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2000 Restaurant Poll

Experts vote on the most noteworthy restaurants in 16 North American cities.

The simple act of deciding where to go for dinner has become anything but simple. There are more choices than ever before, and sifting through all of them has become a full-time job. That's why, when we conduct our comprehensive North American restaurant poll, we go to people who think about restaurants for a living. With the help of the crack polling firm Yankelovich Partners, we interview hundreds of food and wine insiders--including critics, reporters, chefs and restaurateurs--in 16 major cities. (Needless to say, the last two groups aren't allowed to nominate their own places.) Each expert answers two dozen questions aimed at determining which restaurants really stand out--for good behavior and for bad. If the insiders notice a dramatic improvement somewhere, they tell us. If they turn against last year's Best New Restaurant and decide it's this year's Most Overrated, we find out about that, too. It's like taking a snapshot of the food scene--and, at the same time, getting some great advice on where to eat.

San Francisco

Boulevard 1 Mission St.; 415-543-6084.
Designer Pat Kuleto's Art Nouveau fantasy provides a suitably theatrical backdrop for the cooking of Nancy Oakes (1993 F&W Best New Chef), which stars a varied group of ingredients, each of them perfectly cast.

Fifth Floor 12 Fourth St.; 415-348-1555.
Nobody comes for the view--the restaurant is in the center of the fifth floor of a hotel, and there are no windows facing the street. Instead they come for the sexy supper-club interior and George Morrone's virtuoso variations on themes, like the suckling pig that's presented in six forms: sausages, rack, loin, bacon, leg and a terrine of trotters and ears.

Globe 290 Pacific Ave.; 415-391-4132.
Alfred Portale, David Burke, Mark Miller--they've all been here. Co-owner Mary Klingbeil reports hearing a society matron say, "I didn't believe the Globe was a chefs' hangout until I tried to go after the ballet. I couldn't even get inside; all these people in checked pants were blocking the door."

Rubicon 558 Sacramento St.; 415-434-4100.
Larry Stone once trained to be a chemist, and that's what he is, in a way. He rushes around in a bow tie, dispensing learned advice on the makeup of each wine and how it will react to any given substance on the menu.

Las Vegas

Picasso The Bellagio, 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-693-7223.
Julian Serrano is one of the few celebrity chefs who actually live (and cook) in Las Vegas, putting Picasso ahead of some of the competitors that have opened in the past two years. The restaurant also took the prize for Most Stylish Interior. Think it had anything to do with the multimillion-dollar collection of 16 Picasso canvases hanging on the walls?

The Buffet at Bellagio 3600 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-693-7111.
The all-you-can-eat spread--seviche, grilled guinea fowl, cranberry-soaked venison, salmon confit, purple mashed potatoes, peppered pork-belly salad, roasted capon, 11 kinds of cold seafood--is already a bargain at $22.95 for dinner. (Breakfast and lunch are even cheaper.) And just think of the money you'll save when you don't need to eat again for a week. Also voted Best Chefs' Hangout.

The Cheesecake Factory Caesars Palace, 3500 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-792-6888.
Before some entrepreneur opens another $25 million restaurant on the Strip, he might want to consider this thought: Las Vegans apparently believe the secret to longevity is to sell 43 varieties of cheesecake.

Aureole The Mandalay Bay, 3950 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702-632-7401.
Is it their skill at guiding customers through the 2,500-bottle list? Or the fact that, once the choice is made, the sommeliers give the order for a young woman called a wine angel to be strapped into a harness and lifted through the air to retrieve the bottle from the four-story-high wine tower?


Toqué 3842 Rue Saint-Denis; 514-499-2084.
His Manhattan restaurant, Cena, closed after twelve shaky months; perhaps chef Normand Laprise wasn't meant to travel. His exquisite cooking, after all, depends on his close relationships with farmers--difficult enough to sustain in one country, let alone two. He's full-time in Montreal again, so give thanks by ordering his famous five-course foie gras tasting menu.

Jongleux 3434 Rue Saint-Denis; 514-841-8080.
Over the years, chef Nicolas Jongleux's admirers have followed him around town, from kitchen to kitchen, through his frequent changes of job. Now that he finally has a place of his own, his fans won't have to call ahead for his latest address every time they want to renew their acquaintance with those braised pigs' cheeks.

