Food & Wine Restaurants of the Year 2017
The Vibey Retreat
If Olmsted didn't do so much so perfectly, it would be that cute-to-11 Brooklyn restaurant we might have loved to hate. Instead, on a foggy night the week before Christmas, we found ourselves dopey in love—surrendering all cynicism in its ridiculously picturesque garden, wrapped in a folksy blanket, uncharacteristically giggling as we dumped the last of the rum into the thermos of housemade Swiss Miss.
With all this mise-en-scène, it could be easy to forget that Olmsted is also a very serious restaurant—a collaboration between precocious chef Greg Baxtrom, a Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Alinea alum, and farmer Ian Rothman, who both keep the quails chirping and the garden sprouting with radishes, carrots and more. Baxtrom’s cooking is as delicious as it is resourceful and value-driven, often making magic out of ingredients that other restaurants might pass over. Torn scallops might not fly at Le Bernardin, but here they’re skewered and grilled, with celeriac, apple and spicy peanuts. Lobes of uni would be too expensive for Olmsted’s egalitarian stance, so Baxtrom buys the broken ones for half the price, stuffing them into pierogies and stretching their briny richness with sweet potato. All that crafty maneuvering frees up space for a few extravagant flourishes: fresh wasabi ground tableside; a spoonful of precious, fragrant honey; a stack of those cozy blankets, so perfectly rustic they might have been stolen from a Wes Anderson set.
It’s a slam-dunk idea—the finesse of fine dining with an upstart energy that delivers more good stuff to more people. In the end, Baxtrom’s cooking dazzled us. But it was his spread-the-love mentality that won us over for good. —Jordana Rothman
- Recipe: Olmsted's Beet Salad with Shiso
659 Vanderbilt Ave.; 718-552-2610; olmsted nyc.com
June's All Day, Austin
The Somm's Reckoning
Turns out, everything you thought you knew about pairing wine with matzo ball soup was wrong. You might have thought it was Manischewitz all the way but—surprise!—it’s actually a South African A. A. Badenhorst Secateurs, a juicy rosé torpedo with a briny twang that does a sexy two-step with chicken broth.
Epiphanies like this are exactly why everyone we know in Austin insisted we come to June’s All Day. It’s a completely new take on the wine bar—a finer diner where you can indeed drink all day, and where, for once, the food supports the wine and not the other way around. There are scones at the bar in the morning and flawless french fries whenever you might want them, and wine specials scrawled on a bistro mirror, smartly chosen but never intimidating. “I don’t want to alienate the person who just had a great time shopping for cowboy boots and doesn’t have an iota of interest in grape must,” says partner June Rodil (who is also wine and beverage director of Austin’s McGuire Moorman Hospitality). She may have her hand in a few wine lists around town, but with its populist eats, easy-to-love wines and come-as-you-are energy, June’s is truly her baby.
Stick around long enough and you may find yourself, as we did, with the perfect fried chicken sandwich in one hand and a glass of luscious orange wine made by Cistercian nuns in the other, while Merle Haggard warbles from the jukebox. You might not want to leave, and at June’s All Day, there’s no reason you should. —Jordana Rothman
1722 S. Congress Ave.; 512-416-1722; junes allday.com
The Life of the Party
Jackpot. That's what we thought when we got to Roister. We knew we’d have a good time the instant we arrived—kind of like seeing a good night taking shape the moment you walk into a party. The music is loud, the energy is rowdy and the enormous live-fire kitchen lights up the center of the room. In short, it’s the utter opposite of the calm, measured energy at Alinea—the restaurant that made icons of Roister owners Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas. The duo teamed up with chef Andrew Brochu to create this hyper-casual counterpart, and you can’t miss Brochu holding court at the pass.
We loved that the same simple glassware is used for everything, from wine and cocktails to water and beer. There is no resetting between courses; instead, everyone gets a cotton satchel containing all of the evening’s silverware. The menu is equally relaxed, each dish a playful rendition of a classic, so you never really know what you’re getting until it’s in front of you.
“Grant told me to grab inspiration from anywhere in the world,” says Brochu, “so we’re kind of bastardizing dishes to fit our style.” Pasta with clam sauce is an Italian standard, but at Roister it takes on Thai flavors with mint and chiles, along with crème fraîche and a dollop of wasabi caviar. Cheddar rillettes are really just pimento cheese in fancy duds—a party snack to match the rollicking vibe at Chicago’s best new night on the town. —Kate Heddings
951 W. Fulton Market; roister restaurant.com
Tartine Manufactory, San Francisco
The 24-Hour Auteur
We went to Tartine Manufactory for a quick visit, hoping to get a warm Danish and a peek at Chad Robertson and Liz Prueitt’s massive new follow-up to their cultish Mission bakery, Tartine. It was a glorious, brisk day—an exception, following a rainy jag in San Francisco—and the light was streaming through the huge casement windows of the industrial space, a former linen factory. We lined up at the counter and ended up buying not one (who were we kidding?) but three pastries, plus a loaf of Robertson’s legendary country bread. That’s the kind of place Tartine Manufactory is: You show up for a grab-and-go snack and suddenly hours have passed and you’re camping at a big table, having run into friends you forgot had moved to SF.
