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  • Post Your Top Ten of 2006!

    Post #1 - December 31st, 2006, 9:44 am
    Post #1 - December 31st, 2006, 9:44 am Post #1 - December 31st, 2006, 9:44 am
    As 2006 limps to a greasy, trans-fat-laden close, it's time once again to... Post Your Top Ten!

    It's been another fascinating, interesting and fun year at LTHForum.  A year that started with duck livers being civically protected and ended with Rudolph being turned into sausage.  A year in which 47th street was explored, pastramis (and even whole kitchens) were created from scratch, and trilobites came back from extinction in time for dinner.  

    For me, the most interesting side of being here had to do with home cooking. I learned to make so many things so much more quickly, thanks to having the LTHForum hive mind to draw upon-- from bacon, fried chicken and bread to Spanish food and Belgian frites, just to name a few.  Several of the dishes I learned about here and tried this year, from "train tracks" and pesto to taleggio, truffle oil & honey pizza, have become standards around my house.   

    But that's not to say I didn't also have lots of reasons to be glad they invented restaurants, many more than can fit on a 10 best list even with a little cheating along the way.  Here's my list (full-size pictures are in the linked threads), of things I tried for the first time this year:

    10. Fried egg burger at Kuma's Corner:

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    with a nod to the blue cheese duck burger at May Street Market:

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    Incidentally, Kuma's is one of the happier discoveries of the year for me-- or rather rediscoveries, since I had tried it when it was nominated for a GNR award a year ago and thought none too much of it then, but trying it again 6-7 months later, was far more impressed (a big nod to the bacon-wrapped scallop, too) and have been back several times since.  

    9. Broiled skin-on mackerel at Sunshine Cafe, which I was just getting to know when it was (apparently) gone.  You felt like fish oil was coming out your pores afterwards, but oh my was it good.

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    8. My homemade bacon:

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    with a nod to another porky delight: an amuse of lardo, cured pork fat, on a slice of toasted bread almost visibly trailing smoke flavor from the wood oven, at Timo:

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    7. Indonesian curry with a canteloupe drink in the blistering hot sun of a motel parking lot in Duarte, CA, the great flavors-surreal atmosphere-overall improbability winner of my L.A. trip--

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    with a nod to the fish taco at the Grand Central Market, and the many other goodies had there:

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    6. Barbecue in the area south of Austin.  Which one?  I sort of feel like not picking a favorite-- because they're all at a high level and barbecue can come out so differently just a few minutes earlier or later at the same place.  But if I had to say the best things I had, probably the spare-rib at Black's:

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    and the dino-sized brisket at Luling City Market.  (Which means, if I thought that much of the latter when I was stuffed, it must be really good when you're actually hungry.) 

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    5. The fried noodles, and the onion pancake at Katy's.  One of the best ratios of price to sublimity in town.  This is a different dish (also good, with the intriguing contrast of hot noodles and beef and cold cucumber), but it shows those great kinky housemade noodles:

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    4. Two old favorites who've been on my list before dazzled me with new flavors: Katsu with an impossibly delicate raw scallop topped with yellow roe, and TAC Quick with crispy en choy (below) and minty-fish saucy grilled liver. Just the fact that I'd even think about ordering a liver dish again is an achievement.

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    3. Orgasmically fresh Alaskan king crab at Fulton's, modeled here by Trixie-Pea:

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    2. Spacca Napoli.  Which pizza at Spacca Napoli?  Oh, lots of them, maybe all of them, were good.  But what made them great wasn't what happened to be on the top, it was what was always on the bottom-- little spots of burnt bready bliss from its 1000-degree oven and master pizzamakers:

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    1. Schwa.  Specifically, two dishes come back to mind when I think about my meal there: the justly famed quail egg ravioli:

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    and this platonic essence of prosciutto dish:

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    But more than any dishes, I admired Schwa for stripping away the froufery that makes up a lot of our dining scene and focusing so singlemindedly and skillfully on the food part of the meal.  I'm not dogmatically anti-frou-- some day I too may spend $50 on a martini and four ounces of ceviche in the trendster carnival that is De La Costa-- but in my writeup I compared Schwa to the heyday of Chicago storefront theater, and this was exactly the knockout no-scenery, pure-adrenaline production an overly glitzy scene needed right now. And those who didn’t get it... just don’t get it.


    WORST OF 2006

    I'm sure there were many mediocre meals, most forgotten with the last bite.  But the only two that offended me enough to deserve an year-end extra helpin’ of spankin’ did so because they represent an insidious trend-- the corporate restaurant that is savvy enough to talk the cutting-edge restaurant talk without even trying to walk the walk. Del Toro's chef does the interviews and has the fun rock'n'roll backstory, but the dampened-down food is Spanish by way of a shopping mall in Iowa.  Worse, far worse, yet was Devon Seafood Grill, whose menu overflows with lathered-up blather about dedication to fresh fish quality, all of which proved to be completely unsupported by the gray, anonymous, and mostly overcooked fecch on our plates (even if it did con at least one highly expert reviewer for a real magazine, not just some dude on the Internet). 

    * * *

    But this is no time for negativitude. It was a great year, made so by 99% swell folks full of interesting things to add to the most vital, intelligent, probing and learned conversation about food happening anywhere in Chicago, online or off. If you're not talking about it on LTHForum, you may be talking about it, but you're not talking about it. Thanks for making that true.

    Now what's on your list?

    10 Best Lists for 2005.
    10 Best Lists for 2004.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #2 - December 31st, 2006, 10:32 am
    Post #2 - December 31st, 2006, 10:32 am Post #2 - December 31st, 2006, 10:32 am
    I had a lot of good meals during 2006, in Chicago as well as elsewhere around the country.

    The very best dinner I had in 2006, in fact the best I've had in years, was at Michael in Winnetka, described previously in this topic.

