OA Blog/Destination Dining

The Great Catch Up Part 1 - 25 Restaurants That I Ate at This Year

Since I am so far behind on writing up my meals (some of these date back to March), I decided that a series of posts with capsules reviews is the best way to catch up. I have used the rating system that I use for the OAD Survey, Recommended +++ and Acceptable are the second highest, and lowest, rating respectively. And please don’t forget, the 2013 Survey is underway and we would love it if you shared your opinion. Just click the link to the right so get started.

610 Magnolia
(Louisville, Kentucky) – I knew there was something familiar about Ed Lee from the moment I first met him. Turns out he’s a New Yorker who went to Bronx Science High School, who then worked at a number of top restaurants in NYC before setting up shop in Louisville. His cuisine does its best to reflect the modern Southern table, but it would be remiss for me not to tell you that I found a bit of Gramercy Tavern-style New American cooking in the mix. All in all it’s a fine meal, and the pork loin that he served us was one of the best pieces of swine that I have had this year. Worth a slight detour if you are in the region. Recommended +

Aburiya Raku (Las Vegas, Nevada) – Did I order wrong or something? For years, a myriad of reviewers who participate in the OAD Dining survey have sung the praises of this izakaya restaurant that is located in a nondescript mall about 15 minutes away from the strip. Yet I found my meal extraordinarily ordinary. There was only one dish that rocked the house – Sea urchin on top of soba noodles in a cold sea urchin cream served in its shell. Stupendous and reminiscent of the boiled and chilled spider crab you can find in the best seafood restaurants in Madrid. Maybe I would have done better if I special-ordered the kaiseki menu which has to be arranged at least 3 days in advance. Recommended

Aqua (Wolfsburg, Germany) – The town of Wolfsburg, an hour west of Berlin by hi-speed train, is dominated by the Volkswagonstadt . The Volkswagen company has ponied up money for all types of things, ranging from a top notch soccer stadium to a wonderfully appointed Ritz-Carlton Hotel that hosts a restaurant that has earned three stars from Michelin. Aside from the unusual setting (the dining room faces a museum with cars on display), Sven Elverfeld serves a cuisine that ranges in style from original takes on German dishes (like the Müritz lamb pictured below), to more internationally styled dishes (less interesting.) I can understand the diverse approach as the restaurant attracts a varied clientele given its location. But I would have enjoyed the meal much more if I found more Germany and less U.N. on the plate. Recommended ++

Baco Mercat (Los Angeles, California) – It used to be that Animal was the best representation of the new Los Angeles style of dining. But I would claim that Baco Mercat has lapped it both in terms of cooking and dining experience. The cuisine is a funny mix of Latino, Middle Eastern, Italian and hipster eclectic, and a typical table in the dining room is covered with dishes ranging from a sandwich of the beef tongue schnitzel with harissa, smoked aioli and pickles; flat bread topped with merguez sausage, harissa and feta cheese ; black rice & local squid with fine herbs and crème fraiche and Morrocan spiced fried chicken. One could make an argument that Centeno has crafted the most original take on casual cooking since Momofuku came along. Recommended +

Bacon (Cap d’Antines, France) – Sixty four years in business and the menu has never changed at this elegant seafood restaurant that offers a view of Antibes. One comes here to sample the best of the Mediterranean catch (the restaurant refuses to serve anything that doesn’t come from local waters so if you are looking for oysters forget it) and the menu is filled with the likes of dorade, pageot, sar and loup sauvage. I opted for the house specialty – Chapon "Façon Grand-mère", which made me long for my fictitious grandmother who used to cook me meals like that when growing up. Perfect for ingredianistas who like to turn back time when they go out for dinner. Recommended +
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Baguette Box (Seattle, Washington) – Food snob that I am, I still love a good sandwich. One of the better examples that I have come across recently is this braised ‘Carlton Farms’ Berkshire pork belly with pickled cucumber, hoisin sauce, cilantro at this Seattle mini-chain. A second sandwich of grilled ‘painted hills’ lemongrass steak with hoisin sauce, pickled daikon, carrots and red onions was also good, but not quite at the same level as the pork belly. In a city that doesn’t offer that many good choices at lunch, this is a good one. Especially if you don’t want to wait on the line at Salumi.Recommended + (cheap eats)

Blind Pig (Louisville, Kentucky) – What’s not to like? Gastropubby food and attitude, good local ingredients, and a menu that is filled with interesting preparations like Kentucky ratatouille, a terrific dish of pork prepared five ways (three different sausages and two types of bacon) and a grilled pork chop with succotash and grits. The food really tasted of the south and if I lived in the Louisville area this would be my go to place. Recommended

