Choosing the top 10 tastes is too arbitrary. There could have been 100 top tastes during the year, and probably more.
Nevertheless, here are a few that come to mind. The list is limited to Los Angeles and nearby communities, so it does not acknowledge the great food that I tasted in Paso Robles, San Miguel and Pismo Beach on the Central Coast; Desert Hot Springs, Palm Springs and Palm Desert, and the wonderful dishes that I encountered in Fairfax County, Virginia; Southern Oregon, Buenos Aires and Santiago and Valparaiso in Chile.
Happy New Year, and may you have many great tastes in 2009.
1. Steamed Mussels at Jitlada Thai restaurant. The mussels are plump and juicy, but the broth is what stands out. It's seasoned with sweet, rich spices, not the hot chiles, kaffir lime leaves and cilantro that are so typical of Thai food. The mango salad is pretty good too, and I wrote earlier about the fried bananas with ice cream.
Jitlada Thai restaurant, 5233 ½ Sunset Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90027. Tel: (323) 667-9809
2. Carne Asada Sandwich at the San Antonio Winery. This sandwich is new on the menu at the winery. The bun is simple, nothing special, the French fries on the side are commercial. But the meat is fabulous--thin strips of beef with great grilled flavor and appetizing charred spots.
San Antonio Winery & Maddalena Restaurant, 737 Lamar Street, Los Angeles, CA 90031. Tel: (323) 223-1401.
A smoky flavor from wok-cooking made this shrimp-garnished eggplant salad one of my favorites. Alas, the chef who brought knowledgeable Thai food lovers to Chai Thung, including Pulitzer-Prize-winning critic Jonathan Gold of LA Weekly, has left.
I don't know the fate of the salad, but I'm keeping tabs on that chef and will report when he finds a new spot.
Chai Thung (sometimes spelled Toong) Thai restaurant, 1001 N. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90027. Tel: (323) 667-3432.
4. Middle Eastern Food from Carousel restaurant in Hollywood. I went to a party that featured a buffet of Middle Eastern food ordered from this restaurant. Kebabs, salads, a delicious sweet red pepper dish, hummus and much more. It was all very, very good.
I've not eaten at Carousel in Hollywood, but I remember a recipe for a yogurt-smothered fried eggplant appetizer from Carousel in Glendale that I secured for the Los Angeles Times food section. It was very very good too.
Carousel restaurant, 5112 Hollywood Blvd., #107, Los Angeles, CA 90027. (323) 660-8060. The Glendale location is 304 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale, CA 91203. Tel: (818) 246-7775. 818-246-7775
5.Multi- Nut and Fruit Pastry from Cathy's Bakery. Located in a mall with an Asian grocery store and several Chinese restaurants, Cathy's sets out typical Chinese baked goods such as ham and cheese bread, coconut bread and red bean buns. I picked out a wedge-shaped pastry stuffed with peanuts and pecans, raisins and candied fruit and sprinkled thickly with sesame seeds. It was divine.
Cathy's Bakery, 651 W, Duarte Road, #A, Arcadia, CA 91007. Tel: (626) 821-8655. Also at 708 E. Las Tunas Drive, San Gabriel, CA 91776.
Chef Jet Tila filled the biggest wok I have ever seen with this luscious creamy chicken curry. Tila has moved to Las Vegas, where he just opened the Asian restaurant Wazuzu in the Encore Las Vegas, so he may not be back to prepare this curry for the 2009 festival. Fortunately, I obtained the recipe and posted it on www.tableconversation.com.
The festival that celebrates Songkran, the Thai New Year, takes place in the spring. The date is not fixed, so start looking for it around April. Part of Hollywood Boulevard is closed off for a parade and booths selling food and Thai crafts.
7. Nan Kkatai at Surati Farsan Mart. Everytime I go to Little India in Artesia, I pick up a pound of these cookies. They're pale, plain sugar cookies, lightly flavored with cardamom. Then I walk down Pioneer Boulevard to Saffron Spot ice cream parlor to have my favorite ice cream, rajbhog, and to see what other enticing flavors are in the case.
Surati Farsan Mart, 11814 E. 186th Street, Artesia, CA 90701. Tel: (562) 860- 2310.
Saffron Spot ice cream parlor and snack shop, 18744 Pioneer Blvd., Artesia, CA 90701 Tel: (562) 809-6226.
8. Cheese-stuffed dates at Tinto. Medjool dates stuffed with Cabrales cheese from Spain and wrapped with bacon combine sweet, salty and savory in an irresistible way. It's one of many interesting tastes at this tapas restaurant.
Tinto, 7511 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood, CA 90046. Tel (323) 512-3095.
9. Pan Dulce at Chapinlandia. This small bakery on the corner of Witmer and Third Street, just west of downtown Los Angeles, is my current headquarters for pan dulce (Mexican and Central American sweet breads). Every time I go, I spot a bread that I haven't seen before. The variety is amazing.
Chapinlandia Bakery, 1455 Third Street, Los Angeles. CA 90017. Tel: (213) 481-2239.
10. Seafood at Take Sushi Restaurant. I loved the abalone porridge and eundaegu jorim (cod in spicy sweet sauce) at this Koreatown hotel restaurant. A Korean friend told me later that this restaurant is considered to have the best and freshest seafood in that area. So I'm going back to try the sushi menu.
Take Sushi Restaurant, Oxford Palace Hotel & Galleria, 745 S. Oxford Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90005. Tel: (213) 389-8000.