    Other excellent high-end dinners in the Chicago area this year included Oceanique in Evanston and Chef's Station in Evanston, both of which are always consistently yummmmm. I had several equally wonderful (and LTH-worthy) dinners out of town this past year, notably at Prairie Star near Albuquerque, Margaux in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, and L'Antibes in Columbus. I also enjoyed terrific food on a more modest scale at local places including the Black Ram Steakhouse in Des Plaines, Mitchell's Fish Market in Glenview, Thai Sookdee in Evanston, Tin Fish in Tinley Park, Carson's Ribs in Deerfield, and Bonefish Grill in Skokie. All of these are worth mentioning in the highlights reel.

    Bad meals? I too ate at Devon Seafood Grill, and I wouldn't say that it was bad - just nowhere near as good as Chicago's best seafood (e.g. Oceanique, Mitchell's Fish Market). The very worst meal I had in 2006 was out of town, at the Walden Inn in Greencastle, Indiana, which I have been going to for years and was considered among the finest in the state, but had recently gone through an ownership change. One dish was still frozen, the ahi tuna was ordered rare and served well-done... need I go on? The worst meal I had in the Chicago area in 2006 was at Noyes Street Cafe in Evanston; the food was simply terrible.

    Fortunately, this was a rare experience. Overall restaurant quality in the Chicago area continues to be excellent, with very few exceptions, and even elsewhere around the country, it's often very, very good (and improving).
    Last edited by nsxtasy on January 8th, 2007, 3:08 pm, edited 1 time in total.
  • Post #3 - December 31st, 2006, 11:01 am
    Post #3 - December 31st, 2006, 11:01 am Post #3 - December 31st, 2006, 11:01 am
    I put together a list at my other food-oriented internet project which I'll reprise here.

    These are the dishes that I consider the best of the year simply because they are the most memorable tastes I experienced. These are tastes that keep popping up in my head weeks and months after I last had them.

    This list is completely confined to the Chicago area, outside the confines of a private home, and in no particular order (not surprisingly a fair bit of overlap with Mike):

    Broiled Mackerel at Sunshine Cafe
    Quail Egg Ravioli at Schwa
    Tagliatelle bolognese at Terragusto
    Crispy En Choy at TAC Quick
    Curried vichyssoise with creme fraiche and citrus caviar at Sweets and Savories
    Pickled Beef Tongue at Schwa
    Nam Prik Ong at Sticky Rice
    Semolina Cakes from Nazareth Sweets
    Cold Szechuan Noodles at Katy's Dumplings
    Borrego en Mole Negro at Sol de Mexico

    EDIT:
    I have two items outside of the Chicago area from food trips that we took.

    --While nearly everything was terrific in New England, the ice cream at Toscanini's in Cambridge lived up to the hype of "best ice cream in the world".

    --Some LTHers took a trip to NY earlier this year and every piece of nigiri during our dinner at Sushi Yasuda changed the way I look at sushi.

    Another tasty year. Thanks, LTHForum.

    Happy New Year.

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #4 - December 31st, 2006, 12:38 pm
    Post #4 - December 31st, 2006, 12:38 pm Post #4 - December 31st, 2006, 12:38 pm
    My top ten religious culinary experiences of the year, order determined by random.org.


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    Lobster with Potato, Gooseberries and Lavender
    Schwa

    Random.org picked a good one to lead off with. This was my favorite dish of the year, hands-down, no question. My ladylove and I did a pretty decent tour of Chicago fine dining this summer, hitting Schwa, Zealous, Trotter's and Alinea, I only encountered one dish in 2006 that was giggleworthy. Chunks of butter-poached lobster, sitting on a potato puree and accompanied by slices of roasted fingerling potatoes, some Swiss chard, gooseberries and a lavender foam. The combination was the kind of bold, pure, intense flavor that creates a total sensory overload. I think I left my body for a minute or two. A dish this intoxicating is a rare, rare treat. I know the quail egg ravioli is the dish that causes most LTHers to swoon, and with good reason. But as fantastic as the ravioli was, this is the dish that put me over the edge.

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    BISON - gruyère, pumpernickel, ramps
    Alinea

    I knew one of my most favored Alinea dishes was going to make it, and the only call was squab or bison. I finally settled on the bison. Not only was it a religious culinary experience, but it was one of the shining examples of unorthodox technique creating compelling new dishes. The bison was first treated three ways... smoked, poached, then grilled... and then combined with a spicy raisin sauce. It was accompanied by gently cooked leeks, and a number of dehydrated ingredients including gruyère cheese, tiny flakes of pumpernickel bread and a powdered caraway salt. The flavor was phenomenal, the dehydrated items made for a really unusual (and highly pleasurable) textural angle, and like most of Achatz' dishes that night, it engaged the brain but not at the expense of the gut. Fantastic dish.

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    NY Strip Steak
    Snake River Farms - Boise, Idaho
    Available at Fox & Obel

    I'm still irritated by this whole "American Kobe" moniker, but 2006 was the year that it won me over as a pretty decent alternative to the genuine item. It still isn't close to being the same, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just different. And it's really delicious. It has some hints of the ridiculous richness that you get with genuine Kobe, but it also has a full-on beefy American Angus tail. Twice this year, I seared some up and topped it with just a little soy, honey, miso and garlic. One time it was pretty excellent. The other time, it was positively divine. It definitely isn't Kobe, but it's still one of the best things I tasted this year.

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    Plaa Sôm
    Spoon Thai

    With apologies to Erik M. for potentially further confusing the issue, let me be clear... this dish is not available at Spoon Thai. It was an unusual dish with an exceptionally long preparation time that the folks at Spoon, as good friends of Erik, made specially for him. As such, I almost feel guilty putting it up here, but to leave it off my list would be a serious omission. Incredible flavor aside, the preparation was totally novel to me, no matter how traditional it may be in reality. Sticky rice is fermented in the cavity of the fish before it's deep-fried, imparting it with a wonderful mellow sourness that completely permeates the flesh. It was an eye-opening year for me when it comes to traditional Thai, and this dish was one of the highlights.

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    Soft Shell Crab Po' Boy with Tomato-Fennel Relish and Fennel Frond Mayo
    Dom's Kitchen

    With soft shell crab season slipping away, I decided to throw something together one night that turned out surprisingly well. I'm still not quite sure how this sandwich came out as well as it did, and I'm almost afraid to try it again for fear that I happened to catch lightning in a bottle that night and I'll just be disappointed, but man, was it good. It was all about freshness, I had some stellar ingredients to work with, I tried not to do too much with them, and everything just happened to come together perfectly.