Blue Dog Bakery (Louisville, Kentucky) – You will have a hard time finding a better place to have a casual lunch in Louisville than this French bakery. In fact you might have to drive all the way to Atlanta to find a better baked goods. Soups, salads and a handful of prepared dishes are all on offer, along with tasty pizzas, like the one in the picture below that is topped with bacon, arugula and a fried egg. Recommended +

Bohemian (New York, NY) – This is a funny place (not ha ha.) A private club tucked away behind a Japanese butcher shop on Great Jones Street in Greenwich Village. As much of a lounge as a restaurant, there are groovy cocktails, high quality sashimi platters, artisan charcuterie, and a myriad of cuts of Wagyu beef provided by their butcher shop neighbor. Some of the food can be hit and miss but overall it’s an enjoyable and relaxed dining experience. Recommended +

Boulette’s Larder (San Francisco, California) – One of the best ways to spend a morning in San Francisco is to sit at a table at the back of the ferry building while enjoying breakfast. Not only do you get to watch the ferries arrive and dispatch hordes of people who are on their way to work. you can settle in with a delicious cup of coffee, a basket of homemade breads, along with an assortment of interesting breakfast preparations like a bowl of locally produced yogurt studded with berries, Recommended + (cheap eats)
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Brilliant, The (Southall, United Kingdom) – My friend Andy Hayler has been raving about The Brilliant for years. But it wasn’t until I found out that it is owned by the family of a friend of mine that I trekked out to this small village near Heathrow Airport. Fortunately Andy was right, and the restaurant served up dish after dish of tasty Indian fare. Including this tasty dish of alu tikki pictured below. Recommended

Café Juanita (Kirkland, Washington) – Lauded in an earlier post for her stellar veal crudo, Holly Smith is anything but a one-trick pony. Witness the delicious maltagliati with Jones Family pork sugo, honey ricotta and black pepper pictured below. And it is worth mentioning her Fermin Iberico pressa di palota with Piemontese polenta, huckleberries, beet greens and Sulla honey deserves as well but a one picture per restaurant limit means you are just going to have to take my word about how delicious it is. Recommended +

Café Lula (Chicago, Illinois) – Visiting Chicago and have the Jones for Williamsburg? Head on over to Logan Square and join the hipsters who frequent the local restaurants beginning with breakfast and continuing though late night drinks. Café Lula is sort of the dowager of the neighborhood, and its tattooed servers happily deliver everything from eggs scrambled with smoked trout, dill, arugula and whipped cream cheese to Swan Creek Farm duck breast served with roasted and pickled eggplant, sesame and escarole. Recommended + (cheap eats)

Canlis (Seattle, Washington) – There has been a significant uptick in Jason Franey’s cooking since my last visit which was a little over a year ago. Franey has put together a neat little bunch of dishes for his tasting menu that range from compressed cucumber with melon and a gimlet vinaigrette to smoked sockeye salmon with yogurt, basil, and marble potatoes. And let’s not forget his 14-day dry aged Muscovy duck breast which is world class. The room and the view are as spectacular as ever. I look forward to going back in 2013. Recommended ++

Carnevino (Las Vegas, Nevada) – If you like beef with an aged flavor. And when I say aged flavor, I am talking about a level of funkiness reserved for a hunk of Epoises or Munster, or socks that someone has been wearing for a long time, go to this otherwise unremarkable steakhouse in the Palazzo Hotel and ask if they are offering 9-month aged beef that evening. They were offering ribeye on the night I was there, and outside of real Kobe beef, it was the single best piece of meat I have had in my life. This restaurant would only earn a rating of acceptable if not for the steak. Recommended +
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Catbird Seat (Nashville, Tennese) – Set on the edge of Nashville’s Music Row, the name of this restaurant refers to its location on the top floor of a three story house that is accessed by elevator. The doors open and you find yourself in a contemporary dining room featuring a U-shaped counter. Most importantly, Josh Habiger and Erik Anderson are standing behind the counter, eager to prepare your dinner. With restaurants like Alinea and the Fat Duck on their resume, the cuisine trends towards the modern (a dish of cod wrapped in kimchi with avocado, kiwi, melon rind inner is a good example of their cooking.) The fact that I am planning on returning on an annual basis to see how their cuisine is progressing says a lot about the concept and quality of the cooking. Recommended ++