La Queue de Cheval 3600 1221 Blvd. René-Levesque W.; 514-390-0090.
Last year this modern steak house won Best New Restaurant; this year it's Most Overrated, Most Overpriced and Restaurant with the Most Attitude. Did all that red meat bring out a bloodthirsty streak in our respondents?

Les Chenêts Rue Bishop; 514-844-1842.
Every staff member comes equipped to make recommendations from the 48,000-bottle list, right down to the 1899 Château Lafite-Rothschild.

Los Angeles

Spago Beverly Hills 176 N. Cañon Dr., Beverly Hills; 310-385-0880.
Wolfgang Puck's first Spago, in Hollywood, set a standard for casual elegance. In Beverly Hills, he got serious, with meticulous service, impeccable California cuisine by Lee Hefter (1998 F&W Best New Chef) and an atmosphere where the only glitz is provided by the celebrity guests. Also voted Best Chefs' Hangout and Most Likely to Last.

Mélisse 1104 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-395-0881.
Josiah Citrin (1997 F&W Best New Chef) has opened a restaurant in the grand style, from the rigorously correct service to the ingredient-driven cooking. Try the five-course vegetable tasting menu, with a tomato dessert.

Joe's 1023 Abbot Kinney Blvd., Venice; 310-399-5811.
"Maybe if I charged more, I could live in a million-dollar mansion," chef and owner Joseph Miller says. The families who pack in here for Miller's classic California cuisine might think he deserves the house, but they're still glad he asks no more than $21 for his entrées.

Valentino 3115 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica; 310-829-4313.
Valentino hit a vinous grand slam this year, taking Best Wine List, Best Sommelier, Best Wines by the Glass, Best Values, Best Pairings with Food and Best Place to Take a Wine Snob.


Hoku's Kahala Mandarin Oriental Hotel, 5000 Kahala Ave.; 808-739-8888.
In the hands of Hoku's international team of chefs, tandoori ovens, Szechuan woks and other tools from around the globe seem to have been meant for Hawaii all along.

Alan Wong's S. King St.; 808-949-2526.
Other Honolulu restaurants have more beautiful settings (Wong's is on the third floor of an office building several blocks from the beach), but none has Alan Wong, whose witty and dramatic presentations epitomize modern Hawaiian cuisine. He shows off native ingredients, including seven different local coffees.

La Mer Halekulani Hotel, 2199 Kalia Rd.; 808-923-2311.
As soon as you sit down, someone brings you a glass of Champagne. After that, what could go wrong? Very little. Each table is attended by a captain and two waiters, all of them wearing bow ties and dinner jackets and trained in the lost art of plantation-era hospitality.

Side Street Inn 1225 Hopaka St.; 808-591-0253.
So out of the way it's not even listed in Zagat, Side Street Inn is a favorite of a number of Honolulu chefs, who come to watch sports on TV and eat pan-fried pork chops. Another bonus: giant helpings at tiny prices. Chef Colin Nishida says, "The average dinner tab is maybe $20, but you have to bring a lot of appetite, because it's a lot of food."

Palomino Euro Bistro 66 Queen St.; 808-528-2400.
It may be part of a Seattle-based chain, but Palomino is now something of a local institution. Because the corporate owner buys wines for 13 restaurants at once, it gets sweet deals and passes the savings on to diners.


Aujourd'hui Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston St.; 617-451-1392.
Clio Eliot Suite Hotel, 370 Commonwealth Ave.; 617-536-7200.
Pignoli 79 Park Plaza; 617-338-7500.
This three-way tie attests to the vigor of Boston's dining scene. Aujourd'hui is the most luxurious and old school; Clio and Pignoli are showcases for the inventive cooking of Ken Oringer and Lydia Shire, respectively.

Radius 8 High St.; 617-426-1234.
Michael Schlow (1996 F&W Best New Chef) inarguably has a hit with this ambitious downtown dining room, which also won Best Buzz and Most Stylish Interior. (The designer did wonders with the horseshoe-shape room, which was once the rotunda of a bank.) But the place inspires love-hate responses: It also swept the field for Most Overrated, Most Overpriced and Restaurant with the Most Attitude.

Legal Sea Foods 255 State St.; 617-227-3115. (Several locations.)
Seafood is so important in Boston that a cod hangs in the chambers of the statehouse. A golden replica is suspended over the door of Legal's waterfront branch, advertising sparklingly fresh fish in true New England style.