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    Roast Chicken, Wing, Middle Section
    Dom's Kitchen

    I realize that this level of specificity is totally absurd, but this is a place where I know folks can relate. Back at the beginning of the year, I made a roast chicken for the first time. Also absurd. But in any case, I did it in a cast iron pan, with the wings tucked under the bird, flat against the bottom. The result was a wing that essentially fried in chicken fat in the oven for about 45 minutes. I'm already a little partial to chicken wings, and I inadvertently distilled it down to its purest form... salty, impossibly crisp, still moist in the middle, and possessed of an incredibly intense chicken flavor. It was nothing but chicken, salt, pepper and a bit of fresh thyme, and it was still one of the most delicious things I had all year. Now I just need to figure out how to replicate the wings without having to cook the whole bird.

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    Italian Beef Sandwich with Fries
    Chickie's

    I held my own little Beef-Off this year (not nearly at the level of the Beefathon), expanding on the one we did at work a few years back. I compiled my list of competitors from a number of sources, but you guys sent me to Chickie's, so... thank you! I had a lot of beef sandwiches this year, and Chickie's was both my favorite and the most consistent.

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    Aburi Toro
    Sushizanmai - Tokyo, Japan

    It absolutely kills me that I don't have a photo of this one. I've been to Japan a number of times and demolished more than my fair share of raw fish. I'm a little embarrassed that it took double digit visits before I first had Aburi Toro. Searching online for all-night sushi bars, I came across Sushizanmai, which has a number of locations around Tokyo. The one I hit was just a couple of blocks from Tsukiji. I saw the chef preparing it for another customer, and asked him to make some for me as well. Aburi toro apparently starts off like any other nigiri toro. But in the case of aburi toro, it's then topped with a light dusting of some mystery powder that is both salty and sweet, quickly seared with a blowtorch, and topped with a bit of chive. It. Was. Amazing. The quick sear under incredible heat leaves the inner rawness while cooking the outer surface... common enough. But most importantly, it melts and draws out some of the fat, leaving the surface of the fish glistening with pure toro richness. If anybody knows where I can get a hold of this here at home, by all means, please let me know.

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    Bufalina Pizza
    Spacca Napoli

    Big ups again to everybody here for sending me to Spacca Napoli. I have nothing to add that hasn't already been said, but if I had to peg a favorite, I find that the buffalo mozzarella keeps bringing me back to the Bufalina. Sadly, I have no photo of the Bufalina, so a picture of the funghi pizza will have to suffice.

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    Calvados-Infused Duck Sausage with Apple Mustard, White Truffle Cheese and Foie Gras "Butter"
    Hot Doug's

    I have a friend who's a champion of Hot Doug's who's been trying to get me there for three years. Then, in 2006, LTH finally prodded me into checking it out. I weep for years of missed opportunity. There are so, so many spectacular sausages, but my favorite is probably this particular dressing-down of some über-classy ingredients. I've had duck, truffles, foie gras and calvados together many times before, but this might actually be my favorite. Fight the power, Doug, and may 2007 take the restaurant scene out of the city's legislative crosshairs
    Dominic Armato
    Dining Critic
    The Arizona Republic and azcentral.com
  • Post #5 - January 3rd, 2007, 7:01 pm
    Post #5 - January 3rd, 2007, 7:01 pm Post #5 - January 3rd, 2007, 7:01 pm
    PIGMON and trixie-pea's collective best (and worst) eating of 2006.

    Chicago:

    Birrieria de la Torre - Carne en su jugo

    David Burke’s Primehouse– Bone-in Ribeye or Porterhouse for two

    Spacca Napoli - Prosciutto E Arucola

    Sakuma – Chirashi (PIGMON) / Bento Box (trixie-pea)

    Scooter’s – Hot Fudge Sundae (trixie-pea)

    Fulton’s on the River – Oysters / Alaskan King Crab

    Katy’s Dumpling House – Stir Fried Noodle w/ Dry Chili (PIGMON) / Szechwan cold noodle (trixie-pea)

    Fabulous Noodles – Beef with Bitter Melon Chow Fun (PIGMON) / Salt and Pepper Seafood (trixie-pea)

    TAC Quick – Crispy Ong Choi

    Riviera – Prosciutto and Fresh Mozzerella Sandwich

    Fox and Obel – Breakfast (Eggs, bacon, hash browns and toast)
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    Drink:

    Intelligentsia – Flecha Roja (Costa Rica)
    Rip Van Winkle 10-year (107 proof) Bourbon
    Ezra B Single Barrel 12-year Bourbon
    1986 Chateau Mouton Rothschild
    Scooter’s – Vanilla Malt (PIGMON)
    Miss May’s (New Orleans) - $2 Bloody Mary (sometimes it’s bigger than just the drink)

    Beyond Chicagoland:

    Una Pizza Napoletana (NYC) – Bianca (PIGMON) / Filetti (trixie-pea)
    Sushi Yasuda (NYC) – ankimo / uni (two varieties)
    Barney Greengrass (NYC) – Sturgeon Sandwich
    #1 Dumpling (NYC) – Tuna Sandwich
    Langer’s Deli (L.A.) – Pastrami Sandwich w/ pickles (PIGMON)
    El Parian (L.A.) – Carne Asada Taco (PIGMON)
    Nick’s Pizzeria (NYC) – Sausage Pie
    Shady Rest (Owensboro, KY) – Sliced Pork
    Grand Central Market (L.A.) – Fish Taco (PIGMON)
    Newsome’s (Princeton, KY) – Ham Sandwich (trixie-pea)
    Schwartz’s Deli (Montreal) – “Old Fashioned” Smoked Meat sandwich

