Of food at The Alley Light, one top area chef recently told me: “everyone else in town is a distant second place, myself included.” Jose de Brito’s food does indeed continue to dazzle. In 2015, I had dozens of dishes at The Alley Light that would warrant consideration for my favorite of the year. But, meals at The Alley Light inevitably become such a blur of deliciouness that it’s difficult for one dish to stand out. When friends ask me to recommend what to eat there, I become one of those unhelpful waiters who essentially reads the menu back to them.
My choice for the 2015 Dish of the Year is the one that stands out most in my memory: General Tso’s Sweetbreads at Lampo.
Chef Ian Redshaw has a passion for what some call Silk Road cuisine, celebrating the flavors of Italy, China, and the historic trade route in between. There is some debate, for example, over whether pasta came East from Italy to China or West from China to Italy.
Today, chefs are discovering that the flavors of regions along the Silk Road marry well. For General Tso’s Sweetbreads, Redshaw uses ingredients from Italy to create a sauce evoking the sweet, salty, and umami flavors of the famous Hunan sauce which originated at the opposite end of the Silk Road, more than 5,000 miles away. Redshaw combines honey, Calabrian chili, garlic scapes, and a fermented fish sauce called garum, which bears some resemblance to the fish sauces of Southeast Asia. Redshaw lightly coats morsels of sweetbreads in a batter of egg and cornstarch, fries them and and then tosses them in the sauce.
The result is wow-inducing. When I first had General Tso’s Sweetbreads in June, I called the dish “stunning” and said to my dining companions that it was the “clubhouse leader” for dish of the year. A crisp exterior, glossy with sauce, encases tender nuggets of rich, yet delicate, sweetbreads. While I’ve had many outstanding dishes since then, none stands out as much as Redshaw’s sweetbreads. I look forward to many more plates of them in 2016.