OA Blog/Destination Dining

The Great Catch Up Part 2 - Another 25 Restaurants That I Visited This Year

Between the restaurants that I recently visited, and the restaurants that I missed when putting together part one of this post, I wrote up another 25 restaurant, only not to get beyond restaurants that begin with the letter M. Hopefully the third installment will allow me to catch up, but given the number of restaurants I visit, I wouldn’t swear by it. Fortunately Miami Beach will become my home base at the end of this week, and I’m hoping a more relaxed travel schedule will allow for more time to take care of this blog. Given that it is snowing in New York City at the moment, I am eager to get off the plane without having to wear a winter jacket. And an order of stone crabs from Joe’s, or a sandwich made with Josh Marcus’s stellar pastrami, doesn’t sound too shabby either.

Aamans Copenhagen (New York, NY) – How this restaurant/sandwich shop that is a transplant from Copenhagen is going to survive the rigors of the Manhattan dining scene is a mystery to me. First of all, all of the food is cold (save for a breaded and fried whitefish dish.) But even worse is the fact that all of the open-faced sandwiches taste the same. Okay, okay, the sardines and herring don’t taste like the roast beef. Otherwise it was a parade of sameness served in slices of buttered brown bread. Can’t Recommend

Aubergine (Carmel-by-the-Sea) – Justin Cogley is doing a great job at this kitchen in the lovely L’Auberge de Carmel, located a short block and a half off of the main drag at this lovely seaside village. A veteran of Charlie Trotter’s kitchen, when Cogley replaced Christophe Grosjean, he had the difficult task of modernizing this restaurant’s cuisine, while keeping a clientele that is predominantly older and well-heeled, and not necessarily open to new culinary concepts, happy and wanting to come back. How did he manage it? With well thought out and tasty dishes like live spot prawn, frozen apple and smoked char roe and ribeye, yellow beet, tonka bean and black garlic. You get to enjoy Cogley’s cooking in an intimate 12 table dining room which comes with a wine list that can be easily described as stupendous. Recommended ++

Café Briezh (Paris, France) – A transport from the lovely seaside town of Cancale in the north of Britanny, Café Briezh is one of the better choices when you are looking for a simple and inexpensive meal in Paris. A creperie attached to an epicerie specializing in ingredients that come from the Breton peninsula, the crepes and gallettes range from simple combinations like eggs with ham and cheese to more complicated offerings like sliced duck breast with a leek fondue. A small pot de cidre makes for the perfect accompaniment for your crepe. Recommended

City House (Nashville, Tennessee) – I first came across the odd blend of Italian cooking and Southern Farm to Table cuisine at Anne Quatrano’s Floataway Café in Decatur, Georgia. Tandy Wilson’s restaurant is in that mold, with a bit of Mario Batali’s Otto thrown into the mix. But despite the fact that a number of people that I know swore by the place, it lacked that certain something that I look for that makes a restaurant special. Don’t get me wrong: It’s a fine meal in a town where a fine meal is hard to find. But it isn’t the type of place I would travel to eat at. Recommended

Coolhaus (Culver City, California) – Do you want to know what heaven is? It’s a scoop of Coolhaus’s butterscotch and rosemary candied bacon ice cream sandwiched between two butterscotch and potato chip cookies. The cookies are soft and chewy and the temperature of the ice cream (soft but holding together) makes it one of the great cheap eats dessert experiences in the country. Recommended +++ (cheap eats)
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Coq Rico (Paris, France) – Poulet de Bresse, Poulet Jaune, Canettes de Challans and rotis de palombe and perdeau; all served with frittes, macaroni gratin and a vegetable of the day. How can that be bad? Well it can be bad if you overcook a chicken that costs 96 euros. It’s a shame because this concept restaurant from Antoine Westermann has all of the indicia to be an enjoyable dining experience. But in order for that to happen, the place needs to run like a mom and pop style bistro, rather than a place that feels like it is part of a chain. Acceptable

