2015 was an atypical year for me, dining wise. I took extensive leave away from the keyboard to tend to the needs of a new family member who has yet to meet a high-chair he can't outsmart.
But the atypical work year coincided with remarkable year in New Orleans restaurants. A dozen examples of why I believe this was true, listed in alphabetical order.
1000 Figs 3141 Ponce de Leon St., New Orleans, 504.301.0848
While Shaya restaurant spreads the word nationally about New Orleans' romance with Middle Eastern cuisine, 1000 Figs set the pace for a new generation of neighborhood places that define this Falafel Moment. No one's orbs of seasoned legume batter can quite touch the ones served at this sunny, slender cafe. After the crunch comes a burst of flavor: green herbs laced with cinnamon absorbing a spill of tahini. Look for local chefs to continue drawing from a similar palette in the year ahead.
Cosimo's 1201 Burgundy St., New Orleans, 504.522.9715
Some years ago, a guy at a party asked, "What do you think is the most under appreciated dish?" Me: "You mean besides fried pickles?"
Green Chile Cheeseburger
Atomic Burger 3934 Veterans Memorial Blvd., Metairie, 504.309.7474
This home-grown fast food outlet in Metairie has become a destination restaurant for me, thanks to its version of a cheeseburger that remains inexplicably obscure outside the Southwest.
New Orleans' Top 10 hamburgers: Brett Anderson names the best one in the city New Orleans' Top 10 hamburgers: Brett Anderson names the best one in the city Restaurant critic Brett Anderson's months long search is over. He names the best hamburger in New Orleans
Brennan's 417 Royal St., New Orleans, 504.525.9711
Brennan's whole staff deserves credit for returning Brennan's to form after years of tourist-pandering slippage. An extra hat tip to chef Slade Rushing for committing just as much of his attention to classics like this least sexy of dishes, elevated by a marchand de vin sauce that chefs across town should be busy trying to reverse engineer.
Churros Café 3100 Kingman St., Metairie, 504.885.6516
I've frequented this Cuban strip-mall restaurant over the years mainly to binge on its black beans and pressed sandwiches. It pains me now to realize how many times I missed out on this terrific dish of roast pork, delivered in a slick of its own juices, fragrant with its marinade of oranges and garlic.
Oysters on the half shell
Borgne 601 Loyola Ave., New Orleans, 504.613.3860
Pêche Seafood Grill
800 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504.522.1744
A new generation of Gulf oyster farmers is experimenting with growing methods in a drive to deliver premium, site-specific products. The ones I've tried at these two seafood restaurants have been remarkably consistent in both size and flavor – and as salty in the summer months as we expect them to be right now.
Oyster fennel soup
High Hat Café 4500 Freret St., New Orleans, 504.754.1336
The holiday season is almost over. Who cares? Chef Jeremy Wolgamott is serving this fabulous seasonal soup right now -- and won't stop until the spring. Want to make it at home? Here's the recipe.
The Best Thing I Ate in New Orleans: High Hat Cafe's oyster-fennel soup The Best Thing I Ate in New Orleans: High Hat Cafe's oyster-fennel soup High Hat's seasonal special is a flawless example of oyster soup gone right.
Shaya 4213 Magazine St., New Orleans, 504.891.4213
This Israeli restaurant in Uptown New Orleans was arguably the most universally praised new restaurant in the country in 2015, essentially making its chef-owner, Alon Shaya, this year's food world answer to Kendrick Lamar. It's difficult to single out a specific dish from a long menu that encourages multi-course meals and contains hardly any duds. I do know that you'll want loaves of the steam-swelled, fresh-baked, charred pita bread from the moment you sit down -- and for them to keep coming until you literally can't eat anymore.
Shaya's Israeli food soars, earns four beans Shaya's Israeli food soars, earns four beans Chef Alon Shaya's cooking makes the point that Middle Eastern food both is and isn't what you thought it was.
La Provence 25020 U.S. 90, Lacombe, 985.626.7662
A September meal at this venerable north shore restaurant came as close to evoking a French country idyll as any meal I had on U.S. soil this year. Chef-partner Erik Loos embraces the fruits of the farm and garden out back with skill and imagination. Both the blossoms and the honey drizzled over them came from the property.
Roast Beef Po-Boy
Bevi Seafood Co. 4701 Airline Drive, Metairie, 504.885.5003 236 N. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans, 504.488.7503
I know it's a seafood place. Just trust me on this.
Gautreau's 1728 Soniat St., New Orleans, 504.899.7397
There was a time – not a terribly exciting one – when seared scallops appeared on high-end American restaurant menus as if mandated by the NRA. In a meal last May, chef Sue Zemanick turned what could have been a tired cliché into the most memorable dish I ate all year. Set artfully on a plate with poblano crema, corn, pickled onions and queso fresco, the two browned, sweet-fleshed scallops also amounted to the finest local expression of the haute Mexican cuisine that is captivating much of the rest of the country.
Shrimp and Butternut Squash Bisque
Brigtsen's 723 Dante St., New Orleans, 504.861.7610
No restaurant in town imbues classic Creole and Cajun dishes with the warmth of home quite like Brigtsen's. This smooth, bright-yellow elixir is shot through with cayenne and the condensed flavor of the sea.