The Culinary Bucket List

December 2011

For those of us who live to eat, the last-meal fantasy is a familiar exercise—and not just because a condemned Texas prisoner recently made news when he placed his order: two chicken-fried steaks with gravy and sliced onions; a triple-patty bacon cheeseburger; a cheese omelet with ground beef, tomatoes, onions, bell peppers, and jalapeños; fried okra with ketchup; one pound of barbecued meat with half a loaf of white bread; fajitas; a meat-lover’s pizza; a pint of ice cream; a slab of peanut-butter fudge with crushed peanuts; and three root beers.

If he’d actually eaten all that, it might have qualified as a suicide attempt. But he didn’t, and it’s worth noting that, the next day, Texas stopped honoring last-meal requests from condemned prisoners.

Here in Orange County, we took the last-meal fantasy in a vastly different direction. We asked our long-time restaurant critic, Gretchen Kurz, to hand-pick 50 dishes by local chefs and assemble a culinary bucket list for Orange Coast readers. We’re not recommending this menu as a single meal, of course, but rather a highlight reel of local standouts meant to be savored one by one over a lifetime. We’ve included a checklist for those who decide to make a mission out of sampling all 50 must-haves, and also are asking you to click here and nominate a local dish you feel deserves to be the 51st.

Kurz’s list is infinitely more refined than the menu described above. It includes everything from the Special Lobster at Tan Cang Newport Seafood in Santa Ana, to the chilled melon soup at Canyon Restaurant in Anaheim Hills, to the chicken potpie at SideDoor in Corona del Mar.

So, please, get started. And let us know which of your favorites we missed. Our list is long, and time waits for no one.

Martin J. Smith

Illustration by John Ueland

Cover Story
The 50 Best Dishes in O.C. 
Because Orange Coast dining critic Gretchen Kurz knows Orange County restaurants better than anyone, we asked her to choose her 50 favorites from among the thousands of dishes she has sampled in local restaurants. The result is the ultimate foodie bucket list of dishes you simply must try before you die. Some are seasonal. Some are classics. All are memorable. Plus, we share secrets for preparing some of our favorites, including Park Ave chef David Slay’s fabled, deep-fried Crispy Garden Greens. You can learn his technique here. For the full feature, order your December issue here!
by Gretchen Kurz 

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