Aujourd'hui Four Seasons Hotel, 200 Boylston St.; 617-451-1392.
A high-powered clientele lines up for Aujourd'hui's rare California bottlings, like the coveted 1998 Arrowood Saralee's Vineyard Viognier.


Café Annie 1728 Post Oak Blvd.; 713-840-1111.
It's 20 years old but showing no signs of age. Chefs Ben Berryhill and Robert Del Grande do strange and wonderful things with Southwestern food, like roasting a fillet of beef with coffee beans. Also named Best Wine List.

Sambuca Jazz Café 909 Texas Ave.; 713-224-5299.
Sambuca is one of the chief reasons people come to downtown Houston after dark. It keeps late hours--the kitchen is open until 1 a.m. on weekends--and has live music every night, with swing on Monday, salsa on Thursday.

Pappas Brothers Steakhouse; 5839 Westheimer Rd.; 713-780-7352.
You'll notice that the category here is not Best Sommelier but Best Sommeliers, plural. That's because there are seven, with three or four circulating on any given night. One, Scotti Stark, is a certified Master Sommelier, and the other six are studying for the exam. If they all pass, there will be more Master Sommeliers at Pappas Brothers than there are in many small countries.

Brennan's Houston 3300 Smith St.; 713-522-9711.
Just as the list itself has epigraphs by thinkers ranging from Dean Martin to Aristophanes, the wines at Brennan's run from "humble whites" in the $20 range to blockbuster reds, like a magnum of 1993 Opus One for $495.


Norman's 21 Almeria Ave., Coral Gables; 305-446-6767.
Norman Van Aken is one of the fathers of fusion, and one of the few who get it right. He marries the brightest flavors of the Caribbean Rim, from Latin America to the islands.

Wish 801 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-674-9474.
The perfect antidote for the fevered Miami Beach restaurant scene. Designer Todd Oldham created a dreamy, Persian-inspired backdrop for the dreamy, pan-global food of Andrea Curto (2000 F&W Best New Chef).

China Grill 404 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-534-2211.
Most visitors agree that the Chinese fusion food is terrific, but after getting mauled by the mob at the bar, shouting to be heard by your date and wresting your waiter away from Stallone's table, who has any energy left to eat?

The Forge 432 41st St., Miami Beach; 305-538-8533.
It's not just the wine list, although the restaurant does carry more than 300,000 bottles (that's no misprint). The Forge swept all six beverage categories, from Best Values to Best Wines by the Glass to Best Bartenders.

Nemo 100 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-532-4550.
Nemo doesn't impose the "scene surcharge" that trendier neighbors get away with. Dinner tabs can run to $60 a person with wine, but that's a relative bargain in South Beach.


Charlie Trotter's 816 W. Armitage Ave.; 773-248-6228.
Charlie Trotter is obsessed with being the best, and he's succeeded. Besides Best Restaurant, Charlie Trotter's won for Best Service, Best Place for Special Occasions, Best Chefs' Hangout, Best Wine List and Most Likely to Last. But it also took Most Overpriced, Most Overrated and Restaurant with the Most Attitude. Apparently, obsession has its downside.

Tru 676 N. St. Clair St.; 312-202-0001.
Tru's ethereal setting features 25-foot ceilings and sheer white curtains, the better to set off art by Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe and others.

Marché 833 W. Randolph St.; 312-226-8399.
It's all about the mix. On any given night, you'll find traders, hipsters, models and model wanna-bes, Bulls fans fresh from United Center and, believe it or not, some people who are here only for the French onion soup.

Ambria 2300 N. Lincoln Park W.; 773-472-5959.
Bob Bansberg's taste in wine is eclectic, but his list is especially rich in cult California Cabernets, like Leonetti, and in powerhouse Spanish reds.


Kinkead's 2000 Pennsylvania Ave. N.W.; 202-296-7700.
Kinkead's may be the best restaurant in the nation's capital, yet it still has a small-town feel. Recently the menu has been hawking raffle tickets to help the sous-chef get to France for a culinary competition. Chef Bob Kinkead listens to the local community, too. He changes the menu daily, but by popular demand he has never dropped the pumpkin seed-crusted salmon with crab, shrimp and chiles.

Olives 1600 K St. N.W.; 202-452-1866.
It's an import from Boston, yes, but Todd English's Italian restaurant plays just as well here. Upstairs is raucous, with an open kitchen and a bar. Downstairs is sedate, with tablecloths and soft music--"for senators and people like that," the manager tells us.

