Everyone lists the ten best movies or books or songs or knitting patters (and so on) at the end of every year. Here are my selections for the “ten bests” of 2010—ten of the very best experiences from ten different categories. You might call them “The Very Best of 2010,” an eclectic list, for sure.
The Best Chinese Restaurant is Taipei Noodle House on Cedar Lane in Teaneck, NJ. They serve the very best eggrolls and wonton soup outside of Chinatown, and their Prawns in Lobster Sauce is to die for. Taipei Noodle House boasts an extensive menu and friendly, helpful servers, as well as a traditional Chinese restaurant setting (no all-you-can-eat buffet, yay!).
The Best Italian Restaurant is tucked away on South Main Street in Waynesville, North Carolina. Pasquale’s Pizzeria and Tapas Bar managed to ace the eggplant parmigiana test—a benchmark of all restaurants that dare serve that dish. Many is the restaurant that seemed fine until I ordered—and was disappointed by—their eggplant parm (usually a soggy mess); of course, I never returned. They also passed the Chicken Marsala test with flying colors, another demanding standard. Pasquale’s offers a “light side” menu for those with smaller appetites—we regularly order from it and still bring home leftovers. Pasquale’s boasts what I call a semi-formal atmosphere—casual dining with white tablecloths, servers who toss and serve your salad at the table, and cloth napkins.
The Best Nouvelle Cuisine/American Restaurant is a funky little place on Pack Square in Asheville, North Carolina, across Biltmore Avenue from the museum/performance space. Bistro 1896 offers generous servings of very good food in a quirkily decorated remodeled store. The chefs are inventive (I am still raving about a dinner special—scallops and orzo—that I’d eaten there several years ago), the ingredients are fresh, and the wait staff is especially friendly. Another place for good Chicken Marsala.
The Best Middle School Graduation was in Hackensack, New Jersey, where the weather gods threatened rain but held back until after the ceremony, thereby allowing it to be held outdoors, guaranteeing all invited guests a seat on the bleachers where, instead of complaining about not seeing their friend/relative graduate, they could complain about the heat and people shading themselves from the sun with umbrellas. (The best part, of course, was watching granddaughter Chloë graduate with honors).
The Best International Festival, hands down, was in Dollywood (Pigeon Forge, TN), The Festival of Nations. Held in the spring, it draws acts from around the world to entertain and amaze. In addition, there are international vendors selling items you won’t find down at the mall, at extremely reasonable prices. For the past two years, the Chinese clothing vendor has offered dresses, pajamas, shirts, and jackets at prices that beat Chinatown (but if you’re looking for knock-off purses and pirated videos, you’ve still got to make the trip to CTown). Although the emphasis is on music, there are a variety of performing arts represented, and the artists are friendly and approachable.
The Best Closure was offered by the Animal Hospital of Waynesville (North Carolina) two weeks before Christmas. The staff hosts an annual remembrance ceremony for clients who have lost their pets throughout the year. Yes, there are plenty of tears, but pet owners had the opportunity to say a few final words about their furry companions in a loving, sympathetic environment. Staff members read several pieces on the loss of a pet (including “Rainbow Bridge”), presented a slide show of some of the animals that passed, and mingled with clients (who cried, shared memories, thanked the staff, and enjoyed a light buffet).
The Best $75 Movie (of 2010 or any year) was actually made in 2008, but released on DVD in 2010. Alastair Kirton stars as Colin, a fellow who is killed by zombies, dies, and returns as—guess what—a zombie. Colin is a zombie story told from the zombie’s perspective, and it’s hard to believe that filmmaker Marc Price was able to produce such an effective film for the price of cookies for the actors. Colin’s budget seems like a joke, but the movie is superior to many films made at ten thousand times the cost (or more).
The Best Hat is my watermelon hat, bought from The Hat Lady, at the Gatlinburg (TN) crafts fair/expo. I loved it so much when I bought it, that I didn’t want to take it off. Now that winter is here, it is a constant companion (with hair as short as mine, one needs to keep the ears covered—as if I need an excuse to wear my watermelon hat).
The Best Humor Book is People of WalMart. Maybe we should be aghast, not amused, at the outfits people dare to wear in public spaces, but People of WalMart spotlights some of the most bizarre attire ever worn anywhere, adding clever captions that complement our “oohs” and “aahs” (or would that be “yucks” and “ughs”?). It’s the funniest book of the year.
The Best Candy Store is Aunt Mahalia’s in Gatlinburg, Tennessee. A trip to Pigeon Forge/Gatlinburg is not complete without a visit to Aunt Mahalia’s. With two locations on the Parkway, Aunt Mahalia’s is a small store with a huge variety of chocolates and, thankfully, other sweets. Speaking of bests, Aunt Mahalia’s blue cotton candy is peerless. In addition to a variety of fudge, caramel apples, and taffy that one finds in most touristy locations, there are scores of sweets, and the best pecan candies anywhere. (One year Chloë and I bought one of each flavor of truffles—got them home, cut them each in half, and slowly devoured every one over the course of a few days—incredible! Sinful! Delightful!) In addition to being a sugar-addict’s dream, Aunt Mahalia’s offers an incredible variety of sugar-free candies, including chocolates.