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The Year in Dining and Drinking, 2018

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Beachcomber’s Bruce Collier visits New York’s Astor Wine & Spirits earlier this year. All we got was this lovely photo.

The year 2018 was a busy one for me and my family, and for dining and drinking. I reviewed meals at 17 restaurants—Twisted Grape; Okki Dokki Korean; Shunk Gulley Oyster Bar; Tropicana Club; First Watch; Bud & Alley’s Taco Bar; George’s at Alys Beach; Shan Kishi; Back Beach Barbecue; Rockin’ Tacos; Culver’s; I’m Skewed; Samuel’s Roadhouse; Acme Oyster House Seascape; Domo Café; Redd’s Fueling Station; and Two Trees.


I profiled Lobster Tail’s Chef Kevin Wynn, and had the pleasure of eating his stuffed Caribbean lobster (half of it—by Herculean effort, I took home half for my wife).


I wrote five Just the Liquor Talking articles, on wines of Chianti, wines from France’s Loire; offbeat spirits worth a try; Guyana rum; and Spanish Rioja wine.


This Thanksgiving saw me, my wife and our daughter (the Child Formerly Known as the Tiny Diner) in New York. We stayed in Chinatown, and ate Vietnamese (including banh mi sandwiches), Chinese, Middle Eastern (from a halal cart in Chinatown), pastry, gelato and slices of street pizza in Little Italy, Indian, and good old vendor hot dogs and warm soft pretzels. After years of doing business online, I visited and shopped at Astor Wines and Spirits in Manhattan.


Looking back over the list I realize I reviewed two taco places (but no Italian restaurants) this year, plus two Japanese, one Korean and one Filipino establishment. I dined in dry heat and ducking sheets of rain. Many lunches but only one breakfast. My schedule found me eating several times alone, and several times with my daughter, who is learning the good restaurant manners I intend to send with her into the world.


As always, there were high spots, and favorites. Here are some.


Apps of the Year. Contenders are the savory octopus, shrimp and vegetable pancake at Okki Dokki; the seafood charcuterie app at George’s; Brunswick stew with sausage, brisket and chicken at Back Beach Barbecue; and the hot, crisp meat pies at Acme Oyster House. Okki Dokki is a terrific restaurant, with food so good they sometimes sell out and have to close early. The pancake wins.


Sandwich of the Year. Contenders are Back Beach barbecue’s sliced to order brisket and the pot roast sandwich at Culver’s. The latter made me think of growing up in Ohio (Culver’s is a Midwest company). The brisket—which you can get lean or fatty, according to your taste—doesn’t need any sauce at all, though Back Beach has three excellent house sauces. Back Beach, by a thin slice.


Entree of the Year. In the running are the sea scallops with lobster buttermilk vichyssoise at George’s; chirashi (raw fish on a bowl of rice and vegetables) at Domo Café; chicken sisig (grilled chopped meat with onions, chili and lemon juice) at I’m Skewed; and Chef Kevin Wynn’s stuffed Caribbean lobster at Lobster Tail. It’s a tie—George’s and Domo Café, two polar opposites that both manage to be fabulous.


Dessert of the Year. For one reason or another, I didn’t eat a lot of desserts out this year. One, however, was a clear winner. I liked it so much I photographed it—Mac’s Pie at Shunk Gulley. In the review, I wrote, “vanilla-laced cream cheese and white chocolate mousse, topped with whipped cream, strawberries and blueberries, on a flaky bottom crust…vanilla lovers, rejoice. It’s rich but actually rather light. It’s picture pretty, too.” Just don’t waste too much time staring.


Best Discoveries of the Year. The variety—and, for the time being, affordability—of high quality rums. The pleasure of researching, preparing and enjoying classic cocktails—Martini, Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Negroni, Boulevardier, My Old Pal, Highlander, Sazerac, and Cuba Libre. Enjoying excellent and moderately priced wines from Spain and Italy.


My Wish for 2019. That Indian restaurant I’ve been wishing for since I don’t remember when, to come to the area. And stay. New York is full of them. What’s the problem here?


Favorite restaurant of 2018. I had eaten lunch at George’s several times, but never dinner, and my family and I had a near-perfect night of it there—elegant, friendly, lovely table service and atmosphere, beautiful, delicious food. It’s been on the short list ever since.


Toward the end of the year we ate lunch in Fort Walton Beach at a place that took me completely by surprise. Domo Café is a busy neighborhood spot, tucked away on a side street in a strip of shops. You have to see it yourself to believe how much use they have made of the limited space inside. The vibe is young (but welcoming) and hip (but friendly), and there’s a menu absolutely loaded with sushi, sashimi, Japanese, Korean and Thai-influenced dining options. It was an enormous amount of brilliantly prepared and presented food of all kinds.


So top honors go to Domo Café.


Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and Fine Dining to all.


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