Posted by: Travis | February 13, 2009

Beard Award Semi-Finalists

So today the Beard Award semi-finalists were announced. There are some things i expected, some things i’m pleasantly surprised by, and a few things that have me scratching my head. By no means is this a comprehensive review of the announcement. Most of these places i haven’t even heard of, much less been to, but for now i’ll be focusing on places that i know, meaning NorCal and Texas…and maybe a few other places. Please note that these are just the semi-finalists, not the actual award winners, and i’ve only talked about places i’ve been to or heard about. So here we go, starting from the top:


  • Jim Goode and Levi Goode, Goode Company Restaurants, Houston – Really? Is this a joke? Look, i’m more than happy to see some people from Houston make the list, and i love BBQ, tacos, seafood, and burgers as much as the next guy, but really? Goode Co? All the interesting stuff that’s been going on in the Houston restaurant scene the last few years and they pick Goode Co? Are the responsible for something totally awesome that i’m unaware of? Someone, please help me here.
  • Richard Melman, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Chicago – Don’t know anything about them or their restaurants, but the name is pretty awesome. My dad is probably pissed that he didn’t come up with it.
  • Bill Higgins and Bill Upson, Real Restaurants, Sausalito, CA (North Bay)- I can’t find a website, so i have no idea what restaurants they are responsible for, sounds suspect.
  • Pat Kuleto, Pat Kuleto Restaurant Development & Management Co., San Francisco – Very mediocre reviews, though i haven’t been there.
  • Doug Washington, Mitchell Rosenthal, and Steven Rosenthal, Town Hall, Salt House, and Anchor & Hope, San Francisco – Haven’t been to any of their places either.


  • José Andrés, Minibar, Washington, D.C. – No surprise, dude has been getting lots of love.
  • Dan Barber, Blue Hill, NYC – Really want to go here, heard very good things.
  • Tom Colicchio, Craft, NYC – A favorite of mine because he does Top Chef, want to go to his place too.
  • Paul Kahan, Blackbird, Chicago – Same group owns our beloved Avec in Chicago (they are right next to each other), go there if you find yourself in Chicago. Talk about bang for your buck!
  • Michael Mina, Michael Mina, San Francisco – Not surprised by this one. Haven’t been there, but its an area fav.
  • Charles Phan, The Slanted Door, San Francisco – A little surprised by this one. Its upper end Vietnamese food in the Ferry Building. I haven’t been there. People speak well of it, but it isn’t really seen as an innovator in SF.


  • Babbo, NYC – Another NYC place i’m dying to visit. Mario Batali is really famous, but i also respect his cooking style a lot more then Rachel Ray or Emeril.
  • Blackbird, Chicago – Avec’s sister restaurant. I’d love to go, the problem is that it would require going to Chicago and NOT going to Avec. Maybe we can get Jenny to go and check it out for us.
  • Boulevard, San Francisco – I’m surprised by this one too. Yes, it’s a legendary old school San Francisco restaurant, but the general feeling around here is that the SF food scene is leaving this place behind as it refuses to change. That’s not toally a bad thing, but kind of surprising to see it here. For all my readers in Houston, this place kind of reminds me of Ruggles in that sense.
  • Delfina, San Francisco – Awesome Italian place. Haven’t been there, but its very high on my list of places to go.
  • Greens, San Francisco – Another surprise. Much like Boulevard, this is a legendary SF establishment (in this case they are known for vegetarian food) that is a little bit past its prime. Went there with my folks for lunch one day. After waiting for an hour we finally snagged a table. The food is good, but it remains pretty far down my list of top San Francisco restaurants.
  • Jean Georges, NYC – Yet another NYC place that every foodie must visit before they die.


  • Bottega, Yountville, CA – Sharing a tiny wine country town with Thomas Keller’s French Laundry, Bouchon, and Ad Hoc has to be a little intimidating. I’ve heard good things about this place though.
  • Camino, Oakland, CA – Not familiar with it at all. Rachel and i have been so consumed with the SF dining scene that we haven’t ventured over to visit Oakland’s blooming dining scene once. We’ve got to make it over there at some point though.
  • Feast, Houston – Oh yeah, HOUSTON REPRESENT! This is a fantastic place in Houston that is totally unique, not just to Houston but the whole country. They specialize in the British take on Ofal Cuts (the ‘gross stuff’). I got to go there in September, and while it fell just short of my sky high expectations, the further i get from that meal, the more i realize how good it was.
  • Hungry Mother, Cambridge, MA – Another place i know nothing about, but included for the clever name.
  • Momofuku Ko, NYC – Of all the places i’d like to hit in NYC, i think this might be tops on the list. Look them up, check out their menu. It’s foodie heaven.


  • Nate Appleman, A16, San Francisco – OH YEAH! I couldn’t possibly be happier for my boy, Nate. Both A16 and SPQR are fantastic, though very different restaurants. I think A16 sits on the top of my (admittedly limited) list of places i’ve been to in San Francisco. Glad to see him getting some love.


