1. Jean Georges in New York City. The atmosphere, the food, the service (the prices!) were all incredible, a true experience, not just a meal. A turbot dish had Evan raving, and he's not normally that big a fan of white fish. Each dish had complex layers of flavors, with sauces, coatings and foams, so that in once case, even where I wasn't sure if I actually liked the dish, it was just so darn interesting that I had to finish it.
2. Chef's table at (local) bar and restaurant. Ten courses showcasing chef Anthony Marini's creativity with only minimal guidance on our likes and dislikes mixed more traditional fare such as hangar steak and potatoes with new experiences such as sea beans and pork belly. (Read all about it here.) Local is temporarily closed while Marini moves to a new location.
3. Whole Foods opening. Our first visit to Whole Foods, we were nearly overwhelmed by the selection of produce, meat, cheese, prepared foods and organic goods. We especially love the quality of their meats, and have discovered bison steaks. The nickname "whole paycheck" is not because their prices are unreasonable – in fact, their house brand, "365," offers some great values on many items. If you were to buy these type of organic and specialty items at other stores in town (assuming you could find them), you'd find in many cases Whole Foods is cheaper. But high-quality, organic, natural and specialty foods simply cost more.
Much as we love Whole Foods, though, they have not replaced local places like V. Richard's and Tria Market in our hearts. Sometimes Whole Foods is just too big, and doesn't offer the same level of service. For instance, while the cheese selection at Whole Foods is probably two to three times that of Tria Market, I really prefer going to Tria, where they will happily let you sample cheese until you find the one you like. The baked goods at Tria and V. Richards are much better than those at Whole Foods (although WH does some great fruit pies.) And, of course, you can't get things like foie gras pate and caviar at Whole Foods.
4. Aquavit in NYC – especially the steelhead trout cooked in duck fat. Incredibly rich.
5. A beachside-balcony picnic with our 5-year-old on our first trip to the beach, with fresh Gulf boiled shrimp from Goatfeathers II, quick homemade pasta salad, brie, olives, and hummus and pitas.
6. Soul food at Eagle's Restaurant. We'd never had soul food before; this is to Southern meat-and-three what black gospel music is to staid Protestant hymnals. (Read review here)
7. Discovering cocktails at Highlands Bar & Grill. We've always enjoyed the ever-changing wine by the glass list so much that we never really ventured into the cocktail menu. When we finally did, we were thrilled to discover real adult cocktails, some classic, some unique to Highlands. None of these super-sweet drinks that think they're martinis simply because they're in a martini glass. There's the famous "Orange Thang," which was invented by accident. My favorite is the Highlands Refresher, where the syrupy sweetness of Drambuie is tamed with lemon juice, soda and a dash of bitters. And don't miss the seasonal cocktail featured at the top of the dinner menu. In the summer, it's often a peach bellini; on a recent visit, it was a blood orange mimosa.
8. Iguana Grill in Hoover. While the food is quite good (although the green salt on the margarita rim is kind of scary), what is really impressive about this restaurant on Lorna is the décor. The creation of a noted Mexican interior designer, the interior boasts dozens of metal star-shaped lanterns and other beautiful lights, metal artwork and rich, bold colors. (Read review here)
9. Eating at Las Halles in New York City, Anthony Bordain's place. This is a French bistro with New York attitude. The steaks and fries were excellent, we had a marvelous bottle of French red wine, and the salad got us addicted to frisee.
10. Enjoying a three-hour meal at a small restaurant called Zinnia in the St. Louis area to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday. While the food was good and the event delightful, the real memorable part was that our then-4-year-old daughter was beautifully behaved through the whole thing! (OK, we did use bribery with Skittles and had some new mini-coloring books to keep her occupied, but still, for a 4-year-old, that's impressive.)