Just when I think I’ve eaten at a lot of great restaurants all over the place, the James Beard award semifinalist list comes out, as it did today — a robust list that makes me feel like I haven’t been ANYWHERE.
On our last trip to San Francisco, I opted to return to Pizzeria Delfina and try the outstanding mainstay Zuni Cafe, instead of claw my way into buzzy James Beard-approved places like State Bird Provisions and Bar Agricole and Aziza. I feel like we’re in Chicago every other month, and somehow I haven’t been to Blackbird, Spiaggia, Next or Schwa. The last time I was in Southern California, how did I miss Pizzeria Mozza and M.B.Post?
At least I don’t have stress over the picks from NYC, because I’ve never been. (What!?)
But before I blame James for making me feel so behind, it turns out that I have been to a handful of the restaurants on this year’s semifinalist list. So, things aren’t so terrible after all. On a Venn diagram, here’s where the James Beard crew and I overlap:
BLUEBEARD (in Indianapolis; Best New Restaurant semifinalist): This is going to sound anti-Indianapolis, but the first time I walked into Bluebeard, I felt like I was in a restaurant in another, cooler city. This little gem could have easily been looked over by the James Beard crew, but I’m cheering for it and for Indy. In the most recent winter issue of Edible Indy, we featured a story on Bluebeard that talked about the owners’ holiday food traditions, and we ran their recipes for oyster stew, meatballs and bread pudding.
Photos by Kelley Jordan Heneveld. Top: Bluebeard’s bar; Middle row: Dining room looking into the courtyard and husband-and-wife co-chefs John and Abbi Adams; Bottom: Abbi’s bread pudding.
CLYDE COMMON (Portland; Outstanding Bar Program): This bar, attached to the Ace Hotel, hits all the hipster high notes. Jeff and I went a couple of years ago when we were in Portland for a craft distilling conference. Barrel-aged cocktails were getting popular, so Jeff ordered Clyde’s Barrel Aged Negroni. Now, I feel like I see those everywhere.
HIGH WEST DISTILLERY AND SALOON (Park City, UT; Outstanding Bar Program and Best Chef: Southwest): A spot so nice, James nominated it twice! I love this place to pieces. Please win! High West is both a restaurant and a distiller of whiskey and other spirits. Having dinner here has become an annual tradition when we go to Park City for Sundance, and I have to say, it’s the whole package. The classic cocktails are the best possible versions of themselves, the more creative drinks are always well-balanced and the mountain-modern food is incredible. Given Utah’s somewhat prohibitive liquor laws, I think it’s doubly-amazing that High West is up for this award.
It’s dark inside and I never get great photos, but trust me, this place is so handsome.
FOREIGN CINEMA (San Francisco; Outstanding Restaurant): This place holds a special place in my heart — I ate dinner here a couple years ago with my best friend’s then-boyfriend, who told me over mussels how he planned to propose. Also, one of those mussels I ate was icky and I haven’t eaten one since.
SAM FOX of Fox Restaurant Concepts (Phoenix; Outstanding Restauranteur): In Phoenix, there’s no restauranteur hotter than Sam Fox — his rise has been so golden and the company’s growth so exponential, it’s almost unbelievable. When I lived there, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go to a Sam Fox restaurant two or three times a week: Sauce for pizza and wine on a weeknight with my friend Casey; Blanco for tacos and margaritas with a group on a Friday night; Olive and Ivy for many memorable brunches. His restaurants are cool, fun, easy and good. He’s in your head before you even finish asking yourself where to go for dinner tonight.
Photos from foxrc.com. Top: Tacos at Blanco; Bottom: True Food Kitchen.
STEPHEN McCARTHY of Clear Creek Distillery (Portland; Outstanding Wine, Spirits or Beer Professional): On top of being one of the most respected craft distillers in the country, Stephen McCarthy found a way to put a whole pear inside each bottle of his pear eau de vie. I think the competition is over in this category, folks. This guy is the real deal.
Top: Whole pears inside pear eau de vie (the pears actually grow inside the bottles, which are inverted over the fruits when they’re very young and tied to the branches); Middle: At the distillery; Bottom: Inside the distillery.
DAVID TALLENT of Restaurant Tallent (Bloomington, Indiana; Best Chef, Great Lakes): I think this is the 7th time that David Tallent has been nominated in this category, and it’s starting to feel like an always-a-bridesmaid-never-a-bride situation. I really, really hope this is his year! Sometimes I can’t believe that we have this top-notch restaurant here in little Bloomington. Tallent keeps our food scene sharp, and for that I am grateful.
David’s wife, Krissy, is equally awesome as the pastry chef at Tallent. For the most recent winter issue of Edible Indy, I asked her to share a favorite dessert recipe. She made Gingerbread Waffles with Caramelized Pears and while sampling them I told her to please, please never leave Bloomington.