Tax Day 2016 Dining Splurges: Where to Spend Your Refund

April showers bring May flowers or if you’re really lucky, the month itself brings a big fat tax refund. Since experiences bring more happiness than possessions, a big splurge dinner on the town seems like the perfect way to spend it. Here are some top picks Tax Day 2016 dining splurges to live and eat large if only for one night. please note that the most exclusive wines are available in extremely limited quantities, so it’s best to inquire ahead of time if you have your heart set on a particularly splurge-y selection.

Daniel, New York, New York
Daniel Boulud’s flagship restaurant on the Upper East Side just off of Central Park is the epitome of contemporary French extravagance. The seven-course tasting menu clocks in at $234 or $459 with wine pairings and includes signature dishes like velvety Minted Pea Soup with chicken mousse and Louisiana crayfish and garlic pennycress and can include courses of langoustines, beef, and quail with foie gras. The wine list has selections such as Chateau D’Yquem 1918 for $10,000 or Domaine de la Romanée-Conti 2009 for $15,000. Or if you’re celebrating with similarly flush-with-cash friends, how about a magnum? You can’t go wrong with the Domaine Henri Jayer Vosne-Romanée 1er Cru “Cros Parantoux”1995 for $20,000. Make a reservation at Daniel.

Tax Day 2016 Dining Splurges

Providence, Los Angeles, California
Chef Michael Cimarusti’s 2-Michelin star paean to fine dining in the heart of Los Angeles features the chef’s menu, a 12-course tasting menu with sustainable seafood from the U.S. and beyond, as well as other delicacies like prized A5 wagyu beef. Decadent touches include ossetra caviar and white truffle and black truffle fondue. It’s $220 or $325 with wine pairings. But if you’re really looking to splash out, begin your evening with a bottle of 1998 Krug Clos d’Ambonnay Champagne for $3,500 and then move on to a bottle of 2012 La Tâche Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for $4,000. Finish the evening with a bottle to remember in the way of a 1959 Staatsweingut Kloster Eberbach Riesling Auslese for $3,500. Make a reservation at Providence.

Tax Day 2016 Dining Splurges

Saison, San Francisco, California
Chef Joshua Skenes and sommelier Mark Bright have crafted one of the most unique high-end dining environments at Saison, with its open floor plan encompassing the dining room, bar, lounge, and kitchen — effectively removing all walls. The goal is to bring diners into the chef’s world, in this case, a minimalist redesign of the California Electric Light Company building. Dishes have vague and poetic names such as Fire in the Sky Beet, Bone Marrow Roasted over Coals and Sea Urchin, Liquid Toast. The prix-fixe Discovery menu is a luxe $398 for about 16 courses with an additional $298 for wine pairings. But if you want to really max out the credit cards (assuming you can pay it off with your return dough), you might consider ordering the Domaine Georges Roumier ‘Bonnes-Mares’ Grand Cru 2009 for $15,408 or ending the experience on a truly sweet note with Château D’Yquem Premiere Cru Supérieur, Sauternes 1942 for $6,888. Make a reservation at Saison.

Tax Day 2016 Dining Splurges

StripSteak by Michael Mina, Miami, Florida
Located in the historic Fontainebleau hotel on Collins Avenue in Miami, StripSteak is swank and clubby with its wood tones and rich browns. Start your meal with rare golden osetra caviar service for $295, and then indulge in a beefy entrée like the 50-ounce Australian tomahawk for $150 or the Japanese Miyazaki prefecture A5 striploin for $32 per ounce. Then gild the lily with add-on extras like half a Maine lobster tail or seared foie gras. The restaurant prides itself on having one of the largest pre-embargo Cuban cigar collections in Miami, all dating back to 1962 and earlier with prices generally in the $100-200 range but topping out at $395 for a 6-inch Montecristo. To accompany your stogie, choose a tableside Japanese whisky ceremony or perhaps a glass of 25-year Macallan for $370. Make a reservation at StripSteak by Michael Mina.

