The Very Best: Restaurants

GLOBAL PROVINCE - Home - About This Site - Agile Companies - Annual Reports - Best of Class - Best of theTriangle - Big Ideas - Brain Stem - Business Diary - Dunk's Dictums - Global Wit & Worldly Wisdom - Gods, Heroes, & Legends - Infinite Bookstore - Investor Digest - Letters from the Global Province - Other Global Sites - Poetry & BusinessScenes from the Global ProvinceA Stitch in Time - Two Rivers

Contact us

Click on a location
Albuquerque · Boston · Canada · Dallas · Houston · Lisbon · London · Maine ·
Morocco · Nashville ·New Orleans · New York · North Carolina · Oaxaca · Paris · San Antonio ·
San Francisco · Santa Fe · South Carolina · Sydney · Tampa · Virginia · Washington


Albuquerque’s Hidden Few
It’s not easy to get situated in Albuquerque since an authoritative guide is lacking on where to stay, what to see, where to eat, etc.  This is not, in any way, to deny its considerable charms, but they are hidden.  Though tourism is the lifeblood of the New Mexican economy, the state government does not do a good job of ministering to this vital part of its economy.  If New Mexican tourism depended on its civil servants or its politicians, it would simply fizzle.  Indeed, the state needs to single out its real bests and celebrate them.  Probably it needs a system of state posadas, as in Portugal: charming small inns that greet the avid explorer who goes into every nook and cranny of the country and wants a decent place to stay in out-of-the-way places.  In Albuquerque, one should take aim at the bed and breakfasts, since the hotels generally do not make the cut. 

Here, meanwhile, is a fairly decent list of better restaurants, along with links where you can find out about them: Ambrozia  (; Artichoke Café (; Corn Maiden; Graze (; Gruet Steakhouse (; Le Café Miche (
index.html); Prairie Star (; Seasons Rotisserie (; Zinc Café (  

For those who want to stretch a little further, Frommer’s provides a list of 20 that’s not bad (  (7/6/05)



Oishii Boston is certainly the best Japanese restaurant in town—and it merits lots of visits.  We ourselves have been there 4 times in the last couple of months.   It is an anomaly in a town where the fish restaurants should be the best in America and in which one should find a raft of fine Japanese eateries.  Boston Harbor does produce some of the most remarkable fish, such that it is desired throughout the country and –yea—the world.  But neither the fish houses nor the sushi bars are great.  Recently we even had tired old fish in a favored Italian restaurant—the bream a contrast to that we had just had in Lisbon and to the beautiful bream pictured by Luis Meléndez at a recent show at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Remarkably Oishii does not really do an outstanding a job on it sushi which lacks taste and suppleness. This is not where its art lies. A diner should skip the chef’s selections on the menu for this reason.  What one wants is an assemblage of fish on a platter which can be nicely tiered.  Varieties of the squid, neatly sliced into small bits, are delightful.   As one carefully picks and chooses, other things come off quite special—broiled edamame, the ink (squid) noodles, a handroll of salmon skin or alligator.  Their cocktails can be refreshing:  one of our number discovered a shisojito which includes mint, limejuice, Grey Goose Le Citron, and sudachi. We have challenged the staff to make some other dishes not on the menu, and they have responded with great success.  Oishii is a calm, restful restaurant with well-chosen greys and low volume, artful music.  The restaurant is very out of the way, way over on Washington Street, not a district in which you should be walking around at night. After dinner, the staff is not at all skilled in summoning taxicabs, and one is advised to have the name of a service in hand, calling it well before you are to leave Oishii. Oishii.  1166 Washington Street. Boston, Mass. 02118-4113. 617- 482-8868 (04-21-10)


Middle Eastern
Well, actually Cambridge.  Oleana is the sort of place that attracts graduate students, so it belongs on Harvard’s  side of the Charles.  We would return but we would also be a little cautious.  This restaurant has been hailed on all sorts of lists, inside and outside of Boston.  But we find many of the dishes both a bit overdone and a little on the sparse side.  Pick the simplest things, say, minced cucumber or something with the fewest adornments.  Also, go quite early, since this is a hot affair that attracts a very big crowd to a small place.  If you are there sixish, you may avoid the crowd and have more of a conversation.  Oleana.  134 Hampshire Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02139.  Telephone:  (617) 661-0505.

We’ve heard forever that Clio is one of Boston’s bests, not to be missed.  Well, forever we have intended to stay at the Eliot, where the restaurant is housed, and have never gotten around to it.   As a substitute we went to the restaurant, especially since it was reputed to have a decorous, quiet atmosphere where one could hold a conversation, and we were to be a party of six.  As we remember, we had some Bay scallops and then some shards of Kobe beef, both of which were quite satisfactory even if they did not inspire rapture.  A California friend picked the wines: he found them average but priced as if nectar from the gods.  The service was eager, happily so, though not practiced.  On a jaunt to the side, we saw Uni—the sashimi effort adjoining the main dining room—which we probably would not visit,  and we there heard some low-key chill music which probably does not go well in a restaurant with highbrow pretensions, though it has become pervasive in all Boston spots trying to attract young affluents.  Like many of Boston’s finests, Clio is pricey and not as good as Bostonians think, but maybe worth a visit once a year.  As in parts of Scandinavia, Boston’s best restaurants tend to be middlebrow, less affected, and less complex, more ample.  Clio and Uni.  370 Commonwealth Ave Boston, MA 02215.  Telephone: (617) 536-7200.  Website:  (5/16/07)

Neptune Oyster
For the last few years, laziness and maybe the Big Dig have kept us away from the North End.  But then we remember a good cup of coffee or the olive oil we sometimes haul home from one delicatessen.  A man of taste (PJ) has just put us on to Neptune Oyster, and we’re thankful.  There are many neighborhood sorts eating there, so one is spared the cashmere sweater and tassled-loafer set.  There’s an oyster selection—quite fresh—that alone could be the meal: wellfleets and katama bay and ninigret pond and pemaquids and kumomotos and so on.  It has a plush web menu in the works, and soon you can read about the equally good entrees.  Neptune Oyster, 63 Salem Street, Boston, MA 02113.  Telephone: 617-742-3474.  (1/31/07)

Butcher Shop
We just had an excellent meal at the Butcher Shop, one of Barbara Lynch’s 3 Boston restaurants.  We’ll be back and we mean to try them all.  This is in the South End, right across the street from her B & G Oysters.  The Butcher Shop is her meat emporium, and one of the locals we know buys meat here. We had her storied hot dog—really more of a sausage—and several other meats of the evening.  Though the restaurant has bar-type set up, we nonetheless found the atmosphere to be decorous enough to hold a conversation.  Lynch attracts a nice crowd, and the quarters are attractive if not spacious.  Plus the servers are both polite and helpful: we took a chance on the wine recommendation, and it was right.  The Butcher Shop, 552 Tremont St., Boston, MA 02118.  Telephone: 617-423-4800.  Website:  The website, though tasteful, is not very helpful: it should include map and directions, much more on the menus and the preparation.

Interestingly, Boston seems to have more than its fair share of excellent women chefs, although the membership of the Women Chefs & Restaurateurs organization is spread across America—and the group is headquartered in Tennessee, no less.  Bostonians include Lydia Shire, Ana Sortun, Jody Adams, and Judy Mattera, among others.  (11/1/06)

East Coast Grill
We forget about this wonderful restaurant in Cambridge, just a hop and a skip away from Boston, a restaurant we frequented quite a bit after its opening in 1985 (or was it 1987, as the Boston Globe suggests?).  Now it has become quite an old chestnut, and every bit as fun.  We arrived a bit early recently and bumped into owner Chris Schlesinger, who explained why he could not give us a drink (it would attract a horde of customers before his crew could handle them) but who, nicely, gave us a comfortable seat at the bar where we chatted with his very nice fellow there.  He and the staff universally have a warmness about them and, to boot, they actually know the food pretty well. It’s probably more relaxed than the other good eateries around Cambridge, peopled as they are by undercover PhDs.  Schlesinger lives in Westport: we understand that he fishes a lot and drinks Pabst’s Blue Ribbon, a paradoxical beer with a following that springs from its lack of advertising.  (See our “Bloom—In Praise of Divorce.”)  He seems to be lead a more civilized life that most restaurateurs.  Our guest had a big chop, while we put down the shrimp and scallops—both were outstanding.  He has six or so cookbooks: we picked up Let the Flames Begin that night, after we pressed him for a recommendation.  But The Thrill of the Grill, or License to Grill, or any of the others will do just as well.  As is obvious from these titles, he thinks he is quite a flamethrower, a stealth pyromaniac.  We cooked salmon his way recently and washed it with his sauce—what a treat!  East Coast Grill.1271 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139. Tel: 617-491-6568. Website:  (11/30/05)

Bistro 5
When you are cast out into Medford, beyond the pull of Boston and Cambridge, you expect dining to be non-existent.  But you are to be fooled, at least at Bistro 5.  It gets a decorous shirtsleeves crowd, but is free of loutish behavior or too much buzz.  The duck prosciutto and its accompaniment most stick in our mind, but everything was tiptop.  The crème brulee, shared with our companion, was entirely right, and not tarted up with adulterations such as might happen at the Gotham in New York.  You can trust the barkeep to choose your wine. Bistro 5, 5 A Playstead Road, West Medford, MA 02155.  Tel: 781-395-7464.  (2/7/07)

Boston Ice Cream with Flavor
When you have had your great meal at the East Coast Grill, then go next door to Christina’s where the ice cream sings.  It’s the first time we have had flavorful ice cream in Boston—Ben and Jerry, Lick’s, etc. notwithstanding.  The rum raisin had the raisins and the rum, the coffee was right, etc.  It is next door to a spice store of the same name, owned by the same people, and we are sure that is why the ice cream tastes like something. Christina’s Ice Cream. 1255 Cambridge Street, Cambridge, MA 02139.  Telephone: 617-492-7021.  The help is rather brusque, and the place seems a bit run down, but, in the end, it’s all worth it. Also check out Christina’s Spice and Specialty Foods.  (12/7/05)

Years ago Hamersley’s Bistro was a different restaurant.  It was up the Street four or five blocks, in a little warren of rooms, with a lot of buzz, filled with vibrant people.  As we remember, Mrs. (Fiona) Hamersley would often seat us, and at the end of the evening we might have a chat with Gordon about the food.  At that time there were only 4 or 5 decent restaurants in Boston anyway, and this was right at the top.  Once, in another city, when we were escorting Julia Child to a celebratory function, she asked us where we ate in Boston.  We said we could not remember the name, but mumbled about a  smallish bistro where you ate 12 small, elegant dishes of an evening, diners were waiting at the door, and the spirit was entirely warm.  Immediately, she said, “Hamersley’s.” 

Then the restaurant moved towards town a few blocks into a barnlike structure.  Big time.  We ate there once, off a rather limited menu, and never returned.  We were shocked at the transformation.  From a beehive to a vacuum.  It’s got the new, see-the-kitchen format, not an entirely interesting addition in this particular case.  This layout works when you have a magnetic chef personality up front or, as in a yakitori restaurant in the Rippongi section of Tokyo, meet a bunch of wise guy cooks who shout friendly, flirty comments at pretty daikon Japanese girls.   

But a Boston regular recently asked us to join him for his second outing there.  With lots of caveats, we were charmed.  We showed up about 5:30.  The hostesses were tied up in their paperwork and could hardly get to the customers.  I announced that we would move our 7 p.m. seating to 6 p.m., and a very snippy gal said, “We can accommodate you.”  I asked to be seated: “We don’t open til 6.  You can sit in the bar.”  No drink was forthcoming, though the staff was around.  Nonetheless, the other young lady who eventually showed us to our seat was entirely gracious, and managed to put us near the windows, the snippet having previously assigned us to darkness for no good reason. 

The restaurant is still not comfortable or very well decorated.  But if you go early and get yourself to a banquette by the window, you can achieve tranquility.  There looks to be a handsome church—now perhaps a condominium or something—across the street.  On its steps sundry denizens share a bottle of wine, with a dog to keep them company.  The trees and the early evening light make for prettiness.  Finally making his way to our table,  a relatively charming waiter named Eddy radiates a little friendliness.  At least in the early hours, the clientele was polished, polite, well-appointed—no garish clothing, no loud sounds. 

We had a trio of pates up front and then a mixed fish dish (halibut and salmon) and found it all, particularly the fish, quite good.  Our companion, just off a plane from New York, found his food passably good, but not good enough for a third visit.  He complains that the bread with his appetizer was soggy or doughy.  The wine list will not move you, but there was one okay beer on the menu and a couple of interesting single malts for an after dinner.  Gordon Hammersley was out doing a demo somewhere.  His wife, we understand, does the business stuff, and does not appear at the restaurant too much.  Hamersley’s.  553  Tremont Street.  Boston, MA 02116.  Telephone: 617.423.2700.  Website: www.hamersleysbistro.
.  (7/13/05)  For original entry in Best of Class, click here.

Summer Shack
We went once to Jasper’s in Boston, had a respectable meal, enjoyed our brief conversation with the hefty chef-owner, and never went back.  Opened in 1983, it was another good Boston B restaurant that the locals waxed too purple over, since they really did not have an excess of fine places or fine palates to raise the bar.  With a few exceptions, Boston restaurants are like Boston hotels: much raved over, but not quite up to the mark.  Ritz Carltons in other cities are much more comfortable than Boston’s, although its downstairs café has character and it is the hotel where we like to have a business breakfast, free of the fat cats than frequent the Four Seasons. 

Jasper White’s Summer Shack is another matter.  It has picnic informality and diverse fairly simple fare, actually well cooked, that is actually in tune with the palate of the citizens.  We say this even though ratings from the locals range from extraordinary to poor.  Last time out we went for Jasper’s pan roasted lobster, which is very ample, and which is nestled in a light sauce that serves to keep the meat juicy, but in no way overshadows the flavor of the lobster.  There are 4 locations, 3 around Boston, and one in Connecticut; heavy with fish, they sort of update, liven, and improve on Boston’s middling, dependable chain called Legal Seafoods.  We thought the desserts were neither here nor there, but you don’t really need them, after you have had raw appetizers and your main dish. 

A number of chefs around the nation are getting into informal restaurants of one sort or another, which turn out to be more relaxed and better tasting than the original high falutin dives where the chefs get started.  To boot, of course, they make more money in casual dining than they do in the haute scene.  What they are proving is that they have a feel for the casual dining segment, too long dominated by the Red Lobsters, Outbacks, and other plastic dives which sport a pretty good price tag but don’t give solid food value.  The casual dining chains generally offer much better service than local eateries, but their food is always lacking.  In truth the majority of these new chefs has neither the background nor the cultural training to open and sustain 4 star restaurants, but can do very well at middle brow.  The Summer Shacks have good, long hours on virtually every day of the week.  See for detail on Boston, Cambridge, Mohegan Sun, and Logan locations.  (4/19/06)

This one’s been around since 1998.  Wonder why we have never gotten around to it. Well, the high point we think is that the staff is polite, and we suspect the owners are nice.  Our waiter was French and had a certain grace about him.  At our request the maitre took care to get us to a fairly quiet table on the side, important since the place is a little frantic with buzz.  A bus boy who mistakenly filled our Hendrick’s Gin Gibson with tap water did report his mistake to the waiter, and a new drink arrived fairly quickly at the table.  One of our guests nicely commented that the owners contributed services and vittles to a charity fundraising dinner, qualifying Radius as one of President Bush’s (George the Elder) thousand points of light. 

The proprietors make a great deal out of their team approach to restauranting.  We think this has secured them a certain joie de vivre amongst the staff, but a few hits and misses on the bottom line.  Rowes Wharf, by far Boston’s most pleasant restaurant before it died, also had a groupie approach, with a similar result.  “Their Specialty?  Teamwork” rhapsodizes about this consultative style.  “The Radius kitchen is made up of stations: the meat station, the fish station, the garde-manger station, the pastry station.  Two people work at each station, and they have full responsibility for their part of the meal.  In other words, the team at the meat station not only cooks the meat but also butchers it and seasons it—a sharp departure from the standard procedure at most restaurants.”  “Radius has also developed a series of meetings in which both the spirit and the practice of teamwork get reinforced.”  Boston is full of very theoretical management education firms, and it’s not surprising that theory has crept so fully into the kitchen.

We had cod, which was tasty if not ample.  We found ourselves wanting to give it a little more panache.  Radius seems like a place to see and be seen for the aspiring, but we don’t find any of the warmth and intimacy that is hinted at on the restaurant website.  We distinctly remember that it was a very long day’s journey into night to reach the restroom, and along the way we had to plough through some sort of cocktail private affair in the basement.  By the way, many of the bathrooms in Boston’s fancier dives are elusive.  We will return at some point and see if there is some sort of quiet hideaway here not immediately evident in which to enjoy a small bite.

This is a restaurant with so many cooks and so many actors that it makes lots of little harmless mistakes that are amusing more than anything.  A Fast Company article is referenced on the website, but the link leads you to a foodie magazine instead.  A Boston Globe reviewer has a giggle over receiving the wrong bill:

The dinner at Radius was exquisite and the service exemplary.  We were content.  As the weeknight crowd thinned in the dining room and we sipped the last of our coffee, a companion looked over the bill, his eyebrows raised.  "Can this be right?" he asked, passing the check over to me.  It read $1,300 and some change.  With some entrees climbing above $40 and a wine list that offers only a couple of bottles under $50, Radius would never be mistaken for casual, budget-priced dining.  Still, the amount seemed stratospheric.  Had we spent that much?

The first item in a long list of beverage orders caught my eye.  Diet Coke.  We would never have ordered that.  After discussion with our waitress, the matter was remedied; and a more reasonable bill was exchanged for the one meant for another table.

Yes, this is a backhanded way of telling you that the restaurant is overpriced, but at least you are contributing to the health and welfare of what appear to be nice people.  Yes, here, as everywhere else in town, there are so-called tasting menus.  Radius.  8 High Street. Boston, MA 02110. 617-426-1234.  Website:  (5/30/07)


Harvest Restaurant
We had not eaten at the Harvest Restaurant for years and figured that it had probably fallen down a notch or two , to quote Emeril.  But a two months back we ate there twice and would claim that it’s still as good as it gets around Harvard Square.  You just have to be demanding: the service can be patchy, many of the tables are very noisy, and certain of the food does not deserve the high-end price tags applied to it.  It’s a high B or even low A restaurant as long as you are picky. 

First of all, eat in the bar area where the lighting is better (for reading a journal) and the clatter is much less.   We would suggest eating a couple of appetizers and skipping the entres—perhaps the bay scallops and then either the rabbit or the chicken livers.  Then go on to have a dessert which will not be fabulous but much more than passable.  If you are in this area of town, you will notice that there’s a lot of flotsam and jetsam all about you, even in the hotels.  While all the staff, up front and in the back, could certainly use more training, the Harvest does help you escape the seediness and fast foodery littering these streets.  Harvest.  44 Brattle Street. Harvard Square, Cambridge, MA 02138.  Telephone: 617-868-2255.  Website:  Understand that the Harvest is part of a  restaurant group, including Grill 23—which we don’t really like—and the Excelsior (  When wannabe fine restaurants are part of a chain, details fall through the cracks, excellence proves terribly elusive, and the quality is not quite commensurate with the price.  Part of your excessive check is for general managers, pr people, and glistening websites.  (1/26/05)

Hidden Italian
We have yet to have a bad meal at Trattoria Pulcinella.  It’s small.  That means nicely intimate, and it’s on a side street fairly well away from any hubbub.  The trick is to eat early, preferably while there’s still a touch of daylight, with a view to leaving when it fills up and you feel you are at the knee-to-knee stage with other customers.  The wait staff is very pleasant, and the servers aren’t implicitly bragging that they are up to better things in their “real daytime lives.”  Some claim the cuisine is Tuscan; we find that the cook experiments a bit, and so new surprises make their way onto the menu.  One night we found a wine we liked so much that we peeled the label off the bottle so that we could put in an order to our wine merchant.  Trattoria Pulcinella.  147 Huron Avenue  Cambridge, MA 02138-1367.  Telephone: 617-491-6336.  Website:  (1/26/05)

Some Dishes

Update:  We continue to visit Pulcinella.  But we have failed to tempt you with its dishes.  For pasta you might try wild board with Ricotta-honey crostini or baby octopus in tomato sauce with cannellini beans.  Your small pasta dish could be soft corn meal with sausage ragu or flat noodles with scallops, garlic, anchovies, and broccoli.  Why not linguine with shellfish, squid, and shrimp as a main dish? Or bone-in rabbit? Or pork chop milanese?  We’ve had memorable wines here, too, such that one of our guests peeled the label off a bottle in order to get a full case from his retailer. (03-17-10)


Boston’s New Winners
Most internet dining guides throw in every restaurant within 10 miles, all in hopes of drumming up some advertising.  So it’s darn hard, in Boston and elsewhere, to separate the wheat from the chaff, even if you consult a supposed quality guide like Zagat.  But Sally’s Guide does turn up a list of the good ones for Boston—and for a few other places.

In particular, writer Elaine Sosa has enumerated a number of the right ones.  There are, of course, a few that should not be there, and a host that are missing, such as The Butcher Shop.  The article is a little dated.   That said, if you’re traveling to Boston, you should consult her article.  Sally’s Dining Directory has its ups and downs, but it’s worth a try when you are heading to a city that’s new to you.  (11/22/06)

New Shanghai Restaurant
To insure social, political, and economic stability, the problem for retailing and for the community and for the nation is to put the locale back in any one locality.  Everybody has to be from somewhere, or we become a nation and world of rootless people.  That’s the very subject we addressed in “Being There.”  And occasionally you find a haberdasher here or a restaurateur there who’s neither chic nor cheap that offers value and a sense of place at the same time.  We thought of that most recently when we were eating  at the New Shanghai Restaurant in Boston (21 Hudson Street, 617-338-6688) where the fish offered more variety and terroir than the high-powered dives frequented by Boston affluents.  It is a success because it is of the place.  In the same manner, the stunning window displays in the great stores of Paris add a dimension and value to retailing that Wal-Low will never capture.  Global, cookie cutter retailers never have and never will capture the sense of time and place that an inspired local merchant can bring to the retail experience.

