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'USA Today' Critic's Top Meals of 2008
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Meal of the year: "Seafood restaurant Le Bernardin in New York has been my go-to special-occasion place for more than a decade because it almost never disappoints with its food or service. My dinner in May was my best-ever experience there, largely because of the treasures that sommelier Aldo Sohm pulled out of the wine cellar and poured by the glass. Because I sometimes write about wine, he felt challenged to find unusual bottles that would still pair sensibly with the dishes and wouldn't break my budget. He succeeded beyond my dreams by starting with a vodka made from Vermont maple sap (paired with smoked salmon carpaccio) and bringing it full circle with Austrian Trockenbeerenauslese dessert wine paired with milk chocolate pot de crme, maple syrup, caramel foam and sea salt.

Three that came close:
Felidia, New York
Kanda, Tokyo
Stella!, New Orleans

Others include:
•Napoleon of crawfish, avocado and tomato confit, Meauxbar, New Orleans
•French toast with cranberry compote, Charlie's Sandwich Shoppe, Boston
•Roasted sirloin with beef-cheek lasagna, Dovetail, New York
•Baby carrot terrine with Peekytoe crab, Rouge Tomate, New York
•Lamb loin with cumin-scented carrot puree, La Toque, Napa, Calif.
•Oyster meat pie, Cochon, New Orleans

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