De Kromme de Watergang (Hoofdplaast, Netherlands) – I schlepped a long way from Paris to Gent by train, followed by a 45 minute drive, in order to have lunch at this very attractive restaurant in the south of Holland. Located just a stone’s throw from an the estuary of the Scheldt River that runs into the North Sea, it is not surprising that Edwin Vinke’s menu focuses on high quality local seafood. It was a fine meal, but we were a bit disappointed that Vinke’s cooking wasn’t a bit more forward. Fortunately a terrific welcome and wonderful service made for a pleasant lunch. Recommended +

Eleven Madison Park (New York, NY) – When you have three Michelin stars, why rock the boat and create a new menu? I guess that Daniel Humm and Will Guidera didn’t want to rest on their laurels, so they created a menu that is a tribute to the food of New York City. They are successful in large part, especially with a tribute to Jewish-style appetizing shops like a dish of sturgeon that is smoked at your table and served with cream cheese topped with caviar, and a carrot tartare that comes with nine different accoutrements. There’s a bit too much hocus pocus going on in regards to how the dishes are presented. But they aren’t enough of a distraction to make you forget that Humm is one of the best chef’s in the country. Recommended +++

Hand & Flowers (Marlow, United Kingdom) – There is a trend in the United Kingdom whereby a chef takes over a local pub, begins serving a terroir based cuisine, and the next thing you know is they have a Michelin star. Not only is Tom Kerridge’s restaurant in Marlow one such place, Kerridge has outdone the competition by earning not one but two Michelin stars. I recently had the pleasure of spending an afternoon at the restaurant, whereby a party of four of us spent close to five hours eating Tom’s tasty food, while drinking bottles of ’96 Dom Perignon, 2002 Ramonet Bienvenues-Batard and 1990 Gruard Larose. Lovely meal and lovely place. But I am not sure about the two star rating as the cooking at restaurants like the Sportsman and Hedone is at a higher level and they share the same rating from the tire giant. Recommended +

Hertog Jan (Brugge, Belgium) – I had a bit of difficulty trying to figure out how to evaluate my first experience at Gert de Mangeleer’s restaurant, located in an attractive house in a suburb of Brugge. With chefs like Kobe Desramaults carrying the flag for the cook it raw side of Belgian cooking, and Saing Hoon Deigembre carrying the flag for highly technical cooking, Hertog Jan is somewhere in the middle. Curiously, his best dish, a dish of avocado coated with dried tomato was somewhat of a blend of each style. A good meal and a good place. I need to visit again so I can gain a better understand of the chef’s point of view. Recommended ++
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In de Wulf (Dranouter, Belgium) – I know the year isn’t over yet but if it ended today, I would claim that my meal at Kobe Desramault’s restaurant in Southern Belgium was my meal of the year. First of all, Kobe’s commitment to sourcing high quality Flemish ingredients is second to none. But it is the way he approaches each ingredient that makes his cooking so interesting. A hand dug parsnip that’s slowly roasted on a grill for 24 hours. A pairing of scallops and carrots that has so much harmony it seems impossible they weren’t raised side by side. And some amazing pigeon that has been hung for 30 days, which is gently sliced so you can eat it with your fingers. Even the butter— Kobe ages butter until it has the flavor and texture of cheese—is phenomenal. It’s a fantastic experience and one of the best examples of how modern chefs are combining the best of nature and science. Recommended +++

Jean-Francois Piege (Paris, France) – This restaurant is a good example of how the fine dining experience has changed. Piege’s old haunt was at Les Ambassades in the Hotel Crillon. But he has swapped out the crystal chandeliers and fine china of a palace hotel for a casual, first floor dining room where diners sit on comfortable sofas rather than formal chairs. It’s a terrific environment for a fine dining experience, and the cooking has been relaxed in a way that makes it fit its surroundings. It also offers good valeue: The formula is 9 courses for 129 euros – 8 courses are surprises from the kitchen and you select your main from among choices like turbot or spaghetti carbonara with white truffles shaved atop. A superb, but somewhat pricey, wine list rounds out the experience. Recommended ++