Sel De La Terre
Not a bad name for this restaurant.  Salt of the Earth.  Down to Earth.  It’s  way down  State Street, conveniently below the Financial District, away from the madding crowd.  It’s quiet, even a bit empty, with good food and very warm service.  First and foremost, you will be stop here because of the ambience. You will not be harassed by buzz or by waiters telling you how wonderful the food is and reciting from memory useless things they remember about  the menu.  The light is subdued: We eat in the bar area but you may prefer to be closer to the windows.  It’s Provencal or regional French, if you like, with enough variety to satisfy most tastes.  It is a decently priced cousin of L’Espalier, where you will leave a lot of Euros on the table.  Incidentally, peruse the Espalier website for some recipes (, which will give you some great ideas for your own cooking and drive you to Sel De La Terre for simpler fare.  We found a Northwestern Pinot Noir very worth drinking, even if the tab per glass is a few bucks more than it should be.  We favor seafood, both for starters and main course.  Sel De La Terre.  255 State Street, Boston, MA.  Telephone: 617-720-1300.  Website:  www.

An Escape from Boston's Financial District
Just off Washington Street, Mantra is truly a good way to get away from the world’s  testy financial markets and the controlled frenzy in Boston’s Financial District.  It renders this service much more ably than the many hotels in the area, which are a bit tattered these days.  You even have to be looking for the door, because you may skip right past it, as you turn up Temple Place.  Should you be with a friend, pick something mildly vegetarian and mix it, say, with a sirloin dish which will be delicately cooked.  Many praise a décor which is not really that great:  the room is really more of a cavern that has been lightly redecorated.  We understand the place was once Old Colony Trust Bank, and we can imagine that it was once useful for hiding assets.  Often, at lunch, the tables are quite empty, and you surely won’t see a lot of suits with steel rim glasses around.  Our luncheon companion had visited Mantra on her anniversary, and its atmosphere drew her back again.  The service is quick, quiet, and able, and the dishes are just enough to quiet your hunger and not add to your waistline.  Claiming to be Indian-French cuisine, it is not over-spiced but offers a fair number of flavors that have not been overwhelmed by a curry or any other concoction.  Chef Thomas John has gotten his share of write-ups inside and outside Boston.  Mantra.  52 Temple Place. Boston, Mass. 02108.  Telephone: (617) 542-8111.  Don’t bother with the website (; it is another complicated, overdone clunker.

Comfortable Margo
We liked the modesty of this enterprise.  It is not pretending to be more than it is. Restraint and simplicity are the better way to go when you are in the Massachusetts Bay Colony:  this has been true forever.  Sure there is an attempt to cook with a little style, so you won’t be bored.  This pleasant restaurant is located in the back of the Harborside Inn where you can have a quiet meal without a lot of hoopla.  There are a host of overpriced productions in Boston now where you pay too big a tariff, the lighting is wrong, and the food simply does not live up to the florid praise accorded by local scribblers.  Our waiter here was helpful, direct, cheerful—lo and behold, he turned out to be the bartender as well in this newish eatery that is trying to watch its expenses.  So this is a nice antidote for your spirits if you are mildly depressed after visiting a host of other Beantown restaurants that are overhyped yet tasteless.  It serves both a simple lunch and a  acceptably more complex supper.  We guess you could call it sensible new cuisinish.  Margo.  185 State Street. Boston, Massachusetts 02109.  Telephone:  (617) 670-2033.  Website:



Au Pied de Cochon
“Martin Picard may be one of Canada’s most famous and respected chefs, but his name does not appear on the cover of his new cookbook Au Pied de Cochon-The Album. Chef at the Montreal restaurant of the same name, he published the book himself.  Tom Tassel, a waiter, did the illustrations.  One illustration, a pig that hobbles around with a missing foot, sips a glass of wine, “falls in love with a roasted Guinea hen, sucks sap out of a maple tree,” and “loses consciousness under a nun’s habit.”  The book comes with DVD. Anthony Bourdain does the introduction for the English version.  The restaurant website itself is lots of fun, and it tells you how to come by the book.  The Australian has done an interesting quickie guide to some of Canada’s interesting restaurants, to include Picard’s.  (1/24/07)


Best Barbecue in Dallas
It's not as easy as you think.  All the well known places and all the chains are quite greasy.  The one that's great is Sammy's at 2126 Leonard Street, Tel: 214-880-9064, in the shadow of the Federal Reserve and the Crescent Hotel.  Otherwise, you have to drive about 30 miles north of Dallas.



Killer Mockingbird
We did not ask the owners why they named it Mockingbird Bistro, although we think of Mockingbird as a Dallas-type name (  But this is one of several just out-of-the-way eateries we have found around Houston in pleasant surroundings.  We had  tuna and our colleague had salmon, as we remember.  Before, we shared a starter of mussels.  Both were quite delicious.  The help was massively attentive, and we found ourselves in a nice crowd.  Bottom line: pleasant atmosphere with an-edge- of-River-Oaks feel.  Good entrees.  One might slide by some of the other items.  Our Gibsons were simply not right: the glass was too small, the ice piteous, the over-sized cocktail onions sour tasting.  The desserts, across the board, are not worth the effort.  They simply put on weight but don’t measure up.  We tried, on the side, some of the cinnamon ice cream, since we happen to be studying it lately; it lacked flavor and suggests the house needs to learn more about the handling of spices.  All that said, we will be returning.  Mockingbird Bistro.  1985 Welch at McDuffie, Houston, TX 77019.  Telephone: 713-533-0200.  (9/14/05)

Flight-Ready Barbeque
We strongly suspect our partner would eat barbecue at every mail if given half a chance.  At any rate, he asked our driver, on the way to the airport, where one does the barb in Houston.  As it turns out, there is a very genuine affair right near Hobby, so we were able to load up with giant cokes and all the rest on the way to our plane.  He had pork, but we went for beef, since that’s what Houston is all about.  The Central is listed on the following website, and it has a host of other joints around the state for you to peruse when you are at loose ends:  After all these years of feasting on the cue, we still cannot decide whether we are pork or beef people, and which style of which we like best.   When having pork, we can suggest that you have to look out for very lean cooking: most of the renowned barbecue places are far too fatty.  Central Texas Bar-B-Q.  8101 Airport Boulevard, Houston, Texas 77061 behind Jack in the Box).  Telephone: 713-641-3360.  Open 10 a.m. - 3 p.m.  (9/28/05)


Doca Peixe

This must be one of Lisbon’s greatest treats.  Very fresh fish.  Copiously attentive service. But a relaxed atmosphere right on the river, away from the sometimes choked streets in the heart of town.  Frommer’s, the New York Times, and all the rest have sung its praises:  for a change they have got it right.  You can pick your fish when you come in the door.  A table upstairs, near the window, gives you a wonderful view. You might have John Dory (Peixe Galo) or razor clams, or clams bulhão pato.  The roe from your fish will be served as a side dish, affording yet another unusual flavor.  Recently we liked Piexe so much that we ate their twice in the same week.  Doca.Peixe.  Doca de Sto. Amaro Amazém 14, Alcantara 1350—353. Lisboa Tel-213-973-565. (04-07-10)



In fact, we had long been eating at Otto Lenghi before we tried it in London.  For it has produced a first class cookbook--Ottolenghi: The Cookbook.  It’s both fun to look at and a guide to some very good cooking. We must have had 12 dishes at the location in Islington which is where you should go to be assured of a seat. By the way, it also does breakfast.  You will find its recipes to be strikingly original, even pushing the envelope, but all easy to handle.  We remember best somehow a piece of tuna artfully done and amounting to super sushi.  Here and there in London, there are a rush of new restaurants that are truly edgy, the kitchen usually staffed by bright stars from outside the United Kingdom.  Ottolenghi Islington.  287 Upper Street. London N1 1TZ. Tel:  020 7288 1454  (04-07-10)


Maine’s Midcoast Eateries (Hugo’s, Primo, Francine’s)
These are good restaurants, but we recommend against all 3 of these highly acclaimed eateries. Each tries a degree of complication that is unnecessary, their furnishings and seating are a little tortured, and the prices are unmerited.  The best of the three is Primo in Rockland which we understand has had its ups and downs, but it apparently it is on the way up again.  All three take unconscionably long to get food on the table. 

The phenomenon we are describing here is happening a lot in America’s regions. The upside is that young chefs, tutored elsewhere, but none of them masters, can become minor sensations at the edge of the map. Sometimes they attempt less pretentious restaurants somewhere in town, such as Duck Fat in Portland, just down the street really from Hugo, which fit local budgets and also fit the real skills of the chefs involved.  Unfortunately, too, the cooking magazines have hyped such places, and it has gone to everybody’s head—customers and proprietors and local newspapers alike.  In Maine, their prices and hype are inflated yet again by summer desperation:  the Maine shore must make its money in a few short months, and so it has become an astute practitioner of the golden fleece.

Every day a new piece of puffery rears its head. The latest, “In Portland’s Restaurants, A Down East Banquet,” New York Times, September 16, 2009. Mentioned are 158 Pickett St. Café,  Evangeline, Bresca, Miyake, Paciarino, Bar Lola, Cinque Terre, Vignola, etc..  So we still have a lot of eating to do.  We have particularly heard good things about Miyake. For the truly compulsive, we can recommend Portland Food Coma and Portland Food Map as guides to make sure you are not missing some significant hole in the wall. Food and Wine recently has sung the praises of Caiolas in the West End.

Hugo’s  pushes very small dishes at you that have high tariffs.  Our aggressive waitress tried to get us to have 5 apiece.  We did 2 or 3 instead.  Everything turns out all right, and it is a bit fun to have chicken liver, or tripe, or sweetbreads, but not worth all the commotion of a return visit. Evans owns Duckfat down the street where we had better service, a nicer atmosphere, food worth what you paid for it, etc. Hugo’s. 88 Middle Street.  Portland, Maine. 207-774-8538.  In general, one will find other spots around Portland unnoted by the national press which offer better food, service, and atmosphere.  For instance, try a Sunday brunch at 555 where the service is, in fact, excellent. Or try some of the places we’ve mentioned above.

Primo’s in Rockland handles a big crowd and has a surprisingly large kitchen.  You will probably leave $200-300 on the table.  Though its website does not represent its fare very well, several of our party had at least one successful dish.  For instance, we had a handsome octopus starter.  The kitchen did not stint on portions:  no false economies here. Notice that chef/owner Kelly now has restaurants in both Florida and Arizona, so attention has wandered a bit. The old manse housing the restaurant is modestly charming, but there’s a sardine effect since too many tables abut each other. We notice that it’s worth trying to get into a room with less seats, where the ambience and decorum are a bit better. Goodness knows why the owners called it Primo’s, since that makes it sound like a 1950’s restaurant in Yonkers where every dish is replete with tomato sauce. We remember that most of the fish seemed to turn out, though some lobster or crustacean was less than it should be Primo’s. 2 South Main Street, Rockland, Maine.  1-207-596-0770

Francine’s.  Francine Bistro’s best feature is its website:  its lively and fun.  Things are rather animated inside the restaurant, but it mainly adds up to noise, so one wants to get a table off to the right where a diner can have 6 degrees of separation from the slurry of drinkers in the main area.  As we remember, we had lobster here, and it was quite pedestrian.  What you find in Maine is that the best lobster you have is the one you cook for yourself, or eat at some modest low end places that usually tend to be right on the water.  If you are in Camden, for instance, it’s worth a drive to South Thomaston to eat at water’s edge at Waterman’s.  The brother catches the lobster, so you can see the traps sitting not far from you.  And the sister runs the restaurant. Francine’s.   55 Chestnut Street. Camden, Maine. 207-230-0083.  (09-30-09)


Best Lunch in the Fez MedinaMorocco
We loved Restaurant Asmae.  As we collapsed into soft brocade cushions in a tented alcove and gazed up at the beautifully painted ceiling hung with antique lanterns, our waiter arranged before us sixteen plates of delicious Moroccan salads, a virtual lexicon of these room temperature appetizers, including zucchini with honey and a superb harissa (hot sauce).  These were followed by a savory vegetable cous-cous, and our favorite Moroccan dessert, oranges macerated in sugar with cinnamon and mint.  By now we were reeling, but were still able to enjoy a post prandial conversation with the sleepy-eyed owner: "America.  Everybody works, everybody is busy.   Busy...busy...busy...."  Contact: Restaurant Asmae, 4 Derb Jeniara, Fez Medina.  Telephone: 55-741-210.  Fax: 55-633-624.

Best Pizza Restaurant in FezMorocco
One evening we hopped into a petit taxi and went to the popular Chez Vittorio where we discovered a less traditional side of Fez.  Here the small tables were packed with well-to-do Fassi families who live in the villas and apartments of the Ville Nouvelle.  Unlike the medina where many, if not most, men and women wear traditional djellabas on the street, the men were attired in business suits, the women in chic slacks and jackets, with lots of gold jewelry and usually with two or three adorable children in tow.  The tasty, thin-crusted pizzas Margarita, slightly charred around the edges, are the big sellers here, as is the chocolate mousse.  Contact: Chez Vittorio, 21 Rue Brahim-Redani, Fez.  Telephone: 55-62-47-30.


Sunset Grill
We were impressed with the good manners, the fun and liveliness, and some of the fare of the Sunset Grill.  It’s at the edge of Vanderbilt University and probably reflects the strengths and weaknesses of that institution.  If you pick carefully, you will win.  We had a rabbit and morel pot pie, as we remember, and a beef tamale: they were delicious.  Our companion had a pasta dish and something else, both of which were very much less successful.  The desserts were overworked.  Service was slow, but very mannerly: everybody at this restaurant was very nice, and that was a winsome characteristic.  We would eat here again, but you have to know what you are up to and to press for things to get to the table.  This restaurant has spawned a couple of children, Cabanas and Midtown Café, both of which need some attention, but are still good choices in a town that does not have a lot of options.  Sunset Grill. 2001 Belcourt Avenue, Nashville, Tennessee 37212.  Telephone: 866-496-Food. Website:  The wine and beer menu, though extensive, needs to further thought.  But there is a little bit of imagination in the place; it’s fun to sit out in the sidewalk glass room, though avoid a table in the middle aisle. The entrepreneur owner has smartly tied himself into the hotels in town, so this will be frequently recommended by desk personnel.  On another outing, we would be tempted to try the Portuguese shellfish cassoulet, the sorghum roasted pork tenderloin, and maybe the breakfast burrito. (8/2/06)

New Orleans

Best Friday Afternoon Lunch in New Orleans
Friday lunch at Galatoire's: Lots of locals--business folks, lawyers and uptown ladies--make a leisurely afternoon of it.  The place really bubbles.  The last two times we were there, we ran into Francis Ford Coppola, and he doesn't even live in New Orleans.  It's common to end up chatting with folks at nearby tables, who often offer suggestions as to what to order while trying to figure out who you are.  The noise builds as the cocktails flow and business talk seems the exception rather than the rule.

Many of the waiters, attired in tuxes, have been at Galatoire's for years and many speak French.  (Several very competent female waiters have been added in recent times.)  Regular customers are asked at the door if they desire a particular waiter.  The food is pretty much the same as they served up fifty years ago, with a strong emphasis on local seafood, particularly crab, which comes in many varieties.  Ask the waiter to explain the differences, and then be sure that someone orders the one with the eggplant.  Or try one of the most popular dishes, the trout meuniere.  The wine list is good and well-varied in price.  Have a white Burgundy to help wash down the wonderful loaves of hot crispy-crusted French bread that are brought to your table when you arrive and again throughout your dinner.

A recent renovation left the main downstairs dining room almost exactly as it was previously, although an elevator which takes you to an attractive bar and more upstairs dining rooms has been added.  You no longer have to wait on the street, an old Galatoire's tradition that, rumor has it, even a President once succumbed to.  And they now take reservations, though not for the main dining room, where the regulars eat (unlike Antoine's, another classic New Orleans' restaurant, where the main dining room is left for unknowing tourists.)  Galatoire's is on Bourbon Street, a block-and-a-half from the Canal.  It's a pretty seedy section of the French Quarter (though reasonably safe), but when you enter the doors, you enter a New Orleans that hasn't changed in fifty years.  Contact: Galatoire's, 209 Bourbon Street, New Orleans, LA.  Telephone: (504) 525-2021.

NOTE: This entry comes from Blake Ives, multi-faceted Professor of Information Systems at both Tulane University and Louisiana State University.  See his website:

Most Elegantly Dilapidated Watering Hole
Connoisseurs of romantic ruins must experience frissons of delight just wandering the narrow streets of the French Quarter.  Lacy wood trim sags on faded Creole cottages, ferns grow out of mossy crevices in crumbling brick walls, and rusty gates conceal malodorous passages to mysterious destinations. There is no more elegantly dilapidated bar, to our way of thinking, than Napoleon House on the corner of Chartres and St. Louis Streets.  Built in 1814 for Mayor Nicolas Girod, the house was reputedly offered to the exiled Napoleon, but the little emperor never made it to these shores.  Nearly two centuries later, the ruined plaster walls, ranging in color from deep gold to the rich brown of a good roux, are mottled and spotted with damp.  Ceiling fans turn lazily overhead and world-weary waiters take orders with “seen-it-all” aplomb, as classical music wafts through the cool, dim interior.  A marble bust of Napoleon gazes sternly down from his perch on the cash register. Pimm’s cup is said to be the drink of choice here, but we observed a local gentleman in a summer straw chapeau, grey beard neatly trimmed, enjoying a  champagne cocktail.  Graham Greene would approve.  Napoleon House, 500 Chartres Street, New Orleans.  Telephone:  504-524-9752.  

Most Romantic Restaurant in a Creole Cottage
The heart quickens slightly just stepping through the iron gates.  A short stroll and you arrive at the hidden side entrance of Susan Spicer’s restaurant, Bayona, located in one of the prettiest Creole cottages in the French Quarter.  Whether you sit in the rosy glow of the deep pink terracotta dining room, where everyone looks glamorous, or outside in the tropical patio, where a Romanesque fountain trickles amongst dramatically uplit palms and banana trees, Bayona is still as lovely as it was when we first discovered it over a decade ago.  We tucked into whisper-light crawfish beignets drizzled with remoulade sauce, then segued to wonderfully plump, sautéed shrimp served on a bed of fragrant basmati rice with ginger and tomato, and a seared chicken breast with crisp, salty skin over farfalle with earthy wild mushrooms. Desserts were luscious, with a slightly provocative edge.  A warm chocolate crème brulee had smokey undertones of Earl Grey tea, while a lemon meringue tart offered a surprising double play: a cloudlike meringue hovering over the rich citrus filling and a thin, crunchy wedge of cardomom-scented meringue.  Bliss.  Contact:  Bayona, 430 Dauphine Street, New Orleans.  Telephone: 504-525-4455.  Website:

Best Pralines in New Orleans
Choosing the most delicious pralines could be a treacherous endeavor.  But we took the plunge.  We sampled New Orleans’ best-known confection at a number of shops, but when we entered Southern Candymakers, we were nearly knocked off our feet by the heady aroma of caramelizing sugar, butter and cream. At one end of the shop, sugary pecans were being turned out on a cool marble slab; at the long counter, ladies were tempting customers with samples of  just-made candy, still slightly warm.  Pralines in flavors such as coconut and chocolate were tantalizingly displayed in the cases, along with almond toffee and cashew tortues, but being purists, we stocked up on the “original creamy” pecan praline.  Like certain wines, pralines don’t travel well, so naturally we were forced to eat them all right away. Contact: Southern Candymakers, 334 Decatur Street, New Orleans.  Telephone: 504-523-5544 or 800-344-9773.  Website:

Best Spot in New Orleans to Watch the World Go By
Since the 1860’s, the Cafe du Monde, situated near the Mississippi across from Jackson Square, has been the place to see and be seen.  Yes, it’s full of tourists, but we sat next to a local gallery owner reading the Times Picayune  over a cafe au lait one afternoon when all the world, it seemed, was streaming through its airy portals.  Our favorite time to go there is late at night or early in the morning, when a little fog is still hanging over the river and the tables are half empty.  The beignets are not as light they once were, but the chickory-laced coffee is strong and the people-watching endlessly intriguing.  In the space of a few minutes, a refugee from an Anne Rice novel, wearing leather corset, purple lipstick and black platform boots, strode by; a lone jazz trumpeter serenaded a tiny Chinese girl with the Barney theme song; and a flock of nuns devoured one order of beignets after another, powdered sugar sprinkling their black habits like a dusting of snow.  Cafe du Monde, 800 Decatur Street, New Orleans.  Telephone: 504-525-4544.  Website:


New York

New York's Best Japanese Restaurant
In the shadows of the Waldorf Astoria and Citibank, RESTAURANT NIPPON embraces tradition and the future, becoming the first restaurant--legally--to feature fugu in the United States.  One guest, who loved crab, said he had never had softshell crab anywhere that matched the preparation here.  One Japanese heart attack victim had his food catered from here and sent over to Bellvue while he was in recovery at New York's most famous hospital.  155 E. 52nd St., New York, NY 10022.  Telephone: 212-758-0226.

Nicola Paone
Nicola Paone.  There’s a restaurant on 34th Street—Nicola Paone—that’s not on the lips of America, but it has a certain following.  It was the creation of an Italian troubadour of the same name (i.e., the eponym) and of uncertain talents who once wrote a song about Caesar  salad—some 17 verses long.  William Buckley, the father of the New Right and of rampant polarization in America, deems it his favorite, saying:

I can name my favorite restaurant as glibly as I can name my favorite wife, country, religion, and journal of opinion.  It is (I should like to say, “of course,” but Paone’s is not widely known) Nicola Paone; its address is 207 East 34th Street New York, and I suppose I have eaten there a hundred times in the last 10 years, which would certainly account for my being Paone’s favorite customer; but, believe me, in this courtship, I was the suitor.

The food, incidentally, is far from distinguished, but good, sensitive taste has never motivated any ideologue.  We’ve not been there for years, but when we did visit, it had a wonderful atmosphere, generating perfect comity and unforced good cheer among all those in our luncheon party.

