Esquire has announced its best new restaurants for 2012, and we're guessing there's a few you may want to add to your "must-visit" list. But you may recognize several from Bon Appetit's best restaurants of 2012, namely State Bird Provisions and Baco Mercat (so those would go on the "really must-visit" list, we suppose).
Esquire's food and travel correspondent John Mariani selected his 20 best new restaurants in America while also looking at some overarching trends -- by his account at least -- such as "Brooklyn" aesthetics and the resurgence of Southern food. While Mariani has treaded into his fair share of controversy in the past (see: "Why Does Everyone Hate John Mariani?" and Eater's extensive coverage), this list does recognize some really great restaurants and food personalities.
Check out the winners below -- the November issue hits newsstands starting October 16. All text courtesy of Esquire.
Restaurant Of The Year
<a href="http://theoptimistrestaurant.com/">The Optimist</a>, Atlanta, GA A soaring, convivial spot, the Optimist has a hip oyster bar shaped like a surfboard, a first-rate cocktail program, and seafood cooked with old-school expertise over a wood fire. Though everyone knew chef Ford Fry’s new place would be a big deal, the Optimist is far more than a resounding local success; it is an overnight totem of all that is wonderful about American food today.
Chef Of The Year
Roberto Donna of <a href="http://www.aldentedc.com/">Al Dente</a>, Washington, D.C. Over the years, despite being one of America’s greatest chefs, Roberto Donna had a habit of leaving restaurants before the paint dried. Now he’s back, at a colorful trattoria cooking his pants off, serving dishes so deceptively simple they seem like sleight of hand.
Design Of The Year
<a href="http://www.juviamiami.com/">Juvia</a>, Miami Beach, FL If you want to see what $8 million can buy you in Miami Beach, check out Juvia, a spectacular ten-thousand-square-foot penthouse. Almost every seat has a grand view of Miami’s Art Deco District. Nowhere will you feel more outside while dining inside. And you will dine well from chef Sunny Oh’s global menu that fuses Caribbean-French and raw seafood with Pacific-Peruvian accents.
Dish Of The Year
The Roast Chicken at <a href="http://www.thenomadhotel.com/#/dining">The NoMad,</a> New York, NY The NoMad is a restaurant of its time: a multistarred chef (in this case Daniel Humm) serving food that’s less exacting and more comfortable than what he’s known for in a room that feels like a country home. The dish that encompasses the moment best is a roast chicken that will make you rethink what roast chicken should be.
Restaurateur Of The Year
Gabriel Stulman, <a href="http://perlanyc.com/#/home">Perla</a>, New York, NY When asked how in six years he’s managed to open six of the most popular restaurants in New York, he says, ”When you walk in, I have an opportunity to make an impression. There are ten thousand restaurants in the city…When you’ve scraped together the time and money to go to one, and you walk into one of ours, what we should say is, ‘Thanks for coming through the door. Welcome. There’s a bit of a wait – you want a drink? Don’t go somewhere else. Spend your money here and I swear, you will remember tonight.’ That’s how we approach it: Remember tonight!”
Hall Of Fame Inductee
Drew Nieporent From the moment he opened Montrachet with money borrowed from his parents, Drew Nieporent has changed perceptions about French haute cuisine by making it more modern and unpretentious. With the help of Robert De Niro, he brought master sushi chef Nobu Matsuhisa to New York which led to branches of Nobu all over the world. When Montrachet ran its course, he reinvented it as Corton, yet again shaking up ideas about French cuisine. And while Corton is intimate, he can go as big as his personality with expansive places like the iconic Tribeca Grill in New York. Nieporent never fails to innovate.