Katsu (Chicago, Illinois)– Since the fish that is used at sushi restaurants hails from our oceans, and since Chicago is nestled along side of Lake Michigan, the Windy City has never been known for its sushi. But when the city’s residents are in the mood for high quality cuts of hamachi and toro, they head out to West Rogers Park to this simple restaurant run by Katsu Imamura and his wife. Not only do they serve the best Japanese food in the city, they are exceptionally gracious and friendly hosts, which explains why they have so many loyal customers who have been trekking out to their restaurant in this quiet part of the city to for the past 20 years. Recommended

Kenwood Inn & Spa (Kenwood, California)– You know what’s terrible? When a PR person for a restaurant offers you a arranges a comped meal and a comped hotel room and then you have to give the restaurant a lukewarm review. Need I say more about the restaurant at this attractive inn and spa on the road that connects Sonoma and Napa? One other complaint: They rooms are not equipped with TV’s and Internet service is spotty so I actually had to read a book! Acceptable

Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs (London, United Kingdom) – Can I tell you how much I like James Knappet and his wife Sandia Chang? I had met them about a year and a half ago through a mutual friend. At the time, they were both working for Marcus Waring. Tired of toiling over someone else’s pots and pans, they had this cool idea (actually Sandia claims it was hers) to open a bar/restaurant that only served hot dogs and grower Champagnes. Overnight it turned into one of the most successful restaurants in London. But the level of their ambition exceeded a life limited to bangers and wursts. They fitted the back of the restaurant with a 19 seat chef’s counter where Knappet serves a terroir based cuisine that includes ingredients like Red deer that a friend of his shot two days earlier in Cornwall. While the experience isn’t perfect ( they have only been open for 3 months), I suspect that this will turn into one of best places to eat in London Recommended +
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Koo Zee Doo (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania) – Portugese cuisine has been yearning for someone to open a restaurant and reinvent it through a modern lens. So when I heard good reports about this restaurant run by chef David Gilberg and his wife Carla Gonçalves. But while Gilberg has improved the cuisine by sourcing good ingredients, he takes a more traditional approach in terms of culinary technique. A nice meal that included some tasty dishes –just not an important one. Recommended

Le Comptoir (Paris, France) – When Yves Camdenborde first opened La Regalade, it was a revelation. Having sold the restaurant, he embarked on a project whereby he runs a hotel and restaurant just off the Place d’Odeon in St. Germain-des-Pres. In the evening Camdeborde offers a gastronomic menu, but at lunch the carte is pretty much the type of cuisine that he became famous for—lots of heavy dishes that can typically be found in the France’s Basque region. It’s a good meal but dare I say that Chez L’Ami Jean is the restaurant that now sets the standard for this style of cuisine. Recommended

Le Duc (Paris, France) – No one ever talks about this fish specialist located on a quiet strip of the Blvd. Raspail in the 14th arrondisement. But if you are looking for high quality fish, I doubt you will find better elsewhere. At a recent lunch I gorged myself on a half dozen magnificent oysters—including belons that offered a finish that was a good minute long—and an exceptionally fresh and firm turbotin. My dining companion ordered the St. Pierre in Vodka sauce, a house classic, which is one of those rare dishes that has stood the test of time despite being on the menu for three decades. The main drawback is a wine list that is less than pedestrian. Otherwise if you are a fan of gourmandize-style dining in a setting where you do not have to wear a coat and tie, book a table here in order to dig into some of the finest fish and seafood you can find anywhere. Recommended ++

Le Grenouilliere (Montreuil-sur-Mer, France) – Let’s get this out of the way: Alexander Gauthier is a genius. His cuisine blends rusticity, elegance and gourmandize in a way that is, well not to be redundant but, genius. A dish of butter beans, standing on end and wrapped in their own silk, are roasted and then served with a swath of the very best salty Breton butter. How about a smoked lobster tail? Gauthier surrounds a large and meaty tail of a Breton lobster with juniper branches that are set on fire. Though the fire burns out in less than 10 seconds, the lobster tail, which you eat with your fingers, now has a slightly smoky taste. It is truly heady stuff, all served in an attractive modern dining room, and accompanied by one of the best wine lists that I have seen in a progressive restaurant in France. A restaurant that has the potential to become one of the best in the world.. Recommended +++

