It’s been quite a year for me, restaurant-wise. I have teenager in the house who is responsible enough to be left to care for himself and his brother while my husband and I head out to dinner at local restaurants. I spent quite a bit of time in New York City. And, this was the year that PR people in the South Jersey/Philadelphia region started truly started recognizing the influence that smaller bloggers can have, and I received many “media dinner” invitations.

It may seem that all I have are good experiences, but that’s not accurate. I decided a couple of years ago that I was going to use my blogging influence to promote places that were doing things well, not to tear down places that didn’t have their acts together. Therefore, you’ll never hear specifics about my bad media dinner experiences or bad experiences at any restaurant.

There have been several bad experiences this year, though. There was the super secret supper club dinner in Philadelphia hosted by a quasi-celebrity chef that was horribly painful. I’m not even sure what the food was on my plate. Then there was the “intimate” media preview of two restaurants at a new Atlantic City casino that ended up being opened up to everyone in the casino. We got to by-pass the line hundreds of people long and go in the press entrance, but it was so crowded that someone’s handbag got snagged on my new lace dress as she was trying to squeeze past me and tore it. We ended up ditching the PR event and heading to a different restaurant in the casino. You’ll hear about that experience below.

Great restaurant experiences are about more than just the food. The service must be good. And it really helps if the people you chose to dine with can hold their own at conversation.

  1. Every time Brian and I eat at Dandelion in Philadelphia, we have a fantastic experience. We’ve been there several times this year, and the service is always great. The food is very good, and they make a homemade ricotta that they serve on toasted, salted bread that I’m salivating just thinking about. On the second floor of the restaurant, there’s a small fireplace with some seating that is one of my favorite places in the city to sit and chat with my husband. On a recent four-hour, working lunch there recently, we discovered their burgers, pictured above, are really, really good.
  2. Last month, I told you about Table 31 in Philadelphia. My dinner there was one of the media dinners I told you about. The company, John and Lisa from Eating in South Jersey was fabulous, and so was the food and wine. I had snails for the first time, and I loved them.
  3. Gramercy Tavern’s six-course vegetable tasting menu was quite an experience, but what impressed my friend Susan and me more than the food was the service. When I wrote about the experience, I declared the service was impeccable, and our waitress didn’t skip a beat or treat us poorly because we asked for wine suggestions at $60 or under.
  4. In the fall, we took our boys on a New York City eating day. I told you about the sustainable food we had on the High Line, but I didn’t tell you about all the food we had that day. We ended our day at a place that so many people recommended to us that we had to check it out. We were sent to Pommes Frites, a little hole in the wall Belgian fry restaurant. All they do are fries, and they do them amazingly. The potatoes are fried twice and there are dozens of dipping sauces to choose from. I’m not aware that the place has any eco-friendly cred, but if I’m writing about the best restaurant experiences I had this year, I can’t leave this one out. My family would agree whole-heartedly, these were the best fries we’ve ever had.
  5. Brian and I went to the Khyber Pass Pub in Philadelphia earlier this month with our good friends Tim and Kim. They have an extensive beer menu, and Tim steered us to some beers from Elysian Brewing Co. out of Seattle. I had a Perseus Porter, and I found a new favorite beer. I’m not a huge beer drinker, but I’d drink robust dark beer any day.
  6. Every experience I’ve at Jose Garces Philadelphia area restaurants has been excellent. I told you about Village Whiskey earlier this year, and I’ve been back several times. I’ve also been to Tinto and Garces Trading Company and the locally sourced foods are always top notch. The best Garces experience this year happened in Atlantic City during the evening I mentioned above. After my dress was torn, we ditched the PR event and went to Amada in Revel where our night was salvaged, even if we did end up paying for our dinner. The tapas was excellent and the service was top notch.
  7. Iron Hill Brewery in Maple Shade, NJ is one of a small chain of local brewpubs. I was invited as a media guest to a Brewmaster’s Dinner that paired their beers with local foods, including cheeses from Cherry Grove Farm in New Jersey. The dinner was excellent, Brian and I really enjoyed our tablemates, and I ate candied bacon, which I must admit was incredibly good. I’ve been staying away from the doing-things-to-bacon-that-shouldn’t-be-done-to-bacon craze, but I’ll admit, candied bacon is goooooood.
  8. Treno Pizza Bar in Westmont, NJ has become the favorite local restaurant for Brian and me. We have spent at least a dozen nights this past year sitting side by side at one of the high tops in the bar, devouring their house-cured meat and cheese plates, sharing wood-fired pizzas, and sipping glass after glass of Chianti. I’m including it in my best experiences list because the food is always good, the servers are always just the right amount of attentive when Brian and I are deep in conversation, and we always have a great time there.
What were some of your great restaurant experiences this year?

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

The best restaurant experiences I had in 2012
South Jersey, Philadelphia, and New York City have great restaurants to experience.