Restaurant Review Roundup: Word on the Street

Trying to decide where to eat? Want a little professional help? Read about these recently (and positively) reviewed restaurants — and book a table to judge for yourself.

Hard Times in the Big Easy

bigeasy Hard Times in the Big EasyIt’s been nearly four years since Hurricane Katrina devastated much of New Orleans (among other places). Rebuilding efforts have long been underway, and, in fact, even more restaurants have since opened in this city of food and fun. But, it’s still not a cakewalk for many of the city’s longtime restaurateurs. CNN spotlights the everyday challenges at Mat & Naddie’s, a neighborhood gem (according to OpenTable diners) that serves modern Louisiana food. Next time you’re in the Big Easy, book at table and sample chef/owner Stephen Schwarz ‘s modern Louisiana food.

Best of the Rest(rooms)

best restrooms Best of the Rest(rooms)The best seat in the house may not be in the dining room at some restaurants. The Chicago Tribune spotlights the nominees for America’s best public restrooms. Included on the list are Canlis restaurant in Seattle, Washington, the Palm Court at Chicago’s Drake Hotel, and Zeffirino at the Venetian Resort and Hotel in Las Vegas. Sponsored by Cintas Corporation, the contest has been held since 2002. You can take a virtual tour of these and other impressive powder rooms (one even features a mahogany pool table) and vote for your favorite through July 31, 2009, here.

What Words Should Restaurant Reviewers Avoid?

cliche1 What Words Should Restaurant Reviewers Avoid?Epicurious editor James Oliver Cury calls out restaurant-review and food-writing clichés this week. Among his all-time un-faves are “decadent dessert” and “yummy.” The Village Voice has an even more lengthy list of food-related terms it wishes writers would terminate altogether. Concerning the latter list, I completely disagree on “crispy.” Hearing or reading that word makes my mouth water. Crispy duck? Yes, please! Crispy fries? Affirmative! Crispy bacon? Please, sir, I want some more! I could go on and on, but you get the general idea.

What bothers me more than well-worn words are the du jour phrases that seem to creep into the dining vernacular only to be replaced by something more precious and/or trendy the following year. Housemade, anyone?

Eat Like a President: From Washington, D.C. to Washington Place

whitehouse Eat Like a President: From Washington, D.C. to Washington PlacePresident Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama dined out in the Big Apple this past weekend. So, where in one of the food capitals of the world did they eat? Blue Hill, naturally. The Obamas are committed to sustainable agriculture as indicated by the new White House kitchen garden, and Dan Barber, chef/co-owner of Blue Hill, is renowned for his role in the field-to-plate movement.

A 2009 James Beard Foundation Award winner, Barber also operates Blue Hill at Stone Barns. Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture is a non-profit, four-season and pastured livestock farm that provides many of the ingredients served at both Blue Hill restaurants.

Texting While Dining out: The Lesser of Two Evils?

texting Texting While Dining out: The Lesser of Two Evils?New York Times restaurant critic Frank Bruni confesses that he doesn’t mind seeing diners texting while eating in restaurants – only, mind you, because it means they’re not gabbing away on their mobile phones.

I’m a rabid texter, but I usually only indulge in restaurants when I’m waiting at the bar for my dining companions to arrive (and I’m always the first to arrive. Grrr! But that’s a blog for another time). However, it seems so many people have jobs that require them to be dialed in at all times that I agree with Mr. Bruni. Texting is far less disruptive and far more polite than either making or taking a call at the table or excusing yourself repeatedly. Just try not to text while your food is on the table lest you may insult the chef.

The Best Restaurants for Outdoor Dining

outdoordining The Best Restaurants for Outdoor DiningSummer is almost upon us, igniting diners’ appetites for enjoying a meal outside. Want to know where the best restaurants for outdoor dining in the U.S. are? The national winners of the 2009 Diners’ Choice awards for Best Outdoor Dining are in! Based on 2 million reviews from OpenTable diners of more than 9,000 restaurants across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, you’ve helped create a list of the top 50 restaurants for al fresco dining.

One size or setting doesn’t fit every diner, as evidenced by the array of outdoor dining options on the list, from chic urban rooftops to romantic gardens. Naturally, many of your favorites feature waterside seating and are located in some of the nation’s warmer states, such as California and Florida, but there are also standouts in Arizona, Chicago, and Missouri.

Congratulations to all 50 winners of the 2009 Diners’ Choice awards for Best Outdoor Dining. Find out if your local favorite made the list, and reserve a table under the sun — or stars — today.

Restaurant Reviews: Personal Experience vs. Professional Opinions

newspaper Restaurant Reviews: Personal Experience vs. Professional OpinionsOver the long weekend, I dined out at Mirabelle Tavern, a restaurant I’d been interested in as it’s a new (and slightly less formal) incarnation of a long-popular French restaurant. I was excited to learn what was on the menu and sample the fare. I’d not read any professional reviews…until that very morning when The New York Times published one. I couldn’t help reading it (It was staring me in the face!), but I went from feeling adventurous to feeling as though I should heed the reviewer’s suggestions.

The experience got me thinking about how reviews can influence diners, not just in terms of what we order — but as to whether or not we even go to a restaurant at all. I certainly find professional reviews helpful and interesting to read, but, good or bad, I try not to let them diminish my curiosity about a restaurant. I’ve run into too many people who bash or praise a restaurant based on someone else’s experience rather than their own. In fact, over this very dinner, I had a heated debate with a member of my party about whether one location of a fabled steakhouse is better than the other, with him basing his opinion on what he’d read rather than what he’d experienced. (If you’re reading this, I still think you’re wrong, Robert!) But haven’t we all been inspired by a rave write-up only to be disappointed in a meal? Or read a less-than-stellar review yet had an enjoyable dining experience despite it?

I’m not entirely immune to influence, naturally, and I did go to our dinner armed with some ideas about stand-out menu items (according to the reviewer), but I took just one of her suggestions (and it happened to be a dish that’s a longtime personal favorite), giving in to my own appetite when it came to choosing a first course and dessert. I’m glad I did, as the dishes I discovered on my own were the most memorable. Going forward, I’m going to make an effort to be less influenced by restaurant reviewers and trust my gut (literally and figuratively) when dining out.

Le Bernardin’s List of Service Sins

waiter1 Le Bernardins List of Service SinsI’ve worked in a lot of restaurants, but Le Bernardin wasn’t one of them. I like to imagine that I could have held my own in at least a front-of-the-house position, but after reading a list of Eric Ripert’s 129 rules for employees of his Michelin-starred (three!) restaurant, it’s pretty clear to me that I wouldn’t have measured up. My hat is off to seafood mecca’s staff for constantly upholding top-notch service standards — and for being able to remember 129 things at once. Impressive!