The trick there we always thought was the endgame.  The dessert cart was very ample, and it was a sin to exit the restaurant without taking on some creamy delectable that added immeasurably to one’s midriff.  Then too, at the finish, the maitre Franco Alfonso or maybe the waiter presented the check with delicacy and a warm smile.  You felt like paying the bill and, by then, did not even remember what you had eaten.  It was simply a fine experience.

We hope it’s the same.  A well-mannered, well-dressed clientele that did not feel it had to shout to be understood.  Decorousness.  Nicola Paone, 207 E. 34th St. New York , NY 10016.  Telephone: (212) 889-3239.  (11/1/06)

We recently turned to San Pellegrino’s list of 50 best restaurants, only to discover that La Grenouille in New York city is not included.  We should not be surprised: the list is defective in many regards and certainly does not include many of the best but does list many that should be eliminated.  Nor, for that matter, is San Pellegrino the world’s best fizzy water.

La Grenouille provides instant relief from New York City.  It is attractive, there are always gorgeous flowers in attendance, you are not chockablock up against other patrons, the food is pleasing but not chefstar instrusive, and the service is instant and comfortable sporting waiters who don’t bring their problems to your table.

Most recently Graydon Carter’s Vanity Fair has given it a lovely write-up, capturing some of its appeal.  Carter is now a pretend restauranteur, having taken over the Waverly Inn downtown, which has become a spot where all the petite celebrities want to be seen.  “An Immovable Feast” nicely states the obvious: La Grenouille goes on while all the other grande dame French restaurants in New York City have melted away. With all of that, one should know that it only dates back to 1962.  Before that a bevy of restaurants had occupied the space.  “In 1942, the downstairs space was occupied by a restaurant named La Vie Parisienne; Edith Piaf sang there once.  Eleven more restaurants and nightclubs would try the space, ending with the Copenhagen, whose kitchen fire concluded their tenure, leaving the building free for its rightful occupants to find it.”

“Every president since Kennedy has come, except for George W. Bush.  Both Charles Masson the father and Charles Masson the son were ardent Democrats—in fact, when President Nixon came for dinner, the teenage Charles Masson refused to come to the restaurant and shake his hand.  (Giselle, who was a Republican until George W. Bush, was furious with her son.)”  “There are now eight tall vases throughout the room, along with the little vases for the tables. (The flower budget for 2007 was $200,000.  That price is for the flowers alone.  Charles goes every Monday to the Flower District, picks out what he needs, and arranges them himself.  If a florist were to do this the cost would be quadrupled).”  Christine Ebersole, an entertainer of increasing note, has regaled us with tales of her special visit to La Grenouille with Dina Merrill. As it turns out she had a spirited conversation with Bill Donaldson, former SEC chairman and one of the founders of the investment banking house DLJ.  It seems that a few of the powerful do dine there, not to be seen, but to relax and converse.  La Grenouille, 3 East 52nd Street, New York, New York 10022.  212-752-1495.  (11/19/08)

Danube is a remove or two from both the Hudson and East Rivers.  David Bouley, owner and chef, has long provided some of New York’s better food at his downtown locations.  (See  If anything, we liked this better than his original Bouley, maybe because we found a few more surprises on the menu (vaguely Austrian but not without sashimi should you want it), possibly because we were taken with the grand décor which marvelously fills the gap opened by the disappearance of beautiful hotel dining in New York, and certainly because the space is so ample that you are not bumping elbows with other diners.  It invites one to linger.  Here, even the ladies had desserts, escaping, if only for a couple of hours, the health strictures of the obesity directorate.  Bouley, who plans to open a cooking school and other things in Tribeca, is avoiding the temptation of spreading himself too thin, like other superchefs such as Emeril Legasse and Jean-Georges Vongerichten.    (See  Danube. 30 Hudson St,   New York 10013 (between Duane and Reade Sts). 212-791-3771.


Da Silvano

For years everybody who can taste has made tracks to Da Silvano, on Sixth Avenue just below Bleecker.  Mimi Sheraton, then of the Times, raved about its offerings in 2002:  “The owner, Silvano Marchetto, makes sure that the simple Tuscan fare is perfectly rendered in standout dishes such as the chickpea appetizer fired with black pepper, the bread-and-tomato salad panzanella, and every pasta, in particular the meat-sauced penne strascicate. The Livornese fish stew cacciucco is convincing despite an overly dense tomato broth, but the real set piece on the menu is the massive grilled rib-eye steak for two (or maybe three). That—along with rosemary-brushed roasted potatoes and the best panna cotta in town—is my idea of simple perfection.”  In fact, we don’t know why we have taken so long to sing Marchetto’s praises since we’ve been eating with him for 30 years.  We favor more challenging fare—kidneys and tripe and such—but every taste will find a compatible dish at his table.  More than once he has been eating at the next table, and he’s a fun guy.  Go a little bit latish for lunch—even 2 or so, so that you only have convivial non-rushed diners about you.  The Village still has decent espresso, and two or so houses are in easy reach.   Da Silvano.  260 6th Avenue. New York, New York 10014.  212-982-2343  (09-29-10)


Most Deceptively Simple Restaurant Menu—Craft, NY
The deceptively simple menu at Craft, Tom Colicchio’s newish 19th-Street eatery, is the perfect antidote to 25 years of bilious restaurant prose.  There are no overblown descriptions of ingredients or cooking methods.  Just words like “roasted” or “braised” and a list of the items prepared in that fashion:  Skate.  Red Snapper. Hanger Steak.  Red Cabbage.  Escarole.  And so forth.   Colicchio’s conceit is to take the finest, freshest seasonal ingredients and to cook them simply, but with superb finesse, in ways that bring their natural flavor to unexpected heights. Essentially, the diner designs his own meal, selecting courses and side dishes from nearly 5 dozen enticing possibilities.

The approach succeeds brilliantly.  At lunch on a wet afternoon, Roasted Dourade was fish at its most basic and its most sublime, the skin crisp and golden, the flesh delicate and moist, faintly redolent of lemon and thyme.  Tiny Quail were roasted to perfection, full of dark, intense flavor.  And there were wonderful vegetables: a tangle of pale green fennel bathed in lemon and olive oil; buttery roasted hen of the woods mushrooms; pale batons of sauteed salsify, the season’s most sought after vegetable. The dessert menu continues the conceit, but with more elaborate, even playful, results: we nearly inhaled our order of Doughnuts, six ethereal puffs of fried dough, each about the size of a silver dollar, three bittersweet chocolate, three dusted with cinnamon sugar, tethered to earth only by a drizzle of warm vanilla-scented chocolate sauce.  Pastry chef Karen DeMasco’s sophisticated riff on “PB & J”—grape jelly-flavored pate des fruits and chocolate-peanut butter truffles—was equally irresistible.

Architect Peter Bentel has designed a handsome space that echoes the deconstructivist menu, yet manages to be supremely warm and inviting.  Singular elements, such as an arcing wall of caramel leather, columns of burnished terracotta tiles, and banks of zingy Edison light bulbs, mysteriously work together to create a glowing space that cossets the diner.  Yes, we could almost live at Craft, especially with Chef Tom in the kitchen.  Next best might be his cookbook, Think Like a Chef, which reveals some, but not all, of Colicchio’s culinary secrets.  Contact: Craft, 43 East 19th Street, New York, NY 10003.  Telephone:  212-780-0880. Fax:  212-780-0580.  Website:

Addendum:  On a recent afternoon, returning to Craft, we and a Canadian visitor had a very long lunch including squid, braised lamb, and a raft of vegetables including Jerusalem artichokes. We found a couple of beers on the menu that we had not seen before, one from Japan and one from Australia.  We were only there 2 and ½ hours.  And that’s the point of this new comment:  you’ll want to stay a while.  We don’t know how the crowds are at night, but the count was low for our Wednesday lunch, and the atmosphere was memorable for its tranquility and courtesy.  The two of us had a large commodious table fairly near the bar, with ample space around us.  Enough light penetrated in from the street, but we were not overwhelmed by dazzling display or complicated lighting fixtures.  The conversation had breadth because it was not oppressed by fireworks in the restaurant.  Craft is more than a wonderful eatery:  it is a great place.  And, oh by the way, we much agree with several of our friends who claim that you could make a meal out of the vegetables alone and skip the entrée.

D’Artagnan Survives the Deathblow
D’Artagnan, the Fourth Musketeer, had to brave several dangers for king and France.  But D’Artagnan of New York and New Jersey also faced down a challenge that almost amounted to a deathblow.  Founded by two Columbia University classmates—Ariane Daguin of Gascony and George Faison of Houston—it is a purveyor of pates, specialty meats, and the like, today consisting of 85 employees and revenues in excess of $30 million.  Its midtown restaurant of the same name has attracted quite a following in its own right and features many of the products offered by the parent company.  But in December 1999 its owners received a call from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta which had traced an outbreak of listeria to D’Artagnan’s products.  Immediately they pulled $1 million of product from retailers’ shelves.  Temporarily they were out of the prepared-foods business, placing them at bankruptcy’s door.  But chefs and shops stuck with them, continuing to buy their rabbit, lamb, quail, etc.  Surely it can be said they survived because they acted quickly and responsibly on the product recall, enhancing their reputation, and because they had previously established such a good relationship with their clientele that their sales did not dry up completely. See Columbia, Fall 2002, pp. 49-51.  D’Artagnan, 152 East 46th Street, New York, NY 10017. Telephone:  (212) 687-0300.   Webiste:  280 Wilson Avenue, Newark, NJ 07205.  Telephone:  (800) 327-8246.

Apparently Mangia has been around forever, starting out as a sandwich shop in 1981 on 56th Street.  That said, we did not know about it.  But the other morning we had to visit several people at the Toy Building (soon, if you can believe it, to give up its location, perhaps to move to Dallas), and were at loose ends for breakfast.  It’s hard to find good breakfast locations in many parts of town.  Our recommender put us at Mangia on 23rd, where the service was polite and fast, and the coffee, fruit, and other delights were fresh, well-prepared, and properly priced.  The quarters are not fancy, but well designed, modern, well lighted, and comfortable.  Our delightful servers seemed to be young ladies from a variety of Eastern European nations.  The Mangia restaurants (there are several locations) go well into the evening, and they offer a good to-go menu with delivery to areas in reasonable proximity.  We have just had the breakfast, so we are looking forward to veal stew, a grilled tuna sandwich, perhaps some tuscan hummus.  Vaguely, we guess, the food is suppose to be Italian, but we think the owners hail from other parts of Europe. Mangia.  50 West 57th Street. New York 10019. 212-582-5882.  16 West 48th Street.  New York 10017.  212-754-7600.  22 West 23rd Street.  New York 10010.  212-647-0200.  40 Wall Street. New York 1005.  212-425-4040.  (3/9/05)

When a restaurant gets too glitzy with its website or its menu, it usually is a recipe for disaster. Not so with Lan. It’s website has far too many bells and whistles, but Lan turns out to be quite fine. This is a very companionable place with a delightful menu, though we will throw in one or two caveats. It’s down in Bowery territory, just above Cooper Union, etc. We waited quite a long time for service, and then finally some American waiters arrived at the table who did not know Japanese food—or what was going on. Then we got a Japanese waitress who knew what she was doing, and we had an exemplary experience. You will find the chawan-mushi that was missing from the menu of a distinguished Japanese uptown that used to have everything. The Black Cod was absolutely first rate: this has become an extraordinarily popular dish in urban places, but, if done right, you should have it every time. This was moist and mellow-so smooth it did not even quite seem like fish. For drinks, you can work your way through the shochu, the sweet potato and barley equally delightful. It pays additionally to be a little choosy about where you sit, as you can be pressed up against company that you would not care to know. One blog notes that the owner is affiliated with a meat supplier, all pointing to the fact that one should eventually get into the steaks and Japanese high-end beefs. Lan Japanese Restaurant, 56 3d Avenue (btw 10th and 11th), New York, New York 10003.  Telephone: 212-254-1959. Website: Understand that there are a lot of naysayers about this restaurant, but we find it to be excellent if you manage the details and select in a discriminatory way. (1/16/08)

Best Healthful Chinese Restaurant in New York
In Western culture, "food as medicine" is a novel concept that's suddenly getting more attention.  The Chinese, however, have long had a tradition of treating ailments with quasi-medicinal culinary preparations, often involving esoteric ingredients.  The Sweet-n-Tart Cafe in New York's Chinatown is one of the few restaurants in this country where one can sample tong shui--literally "sweet shops"--that are said to nourish and restore balance to the body.  The tiny, downstairs cafe is always crowded with people ordering dishes such as Doubled Boiled Pear with Almond (believed to be good for a cough or irritated throat) and Fresh Walnut Tong Shui, a rich, pleasantly sweet soup that is said to aid the kidneys and lungs.

For Westerners who are interested in trying tong shui, Sweet-n-Tart cafe has one major drawback: the staff speaks little English and is hard-pressed to describe--or prescribe--a particular dish or its benefits.  But the rest of the menu is prepared with a light hand--Shanghai-style dumplings are particularly delicious--and would satisfy almost any health-conscious diner.  The truly adventurous could always just point to the black viscous soup the grandmothers in the corner are slurping (Black Sesame Paste with "Sau Woo").  You may emerge reinvigorated--or not--but you will have had a memorable meal.  Sweet-n-Tart Cafe, 76 Mott Street, New York, New York 10013.  212-334-8088.

A Good Tudor City Joint
You don’t think of restaurants and Tudor City, or even of that many good restaurants right at mid-town.  But here’s one definitely worth your while if you can bear a sometimes loud crowd and a decorator restaurant that is mostly hype and not aesthetic.  The owners have used a name designer but somehow he did not get to show his best.  The bar seems like a den of iniquity, and the tables in the main room are slam up against each other.  So we heard more than we wanted of two inane conversations, one to either side of us.  But co-owner Scott Conant has cooked around, and the food is absolutely smashing.  We tried everything-fish, pasta, fowl:  everything was great, full of taste, often original, and ample.  It’s Italian, but as the late Craig Claiborne used to say, you really can get great Italian on these shores.  We did not do the cheeses, incidentally, since that seemed as if it were gilding the lily twice over, but the restaurant does make a great deal out of them.  The wait staff and maitres are quite pleasant and polite, if not skilled.  Putting the trappings aside, L’Impero is a solid food experience, especially if you have just come in from another city where the top-ranked restaurants are missing body and taste.  L’Impero.  45 Tudor City Place.  New York, New York.  Telephone:  (212) 599-5045.

We had thought there was only one great Greek restaurant in New York, but now we can say there are at least two.  The fish will come out on a platter to you, so you can select your fresh variety (Psari tis imeras).  Have the fish by all means.  Ithaka is a comfortable environment on 86th Street, run by Tim Vlahopoulos, a charming quiet man, and Chef Harry Hatziparaskevas, who apparently started the enterprise on Barrow Street and then moved uptown.  We started with Psarosoupa, the fish soup, which is probably dinner enough, but the conversation endured and so did our appetite.  We will be back for rabbit stew, several varieties of lamb, quail, sweetbreads, and baby squid.  Our host, a former chief executive with a sense of dash, brought a piece of Greek statuary as a centerpiece, a nifty reminder of  his very happy family trip to Greece itself.  Ithaka.  308 East 86th Street. (Between 1st and 2nd).  New York, New York 10028.  212-628-9100.  (3/23/05)

Top Sushi
Right now Sushi Yasuda is king of the mountain in New York sushi circles.  We have never seen our host, a retired Japanese investment banker and close friend, consume so much food, Western or Japanese, in our thirty year acquaintance.  We both mainly ate sashimi, topped off with a little sushi.  We did not find the art and cutting to be of the highest order, but the fish was top rate, and sometimes a bit unusual.  For instance, the trout hailed from Idaho.  The place is filled with a well-heeled, young yuppie crowd, unusual perhaps because easily half the diners are Asian, decked out in terribly smart and horribly expensive clothes.  As at another one of our recent dining sojourns in New York, our companion with some amazement toted the cost of the clothing on one near lass and it came to $3,000 or more, which let us know that the worldwide financial bubble has not completely deflated yet.  The restaurant has a most pleasing atmosphere:  it does not hold too big a crowd, and the natural wood finish of the place, a distinguishing mark in some of our other favorite Japanese restaurants these days, is soothing to the eye, even in the bright illumination.  If you can, sit up at the sushi bar, which, for a change, is comfortable; we must have put in 3 hours there.  Sushi Yasuda.  204 East 43d Street.  New York, New York 10017.  Telephone:  (212) 972-1717. Website:

Best Sunday Night Dining Room on Central Park West
Just steps from Columbus Circle, on the ground floor of the predictably glitzy Trump International Hotel, is a rare find: a beautifully chic restaurant that draws a well-dressed crowd on the Upper West Side, even on a Sunday night.  Nougatine is the casual stepchild of Jean-Georges, the highly acclaimed French restaurant opened in 1997 by chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten.  With its pale taupe, Adam Tihany-designed interior and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Central Park West, the dining room has a luminous, airy feeling amplified by the luxury of actual space between the tables.  The scaled-down but still luxurious menu reflects the innovative culinary philosophy that has been winning Vongerichten four-star reviews for the last fifteen years: he takes exquisitely fresh, seasonal ingredients and cooks them in a way that boosts their natural flavors, often with pure vegetable and fruit essences and the occasional Asian twist.

As the sky turned steel blue and street lights glimmered one autumn evening, we began with an amuse-bouche of stunningly fresh, almost buttery salmon tartare with a tiny puff pastry shell.  It was followed by salad of white asparagus, enoki mushrooms and baby lettuces in an earthy vinaigrette flavored with soy sauce and truffle juice, and then by a succulent poached lobster, its generous chunks bathed in a voluptuous lemon broth and served atop chive-flecked spaetzle and tiny fava beans.  Though Vongerichten is known for top-notch desserts (especially his famed soft, warm chocolate cake), a fresh fig tart did not measure up to the rest of the meal.  Contact: Nougatine, 1 Central Park West, New York, NY 10023.  Telephone: 212-299-3900.  See  


Frank Bruni is in love with Scott Conant of Scarpetta.  Perhaps rightly so.  The restaurant is much more pleasant than his previous haunts.  It’s a surprise encounter, down in the meatpacking district, well worth the trip, as long as you have hired a black car, instead of using New York’s increasing knee-crunching cabs.  The front door is anonymous, and the bar up front undistinguished and peopled by the usual sorts.  But if you eat at six, before the noisemakers arrive, you can have an entirely pleasant meal, well lighted from overhead, with generally good service.  There’s plenty of wait staff, and the chap who takes your order is genial and lucid.  Those bearing the food, however, are not only rushed, but they barely speak English, so you cannot begin to grasp their explication of the food set before you.  Bruni moons over the polenta:  “He brings back an appetizer of creamy, cheesy, buttery polenta with morels and preserved truffles that’s one of the best, most decadent things ever to happen to cornmeal.” As well, he gushes about the cod:  “And there’s an entree of black cod with slow-roasted tomatoes and caramelized fennel that I especially admire.” Bruni is a lightweight, but his enthusiasm here is well founded.  We were equally thrilled with the lamb loin served with white beans and pecorino.  The portions are slight, but what else is new?  The wine was just acceptable, and that is not where this restaurant will make its reputation.  Scarpetta is a restaurant that knows most of the moves, even if some of the dining experience eludes it. “Scarpetta, meaning “little shoe”, is often used among native Italians when eating homemade pasta sauces so delightful that every drop must be savored and wiped clean from dinner plates with fresh Italian bread,” but we suspect that sauce is conjured up elsewhere at some other eatery where food and dining progresses at a more stately pace. Scarpetta. 355 West 14th Street.  New York, NY 10014-5001.  (212) 691-0555.  Mon – Thurs: 5:30 – 11pm // Fri & Sat: 5:30 – 12am // Sun: 5:30 – 10:30pm   (06-02-10)

North Carolina

Best Vietnamese Restaurant in North Carolina
Leafing through Saveur magazine one wintry December night, we were astonished to discover that a Vietnamese restaurant in Greensboro, North Carolina had vaulted onto the magazine's top 100 list for 2000.  Sharing accolades with chefs like Jacques Pepin and the entire state of Vermont ("Coolest Food State in the Union"), Saigon Restaurant was billed as the "Least Likely Place for Great Vietnamese."

Least likely, indeed.  This narrow storefront cafe is situated next to an all-but-defunct hot dog joint right off busy High Point Road.  A raffish clientele--Sikhs in turbans, pony-tailed guys, and dolls in skin-tight capri pants--spills out into the parking lot, waiting with good humor for one of a dozen tiny tables.  Whole flounder, delicately fried and served with a subtle chili basil sauce, was well worth the wait, as were the fresh spring rolls with shrimp, papaya and fragrant mint.  Saigon showcases the culinary skills of the Nguyen family, who fled Vietnam 23 years ago.  Brother Donnie cooks, brother Nick is business manager, and the third brother, Duc--better known as Duckie--keeps customers entertained with a running stream of hilarious patter. When we ordered the flounder, he yelled, "Free Willy!"  Contact: Saigon Cuisine Restaurant, 4205 B High Point Road, Greensboro, NC 27407.  Telephone: 336-294-9286.

Herons at the Umstead 
Herons Restaurant at the Umstead is a disappointment, but it has its virtues.  The same holds true for the new Umstead Hotel where it is housed.  It’s a good site, the owners had enough money to get it right, and there is a wide open slot in the Raleigh-Durham marketplace for a truly upscale hotel with luxury appointments, a very fine menu, and esthetic atmosphere.  The restaurant and the hotel have aspirations, but they don’t make it into the winner’s circle.  But we shall return to the hotel, for it is as good as it gets round these parts, to quote the line from the Jack Nicholson movie.  Basically the architecture, interior design, and landscaping of both are humdrum.  The planting of major, long term hardwoods will help a lot on the outside: a French designer will have to redo the interior.  The marketing staff takes a lot of pride in the raft of all-Carolina paintings.  The problem is that they turn out to be mediocre.  The menu at the restaurant is not inspired, and is a little meager besides.  In the end, the fairly high tariff is simply not warranted.

