There was a lot of good food last year, but these are the 10 dishes I haven‘t been able to stop thinking about since I ate them.
Persimmon Pudding: Desserts have always been excellent at Axe, but the persimmon pudding may be hitting an all-time high. Dense, warmly spiced, not too sweet, a cross between a cake and a custard, it’s the ideal winter confection. Served warm out of the oven with fresh, pooling cream. ($5.) 1009 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; (310) 664-9787.
Sashimi: The Hump, that small sushi bar above Typhoon at the Santa Monica Airport, serves a good range of excellent sashimi. Try the hamachi, sliced ultrathin and lightly sauced with a good, citrusy ponzu, each slice with a dab of garlic-pepper sauce and a single paper-thin round of orange serrano chile. Seared Yaki-Jimo–style sashimi (maguro, albacore, etc.) is seasoned with cilantro, ginger, garlic and ponzu oil. Tataki-style sashimi is chopped into tartare — try the Spanish mackerel with cilantro, sesame and kelp for a mouthful of well-seasoned sea. ($8-$12.) 3221 Donald Douglas Loop South, Third Floor, Santa Monica; (310) 313-0977.
Panna Cotta: This Italian baked cream custard has come and gone in many flavors, from lemon to mocha. I personally prefer the basic snow-white, vanilla-scented version sauced with a bit of fresh fruit or chocolate. Tanino does this flawlessly, its panna cotta served over berries. Creamy and cold, it‘s not too gelatinous — in fact, once unmolded the white custard splits before it reaches the table, the sign of perfection. ($6.) 1043 Westwood Blvd.; (310) 208-0444.
Barbecued Fried Chicken: Paio’s chef, Alisa Reynolds, takes a plump “airline” breast (with attached drumette), skins it and does her bit of magic, creating a sweet and tangy, moist and crunchy chicken that somehow gives us everything we ever wanted from both fried and barbecued birds. A triumph. It comes with baked yams and stewed greens. ($18.) 2520 Hyperion Ave.; (323) 953-1973.
Linguini and Meatballs: We‘ve come to expect almost anything from the virtuosic Lee Hefter, chef du cuisine at Spago, Beverly Hills — but did we expect the fluffiest, most delicious meatballs ever? Made from veal and judiciously seasoned, these happy little dreams come in a nest of addictively al dente linguine with a slow-cooked sauce of fresh and oven-roasted tomatoes: oh my God. At lunch only. ($18.) 176 N. Cañon Drive, Beverly Hills; (310) 385-0880.
Bebe Jesus Salami Sub: With salami so divine it deserves its sacred name, the sandwich of the year is surely the Bebe Jesus salami sub at Mario’s, a great neighborhood Italian grocery in Glendale. Bebe Jesus salami is heaped on a double-cut Italian roll and, unless you specify otherwise, dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion, mozzarella cheese and a house mix of mustard and mayo. (I prefer Italian dressing to the mustardmayo mix.) ($5.) 740 E. Broadway, Glendale; (818) 242-4114.
Sauteed Eggplant: The new Ita Cho on Beverly Boulevard serves many small, tasty dishes, from citrus-marinated black cod to seared Japanese peppers to chunks of pork cooked for two days and served with hot mustard. But the dish I can‘t get out of my mind is nasu miso itame, or eggplant sauteed in a miso sauce. The dish is served piping hot, and waiting for it to cool is a torture: In big, juicy, soft chunks in a velvety, mild sauce, eggplant has simply never been so sexy. And you can always order another serving. ($6.) 7311 Beverly Blvd.; (323) 938-9009.
Yogurt Kebab: I find myself returning repeatedly to Carousel, Glendale’s great new Middle Eastern restaurant, expressly for the yogurt kebab — that‘s a kefta (ground meat subtly spiced with cinnamon) kebab sauced with yogurt and pine nuts over pieces of crisped pita bread. Served with a terrific, lemony cabbage salad, crudites, pita and a choice of rice pilaf, bulgur pilaf or house-made fries — all excellent. ($14.95.) 304 N. Brand Blvd., Glendale; (818) 246-7775.
Bibb Lettuce and Herb Salad: This light and beautiful salad is a refreshing, inspired bit of Campanile brilliance, absolutely perfect in its simplicity. Tender Bibb lettuce is strewn generously with fresh chopped herbs (dill, tarragon, chervil, parsley and chives) and dressed with a zingy lemon vinaigrette, cracked pepper and fleur de sel. Bright! Juicy! At dinner only. ($9.) 624 S. La Brea Ave.; (323) 938-1447.
Moroccan Chicken: Lucques chef Suzanne Goin’s take on the classic Moroccan tagine seduces with its clear, loud flavors: Chicken is braised with cracked green olives, chickpeas and the irresistible tartness of preserved lemons. Unfortunately, the menu rotates, and sometimes you‘ll have to make do with the almost-as-delicious mustard-basted devil’s chicken. ($18.) 8474 Melrose Ave., West Hollywood; (323) 655-6277.