Bistro Français 3128 M St. N.W.; 202-338-3830.
Go at 5 p.m. and you can have the early-bird special and be in bed by 9. But show up at 2 a.m. and you can have steak au poivre with a colorful assortment of chefs, politicians, club kids and other creatures of the night.

Equinox 818 Connecticut Ave. N.W.; 202-331-8118.
Chef and co-owner Todd Gray left his job as executive chef at Galileo a year ago to open his own place. Reviews, tentative at first, have been increasingly enthusiastic. Gray has expanded the menu and is showing more confidence with idiosyncratic dishes, like a grilled-cheese sandwich with a truffle vinaigrette. P.S. The post-Gray Galileo was voted Washington's Most Overrated Restaurant.

New Orleans

Brennan's 417 Royal St.; 504-525-9711.
Commander's Palace 1403 Washington Ave.; 504-899-8221.
Surely family patriarch Owen Brennan never guessed that one day rival factions of his descendants would operate the two grandes dames of New Orleans dining--and run them so well that both are equally beloved.

Bayona 430 Dauphine St.; 504-525-4455
Ten-year-old Bayona isn't on most tourists' itineraries, but savvy locals book their tables a month in advance. Susan Spicer (1989 F&W Best New Chef) breaks out of the Cajun-Creole box to draw inspiration from Alsace, India, East Asia and the Southwest.

Gerard's Downtown Parc St. Charles Hotel, 500 St. Charles Ave.; 504-592-0200.
Gerard Maras ferries greens, eggs and flowers from his 50-acre farm to his restaurant each morning. With all the care that goes into his French-derived cooking, reservations should be impossible to get, but they're not. Not yet.

Brennan's 417 Royal St.; 504-525-9711.
The 65-page list reads like a diary of cellar master Harry Hill's activities, including the rare Diamond Creek Cabernets he's been stockpiling since 1991. Bargain hunters, take note: Hill's so busy, he hasn't had time to change many Burgundy prices since the Eighties.

New York City

Jean Georges Trump International Hotel, 1 Central Park West; 212-299-3900.
Nobu 105 Hudson St.; 212-219-0500.
Both have wonderful food, but it's the touches of theater that make them great: the precisely timed tableside service at Jean Georges, the carefully orchestrated succession of flavors in Nobu's omakase (chef's choice) menu.

Pastis 9 Ninth Ave.; 212-929-4844.
"Even the streetwalkers in [the] Meatpacking District are buzzing," Vanity Fair gushed in an anticipatory rave published before Pastis opened. Now members of the demimonde have to wait for tables with the rest of the in crowd at Keith McNally's perfect forgery of a Paris bistro.

Picholine 35 W. 64th St.; 212-724-8585.
It must be the location on the much maligned Upper West Side. How else to account for our respondents' suspicion that Terrance Brennan, 1995 F&W Best New Chef, and Max McCalman, curator of one of the city's most stellar cheese carts, don't get the respect they deserve?

Veritas 43 E. 20th St.; 212-353-3700.
Veritas has nearly 9,000 bottles in the cellar and can put its hands on the thousands more that are stored elsewhere but that can be ordered ahead of time through its Web site ( Prices can be stratospheric, but while one table is moaning with joy over a $15,000 magnum of Pétrus, another will be smiling about its $21 Penfolds Chardonnay.


The Dining Room Ritz-Carlton Buckhead, 3434 Peachtree Rd.; 404-237-2700.
Atlanta's favorite luxe restaurant survived the departure of chef Guenter Seeger a few years back and has rallied under the direction of Joel Antunes, who delights in slipping Thai ingredients into his French-Mediterranean cuisine, as in his snail fricassee with vermicelli and curry broth. Also voted Best Service, Best Place for Special Occasions, Best Wine List, Best Sommelier and Best Wine Values.

Blue Pointe 3455 Peachtree Rd.; 404-237-9070.
The interior, by local designer Bill Johnson, is an elaborate high-tech fantasy, with glass walls, sliding stainless-steel doors and vast, swooping curves. The Asian-style seafood, by chefs Kevin Rathbun and Ian Winslade, is slightly less theatrical but just as much fun. Also voted Best Buzz, Most Stylish Interior and Best Late-Night Scene.