Now for some of the high sides.  Certainly the owners are to be congratulated for their ambitious undertaking.  This is a restful location where you do get away from the world. Our guest, a somewhat harried fellow, felt very much at ease in these surroundings.  It helps that locals have not uncovered this spot yet, and it is not doing a landoffice business, so things are calm.  With some more cosmetic work, the terraces could be quite nice, and with a proper waterfall, the sound of traffic on route 40 and elsewhere could be blocked out.  While the rooms are pedestrian, they are capacious so one has room to move about.  Amidst the $60 bottles of wine on the menu, there are a few decent buys that are mellow.  We had an Italian that was perhaps $10 a glass, although it is not listed on the restaurant website, which is outdated.  Management could not give us a tour of the spa, but it is promising and we will be looking into it.  When visiting the website, take some care, as the graphics may create computer gridlock.  Herons at the Umstead.  100 Woodland Pond (turn left into SAS Institute just after reaching Harrison Avenue from route 40).  Cary, North Carolina 27513.  Telephone: 866-877-4141 or 919-447-4200.  (8/8/07)

NOFO Market and Café
NOFO, on the first floor, sports an assortment of household unnecessaries and domestic clutter that might bail you out if you need a quick, whimsical gift for a forgiving hostess.  Upstairs there is a spotty delicatessen.  But what the place is all about is downstairs.  There’s the café which amounts to a very pleasant sandwich shop with bar.  So you might have a shrimp B.L.T., a salad sampler, or the grilled chicken Thai wrap.  There’s a decent assortment of brunch eggs and salads.  This is a pleasant surprise to come upon at Five Points, with a bright, spritely atmosphere and very willing help.  The designers of the space redid a former Piggly Wiggly store; hence, this is called NOFO at the Pig.  For more on the design, see  NOFO.  2014 Fairview Road, Raleigh, NC 27608.  Telephone:  919-821-1240.  Website:  There’s another NOFO in Wilmington, which we have not visited.

The Not really Barbeque Joint
This restaurant has not been much noticed, and the local writers have made much too much out of the barbecue which, frankly, is rather bland, but probably suits the kids who pour in from the high school down the way.  The mystery, however, is this interesting restaurant with a varied menu in Chapel Hill  is still a secret, but so are a host of the other better eateries around the Triangle.  In any event, after you have passed on the barbecue, do the ribs, or the duck, or the crab cakes, or the wahoo, or the Redneck Pastrami.  We can’t think of anything not to like.  Two Carolinians who are the founders went away to see the world and came back with a lot of cooking knowledge that landed here.  To go along with your spicy food, the boys in the back will put on Reggae and everything else, their collection of CDs being extensive and impressive.  The restaurant décor is whimsical, but comfortable enough, not crowded, and not overlighted.  Barbecue Joint., 630 Weaver Dairy Road, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27514.  Telephone: (919) 932-7504.

Best Bison Burger By Golly
Well, Ted’s, the brainchild of Ted Turner, actually serves the only bison or buffalo burger.  He got into the restaurant business, apparently, with the thought that if there were enough demand for buffalo meat, it would guarantee the buffalo’s place in America.  Sort of a strange environmentalism, if you like: using consumption to preserve an animal.  Anyhow, it’s not that easy to find a good burger in the Triangle, and here you will find as good a buffalo or beef burger as is available in North Carolina.  And, given the state’s strange laws, you can actually get your burger rare here, since the restaurant grinds its own meat and is allowed to serve a bleeding burger, while other establishments have to cook all the taste out of their meat.  The chain buys pedestrian tomatoes and desperate iceberg lettuce, so just take your burger straight.  The music is a tad too loud, and the booths are too small, but this is a friendly enough place to eat, and it gets you away from the congestion and tattiness of South Point, across the street.  For more on the whole Ted’s shooting match, see  Ted’s Montana Grill,  6911 Fayetteville Road, Suite 102 (just off I-40), Durham, North Carolina 27713,  919-572-1210.  There’s also one in Raleigh, as Ted looks to put his marker across the United States, having started up the chain in Atlanta.  As we mentioned on Wit and Wisdom, Ted may be running out of things to say, so these restaurants might just be his last hurrah.   To learn all about the ostensible nutritional virtues of bison from St. Ted, read

Cafe Bistro
We took forever to go to Southpoint Mall of Durham, and longer yet to go to Nordstrom’s.  There was no rush.  The store is spacious and pleasantly lighted, but it has an eerie, empty feeling, and the merchandise, at the bottom of high end, seems to have been selected by a computer off in the state of Washington.  This is a standard department store with upscale prices in an age when department stores are in decline:  It needs, along with Southpoint, to figure out its 2003 identity.  It should be further along in its development, having opened in March 2002.  Both the Mall and the store are nice enough, but they’re lacking in meaningful content and compelling identity.  

But up on the second floor, tucked into the back, is Cafe Bistro, which is a silly redundant name for a restaurant.  This eatery is just right, with quirks.  Oddly, one orders at the cash register and pays up front.  Then you pick a table and a pleasant enough server goes through your whole order again, maybe to assure you that he or she got the order straight.  That said, the decor is both comfortable and colorful, the ambiance permits quiet conversation away from one’s neighbors, and the food is both modestly priced and artfully tasty.  It’s not fantastic, but it is darn good for a mall, and much above anything offered in the Food (read fastgrease) Court.  And, in a town that likes to shut up on Sunday, it’s open when you need it.  We have liked the nicoise salad with salmon and the Asian Salad Pizza.  The place seems unmanaged, but somehow it all happens.  We notice that it has not been reviewed much:  consequently you always can get a seat and may even have the place to yourself on occasion.  The editor of Duke’s Magazine dismissed it with very few words in an article on Southpoint.  We dwell on the restaurant, because we think Nordstrom’s management could leverage it and contribute mightily to the store’s merchandising.  In former days, we remember how Stanley Marcus would bustle through the restaurant at his store in North Park (Dallas), greeting us with more than cheer and asking whether everything was going okay.  Cafe Bistro at Nordstrom.  The Streets at Southpoint.  Durham, North Carolina. Telephone (919) 806-3700.

Grayson's Cafe
Grayson’s is distinguished by serving fairly simple fare at reasonable prices and by the fact that Mrs. Grayson is a one-time Miss North Carolina who apparently sings a bit on Friday and Saturday nights to add some extra spice to the food.  Probably you will eat a salad or wrap for lunch.  Lo and behold, breakfast is also available.  It’s the simplicity of the place that’s most appealing, including its quiet ambience.  It needs better signage, so you may just drive right by if you are not watching.  You can fax in a take out menu with your choices—for any meal.  Grayson’s Café.  2300 Chapel Hill Road.  Durham, near Lakewood, just a few blocks off Business 15-501.  Telephone:  919-403-9220.  Website:

Most Original Sandwich Shop—Chapel Hill
Sandwhich is the latest arrival in West End Courtyard, the Franklin Street enclave which aspires to be Chapel Hill’s next foodie destination.  (See 3 Cups: Coffee, Tea and Chocolate for the 21st Century.)  Like its name, Sandwhich offers a cleverly tweaked menu of familiar ingredients given just enough nouvelle spin to lift them out of the mundane into the original.   It’s a laid back shop with a slightly industrial flair—exposed heating ducts, open kitchen and formica-topped tables—that’s already attracting a crowd. 

We’ve enjoyed the warm roasted eggplant sandwich, which layers fire-roasted eggplant and red peppers with tangy oven-dried tomatoes, goat cheese and garlic confit.  Smoked salmon on ciabatta gets an eye-opening dash of wasabi and shaved red onions along with expected cream cheese, while homemade roast beef gets a simultaneous kick from chipotle hot sauce and a cool down from creamy coleslaw.  Prosciutto di Parma takes a star turn twice daily: As Breakfast di Parma, it appears in a decidedly upscale breakfast sandwich with creamy gorgonzola butter on a baguette.  Later in the day, it steps into a more classic role with fresh mozzarella, enlivened with mint, arugula and  lemon vinaigrette.   

Summery specials make good use of  Farmer’s Market produce.  There’s a warm green pea-mint soup with ginger crème fraiche, local tomato salad with Celebrity Dairy goat cheese and basil pot de crème.  Moroccan mint tea, made with green tea and lots of fresh mint, is the perfect cooler on steamy days. 

Janet Elbetri, the cheerful co-owner (with her husband Hich, also the chef), once worked for Valrhona, the premium French chocolate company.  Naturally, Sandwhich’s dessert menu includes Most Excellent Brownies made with Valrhona and the cleverly named Anti-Depressant Chocolate Chip Cookies (with happiness-inducing pumpkin and sunflower seeds).  Elbetri also consults with 3 Cups owner Lex Alexander on his high end selection of chocolate bars and offers an occasional chocolate seminar. 

Contact: Sandwhich, West End Courtyard, 431 West Franklin Street, Suite 18, Chapel Hill, NC 27516.  Telephone: 919-929-2114.

Liberty Oak
More than a few business folks in downtown Greensboro go here for a casual lunch and light fare.  For us, it’s a Saturday lunch recommendation, when you are in old clothes anyway, can’t find a lot of places open, and want easy enough parking right downtown.  We notice that there will be goodly portions.  We went for a Nicoise salad which was not artfully made but plenty good, with a decent size rare chunk of tuna and splashes of capers atop a plate of greens.  We had as well a Czech lager, which is to say that the proprietors try for a bit of beer variety.  This fun restaurant is of a piece with several Greensboro eateries—some local color with a bit of twist to the decoration, reasonable prices, and ample, uncomplicated food served with dispatch and within pretension where you may bump into a few of the folks you know around town.  There’s also plenty of space so you do not feel cramped, all adding up to an easy experience not available in other metropolitan areas of North Carolina.  To get a preview of its flavor, visit  Liberty Oak Restaurant and Bar.  100-D W Washington St., Greensboro, NC 27401-2703.  Telephone: 336-273-7057.  (3/1/06)

Merlion Restaurant
Now there are a couple of reasons for visiting Southern Village, a somewhat overbuilt but moderately pleasant development, just outside Chapel Hill on 15-501.  Its village center is distinctively more pleasant than the assemblage at Meadowmont, and a few things—the Lumina movie theater, the travel bookshop, etc.—are worth a passing visit.  Oddly it lacks a decent supermarket.

Now we have just eaten Singapore at the relatively new Merlion.  It is more than decent and fairly priced.  Open for lunch and dinner 7 days a week it qualifies as something of a find.  Of the several dishes we tried, the Hokkien Noodles were best: egg and rice noodles with shrimp, calamari, bean sprouts, chive and egg.  Chili sambal to heighten the sensation.  While some of the flavors found in Singapore dishes are missing here, there is enough taste and enough freshness to merit frequent visits.  Incidentally, the table water is perfectly drinkable for some odd reason, and it does not suffer from the rash of chemical tastes that characterizes the normal run of water from OWASA.  For bemusement, you should try the very overpriced but quite good Morimoto Soba Ale which came out in Spring 2003 and is named after one of the Iron Chefs, Masahara Morimoto.

Singapore cuisine deserves some study, because it is a fusion of many ethnic groups and, as such, is probably the most interesting tapestry in a rather regimented society.  While Merlion barely touches on this diversity, hints of Thai and Chinese and Indian can be found about its menu.  We wish, of course, that there was a merlion or two (a creature with the head of a lion and the body of a fish, a common statuary in Singapore) outside the restaurant to enhance the fantasy and make one dream of southeast Asia.  Reasonable attempts to create a touch of Singapore can be found at one end of the main dining room, but this is diluted by the noisy din that arises from a ceiling lacking in sound-absorber tiles.  So it’s a pleasant atmosphere, but hardly magical.  The bar, to the back, is terribly ordinary and unfortunately you can see its big color TV even when seated in the dining room.  Merlion is at 410 Market Street, Suite 320, Chapel Hill, NC 27516.  919-933-1188.  (1/25/06)

Jibarra (Norte Raleigh)
We have yet to try the cebiches, the shredded duck with lettuce, foie gras two ways, corn husk-smoked halibut, lamb shank with the bone in, duck breast, venison meat loaf, cactus paddle salad.  That’s to say, we have a lot of eating yet to do.  Jibarra, we learn, is about a year old, the favorite child of the proprietor who owns two undistinguished Mexican chains.  But this is the real enchilada. 

The quarters are nice but mixed, the owners having done a decent job of remodeling this lumpen architecture space and creating a little interest. We think especially that the curves in the bar manage to make one forget that this is a squatty rectangular blockhouse. One could call it interesting, if not pretty.  But a diner is able to forget the very undistinguished restaurants nearby.  More could be done on the interior, of course, but this is a good start.  Depending on the occasion, there will be chill music in the background, and perhaps standard, pleasant Mexican at Sunday family luncheons.  It’s marvelous, too, that the restaurant is open for long hours every day but Monday, providing one of the few decent spots to visit on a Sunday.  The service is always exceptionally polite; the maitre actually knows something about the cooking. 

We are pleased that the restaurant has found both cabrito and rabbit, especially since it has become tougher to get interesting things slaughtered in North Carolina.  The goat is cooked long, and, interestingly, is not over-spiced.  In fact, Chef Ricardo Quintero, of Mexico City, who has trained at Akelarre in San Sebastian, shows admirable restraint in a number of dishes, a delicacy that allows tastes that could get buried to emerge.  Management prides itself on presenting a sampling of several Mexican regional cuisines, but we do not know enough about Mexican cooking to say in which area—say Oaxaca or Yucutan—this kitchen excels. 

We found interesting wines, did a flight of tequilas with pleasure, and found our coffee to have enough punch.  The desserts we think are not memorable.  After some urging, we had the habanero cheesecake.  The bunuelos bear no relation to the airy creations we cherish.  But who needs dessert anyway after such a repast.  Some of our party found both the flan and torta de elote (fresh corn cake) pleasing.  Of course, we will try the trio of chocolate ice creams another day. 

This is an easy reach from the airport—perhaps 10 miles down 540 and then a short jaunt towards Raleigh on Six Forks.  But keep your eyes open, since it and Peachtree Market where it is housed are not memorable and you can pass them by.  Jibarra.  7420 Six Forks Road and Mourning Dove, Raleigh, North Carolina 27615.  Telephone: 919-844-6330.  Website:  (3/28/07)

Southern Lights
We’re a little thin on Greensboro restaurants we thoroughly trust and have just happily added this to our portfolio at the recommendation of a local foodie.  It’s simple dishes  made well, served by a wait staff that tries very hard and figures out what to do when the kitchen runs out of specials of the day.  The sandwiches are fine, and the dessert sticks in our mind.  We had a chocolate walnut pie, but our companions thought their sweets were even better.  The same folks own 1618 Seaford Grill across the street ,which, advises our informant, you can skip.  Greensboro is a maze for out of towners, so just think Friendly Avenue, and you will get here.  Southern Lights. 105 North Smyres Place, Greensboro, NC 336-379-9414. Fax 336-273-3875.  Email:  See
395&TM=14580.7.  (9/21/05)

Thai Café
We owe this find to Daniel, one of the owners Tyler’s Taproom, the popular pub stop in the American Tobacco District in Durham, right next to the Bulls ballpark.  It has also been recommended to us by the staffs of other local restaurants.  The Thai Café, down the street from Nana’s, is the best new offering in the whole Triangle in many a moon.  Its virtues are many.  On a Saturday afternoon the owners will be playing opera, listening in on the old Texaco hour which Chevron now is too chintzy to fund.  The prints on the wall, with scenes of Thailand, are handsomely displayed, reminding one of a Thai restaurant in another Southern city that flashes a continuous slide show on the wall that takes you through the delights of that country.  A waiter is uncommonly polite, actually knows the food, and hastens to fill one’s glass, bring extra seasonings, or get food and check to the table with dispatch.  A rather beleaguered strip mall space has been brought to life, and a handsome bar looks to be on the way.

There’s a lot to choose from and we have just begun to probe the menu.  Up front one should clearly have the basil rolls and the crispy squid, although we suggest a touch of hot sauce or some sort of chiles to complement the squid which is wonderfully cooked but a trifle bland.  The satay is also on the mark.  We had a spicy beef salad for our main course, and it was altogether satisfying.  Both desserts—crème brulee and the coconut cake—were, as the waiter said, “to die for,” which we found surprising, since Asian sweets are normally something we can easily overlook.  We’ve not chatted with the owners, Oddy Tacha and his sister Kachana, but we understand they had a success in Atlanta, sold out, and moved into Durham to exploit the growing appetite for Asian cuisine.  Thai Café.  2501 University Drive, Durham, North Carolina 27707.  Telephone: 919-493-9794.  Website:  Its hours are not published, but one should know that it virtually serves all day on Saturday and Sunday.

In the Triangle, most of the eating spots worth visiting are clustered fairly close to town, be it Durham, Chapel Hill, or Raleigh.  But now some of the blank spots are getting filled in, and you have a new halfway point between Raleigh , the Research Park and Chapel Hill as you make your way on Interstate 40.  At Exit 276, perhaps a mile past the Rte 54 stoplight on Fayetteville Road, you will find Babette’s, somewhat lonely in a new set of structures that are having a hard time finding tenants.  That’s all to the good because it means you will find both quiet and good parking there.  Babette’s is named after the movie Babette’s Feast, but be assured the connection is in name only.  This is a sandwich place with reasonable prices, but it also has light and very well prepared luncheon fare that is fairly priced and full of value.  The restaurant is the handiwork of Devon Mills, a local cook who’s been at the Weathervane, 411, Magnolia, etc., and, because of that experience, clearly understands the price point this region will tolerate.  We had a small piece of grilled salmon set in quite a salad bed, and this was surely all the lunch one ever needed.  Somewhat unique in this area, the restaurant has ample tables (including some outside seating) and an open room amply lit by clear large windows.  For a change one does not feel cramped.  As other places, such as NOFO,  that offer a price conscious lunch, the dinner menu is more ambitious, but still not off the charts.  Saturday nights often include some jazz.  Babette’s.  5826 Fayetteville Road. Durham, NC 27713.  Telephone: (919) 544-8880.  Website:

We wound up at this restaurant because of a technology manager of Korean background we met on one of those slow commuter flights down from Boston.  He vouched for this restaurant, and he was right.  The quarters are attractive, unusually so for the Triangle, where Japanese eateries are often cramped.  So it has more flair than others in Raleigh, Chapel Hill, etc, and the presentation of the food has youthful panache.  The sushi was, indeed, fresh, and the Thai food provides interesting counterpoint, though some of the Thai ingredients are inappropriately sweet.  It is just off 64, and we can now say that the two best Japanese luncheon spots in the region are just seconds off this artery.  Wasabi in MacGregor Village.  107 Edinburgh South, Suite 135.  Cary, North Carolina 27511.  Telephone: 919-460-7980.  Fax: 919-460-7982.

Best Asian Fusion Restaurant in the Triangle
It’s lucky that The Lantern, the sophisticated new Asian-inspired restaurant on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, has an amusing bar.  You’re likely to put in some time there, since this foodie favorite doesn’t take reservations for fewer than six.  But the dark, retro Chinese chic watering hole, all done up in red and black and gold, with paper lanterns and a cheongsam-clad dragon lady behind the bar, is an entertaining prelude to the main event.  On a warm Saturday night in April, we found it just the place to get in the mood with a glass of Dolcetto d’Alba 1999 and a plate of the chef’s savory black mushroom and cabbage dumplings.

Eventually, you'll get the call to dinner.  Entering the main restaurant from the darkly exotic bar is a little like coming out of a tunnel into the light.  You step into a soothing tea-green room, hung with a cluster of cool 50’s-style Scandanavian light fixtures, glide into a chair at a black lacquer table, where your chopsticks are resting on a polished stone.  It is a moment that would be calming were it not for the high noise level.  Chef Andrea Reusing, formerly at Fin’s in Raleigh, and her brother Brendan have distilled many Asian culinary themes into a short but fabulous menu.  The fiery Japanese eggplant, marinated with chilies and garlic, is vibrant way to start the meal.  Or kick things off with the crackling calamari, tender very lightly fried squid amped up with a racy lime vinaigrette.  The one-must-order entree is the tea-and-spice-smoked chicken:  Half a bird, brined in rice wine, braised with cinnamon, roasted and then smoked over litchi tea, emerges from its complex culinary hegira moist and tender, sweetly redolent of spice and smoke, accompanied by rice studded with edamame, ham and scallions.  The steamed halibut with scallions and ginger is lovely and fresh; on a chilly night, we’d go for the tofu hot pot, bean curd gently fried and served in a broth with succulent shitake mushrooms, slippery noodles, lotus root and braised mustard greens.  For dessert, one could simply stop and be happy with the warm chocolate cake with ginger ice cream.  Or push the envelope with the pure and simple panna cotta, a wobbly sweet cream jelly in puddle of caramelized sugar.  It could replace the ubiquitous creme brulee.  Contact:  The Lantern, 423 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill.  Telephone:  919-969-8846

Best Pho in the Triangle
On gelid winter days we often find ourselves in the car heading inexorably, like the needle of a compass pointing north, toward Kim Son, a small Vietnamese restaurant tucked in amongst the fast food joints on Guess Road in Durham.  What we are craving is a steaming bowl of pho, a robust, vividly flavored beef noodle soup often eaten for breakfast in Vietnam--but we’ll eat Kim Son’s version any time of day.  As soon as we slide into a booth, we can hardly wait for owner Ha Guthrie to arrive with pho dac biet: a deep, rich beef broth, made from a long slow simmer of spare ribs and beef bones, flavored with star anise and cinnamon, laden with rice noodles and thinly sliced rare and well done beef, and meatballs.  Alongside is a plate piled high with sprigs of mint, broad-leafed Vietnamese cilantro, bean sprouts, sliced jalapeno peppers and lime wedges.  The idea is to put lots of the above in your pho, then add lashings of sriracha, a fiery red hot sauce and the sweeter, plummy hoisin sauce.  Now, the only other thing you need is a bottle of Danang’s finest, Export 33 beer, or a refreshing glass of pale coconut juice with a curl of young coconut in the bottom.  

