Rabbit Three Ways at Glasserie
Glasserie's epic rabbit three ways was the best thing I ate in 2013, in NYC or otherwise. At $72, it's not cheap, but though the menu calls it "for two," it's really for four. Tender rabbit legs are confit in duck fat, thick roulades of rabbit are grilled and sliced into meaty coins, and chunks of meat are stewed down in a sweet oniony stew, all served with a veritable smorgasboard of side dishes including flaky flatbread, pickled veggies, creamy chickpea mash, and sauces galore. It's a sumptuous spread topped only by the restaurant's gorgeous design.
Beef Tartare at Estela
I didn't love everything at Estela on my first visit (though it seems to be getting better with age), but one dish Ignacio Mattos has been nailing since day one is the beef tartare. The cubed raw beef is laced with bits of crispy fried sunchoke chips, which lend an earthy undertone to an already umami-packed dish. A sprinkle of capers and a splash of citrus add some much-needed balance to the heady plate, which I've had no problem polishing off solo.
Lamb and Green Squash Dumplings at Tianjin Dumpling House
Lamb is rarely my go-to protein, and I would easily would have skipped over these dumplings had Max not made a beeline for the Tianjin stall on a recent trip to Flushing. All I can say is that I'm so glad he did, because these are some of the best (and most unique) dumplings I've had in my many years of dumpling eating. The medium-weight skin neatly contains an outrageously juicy (think borderline-XLB level) mix of finely ground lamb with tiny shreds of squash and scallion, miraculously free of the off-putting gamey flavor that plagues many a budget lamb dish. I've never encountered dumplings like these, and the cravings keep me up at night.
Shrimp, Pork, and Watercress Wontons at Noodle Village
You know how you sometimes get stuck in a Chinatown rut and keep going to the same places over and over again? Yeah, me too, which is part of the reason I was so happy to discover Noodle Village this year. The other part is because their wontons are simply fantastic: the wrapper is so delicate it's almost translucent, but supple enough to contain the meaty filling, which, unlike so many other shrimp-related dumplings, contains big chunks of whole shrimp, meaty pork, and refreshing greenery. Get them in soup or without—either way is golden.
Dan Dan Noodles at Han Dynasty
All too often this dish is a disappointment, involving overcooked noodles slicked with all manner of abominations, including peanut butter and Sriracha. But Philly import Han Dynasty's much-hyped arrival to NYC brought with it one of the best versions I've tasted in years—toothsome noodles tossed in a deeply flavorful housemade chili oil with a hint of sesame paste and a crown of minced pork dotted with pickled Sichuan greens. It's tossed tableside in mock-dramatic fashion, adding to the anticipation hoovering the whole damn bowl.
Fried Lagman at Chayhana Salom
Sure, this isn't the most technically perfect or imaginative dish out there, but I'm hard-pressed to think of a dish more plainly comforting than this Uzbek noodle classic. Flat wheat noodles are greaselessly stir-fried with hunks of tender braised lamb, bell peppers, and onions in a rich tomatoey sauce, then topped with strips of scrambled egg and a dose of dill. It's simple and satisfying, the way homestyle mama food should be. Read our full review.
Khachapuri Adjaruli at Oda House
This one comes with a caveat: my absolute favorite version of this indulgent Georgian bread-cheese-egg-boat is at Pirosmani in Sheepshead Bay, where the dairy of choice is a more traditional fresh farmer's cheese. But the East Village is a healluva lot more convenient than Sheepshead Bay for me, and Oda House's rendition, which involves mozzarella for gooeyness and feta for tang, is an entirely delicious version in its own right. The chewy bread, too, is burnished brown on top and soft within, making it the ideal vehicle for sopping up all of the cheesy, eggy glory.
Sake Kasu Challah with Raisin Butter at Shalom Japan
Yes, the concept ("authentically inauthentic Jewish and Japanese food") sounds like a joke, but this simple appetizer captures the cross-cultural fusion with delicacy and deliciousness. Each individually-portioned braided challah loaf is baked with sake kasu (the spent lees leftover from sake once it's been fermented), and served with a raisin-studded whipped butter (the raisins have been soaked in sake, too). the kasu lends the bread the faintest touch of sake aromatics, and the yeast makes it supple and tender. Read our full review.