As the food writers for The Fresno Bee, we have a lot of delicious fun working here.
Tasting food is part of the job, whether it’s sampling at a new restaurant, meeting newcomers at the Fresno Food Expo or just discovering something new at a farmers market.
There are days when we sit at our desks and rave about something we loved. So we thought we’d share some of our favorites from this past year. Here are foods we got excited about.
Velvet Night Brandy. I don’t really drink hard liquor very often. But when I tasted a glass of Velvet Night Brandy from Ken Andrus, a new world open up to me. It was sweet, with a smoky, caramel flavor. It was even better in the hands of a talented bartender like Carlos Moran, general manager of Cracked Pepper Bistro. Moran blended the brandy with lemon juice, orange liqueur and Angostura bitters to create a drink he calls Southern Jewel. Just a few sips had me smiling from ear to ear.
Truffle Egg Toast. CHAR in Visalia is one of those rare hidden gems in the Valley. There is much about this French-inspired that is good, but what left an impression on me is the Truffle Egg Toast. It’s a delicious dish that combines a buttery brioche bun, havarti cheese and a perfectly poached egg. The result is an egg yolk with an unforgettable rich and creamy texture.
Poke Nachos with Da Bomb sauce. Hawaiian poke is super popular right now and it seems no matter where you turn someone has it on their menu. But one of my favorites dishes last year was the poke nachos at Pokiland in north Fresno. While some poke purists might be turned off by pairing tortilla chips and chunks of raw tuna, the strange combination works. And it works well. The saltiness of the chips mixed with fresh tuna, seaweed, masago – tiny fish eggs – and the restaurant’s spicy Da Bomb sauce will make you a convert or send you back to eating more traditional poke.
Char.Tots. Warm, crunchy and with a soft center, tater tots are nearly the perfect comfort food. CHARburger in Fresno, another of Heaney’s restaurants, has great respect for the starchy goodness of a tots. That’s why she tops them in a rich and slightly tangy truffle cheddar sauce with a sprinkling of herbs. It’s a carb-lovers paradise.
Clovis Fire House Burger at Coltons. This burger will set your mouth on fire. And that’s a good thing. As a lover of hot foods, I can appreciate when chefs add some heat to their meals. But too often, it’s just all flame with no flavor. What sets Colton’s Fire House Burger apart is that it comes at you with an intense heat, fueled by fiery ghost pepper cheese. But the spiciness mellows, allowing you to taste the pure Angus beef patty, deep fried jalapenos, pillowy buns and chipotle aioli.
Agnolotti pasta from The Annex Kitchen restaurant. Sometimes something tastes so good you just have to ignore your husband who’s in mid sentence, close your eyes and savor the food in your mouth. This agnolotti pasta deserves one’s full attention. It’s pasta stuffed with butternut squash or Fresno State corn, depending upon the season. We could debate all night which is better, but I’m a fan of the squash agnolotti, which pairs perfectly with melted butter and sage leaves. The restaurant is at Shaw Avenue and Van Ness Boulevard.
The Indian chai ice cream at G’s Creamery. This little ice cream shop opened last summer by a couple of local dudes is perhaps best known for its sweet buns – essentially a glazed doughnut cut in half with ice cream in the middle. But it’s something even more outside the mainstream that makes me swoon. The Indian chai ice cream is so good it makes you sad when it’s gone. With just the right amount of cardamom flavor, it’s like combining chai tea and ice cream.
Molucca chocolate with pink salt and cocoa nibs. You’ve probably read about local chocolate maker Molucca and its dark chocolates in this newspaper. The company introduced a new line of “inclusion” bars with different ingredients that you can buy online and at the Vineyard Farmers market at Blackstone and Shaw avenues. The 70 percent dark chocolate with pink Himalayan salt and cocoa nibs is the perfect combination of salty and sweet, with just the right textures of soft chocolate melting in your mouth contrasted with the crunch of the cocoa nibs and salt. It’s best to savor it, eating one square per day so you can stretch out the goodness.
Romanesco. Didn’t think a vegetable would make this list, did ya? But this one is so pretty and so tasty that more people need to learn about it. Romanesco is similar to cauliflower, but instead of round florets, has little green fractal peaks all over it. This veggie is so eye catching it could easily work as a table centerpiece. It has a nutty flavor with a hint of sweetness. I get mine at the Vineyard Farmers market and roast it in the oven, tossed with Enzo garlic olive oil, a few whole garlic cloves and Himalayan salt.
Orange cream soda from Riley’s Brewing Co. This is a hard soda with 5 percent alcohol by volume – definitely not for kids. The soda is reminiscent of a Creamsicle, with the taste of real oranges. It’s easy to drink and doesn’t have the funk that some hard sodas have. It’s sold at various liquor stores and on tap at Riley’s Brew Pub, which opened in October near Temperance Avenue and Highway 168.
Find Robert Rodriguez on Twitter at @FresnoBeeBob and Bethany Clough @BethanyClough.