Bone's 3130 Piedmont Rd.; 404-237-2663.
Bone's keeps a lot of heavy-hitting wines on hand for the steak-and-cigars set. One example: the 1982 Château Lafite, priced at $625.

Eno 800 Peachtree St.; 404-685-3191.
Modeled after an Italian enoteca, Eno pairs its Mediterranean cooking with a reasonably priced and constantly changing selection of around 80 wines, which can be had in a two-ounce taste, a six-ounce glass or, if you're thirsty, a plain old bottle. A great pick: the crisp, refreshing 1998 Vermentino from star Sardinian producer Argiolas.


The Blue Angel 706 Chestnut St.; 215-925-6889.
By retrofitting an old Child's cafeteria, restaurateur Stephen Starr cleverly turned his back on the Pastis-Balthazar school of bistro impersonators. Yes, there are steak frites and tiered oyster platters, but The Blue Angel looks like nothing in Paris, or even New York.

The Fountain Four Seasons Hotel, 1 Logan Sq.; 215-963-1500.
The rarest of things: a place with a great view and painstaking service and food--prepared by Jean-Marie Lacroix and his army of 40 cooks--that's in the French tradition yet utterly original, even a little eccentric.

Old Original Bookbinder's 125 Walnut St.; 215-925-7027.
For years locals avoided this historic seafood house like three-day-old fish. But third-generation owner John Taxin set out to change that, overhauling the kitchen and installing a raw bar that draws a postwork crowd.

The Continental 138 Market St.; 215-923-6069..
A greasy spoon smartly reincarnated as an eclectic tapas bar, The Continental spurred the stampede of hip restaurants to Old City five years ago. Now chefs from all over town, including Guillermo Pernot and Jack McDavid, flock here for cocktails, served until 2 a.m.


Brasa 2107 Third Ave.; 206-728-4220.
After only a year, Brasa has vaulted to the top--as has Bryan Hill, voted Best Sommelier--because Tamara Murphy (1994 F&W Best New Chef) keeps thinking of wonderful new things to do with her wood-burning oven.

Le Gourmand 425 N.W. Market St.; 206-784-3463.
It's open only four nights a week; no wonder Le Gourmand is easy to overlook. But those in the know worship chef and owner Bruce Naftaly, who harvests his own poppy seeds and bay leaves and picks corn in the backyard seconds before he cooks it.

Cafe Lago 2305 24th Ave. E.; 206-329-8005..
Almost everybody gets the lasagna. It's as light as a truffle shaving, made from sheets of fresh pasta rolled parchment thin. For a handmade dish like this, $14.95 is almost criminally cheap.

Canlis 2576 Aurora Ave. N.; 206-283-3313. This old-guard bastion undertook big changes in 1997--a $1.5 million remodeling and the hiring of a smart new chef, Greg Atkinson. Now there's a growing sense that it isn't just a place to celebrate your 50th anniversary.

Phoenix & Scottsdale

Tarbell's 3213 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix; 602-955-8100.
T. Cook's 5200 E. Camelback Rd., Phoenix; 602-840-3610.
Two completely different styles vie for the top slot. Tarbell's is urban and energetic and features Mark Tarbell's freewheeling American cuisine, while at T. Cook's, Michael Hoobler turns out suave Mediterranean food that's perfectly suited to the Royal Palms Hotel, a Spanish Colonial-style mansion.

Roaring Fork 7243 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale; 480-947-0795.
Okay, the river it's named for is in Aspen, Colorado. Nevertheless, Roaring Fork captures the feel of this unpretentious Arizona metropolis. The elevated cowboy food is eminently approachable (popcorn is sometimes used as a garnish), and the same goes for chef Robert McGrath, who's almost guaranteed to shake your hand, even if it's your first time there.

Pizzeria Bianco 623 E. Adams St., Phoenix; 602-258-8300.
Most customers come for the pure Neapolitan-style brick-oven pizza, but chefs both local (James McDevitt) and national (Alice Waters) appreciate Chris Bianco's way with ingredients such as dandelion greens, cardoons and purslane, which grows through the cracks in the sidewalks.

Mary Elaine's The Phoenician, 6000 E. Camelback Rd., Scottsdale; 480-423-2530.
Mary Elaine's has purchased 900 wines in the past year. Now it has all the major vintages of such collector's-item Cabernets as Screaming Eagle and deep selections in the first-growth Bordeaux, back to the 1945 Haut-Brion.

Published July 2000
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