Duck Larb at Kin Shop
One of my favorite meals all year was at Kin Shop, Harold Dieterie's Thai restaurant in the West Village. Of all the plates that night, the one I remember most is the spicy duck laab salad, and how many times I clutched the mostly-clean-looking plate as the server attempted to clear it. (Not clean enough!!) The warm salad combines so many things at once: it's aromatic, fishy, sizzly, pungent, sour, sweet, and hot. Your lips will still be tingling when the check arrives, probably even until bed that night. The ground duck meat gets sauteed with shallots, garlic, lemongrass, ginger, and dried Thai chilis. Dieterie brightens it all up with mint, cilantro, Thai basil, and pickled onions. A little sprinkling of toasted rice powder at the end adds some crunch. —Erin Zimmer
Banana Mille-Fuilles at Lady M Cake Boutique
Lady M makes one of my favorite mille-feuilles in town, and this year I fell in love with the banana version. Each wedge is as elegant as the cake boutique itself, coupling fresh banana slices with soft whipped cream and vanilla custard, barely sweetened and more luxurious than anything else. Sink your fork right in, though the "thousand layers" of flaky, buttery housemade puff pastry, golden with a sugar-dusted top. —Kathy YL Chan
"Clambake" at Eleven Madison Park
We went to Eleven Madison Park to celebrate my 30th birthday, and the most delightful course was the pre-dinner 'clambake' served in custom pottery (with steaming seaweed for aroma nestled around the dish.) In the teapot, the purest, most intense essence of clam chowder, made silky and smooth and modern without losing any flavor. Little bites served in scallop shells completed the dish (a clam custard with caviar, and a raw bit of razor clam crudo, as well as a little chorizo-cornbread madeleine.) —Maggie Hoffman
Crispy Cheddar Curds at Char No.4.
In my experience, cottage cheese incites fanatics and...everyone else. I'm in the former camp, which is why I fell hard and fast for the Crispy Cheddar Curds with Spicy Pimento Sauce ($8) from Char No.4. The curds are battered and deep fried until the centers are squishy and melting and the outside is crisp. The textural contrast alone is fantastic, but there is a salty-spicy taste explosion when you dip the piping hot curds in the mayo based pimento sauce. The sandwiches at Char rarely disappoint, but a plate or two of these cheese curds and a glass of whiskey is really all I need. —Carrie Vasios
Cookies-n-Cream Sundae at Dessert Club Chikalicious
I became a bit obsessed with Dessert Club Chikalicious' Cookies-n-Cream sundae after eating about...one bite. It's not like any cookies-n-cream-anything I'd ever seen before. Instead of ice cream dotted with splotches of soft Oreo-esque cookies, this sundae is made of huge, crisp, crouton-like chunks of three homemade cookies coated in soft serve (at least, there's so much cookie it seems more like cookie held together by soft serve than soft serve with cookies in it). And these are no ordinary cookies: one features chocolate chips, corn chips, peanut butter chips, marshmallow, and pretzel; another has a chocolate cookie base mixed with chocolate chips, peanut butter chips, toffee popcorn, and pretzel, and the last is chocolate chip. Who wouldn't want an excuse to eat a cup of cookie chunks and soft serve? No one. —Robyn Lee
Cornmeal Flapjacks at The Dutch
One of the best dishes I've had in NYC this year is the cornmeal flapjacks with blueberry syrup at the Dutch. When it comes to breakfast/brunch, I almost always order something savory. Pancakes and waffles in theory sound appealing, but I usually don't get them because after a few bites they just don't seem to taste that good anymore. I'll find myself faced with 3/4 of a dense, doughy stack of 3 pancakes and start eyeing my dining companion's hash browns and eggs.
The cornmeal flapjacks at the Dutch are a different story. I'll gladly skip over the fried chicken (and I love fried chicken!) and the soft scrambled eggs (so creamy and rich!) for a plate of these. They're light and fluffy, crisp on the edges, and have great texture from the cornmeal that makes the tenth bite just as interesting and delicious as the first. And there are blueberries involved. — Christine Tsai
The Gouda at Queens Kickshaw
The Gouda at Astoria's Queens Kickshaw is one of those rare fancy, multi-ingredient grilled cheese sandwiches that really works. Gouda cheese, black bean spread, guava jam, pickled jalapenos, and thick-cut brioche may sound like an overwrought mess, but the ingredients here are perfectly balanced, making for a seriously beautiful grilled cheese experience. — Max Falkowitz
Turnip Cakes at Asian Jewel
Brilliantly cut into little cubes and deep fried, tossed with sweet and hot peppers, sesame seeds, and peppercorns. Perfect textural contrast, honest turnip flavor, no gloopy sauce needed. — Max Falkowitz
A prime example of the flavors of Thailand—salty and pungent fish sauce, aromatic herbs, sweet pickled onions, spicy chili, with a balanced acidity from the lime juice and a fresh crunch from the long beans and lettuce.