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Hot on the Trail

When F&W editors hit the road in search of the year's Best New Chefs, they found more than brilliant cooks. A dispatch from America's food frontier.

Although FOOD & WINE has yet to install a gym to help the staff burn off the calories they take in, working as an editor here has its perks. One of the choicest is the chance to travel across the country to search out the winners of our Best New Chefs in America awards. Finding an extraordinary chef is, of course, the main goal. But when we visit a new city we're eager to track down fantastic food in all its guises, whether it's served on Limoges china or paper plates. And wherever we're eating, we're always hungry to know more--about the news, the trends and the culinary scuttlebutt. Read on for the highlights of our 1999 adventures.

Great Cheap Eats
Barbecued shrimp in big piles (served by a waitress who has worked at the restaurant for more than 25 years) at Pascal's Manale in New Orleans.
Shrimp sashimi with deep-fried shrimp heads, asparagus with butter and bowls of gooey Japanese yam at the Terried Sake House in Los Angeles.
Oyster shooters (raw oysters and Bloody Mary fixings in a shot glass) at the Anchor Oyster Bar in San Francisco.
Pistachio and rosemary pizza (with a crisp, chewy, smoky crust) at Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix.
Biscuits and peach preserves at the Loveless Cafe in Nashville.

Baking Heaven
Multigrain bread with sunflower and sesame seeds and Eastern European black bread (made by an earnest young baker in a sleeveless T-shirt) at Fornax Bread in Roslindale, Massachusetts.
Croissants and focaccia at Rose's Cafe in San Francisco.
Three-inch croissants at Burdick Chocolates in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Whole wheat bread (so good even the waiter had been raiding the basket--at least if the flour on his pants was any indication) at Panzano in Denver.
Black-pepper brioche and parsley-and-cream biscuits at The Castle Hill Inn & Resort in Newport, Rhode Island.
Tandoori bread (served hot from the oven and paired with Indian dipping sauces) at Tabla in Manhattan.

Strange Behavior
A theatrical waiter presents food with the announcement, "Coming in for a landing!" at Thyme in Chicago.
A disgruntled customer loudly complains that his waitress has no personality ("she brings nothing to my dining experience") at Aquitaine in Boston.
A harried server delivers coffee in the middle of the main course and, too distracted to notice her mistake, rushes off, at The Grape in Dallas.

World of Interiors
Moroccan seraglio (with billowy curtains, tapestries and velvety banquettes) at Rouge '99 in Philadelphia.
Zen chic (with a 10-foot-tall bronze Buddha) at Buddakan in Philadelphia.
Water world (with a tiny pond on each table) at the North Pond Cafe in Chicago.
Surreal bistro (the traditional decor contrasts dramatically with the exposed pipe ceiling) at Aquitaine in Boston.

Menu Surprises
Buffalo tongue at the aptly named Buffalo in Denver.
Seared foie gras with chocolate (it works) at Aubriot in Chicago.
Cabernet vanilla chile negro sauce (it doesn't work) at The Arizona Kitchen in Litchfield Park, Arizona.

Media Savvy
A cinema with waitress service, bistro tables, a light menu and beer, at the Granada Movie Grill in Dallas.
Outdoor movies at the Foreign Cinema restaurant in San Francisco (our editor on the scene heard a lot of buzz about this place, but it wasn't yet open at press time). Audio controls on the tables inside allow diners to tune in the flick or ignore it.
Fifties videos playing in the powder room that show how "good" and "bad" girls behave with their dates, at the Icon Grill in Seattle.

Pet Peeves
Asparagus and corn--in February!--at Le Petit Chateau in Bernardsville, New Jersey.
Everything-but-the-kitchen-sink pasta at Angeluna in Fort Worth, Texas.
An onerous liquor tax in Philadelphia (almost 30 percent, including a surcharge to aid victims of a flood that occurred more than 60 years ago).
Huge, low chairs that make you feel like a child at Agora in the Westin Hotel in Providence, Rhode Island.

Extra Credit
EO grapefruit lotion and Torrefazione coffee at the Hotel Monaco in Chicago.
The justly famous "spa" muffin at the Hotel Crescent Court in Dallas.
Free removal of a stain from an editor's tie--the only one he'd packed--at Kane's Cleaners in East Roxbury, Massachusetts (later, the fumes sent his dining companions into a trance).

Published July 1999
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