Kim Son (which means “Gold Mountain”) is owned by Ha Guthrie, who came to America to marry a Vietnam veteran she had met during the war.  A former computer programmer trained in French and Chinese cooking, she opened the restaurant a few years ago; many of the recipes she prepares are from her own family’s repertoire. There are six varieties of pho on the menu; we can also recommend the hu tieu nam vang (dai), a delicious clear rice noodle soup with shrimp, crab, chicken and roast pork, and the spring rolls, delicate rice paper-wrapped shrimp, pork, vermicelli and vegetables with a peanut sauce for dipping.  There are probably other good dishes on the menu, but we can’t seem to get past our favorites.  Kim Son, 2425 Guess Road, Durham, 27705.  Telephone: 919-416-9009.

Jujube, though only open a short while, has quickly become the best restaurant in Chapel Hill, taking over from the Lantern, which was tops for a while but then fell off the mountain.  Importantly, Charlie Deal, chef and owner, knows food and knows something about harmony.  Oddly, we had avoided it because we had heard that it was part of a local chain of restaurants that don’t cut it.  Virtually all the food is good, so one does not have to pick and choose.  With perhaps one exception, the wait staff is pleasant and has special interests such as poetry and music, or exploration in South America, or photography.  The design is as good as it gets in the area, things are not noisy, and one is not jammed up against other customers.  So it is a restful stop. We have taken to eating the soba, which we find to be better than that served at the Japanese restaurants in the Triangle.  Deal comes out of California cooking, and his food is modified Asian.  Things get a bit out of hand when the owner is not present: a waiter gets loud and even sings off chord, the kitchen doors are left open, etc.  When it’s not too hot, it’s pleasant to sit outside, though some umbrellas should be installed to protect patrons from the elements.  We intend to try one of his special dinners and a dim sum gathering as well.  Jujube.  1201-M Raleigh Road at Highway 54 (Glen Lennox Shopping Center), Chapel Hill, NC 27514. Telephone: 919-960-0555.  Lunch Mon.-Fri., 11:30-2:30; dinner Mon.-Sat., 5:00-10:00.  Dim Sum, Lunch on Sat. and Sun.  (8/2/06)

Star Lu
Located on the ground floor in the back of the office building, this site has housed some weaker emporiums before.  There’s work to be done on Star Lu’s food (there was much too much fried stuff on the menu at a recent lunch) and its rather amateurish service.  That said, the quarters are very well designed, good looking and restful. A good place to hide out in Durham. The Raleigh News and Observer waxes poetic over this eatery, but we would say make haste slowly.  There’s some retreading needed here.  (See
dining/restaurantreview/story/2088488p-8467055c.html.)  A sort of fun local blogger also can’t say enough good things about it (
staurant_star.html).  What’s more interesting is that a local team—David Ripperton, a Carrboro architect,  and Sunderland Engineering ( put the thing together—and that merits some attention.  Most of the restaurants about are too crowded, poorly lighted, and exquisitely uncomfortable.  More on Ripperton at
portfolio.htm: he appears to have some talent for interiors.  Restaurant Starlu.  3211 Shannon Road. Suite 106 (back of the building).  Durham, N.C. 27707.  Telephone: 919-489-1500.  Website:

It’s not that easy to find the better restaurants in Winston-Salem, and Winston-Salem’s sister city Greensboro has a leg up in the cuisine department.  But, one step at a time, the town is coming into its own.  We have not noticed that 1703 is on many lips, but it is as pleasant as it gets.  And the food has gotten better since we first started eating there: the menus are better than the ones shown on the Internet.  On our last visit we had flounder, and there is a surprising array of fish (salmon, grouper, sea bass, etc) on the dinner menu and not that much meat.  So one is in line for some healthy, tasteful eating.  It has not been crowded, and the waitress is uncommonly pleasant.  A pleasant beer from Belgium, probably a Klinkaert, is available.  We first met Joe Curran, chef and owner, when he was catering a business event.  Once upon a time, we understand, he worked as a private chef. 1703 Restaurant.  1703 Robinhood Road (just off Reynolda), Winston Salem, North Carolina.  336-725-5767.  (2/22/06)

Four Square Restaurant 
This restaurant has been around for half a decade, having opened its doors in 1999. Tucked away above Business 15-501, it is too easy to forget about.  Perhaps its biggest distinction is that it clearly has the best website of any restaurant in the Triangle (see, tastefully selling any and everything that can make this eatery seem like a special experience.  It goes into the fact, for instance, that it is housed in the Bartlett Mangum House, now on the Historic Register, which hearkens back to an early merchant in Durham.  On an occasion or two, we have met acquaintances there for a short drink, finding this bar a good place to end the day.  One friend, who especially likes this restaurant, is able to wangle a sampling plate out of the chef each time, finding out that it is best to try just a bit of everything.  At a chance meeting one day, we had wine and desserts with the owners, and found it to be a good way to get through a moody afternoon.  In fact, they might add a leisurely dessert room to their restaurant as has one old-time Tampa steakhouse with much success.  2701 Chapel Hill Road, Durham, NC 27707.  Telephone:  (919) 401-9877.

Jibarra (Norte Raleigh)
We have yet to try the cebiches, the shredded duck with lettuce, foie gras two ways, corn husk-smoked halibut, lamb shank with the bone in, duck breast, venison meat loaf, cactus paddle salad.  That’s to say, we have a lot of eating yet to do.  Jibarra, we learn, is about a year old, the favorite child of the proprietor who owns two undistinguished Mexican chains.  But this is the real enchilada. 

The quarters are nice but mixed, the owners having done a decent job of remodeling this lumpen architecture space and creating a little interest. We think especially that the curves in the bar manage to make one forget that this is a squatty rectangular blockhouse. One could call it interesting, if not pretty.  But a diner is able to forget the very undistinguished restaurants nearby.  More could be done on the interior, of course, but this is a good start.  Depending on the occasion, there will be chill music in the background, and perhaps standard, pleasant Mexican at Sunday family luncheons.  It’s marvelous, too, that the restaurant is open for long hours every day but Monday, providing one of the few decent spots to visit on a Sunday.  The service is always exceptionally polite; the maitre actually knows something about the cooking. 

We are pleased that the restaurant has found both cabrito and rabbit, especially since it has become tougher to get interesting things slaughtered in North Carolina.  The goat is cooked long, and, interestingly, is not over-spiced.  In fact, Chef Ricardo Quintero, of Mexico City, who has trained at Akelarre in San Sebastian, shows admirable restraint in a number of dishes, a delicacy that allows tastes that could get buried to emerge.  Management prides itself on presenting a sampling of several Mexican regional cuisines, but we do not know enough about Mexican cooking to say in which area—say Oaxaca or Yucutan—this kitchen excels. 

Chamas Churrascaria and Amelia
This is a new treat in Bright Leaf Square.  You really get two meals for the price of one.  There is a very ample buffet salad and appetizer course which alone will make you quite happy.  This is followed by an endless parade of meats—flank steak, beef, sausage, chicken, pork, filet mignon, etc.—which is brought to you on skewers.  The waiter slices a few pieces off the warm meat and returns later with more, if you should so desire. Chamas (“flames” in Portuguese) was opened by a couple of Brazilian women in August 2004, further extending into the Triangle (there is another Portuguese beef restaurant in Cary) a concept that is spreading across the United States—the Brazilian grilled beef restaurant or churrascaria.  The service is very attentive.  On a busy Saturday night the restaurant is quite lively, with Brazilian music entertainments flashed in a big screen off the bar area.  The diners are largely sandwiched in a small space by the front window, and one should make an effort to eat in other parts of the restaurant.  The help is indefatigably cheery and they move the meal along with pleasant dispatch.  See  For more details on the fare see  Chamas Churrascria. 905 West Main Street, Suite 115, Brightleaf Square, Durham, North Carolina 27701.  Telephone 919-682-1309. 

As importantly, the owners have opened just next door a coffee house/confection shop which is easily the most pleasant coffee establishment in the whole region.  If anything, we like this even better than the excellent restaurant.  We can recommend the brownie cookies.  Try the cheenies, which are also offered in the restaurant, a light puff cheese bread nibbler which is excellent fare for a cocktail party.  Amelia’s is next door to the restaurant in Suite 23J.  Do not call its phone, which is not connected: call the restaurant instead.  Amelia’s opens at 8 a.m.  

The re-developers of Bright Leaf Square have made a host of mistakes, carving up the front building unmercifully and honky tonking the walkway between the two buildings.  But they may be getting somewhere with their restaurants.  For the longest time, there was only one decent restaurant to visit, Nikos.  With Chamas, there are two, forming a little cluster.  And a Japanese restaurant has just opened between the two called Mt. Fuji. The owner’s brother operates Shiki Pottery down the way.  The hodgepodge of cuisines hint that this new Asian eatery may be unfocused and trying to be all things to all people.  We have yet to try it.  (10/5/05)

Best Vanilla Ice Cream in the Triangle
Trendy eateries have been pushing the notion of "ice cream" to its outer limits--any day now we'll be offered a scoop of wasabi-mint or pumpkin-cashew--but it has become almost impossible to get really good vanilla ice cream.  The simplest is not only the best, but it is also the hardest to make, because no disguises are permitted.  The essential ingredients, just thick cream, sugar and vanilla--must be in exactly the right proportions and churned and frozen to the perfect consistency.

A wide ranging, very personal survey of vanilla ice creams in the Triangle has turned up a winner.  Why are we not surprised that a fabulous vanilla ice cream can be found at Nana's, one of our favorite Durham restaurants?  Chef Scott Howell skips the eggs, using only the essential trio of ingredients, to produce a luxuriously rich, intensely flavored, seed-flecked vanilla ice cream that brings back memories of the impossibly perfect hand-cranked ice creams of childhood.  Whether you enjoy it atop molten chocolate lava cake or blueberry peach crumble, or simply as a trio of perfectly plain scoops, this is the one you've been searching for.

If you feel you must order something before desert, Howell is a wizard when it comes to fish, which rightly dominates the menu.  Recently, we had a superb grilled yellow fin tuna, meaty and cooked just medium rare, atop a tangle of lovely summer vegetables--tiny asparagus, silvered zucchini, cherry tomatoes--with mini-ravioli.   Other winners have included an appetizer of divers scallops (alas, only three, although they were big) with lobster-sherry vinaigrette, and sockeye salmon over sauteed sweet corn, fennel and spinach. 

The newly redesigned dining rooms--one with saffron-hued walls, the other with deep apricot, both punctuated with splashy, brightly covered--are airy and comfortable, but our truly favorite spot is the ultra-cool bar, which attracts a sparky crowd and has more elbow room.  Contact: Nana's, 2514 University Drive, Durham.  Telephone: 919-493-8545.

Best New North Carolina Eatery—Asheville, North Carolina
As we drove through an afternoon downpour, our eye was snagged by a storefront kitchen and a sign that read “Rezaz.”  Upon investigation, we glimpsed big jars of exotic spices, a black Garland range and an attached Mediterranean bistro with a menu inspired by the sunny cuisines of Morocco, Spain and Southern France. Owner Reza Setayesh—hence the restaurant’s name—is a personable Persian chef who has plied his trade in Washington and other upscale burgs.  Now he has turned an old hardware store near the railroad tracks into a culinary hot spot with paprika colored walls, bright paintings and sassy food that draws lively crowds every night.  

And no wonder:  The food is great. The Moroccan spiced lump crab cake was a crisp golden cylinder of fresh, succulent crab, topped with a tomato-cinnamon jam that amped up the sweetness of the seafood.  Oxtail soup Jerez was fragrant and rich, its steaming broth filled with tender chunks of meat.  Pink, juicy slices of peppery seared duck breast, served over garlic mashed potatoes, were napped with a sweet -tart pomegranete molasses sauce that intensified the flavor of the duck. Grilled lemons added a bright note to a dill-flecked seafood risotto studded with tiny clams and mussels and slices of spicy chorizo.  For dessert, we sampled a sophisticated pistachio and rosewater ice cream that could have come right out of The Arabian Nights.  Feather-light apple fritters, liberally dusted with powdered sugar and served with caramel-laced ice cream, were simply addictive.  Surely among North Carolina’s top five restaurants.

Contact:  Rezaz, 28 Hendersonville Road in Biltmore Village, Asheville, North Carolina.  Telephone: 828-2771510.

Better than Average Restaurants
A few of these have already made Best of the Triangle.  Acme (#12) is best at stew-type things, while Bon's (#25), not too far away, has the leanest barbecue.  Scott Howells' Nana's (#11) is probably the best restaurant in the whole region, earning special stars on fish and vanilla ice cream.  But it's time to fill out the list with a few others, and we'll add more when the spirit moves us.  We estimate there about thirty that make the grade.

m. City Ways Cafe.  After a hiatus because of all the catering business, Anita Council now serves lunch again.   Her sandwiches are just fine, the ambience is restful, and usually she has pleasant light jazz in the background.  Homemade ice cream tops it all off.  City Ways is also known as Cookie Bear Company (because of the take-out pastry) and Miss Council, from a Chapel Hill family known for restaurants, is also known as Spring.  Someday she'll just call it Spring's.  City Ways Cafe.  405 West Rosemary St., Chapel Hill, NC.  Telephone: 919-942-9929.

l. The Flying Burrito.  Sometimes public opinion is dead on.  A favorite of town dwellers since it opened about fifteen years ago, this eclectic Chapel Hill locale serves up burritos and other tex-mex standards filled with non-standard ingredients like sweet potatoes.  Popular to the point of inspiring fanaticism on the part of some locals, its bar is rarely quiet, as our webmaster--who contributed this entry--can testify to.  Be forewarned, though: Around dinner time the wait can be arduous.  Once you get a spot, make sure you try the hot salsa and don't forget to inspect the local artwork.  The Flying Burrito.  746 Airport Rd., Chapel Hill, NC 27514.  Telephone: 919-967-7744.  

k. Akai Hana.   Now the best Japanese restaurant in Chapel Hill-Durham area, though with a few cautions.  On a Friday night, the waits can be long, and there's no place to wait.   Foolishly, it has given up preparing take-out food.  Pretty much stick to sushi and avoid cooked items that require fat or butter.  Order mainstream, high-turnover items like tuna.  That said, some of the staff is very willing, occasional music can be fun, and the sushi is generally fresher than that of other establishments.  Edaname (soybeans) are good and simple here.  A good side bet: if you're afraid of fish and high-cost sushi restaurants, try the vegetarian sushi in the concessions at many Harris Teeters.  It is surprisingly good.  Akai Hana. 200 West Main St. (opposite Chapel Hill Tire), Carrboro, NC 27510.  Telephone: 919-942-6848.

j. Pop's.   Two and two does not equal six.  Put together by the owners of Magnolia Grill and Nana's, it does not have their virtues.  But it's central, more modest price-wise, and somewhat more service-oriented.  The simple picks are better; the more complicated dishes deserve a different hand than Pop's.  Pop's.  810 West Peabody St. (next to Fowler's and a block away from Brightleaf Square), Durham, NC 27701.   Telephone: 919-956-7677. 

i.  Vespa.   The Chapel Hill restaurant has a somewhat fun atmosphere, with lively posters and Italian music.  In addition to having the most sparkling atmosphere around, its sorbettos are delicious, standing out in a region that usually offers very average desserts.  Vespa.  306-D West Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516.   Telephone: 919-969-6600.  Vespa Cary could probably use a little more work, but it's also one of the few alternatives there.  200 South Academy St., Cary, NC 27511.  Telephone: 919-319-5656.

h. The Grill at Glen Lennox.  Many don't know about this restaurant, but it's a good luncheon spot, and the owner, who formerly had a restaurant in Maine, knows a lot about the business.  We like the salad Nicoise, but all the lunch items are decent as well.  The Grill at Glen Lennox.  1201 Raleigh Rd. (Rt. 54), Chapel Hill, NC 27514.  Telephone: 919-942-1963.  Website:

g. Carrburritos Taqueria.  Many of the Mexican restaurants in the area have chancy kitchens and struggling food.  These folks prepare the food in the open, and it's simple and pretty good.  We like putting fish in a tortilla, a pleasurable way to avoid cholesterol.   You can get Cokes in a bottle, the Mexican way.  Carrburritos.  711 Rosemary St., Carrboro, NC 27510.  Telephone: 919-933-8226.

f. Taverna Nikos.  Clearly this is the best value restaurant in the Chapel Hill-Durham area with fair pricing and well-prepared Greek fare.  One could complain--but we never do--that there's too much to eat.  In other words, you get a lot for your money.  The proprietor always seems to be in attendance and tries to make one quite happy.  Taverna Nikos.  Brightleaf Square, 905 West Main St., #49.  Durham, NC 27707.  Telephone: 919-682-0043.  Website:

e. Fin's Restaurant.  This is the fusion winner in the Piedmont.   In northern Raleigh, it's a little hard to get to, it's a wait before you even get to sit down, and you feel a little fused to those sitting beside you.  Fusion here means one brand of Asian or another linked to another linked to some Western motifs.   Fin's Restaurant.  7713-19 Lead Mine Rd., Graystone Village, Raleigh, NC 22615.  Telephone: 919-847-4110.

d. 411 West.  One of a chain of middlebrow restaurants (three in Chapel Hill, one on Raleigh), 411 is clearly the gem of the bunch.  It's got the nicest atmosphere by far and a few finds on its menu.  Salads are probably its best, followed by occasional fish specials.  And Clark the pizza man is obviously dedicated to his craft, more so perhaps than the rest of the kitchen.  411 West.  411 West Franklin St., Chapel Hill, NC 27514.  Telephone: 919-942-8757.   Website:

c. 518 West.  This is a Raleigh knock-off of 411.  It's not as warm and much more noisy.  It has virtually the same menu.  Arrive early for lunch, because the parking is horrendous.  518 West.  518 West Jones St., Raleigh, NC 27605.  Telephone: 919-829-2518.  Website:

b. Fairview Restaurant.  Part of Washington Duke Inn.  This is probably the most pleasant luncheon spot around, because you get to peer out at the golf course, there's at least the pretense of space around you, and the floors are carpeted.  When the company is right, you will want to take a walk around outside afterwards to work off the lunch and take the conversation to a higher level.   Fairview Restaurant.  3001 Cameron Blvd.  Durham, NC 27706.   Telephone: 919-490-0999.

Update: Fair No More. We just went to the Fairview Restaurant at the Washington Duke and find it to be in decline.  The hotel has been vastly expanded and now looks like one of those ungainly resorts in the western part of the state that are so gargantuan that management cannot get its arm around them.  The restaurant, too, has been remodeled and moved, but bigger does not mean better.  It used to be easy to see out on the course, one of the charms of the old Fairview.  Now you have to be insistent about your seating to get a decent view.  The service ranges from spotty to rude, not because the wait staff is not trying, but simply because it does not know how.  The portabellos were simply soggy in one main dish, and the staff needs to learn about crabcakes.  Only a steak, not too challenging for the cooks, was satisfactory.  Buffet style desserts were simply pathetic.  This restaurant used to be one of the Triangle’s best kept secrets—now it should be kept secret.  (2/14/07)

a. Carolina Crossroads.  Inside the Carolina Inn, this is the best ambience for breakfast in the region.  The colors in the dining room are nice to wake up to, and the booths make for good conversation.  Parking here is hassle-free, and the Christmas display of ginger-bread houses is larger testimony to the pleasant aura of the inn.  Carolina Crossroads.  211 Pittsboro St., Chapel Hill, NC 27516.  919-918-2777. Website:

Penang in the Triangle
There seem to be a bunch of Penang restaurants around the country, perhaps 4 or so in New York City alone.  Now it has come to Chapel Hill, just up Franklin Street from 411.  The service and cuisine is still mixed, but worth the visit.  It is definitely related to the restaurant of the same name in New York’s SoHo district.  What you must do is sit at the slightly more elegant tables in the bar area, or perhaps down by the sushi bar, in order to get away from the madding crowd.  We would have the soup again, but will have to search further on the amazingly extensive menu (Malaysian, Thai, Japanese, etc) in order to find the 4 or 5 things we should have again and again.  But it’s nice to be in a large open space since there’s a tendency to overcrowd and subdivide in all the eateries about the Triangle.  Why did it locate here?  We learn from one sister working in the restaurant that another sister had settled down north of Durham and had long dreamed of a local Penang.  Fortunately this is part of a larger trend:  more Asian restaurants have opened in the area over the last 3 years, and there are still others to come. Penang.  431 West  Franklin Street (in the old Pyewacket location).  Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27516.   Telephone:  (919) 933-2288.  Fax:  (919) 933-3133.

This  sushi cum noodle bar seems to have the freshest fish in the triangle, and that adds up to a considerable endorsement, since the quality of the fish is the most important aspect of good sushi.  Mirugai and several other items that are available here are commonly absent without explanation at other restaurants.  Additionally, it is open seven (7) days a week.  We are bemused that it appears to be run by 3 women, one being the owner and one being the sushi chef, the first time, we think, we have ever encountered a lady sushanista.  We have encountered nothing bad on the sushi menu, even though the cutting skills, here as elsewhere in the region, leave a little to be desired.  That slightly affects both the taste and the esthetic.  As elsewhere, the hot food is passable but certainly not exceptional.  The edaname (boiled soy beans) are fresher than most, but served hot and without the usual garnish of salt grains.  The address as given is a bit confusing:  it is in the shopping center housing the Mardi Gras bowling alley, almost at the intersection of 54 and 40.  Tsunami Sushi & Noodles.  6118B Farrington Road, Chapel Hill, North Carolina 27517.  Telephone:  919-403-5800.  Fax:  919-493-8842. 

Best Asian Fusion Restaurant in the Triangle
It’s lucky that The Lantern, the sophisticated new Asian-inspired restaurant on Franklin Street in Chapel Hill, has an amusing bar.  You’re likely to put in some time there, since this foodie favorite doesn’t take reservations for fewer than six.  But the dark, retro Chinese chic watering hole, all done up in red and black and gold, with paper lanterns and a cheongsam-clad dragon lady behind the bar, is an entertaining prelude to the main event.  On a warm Saturday night in April, we found it just the place to get in the mood with a glass of Dolcetto d’Alba 1999 and a plate of the chef’s savory black mushroom and cabbage dumplings.

