.The Best Meals of 2022

From ‘the definitive’ burger to an unforgettable lunchtime pizza, Santa Cruz County delivered a bounty of deliciousness this year

As the shadow of the pandemic lifted, there was much to savor in 2022. Throughout the year, I loved my favorite appetizers with cocktails at Venus Westside—cornbread with bourbon bacon topping, glazed brussels sprouts, spectacular french fries and the definitive burger.

At Bad Animal, our first encounter with the masterful Hanloh Thai cooking of Lalita Kaewsawang and Mauricio Ortiz left us breathless. Feisty appetizers of Mieng (betel leaves with assorted condiments) and Laab Moo (spiced pork wrapped in tender greens) led on to a memorable clay pot dish Pak Ob Woonsen accompanied by little bowls of a fiery bird’s eye chili and pineapple dressing. Inside the large pot lounged a shimmering tangle of glass noodles, surrounded by luscious shiitake mushrooms, tofu and tender braised greens, inflected with sesame oil, dark soy sauce and ginger. A gorgeous series of flavors.

At the new Iveta 545, we swooned over Dungeness crab cakes, glazed brussels sprouts and ahi on a bed of beans and squash with perfect asparagus. Dessert of panna cotta with ripe strawberries and shaves of dark chocolate made the perfect finish.

At Bookie’s Pizza, chef Todd Parker served up an ecstatic lunch in the form of thick pizza topped with mushrooms, nettles, preserved lemon and a dusting of parmesan Reggiano. A re-imagined Caesar salad made with chicories and kale was equally ravishing.

Dinner at the new and intimate Bedda Mia began with outstanding caponata of spiced vegetables, and led to an entree of wild salmon baked with herbs and joined by authentically Italian-style roast potatoes. Ravioli tossed with shreds of ham and sprinkled with fresh sage and parmigiano were stuffed with short ribs. The tiramisu dessert was shamelessly creamy.

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At the micro-sized Sugo Italian Pasta Bar, I loved a salmon ravioli special with a dreamy sauce of diced fresh tomatoes and a dash of cream. An order of Pollo Marsala involved a huge plate of chicken scallops smothered in fresh mushrooms. Filling the rest of the generous plate were incredible roast potato slices, browned and crisp with bits of rosemary. Al Dente market veggies—long ribbons of brilliant orange carrots, crimson peppers, atop a nest of baby spinach—were perfumed with Marsala and olive oil.

A meal at Mentone began with a Caesar salad of mixed chicories, faintly bitter and crunchy, studded with lots of buttery, nutty Cravero parmigiano and extraordinary croutons of Manresa bread all slathered with an outrageous anchovy dressing ($17). Simple yet luxurious, the pizza was definitive. And so was the white Negroni that accompanied it. Tasting like a cross between a lean salame and prosciutto, the vibrant soppressata topping stood up to a scattering of hot red peppers and a dusting of parmesan and pecorino cheeses studding the entire surface. The crust was sheer poetry, ethereal yet substantial, kissed with a patina of oak charring. Dense chocolate gelato finished off a memorable lunch.

I also managed to take a long-awaited flight to Paris and Hungary, where the food was (as expected) terrific. A meal of chicken paprikash at Cafe Anna in Budapest proved to be the ultimate comfort dish. A richly seasoned stew joined by light free-form noodles—heaven. At the Michelin-starred Costes I surrendered to a square of house cured salmon topped with the fantasy surprise of sliced green strawberries and a glaze of ponzu sauce. It was one of the best things I’ve put in my mouth all year.

A meal in Paris at the two star Michelin Restaurant Palais Royal gave me serious flavor thrills with a multi-course lunch that began with many amuses, including a tiny cheese straw filled with whipped foie gras and continued on to a plate of large gamba prawn, sided by two basil-tinged green gnocchi draped with calamari crudo. This tour de force was also decorated with a flash fried zucchini flower on a little hill of broccolini. The gnocchi each sat on a brilliant green sauce of basil. The meal ended with a brilliant deconstructed tiramisu that arrived in two wide bowls. Mascarpone ice cream in one dish, candied orange peel on the side and on the other sat a warm baba drenched in rum on a crust of coffee nibs. A scoop of whipped cream on top was dusted with a veil of cacao and spices. Unbelievable, and as good as it looked.

Wishing you a Happy New Year filled with adventurous dining. Salut!


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