Dishes for the Weary Diner

Without fail, the first thing I notice when I’m not in New York or other major cities is how difficult it can be to find a fantastic, write-home-about-it meal. This isn’t a knock on suburbs — which are in the midst of their own dining revolution — but rather an acknowledgment: Finding a great meal in New York can be as effortless as breathing. And it can be easy to take that access for granted.

I’m as guilty of this as anyone; uni, caviar and truffles barely provoke a response in me anymore. But every once in a while a meal shakes me out of my haze, and so far this year, three dishes have left me breathless.

The times I’ve wondered aloud whether I was being Punk’d during a meal are few and far between, and that connotation is usually a negative one. But in the case of Little Madthe year-old Korean American restaurant in NoMad from the chef Sol Han, that feeling of disbelief quickly gave way to utter delight.

The restaurant does a lot to obfuscate what its fried buhsut actually is. The menu describes it as “maitake, sour cream, onion.” And if you’re versed in Korean dining, you know that buhsut is a type of banchan that features stir-fried mushrooms. But none of that prepared me for the presentation — a waiter carrying a yellow onion in a bowl, papery skin and all. Where’s Ashton Kutcher (or, rather, Chance the Rapper)? Then the waiter removed the top half of the onion, and inside was sour cream and onion dip dotted with flowers, and a fried maitake mushrooms on the side. Unadulterated, childlike joy!

If you’ve followed this newsletter long enough, then you know how I feel about desserts. I want options. I want variety. But there’s also something to be said about a restaurant putting all its energy into just one dessert offering. Quality over quantity!

Wenwen, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, has adopted that position with only one dessert: a platter of tangyuan, balls of glutinous rice flour, which have been deep-fried, and vanilla ice cream served in a pool of inky black-sesame condensed milk and showered with dehydrated peanut butter. This is my favorite kind of dessert, a marriage of textures (chewy and crunchy), temperatures (warm and creamy-cold) and smells (nutty and sugary) that boldly announces itself. Don’t let the cilantro sprinkled on top shock you; according to Wenwen’s owners, cilantro on desserts is “everywhere in Taiwan.”

The menu can be hit-or-miss at this Mexican restaurant in Williamsburg, but the sopes — they don’t miss. In the case of Aldamas sope de costilla, long-cooked short rib (“costilla” is “rib” in Spanish) and lush pinto beans arrive on the finest sope I’ve had. Chalk it up to the gently yielding heirloom corn masa or the brightness of the red onions, but this was so spot on that my friend Tembe Denton-Hurst and I had no choice but to order another.

Sadly, it’s no longer on the dinner menu, but it lives on at brunch, where it’s now the sope de chistorra with fast-cured sausage, egg yolk, refried beans and cheese. And, yes, it’s just as good.

I’d love to hear about the dishes that have surprised and delighted you this year, and what you find most special about going out to eat these days. Send me an email at [email protected] and you may see your response here. See you next week!

  • In his latest review, Pete Wells praised Daniel Boulud’s new restaurant Le Gratin for its well-executed French dishes while wishing that the acclaimed chef had leaned more into the restaurant’s supposed inspiration: the working-class bouchons of Lyon.

  • Openings and closings: Little Frog on the Upper East Side has been replaced by the Italian restaurant Sandros; Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Mercer Kitchen will close at the Mercer Hotel in January; and the Beijing-based chain Ju Qi has landed in Flushing, Queens, bringing braised pork tendon soup with scallions, fried tofu and more.

  • Priya Krishna and Umi Syam dug into the financial records of Good Food on Montford in Charlotte, NC, to illustrate how inflation has directly impacted the cost of running a restaurant and, by extension, dining out.

  • For many Americans, the term “Mexican pizza” evokes visions of Taco Bell. Regan Stephens wrote about the rise of pizza featuring Mexican ingredients — made by Mexican immigrants — across the United States.

  • The sudden popularity of the TV show “The Bear,” released in June, has been a boon for restaurants that sell Italian beef sandwichesRachel Sherman reports.

  • Georges Briguet, the owner of the storied Manhattan restaurant Le Perigordwhich counted Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, the Nixons and Truman Capote among its regulars, died late last month at age 85.

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