This is the ultimate all-day spot, where you can start off with exceptional coffee (roasted in-house) and brioche baked with eggs, bacon and cheese, and linger so long that before you know it, it’s noon. So why not stay a little longer for a sandwich, filled with wood-roasted porchetta or lamb leg? And to kill time between lunch and dinner, you might want to watch the graceful bakers mill organic durum wheat for fresh pasta, or do their dance around the giant oven that dominates the space—Robertson calls it performance art, and he isn’t wrong. As the sun sets, you can dip into matcha and fior di latte soft serve, or hunker down at the bar for rosé. Then the lights dim, the warm Noguchi lanterns flicker on and dinner is served. Where did the day go? —Kate Heddings
595 Alabama St.; 415-757-0007; tartine manufactory.com
Le Coucou, New York City
The Haute Awakening
If you want to know what keeps Daniel Rose up at night, it’s this: fait comme il faut—“do it as it should be done.” He first heard the expression in the late ’90s, at L’Auberge des Abers in northwestern France, where the Chicago native had moved to cook.
“That has lots of implications,” says the chef, who gained acclaim for his Paris restaurant Spring. “There’s tradition, there’s work ethic, there’s organization, there’s taste. It forced me to ask myself, ‘What is a restaurant? Why is it important, and how do I make the best one possible?’”
But when Rose opened his first American project in Manhattan last June, he didn’t take his cues from how things are often done in New York dining rooms these days. Instead, Le Coucou recalls a time when servers delivered more grand crus than craft cocktails, when menus dealt in accents aigus and tabletops were draped in smooth linens. Like everyone else in NYC, we were swept away by Rose’s reverie, and by his sensational food—a bewitching double helix of Old and New World notions. Cloud-like pike quenelles in a brandied sauce speak of the past; halibut in beurre blanc with daikon “choucroute” overdelivers on our current obsession with all things fermented.
There are elegant tapered candles on each table, and as we watched ours burn low at the end of a recent meal, we felt wistful for a time when this was always comme il faut. At Le Coucou at least, haute rides again. —Jordana Rothman
138 Lafayette St.; 212-271-4252; lecoucou.com
Turkey and the Wolf, New Orleans
The Sleeper Hit
We were just a few bites into a lamb neck roti at Turkey and the Wolf when we decided that this place is one of our favorite new restaurants in America. The wrap was flaky perfection, the meat was softened in a braise with chiles and caraway, and the whole thing was crowned with tart yogurt and a pile of herbs. It was, to borrow from chef Mason Hereford’s lexicon, pretty damn “dank.” And right there is the magic of Turkey and the Wolf: You can go ahead and gush about the luscious texture of the meat or the nuance of the spice, but you’re going to be the only one—everyone else is too busy having a good time.
Hereford worked at NOLA’s Coquette for six years before opening his Irish Channel spot, but those white tablecloth wiles are benched here. “I like to take fancy food and make it silly and superfamiliar to someone who wouldn’t ever go to a fine-dining restaurant,” says Hereford, who filled the place with ’50s-style tables, kitschy salt shakers and photographs of iconic Bayou eats. And so his menu of sandwiches and salads is written in a Cheech and Chong patois, and it swerves freely among cuisines. There’s that Indian-leaning roti, but also tacos, killer bologna and Italian subs, and a heap of cabbage with pig’s ear cracklings that’s sort of like a Thai larb as imagined by Edna Lewis.
You might be tempted to call it schizophrenic, and if all of it wasn’t so mind-bendingly delicious, we might do the same. Instead, we’re going to call Hereford a savant. He’s a chef who has as much range as he does a sense of humor, and an uncanny understanding of exactly what we want to eat and how we want to eat it. In a word: dank. —Jordana Rothman
739 Jackson Ave.; 504-218-7428; turkeyand thewolf.com
Here's Looking at You, Los Angeles
The L.A. Love Letter
It's hard to say what happened with the tomatoes at Here’s Looking at You. We weren’t very gracious when we scooted that bowl closer to our own place setting, where no one else could reach it. We just had to have more of those Chinese sausage crumbles, and that dressing, like ranch as imagined by Escoffier.
We don’t live in L.A., but those tomatoes made us wish we did. In fact, so much about chef Jonathan Whitener’s cool K-Town spot feels like a siren song—everything we love about dining in Los Angeles right now under a single roof.