  • Deanie Fox, Ubuntu, Napa, CA – Vegetarian restaurant / yoga studio in downtown Napa. Yes it’s horribly cliche, (okay, i guess putting it in some remote sanctuary get away outside of Napa would be worse) but supposedly the food is great. Haven’t been, but it’s on ‘the list’.
  • Nicole Plue, Redd, Yountville, CA – For a ridiculously small, yet very cute town in wine country (about 15 miles north of Napa), Yountville sure is packing a punch.

OUTSTANDING WINE SERVICE – I should preface this section by saying that i hardly ever order wine at restaurants. Being only 23 and not being one of those people that has more money than sense, i just can’t get over the 2-3X mark up at restaurants. I drink quite a bit of wine at home, but in restaurants i normally stick to the H2O. So my opinion in this category isn’t worth a whole lot.

  • Acquerello, San Francisco – Haven’t been, supposed to be pretty solid though.
  • Bin 36, Chicago – Highly recommended by my folks. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get over there while in Chicago, so i haven’t been.
  • La Toque, Napa, CA – Heard very good things, haven’t been.
  • Le Bernardin, NYC – I love Eric Ripert, i love sea food (i love lamp?), add it to the list of NYC places i need to visit. What’s the count on places that made this list alone? Six places? Maybe i just need to save up some money and vacation time and blow it all on some New York City obscene fine dining binge like some 80’s rock star, then return to my normal life.

OUTSTANDING SERVICE – Its really all about the food for me, but i guess there is something to be said for good service. That being said, i’ll take the mellow, sociable, casual, tattooed and pierced crew from Avec over the butler set at Charlie Trotters any day.

  • Spiaggia, Chicago – I really wanted to make it here on ur trip to Chicago, but we just didn’t have time. Guess we’ll just have to go back and see Jenny. Damn.


  • Chris Cosentino, Incanto, San Francisco – This guy does the Italian take on Ofal Cuts (as opposed to the British take that the crew at Feast does). Haven’t been here but it’s really high on my list.
  • Jeremy Fox, Ubuntu, Napa, CA – Part Yoga retreat part restaurant? In Napa? I have so much trouble taking this place seriously.
  • Douglas Keane, Cyrus, Healdsburg, CA – I’ve also heard great things about Cyrus. Need to check it out.
  • David Kinch, Manresa, Los Gatos, CA – One of the most mind blowing meals i’ve ever eaten was at Manresa last summer with Rachel and my folks. We just ordered everything on the menu and passed plates around. People looked at us like we were nuts, but whatever, it was a good time. But for thought provoking dishes with interesting pairings that makes you ask ‘how did he come up with that’ or ‘how in the hell did he do that’, this is the place to go. The tour we got of the kitchen afterward was just icing on the cake.
  • Daniel Patterson, Coi, San Francisco – This is THE hot restaurant in San Francisco right now. People just can’t stop talking about it. Supposedly Patterson is doing lost of really interesting things with the eater’s sense of smell. Its supposed to be a really incredible dining experience. I’ve got to just suck it up, swallow the high price tag and go.
  • Gayle Pirie and John Clark, Foreign Cinema, San Francisco – Another classic with SF residents. Rachel and i went a couple of weeks ago and had a great meal. They project old foreign films onto the wall for a very interesting effect. The patio os also awesome. Very cool place in the mission district.


  • Koren Grieveson, Avec, Chicago – OH YEAH. If you ever find yourself in Chicago and need a place to grab dinner, check this place out. I still have dreams about the chorizo stuffed, bacon wrapped dates in guajillo pepper sauce.

BEST CHEF: NEW YORK CITY – Should i just book my flight now?

  • Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern
  • April Bloomfield, The Spotted Pig
  • Wylie Dufresne, WD-50
  • Mark Ladner, Del Posto


  • Mark Fuller, Spring Hill, Seattle
  • Naomi Pomeroy, Beast, Portland, OR
  • Gabriel Rucker, Le Pigeon, Portland, OR


  • Bryan Caswell, Reef, Houston – Had a fantastic meal there when i was in Houston last September
  • Tyson Cole, Uchi, Austin, TX – Haven’t been, heard good things.
  • Paul Petersen, Café Cenizo, Marathon, TX – Awesome, awesome, awesome restaurant out in the middle of nowhere that we hit on a trip to Big Bend.
  • Andrew Weissman, Le Rêve, San Antonio – Had a chance to go there for my graduation dinner from college, but our party grew and they couldn’t accommodate us. I promised my Dad we’d go back someday. Hasn’t happened yet.

And that’s it. Whew, i don’t know about you, but i’m exhausted. So what have we learned? Well, there are still a ton of places that i need to check out, but haven’t had a chance to. Happy eating!


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