4. Grilled ostrich fillet at Five Flies in Cape Town, South Africa - Before I even get to the food, I am compelled to tell you a little about the restaurant. A deceivingly small white-washed building off a quiet street in the heart of Cape Town is home to Five Flies. Immediately upon stepping inside the heavy wooden door, I could feel something special in the air. The unusually high ceiling and wide-planked dark wood floor betray the building's past life as an exclusive colonial club. Many entrance ways open into the foyer, but none so directly as to reveal the rooms and alleys within. One entrance led us to a set of stairs on the side of a beautiful courtyard. A few well-linened tables for two glowed romantically in the candle light under trees that seem to reach, in my memory, all the way to the clearing at the roof of the building. We had a drink at an old school mahogany bar upstairs, while a tall and handsome bartender with ocean blue eyes told small jokes.
Our table was in a private room at a corner of the downstairs dinning room. We had the choice to pick our own courses to construct a three course menu for less than $30. It's a beautiful thing when the dollar is actually strong against the local currency. I didn't come half a world away to eat T-bone, so ostrich seemed like a natural choice. What was presented to me was a revelation. The lean fillet had been expertly grill to a perfect medium rare. Each bite was tender, but greaseless so unlike a steak. Some pan-fried mushrooms tucked under the fillet provided a bit of earthiness to match the pleasant gaminess of the ostrich. The exclamation mark was the pool of port jus. It was assertive without being overpowering. The plate was a harmonious marriage of local ingredients that enhanced each other when eaten together.
5. Pan seared scallops on curried lentils with blueberry glaze at Helene Darroze in Paris - Helene Darroze was the second three stared Michelin restaurant I've eaten at. Actually, it's technically the first, since Le Meurice had yet to receive its third star when I visited last year. Both restaurants offered some of the best and most unique bites I've ever had. It is truly a wonderful coincidence that both also gained their final golden star together in the red book this year.
While Le Meurice extrudes elegant old world refinement like Cathrine Deneuve lounging in a soft cashmere sweater, Helene Darroze shines with a modern edginess akin to Vanessa Paradis walking the red carpet in one of her unusual Chanel couture. This scallops dish exemplified the confidence that is so sexy about Darroze as a brilliant female chef. The flavor combinations were new and different, but well-calculated to balance each other. Backing that up with precise cooking that took the scallops to just off the raw edge, the lentils to just over crunchy, and the blueberry glaze to just thin enough to drizzle smoothly, Darroze created a plate that was a master piece to feast the eyes as well as the palate.
6. Sometimes the best food on earth is the homey fare lovingly prepared in my own orange kitchen and shared with friends. I made this prime rib roast last Christmas after days of marinating and fed it to the teethed members of E's family while little Luke watched us longingly from his boaster seat. Maybe this year, he could gnaw on something I make.