Forbes Travel Guide inspectors regularly venture to dining rooms around the globe to determine which restaurants are worthy of earning a coveted Recommended, Four-Star or Five-Star distinction. Along the way, they sample some seriously sumptuous fare — everything from classic French entrées to imaginative spins on breakfast favorites. We asked five inspectors to share their most memorable dishes of the year, and their responses offer a mouthwatering snapshot of what fine dining looks like today. Read on, but do so at your own risk: The following paragraphs may induce severe culinary cravings.
Inspector No. 1
My most memorable dish of late was from chef William Bradley at Addison, the Five-Star restaurant at The Grand Del Mar: It was a foie gras custard topped with a maple syrup gelée, bacon and a wafer-thin crisp. It was sweet, salty, creamy, crunchy … almost everything in one bite. It was a great dish made even more incredible by learning the story behind it: It was inspired by that one moment when you’re eating breakfast and your eggs, bacon, pancakes and syrup all come together. Unfortunately, since foie gras can no longer be legally produced in California, this dish isn’t available.
Inspector No. 2
The best dish that I ate recently was the Dover sole at Mandarin Grill + Bar at Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong, which I enjoyed earlier this winter — alas, it’s no longer on the menu. The delicate fish was encrusted in breadcrumbs and served with a light champagne sauce and a spinach roll along with the most decadent, creamy Dungeness crab risotto. The whole plate was decorated with tiny edible flowers and was both visually stunning and delicious.
Inspector No. 3
I had a fantastic green garlic agnolotti at Four-Star Marinus, the restaurant at Bernardus Lodge in Carmel Valley, California. The dish was the essence of spring, garnished with plump morels and baby artichokes, while the pasta itself was stuffed with the most pungent yet delicious green garlic puree. That meal also had one of the best palate cleansers: a refreshing lime granité served with puffed black rice, a unique combination that really worked.
Inspector No. 4
The best meal I’ve had this year was from chef Michael Tusk at San Francisco’s Quince restaurant. It wasn’t just because of the cuisine; overall, my memory of the restaurant was one of superlative service — warm and genuine without being stuffy or attempting to educate. Of course, the food was spectacular, and dinner included extra canapés and amuse-bouches, which built up anticipation for the meal to come.
Inspector No. 5
I was fortunate enough to be one of the first inspectors to visit Plume at The Jefferson, Washington, DC before it earned its Four-Star rating, so I was unsure of what to expect. It was the beginning of a very warm summer when I dined there, and I was glad to see an interesting lighter dish — a raw and cooked vegetable salad. Plus, the server highly recommended the appetizer. When it was served, it resembled the kind of artwork that makes you want to stop and take a picture. The ingredients were delicately prepared and intricately positioned, with beautiful bright colors and fresh truffle on top. It was just so pretty. The flavor was delicate but mouthwatering in a way a salad normally is not. The change in textures from the raw to the cooked components made the dish truly memorable in more than just a visual sense; I could have eaten it as an entrée.
Photos Courtesy of Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, Quince, Plume at The Jefferson DC