2015 James Beard Foundation Awards Restaurant + Chef Semifinalists

JBF Awards LogoOscars, schmoscars! Here at OpenTable, we’re all about the 2015 James Beard Foundation Awards. This week, the James Beard Foundation released their list of semifinalists for nominations. Click here for a full list of nominated chefs, restaurants, and restaurateurs, including the extensive regional nominations. The final nominees will be revealed on March 24th. Winners will be announced on May 4th at the awards ceremony, which is being held in Chicago for the first time ever. Congratulations to the semi-finalists (and to you, too, Windy City denizens) — and best of luck to all those who have made it this far.

Nominated restaurants include:

Best New Restaurant
Abe Fisher, Philadelphia
Alden & Harlow, Cambridge, Massachusetts
Bâtard, New York, New York
Bazaar Meat by José Andrés, Las Vegas
Cosme, New York, New York
Edmund’s Oast, Charleston, South Carolina
Fiola Mare, Washington, D.C.
The Grey, Savannah, Georgia
Lusca, Atlanta, Georgia
Maude, Beverly Hills, California
Parachute, Chicago, Illinois
The Progress, San Francisco, California
San Salvaje, Dallas, Texas
Spoon and Stable, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Townsend, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Outstanding Restaurant
Acquerello, San Francisco, California
Bacchanalia, Atlanta. Georgia
La Belle Vie, Minneapolis, Minnesota
Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Pocantico Hills, New York
Bluestem, Kansas City, Missouir
Canlis, Seattle, Washington
Fore Street, Portland, Maine
Fork, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, Colorado
Greens Restaurant, San Francisco, California
Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham, Alabama
Jaleo, Washington, D.C.
Per Se, New York, New York
Spiaggia, Chicago, Illinois
The Spotted Pig, New York, New York
Vidalia, Washington, D.C.

Outstanding Service
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OpenTable Reveals Top 25 Most Romantic Cities in America

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As we prepare to celebrate love and loved ones on  Valentine’s Day, we are over the moon to fete the 25 Most Romantic Cities in America.

It’s no secret that America has become a country of foodies, but our unique analysis has revealed that we’re also a nation of hungry romantics. In order to provide a ranking of cities where romantic dining is inherently part of the culture, the OpenTable Most Romantic Cities Index was calculated using three variables: the percentage of restaurants rated “romantic” according to OpenTable diner reviews; the percentage of tables seated for two; and the percentage of people who dined out for Valentine’s Day last year.

The following cities, listed in order, comprise the Top 25 Most Romantic Cities in America. The complete list may also be viewed at http://www.opentable.com/m/most-romantic-cities-in-america.

Top 25 Most Romantic Dining Cities in America

1. Atlantic City, New Jersey
2. San Antonio, Texas 3. Providence, Rhode Island
4. Key West, Florida
5. Birmingham, Alabama
6. Louisville, Kentucky
7. Newport, Rhode Island 8. Palm Springs, California
9. Austin, Texas
10. Lahaina, Hawaii
11. Colorado Springs, Colorado
12. Las Vegas, Nevada
13. Omaha, Nebraska
14. Santa Barbara, California
15. Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
16. West Hollywood, California
17. St. Louis, Missouri
18. Charleston, South Carolina
19. Memphis, Tennessee
20. New Orleans, Louisiana
21. Fort Worth, Texas
22. Nashville, Tennessee
23. Long Beach, California
24. Santa Fe, New Mexico
25. Charlotte, North Carolina

For diners still searching for the right restaurant for Valentine’s Day, we have recently released the Diner’s Choice List of the Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America. Diners can also find more tips and trends regarding Valentine’s Day on the OpenTable “Dining Check” blog.

And, diners, you’re invited to enter the OpenTable #MyFoodieValentine Dinner for Two Giveaway. Entrants just need to share a fun photo of a favorite foodie — or food — with @OpenTable on Instagram or Twitter using the hashtag #MyFoodieValentine for a chance to win one of the ten $200 OpenTable Gift cards we’ll be giving away every business day, starting Monday, February 2, 2015, through Friday, February 13, 2015. Learn more here…

What’s your favorite city for romantic dining? Let us know here or on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, or share a photo of your fave romantic destination   with us on Instagram!

