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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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McCrady’s – Seeds of Muse and Obsession

Every second, our connections to history dissipate. A family recipe is eaten for the last time, unknowingly. Land-rich, but cash poor, farmers sell their land to development. A forgotten plant might simply die out in a field next to the highway. History is kept alive by those that simply document. Farm almanacs, family cookbooks, and forgotten fields offer insights into a culinary past. Without research, proselytization, and, ultimately, consumption; yesterday might fade away. Sean Brock, chef of McCrady’s and Husk, is on a mission of reclaiming and re-imagining the Carolina Rice Kitchen. He mines the past with an archeologists’s zeal but cooks through a lens of today – an enchanting modern cuisine with Jeffersonian agrarian roots.

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