BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK - Menega Cafe (Bali)Sand, sea and al fresco dining are what make Jimbaran beach special. From the many open-air restaurants that offer much of the same, Menega Cafe stands out from the rest. The fish is fresh, the service pretty good and the place is always packed. Head here for a sunset drink and a simple meal of grilled fish and seafood. Don't forget to have a few freshly-grilled corn on the cob from the vendors on the beach - here is street, or rather beach, food at its' best.
BEST ICE CREAM - Gaya Gelato (Ubud)I just had to add this. A tiny place in Ubud that serves (in my opinion) the best gelato on the island. Fresh flavors that vary depending on the season. My favorites are espresso and mango, when they have it. A loves the chocolate orange and J, the dark chocolate. Say hello to Massimo, the friendly owner, have a scoop and sit outside at one of their cool ceramic tables.
This tiny, bare warung (roadside eatery) near Ubud's main temple bring the crowds in for their very limited menu. Only one thing is on it, babi guling (Balinese-style roast pig) served in all ways possible. A single meal portion will set you back a few dollars and comes with steamed white rice, spicy jack fruit and green beans, a few chunks of blood sausage, slices of roast pork in spices topped with a piece of pork crackling. Grab a space on the floor, sit down and eat.
BEST WARUNG - Ibu Oka (Ubud)
Bali's most authentic french bistro. Unfussy dishes, a fantastic wine list and the presence of deux Francais running the show. Add to that red leather banquettes, large mirrors for people watching and faultless, friendly service. Go for the steak au poivre or the warm goat's cheese salad or the duck in green peppercorn sauce - whatever you have will be good and keep you coming back for more of the same.
BEST BISTRO - SIP (Seminyak)
BEST COFFEE - The Tuck Shop at the Cornerstore (Seminyak)
I don't know what it is about Australians and coffee but it seems that they have mastered the subtle art of coffee and can give the Italians a run for their money. The Tuck Shop is Australian-owned, tiny and found inside a boutique but don't let that fool you, the coffees at this place are addicting - espresso, macchiato, flat white, cappuccino - they are all very, very good. I sometimes go on the twenty-minute drive to get there just to have a coffee. There is also a small menu of sandwiches and salads along with some cool clothes and surfer wear.
BEST WINE - 1996 Romanee Saint-Vivant Grand Cru (Joseph Drouhin)
The best thing about having a mom who's a wine importer is being able to ask for special wines for special occasions. On Thanksgiving, we celebrated with a babi guling from Ibu Oka (see above for best warung) and some grand cru wines from my mom's collection. This grand cru pinot noir from Burgundy's famed Vosne-Romanee was perfection. A few weeks after Thanksgiving we had our first dinner party and shared our last two bottles of Romanee Saint-Vivant with some appreciative friends.
BEST BREAKFAST - Jones the Grocer (Singapore)
This was a tough one as a really good breakfast is often hard to find. In Singapore's hip and happening Dempsey Hill is Jones the Grocer (another Aussie import) where the coffees are good, the cuisine simple and the ingredients top-notch. I've been several times for breakfast, once for lunch and a few times for a quick afternoon snack. It's expensive but worth it. The deli and cheese selection are topnotch and their pains au chocolat, the best ones I've had in a long time. (They've also opened another branch on Orchard road at the Mandarin Gallery.)
BEST COMFORT FOOD - Michael's Genuine Food and Drink (Miami)
Tucked in Miami's up and coming Design District, Michael's serves large portions of American comfort food that seem deceptively simple but are actually a wonderful mix of well-sourced ingredients. For example, a steak salad is not just a salad but one that includes Harris Ranch skirt steak and heirloom tomatoes. Desserts from their in-house pastry chef are the best I've had this year. My favorite was the pucker-your-mouth lemon meringue tart with buttermilk sherbet. It's comfort food in a casual setting.
BEST DIM SUM - Din Tai Fung (Singapore)
Always packed with both locals and expats queueing for their consistently good dim sum. Check-in with the hostess, grab a tiny clipboard, place your order then wait for your number to be called. As soon as you're seated, the food starts coming out - lots of steam baskets filled with one-of-a-kind dumplings, sweet and savory buns and a few other stir-fried dishes come out of their open kitchen. It's a bit chaotic but it works and the food is always the same.
BEST FRENCH - L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon (Las Vegas)
My best French meal (and most expensive) in 2009 was Joel Robuchon. No surprises in 2010 as my best meal was at his much more reasonably-priced and more hip, L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon. (This was our second meal in his Vegas outpost and we had been to the one in Paris when it first opened years ago.) The food is traditional with a twist and come served in small portions, tapas-style. Each mouthful was a revelation. This is one of those meals that you wish you could have at least once a year (which is why we might be back when we're in Vegas next week). French but not stuffy, classic but fun and above all really, really good.
BEST JAPANESE - Akanoya Robatayaki (Singapore)
Noisy, informal counter restaurant that is almost like having a meal in a market. This is as close as you'll get to what's on your plate. Ingredients (vegetables, fish, seafood and meat) are displayed on crushed ice right in front of you. No menu is offered. Just ask, point and order. All the food is cooked on a robata (Japanese-style charcoal grill) and is served directly from the grill onto a long wooden paddle that the grill man places in front of you. Interactive dining at it's best but with amazing flavors. Great for a family dinner with kids or for a quick meal. Ignore the loud shouts in Japanese which happen for all sorts of reasons and just enjoy the food.
BEST MARKET MEAL - Salcedo Saturday Market (Manila)
Weekly market right in the middle of Makati, Manila's chi-chi business district. Food of all kinds - organic fruits and vegetables, Philippine delicacies, roast pig, homemade jams, barbecue - sold in open stalls. Some of these food items are only available here every week and since they come from all over, it's a good way to get to know Filipino cuisine and take home a few goodies or enjoy a takeaway lunch on one of the benches nearby. Prepare for the heat, get there early, bring a basket and make sure you're hungry.
BEST THAI - People's Palace (Manila)
Fantastic Thai food in Greenbelt, Makati's swishest boutique row. The food is always good, the flower arrangements are always large, the place is always packed and the service is always friendly. It's the best Thai restaurant in Manila.
BEST GOURMET TRAVEL - Borobudur (Jogjakarta)
The most impressive ancient temple I've ever seen, our short break to Jogjakarta was my 40th birthday present. Not only was our room at the Amanjiwo amazing but the temple was visible from our large terrace. After a 4:00 a.m. wake-up call and a trek up Borobudur to watch the sunrise, we had a private gourmet picnic on nearby Dagi hill with the temple looming in the distance. My birthday dinner was a romantic diner a deux in a dirt-floored Javanese joglo (wooden home) with just candles to light the meal, live gamelan music in the background and simple grilled Indonesian specialties. And who said that turning 40 was going to be difficult?