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Aubergine – A Walk on the Sea

The water crashes. Birds squawk. A salty smell is swept briskly through the seaside town of Carmel By The Sea. Wave after wave, dish after dish. Four blocks uphill, Justin Cogley and Aaron Koseba walk along the ocean’s edge. Of seaweeds and tidal pools.

The salt clings to the palate. Seaweed curls around the plate, jut out as dried chips, or accent like an aquatic herb. And sometimes they pop like caviar. Raw fish is not the only vector of a seafood cuisine. Local ingredients from the Monterey Bay are showcased and championed but the far side of the sea is still the same sea. A recurring brine, rhythmic like a wave, threads the meal. By plate. By terroir. By imagination. A journey into the wine-dark sea.1

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Commis (Oakland) – A Quiet Calm

Oh, the helpless customers beguiled by tyrannical tasting menus. They are unwittingly tricked into a gluttony they did not want. Disregarded in the chatter, however, is the ability of extended menus to better showcase intricate food. The longer form creates a narrative space,1 where the chef can explore and create dishes that unfold on their own terms. The tasting menu at Commis now has a depth and nuance that better frames its sophisticated dishes. The tyranny, in fact, is a liberation from the previous disjointed a la carte offering.2

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Perfect Meal 2012

The smoke, the wild, the vegetable, the historical, and the aged – many themes championed here have finally reached a critical mass in 2012. Some are already official trends for 2013. It would be easy to dismiss them as simply stylish but a few chefs have been walking down these paths for some time. And I was fortunate enough to eat their stunning dishes this year.

It was a domestic year with zero passport stamps. An island enchanted me for two days. There, I discovered a new chef and found new perspectives on old favorites. In New Jersey, a day trip from the city, an exciting meal showed two chefs ready for a national stage. In red-hot Charleston, the puzzle pieces of history and modern came together in a remarkable conversation with the past. And the embers kept slowly burning, faint smoke and bitter char, gripping me over and over again. There was no Paris. No Tokyo. No San Sebastian. But the blank pages of 2012 were filled instead with interesting chefs in the United States.

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Saison (SF) – My Favorite Meal of 2012

A meal at Saison is a slow burn through the night. Flavors are clean and light. A soft salinity brushes some plates like an ocean mist. Smoke wafts throughout. Imparts of faint bitterness. Tight concentrations of umami. Sometimes a funk. And always the striking dash of herbs. The fire is the heart, the essence and purpose. Singularity.

Follow the embers to the wild and the pure.

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Willows Inn First Harvest Dinner

To get away – seclusion, slow time, and the freedom to work. To explore the land and work within its bounty. To be inspired by the physical connection to food and walk amongst it – on the farm, into the green. Down to the beach: currants on the slant, stonecrop along the shore, and sea lettuce beneath the waves. Spot prawns swim just beyond. Five chefs ride the ferry into a new land of possibility.1

Sean Brock saw a realm of smoke. John Shields catalouged the environment and found plants in full blushing bloom. Dotting the bay, fishing boats must have piqued Jason Fox’s curiosity for the waters below. Kobe Desramaults, too, thought of weeds and herbs – and the dairy of such diets. And with its salty breeze and clear air, Lummi Island must have reminded Kyle Connaughton of Hokkaido. For Blaine Wetzel, it is merely home.

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