on January 10, 2015
In my opinion, going out to eat should be an event. When you spend time and money on a restaurant experience, it should be a good one. Now, that’s not to say I dine only in Michelin-award-winning establishments, but I am always on the hunt for something new and different to try – whether it’s street food from the other side of the world or creative dishes from the other side of my neighborhood.
I was recently talking about the best restaurants I’ve tried over the last couple years and realized that I couldn’t recall exactly what I had eaten at a few very highly-regarded places. I believe that a good meal stays with you – the sights and smells and flavors of it all – so I decided to list my top dining experiences of the year in terms of that criteria. Here are my favorite discoveries of 2014.
Honorable Mention: Puritan & Company – Cambridge, MA
Puritan was the first new restaurant I tried when I moved back to Boston, and it was a perfect re-introduction to the local culinary scene. The Inman Square eatery is casual yet vibrant, and the food is too.
I love that Puritan takes inspiration from traditional New England dishes but puts a modern spin on them while also highlighting local ingredients. That philosophy reminds me of many of my favorite restaurants in Ireland and is a big reason why I was so happy to discover Puritan. When I ate there, we chose locally raised lamb and barley risotto, two simply prepared dishes in which the quality of the ingredients really shined.
5. Alden & Harlow – Cambridge, Massachusetts
I have to admit, I feel a bit unoriginal including Alden & Harlow on my list. The Harvard Square restaurant has gotten tons of awards and accolades in recent months, including being named as a finalist in this year’s James Beard Awards. But, the praise is very well deserved, in my opinion.
I first tried the basement-level restaurant back in the summer when a friend came to visit from London, and even as I introduced her to other Boston-area favorites, we both agreed that Alden & Harlow was the best meal of the week.
We decided to skip the restaurant’s coveted “secret” burger and instead shared a number of dishes from the seasonal menu. The homemade chips and flavorful three onion dip felt a bit indulgent, but the shaved Serrano ham with pistachio was light and elegant. Our favorite, though, had to be the salty-sweet combination of buttermilk pancake topped with popcorn, maple and shishito peppers. It was different yet delicious.
On top of the exciting and inspiring menu, Alden & Harlow has friendly service, an impeccably curated wine list and some seriously good cocktails, making it an all around excellent dining experience.
4. The Tannery – Dungarvan, Waterford, Ireland
A stop at The Tannery wasn’t planned, but, driving back to Dublin after a couple days at Ballymaloe House in Co. Cork, I looked at the map and got an idea. Dungarvan in Co. Waterford wasn’t too far away, and I knew the small city was home to one of Ireland’s most celebrated restaurants. So we set off and arrived at the somewhat hidden restaurant – it’s located on a small, alley-like road by the water – just in time for a lingering late lunch.
The highlight of the meal was a creamy, smoked haddock risotto that had just the right amount of fishiness and smokiness. The other main course was tasty celeriac (a root vegetable that’s quite common in Ireland), fried up with a crispy exterior. For dessert, we shared a simple platter of local cheese and crackers, and panna cotta infused with blood orange and raspberry (pictured above). The meal was the perfect break on the road back to Dublin and a lovely way to end a trip that had very much been a food lover’s pilgrimage.
My top three meals of 2014 come from three different countries. Check back soon to find out which restaurants made the cut and in the meantime, follow me on Instagram @brianapalma to see what I’m eating and cooking at the moment.