    Homemade:

    extramsg’s pastrami
    Foie “Ban Me” http://livetastefully.msn.com/Article.a ... rter3.aspx
    Chocolate Sour Cream Bundt Cake – Jill Morowitz (petit pois)
    Pork Lard – Bob in GA courtesy of Bruce Cook
    Bacon and Egg Pizza – Mark Bello (made with MikeG cured/smoked Bob in GA pork belly and upstate NY organic eggs)
    Smoked Baked Beans with Wagyu Brisket Drippings – stevez
    Indian Feast – sazerac and a2fay


    Worst:

    G’s BBQ (Indianapolis) - Ribs
    De la Costa - Ceviche
    Oscar’s – Carne en su jugo
    Bruna’s – lasagna (trixie-pea)
    Bari – Italian Sub
    Wojo’s – Italian Beef
    Taos – Roasted Corn and Poblano Chowder
    Taqueria el Tapatio #2 – carne en su jugo w/ grilled bologna (trixie-pea)
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    …and last but not even close to least:

    Sonny’s Pizzeria – Pizza :cry:

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    New Year’s Resolutions:

    Tachibana (sushi) – Matsumoto’s new restaurant in Lexington, KY
    Xiao long bao – New Green Bo (NYC) & Din Tai Fun (Vancouver)
    Cooper’s in Llano (Texas) – for BBQ as they open
    Pizzeria Bianco (Phoenix)
    Urasawa for sushi (L.A)
    Sac's Place Pizza (Astoria, Queens)
  • Post #6 - January 3rd, 2007, 8:27 pm
    Post #6 - January 3rd, 2007, 8:27 pm Post #6 - January 3rd, 2007, 8:27 pm
    It's pretty funny that I looked at your list-- on/en/ong choy at TAC, chirashi at Sakuma, carne en su jugo at Birrieria de la Torre, etc. and the only one that caught me by surprise with something I didn't know about was: "Wow, they make breakfast at Fox and Obel?"
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
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  • Post #7 - January 3rd, 2007, 8:33 pm
    Post #7 - January 3rd, 2007, 8:33 pm Post #7 - January 3rd, 2007, 8:33 pm
    Mike G wrote:the only one that caught me by surprise with something I didn't know about was: "Wow, they make breakfast at Fox and Obel?"

    Yup. There's a cafe in the rear of Fox and Obel. They open with the rest of the store at 7 a.m. and serve everything from omelets to pastries ("cinnamon swirl", best cinnamon rolls in the world, YUMMMMM), and also have salads and sandwiches and even entrees for lunch and dinner. Order in line, then sit down. They have copies of the day's newspapers to read while you're waiting.

    You can see the complete cafe menu (including breakfast items) on their website at foxandobel.com (click on CAFE, then on "cafe menu").
  • Post #8 - January 3rd, 2007, 8:39 pm
    Post #8 - January 3rd, 2007, 8:39 pm Post #8 - January 3rd, 2007, 8:39 pm
    I've been to the cafe for lunch many times, it just never even occurred to me to wonder if they did breakfast.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
    Watch the Reader's James Beard Award-winning Key Ingredient here.
  • Post #9 - January 3rd, 2007, 9:10 pm
    Post #9 - January 3rd, 2007, 9:10 pm Post #9 - January 3rd, 2007, 9:10 pm
    Dmnkly wrote:Aburi Toro
    Sushizanmai - Tokyo, Japan

    It absolutely kills me that I don't have a photo of this one. I've been to Japan a number of times and demolished more than my fair share of raw fish. I'm a little embarrassed that it took double digit visits before I first had Aburi Toro. <snip>
    Aburi toro apparently starts off like any other nigiri toro. <snip>
    If anybody knows where I can get a hold of this here at home, by all means, please let me know.


    Don't mean to take this thread on a tangent - hence the smaller font, but aburi or flame-broiled toro (specifically o-toro) should be available in most good sushi houses. I don't know though if it will be anything like the one you had - with the specific seasonings etc. One of my top 10 for 2006 was the o-toro at Chaya in Pittsburgh - both plain and torched (quickly sprinkled with house ponzu; no time for pic - "Eat quick," the chef urged)

    click for larger
    Image Image
  • Post #10 - January 3rd, 2007, 10:06 pm
    Post #10 - January 3rd, 2007, 10:06 pm Post #10 - January 3rd, 2007, 10:06 pm
    Top Meals/Food of 2006 (or looking through the Mastercard statements)

    One disclaimer is that most of my memorable meals occurred out of town as we spend most of our "eating out" budget on our monthly trips.

    1) Columbia Restaurant is an Ybor City (Tampa, FL) institution. They serve a wide variety of Cuban foods. We enjoyed the crab coquettes which were filled with crab meat. We also enjoyed Mahi Mahi “Cayo Hueso” .

    Very friendly and helpful servers in a relaxing and semi-formal environment. Make sure to allow time to view the museum.

    2) Central Market, Luling, TX -

    Of the four BBQ meals that clogged my arteries in March, the best was the Central Market in Luling. Like most of the BBQ places, you walk into the smokehouse and grab your meat, then go out front and buy your sides, which are generally minimal. Three meats - brisket, ribs, and sausage. All were good, although most would find the sausage a bit greasy.

    3) Southside Market in Elgin, TX

    If you have two meats here, try the sausage and the lamb ribs. Both are unforgettable. And unlike most places, they have a variety of sides to provide some balance to the meal.

    4) Blue Bell Creamery, Brenham, TX.

    It is not super premium ice cream, but it is very good. And I like ANY place where they serve 36 ice creams at $1 per scoop. Make sure to make a reservation for the plant tour (which we missed).

    5) Texas Chili Parlor, Austin.

    I like just about any type of chili. And I will always visit a chili parlor. The chili was great. If you like spicy chili, XX is very hot and nostril clearing.

    While this place is a sports bar, the staff takes a lot of time and explains (and sells) you on the specialties. Great, no-nonsense chili.

    6) La Catarina, Monterrey, MX

    This is a large restaurant decorated in a contemporary Mexican style, with brick walls, handcrafted figures and contemporary paintings. It also features original table linen, napkins, cups and dishes, decorated with ladybugs, since the name of the restaurant in Spanish means ladybug. This establishment serves from Mexican traditional dishes to sophisticated creations based on duck, lamb and goat and seasonal dishes like chiles en nogada (Poblano chile filled with a mix of meats, fruits and raisins, in a walnut sauce) which was truly outstanding.

