Are Restaurant Critics Still Important to Diners?

If everybody’s a critic (and a blogger), where does that leave professional restaurant critics and food writers? Staring into the abyss, according to Francis Lambert, who provides coverage and commentary on New York University’s recent symposium “Taste and Authority: The Restaurant Review” in his article on Salon. Participants included Alan Richman, from GQ, Mitchell Davis, vice president of the James Beard Foundation, and Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin.

In this new world order of online, first-person reviews, how relevant are professional critics’ restaurant reviews to your dining choices? Which critics matter (or mattered. See Bruni, Frank.) most to you? Give your faves a shout out here or over on Facebook.

Chef Watch: Jamie Lauren’s Walk-In; Ron Duprat’s Efforts to Help Haiti; Patricia Yeo’s ‘Son-in-Law’ Eggs; and More

Chef Watch Chef Watch: Jamie Laurens Walk In; Ron Duprats Efforts to Help Haiti; Patricia Yeos Son in Law Eggs; and MoreChefs who are making headlines this week…

* Jamie Lauren, from “Top Chef “Season 5, shows the Grub Street gang her super-neat walk-in at San Francisco’s Absinthe Brasserie, where she’s the executive chef.  [Grub Street San Francisco]

* Speaking of “Top Chef”, Season 6 contestant Ron Duprat, executive chef at Latitudes Beach Café at the Hollywood Beach Marriot in Florida, is organizing a dining relief effort for Haiti on February 14, 2010. Duprat, a native of Haiti, will be joined by other former “Top Chef” contestants including Mattin Noblia (of Illuna Basque in San Francisco), Hector Santiago (of Pura Vida in Atlanta) and Michael Voltaggio is chef de cuisine at The Dining Room at The Langham in Pasadena, California. [BlackNews.com]

* Patricia Yeo of Boston’s Ginger Park Kitchen + Bar discusses her “Scottish Son-in-Law Eggs” that are egg-citing (I couldn’t help it) diners at her Boston restaurant. [Boston Herald]

* Chef Simon Dolinky of BLVD 16 is honoring those who make dineLA possible with a discounted tasting menu for restaurant-industry employees only. The offer runs from February 9-14. BLVD 16 is also participating in dineLA, so those of us not in the industry can still enjoy his meals at a steal. [Grub Street Los Angeles]

* Former chef to Oprah and restaurateur Art Smith, of Table Fifty-Two in Chicago and Art and Soul in Washington, D.C., dishes on earning a spot in the Chicago Culinary Museum and Chefs Hall of Fame (nevermind that the museum itself has yet to find a spot). [Chicago Tribune]

How Long Does It Take to Open a New Restaurant?

If you’re turning an old restaurant into a new one, not very, according to The New York Times. They check in on Scott Conant, the chef at Scarpetta, as he takes over the space formerly occupied by Table 8 in New York’s Cooper Square Hotel. In less than a month’s time, Conant and his crew have created Faustina, an entirely new restaurant, which will begin service on February 5. Across town, Tom Colicchio and his team have transformed craftsteak into Colicchio & Sons, in a similar span of time. Of course, these turnarounds aren’t nearly as impressive as the six short days it took to transition Venice, California’s A.R. Restaurant Bar & Grill into The Tasting Kitchen.

Harwood Arms Earns First Michelin Star for a London Gastropub

At 27, Harwood Arms head chef Stephen Williams has been cooking for just six years. However, he’s got two things fellow gastropub-runner Gordon Ramsay does not: a London Gastropub’s first Michelin star and a kind demeanor in the kitchen. The London Evening Standard spoke with him to discover what’s behind his good attitude and what’s on his great menu, and celebrate the fact that nice chefs can and do finish first.

Reserve your table at Harwood Arms and see what wowed the Michelin Guide reviewers.

