Food photography, as most of us who read food blogs these days know, is a lot harder than it sometimes looks. Restaurants so dim you need a flashlight to see your menu. Irate dinner companions who do not appreciate your Diane Arbus jokes while they're waiting for you to shoot their food from a dozen angles. Cluttered tables. Main dishes hidden behind strangely unphotogenic garnishes. Broken sauces. Melting ice cream. Hunks of meat.
Anne Fishbein, who has been photographing food for the Weekly for the last dozen or so years, makes it look effortless. We've watched her stow her gear under a tiny chair in the cramped closet of an unpronounceable restaurant in Koreatown, click through a swiftly disappearing banquet — no room to maneuver, bad lighting, questionable bowls of bubbling soybeans — with results that could hang in a gallery. Which of course they have. Fishbein's photography can be found not only in these pages, but in the Art Institute of Chicago, New York's Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery of Canada, Norton Family Collection and the San Francisco Museum of Fine Art. Oh, and she has a book too, with some pretty amazing photos of Russian bakers, among other portraits. Turn the page for 10 of our favorites from 2011. (Something to think about the next time you're shooting your dinner with your phone.)
10. Marinated raw crab (gaejang gahane) at Soban. From Jonathan Gold's review of Soban, August 25. “At Soban, the waitress almost staggers under the weight of the banchan, 15 or so small, square dishes in all, which she arranges on the table with the triumphant smile of a Scrabble player laying down a 112-point play that includes an X, a Q and a triple word score.” See the entire photo gallery.
9. Chile relleno, Selle d'agneau aux chiles piquins at Rivera. From Jonathan Gold's review of St. Estephe at Rivera, Sept. 8. “For the month of September, Sedlar has embedded the 1986 Saint Estèphe menu within the menu of his Rivera, and it is a fascinating look at the food at an important moment in Los Angeles culinary history, like a set by CSNY tucked into the context of a Neil Young concert.” See the entire photo gallery.
8. Foie gras ganache at Lukshon. From Jonathan Gold's review of Lukshon, April 21. “Lukshon is Yoon's most completely realized concept, an edgy, grown-up restaurant serving an Asianized, farm-centered, technique-oriented small-plates menu, very much like Animal, Lazy Ox, A-Frame and Red Medicine, but with even more polish: a new sort of cuisine.” See the entire photo gallery.
7. Spaghetti with sardines; tomato-braised octopus with chick peas. From Jonathan Gold's review of Sotto, October 27, 2011. “Samson and Pollack may be pizzaioli in public, but they really seem to be abattoir jocks instead.” See the entire photo gallery.
6. Dry-aged flat iron at Salt's Cure. From Jonathan Gold's review of Salt's Cure, January 6. “If you didn't know better, or you weren't reading this in the restaurant column instead of in the corner of the paper where the consumer products go, you could almost swear that Salt's Cure was a butcher shop where dining was almost a sideline and the real business of the place was the cutting and preparation of meats.” See the entire photo gallery.
5. Kiwamu Katayama prepares tofu at table at Robata Jinya. From Jonathan Gold's review of Robata Jinya, March 24. “The most striking Japanese dish I've had lately? It's hard to say, although at the moment I am tending toward a dish of warm tofu freshly made at table: a beautifully weathered bowl, a few drops of nigari, a stream of soy milk poured from a pitcher.” See the entire photo gallery.
4. Farmers market produce at Le Comptoir. From Jonathan Gold's review of Le Comptoir, November 17. “Behind the counter at Tiara, Menes heats a small pot of oil and begins to fry experimental doughnuts he's made from his bread starter, turning to his chefs for advice, and eventually tosses a perfect torus of dough with a bit of cinnamon sugar. He hands over a small slice. 'If someone had made doughnuts in front of me without offering me a bite, I'd be furious,' he says.” See the entire photo gallery.
3. A slice of Chad Colby's mortadella at Cochon 555. From Jonathan Gold's review of Cochon 555, May 5. “If food is the new rock & roll, and we have every reason to believe that it is, Cochon 555 is the Porkapalooza of the medium, a traveling circus of sustainability and a locavore rodeo, a roadshow of wine, pig and minor debauchery.” See the entire photo gallery.
2. Dehydrated Meyer lemon slices at Red Medicine. From Jonathan Gold's review of Red Medicine, Feb. 3. “Red Medicine, most famous for unmasking and ejecting the L.A. Times restaurant critic in its earliest weeks, is still more discussed in gossip columns than it is in food circles, and a lot of people who couldn't pick Wolfgang Puck out of a police lineup have strongly held opinions about the place.” See the entire photo gallery.
1. Grilled corvina at Olympic Cheonggukjang. From Jonathan Gold's review of Olympic Cheonggukjang, January 27. “You should also be able to find the restaurant if you inhale deeply: Olympic Cheonggukjang specializes, reasonably enough, in cheonggukjang, a thick soup made with the fermented Korean bean paste also called cheonggukjang, whose aroma has been compared to ripe French cheeses, unwashed jockstraps and the city of Vernon, Calif., but has a special eye-watering tang of its own.” See the entire photo gallery.