    And who can dislike any restaurant that serves pork rinds along with the tortilla chips for dinner. My ONLY regret was that the meal was a business meal and we could not really enjoy the meal as much.

    7) Tiajuana's Restaurant, Roswell, NM

    Normally, chain Mexican restaurants are pretty bad. However, after taking ALL the trails through Carlsbad and then another two hours walking through the local desert museum, you don;t spend a lot of time looking for a restaurant.

    Since we were tired, we asked the waitress to bring us three or four of the specialties of the place. She brought some posole, enchiladas, tamales, and a few other things. Quite a good meal and great service.

    8) Frontier Restaurant, Albuquerque, NM

    $17 brings you a huge bowl of steaming posole, tacos carne adovada, and a plate of enchiladas that was filling to my nephew and me. This campus eatery (24 hrs) on Rt 66 is adjacent to the University of New Mexico.

    9) Red Iguana, Salt Lake City

    We got into SLC late on a Friday night and even with directions, got lost. I am so glad that we made it to this place. We even came back the next week on the way to the airport and ate there again. Great menu of IMAGINATIVE Mexican food and some of the best moles that I have ever tried.

    10) El Diablo, Torrey, UT

    I did not expect a great meal in a remote location. However, the food was creative, imaginative and well prepared from local ingredients, the chef makes round to ensure that meals were well received. We generally avoid teh "fine dining" scene but this was excellent.


    Other notable meals:

    1) Udupi Palace, Schaumburg - Southern Indian cuisine, good Sunday brunch.
    2) Cattleman's Ranch, Fabens, TX - a good steak and a ranch to walk it off in.
    3) Adelle's Restaurant, Messillas, NM.
    4) BYU Creamery - simply the best campus creamery that I have been to.
    5) Sunglow Restaurant, Bicknell, UT - four pies (sweet pickle, pinto bean, oatmeal, and buttermilk pie) for breakfast - and the scones are not bad.
    6) Burgers Supreme, Provo, UT - great hamburgers and french fries. Simple menu done well.
    7) Royal Oak Farms, Harvard - Very limited menu (two entrees and sandwiches) done well, closed Sunday.
    8) Hometown Drive Inn, Garden City, UT - Great burgers and raspberry shakes and ouck an apple or pear from one of the trees. And a great view of Bear Lake.
    9) Tucano's Brazilian - Why can't Chicago support a $20 Churrascarria?
    10) Smithfield BBQ, NC - Very good Brunswick stew, passable BBQ and good fried chicken.
    11) Grand Geneva Christmas Brunch - very good meal and worth the $36.95.
    12) Feasting Fox - Great German food in a historical German Tavern originally founded by teh Busch family. Located on South Grand in St. Louis.

    Worst meals of the year:
    1) Hogi Yogi/Teriyaki Stix - Cold steamed vegetables over leftover rice and covered with some sweet, syrupy goop. One of the worst ever.
    2) Runza's, Nebraska - After trying it, I am still not sure what a Runza is but I am not sure I want to.
    3) Applebee's , Wooster,OH - I thought that with a new executive chef developing the menu, the food would improve. However, the same old cooks cannot carry an improved menu. Whatever steak I had was covered with hot peppers and not worth the effort.
    4) Ute Mountain Casino - makes the Circus Circus buffet look like a gourmet feast.
    5) Zephyr Cafe, Chicago - Never eat at a place on its last day.
    6) Mama Rinis, Crystal Lake - I ate at this place four years ago and tought the food was pretty bad. Nothing has changed other than the sign out front.
    Last edited by jlawrence01 on January 4th, 2007, 10:33 am, edited 2 times in total.
  • Post #11 - January 3rd, 2007, 10:33 pm
    Post #11 - January 3rd, 2007, 10:33 pm Post #11 - January 3rd, 2007, 10:33 pm
    Ten Best

    In no particular order:

    1. Pepper and Corn Soup, Fonda del Mar. This soup apparently was a one-off or a mistake; this appears to be the base for a soup that is supposed to include a variety of seafood. But damn! It was amazingly good without the fish. At the time, I said it was one of the best things I'd ever put in my mouth, and I still feel that way.

    2. and 3. Tie: Shrimp Cocktail, St. Elmo Steakhouse, Indianapolis and Shrimp Cocktail, Sabatino's, Chicago. Yes, the shrimp at St. Elmo are not so great (good, just not great, as they ought to be in shrimp cocktail). Sabatino's wins on the superiority of the shrimp (and the much lower price). But the White Kryptonite infused horseradish cocktail sauce at St. Elmo is now one of my favorite condiments, and I first tried it this year. Note also that Sabatino's and St. Elmo are fellow travellers in the realm of historic preservation in dining, with the way-back machine dials set to different eras (1902 for St. Elmo, somewhere before the Sands allowed patrons to wear jeans at Sabatino's).

    4. Manhattan Cocktail, Matchbox. What a drink. The real maraschino cherries (i.e., brandy cured, not sugar soaked) are, literally, the cherry on top of this splendidly blended libation. Plus, they serve it like a malted, with the extra left in the shaker for you to pour into your empty glass. Yowzah!

    5. Rutabaga Soup, Lula Cafe A hard call for me, because I've had a lot of very fine dishes at Lula this past year. I almost picked the handmade papperdelle bolognese, which GAF compared favorably to the same dish served at Babbo. But this one, which showed up on the specials list in November, was the most memorable for me. Although as GAF noted elsewhere, the broth is not as smooth as it possibly could be, every other aspect of the dish -- the aromatic rutabaganosity of the base, the richness, the decadence of the truffles -- was just outstanding.

    6. Curried Vichyssoise, Sweets & Savories. As I posted somewhere else earlier this year, "Is soup the new black?" Anyway, here's the third soup that falls in my top ten best dishes of 2006. In a meal that was outstanding in every way, this was the MVP.

