamed and then fried. To cap off the meal I had chocolate mousse. It was airy and rich and really brought me back to the days when I thought ordering chocolate mousse off of a dessert cart was the greatest thing ever. I also saw the Barefoot Contessa herself eating here. For a foodie like me that was all the validation I needed to know this was a special spot.

Allard serves up French comfort food.
Allard serves up French comfort food.

 

Challand Duck with Green Olives at Allard

Our obsession with discovering the best French bistros in Paris continued this fall with a trip to Allard, Alain Ducasse’s picture perfect Bourgogne bistro in Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It is the quintessential upscale French bistro experience and the Challand duck that has been served there since the 1930s was every bit as delicious as we had read it would be. It is rich to be sure, but the green olives give the dish a nice sour kick. Served with the restaurant’s famed potatoes, it was true French comfort food.

This dish was topped with white truffles from Alba, something you must try once in your life.
This dish was topped with white truffles from Alba, something you must try at least once in your lifetime.

 

Scallops with Spinach Soup and White Truffle from d’Alba at Ledoyen

We wanted to end our year with a bang and so we made reservations at Ledoyen, Yannick Alléno’s three-Michelin star restaurant behind the Petite Palais. The restaurant dates back to the late 1700s and has beautiful ornately paneled walls and ceilings and views over a park. Dining here is really a throwback to the days when going out to dinner was a formal affair. The tender scallops, kelly green-colored spinach soup (made with spinach from île de France) and a healthy topping of shaved white truffle from d’Alba was as elegant as it gets. White truffles are one of the world’s great delicacies and they have the texture of prosciutto. They just melt on your tongue.

 

Honorable Mentions

Al Fassia (lamb shoulder for two), Le Bistro Paul Bert (cote de boeuf), De Superette (any pizza), Holdfast (lamb loin with charred eggplant), Froggy’s Tavern (roast chicken), La Grenouillère (beet ravioli with duck egg), Le Baratin (mussels with lemongrass), Le Six (the cauliflower), Relae (wild duck with white onion noodles and elderberries), Spring (grilled lamb with asparagus and fried lovage), Septime (dos de cabillaud and white asparagus), Xico (chicken mole)

 

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