“My mom is Mexican, and I grew up in Orange County where I could skateboard down the street to eat Korean barbecue,” Whitener recounts. “There’s no cuisine you can’t find in Southern California, so we’re free to cook whatever we are feeling.”
At a moment when L.A. is peaking as a restaurant capital, HLAY lands like a retort—a reminder of the things that have always made this city so dynamic, long before food writers decided to notice. —Jordana Rothman
3901 W. 6th St.; 213-568-3573; hereslooking atyoula.com
Tusk, Portland, OR
The PDX Oasis
When we arrived in Portland, it seemed like the city had collectively gone fishin’. The streets were encased in a fat layer of ice, and they were eerily empty. And so while PDX took a civic snow day, we tried our best to get around, even resorting to crawling on all fours when walking was too treacherous. Lucky for us, we found a beacon of life lighting up this frozen tundra: Tusk.
Here there were pretty pink accents and a photo of Keith Richards floating in a sun-dappled pool. Here there was a packed house of undeterred eaters who had, like us, come to soak up the flavors of a less wintry corner of the world.
Chef Sam Smith trained with Michael Solomonov at Zahav in Philadelphia, so the mechanics of his modern Israeli cooking are just right: the hummus smooth, the pita puffy, the feta tangy. But with a few clicks to the left, Smith—who runs the place with Ava Gene’s honcho Joshua McFadden—recalibrates this food to make it all his own.
“I try to hold onto the soul of a Middle Eastern meal but not get hung up on tradition,” said Smith when we asked him why there were apples in his kibbeh nayyeh, and fish sauce in his citrus salad, and why no one else ever thought to shake za’atar over french fries. “I didn’t grow up with this food, and I think that gives me some creative liberty to go outside the box.”
It all adds up to a kind of low-key iconoclasm—a gifted chef bumping up against the conventions of an ancient cuisine. On an icy night in a spooky-quiet city, we couldn’t imagine a better source of warmth. —Jordana Rothman
- Recipe: Tusk's Pork Shoulder Skewers
2448 E. Burnside St.; 503-894-8082; tuskpdx.com
Rooster Soup Co., Philadelphia
The Kitchen With a Mission
You don't have to know the backstory of the Yemenite chicken potpie to fall in love with it. You can just break through the flaky crust and find comfort in its thick, savory filling, fragrant with hawaij, a cumin-and-turmeric spice blend.
But when we ate at Rooster Soup Co. in Philadelphia, we did know the story. We knew that this dish represented the confluence of a lot of people, generosity, time and ingenuity, and that choosing to eat at this cozy, chrome-wrapped diner was itself a small act of philanthropy. And all of that made us love it even more. Rooster Soup Co. is the first restaurant we know of to donate 100 percent of its profits to charity—it’s a partnership with Broad Street Ministry’s Hospitality Collaborative, a community center that offers food and social services to Philadelphians who need them.
It’s also just an excellent restaurant, a fever dream of a midcentury luncheonette powered by Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook (Zahav, Dizengoff, Federal Donuts, and Goldie, just upstairs).
“Tourists come to Philly to see the Liberty Bell and climb the Rocky steps, not to witness suffering, so restaurants have always had an interest in making these problems disappear,” says Cook. “We wanted to do something that took a longer view of our city, to create a place where people of all types could come and sow the seeds of social change.”
To pull it off, he and Solomonov launched a Kickstarter campaign to offset the cost of a build-out, and tapped chef Erin O’Shea to devise the accessible menu, some of it rooted in food waste that’s been smartly upcycled from the duo’s other restaurants. —Jordana Rothman
1526 Sansom St.; 215-454-6939; roostersoup company.com
Waypoint, Cambridge, MA
New England's New Establishment
When we hear a New England restaurant describe itself as “coastally inspired,” we worry that we’ve seen it all before. But then along comes Waypoint to set us straight. Sure, there’s a beautiful raw bar with plenty of glass and brass, but that’s where the comparisons end.
Chef Michael Scelfo’s interpretation casts a wider net. We loved the decadent caviar with bright-green phytoplankton blini, and the thinly sliced scallop crudo with charred nettles and smoked benne seeds. But we also made space on the table for pizzas, wood-oven roasts, and an umami-bomb pasta paired with, among other things, fermented parsnips, brown butter and nutritional yeast.
That this is all happening on the edge of Harvard Square speaks to the bigger point at Waypoint: With his edgy approach to the region’s culinary character, hip-hop–heavy playlists and absinthe-fueled vibe, Scelfo is taking aim at Boston’s old-guard groove. Speaking for the proud New Englanders here at Food & Wine, we’re happy to say he nailed it. —Christine Quinlan
1030 Massachusetts Ave.; 617-864-2300; waypoint harvard.com