Eventually, you'll get the call to dinner.  Entering the main restaurant from the darkly exotic bar is a little like coming out of a tunnel into the light.  You step into a soothing tea-green room, hung with a cluster of cool 50’s-style Scandanavian light fixtures, glide into a chair at a black lacquer table, where your chopsticks are resting on a polished stone.  It is a moment that would be calming were it not for the high noise level.  Chef Andrea Reusing, formerly at Fin’s in Raleigh, and her brother Brendan have distilled many Asian culinary themes into a short but fabulous menu.  The fiery Japanese eggplant, marinated with chilies and garlic, is vibrant way to start the meal.  Or kick things off with the crackling calamari, tender very lightly fried squid amped up with a racy lime vinaigrette.  The one-must-order entree is the tea-and-spice-smoked chicken:  Half a bird, brined in rice wine, braised with cinnamon, roasted and then smoked over litchi tea, emerges from its complex culinary hegira moist and tender, sweetly redolent of spice and smoke, accompanied by rice studded with edamame, ham and scallions.  The steamed halibut with scallions and ginger is lovely and fresh; on a chilly night, we’d go for the tofu hot pot, bean curd gently fried and served in a broth with succulent shitake mushrooms, slippery noodles, lotus root and braised mustard greens.  For dessert, one could simply stop and be happy with the warm chocolate cake with ginger ice cream.  Or push the envelope with the pure and simple panna cotta, a wobbly sweet cream jelly in puddle of caramelized sugar.  It could replace the ubiquitous creme brulee.  Contact:  The Lantern, 423 West Franklin Street, Chapel Hill.  Telephone:  919-969-8846

Almost Best Restaurants
Bryan Miller, one-time restaurant critic for the New York Times and now at, is living proof of the Times Dilemma.  Once upon a time the Times had a great food and restaurant critic named Craig Claiborne, but it has found nobody to take his place, virtually all his successors lacking his taste and eye for food.  Miller recently did a flattering article about "North Carolina ... Cooking" (well, the title is deceiving since it is really about the Triangle.  Oops, not really.  Read further: it is about Chapel Hill and Durham.  See the New York Times, June 25, 2002, pp. 8 and 18.).  At any rate, he misses the really best, but does manage to capture a host of the very respectable establishments, include Allen & Son Barbeque, Mama Dip’s Kitchen, Magnolia Grill, Fishmonger’s Restaurant and Oyster Bar, Pop’s, Fearrington House Restaurant and Country Inn, and Crook’s Corner.

More Maybe Restaurants
On a recent trip to Charlotte, we dined for a couple of hours at Bonterra.  This bears no relation to the California organic vineyard, and the waiter was in fact disparaging of that winery.  Our companion picked this spot for its meat, and his choice was justified.  Our Niman’s pork chop was truly thick: clearly it was brought in from out of state since Niman’s has given up operating in North Carolina because of slaughter problems.  His filet mignon was first class though he found the accompaniments dubious.  We shared a flight of four Shirazes which is a fun experience since you get to compare and contrast the several houses one knows about—Penfolds, etc.  We found a Fox Creek—or was it Fox Gordon Reserve—to be the best horse in the paddock.  Probably it was Fox Creek “Short Glove.”  Service was mixed and even diffident.  The food came to the table very, very slowly, and the desserts obviously came from across town.  A vanilla soufflé for dessert was a worthwhile experiment which two should share since other desserts were not remarkable.  The price tag was decent, and the ambiance good, except that some of the customers are permitted to be rather loud.  This blowsy behavior is strange, since most of the patrons are decorous, perhaps a bit dull, and appropriately dressed.  It is situated in a well-remodeled church that had previously hosted 3 denominations since its creation circa 1900.  Bonterra, 1829 Cleveland Ave. at East Worthington Ave., Charlotte North Carolina 28203.  Telephone: 704-333-9463 and 704-333-2433.  Website:

A few more eateries have come up that we’ve heard might be decent, but we have not investigated them yet.  They are: 

LeVecchia’s Seafood Grille, 225 East 6th St., Charlotte NC 28202.  Telephone: 704-370-6776.  Website:

Patou Bistro and Bar, 1315 East Boulevard, Charlotte, NC 28203.  Telephone: 704-376-2233.  Website:  (3/14/07)


Best Way to Eat Oaxaca "Lite"
There may come a moment, perhaps after a week in Oaxaca, when one needs a break from the intensely rich food for which the city’s best cooks are famed.  That might be the moment to visit Iliana de la Vega’s pretty courtyard restaurant, El Naranjo, just off the zocalo.  Sra. de La Vega has created a fracas in her hometown by refusing to make her moles with lard, a decision that flies in the face of centuries of culinary tradition.  During her first year, outraged locals vented their fury by sending a steady stream of dishes back to the kitchen, without tasting—or paying—for them.  (See “In Oaxaca, a Cook Creates a Stir,” Kent Black, The New York Times, August 14, 2002.  Available at   

Our lunch began with squash blossom soup, a limpid pale green broth in which were floating a small piece of corn, a squash blossom and tiny slivers of squash, tender leaves and stems. This almost ascetic brew (really a deconstructed version of a much heartier local soup) came to life when we added a sizzling dollop of smoky chile guallillo sauce and a squeeze of lime. Next came chiles rellenos stuffed with squash blossoms and melting queso fresco, in a vibrant  tomato and almond sauce.  Normally chiles rellenos are battered and fried, which can make them a bit heavy.  Here, in a “lite” bow to tradition, de la Vega  topped them with a  square of puff pastry sprinkled with sesame seeds.  We moved on to pork loin in black mole sauce, and we must confess that we didn’t even notice the missing lard.  The mole was deep, dark, and mysterious with a mellow fire and hints of chocolate, its slightly bitter edge a perfect contrast to the savory pork.  If anything was missing from the coconut flan, we couldn’t tell.  It was creamy and cool, rich with coconut and caramelized sugar.

The service at El Naranjo can be a mite leisurely, but de la Vega makes up for it by stopping at every table in the dining room, greeting her guests and even deconstructing recipes for the inquisitive.  You probably won’t see any Oaxacaquenos there—the tables were packed the day we went, but only with American tourists—which is too bad because the food is good. De la Vega offers cooking classes once or twice a week, which include a visit to the Central de Abastos.  Contact:  El Naranjo, Valerio Trujano 203, Oaxaca, Mexcio.  Telephone: 951/514-1878.  Website:


Just in From France: Best Traditional Brasserie Lunch
So many things at the Brasserie Balzer seem not to have changed in decades: the vinyl banquettes, the mirrors, the dark wood paneling, even the neighborhood patrons, some of whom appear to date from the days when Jean Paul Sartre and Camus were habitues. (One would never know that Balzar's recent purchase by Group Flo caused an uproar.)   The waiters in long white aprons are efficient and gracious, serving simple, robust fare with a flourish: poulet fermier, half a flavorful free-range hen with crisp-roasted skin, a heaping plateful of tender haricot verts with hollandaise, a rich tarte tatin with darkly caramelized apples and a dollop creme fraiche. A good choice for lunch if you are visiting the Pantheon or the Sorbonne.  Brasserie Balzar, 49 Rue des Ecoles, 75005 Paris.  Tel:

Best Meal in Paris at 123 Meters - Haute cuisine at the Eiffel Tower.

Best Michelin Two-Star Lunch with Dog—Paris
We stopped for lunch at Helene Darroze one sunny January day and nearly stumbled over a magnificent creature reclining in the foyer.  Its breed was, alas, unknown to us, but this splendid chien had long silky hair, of such luscious hues of gold, brown and red that it would put any salon colorist on his mettle.  The dog’s lustrous tresses so perfectly matched the rich autumnual hues of the restaurant’s decor that we wondered—was the dog the inspiration, or the afterthought?

Helene Darroze is a 37-year-old chef whose much-bruited Paris restaurant was recently awarded a coveted second Michelin star.  She began her culinary career with Alain Ducasse in Monaco, then moved to the helm of her family’s restaurant in Villeneuve-de-Marsan.  In her eponymous restaurant, which debuted in 1999, Darroze creates inventive riffs on the cuisine of Southwestern France, using local products as inspiration for dishes that intrigue, but don¹t always succeed.  Her cooking has ardent fans, but nearly everyone—from Zagat to our hotel concierge—complains about the restaurant’s lack of ventilation in summer.

No matter.  We were there in the chill of winter and positively luxuriated in the warmly elegant upstairs dining room.  The room is a modernist study in jewel tones, from deep burgundy velvet-covered walls and swish taffeta curtains to rose and amethyst velvet chairs. Bright tangerine menus and glassware in hues of lime green and pink topaz stood out like glowing beacons in a sea of intense color.

Our lunch, which we ordered form the menu dejeuner, was at once the best and worst of our five days in Paris.  It began with an extravagant amuse bouche, a tiny bowl of creme brule de foie gras, inexplicably served with a very large soup spoon.  The caramelized crust strewn with nuggets of green apple and pistachio gave way to an unctuous mousse that was both airy and impossibly rich.  We moved on to silken foie gras de canard des Landes, served with a sweetly spiced chutney of apples, pears and other fruits du moment. Cannelloni de piperade gratines au brebis basque were delicate, the pasta stuffed with a savory mixture of red pepper, onions, and pork, accompanied by thin slices of very salty Basque ham.  At this point, the future looked bright, especially when viewed from the rim of a glass of Domaine de L’Hortus Pic St. Loup 2001, a vibrant red wine from the Languedoc.

Then our paths diverged.  Saumon d¹Ecosse label rouge was perhaps the best salmon we’ve ever eaten: exquisitely fresh and cooked to the perfect moment,  it was served in a frothy jus emulsionee au cavaiar presse atop grilled potatoes and braised leeks.  But our companion’s lard de porc basque et morceau de saucisse grilles au feu de bois left us perplexed and hungry.  A  sort of deconstructivist cassoulet, it featured an impossible-to-eat piece of fatty pork and overly salty sausage that were not redeemed by a ragout of white beans from Bearn.  It was the heavy sort of dish one might eat in the dead of winter before going out to dig post holes on the back forty, but such activities were not on our menu. Desserts included a warm chocolate fondant of fruity Guanaja chocolate, paired with an icy scoop of bittersweet chocolate sorbet.  Meringue a la noix de coco—coconut- flavored meringue wafers with rice pudding and passion fruit puree—struck a tropical note.  

As we made our way downstairs, the dog in the foyer stretched, wagged its tail in the friendliest manner, and positioned itself between us and our camel hair coat.  It  gazed longingly at us and then at the door to the street, as if to say “Let’s go!”  And so we did. But the dog stayed behind.

Contact: Helene Darroze, 4 rue d'Assas, 75006, Paris.  Telephone: 01 42 22 00 11.  Fax: 01 42 22 25 40.  Email:

Favorite Restaurant: Les Bouquinistes—Paris
This is why we love Les Bouquinistes: We no sooner had landed in Paris than we decided to celebrate our arrival with lunch at this upscale bistro (one of Guy Savoy’s “babies”) on the Quai des Grands Augustins near the Pont Neuf.  The booksellers along the Seine, after whom it is named, were shuttered against the winter chill, but the restaurant was thronged with stylish Left Bank art and publishing types.  The personable thirty-something maitre d’ asked if we’d reserved.  When we demurred, he laughed, “Ce n’est pas grave!” and led us to a marvelous table.

With splashy paintings, walls the color of sunlight and asymmetrical white porcelain table settings, Les Bouquinistes lifts the spirits joyously.  Williams Caussimon has taken over the helm since chef William Ledeuil moved around the corner to open Ze Kitchen Galerie.  The winter menu is luxuriously seasonal, as always offering classic dishes with an inventive spin. We began with Ravioles de crabe, delicate pasta bursting with fresh, sweet crabmeat flecked with chives in a buttery broth, then got down to business with Cuisse et filet de canette rotie au foie gras.   An intensely flavorful roasted breast of duck with lusciously crisp skin was paired with boned duck thigh stuffed with unspeakably rich foie gras, sliced into three generous “medallions.”   Across the table was a satisfying version of the same dish, volaille jaune rotie,  roasted chiclken breast deeply infused with its own juices  and—in a clever nod to the duck—three slices of boned chicken leg stuffed with rosemary- and thyme-scented wild mushrooms.  A bowl of puree de pommes de terre was served alongside: the ultimate mashed potatoes, heavy with butter and cream.  For dessert, there was fondant au chocolat, a thick slice of Venezuelan chocolate “pate” with a hidden center of white chocolate and coconut.  A small scoop of icy sorbet de cidre added a tart refreshing note.

We knew we were in Paris when a serious, bespectacled gentleman ended his two-hour lunch by lighting up a giant torpedo-shaped cigar.  Although some Zagat readers have complained that Les Bouquinistes has turned into an American hangout, only French was spoken at lunch that day.  Contact:  Les Bouquinistes, 53 Quai des Grands Augustins, 75006  Paris.  Telephone:  01 43 25 45 94.  Fax:  01 43 25 23 07.  Website:  

New Directions: Ze Kitchen Galerie—Paris
Curious about William Ledeuil’s new venture, we made our way to Ze Kitchen Galerie a few nights later.  At 10 p.m. on Saturday night, this hip, contemporary bistro was noisy and crowded with champagne-drinking couples, impossibly chic shopgirls, and ex-pats mulling over the Iowa caucuses.  White walls hung with bright paintings, a glassed-in kitchen, and table settings by Phillippe Starck underscore the concept of cuisine as art.  (We rather like Margaret Kemps description in Bonjour Paris, April 3, 2003: “Think Saatchi-sur-Seine.”  See

The menu is divided into four sections: soup, pasta, raw and grills. The idea, perhaps new for Paris, is to mix and match rather than put together a formal three or four course meal. At Les Bouquinistes, Ledeuil delivered classic bistro cuisine with creative flourishes. Here, he has moved into a more experimental mode, with food that is light, seasonal and quickly cooked, French but with distinct Asian flavors, intriguing but with occasional rough edges.  Winners that night included soupe de moules de Bouchot et crevettes au basilic Thai, tiny chunks of tender mussels and baby shrimp enveloped in a frothy pale yellow broth redolent of lemongrass and spicy basil.  Crabes mou en tempura, tempura-fried soft shell crabs, were gossamer light.  Less successful was the Bar huile de vanilla, bouillon agrumes et poivres.  Seabass, perfectly fresh and grilled just right, arrived atop a seabed of tiny broccoli and cauliflower florets in a peppery, citrus-scented broth.  The discordant note was struck by the Tahitian vanilla, sweet and flowery, at odds with the other flavors.  But we were thrilled with dessert, a tropical triple play consisting of bananes farcies et caramelisees, roasted fingerling bananas filled with creme brulee, sorbet banane-gingembre, spicy banana ginger sorbet, and, as a chaser, milkshake passion, a shot glass filled with a thick, creamy passion fruit puree. 

The service at Ze Kitchen Galerie is professionally pleasant and quite brisk.  One could linger, but tables tend to turn over quickly.  For enthusiasts, Ledeuil has recently begun offering Thursday afternoon cooking classes.  Contact: Ze Kitchen Galerie, 4 Rue des Grands-Augustins, 75006 Paris. Telephone: 01 44 32 00 32. Fax: 01 44 32 00 33.

Best Ice Cream and Sorbet in Paris
On a sweltering July afternoon, a yellow Citroen screeches to a halt on the peaceful Ile St. Louis.  A family of five tumbles out and joins a long line of languid Parisians and sweaty tourists wilting in the summer heat.  The lure?   Berthillon, from whose takeaway windows issue the most exquisite ice creams and sorbets in Paris.  It is virtually impossible to get really good coffee ice cream in America, but at Berthillon, the glace au cafe is deep, dark, and rich, unmistakably redolent of the pure bean.  In season, do not miss the fresh exotic fruit sorbets: mango, cassis, kumquat, raspberry, and, best of all, fraises de bois (wild strawberries), well worth the 4-franc surcharge.  Berthillon closes for the August vacances and and again at Christmas, but addicts can purchase it from several other venues on the Ile.  Berthillon. 31 Rue St. Lous-en-L'Ile.  Tel:

Howard Johnson's French Chefs
We forget how good Howard Johnson was, a chain strung across the highways of  America which turned out pretty good food at modest cost in a pleasant, restrained atmosphere.  In the early 60s, both Jacques Pepin and Pierre Franey, two French transplants who have since made a great impression on American cooking, went to work for Mr. Howard Johnson, who was a frequenter of Le Pavillon and who had ideas about improving his restaurants.  For 10 years, apparently, he gave his special chefs carte blanche to experiment with such things as beef burgundy and scallops in mushroom sauce.  Albert Kumin, a famous Swiss pastry chef, joined them in the Howard Johnson’s experiment.  Pepin reminisced about this recently (New York Times, April 28, 2005, p. A27), mourning about the closing of the Times Square Howard Johnson’s.  Of course, this wonderful chain lost its heart and its goodness many years ago.  (5/4/05)


San Antonio

Best Atmosphere in a Mexican Restaurant—San Antonio, Texas
Over the years we’ve eaten more chalupas compuestas at La Fonda on Main than we’d care to admit.  Somewhere along the way, this beloved Tex-Mex eatery, founded in 1932 and still located in its original red tile-roofed casita, began a sad downward drift.  Local restaurant maven Cappy Lawton came to rescue, and when it re-opened a couple of years ago, La Fonda quickly resumed its place in the hearts of the faithful. The new décor distills the best of the old: pale stucco walls hung with bullfight posters and photos of the first La Fonda, banquettes upholstered with day-glo serapes and huge broken tile urns flanking the arched doorways.  The service is the nicest in town—some of the waitresses have been there for decades—and you can still get the essential pecan pralines at the cash register.  On hot summer nights, todo San Antonio gathers on the airy terrace to drink margaritas and cool down under a gentle mist that periodically falls from the trees.  In winter, get cozy inside with a traditional steak a la tampiquena or the aforementioned chalupas compuestas: crispy tortillas piled high with refried beans, guacamole, lettuce and tomato, chicken and grated cheese. This is not the place to come for inventive cuisine, just good, old-fashioned comfort food, San Antonio-style.  Contact: La Fonda on Main, 2145 North Main Avenue, San Antonio, TX 78212.  Telephone: 210-733-0621.

The Original Blanco Café
By and large, San Antonio food is heavy, padded with too many ingredients, and less than dexterously cooked.  It has made Antonians people of  bounteous waistlines.  That said, you can pretty much avoid all the restaurants in town that people make a stir about, because the food is less than stirring.  Skip the fancy stuff and you will be happier for it. What you want to find are the modest places nobody talks about, quite often Hispanic.  Such was the Original Blanco we visited early one Saturday morning, a short hop from our downtown hotel.  It’s been in the San Miquel family since 1974 under the watchful eye of the father of the present owners.  You will find on your visit Albert and Graciela San Miquel (husband and wife), and another brother is involved with the other 4 locations which have sprung from the original.  It was Gracie’s birthday that Saturday and all the help plus the patrons sang to her for the occasion.   

You might just have a machacado plate at $5.49 (eggs mixed with meat strips and sundry vegetable items) or enjoy breakfast tacos which were pleasing to our companion.  You will have had enough to eat but not come away with the leaden feeling we got at a new trendy TexMex eatery and at an old-time Alamo Heights favorite on Broadway.  Everybody is conspicuously polite and helpful: the patrons, 99% Hispanic, provide you with a vital getaway from the convention crowd, such as the dentists that flocked around our hotel. Blanco Café.  419 N. St. Mary’s, San Antonio, Texas 78205.  Telephone: 210-271-3300.  Web: (website still under construction).    

As in many cities of the New West and New South, most of the interest in San Antonio  lies downtown in the center city, the rest of the copious sprawl not worth the time of day.  Of course, there are a few museums further out, and a distinguished botanical garden.  A revival of the downtown is underway and, ere long, people of the burbs will begin to flock here day and night.  (2/9/05)

Best Mexican Restaurant with a Party Atmosphere in San Antonio
It's fiesta time all the time at Pico de Gallo.  You can get better food at half a dozen other spots, but for fun, nothing beats the atmosphere at this popular West Side restaurant.  Strolling mariachis (musicians) with guitars and horns wail "Guantanmera," the walls vibrate with color (pink, yellow, lavender) and even the gaily painted ceiling fans flash with sparkly "jewels."  Don't miss the carved wood bar as you enter: adorned with roosters and tequila maidens emerging from agave plants, it's quintessential Tex Mex kitsch.  The crowd is lively, the margaritas are cold, and the service is friendly and efficient.  But think twice about coming on Saturday night, when the parking lot can get rowdy.  Contact: Pico de Gallo, 111 S. Leone, San Antonio, Texas.  Telephone: 210-225-6060.

San Francisco

Every California warned us away from Davis and Sacramento, both of which we had not visited for perhaps 30 years.  That immediately made us want to go, since we have found on many occasions that universally unpopular locations are often simply spots that trendies don’t visit, yet full of idiosyncratic treasures that bear investigation.  Waterboy in Sacramento bore this out.  Mike Dunne, the reasonably good food critic at the Sacramento Bee is high on the place, as is Darrell Corti, the owner of Sacramento’s very fine gourmet food market Corti Brothers.

We cannot say enough nice things about the place, though the dessert may have been indifferent.  The fish and shellfish stew was first rate, and the sturgeon was a very nice surprise to find on the menu.  The wines by the glass were just fine.  Owner chef Rick Mahan will reach a bit, so you may find rabbit or roasted-pickled beets on any one night.  The service was intelligent and attentive.  You will probably find yourself a bit close to the diners beside you—the only drawback to the place.

