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USA Today

YEAR’S FINE DINING WENT, WELL, SWIMMINGLY
BY JERRY SHRIVER

Leave it to my adopted second home of New Orleans and always unpredictable charms to provide my favorite food moment of 2006, a year in which my dining experiences in Italy and across America were exceptionally rewarding. A friend and Louisiana native had invited two-dozen guests to his home for Thanksgiving. As we neared the start of the feast and the end of our second round of cocktails, he confessed he had gotten off schedule the day before and had not allowed enough time to thaw the two turkeys he was to roast on his outdoor grill. But rather than panic, he looked around and found his solution right in front of him: the heated swimming pool. He plopped the plastic-encased fowl into the water, watched them bob back to the surface, and four or five hours later he fished the perfectly defrosted birds from their bath. We joked the chlorine had mad the beast meat a little whiter, but other than that, the taste was delicious, and we were left with a tale we’ll dine on for years. (By the way, do not try this at home; it only works if there’s New Orleans mojo involved). I also was blessed to find more traditional dining pleasures in a host of other places this year, most notably the Italian city of Torino and the surrounding Piedmont region; Washington, D.C.; both Portland, Ore., and Portland, Maine; Anchorage, Alaska; wine countries of California, Ohio and Virginia; and my home base of New York. The best of those experiences are offered here in my annual buffet of five top meals and 25 top dishes of the year (listed in no particular order). 5. Cochon, New Orleans This contemporary Cajun restaurant, an offshoot of chef Donald Link’s equally fine and more upscale Herbsaint, is probably the best eatery to open in New Orleans post-Katrina. I’ve eaten there at least five times and have made a pig of myself on each occasion. I cannot resist the signature Louisiana cochon du lait with turnips, cabbage and cracklings; roasted corn cala; fried boudin with pickled peppers; smoked ham hocks with braised greens; rabbit and dumplings; nor any of the other two-dozen items on the menu.