Le Paix (Brussels, Belgium) – This has to be the best restaurant that no one knows about. David Martin, who has kitchens like Arpege and Bruneau on his resume, runs this lovely brasserie in the Anderlecht quarter of Brussels. But don’t be deceived by the simple surroundings and a location in a working class neighborhood as many of the dishes Martin sends out of his kitchen are worthy of being served at a two star restaurant. While Martin shows a light hand on ths starters, his true love is meat. So after you are finished enjoying starters like a raw scallop wrapped around a mousse of smoked mackerel that is laced with slivers of the fish, you get to enjoy some of the best beef that you will find on the continent. At a recent lunch, Martin was serving four different breeds of beef including Rubia Gallega, a breed that is rarely seen out of Spain. Only open for lunch except dinner on Friday evening. Recommended ++
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Les Bacchanales (Vence, France) – There’s a bit of a buzz about Christian Duffau’s handsome restaurant located just outside of the center of Vence. It’s a bit of a pared down operation: There’s a set menu with each course offering two to three different choices. The cuisine is in the new French style: That funny combination of nature and science that dominates contemporary French cooking. Some of it works, some doesn’t. Unfortunately the lows are much lower than the highs are high. A slow-roasted pork shoulder atop polenta was tasty, but was so loaded with fat and grizzle that it rendered the dish unacceptable. The rating is based more on potential than on the success of our meal. Recommended

Lorenzo (Forte dei Marmi, Italy) – There must be Italian word that describes the people who frequent this restaurant. But short of knowing what that is, if you want to eat among the bourgoisie that frequents this posh Tuscan seaside resort, book a table for dinner at this elegant restaurant that has been serving up their famous Spaghetti Versilla (cooked like risotto) for the last 30 years. Owner Lorenzo Viani and his daughter Chiara are committed to serving the best possible ingredients that he can find, and in-between meals you are likely to find them searching out local fisherman so the shellfish they serve at dinner hasn’t been sitting around since the morning. Now that’s what I call fresh! Recommended +

Lotus of Siam (Las Vegas, Nevada) – Despite being obsessed with food for the better part of my life, somehow, I had never gotten around to eating at this restaurant. Truth is, I am not the biggest fan of Thai food. And even if I was, I hardly ever go to Vegas. But I figured it was time to change that, so on a recent trip to the West Coast, I stopped off in Vegas for two days on my way back to New York. Well it was fine but the reality is I was disappointed that I didn’t discover greatness. In fact it it wasn’t all that different than eating at a place like Sripraphai in NYC. Jitlada in LA is till my number one Thai. Recommended

Loveless Motel (Nashville, Tennessee) – What can be worse than a southern restaurant whose menu offers all of the things a Yankee wants to eat when he visits the region, but has a pantry stocked with ingredients delivered by Sysco or which are no better than what most people buy in their local supermarket. Add an hour-and-a-half wait to the mix for breakfast, and you end up with one of my least favorite dining experiences of the year. We would have been better off cooking some eggs up over a hot plate in our hotel room. Can’t Recommend

Milo & Olive (Santa Monica, California) – Given that their Huckleberry Cafe is one of my favorite places to have breakfast/lunch in the LA area, I was looking forward to trying this new offering from Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb. Though they serve many of the same cakes and pastries at this location, accompanied by a breakfast menu that includes things like Anson Mills grits and eggs, at lunch and dinner the menu switches to Italian fare including small plates of yellowtail crudo with a pomegranate salsa, a chicken meatball parmegian sandwich, three or four different pastas and a dozen different types of pizzas. Good stuff and a good place for a simple, no-nonsense lunch. Recommended ++

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11/25/2012 | Comments (1)