There are perhaps 12 to 15 restaurants worth some attention in Sacramento, often peopled by chefs from foreign parts.  Maybe 3 are top grade.  We intend to give a look on our next visit to Restaurant 55 Degrees, Kozen, Biba, maybe Mulvaney’s Building, and Loan, Masque Ristorante.  To get a feel about the growth in cuisine here, read “Renowned Chefs Invade the Region.”  (1/23/08)


Best Old-Economy Seafood in the Financial District of San Francisco
Neither the food nor the atmosphere at Sam's Grill is Nuevo California, but Sam's does boast the old hearty fare you used to find around town.   Probably, if you haven't been before, you should have the sand dabs and a martini.  According to the menu, the establishment dates back to 1867, which is pretty old for California.  The patrons are still proud of their guts and their boisterous laughs.  Better for lunch than dinner.  Sam's Grill.  374 Bush St.  GA-1-0594.  Email:

Delica rf-1
San Francisco’s Ferry Building symbolizes everything that is right and everything that is wrong about San Francisco.  It and the waterfront have lost their real function—the commerce of a busy port.  The building is now decorative, full of food boutiques.  It is all pretty and charming, but a little hollow.  Any visitor, however, should look around.  There are a few shops that are worthwhile—perhaps the creamery and the bread shop, maybe one or two more.  The eateries are a little tough: no matter the trappings, they handle too many people and are more production lines than gourmet taste treats. 

DELICA rf-1 breaks the mold.  It is restful and polite and attracts a nice clientele.  We can recommend handily the salads and several other deli items.  Oddly enough, the sushi was nothing to write home about.  We were very pleasantly surprised for dessert by the baked summer peach with custard.  There are just a few tables to sit down: we shared one just outside and found our luncheon companions genial and even interesting.  Delica rf-1.  San Francisco Ferry Building.  (415) 834-0344.  (1/30/08)

For years San Francisco cooking has been much overrated.   Generally it produced solid but not spectacular food, and the restaurants that earned all the kudos in the newspapers and cooking magazine were not even its best offerings.  In particular the rash of new young cooks around the area plunked too many elements in their dishes, the fruit and other nonesuch somewhat concealing the fact that a cut of beef was not cooked right. Perhaps it was our 3d best food city, but it did not really touch New York or New Orleans.  Michelin has come out with its 2007 guide on the Bay Area, and the San Francisco food tribe is aghast that only the French Laundry has gotten 3 stars, that there are just a handful of two stars, and all the revered get one star.  Broadly this confirms the thesis that SF does not stack up against New York.  We agree, however, with local foodlovers who say Michelin, in fact, messed about a bit, putting the wrong people in 3 and 2 star categories, and not sufficiently appreciating some of the one stars.  For more on this tempest in a teapot, read “Bay Area Stars Fail to Make Michelin Cut,” San Francisco Chronicle, October 3, 2006.

But San Francisco has come of age, no matter what the tired French have to say.  Quince at Octavia and Bush is one indication.  First of all, it is charming, the right size, warmly but not ostentatiously decorated, with the right light, and comfortable service, though some of the blogs have complained that a waiter or two has attitude.  Our party recently spent perhaps 3 hours there, and found it to have just the right tone.  There is imagination in the food—to include the menu selection.  We had, amongst other things, oxtails, sardines, rabbit, and lamb.  Owner Chef Michael Tusk has cooked at 3 highly regarded Bay restaurants, and he probably has done them one better.  Though the restaurant is proud of its wine list, it could still use some work, as we found it pricey but not distinguished.  People make a great deal out of his pasta course, which is fine enough, though we found the other courses more interesting.  There are several restaurants named Quince around the nation.  We don’t know the attraction of the name, although we are much taken with our own Cydonia oblong.  Quince, 1710 Octavia Street at Bush, San Francisco, California 94109.  Telephone: 415-775-8500.  Website:  Read more about Quince at SpiceLines.  (12/12/07)

Best Breakfast Hotel in San Francisco
Campton Place is very central (just off Union Square), very obliging at breakfast time, and is equipped with a dining room that is very right-sized and quite calming when you are starting the day.  Probably it is just down the hotel ladder a few rungs from the Mandarin, which makes it very good, indeed, and the dining room has a better ambiance than Silks.  Occasionally, the hotel's rooms are a bit too snug, but we understand that they all have been reworked to be more capacious.  Of all the hotels, there is more attention to design details (some quite successful) than in all the other hostelries around town.  We hear the bar and restaurant are to be redone--for the better we hope--even though management may be messing with a good formula.  Campton Place Hotel.  340 Stockton Street, San Francisco, California 94108.  Telephone: 415-781-5555.  Fax: 415-955-5536.  Website:

Update: We recently paid another very extensive visit to Campton Place and found it to be as good as ever.  First, hurray for the restaurant, which has finally reached the first rank.  It and the bar outside have undergone a light redesign, but it’s nothing dramatic and the tone has remained reasonably understated.  The banquette at the back has turned slightly more uncomfortable, since the padding pressed up against one’s spine is not quite right.  At night you will want to sit in the booths on the left.  By day, get a position near the windows since the lighting is mildly depressing otherwise.  The service at night is as good as ever, though we did not see the old hands who had a bit more knowledge about the food.  The food in the old days was a little fruity precious (new California chefs trying too hard); things are now more complex and very decorative but very mellow.  It’s all a bit filling, so go empty and don’t plan on visiting too often.  Despite the fact that it’s a better restaurant, it does not seem as crowded—for any meal—which, of course, is a very big plus for the discerning.   

Breakfast is still quite pleasant but with some caveats.  You have to pick your way through the menu and be a little demanding.  For instance, we eat the egg white omelet which will come out a little watery (just pour the waste onto a saucer), and the vegetables, which strangely are not wrapped into the omelet, tend to blandness.  It helps if you ardently spell out what you want in the omelet and caution the staff on the cooking.  Likewise the breads are mixed: a croissant was respectable, but the attempt at an English muffin could even be said to be gluey.  Do try the jams and jellies.  But it’s a quiet place to kick off the day and to carry on civil business conversation. 

The hotel staff is ever willing and the rooms have grown more comfortable over the years. There are a few trifles that need to be repaired.  The front desk can be dilatory about getting a bellboy to the room or effecting a simple transaction that requires a bit of creativity—in other words, balls do get dropped there.  Nobody polices the front lobby, so an unruly guest can prowl back and forth yapping for a long time on a cell phone, disturbing more temperate guests.  Generally, however, it attracts a genteel clientele.  The flaws probably arise because management is rather invisible.  Room service really ends at 10:30: this is not quite luxury.  But the papers really do make it to your door in the morning, even if they are not on the table in the restaurant which sports too many copies of USA Today and the emasculated San Francisco Chronicle.  The maid will do a fast clean up in a pinch.  It’s quiet in the rooms, and the double seal glass protects one against rather noisy streets.  Unusually we found ice in our room every night—without asking. The towels have a reasonable nap and there are enough at hand.


Santa Fe

Most Inviting Restaurant in Santa Fe
Santa Fe has lots of high concept restaurants, but few that truly cosset  their diners. That’s why we love Santacafe, located in the historic Padre Gallegos House several blocks off the Plaza.  Many customers adore the shady patio, but we prefer the dining room where the light is luminous, creamy walls are sensuously curved, and the spareness of the decor has an appealing purity.  The atmosphere is Southwestern-goes-Zen and the only jolt to the eye comes from bright bouquets of gerbera, lilies and stock.

A fine hand is at work in the kitchen, turning out inventive dishes with a New Mexican twist.  A perfectly grilled seabass, moist and faintly smoky, with a bright chipotle glaze, arrives nestled atop a  creamy risotto studded with calbacitas (baby squash). Garlicky pesto broth, thick with chunks of tomato, bok choy and corn, added extra zing to a bowl of tortellini stuffed with four cheeses.  Succulent tiger prawn tempura comes with peppery watercress and slivers of buttery avocado in a chile-flecked in a chile-flecked sweet and sour dressing. Even our 14-year-old’s hot dog was flanked by crunchy, homemade rosemary potato chips and an irresistible bowl of lightly pickled slaw with chile and cilantro.  The desserts included two well-executed classics:  Tahitian vanilla bean creme brulee and warm chocoloate upside down cake.  But we really loved the deep, dark coffee bean ice cream served with meltingly rich cajeta sauce and a crisp of toasted pinon nuts.

You can’t really be cossetted without service that is both attentive and unobtrusive.  We had both in our waiter, Mauro.  And if we happened to dine next to a table of art buyers who chortled ever more loudly with each round of margaritas—well, that made us glad that we could repair for a  restorative nap to our house in the hills.

Contact: Santacafe, 231 Washington Avenue, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501.  Telephone: 505/984-1788.  Website:

Best Hamburger in Santa Fe: The Bobcat Bite
Connoisseurs of the burger think nothing of driving from Albuquerque to stand in line, sometimes for an hour or more, at the Bobcat Bite.  And no wonder.  This ex-trading post and gun shop has, since 1953, been the very best place in northern New Mexico to get hamburgers made as they should be: thick, juicy, freshly ground chuck, cooked to your liking (medium rare, please) on a plain bun.  You can get it gussied up with bacon and cheese, but why gild the lily?  A side of green chile or coleslaw with sweet vinaigrette is all the extra you need.   

Part of the charm of the Bobcat Bite is the very pleasant wait staff, mostly family members, and the fact that it is so tiny: with counter seating and tables inside and out, only 25 diners or so can be served at a time.  There are plaid curtains and bird feeders at the windows, bobcat pictures on the paneled walls and an old fashioned cash register.  No desserts, no alcohol and only open Wednesday through Saturday, from 11 a.m. to 7:50 p.m.  We planned entire weeks around our meals there.

Bobcat Bite, 420 Old Las Vegas Highway, Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Telephone: 505-983-5319.


Best Al Fresco Lunch: Wild Earth Llama Adventures
Azul has one blue eye (and one brown), and will nibble your chocolate chip cookie when you’re not looking.  Lorenzo is aristocratic, with a  long and graceful neck; he likes to jog. Little Gus has a Napoleon complex, but you can pat him on the head.  Domino has a spotted nose and hides his face when he spies a camera.

This quirky quartet accompanied us on a “Take a Llama to Lunch” hike into Columbine Canyon in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, near Taos.  We learned a lot about these endearing pack animals that summer day.  For instance, llamas hum, soft and low, when they are content; the hum gets a little more insistent when they’re  impatient to get going. They like being stroked on their long, fluffy necks but not petted on their heads (except for Gus). There is a definite pecking order: in our group, Gus was at the bottom of the ladder and had to walk last in line.  Llamas step daintily over rocks and jump gracefully over fallen logs. And for the record, they did not spit, not even once.

Our day hike was led by Stuart, the engaging owner of Wild Earth Llama Adventures.  A self-taught naturalist, one-time chef, and natural raconteur, he instantly divined the varied interests of our seven-person group.  For plant lovers he plucked wild raspberries and offered fragrant bark from the “vanilla pine” to sniff.  For history buffs, there was a detour into a 19th-century mineshaft, and for budding geologists, much talk about 20- and 80- million year old rocks.  For all of us, there was a tasty lunch and a superbly told tale of his all-too-close encounter with a ferocious black bear.

The 6-hour trek was easy.  For much of the day we hiked along a stream that rushed briskly over granite boulders and around ruined beaver dams.  In mid-summer, our path was lined with tiny blue harebells and lacy cow parsley, opening into fields of bright yellow penstemmon.  But it was the llamas who really enchanted us.  We learned that most were unwanted trophy pets rescued from owners all over the Southwest.  Happily, the 20 or so llamas who now reside with Wild Earth have found a good home.

Wild Earth Llama Adventures offers four- and seven-day hiking trips as well as the “Take a Llama to Lunch” day hike.  Telephone: 800-758-5262.  Website:

New York, Chicago and L.A. Italian in Santa Fe—Trattoria Nostrani
Strolling along Johnson Street, just down from the Georgia O’Keefe Museum, we were riveted by the riotous cottage garden in front of the Italian restaurant, Trattoria Nostrani.   Cascading roses mingled with spiky lavender and other brilliantly hued blooms in such  profusion that we were compelled to stop and stare in slack-jawed admiration.   

A week later we arrived for supperperfume-free as instructed.  We couldn’t help but notice the overpowering scent of while lilies as we rounded the bar into one of the four small dining rooms.  Early in the evening, the old Territorial style house is cool and serene, with dark floors and parchment-hued walls hung with appealing black and white photos by the French photographer Willy Ronis.  Later on, it thrums with a big city buzz that reaches a feverish pitch as the cramped rooms fill up.  

Chef-partners Eric Stapelman and Nellie Maltezos know a thing or two about creating an  urban vibe.  Before coming to Santa Fe, they  worked together at Zucca in New York.   Maltezos also cooked with Charlie Trotter in Chicago and Stapelman studied wine with sommelier Thomas Johnson in L.A.  Their previous Santa Fe endeavor, Rociada, was a darling of visiting food and wine writers.  At Trattoria Nostrani all the ingredients are in place for another hit.   

Among the antipasti, the star of the evening was the burrata, oozingly soft, impossibly rich mozzarella scooped like fresh cream from the very top layer of the cheese as it curdles.   Served with ripe heirloom tomatoes (the restaurant grows 10 varieties), olive oil, and a sprig of basil, it was proof of the power of simplicity.  We also enjoyed the almost airy calamari, fritta, brightened with just a squeeze of lemon, and the even more insubstantial fitto mistofried squash blossoms, zucchini, cauliflower florets and cipollini onions brought down to earth by a lemon parmesan aioli.

Once we got past the appetizers, there were a few missteps.  Gnocchi de Patate, tiny curls of pasta stuffed with potato and aged asiago cheese, were light as a feather, but Ravioli di Baccala, potato and salt cod ravioli, were leaden, bathed in a non-descript saffron crème, topped with just a few morsels of jumbo lump Blue crab meat.  Among the secondi piatti, there was unqualified enthusiasm for Bistecca al Ferri, a superbly tender Harris prime ribeye steak with lemon and olive oil and lightly cooked spinach.  We liked  the Carpina Rossa alla Grigli whole chargrilled red snapper napped with a bagna cauda, but could have used more help deboning the fish.

The dessert menu looked to the garden for inspiration:  White chocolate semi freddo was infused with fresh mint, and the vanilla pannacotta came with a lavender spiked caramel sauce.  Both were pleasant, if a bit pallid. 

Trattoria Nostrani has an ample wine cellar—over 400 selections from different regions of Italywith enough Barolos and Chianti Riservas to keep bibulous oenophiles busy for many an evening.  We took the low road to Sicily and turned up a winner with a very smooth, almost inky 2001 Nero d’Avola. 

By 8 o’clock all traces of the restaurant’s earlier calm had vanished.  There was a loud, distinctly New York buzz throughout, the kind where you are forced to listen to nearby conversations whether you want to or not.  We had to shoulder our way through the bar, now thronged with a noisy, ravenous crowd, hugging and air-kissing while jockeying for  places to sit.  Outside, the few tables under the portal by the garden, which drew us there in the first place, were quiet and, in contrast, positively blissful. 

Contact Trattoria Nostrani, 304 Johnson Street, Santa Fe, NM 87501.  Telephone:    505-983-3800.  Fax:  505-983-8306.  Web:  (For original entry see Best of Class #374.)  (7/27/05) 

Behold: Gelato Comes to Santa Fe—Café Ecco
Just in time for the dog days comes Ecco, a shiny new café that has Santa Feans lining up for a taste of homemade, organic gelato.   There are 16 or so flavors, some familiar, some with a distinctly local twist.  We loved the luscious strawberry-habanero (watch out for the afterburn) and the delicate lavender-honey.  But how to choose, when you can also have perennial favorites like hazelnut and bittersweet chocolate?  

You can’t go wrong, because owner Matt Durkovic, who worked for the local newspaper before opening Ecco, lets you taste as many flavors as you like.  An enthusiastic, young man, he seems to be in five places at once—handing out samples, chatting with every customer, wiping tables, working the cash register and expresso machine.  “We’re the only gelateria in Santa Fe” he exclaims, nodding to a gentleman who’s on his second visit of the day.  Like a proud father, he even reveals the formula for his addictive strawberry  gelato: “Four small habaneros to two pounds of strawberries.”  It’s a winner. 

Café Ecco. 105 East Marcy Street, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87501.  Telephone: 505-986-9778.  Fax: 505-986-9740.  (For original entry see Best of Class #375.)  (7/27/05)

Sushi with Godzilla—Kasasoba—Santa Fe
No illuminated Kirin signs, no yakitori, no smiling waitstaff.   Kasasoba—“house of noodles”—is full of surprises.  Start with the setting: an historic adobe cottage, green tea- colored walls hung with lurid Japanese sci-fi posters of crazed dinosaurs, evil robots, rampaging godzillas.  A peek into the kitchen reveals an entirely non-Japanese staff.   Then there’s the rather arch service. 

More surprises may be found on the menu.  A summery meal began with Hiya-Yakko Tofu, a scoop of fresh chilled bean curd imported from Japan.  Smooth and creamy, topped with spicy red chile and scallion relish, it was as far from the ordinary stuff as you can get.  Next came Five Jewels Omakase, an appealing assortment of amuse-gueles, including silvery baby sardines, briny cod roe marinated in red chile oil and a tiny grilled lobster tail.  Other pleasures included a buttery Avocado and Dungeness Crab Roll dusted with cod roe, and Gyuniku Tatakii, tender grilled beef tenderloin topped with a tangle of daikon, served with vinegary ponzu sauce for dipping.  And yes, there were delicious  Zaru Soba, cold buckwheat noodles with nori and wasabi, and a cloud of tempura fried vegetables. 

Smooth river stones serve as chopstick rests and the serving ware is elegantly asymmetrical, more evidence of an uncommon mind at the helm.  The outdoor patio, which faces the Sanbusco center, is a favorite spot for lunch or dinner. 

Contact: Kasasoba. 544 Agua Fria Street, New Mexico 87501.  Telephone: 505-984-1969.  (For original entry see Best of Class #376.)  (7/27/05)

The Compound—Santa Fe
For better than 15 years, we have been meaning to visit The Compound Restaurant, but we always got caught up in other things.  Off Canyon Road, even sleepy at luncheon amidst cottony trees, it’s mainly a pretty place and that is why you should go there.  The ownership changed a few years back, and though it bills itself as revived, probably it has declined a little.  The service at all times was decidedly slow and the over-billed food was ample enough and vaguely new cuisine, but rather average in the end.  Go for lunch and then the whole point is where you sit.  Just past the very, very compact bar is a pretty, airy center room with a good view to the outside, often relatively free of noisome people.  A lady with a chic red hat may be dining, rapt in conversation with a younger lover.  If you don’t need air conditioning and want to sit outside, then get well out into the back courtyard, ensuring that you get a table near or at the rear, well away from the hubbub where you can feel the vegetation.  Have an appertif or two for lunch and dwell on it.  We had lobster and crab salad, which was warm and indifferent, and probably sat out for a while before it was served.  Our guests had much the same result, though the tuna came out better as we remember.  The current chef and owner Mark Kiffin put in a lot of time with Coyote Café’s Mark Miller, and both have a better feel for pizzazz than cuisine.  The Compound Restaurant.  Website: Canyon Road, Santa Fe, New Mexico.  Telephone: (505) 982-4353.  (For original entry see Best of Class #377.)   (8/3/05)

Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill—Santa Fe
A simple enough place—you can call it fast food if you like—we are much taken with the Bumble Bee, where you can get burritos, tacos, and other Spanish fare that soar  above the pack.  The ingredients are simply very, very fresh, and all the staff, from the owner on down, radiate such cheer that they make it extra fun to visit.  For a change there is ample parking, and it’s very easy to get to once you discover Guadalupe.  Just across the street, by the way, is Tulips, where you can get fancy fare (90% New American mixed with a touch of New Mexican) when you feel like putting on the dog.  But you will go to the Bumble Bee in shorts, get your food in a hurry, and complete it with zesty salsas and garnishes from the back table.  There is an efficient take out window, too, if that’s what you want to do.  The surprises for us were the chile-marinated roast chicken (you can see several on the spit as you wait to give your order) which easily surpasses the birds offered by the normal chicken take-out places.  And, second, a burrito filled with tender, juicy lamb was a treat, offering flavors not found in the usual run of burritos.  But did we mention the grilled wild Pacific mahi-mahi tacos, the succulent, slightly charred fish topped with shredded cabbage and a mysterious sauce?  To achieve perfection, liberally add the superb roasted tomato and chile salsa from the back bar to all of the above.  On a Saturday night, some tables are pushed aside, and musicians are installed to add to the merriment.  Bumble Bee’s Baja Grill. 301 Jefferson (just off Guadalupe).  Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501.  505-820-2862.

Tulips Restaurant—Santa Fe
The North Guadalupe district now provides very good pickings for those who care about food.  Il Vicino, a pizza chain with woodburning ovens, has a tidy locale just around the corner at 32l San Francisco.  It certainly makes the best pizza in town, though we would avoid the homemade microbeers pumped by the employees.  From Seattle comes The Spanish Table, a cookware and Spanish food store at 109 Guadalupe, which has a huge array of paella pans.  Then there is quiet little Tulips Restaurant, which probably seats 30 people, has a soft, flickering candle in a wall niche, and allows a strain of music so low that it never breaks the conversation.

We suppose you could call the food American new cuisine with really just a hint of the Southwest and touches of everything else.  On a recent evening we enjoyed an ample but certainly not huge Canadian natural veal chop quite juicily bathed in a red wine reduction, black angus beef tenderloin which we were allowed to pair with a devastatingly rich three-cheese risotto, and finally a tortilla crusted duck mole chile relleno that was pleasing if not challenging.  The service was elegant and attentive, well beyond most of the local eateries.  We would say it provides the tastes of the finer hotel restaurants, but surrounds you with the romantic intimacy of an adobe cottage.  Tulips. 222 North Gaudalupe Street.  Santa Fe, New Mexico 87501, 505-989-7340.  Email: Website:

Best Roadhouse in Santa Fe
We knew it had to be a local fave when the parking lot was jammed every hour of the day and late into the night.  It is Harry’s Roadhouse and it is the place to go when you want to eat big--and we’re talking giant--portions of Southwestern/New Mexican-style food. Naturally breakfast is served all day—try the migas, eggs scrambled with onion, tomato, green chile, tortilla strips and cheese, with sides of black refried bens and fiery pickled jalapenos—but at night go upmarket with specials like lobster or pork chops in balsamic vinegar sauce.

