Looking back at things remembered from dozens of restaurant reviews, nearly as many First Tastes, and a countless number of places popped into just because, I'd be remiss if I didn't thank the restaurants, readers, tipsters, colleagues, and dining companions who helped make my 2013 year of eating such an enjoyable one.
But memories come by way of the unusual as well. And it pretty much goes without saying that given those numerous visits (and the fact that I travel anonymously), things have happened — strange things, funny things, food things — that made this year stand apart from others.
So before 2013 is in our rearview mirrors for good, I'd like to give a special Happy New Year shout-out to those who made this year especially interesting for me.
Shout-Outs to Those Who Made Our Dining Critic's Year Especially Interesting
Happy New Year, Manager of an Upscale Restaurant in North Scottsdale: When you sat down beside me, put your arm on the back of my chair, then leaned in and said with a grin, "If your guest doesn't show up for lunch, I could be your date," perhaps you were just trying to be friendly. But women have two words for behavior such as yours, and they are "restraining order." In the New Year, I hope you can allow your female customers their legally enforceable 100 feet.
Happy New Year, Gimmicky Burgers: You are to cuisine what two drummers are to a band: kinda amazing to look at but mostly unnecessary.
Happy New Year, Job Applicant at a Downtown Cafe: I must say, you took me by surprise when you plopped down at my table with your application, saying to my puzzled face, "There's nowhere else to sit to fill this out," in a manner that might have been followed by "dumbass" had we been on more familiar terms. Good luck in your search next year. You've got upper management written all over you.
Happy New Year, Owner of a Phoenix Barbecue Joint: I'll be the first to admit I'm not up to speed on all the gadgets and gizmos you pitmaster types use to cook meat, but if they include something that sounds like a microwave, looks like a microwave, and is, in fact, a microwave, then your pork ribs — stone cold in some spots, blistering hot in others — are to barbecue in 2014 what my reheated lunch is to last night's dinner.
Happy New Year, Music That Automatically Plays When You Bring Up a Restaurant's Website: You're still less annoying than any Miley Cyrus song.
Happy New Year, Cook/Server at a Mediterranean Joint in West Phoenix: If that tight-ass boss of yours finally gets around to fixing the credit card machine next year — you know, the one I waited almost a half-hour to use before I had to pay in cash anyway? — maybe you can talk him into a new apron without the Sizzler logo emblazoned on the front.
Happy New Year, Too Many Fries: Your giant potatoey nests in 2014 doubled as a place to rest my head when I became weary from trying to eat all of you.
Happy New Year, Owner of a (Now Closed) Burger Joint in Scottsdale: Sorry, I just realized I still owe you a response to the inquiry, "Would it be weird if I sat down and watched you take the first bites of my food?" The answer is yes. Yes, it would be.
Happy New Year, Owner of a Mexican Restaurant in West Phoenix: For the answer to your question, "Would it be weird if I took a picture of you eating in my restaurant?" while holding a camera, please see the response above. But in this case, add me frantically waving my hands in front of my face and wondering how the hell Ashton Kutcher managed to punk Phoenix and Scottsdale all in the same year.
Happy New Year, Sriracha: Okay, you fiery little food trend, you've had your fun this year. Now get back there with the foam and the molecular gastronomy and let someone else have a turn. No, not you, cupcake; we've been trying to get rid of you since the Bush administration.
Happy New Year, Person Who Answered My Phone Call at an Upscale Restaurant in Scottsdale: "When's that?," "What day is it?," and "Oh, man, I just work the lunch shift," seem like less than desirable answers for the question, "Are you open on New Year's Eve?" Please enjoy the Big Buds calendar I am sending your way for 2014.
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Happy New Year, Ex-Cook of the Ex-Worst Restaurant in Glendale: When you saw I had only taken a few bites from the dishes I had ordered and then came out to my table to ask how you should have prepared them, you made me feel as if I were the only customer in the restaurant — because I was. And I think that I can speak for the entire city of Glendale when I say I hope 2014 opens new doors for you — so long as they don't lead into a kitchen of another restaurant.
Happy New Year, Dirty Dishes Sitting in Front of Me: Your uncleanliness and the way you hang around desperately waiting to be picked up reminds me of many of the men I knew in college.
Happy New Year, Woman Arguing with Her Boyfriend on Her Cell Phone in a Restaurant in North Scottsdale: I hope your New Year is far less dramatic and devoid of the "raging asshole" everyone in the restaurant got to know during your cell phone conversation. If I wanted my meal to taste like tragedy, I would have stopped into KFC for a Double Down.
Happy New Year, Amy and Samy Bouzaglo of Amy's Baking Company: By showing the country you could blow up the Internet, make reality TV surreal, and push Arizona's food scene (and civility) backward all in one year, you also showed the Valley we could be shocked, disgusted, and bored all at the same time — and all while throwing up into our mouths. Your work here is done. For the New Year, please accept my one-way ticket to anywhere else.