Tax Day 2016 Dining Splurges

Grace, Chicago, Illinois
This Michelin three-star restaurant is also one of the biggest splurges in Chicago. Elegant and understated, chef Curtis Duffy’s Windy City gem is upscale without being fussy. The menu offers an 8-12 course tasting menu format at $235. The dishes are described in classic minimalist style such as Alaskan King Crab, sudachi, cucumber, lemon mint or Pig Tail, endive, cauliflower, oxalis. Many dishes have Asian accents and the vegetarian “flora” menu is as captivating as the “fauna” menu, which showcases seafood and protein. The wine list features saves and splurges among 1,400 selections. Teetotalers can splurge on bespoke teas that cost upwards of $20 each. Make a reservation at Grace.

Tax Day 2016 Dining SplurgesContinue Reading

City of Gold: Intrepid Dining Tips from Food Critic Jonathan Gold

Pulitzer Prize-winning insatiably curious eater and Los Angeles Times food critic Jonathan Gold, star of the new documentary City of Gold, shares how dining out is one of the best ways to discover a city, whether traveling or in your hometown.

Jonathan Gold

Finding a city’s hidden gem eateries — be it a dusty food truck with incredible fried fish tacos or a counter spot in a dingy strip mall slinging life-changing pho — is far more than an Instagrammable form of epicurean off-roading. It awakens us to the oft-underappreciated mosaic of cuisines and cultures that make up our cities’ landscapes.

For Jonathan Gold, longtime food critic at the L.A. Times and star of a documentary on this very subject, dining out has always been about uncovering culinary treasures — a quest that started in his early 20s with a mission to try every hole-in-the-wall restaurant and ethnic street vendor on a 15-mile stretch of LA’s Pico Boulevard.

Last month while in Chicago promoting the release of City of Gold, he caught up with OpenTable for a little Intrepid Dining: 101. From scouting foreign-language message boards for restaurant tips to eating at (literally) every Indonesian noodle house, he shared advice on how to discover — or perhaps re-discover — a city’s culture through its food.

Was there a certain cuisine or experience when you were starting out that sparked your curiosity?

I did this thing right after college when I was bored out of my mind working as a proofreader at a law newspaper – I decided to eat at every restaurant on Pico Boulevard. It was at the time of the wars in Central America, so there was a lot of new immigration there and a lot of new places, from street vendors to tiny little restaurants.

I’d grown up in LA and driven down this street before thinking those restaurants were monolithically Mexican because everything was in Spanish. And then you start going from door to door and you go, wait a second, this one’s Guatemalan, this one’s Nicaraguan, this one’s from El Salvador, this one’s from Mexico but it’s Jalisco, and this one’s also Mexican but it’s Sinaloa so the food is completely different. Then you do it a little more and you see which ones have big city or European influences because their menus are more continental.

It wasn’t even the actual basic things being served. It was just the knowledge that this wasn’t monolithic, that what had seemed like one big thing turned out to be this mosaic — an endless, tessellated grid of culture. And it was so good.

What’s your strategy for finding under-the-radar restaurants?

I do it a million different ways. I will go down certain streets and eat at every single restaurant. I’ll spend hours on message boards in foreign languages with Google translate, like Weibo, the Chinese Facebook. I also find that going to a restaurant that looks like the center of a community probably means what you’ll find there will be pretty good. It may not be the absolute best one. But then what I’ll do is eat at all of the Indonesian noodle houses to tell you which one is the best one.

How long does that usually take you?

Sometimes that takes quite awhile, other times not so much. I tend to try to spread them out, but there always comes a time where it will be six places in a weekend.

Is there anything that would make you skip a place? Your strategy seems to be to try pretty much everything.