You can eat outside in the back patio shaded by rosy hollyhocks and lavender butterfly bushes, or on a screened porch at tables covered with gaily patterned Mexican oilcloth. Inside the walls are hung with paintings by local talent, some of it surprisingly good. Wherever you dine, you’ll have to wait in line—so cool your heels in the lively bar with a frosty Margarita.

Contact:  Harry’s Roadhouse, 9613 Old Las Vegas Highway, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87505.  Telephone:  505/989-4629.



Local  11 Ten
Savannah presents its challenges to the wayfarer. It’s a wonderful town haunted by history, elevated by its wonderful green squares that set it apart from all other American Cities, distinguished by its halting but occasionally inspired ventures into the arts.  The songsmith of the 20th century—Johnny Mercer—hailed from here and some knowledgeable visitors go out to his grave to pay homage.  But truly distinguished hotels or inns are elusive, even though room prices are generally cheap, the town lacking for trade.  If you head to the river for food, you may harvest a case of indigestion.  But out just far enough in the opposite direction is Local 11 Ten, where 20 of us had an excellent meal and good service one night, with nary a complaint from any of our number.  The website menu does not do the restaurant justice, since our food was much better and more innovative than it suggests. We would only have a couple of the appetizers, such as the squid ink pasta or the charcuterie..  But we remember good entres as well.  So call ahead to see if there’s something to your liking on the menu for the night.  The restaurant has parking, so it’s an easy adventure wherever you are staying.  Local 11 Ten. 1110 Bull Street. Savannah, Georgia 31401. 912-790-9000  (02-10-10)

South Carolina

Charleston Eating
The food in Charleston has always been a mixed bag.  The most intensely touristy areas have a raft of bad, overpriced restaurants, and one is advised to move to the margins where some good places hide out.  For instance, the fish stew at Fig is well worth your while.  The restaurant gets a little too jammed: you are up against your neighbor and a waitress may forget your wine in the rush of events.  So it’s wise to try to eat here during a lull.   Last time in town, our best meal was at Anson’s where all the food was fine, but where we particularly remember the grits.  They were the best we’ve had in our life, and we don’t even like grits.  The raw material comes from Anson Mills, but the big secret is that the grits are freshly ground and made each day. The chef has since moved on, but we are hopeful that the owners will maintain this gem.  Fig Restaurant. 232 Meeting Street. Charleston, N.C. 29401-3134. 843-805-5900.  Anson Restaurant  12 Anson Street. Charleston, N.C. 29401.  843-577-0551. (01-20-10)


Our peripatetic friend and correspondent Howard Gross sends us yet another jewel, this time from Australia. Tetsuya is a fine restaurant that has already been much remarked upon, but Howard's comments will help you pick your way through the menu: 

"Tetsuya Wakada has become something of a Sydney legend, with chefs and foodies trekking in from all corners of the globe to the sensitively restored manse and its rear Japanese rock garden.  There is no menu selection per se. Like the early days at Berkeley icon Chez Panisse (to which I see many parallels), you experience a progression of delights according to the chef’s whims and market availability.  As you are seated, a recitation of the evening’s highlights is made; many of the early presentations will arrive in groups of threes.  The wine list is presented, populated by the requisite trophy selections and others; only the specter of extremely high markups clouds the otherwise well-thought-out options.  

First comes an amuse guèle:  tartare of yellowfin tuna with fine shards of shiso.  It does exactly as advertised:  tickles the palate with a glimpse of wonders to come.  A delicate consommé appears next, made from the broth of porcini mushrooms, with sliced fresh porcini, black truffle flecks and a hint of sherry.  I had tasted Tetsuya’s wonderful carpaccio of venison wrapped around lightly sautéed fresh duck foie gras on two previous visits, and must confess, I had dreamt of encountering it again.  Fortunately, it makes another appearance.  The juxtaposition of the lean meat paired with the buttery richness of foie gras, mated with a touch of lemon zest for astringency and flagged with a rosemary sprig for aromatics demonstrates a chef in mastery of flavor.  (Sidebar note:  One of the world’s top deer ranches is located on Cave Road just outside Margaret River, center of the wonderful western Australia wine region bearing the same name, and it is from here that most of the top Aussie restaurants’ venison emanates; both the region and the ranch are well worth the trek.) 

We move next to a tiny filet of ocean trout, poached in evoo, coated in salted crumbled kombu and topped with its own roe, into which a touch of orange oil has been infused.  Somehow the oil does not permeate the flesh of the fish, leaving just a hint of the cooking medium, though the kombu’s saltiness is a touch dominant.  Then comes an ultra-thin single triangle of pasta—a pocket of delicate lobster mousseline, drizzled with a warm parsley oil vinaigrette.  Here you savor the individual tastes.  Next is thin sashimi of sea scallop, translucent over a soft wafer of pate de foie gras, atop a bed of land cress sprouts tossed with a light mirin sesame vinaigrette.  The nuttiness of the scallop partners the sesame oil’s toastiness extremely well. 

One of the challenges of Tetsuya’s cuisine is the pairing of wine with food.  Traditional notions of moving from lighter whites to heavier reds seem incompatible with the to-and-fro nature of the progression of flavors in his courses.  My suggestion based upon four visits would be to order a lighter white, such as the outstanding Cape Mentelle Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc Walcliffe Reserve, a medium-to-full bodied white Burgundy from Chassagne or Puligny Montrachet, and a medium strength red made from the perfumed pinot noir grape, a good match with the oft-delicate and aromatic nature of the food.  For the latter, there are good choices from the better vineyards in New Zealand, Australia’s Yarra Valley and Tasmania, as well as from the mater familias Burgundy.  Have all uncorked at once, and pour the most appropriate with each dish.  Somehow, moving back and forth does not feel odd. 

Moving on to meat courses, we find slices cut from the boneless eye of a sautéed lamb rack, bedded on slivers of barely-there baby Japanese eggplant and wilted leaves of young spinach shoots, all napped with a blond miso sauce.  A roll of thin, charred Wegyu beef (Australia-raised cousin to ultra-tender Kobe beef) appears centered with a mix of Asian mushrooms (enoki, shimeji, etc.) on a bed of slightly bitter rocket (arugula) in a beef and mushroom stock reduction, with a droplet or two of lemon oil.  Once again, a show of yin and yang, and Tetsuya pulls it off well.  If the meat dishes are just a slight notch below the culinary heights reached with the previous dishes, it is only because Tetsuya reaches such outstanding balance with his fish and crustacean designs, triumphs of sight, scent and palate. 

In lieu of a cheese course, we get a ceramic “spoon” filled with puy lentils soaked with vanilla and covered with well-aged shredded gruyère.  Only here does it seem the kitchen is stretching the boundaries a bit too far, despite the flavorful combination.  For dessert, an île flottante, one side filled with a center of bright raspberry purée, the other with dark, rich molten chocolate.  How Tetsuya injects this airy whipped egg-white mount with these hot liquid bursts of intensity I may never understand, but I relish them. They are surrounded by two different crèmes anglaises, one of hazelnut praline and the other the pure essence of vanilla bean.  

If the price for this tour of outstanding tastes is high (A$170/US$105 per person fixed price), it is due to the unsurpassed quality of the ingredients.  This is the basis for Tetsuya’s cuisine, and it is worth every hard-earned dollar.  Tetsuya.  529 Kent, Sydney, NSW Australia.  Telephone:  (+61) 2-9267-2900."

Shiki It in Sydney
Howard Gross reports on another restaurant find in Australia, once again in Sydney:

“In the reborn area of The Rocks in Sydney, whose food credentials have been forever escalated by Neil Perry of Rockpool fame, you can find a restaurant which allows you to banish all stress.  Step over water-covered smooth river stones at the entrance to Shiki, and place yourself in the hands of the itamae-san behind the kaiseke menu, head chef Hikaru Tomita. Selecting the kaiseke (in effect, pre-set order) is something I don’t do lightly, preferring to make my own food choices based upon my then-current whims. But do relieve yourself of that obligation.  A Japanese kaiseke typically consists of numerous small courses selected by the chef: soy and vinegar-marinated (kobachi), grilled hassun), simmered (nimono), and so on.  Shiki takes these traditions as a guide, but updates the selections according to the notion of cuisine du marché, based upon the best of what’s available from Sydney’s phenomenal fish market.

The nature of kaiseke based on the chef’s creative use of seasonal specialties dictates that it will rarely be the same for long (Shiki’s changes at least monthly), but I visited twice a few months ago days apart and gladly repeated the menu.  Another visit 2 weeks ago confirmed to me Shiki excels at all that kaiseke means. They may not use the same scope of world-wide luxury ingredients found at cross-town celebrated Tetsuya (whose stunning array of dishes frequently includes foie gras, truffles, etc.), but Shiki delivers constant taste thrills and contrasts.  Squash soup comes with an infusion of fresh ginger, a small dollop of sour cream topped with chervil floats in its midst. When scallop sushi dotted with a thumbnail of fresh raspberry purée arrives, my mind flashed to the horrific food excesses of the late ‘70s, when shrimp would appear with kiwi and strawberry, but no such absurdity here—the tang of the berry draws out the rich nuttiness of the creamy scallop perfectly.

Sashimi of Tasmanian salmon cut from the belly may be the most velvety fish I have ever savored.  More sashimi pairs a generous cut of buttery hamachi (yellowtail) with fine strands of shiso (Japanese basil), and a slice of hirame (flounder) is sublime solo.  A skewer of boneless short rib of beef is simmered for tenderness, then grilled, with the unusual (but delicious) addition of grated whole nutmeg.  For visual effect, deep red beef carpaccio is wrapped maki-style around the tiniest of iridescent green spring asparagus shoots, crunchy and garden fresh. Shiki’s version of dobin mushi finds delicate shimeji and enoki mushrooms in a small earthenware teapot filled with a wonderful clear broth, with a julienne of shiso for aromatics.  A highly soothing way to complete this meal so charitable to palate and mind.  The A$60 (US$47) price tag is likewise kind to the wallet, outstanding value for the quality delivered.”  For more details, see
0023/44/35/.  Shiki Restaurant, Argyle Street, Sydney NSW, Australia. Telephone: (+61) 2-9252-2431.



Best Dessert Locale in Tampa
Bern's Steak House is not a restaurant.  It's an institution.  We were put on to it by a detective friend.  Only days later Frank Prial wrote about its wines for the New York Times (April 4, 2001, B2 and B11).   

We all agreed that the climax of our evening came in the Harry Waugh Dessert Room, completed in 1985.  Located upstairs, there are forty-eight private rooms where you can finally get a touch of quiet, an after-dinner drink, pleasant lighting, perhaps an Italian vineyard mural, and paneled comfort to keep your brandy, cigar, and dessert company.  And you can dial up some pleasant music--we chose light jazz.

Founded in 1956 by Gert and Bern Laxer, the restaurant is now headed by son David, and may crank out upwards of a 1,000 meals a night.   So have a steak your way plus some of the vegetables from Berns' own farm. 

The restaurant reminds you of several eateries in America that combine mass with a touch of class.  There are good spirits, and very loyal, motivated help all take pride in the institution.  We're reminded of Snuffy's in Scotch Plains, New Jersey and of several other spots where you can have the pleasure of eating too much.

After the dessert room, the second remarkable thing about Bern's is the wine.  It's list is now only a couple of hundred pages, though we have heard it once covered two thousand.  At any rate, we know of no restaurant with a larger inventory.  We enjoyed a very serviceable pick of Ken Collura, head sommelier.  This was followed by a tour of the wine cellar with Eric, our waiter.  In fact, we wish the wine tour were longer, but things downstairs were much too busy.   To start your introduction, look at or call 813-251-2421.  Bern's is located at 1208 S. Howard Ave. Tampa, FL 33606.  Incidentally, there are a host of other restaurants on South Howard, a few of which the locals will vouch for.   And we are told that SideBern's, a nearby sister restaurant, is worth a visit.



Niwanohana (Garden Flower or Hana Sushi)
In Richmond, Virginia’s “River District”—known to all as Shockoe Bottom before it was ludicrously renamed—you will find Niwanohana, which your hotel clerk will simply refer to as Hana Sushi, which is unfortunate since there are a skillion Hana Sushis around America.  It’s ever so slightly dingy now: it was more sparkling when we visited a few years back. But the execution was still fine.  The waitresses tried hard to please and the food was on point.  We could find yakko tofu on the menu, a soothing dish that oft as not fails to appear in most sushi parlors.  At its best, this is cold tofu served with chopped scallions or their equivalent in icy water with very small pieces of clear ice.  Such a dish serves as an antidote to Southern cuisine, which is often overdone with sauces and the like or to the rather silly sushi rolls that have been tarted up to conceal the poor ingredients.  A Japanese tourist found the basics to be good here and the prices reasonable.  Niwanohana.  1309 E. Cary St., Richmond, VA 23219.  Telephone: 804-225-8801.  (8/30/06)

Bistro on Main—Lexington, VA
As much as anything, we are recommending Lexington, Virginia.  Bistro on Main is a pleasant stop in a very amiable town.  We were surprised, since the towns, as you work your way up the Blue Ridge of Virginia, are moth-eaten, the state not having figured out how to realize the potential inherent in such pretty landscape.  But the town is so pretty that you don’t mind staying in a modestly pretentious hotel, in this instance a Hampton Inn.  Nor do you have to go out to the fancy dive in town, where things are gussied up by too much and the prices are not merited.  That’s Café Michel, where simplicity is not understood: you cannot charge high prices unless you layer it on and sauce it to death, leading to dishes like pecan chicken with raspberry sauce or quail topped with port wine.  This is an endemic problem in much of the South.  But Bistro proprietor Jackie Lupo seems to have caught the spirit of the town, both in her décor and her food, each pretty enough but still relaxed.  Even the patrons dress well enough, but certainly are not starchy.  Bistro on Main, 8 North Main St., Lexington, Virginia 24450.  Telephone: 540-464-4888.  We remember, in particular, drinking a couple of pleasant offbeat beers, and all  in our party remarked on the freshness of the food. 

In town you can visit Stonewall Jackson’s house.  Both he and Robert E. Lee are buried here.  Sam Houston, who managed to become governor of two states, Tennessee and Texas, and who laid all the cornerstones of Texas history, was born in the neighborhood.  Washington & Lee, and VMI, both colleges of long tradition, sit in the center of town.  You will want to note the stable—also open for a horse long deceased—adjacent to the President’s House at W & L.  A substantial arboretum, Boxerwood Gardens, has a stellar collection of Japanese maples.  (9/20/06)



The Jockey Club in Washington, DC
The Jockey Club is back and handsomely so.  The Fairfax Hotel and its storied Jockey restaurant have had their trials.  The hotel dates back a ways, and the Gore family (yes, the one that has migrated to the global warming business) took it over in the early 1930’s.  Al Jr. was really brought up here, the Gores as much from Washington, D.C. family, as they were from Tennessee.  The restaurant,  started in the ‘60s by Louis and Jimmy Gore, was the place where everyone went—from Jackie Kennedy to members of the Ratpack. It is well to read the history of the hotel, which includes a great deal of detail on the Jockey Club, which captures some of the romance of the place, although we await a much better history that is less of a puffpiece.  For a while the Fairfax was renamed the Ritz Carlton when John Coleman out of Chicago took over the  place, and the restaurant was eventually abolished in 2001.  It has taken a considerable effort to put Humpty Dumpty back together, particularly the restaurant.  The bar alone had to be located and retrieved.  Habitues of both the hotel and particularly the restaurant, we did not know it had been reincarnated.  On a whim, we called the Fairfax to find out what had taken its place:  lo and behold, a pretty good version of the old creature is back on the davenport.

It has not regained its cachet.  Washingtonians don’t feel obliged to show up, and several more trendy places with average to bad food have taken up the slack.  We warn you to watch out for them:  Washington is not a real restaurant town, and it features an awesome list of expensive, much over-rated dives.  The Jockey Club is a real treat, with a restful atmosphere and truly good, one would say classic food. Do understand that this is a changed restaurant, with only two of the staff from the old days, but it reminds one of the old days. The hotel’s management has not understood how to properly promote it, so it has not yet found a deep audience. Now part of a chain in all senses, it lacks a merchant director who can summon up magic.  One old Washington grande dame with whom we frequently dined and who went to the original at least once a week just remarked to us that it has fallen beneath the radar.

One can enjoy the atmosphere of the place as much as the food: some have said it is Washington’s 21 club, but frankly its food and atmosphere are nicer.  Of all things it now has a Scottish cook, but he delivers.  Since the local newspapers have done a lousy job of reviewing this gem.  In fact, one of the reasons Washington falls short foodwise is that it lacks good food journals and critics.

We probably arrived at 8:30 PM and found it maybe 1/3 filled.  Between us we had the steak tartare, veal shortbreads, steak diane, and a chocolate soufflé, all done very well.  We asked for innovation on one dessert, and that was a failure..  Some local critic knocked the tartare, but it was actually fine.  Not only was every dish prepared well, but each was very ample.  None of the new cuisine here:  the food filled one’s plate and while sightly it did not try to look like a concoction from a design magazine.  This is as good as it gets in Washington.      

The waiters were generally practiced and polite.  Two grievous mistakes occurred.  Though there was plenty of space towards the back, we were jammed up front, clearly a convenience for the staff, but not most conducive to quiet conversation.  Worse, as the evening progressed and the dining room cleared, the waiters changed the linens and started setting up for breakfast, with a bit of clatter, creating a general loss of decorum.  We complimented them on “showing their laundry.”  There’s a bit of a need for an iron hand in the restaurant and the hotel. (05-06-09)

Home of the Jockey

Update:  We forgot to give you the address.  First off, The Luxury Experience provides a very good feel for what the Fairfax and the Jockey Club hold in store for you.  Secondly, it’s just a stone’s throw from DuPont Circle.  The Jockey Club.  2100 Massachusetts Avenue.  Washington, D.C. 20008. 202-835-2100. (06-24-09)

Smith Point in
Only open a few nights a week, and hidden behind an anonymous door, this is the relaxing, get away from the crowd, good food restaurant in Georgetown that lets you feel you have escaped the clutches of  government.  It’s named after part of Nantucket, for which the chef and staff apparently have great affection.  Simple and not so simple stuff is available.  One of our party put down a steak that satisfied.  And the scallops and the crab cakes are great.  Though reviewers have complained about the wine list, we found a new white—an Argentine perhaps—that left us smiling.  Perhaps the atmosphere, down the stairs, is a bit funky, but this casualness and the jazz add quite a bit of charm, especially in a town that is turning all too Orwellian.  Smith Point.  1338 Wisconsin Avenue NW.  Washington, DC 20007.  Telephone:  (202) 333-8368.

Citronelle (Georgetown)
We’ve not tried the restaurant, only the bar food.  Citronelle is one of Washington’s hottest restaurants, right along M Street, in Georgetown’s Latham Hotel.  Some tell us that it is Washington’s finest.  It has an ornate menu, ornate prices, and a sumptuous impression of itself.  The interiors are comfortable if not distinguished, and we found ourselves liking the private rooms.  It’s worth it, as all our friends will testify, even if the service is a little hit and miss, a characteristic of Washington and perhaps many government dominated cities.  All that said, it was a restful retreat from all that buzz in Georgetown, and the lobster sandwich at the bar was perfecto.  One could have a quiet, unhurried conversation, and the wine offerings by the glass were very much better than average.  We look forward to working our way at leisure through the main menu.  And we anticipate a stay at the Latham, which is quite a pleasant hotel, even if the rooms are a little bit sandwiched as well.  It’s sort of fun to read about chef/owner Michel Ritchard, who comes to Washington from France by way of New York and mainly California.  It’s important to understand that he is thick with pastry experience.  See  Citronelle.  3000 M Street, N.W.  Washington, D.C. 20007.  202-625-2150.  F-202-339-6326.  Website:





Johnny Apple’s Last Will and Testament
R.W. Apple finished “An Epicurean Pilgrimage: Meals Worth the Price of a Plane Ticket,” before he passed away on October 4, and it made it into print on October 22.  Here he listed the restaurants worth going a mile, or rather, several miles for: 

  1. FLEURIE, FRANCE Auberge du Cep, Place de l’Église; (33-4) 7404-1077;  

  2. SANT’AGATA SUI DUE GOLFI, ITALY Don Alfonso 1890, corso Sant’Agata 11; (39-081) 878-0026;

  3. SAN SEBASTIÁN, SPAIN Arzak, Avenida Alcalde Jose Elosegui, 273; (34-943) 27-8465;

  4. BRUSSELS Comme Chez Soi, Place Rouppe 23; (32-2) 512-2921;

  5. LONDON Wilton’s, 55 Jermyn Street, SW1; (44-207) 629-9955;  GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN Sjomagasinet, Klippans Kulturreservat 5; (46-31) 775-5920;                               

  6. BUENOS AIRES Avenida Cabaña las Lilas, Alicia Moreau de Justo 516; (54-11) 4313-1336;

  7. SHANGHAI Jean-Georges, 3 Zhongshan Dong Yi Lu 1; (86-21) 6321-7733;

  8. MUMBAI, INDIA Trishna, Birla Mansion, Sai Baba Marg, Fort; (91-22) 2270-3213.

  9. SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA Billy Kwong, 3/355 Crown Street, Surry Hills; (61-2) 9322-3300.  

Apple often missed on his picks.  He got it dead wrong in some regions we know well. But the point is that he enjoyed food so much, so often, in so many places.  Artful food writing embraces all sorts of personalities, who are writing for all sorts of reasons:  mastering the mysteries of cooking only appeals to a very limited part of the foodie cult.  See Mollie O’Neil’s “Food Porn” to get a feeling about some of the motivations of the food tribe.  So Apple’s list does not pretend to include all the world’s bests or all his personal favorites.  They just seem like places he feels that the traveler should visit.  (12/20/06)






Home - About This Site - Contact Us

© Copyright 2005

Hit Counter