Trend #1: 'Brooklyn -- Small, Comfortable, Spectacular -- Is Everywhere'
<strong><a href="http://184.108.40.206/~belz/gusto-la.com/">Gusto</a> </strong>– Los Angeles, CA – Two years ago, Victor Casanova’s very posh Culina at the Four Seasons Beverly Hills, where he was a celebrated star chef, made the list. Now at his own little trattoria on the very unposh West Third Street, the Bronx-born Casanova has gone back to his roots. <strong><a href="http://www.gwynnettst.com/">Gwynnett St.</a></strong> – Brooklyn, NY – People tend to look for similarities among Brooklyn restaurants – they all have nondescript facades and pork belly. But it’s what sets each one apart that’s worth talking about, and what sets Gwynnett St. apart is Chef Justin Hilbert. The restaurant offers just six starters and six mains, and dishes like his lustrous soybean-and-pistachio soup with rhubarb and butter reveal a chef who knows when to stop. <strong><a href="http://sbraga.com/">Sbraga</a></strong> – Philadelphia, PA – At Sbraga, you are served a four-course dinner you won’t soon forget for the remarkable price of $49. How does Chef Kevin Sbraga do it? Backward. “Everywhere else I’ve worked, they decided on what they wanted to serve, then set the price,” he says. “Here we decided on the price first, then figured out what we could offer without sacrificing creativity or quality.” <strong><a href="http://statebirdsf.com/">State Bird Provisions </a></strong>– San Francisco, CA – As owners Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski tell it, their place is proudly named after California’s state bird, the mighty quail. The fowl shows up fried in a buttermilk-and-cayenne batter with a sweet-and-sour jam, one of dozens of items they offer to complement a wholly new, global approach to dim-sum-style eating.
Trend #2: 'But the Big, Splashy Restaurant Is Not Dead'
<a href="http://aq-sf.com/">AQ</a> – San Francisco, CA – AQ is proof of several things about contemporary dining in America: first, location isn’t everything; second, by using more sensible ideas of molecular cuisine, modernism, and locavorism, a great chef like Mark Liberman can turn out tantalizing ideas without having only enough time and space to serve 15 people per night; and third, a big, well-lit, comfortable room is more exciting than a minimalist cell where, as the cliché goes, “the excitement is all on our plates.” At AQ, the excitement is everywhere. <a href="http://www.camporeno.com/">Campo </a>– Reno, NV – At few places is the evolution of Italian food in America more apparent that at Campo. Chef-owner Mark Estee and chef Arturo Moscoso have absorbed and translated all the lessons of both Italian-American and regional cucina italiana with a personal commitment to making everything in-house, from the pizzas, all charred and bubbly, to the fresh and aged salumi. <a href="http://underbellyhouston.com/">Underbelly</a> – Houston, TX – Chef-owner Chris Shepherd calls what he’s doing at Underbelly the “story of Houston food.” It is not a story about barbecue or Tex-Mex. Shepherd will talk your ear off about the contributions the Vietnamese and Koreans have made to the city’s food culture, reminding you Houston is the second largest port in the south. For his expansive vision and a local pride that shows in every dish, Underbelly is as important as it is delicious.
Trend 3: 'High-Flying, Big-City Food Is Migrating'
<a href="http://www.elmrestaurant.com/">ELM</a> – New Canaan, CT – Chef Brian Lewis has taken his talents to New Canaan, 64 minutes from Manhattan by train, cooking for people who work in the city but want to eat well where they live. And they are eating very well. Lewis is at the top of his game, invigorating black bass with chorizo and eggplant aioli, and swathing sweet griddled langoustines with earthy garlic soup, uni butter, and lardo.
Trend 4: 'The South Is Having a Moment, Praise Jesus'
<a href="http://www.carterskitchenion.com/">Carter’s Kitchen</a> – Mount Pleasant, SC – A lot of people in the food world are talking about how southern food has been “refined” lately, as if a great chef descended from the North and showed them good ol’ boys how to cook. Nothing could be further from the truth. Fueled by a resurgence of interest in farming methods that have been practiced in the southern states for centuries, chefs like Robert Carter are at the forefront of a proliferation – not transformation – of great southern cooking. <a href="https://www.facebook.com/TheMacintoshCharleston">The Macintosh</a> – Charleston, SC – Charleston is teeming with exciting chefs who have made their historic city a culinary destination. Jeremiah Bacon adds mightily to the city’s bragging rights. He focuses on one main ingredient on the plate, the gives it a benediction of beautiful, intensely reduced sauce and accompaniments – ricotta gnudi cuddled with nubbins of stone-crab meat and tomatoes is a shining example. <a href="http://www.thesouthernnashville.com/">The Southern Steak & Oyster</a> – Nashville, TN – Only a handful of steakhouses have made the list over the years, largely because they tend to keep to a straightjacket menu and stereotyped machismo look. But The Southern Steak & Oyster is as appealing to women as it is to men. Order the Nudie Suit, a steak “tailored to your appetite” which means you go up to the counter, the chef sets his knife anywhere you like on a huge slab of well-marbled beef, cuts it, and then cooks the thing exactly the way you want it.