    7. Gravy (not the biscuits), Edgebrook Diner. Short story: Best country gravy I've had north of Marion County, Indiana; spicy, rich, smooth, it's all you could ask for. But the biscuits just plain suck by virtue of (1) maybe being not so great in the first instance and (2) being stored in a heated metal box for hours on end. The biscuits are a bit better if you get there right after they open. In a town that has goggle-wearing chefs using lasers and liquid nitrogen to make an appetizer, or even just a decent souffle, when will anyone get both elements of this basic (but delicate and time-sensitive) dish right?

    8. New York Strip Steak, Binyon's Casino, Hammond, Indiana. Every other part of this meal was mediocre, but DAMN, this was a great steak. Better than the $76 dry-aged steak I ate at Besh's steakhouse in New Orleans, better than he two or three other "big name" steakhouse steaks I ate over the past twelve months. Perfectly cooked, extraordinarily flavorful meat. And it was comped! (Thanks, Mrs. JiLS.) But, as noted above, the remainder of the meal was mediocre at best, so I don't recommend making a special trip to Hammond for the steak.

    9. Cheeseburger, Kewpies, Racine, Wisconsin. As I said at the time, Kewpies is what Steak 'N Shake wishes it could be ... and I am a life-long lover of Steak 'N Shake. Only wish Kewpies were a bit closer to home. Style and substance, they've got it all.

    10. Fried Chicken, Hollyhock Hill, Indianapolis. I've been eating and loving this chicken since I was old enough to feed myself; I'd rank it second only to my own grandma's version. So, while in one way it's a stretch to call this a favorite of 2006, I include it here because the real pleasure for me in this dish was sharing it with the group of Indianapolathoners who threw in with me and Mrs. JiLS for our tour of Indianapolis eateries this summer. And that example of the LTH spirit in action made this the sweetest of meals. Thanks, folks, for sharing that meal, and meals throughout this whole year and the last couple of years before that.

    And here's to 2007! Let's get out there and eat good food, and take pictures of food, and argue about food and berate and cajole and rail on each other about food. God bless us (and the Internet), every one!
    JiLS
  • Post #12 - January 3rd, 2007, 10:41 pm
    Post #12 - January 3rd, 2007, 10:41 pm Post #12 - January 3rd, 2007, 10:41 pm
    JimInLoganSquare wrote:6. Curried Vichyssoise, Sweets & Savories


    I'm glad this is on your list too. It seems like you and I (and our wives) were the only people on this forum who tasted this soup. It really was a great course. This reminds me that since the seasons have changed, I haven't been back to S&S. It might be time for a return.

    Best,
    Michael
  • Post #13 - January 3rd, 2007, 11:35 pm
    Post #13 - January 3rd, 2007, 11:35 pm Post #13 - January 3rd, 2007, 11:35 pm
    jlawrence01 wrote:1) Columbia Restaurant is an Ybor City (Tampa, FL institution.

    Yup. It's part of a chain with seven locations. The Tampa location has been there for over a hundred years. The location in Sarasota (on St. Armands Key) was opened in 1959 and is Sarasota's oldest restaurant.
  • Post #14 - January 3rd, 2007, 11:49 pm
    Post #14 - January 3rd, 2007, 11:49 pm Post #14 - January 3rd, 2007, 11:49 pm
    I ate at the one in Celebration and was pretty unimpressed, even with lowered expectations for a chain outpost in an insta-burb (I actually rather liked the insta-burb). But I'm prepared to believe the original(s) are capable of being the standout on somebody's list, even if the newer outposts are not.

    By the way, glad to see so many lists popping up, after a short delay. I always enjoy reading other folks' lists.
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  • Post #15 - January 4th, 2007, 10:25 am
    Post #15 - January 4th, 2007, 10:25 am Post #15 - January 4th, 2007, 10:25 am
    I don't lower my expectations for restaurants that are part of chains. Some of them are very good. Some of them are even great (e.g. Everest, Tru). Heck, I don't change my expectations for new developments, either. I enjoy it when I find a great place in a somewhat unexpected location.

    However, I've eaten at the Columbia on the Circle and it was okay, but hardly memorable. The seafood was fresh but you can find more tasty preparations elsewhere in the area.

    I agree - Nice to see more lists - keep 'em comin', folks!
  • Post #16 - January 4th, 2007, 11:13 am
    Post #16 - January 4th, 2007, 11:13 am Post #16 - January 4th, 2007, 11:13 am
    Columbia?

    Never thought this West Tampa kid would see the day when Columbia drew raves on this board by someone other than me. My best friend's family has connections to the place that go back the 30's. (The Ybor institution is not simply "part of a chain," but has been in the same spot for 100 years.)

    Columbia and Bern's are the twin pillars of Tampa's establishment dining, and both are more noteworthy for their wine programs than food, which in no way diminishes the food.

    The Columbia has had one of the finest lists of Spanish wines anywhere since long, long before fine Spanish wine was "discovered" by US connoisseurs. Columbia went through rather a dark period for some time in the 80's and 90's when the food suffered. It has rebounded in a big way recently. Over on Chowhound you might find some interesting information about the place from its historian, Andy Huse, who is a very smart and personable guy associated, I believe, with USF.

    Strictly speaking, the Columbia is a traditional Spanish restaurant with several Cuban creole dishes on the menu. It surprises some to learn that Ybor had a fair share of cigar-industry immigration directly from Spain at the turn of the last century, along with the Cubans, Sicilians, and Southern Italians. Don Vicente Ybor, appropriately, was a Spanish-born Cuban cigar manufacturer who founded the town. Serious attention is paid to these cultural distinctions to this day, as well they should be. Regarding Tampa's cultural paella, the parallel that is easy to make and understand for many is to New Orleans.

    Last, it should be noted that some claim to trace the Cuban sandwich to the Columbia's lunch counter, which is as plausible as any other alleged provenance.

    Viva Columbia. Any visit to Ybor should include at least a brandy and cigar at the bar, one of the most atmospheric (in the general sense and the theatre sense) anywhere.
  • Post #17 - January 4th, 2007, 12:11 pm
    Post #17 - January 4th, 2007, 12:11 pm Post #17 - January 4th, 2007, 12:11 pm
    JeffB wrote:(The Ybor institution is not simply "part of a chain," but has been in the same spot for 100 years.)