The Best Restaurants That Are Out of Business

Best Restaurants That Are Out of Business The Best Restaurants That Are Out of BusinessSome nights when my friend Michele asks me where I’d like to dine out, I will answer, wistfully, “Grange Hall.” After a delicious decade in business, The Grange (as it was often called) closed in 2004, leaving many diners devastated to this day. I find myself daydreaming of a time machine (or a great upgrade to our mobile apps! Are you listening, Josh?) that will transport us back for an evening so we can once again enjoy their beloved burgers. Or the pan-roasted chicken for two. Or the lamb chops. Or…you get the picture. Clearly, Michele and I aren’t alone in feeling a profound and continued loss over Grange Hall and many other restaurants that exist only in our fondest food memories.

This week, Michael Bauer rounded up San Francisco restaurants that have closed during his tenure at the San Francisco Chronicle. Bittersweet memories bubbled up in Baltimore as Charm City’s Restaurant Week Winter 2010 rages, with critic Jacques Kelly waxing nostalgic over gone-but-not-forgotten Baltimore favorites.

If you had a time machine (and if you did, I really hope you would lend it to me at least once), where would you dine? Which restaurant’s closing has left a hole in your heart and a craving that’s still hard to satisfy? Weigh in here or over on Facebook.

Note: The space formerly occupied by Grange Hall is now Commerce, a very fine restaurant that retains some of the Grange’s style and vibe, but with a decidedly different (albeit lovely) menu and without the talented and entertaining Del Pedro tending bar.

Well-Reviewed: Bouchon Earns a Rave; Danny Meyer’s Maialino Can’t Miss; and More.

Recent reviews around the nation…

* Critic Tom Sietsema heads to the Hill for a meal at Bistro Cacao. [The Washington Post]

* S. Irene Virbila welcomes Thomas Keller’s Bouchon with open arms and three shiny stars. [Los Angeles Times]

* Minneapolis’s answer to Jean-Georges scores another hit with D’Amico Kitchen, according to Rick Nelson. [Star-Tribune]

* Virbila also likes LA’s neighborhoody House Café for a bite. [Los Angeles Times]

* Chris Colin finds the view’s the thing at Oakland’s The Lake Chalet Seafood Bar & Grill. [The New York Times]

* Danny Meyer’s Maialino is so nice, this week it’s been reviewed twice. [New York Post, The New York Times]

* Pelago wows the Windy City’s Phil Vettel. [Chicago Tribune]

* Michael Bauer remains loyal to old favorite Rivoli. [San Francisco Chronicle]

New Chef Reigns Supreme at SPQR

SPQR Welcomes New Chef New Chef Reigns Supreme at SPQRFans of SPQR need not worry that the Bay Area’s answer to the Roman Empire, food-wise, is in decline. Newly hired chef Matthew Accarrino is already pleasing critics palates with spuntini, rustic pastas, and more, most recently Patricia Unterman of The San Francisco Examiner.

SPQR only accepts reservations via OpenTable, and with just 49 seats, would-be diners at this Pacific Heights revamp should book early.

Four Seasons New Chef Moves On

Everything old is new again at The Four Seasons. Recently hired Fabio Trabocchi, formerly of now-shuttered Fiamma, has exited his position as executive chef at this Manhattan mainstay after, according to the New York Post, regulars couldn’t find the restaurant’s regular dishes on the menu. Both sides are mum about the reasons behind the split, but it’s no doubt that both the legendary restaurant and this Michelin-starred chef will continue to please diners, albeit separately.

Russian Tea Room Featuring Private Tours During Restaurant Week

Russian Tea Room Russian Tea Room Featuring Private Tours During Restaurant WeekAs if New York City Restaurant Week Winter 2010‘s terrific prices aren’t incentive enough to dine out at many of Manhattan’s classic restaurants, the fabled Russian Tea Room is offering up guided tours of the restaurant’s restored-yet-infrequently-viewed upper floors. Normally open only for private events, the 30-minute tour will highlight the lavish (and oftentimes unusual) décor, which includes a bear fish tank, bear chandeliers (Are you sensing a theme here?), and an automated diorama of the Kremlin. All things you don’t see every day. Or most days, really.

Take advantage of your opportunity to see these unique fruits of restaurateur Warner LeRoy’s labors before his death in 2001. New York City Restaurant Week Winter 2010 runs through February 7, 2010. The Russian Tea Room does not offer its Restaurant Week menus or tours on Saturdays and Sundays.