Yeah, well (laughs), I don’t like being bored. One kind of restaurant I tend not go to is actually lounge restaurants. I find the food tends to be really subsidiary to what else is going on there. Or if I’m looking at an Italian restaurant and it has exactly the same menu that every other Italian restaurant has, there’s no point in going there.

Jonathan Gold

For the average diner experiencing a certain cuisine for the first time, how should they set themselves up for a successful meal? Continue Reading

Farm to Glass: Why Sommeliers + Wine Directors Love Grower Champagne (and You Will, Too)

Grower Champagne

Small is big. These days it seems you can’t shake a stick — reclaimed from the fallen branch of your backyard tree — without hitting a thoughtfully crafted, local product. Online marketplaces like Etsy allow artists and artisans to create and sell their wares in limited batches. In the U.S., microbreweries are popping up at record rates while drinkers are eschewing macrobrewery offerings for the more uncommon beers in their own neighborhoods. At local farmers markets, we talk with the folks who grow our favorite apple, and we’re on a first-name basis with the cow that produces our milk. (Kidding about that last one, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility, right?)

The same is happening in France’s Champagne region. Grape growers, many who once sold the entirety of their grapes to large Champagne houses (think Moët & Chandon or Veuve Clicquot, among others) are now keeping all or a portion of their harvest to create their own wholly interesting, beautifully complex sparkling wines. Referred to as “grower Champagne,” it’s not a new practice, but it’s one that has gained popularity in recent years as consumers actively seek out a more artisanal product. There’s no need to wait for New Year’s Eve or your next big life milestone to raise a glass. Sommeliers and wine directors from some of the country’s top restaurants tell us: there’s so much to celebrate about grower Champagne.

Edouard Bourgeois, Sommelier, Ca Boulud, New York, New York
“When I started at Café Boulud, the wine list didn’t differentiate between grower Champagne and Champagne from houses. Being from this region of France, I felt it was important to promote the Champagne growers by showcasing them in their own category. (The difference between the two is simple, by the way: grower Champagnes are made by a producer who grows their own grapes and vinifies them into Champagne. They control the process from A to Z. On the other hand, Champagne houses are producers who own their land but buy grapes to feed their production.) I am constantly searching for the obscure, hidden gem wines to feature on my list, and there are many in Champagne with great personalities and a real sense of terroir.” Make a reservation at Café Boulud.

Grower Champagne

Alicia Kemper, General Manager and Wine Director, fundamental LA, Los Angeles, California
“I chose to include grower Champagne because I appreciate the pureness and thoughtfulness of the wine. These winemakers could easily sell their grapes to the big houses for more money, but instead, they choose to make something extremely complicated that could all be compromised due to unfortunate weather. Champagne from the big houses often lacks in many ways, whereas most grower Champagnes over-deliver, not only in taste but in quality and terroir as well.

My favorite grape in Champagne in Pinot Meunier. A lot of people would disagree, however, when it is done right, it is out of this world! I have one Pinot Meunier dominant wine on my list: Christophe Mignon (who comes from a long line of farmers in Le-Mesnil and makes wine that is super fresh, minerally, and has amazing texture).

Aside from the Mignon and Meunier, the Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus is just next-level delicious. It is from a single vineyard and doesn’t have a drop of dosage, so the terroir really shines through. After being left on its lees for nearly a year, it undergoes battonage, which gives it richness and that oh-so-lovely texture.

In terms of pairings, I love pairing Champagne with something fried or weighty — especially burgers. A lot of times people are like ‘Whaaaat?’ but then they taste them together, and often, their minds are blown.” Make a reservation at fundamental LA.

Grower Champagne

Jackson Rohrbaugh, Assistant Wine Director, Canlis, Seattle, Washington
“We love grower Champagne at Canlis because there is a closer connection between the personality of the grower and the wine in the glass. Single vineyard wines take this concept to its fullest expression. The Jérôme Prévost La Closerie “Fac-Simile,” a Pinot Meunier rosé from the village of Gueux, is one of our most treasured bottles. It provides a refreshing, fruitful palate cleanse alongside chef Brady Williams’s Barley Porridge with geoduck and green strawberry.” Make a reservation at Canlis.