    Yes, exactly as I had posted above.

    I don't see why "chain" is a naughty word on this forum (as your sentence implies, as do many other posts here). Chains usually form because someone opens a single restaurant somewhere, and it is successful. They want to expand geographically, often (but not always) by copying the same concept in a different location. As long as the new locations maintain the same level of quality as in the original, it results in more, better, and more convenient choices for consumers - all of which is a good thing. And if the new locations diminish in quality, word usually gets around.

    There are many chains which seem to maintain a consistently high level of quality as they expand (e.g. Cameron Mitchell's restaurants, including Mitchell's Fish Market in Glenview) and even sometimes add locations with higher quality (e.g. Lettuce Entertain You's Everest and Tru). Of course, there are also chains in which the added location is a huge disappointment to anyone familiar with the original (e.g. Uno's). Just like with single-location restaurants, you have to do your research (sometimes yourself, sometimes on forums like these) to know where the great food is.

    Thanks for providing the additional background on Columbia!
  • Post #18 - January 4th, 2007, 12:32 pm
    Post #18 - January 4th, 2007, 12:32 pm Post #18 - January 4th, 2007, 12:32 pm
    As long as the new locations maintain the same level of quality as in the original


    And that's the trick, isn't it?

    Which is very rarely pulled off even on the level of a second or third restaurant.

    I would bet, in any case, that in the case of Columbia the original restaurant or two is NOT managing the half dozen other outposts. Rather, a restaurant management company-- probably with other "concepts" in the Florida area-- has licensed the name and famous dishes, standardized the menu, reformulated recipes, introduced foodservice biz shortcuts for portion control and consistency with a less expert kitchen workforce, etc. etc. The obvious example of this locally is indeed Pizzeria Uno, where the chain outposts not only aren't as good as the originals, they're only vaguely similar to the originals.

    I certainly hope what I had at Celebration's Columbia was only vaguely similar to the original....
    Last edited by Mike G on January 4th, 2007, 12:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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  • Post #19 - January 4th, 2007, 12:34 pm
    Post #19 - January 4th, 2007, 12:34 pm Post #19 - January 4th, 2007, 12:34 pm
    Let's not confuse "chains" with restaurants owned by the same ownership group.

    Chains - Red Lobster, TGI Friday's, Applebee's
    Owned by ownership groups - Tru (LEYE), Everest (LEYE), Gramercy Tavern (USHG), Eleven Madison Park (USHG). I'm not sure exactly how things are structured, but Per Se, French Laundry and the Bouchons may also fall into this category.
    -Josh

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #20 - January 4th, 2007, 12:43 pm
    Post #20 - January 4th, 2007, 12:43 pm Post #20 - January 4th, 2007, 12:43 pm
    No, let's do confuse them. Because I don't think there's a clear line. Lettuce is the obvious example of a company that does both chains and one-offs within the same organization.

    There are a lot of these high-end corporate chains now. They're not opening every 50 feet like Quizno's, and they serve a decidedly higher-end meal. But in many ways operationally they are chains through and through, using the smarts of the fast food biz to produce a meal with high consistency, low waste, and low kitchen staff costs/training requirements across multiple outlets.

    My nemesis Devon Seafood Grill is a perfect example. It tries very hard to look and sound like an upscale, chef-driven fish restaurant. But it's owned by a chain (Houlihan's), it's basically replicating whole a concept and menu from a suburban mall restaurant (Braxton Seafood Grill in Oakbrook), but to make it more salable in city centers they use a different name here and in Philadelphia.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
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  • Post #21 - January 4th, 2007, 12:54 pm
    Post #21 - January 4th, 2007, 12:54 pm Post #21 - January 4th, 2007, 12:54 pm
    Well, maybe it's how I define a chain then.

    There are no other Tru's I can go to. Nor are there other Everests.

    I would think that within these restaurants (as well as those in the Danny Meyer empire in NYC) there is much more autonomy granted to individual kitchens then say an Applebees or an Olive Garden. I highly doubt that Everest or Tru gets any food in pre-packaged pre-prepared for from the LEYE corporate kitchen. Walk into Per Se and I don't think you'll find a crate of "Oysters and Pearls".
    -Josh

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #22 - January 4th, 2007, 12:55 pm
    Post #22 - January 4th, 2007, 12:55 pm Post #22 - January 4th, 2007, 12:55 pm
    nsxtasy wrote:Chains usually form because someone opens a single restaurant somewhere, and it is successful.


    I'm not sure that's true anymore. Tampa's Outback group, coincidentally, provides a prime example. The company draws up a concept, tests it, then expands it if it looks like a winner. That's how many chains happen these days. I don't disagree that a proven winner (Morton's, e.g.) can be chain-ized with varying degrees of success.

    I didn't intend to offend, but I think it's fair to have read your sentence in a way that had the tail wagging the dog. I can't think of a huge old original like the Columbia as "part of a chain," even though I can see the original Outback in a strip mall on Dale Mabry as "part of a chain."
  • Post #23 - January 4th, 2007, 1:14 pm
    Post #23 - January 4th, 2007, 1:14 pm Post #23 - January 4th, 2007, 1:14 pm
    Mike G wrote:I've been to the cafe for lunch many times, it just never even occurred to me to wonder if they did breakfast.


    I'm a regular for breakfast there.
    It gets packed.

    The eggs benedict are very good.
    Pancakes are very good but expensive.
    Coffee is very good.
    Potatoes are a bit greasy.
  • Post #24 - January 4th, 2007, 1:20 pm
    Post #24 - January 4th, 2007, 1:20 pm Post #24 - January 4th, 2007, 1:20 pm
    I think there are two different definitions of the word "chain" that are being used here. One pertains to restaurants with pretty much the same name, menu, concept, etc in multiple locations. The other refers to restaurants that share ownership in multiple locations, but may operate under different names, menus, concepts, etc. I've seen chains derided on this forum (not just this topic) under both definitions.