Trend #5: 'Ethnic Food Is Showing Off Its Roots'
<a href="http://bacomercat.com/">Bäco Mercat</a> – Los Angeles, CA – It’s not about the sandwiches, although they make one hell of a sandwich. A bäco is a freshly baked roll, and in its original conception here, Texan chef-owner Josef Centeno filled it with fried pork belly, carnitas, pickles, and a sauce of tomato and almonds called salbitxada. Variations followed fast, but Centeno also has crafted a menu of singular dishes that would garner raves at more deluxe dining rooms than his storefront in low-rent downtown. <a href="http://barrioqueen.com/">Barrio Queen</a> – Scottsdale, AZ – Everything people love about true Mexican food is intensified by Silvana Salcido Esparza, from the cochinita pibil tacos brimming with juicy spiced pork to the barrio chicken with piñon cream. Her food is exactly what it says in street lingo on Barrio Queen’s T-shirts – A TODA MADRE – “totally awesome.” <a href="http://www.bierbeisl-la.com/">Bierbeisl</a> – Beverly Hills, CA – Just what Beverly Hills was dying for, Bierbeisl is a humble Austrian restaurant with a six-foot-seven chef and nothing even close to a “B” table. If BierBiesl was only a place to get a platter of wursts and some rare Austrian brews, it would be welcome enough anywhere in L.A., but when you get such a great bursts of flavor from a käsekrainer sausage pumped with oozy Emmentaler cheese and sharp pepper, you soon sense that chef-owner Bernhard Mairinger is doing something more special. <a href="http://www.sobounola.com/">SoBou</a> – New Orleans, LA – For decades, restaurants run by the Brennan family of New Orleans have regularly made Esquire’s list, and this year cousins Ti and Lally have returned to the French Quarter to open SoBou (South of Bourbon Street), where chef Juan Carlos Gonzalez brings “Creolized” bar food to a new level with creations like the blue-crab mousse, duck “debris” and butternut beignets napped with foie gras fondue and chicory-coffee ganache, or andoille-and-tasso meatballs.
Five New Chefs To Watch
Ryan Hildebrand, <a href="http://www.trinitirestaurant.com/">Triniti</a>, Houston, TX – He calls his food “third-coast French cuisine” and his foie gras “breakfast” of fried egg, waffles, yogurt gel, and duck liver shows you what he’s aiming for. Ryan LaRoche – <a href="http://www.hyatt.com/gallery/nomi/kitchen.html">Nomi Kitchen</a>, Chicago, IL – A chef’s chef whose depth of technique equals his breadth of creativity, from glorious sushi to nettle soup with black-truffle cream. Matthew Lightner, <a href="http://ateranyc.com/">Atera</a>, New York, NY – An avatar of artful avant-garde cuisine without its pretensions, served with sincere congeniality. Adam Mali, <a href="http://www.mandarinoriental.com/sanfrancisco/dining/brasserie_s_and_p/">Brasserie S&P</a>, San Francisco, CA – Proof that three meals at a hotel – the Mandarin Oriental here – can compete with the best the city has to offer. Joe Ng, <a href="http://redfarmnyc.com/">Redfarm</a>, New York, NY – In the vanguard of a new style of Chinese-American food, starting with pastrami egg rolls.
Hostess Of the Year
Kendall Morales, <a href="http://www.thesouthernnashville.com/">The Southern Steak & Oyster</a>, Nashville, TN – The 22-year-old daughter of the restaurant’s owner is also the manager. Her method? “You gotta be on it every day.” And if a customer is rude? “I just smile.”
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