Coalfire (Chicago, Illinois) – Given how easy it is to find high quality pizza these days, I was surprised that this pizzeria, featuring a coal burning oven, didn’t turn out a higher quality pizza. Okay, it was good enough that I ate the entire pie, but the crust just wasn’t up to what you get at a place like Great Lake. And the sauce was on the sweet side and could have used a bit of spice added to it. Good but it should have been better. Recommended (cheap eats)

De Jonkmann (Bruge, Belgium) – Some restaurants can’t figure out what they want to be. That’s the impression I got at Filip Claeys restaurant, where the cooking was somewhere in-between modern, naturalist (you are guaranteed to have a dish featuring sea buckthorne) and traditional. The food was pleasant enough, but I could find anything to grasp onto. The ingredients were good, but stylistically, Claeys needs to show more conviction to a single direction. Recommended +

De Librije (Zwolle, Netherlands) – Jonny Boer’s restaurant, set in a converted library along the river, offered up one of the best meals that I had this year. A bear of a man—Boer’s food is so full-flavored that one can imagine him wrenching every last bit of taste out of the ingredients with his bare hands -- many of Boer’s dishes are plays on Dutch specialties, and the menu is filled with delicacies like eel, oysters and langoustines from local waters. His Colvert (wild duck) with fermented cabbage, cream of corn, mushrooms and blood sausage was as superb as it was interesting. Recommended +++

De Pastorale (Reet, Belgium) – I had great expectations for Bart de Pooter’s restaurant. It’s set in a beautiful old building just outside of the town center, and the contemporary decor is adorned with lovely works of modern art. Unfortunately, de Pooter.s cooking didn’t match the setting. In an attempt to carve out a niche for himself, de Pooter has blended 21st centrury minimalist with a style of cuisine that dates to the 1990’s. The result is a cuisine that is far less successful than it should be. On the occasion (rare) where he gets it right, the cuisine sings, like a salad of green beans, pea shoots, avocado mouse and green apple. Recommended +
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Defonte’s (New York, NY) – If you like Philly-style sandwiches, the rare roast beef with broccoli rabe and sharp provolone at Defonte’s is as close to a Philadelphia–style sandwich that you will ever find outside of that city. And the roast beef with eggplant and mozzarella ain’t bad either, Excellent meatball hero as well. Recommended ++ (cheap eats)

Della Fattoria (Petaluma, California) – Oh how I loved my lunch at this quiet bakery/café located on Petaluma’s main drag. The number of choices on the menu that looked appealing were so overwhelming that I decided to order two sandwiches (I was by myself): A tuna melt piadina with cheddar, pepperoncini and arugula was paired with slow-roasted tri-tip with Gruyere and sautéed onions. It’s not fair that Northern California gets to have both Tartine Bakery and this place in a 50 mile radius. Recommended +++ (cheap eats)

Garnier (Paris, France) – Like its Left Bank counterpart, Le Dome (see below), this seafood specialist that is masquerading as a brasserie is a wonderful place to take refuge from what I will describe as “the important meals" that dominate ones visits to Paris. I always order the same thing—an assortment of oysters followed by a high quality sole that has been sautéed in what seems like a pint of clarified butter. Tasty food but he downsides are an atmosphere that’s a bit dour, service that could be better and a pedestrian wine list. Recommended

Goosefoot (Chicago, Illinois)— Having been the executive chef at Les Normades – a formal French kitchen – I was a bit surprised when I heard that Chris Nugent and his wife had opened this BYO in Chicago’s Lincoln Square neighborhood. So when the cuisine turned out to be somewhat more traditional than what you will find at other restaurants who have adopted a similar format (there is one set tasting menu for everyone), I wasn’t all that surprised. But Nugent shows such a steady hand in the kitchen that the high quality ingredients and exceptionally precise cooking made it my visit quite enjoyable. A chef and a restaurant to watch as I suspect that in time Chris will take more and more chances. Recommended +

Herbfarm (Woodinville, Washington) – Okay which one do you think is worse: Eating dinner in a restaurant that could have been decorated by Laura Ashley while she was on a bender, enduring a 20 minute presentation about what you are going to eat for dinner which includes introducing each member of the staff including a synopsis of their resume, or eating very high quality, locally sourced ingredients so prepared a young chef who is in over his head? It’s a shame because the raw materials are so good this has the potential to be a really good restaurant. But until they make some serious changes, the experience is tailor made for people who need a Disney-like atmosphere to distract them from what they are eating. Acceptable

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11/03/2012 | Comments (7)