    My quote - "Chains usually form because someone opens a single restaurant somewhere, and it is successful." - was intended to refer to the second definition (multiple locations that may have the same or different "look and feel"), because it refers to the start of an organization with a single location, with no other holdings. Jeff's response - "I'm not sure that's true anymore. Tampa's Outback group, coincidentally, provides a prime example." - appears to refer only to the first definition (multiple locations with the same "look and feel"), since it assumes that an existing organization adds another concept to its existing holdings.
  • Post #25 - January 4th, 2007, 1:27 pm
    Post #25 - January 4th, 2007, 1:27 pm Post #25 - January 4th, 2007, 1:27 pm
    Egads, I don't really care about ownership. I don't care about corporate structure. All I care about is whether the food and the service is good enough.

    When I was in Ybor City, I stopped at the cultural center and was able to get a tour of the area by a 80 year old lady who I thought was 50 (and could dance like she was 30). She said that it would be a shame to visit Ybor City and NOT experience a meal at the Columbia. I agree. The food was great and the atmosphere special.

    We try to travel once a month. Generally, our research on a one weekend trip fills a 1" binder; a week requires 2" minimum (and Las Vegas may require 3". The Columbia came up several times in mostly NON-food related sources. It was the only great meal of the trip.

    There was another place we tried - which was highly recommended on that OTHER website - was really mediocre.
  • Post #26 - January 4th, 2007, 1:39 pm
    Post #26 - January 4th, 2007, 1:39 pm Post #26 - January 4th, 2007, 1:39 pm
    jlawrence01 wrote:Egads, I don't really care about ownership. I don't care about corporate structure. All I care about is whether the food and the service is good enough.

    * * *


    Exactly.

    If they could do ten Alinea's, each with the same menu and with the same daily changes, it would still be the best place in America. I couldn't care less how they structure the thing. I care if the food tastes good.
  • Post #27 - January 4th, 2007, 1:45 pm
    Post #27 - January 4th, 2007, 1:45 pm Post #27 - January 4th, 2007, 1:45 pm
    Anyway, moving on from "chain or not a chain", here are my tops from 2006 (listed in chronological order because I couldn't even hope to rank these):

    January - Carlos' Restaurant, Chicago
    January - Sea Saw, Scottsdale
    February - Schwa, Chicago
    March - Alinea, Chicago
    May - Blue Crabs eaten in a friend's backyard in Southern Maryland
    June - Avenues (foie gras tasting menu), Chicago
    September - L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Las Vegas
    September - Tsuki, Chicago*
    October - Guy Savoy, Las Vegas
    November - Per Se, New York

    * I love Tsuki anyway, but this was the dinner where I proposed to my fiance.
    -Josh

    I've started blogging about the Stuff I Eat
  • Post #28 - January 4th, 2007, 1:51 pm
    Post #28 - January 4th, 2007, 1:51 pm Post #28 - January 4th, 2007, 1:51 pm
    If they could do ten Alineas...


    But it's precisely the point that no one can. It doesn't work that way. If ten people could write great Elizabethan plays, there'd be 50 plays as good as King Lear. There aren't.

    To bring this back to the real world, I just yesterday happened to post about a high-end, small chain (Phil Stefani) restaurant experience here. To me it sums up exactly what's good and bad about chain restaurant management-- quality fish, slightly boring recipes, very mixed execution.

    The passion of the individual chef in the kitchen-- whether he's making rosemary-smoke flash-frozen hyperspace scallops, or rib tips and hot links-- is the irreproducible thing. And certainly the thing I find this forum most valuable for scouting out and celebrating, even if quality chain dining is both a reality of life and a worthwhile subject too.
    Watch Sky Full of Bacon, the Chicago food HD podcast!
    New episode: Soil, Corn, Cows and Cheese
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  • Post #29 - January 4th, 2007, 1:55 pm
    Post #29 - January 4th, 2007, 1:55 pm Post #29 - January 4th, 2007, 1:55 pm
    Mike G wrote:
    If they could do ten Alineas...


    But it's precisely the point that no one can. It doesn't work that way. If ten people could write great Elizabethan plays, there'd be 50 plays as good as King Lear. There aren't.

    To bring this back to the real world, I just yesterday happened to post about a high-end, small chain (Phil Stefani) restaurant experience here. To me it sums up exactly what's good and bad about chain restaurant management-- quality fish, slightly boring recipes, very mixed execution.

    The passion of the individual chef in the kitchen-- whether he's making rosemary-smoke flash-frozen hyperspace scallops, or rib tips and hot links-- is the irreproducible thing. And certainly the thing I find this forum most valuable for scouting out and celebrating, even if quality chain dining is both a reality of life and a worthwhile subject too.


    Whether or not it is possible is not really the point. The point is whether we should rule out a great meal simply because the owner and/or chef has other enterprises. My impression is that's what you meant (and please correct me if I am mistaken).

    I haven't dined at Tru since they started messing around with the other places, but I wouldn't avoid going simply because the other places exist. For a lot of places, I am more interested in who the sous chef is anyway, as he's the guy really running the kitchen.
  • Post #30 - January 4th, 2007, 2:59 pm
    Post #30 - January 4th, 2007, 2:59 pm Post #30 - January 4th, 2007, 2:59 pm
    jlawrence01 wrote:Egads, I don't really care about ownership. I don't care about corporate structure. All I care about is whether the food and the service is good enough.

    Image

    Of course, there are different definitions of "good". It's clear from Mike G's comments that he values creativity and looks for places that are different and unique. I care more about good food and service, and don't give quite as much priority to unusual, personal imprints on the food. Now, I'm not saying I like "me too" food - I would get turned off if I found the same menu everywhere I go - but I tend to enjoy meals with delicious tastes and impeccable execution, such as at Oceanique or Mitchell's, more than chefs who try to be different strictly for the purpose of being unique rather than tasting good (as has been my experience with Grant Achatz).

    Of course, it's a good thing that we don't all want the same thing; otherwise we'd all be trying to eat at the exact same restaurant... ;)

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