Dining Out: What a year for food!

The Brooklyn culinary scene continues to expand, almost daily it seems, by leaps and bounds.

The beneficiaries, of course, are eager diners, who have a vast array of eateries and cuisines from which to choose pretty much wherever they venture in the borough.

And, the reviewers of this paper have been fortunate enough to sample the offerings of several dozen of these restaurants.

There have been a heck of a lot of high points along the way.

The best chocolate we tasted during the year would have to be the silken delights at Jacques Torres, which recently opened a factory in Sunset Park. Superb flavor and perfect texture combine in Torres’ renowned confections, whether they be elegant bon bons or sturdy bars.

There was no competition for the best cheesecake. Rather, Bay Ridge Bakery, 7805 Fifth Avenue, offers a selection of creamy and delicious standouts. Make mine the French Cheesecake, a light-as-air masterpiece with a bottom layer of chocolate cake.

Nor was there competition for the title of best bread. Hands down, that honor goes to the Kings Highway Bakery, 292 Kings Highway, which offers up crusty on the outside, soft on the inside loaves of Italian bread made the old-fashioned way.

We could say the best pickles we sampled were those at Park Slope’s Pickle Shack, 256 Fourth Avenue, but we prefer to broaden the scope, and pronounce the tiny eatery’s vegetarian cuisine the most inventive and succulent of its type that we tasted this year, spiked by the pucker power of its namesake. Among the highlights, a vegetarian burger that certainly tops the charts, delighting even devoted carnivores.

A Bay Ridge eatery notches the best tamale prize. El Puente, 9300 Fifth Avenue, serves up authentic south-of-the-border fare including the sweet, dense, steaming cornmeal-stuffed tamales – quintessential comfort food that really hits the spot.

The recently re-opened Blue Agave, 7215B Third Avenue, takes the prize, hands-down, for best Margaritas. The fruity frozen kind – in a generously sized glass – whets the palate for many of the eatery’s Latin-inspired specialties, including, of course, Guacamole, fiercely fresh and flavorful, as well as bacon-wrapped Spicy Shrimp Poppers, a new and delightful take on an old favorite.

When it comes to the food of the Middle East, the competition is fierce. We are partial to the Tabouleh and Hummus prepared by Dari, 8518 Third Avenue in Bay Ridge, both of which sing with the flavors of the Mediterranean.

Closer to home, Park Slope’s Backyard, 388 Fifth Avenue, offered one chef’s version of regional cuisines from around the U.S. from seafood with a New England accent to downhome Southern barbecue. We loved the riffs on traditional food including unexpected additions such as Pear Sriracha to enhance both braised chicken and roasted potatoes.

A longtime favorite eatery served up the best Spanish food we tasted this year. Bay Ridge’s Sancho’s, 7410 Third Avenue, offers a mean Gazpacho, the chilled soup a distillation of the fresh vegetables that combine for the Iberian classic. Sancho’s Paella is also a standout, chock-full of seafood on a bed of saffron rice.

Given the number of Italian restaurants in Brooklyn, it’s virtually impossible to choose a favorite, but we were definitely beguiled by the deft reinventions of traditional dishes by Chef/Owner Nico Daniele at Bella Gioia, 209 Fourth Avenue, and are still dreaming of the succulent Pappardelle with Lamb Ragu.

We were also delighted by the interpretations of traditional dishes created by Chef Marco Chirico at the classic eatery, Marco Polo, 345 Court Street. On our recent visit, we enjoyed the cuisine of Calabria, and are delighted that the restaurant offers up regional tasting menus on a regular basis so that local diners can enjoy less well-known but still traditional dishes.

We can’t wait to see – and taste – what 2015 has in store.

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