Grower Champagne

Melanie Kaman, Director of Wine & Beverage, Addison, San Diego, California
“For grower Champagne, what I have found is the products are more organic, they’re anywhere from a third to half the price of the large Maisons, and they’re a lot better quality. They’re smaller production, they’re really well made, and you’re supporting local. Even if it’s not local California or local New York, you’re supporting a family of growers, not a conglomerate. You’re getting these beautiful, finely crafted, small-production Champagnes for a lower price, and, in my opinion, a better quality than some of the large houses.

We have a beautiful tasting menu with 10 or 12 courses, and we feature a dish in a caviar tin; it’s a smoked salmon rillette, and it’s topped with golden Osetra caviar from Galilee Farms in Israel, served with a warm brioche toast on the side. I always pair it with Champagne. One of my favorites recently has been Paul Bara, their Brut Rosé, and then I also really like the 2007 Gaston Chiquet Brut.” Make a reservation at Addison.

Grower Champagne

Thomas Pastuszak, Wine Director, The Nomad, New York, New York
“Grower Champagne continues to be one of the most exciting categories of wine in the world: we’re talking about producers in the Champagne region who farm their family-owned land conscientiously and meticulously, grow incredible grapes from noble terroirs, and create their own, unique expressions of their villages through the wines they are making. It’s now taken on a site-specific excitement that wine lovers only used to be able to find in places like Burgundy, the Rhone Valley, or the Mosel, and these Champagnes are some of the most incredible food wines, whether to start the meal or to finish it. At NoMad, we regularly recommend drinking a variety of styles and producers throughout our guests’ meal: the grower Champagne category lets us do that and create some amazing pairings with chef Humm’s cuisine.” Make a reservation at The NoMad.

Grower ChampagneContinue Reading

Bon Anniversaire! Iconic French Restaurant L’Auberge Chez François Celebrates 40 Years

L’Auberge Chez François Celebrates 40 Years

The restaurant business is a high turnover industry. Celebrating a 10-year anniversary is rare. Against all odds, L’Auberge Chez François in Great Falls, Virginia, is toasting 40 delicious years of serving memorable Alsatian accented gastronomy, which has thrilled everyone from American presidents and foreign dignitaries to couples commemorating a special anniversary and families marking major milestones.

Their stunning success story begins in Washington, D.C. For more than two decades, Chez François thrived just a short distance from the White House. For many diners, it was their first taste of French cuisine. “People didn’t even drink wine when he started,” says his son, Jacques Haeringer, who started working in the restaurant when he was 11 and took over as chef and co-owner when his father passed away in 2010. “Girls would drink Coke and the boys would have coffee.”

L’Auberge Chez François Celebrates 40 Years

When the building the restaurant was housed in was sold in 1975, chef-owner Franҫois Haeringer decided to uproot the concept and move it 45 minutes outside the city to the bucolic hamlet of Great Falls. His attorney and accountant thought the idea was bordering on lunacy. “They said it was too high risk,” remembers Haeringer. “They said Great Falls was too far away. ‘If you drive another mile, you’ll fall off the edge.’ My father went over, kicked the wall, and said, ‘I’m doing it anyway.’”

L’Auberge Chez François Celebrates 40 Years

The senior Haeringer poured the family’s savings into completely making over an old property and adding a full kitchen, wine cellar, and parking lot. Ultimately, it was transformed into a picturesque French country inn, which inspired the new name, L’Auberge Chez François (It debuted on April 20, 1976, with François leading the kitchen and Jacques as the chef de cuisine). “With Dad and I, it was old bull, young bull,” says Haeringer. “It was a strength of the business because we bounced things off each other.”

L’Auberge Chez François Celebrates 40 YearsContinue Reading