Ed. Note: During the last week of the year, we asked our writers to reflect on the highs and lows of 2010.
It's tough to start a new restaurant. It's even tougher to impress a jaded diner like me right out of the gate. Every year, I like to honor those eateries that, in their first year, truly separated themselves from the rest of the pack.
The dishes that I chose range from burgers and pizza to ethnic delicacies. Hopefully there will be something to make everyone's mouth water. Click on the names of the restaurants to learn more...
You may have already seen that I named Waitsfield's Barn Door my favorite new restaurant of the year. This was in no small part due to the burger (right). The roughly ground beef from Gaylord Farm was almost as juicy as wagyu and full of rough, tough beefy flavor. If that weren't enough, it was topped with house-made bacon and Orb Weaver Farm cheddar. I am salivating just thinking about it.
My first visit to Burlington's Das Bierhaus left me disappointed, and I didn't really have plans to return — until they appealed to the penny pincher in me with half-off sandwiches on Thursday. That was how I came to know the beautiful balance of the Ticino sandwich. The moist chicken schnitzel is flavorful enough on its own, but with the addition of fresh greens, sharp honey mustard and sweet lingonberry jam, it's really something special.
I care more about fried chicken than the average person. I want to try every version on Earth, from Korean wings to well, buttermilk-brined in Jeffersonville (right). The chicken at the Family Table marinates in dairy for three days before being fried in Southern-spiced batter and it shows in every drop of juice that spills out as you bite in.
Though the dolmas are the best I've ever had, I just have to give it to the koofteh at Farah's in Johnson. Instead of our western breadcrumbs, Farah mixes local lamb and beef with split peas for an extra-tender finish. The sauce is tomato-based, but full of tarragon, mint and cumin. The best part? Each more-than-fist-sized ball is only $2.50.
The inexpensive lunches at Burlington's HJ House have become a workday standard for me, but one stands head and shoulders above the rest. The $7.99 cold noodles are Japanese home cooking at its best — simple and flavorful without a single unnecessary element. The tender slices of pork, ultra-thin slivers of green beans and skinny portions of tamago, a Japanese scrambled egg loaf, are all essential, and delicious.
It might not look particularly sexy (right), but believe me, if you go to Chester and buy your date this steak pie, she will put out. A puff pastry-topped tureen is filled with chunks of beef braised into utter submission in a sauce that strikes an ideal balance of red-wine tanginess and luscious, buttery creaminess. Maclaomainn's actually opened in 2008, but it was new to me this year and worthy of notice.
This was an impossible decision. Do I recommend the perfect pot pie, with its meaty, well-seasoned chunks of chicken, fresh veggies and creamy sauce? How can I ignore the addictive and deceptively simple orzo salad, composed of a mix of dried cherries, arugula and tiny cubes of feta? I just have to choose both of my favorites from the casual Burlington eatery.
Over the past few months, the noodle soup at Winooski's Pho Pasteur has risen, in my estimation, to the rank of best in the state. But that's not my recommendation. What you need to try is the chicken spring rolls. The fat little rice paper rolls are filled with vermicelli, lettuce and grilled chicken. They get their unique flavor from the bird's marinade and fresh mint leaves, along with a hoisin-style dipping sauce.
Want fresh pasta but can't decide on a sauce? Rustico's in Essex will take care of you with the Tour of Italy for two (right). I love the fresh fettuccine and penne, and three sauces, inspired by the colors of the Italian flag. Pesto and pomodoro are great, but the carbonara is truly something to behold in all of its cheesy, bacony glory.
Though I first wrote about the take-out beginnings of Woodbury's pizza place in 2009, I didn't try the restaurant until 2010. With a dough made from a centuries-old starter, White Rock's pies are, quite simply, the best in Vermont. I recommend the "Meat Me for Dinner," which showcases thick, flavorful bacon, sweet Italian sausage slices full of sage and ethereally fluffy homemade meatballs. There's pepperoni and ham on there for good measure, but what perfects the pie is the sauce, made of fresh tomatoes stewed with butter.
Of course, established restaurants presented some dishes that wowed me this year too. Here are some of the best:
Pork cheek with gnocchi and corn at The Tavern at the Essex (right) was probably the most exquisitely composed dish I ate all year.
The eggs Benedict flatbread at American Flatbread in Burlington. It’s topped with cheese, fresh tomatoes, Salumeria Biellese capicola and over-easy eggs, then drizzled with tangy Hollandaise sauce. Need I say more?