Liquid nitrogen aperitif at The Fat Duck.

2011 has come and gone and my 2012 calendar is beginning to fill up with what promise to be exciting culinary adventures. There is something very satisfying about planning meals half a year in advance but before I begin drifting in and out of food comas, it is high time to reflect on the meals, dishes and experiences that enriched 2011 and made it the best dining year of my life. What follows is a round-up of top spots and plates. I have listed my top 5 restaurant experiences overall followed by categories consisting of “top 3s”–I couldn’t pick just 1! Happy New Year and best wishes for a delectable and caloric 2012!

Best Meals Overall

#5 Dinner by Heston Blumenthal: Heston Blumenthal opened Dinner in the Mandarin Oriental in London in early 2011. The menu features re-imagined historical dishes like Meat Fruit (c 1500), which resembles a mandarin orange. Slice open the skin (mandarin orange gelee) to reveal not segments, but a creamy chicken liver parfait. The ancient recipes are served with a modern sensibility that merges history and molecular gastronomy in a clever and approachable manner.

#4 Noma (September): A fantastic meal, to be sure, full of stunning dishes beautifully prepared and plated. Though one dish fell flat: sea urchin with lovage granita and frozen creme fraiche failed to hit the high notes that the other dishes reached and knocked this meal at Noma down to the fourth spot.

#3 The Fat Duck: Heston Blumenthal’s legendary 3 Michelin star restaurant outside of London blends alchemy and gastronomy. His penchant for contrasts and sensory manipulation all make for an exceptional dining event that must be experienced to be fully understood. (Review on Scatti di Gusto; Photos.)

Meat Fruit at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

#2 Noma (December): My second meal at René Redzepi’s 2 Michelin star restaurant in Copenhagen, currently ranked the best restaurant in the world by San Pellegrino, actually outdid the previous meal I had there in September (which ranks #4 overall). Many of the snacks remained the same, but the mains like Fresh sliced chestnuts with chopped walnuts and a white wine/butter/fish roe sauce and Ribbons of pickled vegetables with bone marrow were a cut above. Pastry chef Rosio Sanchez’s Potato puree with plum marmelade and plum pit whipped cream is one of my top dishes of the year. (Photos.)

#1 Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare: When I ate at this unusual (then 2 now 3) Michelin star rated restaurant in downtown Brooklyn in January, I named it as the meal to beat in 2011. I wasn’t wrong. Visionary chef César Ramirez treats his guests to a dining experience in which gastronomy, architecture, beauty, theater, and craft collide. I’m headed back in two weeks to see what he’s cooking up now. (Review on Scatti di Gusto.)

Honorable Mention: Glass (Rome), Per Se (NYC), Zuberoa (Oiartzun, Spain), AOC (Copenhagen), Fatty Cue (NYC)

The Best of the Rest

Best Gelato: Gori (Rome), Il Gelato di Claudio Torcè (Rome), Neve di Latte (Rome)

Best Breakfast: Kaymakci Pando (Istanbul), Maya (Bozcaada), St John Bread & Wine (London)

Best Fish Meals: Tarihi Karaköy Balıkçısı (Istanbul), The John Dory Oyster Bar (NYC), Acqua Pazza (Ponza, Italy)

Best Pubs: Mikkeller (Copenhagen), The Rake (London), Ma Che Siete Venuti a Fa’ (Rome)

Best Locavore Dining: Il Talucco (Valdengo, Italy), Enoteca Provincia Romana (Rome), ABC Kitchen (NYC)

Best Meat: Kenan Usta (Istanbul), Prime Meats (Brooklyn, NY), Retour (Copenhagen)

Lamb tongues at St John Bread & Wine.

Best Offal: St John (London), St John Bread & Wine (London), Szechuan Gourmet (NYC)

Best Sandwich: Brisket sliders at Mighty Quinn’s stall (New Amsterdam Market, Brooklyn Flea, Stockton Market), Chicken parm at Parm (NYC), Lamb burger at The Breslin (NYC)

Best Dining Cities: Barcelona, Copenhagen, NYC

Best Food Markets: New Amsterdam Market (NYC), Maltby Street (London), Stockton Market (Stockton, NJ)

Best Pizza or Pide: Pizzarium (Rome), La Notizia (Naples), Pideban (Istanbul)

Best Coffee: Prufrock (London), Notes Music Coffee (London), Sciascia (Rome)

Best Newcomers: Hedone (London), Brawn (London), Pipero al Rex (Rome)

Best Home Cooked Dishes: Hande Leimer’s Walnut Wedges of Decadence, Hande’s mom’s peynir helvasi, Hande’s mutton tail fat schmaltz.

Already in the works for 2012: Lecce, New Haven, lots more Istanbul, even more Copenhagen, northern Sweden, Turin, New Orleans and Vieques!