The Japan Center Mall is a mysterious maze-like shopping center full of stalls selling Asian miscellany and a wide variety of authentic Asian eats. There are many places you could choose to eat at – with specialists for just about every Japanese food type you could think of. There are in fact a number of sushi options, but there is only one sushi purveyor inside of this massive mall that I find myself consistently returning to. It's called Isobune and its a truly special place.
If you're headed to Monterey, you're inevitably going to go to the Monterey Bay Aquarium. And you should. It's absolutely one of the best aquariums in the country. All of the exhibits are extremely well designed – I especially loved the one with the jellyfish. The aquarium is located in the most touristy section of town called Cannery Row which is full of now-defunct anchovy-canning warehouse factories that have been resurrected mostly as mediocre chain restaurants. Sure, you could eat at one of those places, but I think your best lunch option in the area is actually inside the aquarium.
*Editor's Note 3/29/16: Barley Swine has relocated its entire operation to a larger space at 6555 Burnet Road since my visit. Many of my previous visits to Austin had been during Austin City Limits where my schedule was jam-packed full of concert-going and nearly every moment of my usual 3-day stay was booked up. But, this Christmas-time trip was a little different. We were in town for a full week with plenty of time to relax and do bit of gastronomic exploration. I've experienced a variety of Austin's lower-key options including mini-trips to the outlying barbecue towns of Lockhart and Elgin, but I had never before really experienced Austin's more elevated dining scene. First on my list of places to try was a little, Southern, tasting menu-only restaurant called Barley Swine and sister to another amazing Austin hot spot called Odd Duck – both which recently received 2015 James Beard Award nods.
What a year!! I did something like this last year too, but oh boy was 2014 a doozy. I started off living in NYC, then a started a new job that whisked me off the San Francisco and Silicon Valley for a few months before ultimately relocating to San Francisco permanently. And along the way, I squeezed in a couple of vacations too. Sooooo, I did a LOT of epic eating this year. And truth be told, I found it particularly difficult to narrow down my list as concisely as last year's, but I somehow managed. So, without further ado, I present the winners (and runner-ups) broken down by category. I tried to cluster similar dish types together, but really they are in no particular order. Let's begin! And if you wanna hear about the 2014's Best Cocktails, read more here.
A Hanukkah miracle has occurred. I walked by Swan Oyster Depot when I was going out for lunch AND THERE WAS NO LINE. That just doesn't happen. I walked right up and grabbed a seat at the bar. Now, it's not often I write a post about just a single dish, and it's even less often I write about a place twice, but everything is so freaking incredible at Swan Oyster Depot that I just had to. This time, there was just one dish on my mind – not something listed on the giant menu overhead – something I saw Anthony Bourdain eating on the San Francisco episode of The Layover – a dish simply called Crab Fat.
What the hell is wrong with you San Francisco? 9 AM, really? There's really a massive brunch crowd with a line out the door at 9 AM? I was convinced that for once we were up early enough to beat the brunch rush at the perpetually swamped Nob Hill breakfast and lunch only joint Mymy, but no.
It may be October, but Summer is still in full swing in the Bay Area. When I get a particularly warm and sunny day, nearly every time I just want to be outside to enjoy some fresh seafood with a cold beer. Since we have a car, taking a short drive north over the Golden Gate bridge to Sausalito is not a big deal and Fish. is the perfect solution for this sunny weather scenario.
Now that Amy and I have moved from NYC to San Francisco, it's time for me to dig into the SF food scene. There are a number of cuisines that SF is reputed to do better than New York, Mexican being the most obvious, and I want to put these reputations to the test. Perhaps a little less obvious than SF's Mexican superiority would be it's Japanese, specifically regarding sushi. It makes sense if you think about it though considering this part of the country is so much closer to Japan than New York is. Don't get me wrong though, I know we had really great sushi in New York, but it's certainly possible that the proximity to Japan could help.