Chicago. New York. Philly. Atlanta. San Francisco. This year we toured America's urban culinary playground like giddy, hungry kids. And the crème de la crème of what we tasted were dishes of exquisite balance, regional flavor, and bold character. The chefs behind these plates are the innovators and risk takers, wholeheartedly engaging in the kind of product-exalting preparation that's come to define this nation's love affair with food.
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Much as we love our home-grown talent and tastes, 2012 found us globe-hopping with an appetite. From the ambitious New Guard of Paris and Rome, to the eternally inspiring kitchens of Tokyo, to the exquisite polish of London and a surprising culinary genius of industrial Nottingham, the world beyond our shores had much to teach us—and feed us. Here are the five we were still thinking about on the plane ride home.
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Sweet tooths, lament: the world as we know it isn't drowning in pastry. But what's out there is strong, intelligent, inventive, and boundary-pushing as ever. So where quantity of pastry chefs may be lacking, quality continues on a skyward trend. And as pastry chefs continue to innovate, we see a top five this year integrating strong fruit and savory elements, with creations from across the pond and a couple from across the country.
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Last year we stopped ourselves at the top five drinks. This year, we couldn't help adding five more. Maybe we imbibed a little more, or maybe—probably—the mixology talent in this country is getting stronger and stronger. Some of our top picks are from mixo-meccas like New York and San Francisco, but you'll notice talent from Atlanta, Charleston, Philadelphia, and even Hawaii in there. Drink up—we did. And, if you can, order two.
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What our top dishes do for us intellectually and creatively, these dishes do for us on a gut-level. These are the dishes we'd go back for again and again, propriety be damned. Rich flavors, long, slow cooking preparations, lush ingredients (sweetbreads, uni), revelatory flavor combinations, updates on old school (like, centuries' old school) classics: these are dishes that'll haunt your dreams, in the best possible way.
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