Meal: My most memorable meal of the year came from Modo Mio: chicken-liver “caramello” with candied fennel, raisin-studded gnocchi, lightly breaded skate and — holy shit, have you had their mussels?! I know, I know, but their aggressively seasoned white sauce is so lemony and buttery, it’s the color of a daisy, an absolute depth charge of flavor you want to drink with a spoon.
Restaurant: There aren’t enough good things to say about Vernick. But here’s a shot: beef tartare, uni scrambled eggs, house-made mozzarella, wood-roasted dorado, Angela Ranalli desserts, seasonal sodas, the city’s best by-the-glass wine list, a bartender who asks for your vermouth preference ... should I go on?
Cocktail: At Fork, new chef Eli Kulp’s food is matched by a quietly excellent cocktail program. Among the choices: an effervescent ballet featuring the cool, vegetal moves of Cynar and celery water entwined with candied Canton ginger liqueur, tart verjus and crisp sparkling wine. It has no name, and doesn’t need one.
Cookbook: Me and cookbooks ain’t the best of friends, but I’ll give a nod to Ian Knauer’s lushly photographed The Farm: Rustic Recipes for a Year of Incredible Food (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt), which reads much like a vivid family memoir.
Cheap Eats: Not only does the snappy Berks frank fit the smartly sized Cacia’s bun like an Armani suit, the $4 My Thai hot dog at Underdogs packs max flavor per penny. I could eat a bowl of the lacy green papaya slaw, a lo-fi take on som tum.
Meal: In May we brought a big group to Collingswood’s Zeppoli, and I’m convinced there’s no restaurant of this ilk better than Joey Baldino’s. It’s genuine from top to bottom, and there aren’t many people who can focus flavors the way he does.
Restaurant: Vernick was my favorite debut of 2012. Everything about it is exciting. It’s the first place that comes to mind when I’m asked to recommend somewhere “new” in town.
Cocktail: Riddles in the Dark by The Franklin’s Al Sotack is a Tolkien-referenc-ing tipple with teeth. All booze: rye, ver-mouth, sherry, amaro, cherry liqueur, bitt-ers. Those who like complaining about drink sizes should have this lil’ guy and try not to slur through round 2.
Cookbook: An updated edition of Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan’s Memories of Philippine Kitchens (Stewart, Tabori and Chang) dropped this spring. It’s indispensable when I want to learn more about the dishes I grew up eating.
Cheap Eats: The SPOT Burger from Josh Kim’s cart at 33rd and Arch. The OG — bacon, cheddar, slaw, pickles and super-secret SPOT sauce — is my favorite.