OpenTable Reviews Reveal #DinersChoice Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America — with Slideshow

As diners around the world prepare to celebrate love and loved ones on Valentine’s Day, we are pleased to honor the 2015 Diners’ Choice Award winners for the Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America. These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 20,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

From restaurants serving shareable dishes to those showcasing seasonal delights, the complete list includes award winners in 31 states and Washington, D.C., such as Canlis in Seattle, La Grenouille in New York, and Red Fish Grill in Miami. California has the greatest number of winners with 15, followed by New York, Texas, and Virginia with eight each, and Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina with seven apiece, and Nevada with five. Colorado, Hawaii, and Illinois each have four, and Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania all have three. Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington, respectively, have two award winners. Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., are also represented.

Cheese continues to please diners, with fondue restaurants making a solid showing for the sixth consecutive year. American, French, and Italian cuisines are also popular.

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SeaBlue Restaurant & Wine Bar’s Ken Norcutt Talks #DinersChoice Win, Rave Reviews + Pappy Van Winkle

Ken NorcuttThis week, OpenTable announced the 2014 Diners’ Choice Awards for Top 100 Restaurants in America. Perched atop the list is SeaBlue Restaurant & Wine Bar, a revelation that surprised Ken Norcutt, chef-owner of the restaurant, but one which he chalks up to consistency in service, creativity of cuisine – and experience. Located in the tiny-yet-tony resort town of North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, SeaBlue has been open for a decade. Norcutt is a lifelong restaurant professional. He says, “I’ve been in the restaurant business since I was 14 years old, doing one aspect or another, from busboy to server to bartender to working back of the house to doing banquets. I’ve always had two jobs, and a restaurant was always my second job.”

He began working behind the bar at SeaBlue in 2007, and by the next year, he had purchased the restaurant, revamping its concept and energizing its wine and cocktail programs; the wine list recently earned a 2014 Wine Spectator Best Award of Excellence. Initially, SeaBlue served tapas-style cuisine, with a shallow menu of just 10 items or so. Norcutt wanted to up SeaBlue’s game, and so he upped the menu, greatly expanding it with an array of USDA prime steaks and wagyu cuts. He also serves seafood, with a strong emphasis on local product. New in the past year are oysters. Norcutt estimates he shucked almost 20,000 this season. They are sourced from Virginia – pungoteagues and olde salts – and North Carolina and are complemented with seasonal mignonettes and savory sorbets. “I also do an oysters Rockefeller with applewood smoked bacon, braised spinach, a little panko, and a béarnaise aioli on top, and they’ve been very popular. I think most of my regulars say it’s the best oysters Rockefeller they’ve ever had,” says Norcutt.

SeaBlue Cheese copyLike most of this year’s other Diners Choice Award-winning restaurants, SeaBlue has embraced the artisanal cheese boom, serving a cheese course selected from a rotating inventory of 20 wheels of carefully curated cheeses from around the world that are aged in house. The artful plates, which are accompanied by jams, jellies, nuts, local honeys, and aged vinegar gastriques, have drawn recent attention from Cheese Connoisseur magazine. Norcutt’s latest cheese crush is Shropshire. Made from cow’s milk, Shropshire is semi-soft and similar to Stilton despite its orange-y hue. “It really stands out on the plate – and it’s the perfect blend of the saltiness of a blue cheese and the sharpness of a cheddar. And, we balance that all out by serving it with fig vincotto,” he notes.

North Myrtle Beach has, according to Norcutt, just 15,000 or so permanent residents, but in tourist season, that number swells considerably as 15 million visitors swarm the small beach town. He observes, “Historically, the emphasis in Myrtle Beach dining has been about buffets and chains, and that’s what has allowed SeaBlue to stand out. It is one of only about four or five restaurants that are really trying to change the scene and source from local farms as much as possible.” As the area grows in popularity as a vacation destination, its food culture is growing, too. “There’s a climate change here when it comes to the culinary scene. You’re seeing the buffets and the feeding troughs closing and these new places, like Fire & Smoke gastropub, opening.”

In a field of more than 20,000 restaurants, Norcutt was shocked and elated to find his establishment in the top spot. “When [OpenTable account manager] Page Stokes emailed me last Friday, I think I cried a little bit,” he admits. “We were just hoping to get into the top 100 again this year. And when she said we were the number one restaurant, I was speechless. I’m so glad people reviewed us and said how much they enjoy it here. We’re just a small little restaurant in a small little town; we do what we do and hope everything falls into place. It’s such an honor to be in the company on that list.”

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