Congratulations to Chicago’s 2014 Jean Banchet Nominees

A scallop dumpling with black truffle from nominated restaurant L20.

The nominees for Chicago’s prestigious Jean Banchet Awards were announced yesterday. Held annually, the awards acknowledge culinary excellence in the Windy City. The winners will be announced early next year, on January 30, at the 18th annual Grand Chefs Gala to benefit the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.

Congratulations to all the nominees, including:

Restaurant of the yearBokaL20, and Moto

Best new restaurant: Parachute, Salero, and TETE Charcuterie

Best neighborhood restaurant: A10 Hyde Park

Chef of the year: Abraham Conlon of Fat Rice, Thomas Lents of Sixteen, Chris Pandel of Balena and The Bristol, and Lee Wolen of Boka

Rising chef of the Year: Ashlee Aubin of Salero

Best chef de cuisine: Chris Marchino of Spiaggia, Ali Ratcliffe-Bauer of Brindille, John Vermiglio of A10 Hyde Park, and Erling Wu-Bower of Nico Osteria

Pastry chef of the year: Dana Cree  of Blackbird, Claire Crenshaw of Moto, Meg Galus of NoMI, and Greg Mosko of North Pond

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20 Culinary Questions with Editor Amy Strauss of Philadelphia’s The Town Dish

Amy Strauss Brooklyn FleaAmy Strauss is the Editor in Chief of TheTownDish.com, a network of sites focusing on the food and dining scene in the greater Philadelphia area including its sumptuous suburbs — and beyond! An OpenTable member since 2008, she lives in Downington, Pennsylvania, where she can enjoy the best of Philadelphia proper as well the amazing hyper-local fare being served in surrounding towns. You can share in her eating experiences by following her on Twitter at @amy_strauss.

1. What are some of the best qualities of the Philadelphia dining scene? Living in the Philly suburbs, I’m fork-deep between quick-tripping into my local (and booming!) food city to experience the newest restaurant or escaping into my immediate backyard to discover the next well-deserving-of-the-spotlight chef. There’s potential everywhere, and where the Philly food scene stands, it’s eclectic and bold; it’s welcoming and honest. I’ve been around the nation and, although I may be biased, Philly is the best food city.

2. Any restaurants at which you’re something of a regular? For a casual weeknight, I’m hitting the bar. In the suburbs at Station Taproom for first-rate pulled pork sandwiches and craft beer or Tired Hands Brewing Co. for a cheese plate and one-off sour beer, and in Philadelphia, Starr’s Fette Sau for smoky, tender brisket and sharp bourbon drinks. For a “special” occasion (can’t that count as every day?), BARSAVONA or Zahav.

3. If I come to the PHL, where must I dine? In the Philly suburbs, any of these will rock your palate and provide an unforgettable dining experience: Junto (elevated PA Dutch BYOB), Nectar (Asian fusion with locally sourced sensibilities), Avalon (rustic Italian), Majolica (inventive, modernized American BYOB), Restaurant Alba (refined Northern Italian), Amani’s BYOB (local-focused), Taqueria Feliz (hip Mexican), and Bolete Restaurant (farmhouse-inspired). In Philly city proper, Serpico, Sbraga (eat the fried game hen!), High Street on Market, Vernick Food & Drink, Petruce et al., Avance, and Stock.

4. Last best restaurant you dined at? Just last night, I visited Fitler Dining Room, the newest concept from the talented gang at Pub & Kitchen. The happy hour was exceptional, with small bites like a vertical heirloom tomato salad constructed on buttery brioche and dressed with Rogue Creamery Blue. Being a bar that’s strictly beer and wine, they get impressively creative with their limited cocktails. For example, the Campobello Retreat features white wine that’s infused to taste like gin (it does!) and is finished with a fragrant splash of elderflower liqueur. It’s sharp and fun; I immediately wanted another.

5. Restaurants you’d most like to try but have yet to — anywhere? Bryan Voltaggio’s Volt, Quealy Watson’s Hot Joy, and Noma.

6. Favorite city for dining outside your own? Since part of what we do is travel for food, here are my favorite Town Dish trip destinationsAustin, Texas for Qui, Olivia, and Franklin Barbecue;  San Francisco, California for Mission Street Chinese and Saison;  Chicago, Illinois for Blackbird, Girl & the Goat, Publican, Publican Quality Meats, and Pequod’s PizzaPortland, Maine (especially in summer!) for Central Provisions, Eventide Oyster Co., Pai Men Miyake, and David’s Opus 10Atlanta, Georgia for Abattoir, West Egg Cafe, and Cakes & Ale; and New York City (of course) for The Breslin, Momofuku, and Alder.

7. Destination dining cities you’d love to visit? Nashville! Seattle! Aspen! Charleston! San Diego!

8. What’s your overall favorite type of cuisine? There’s nothing more wholesome than rustic Italian, and few and far between are doing it by the book and significantly well. I’m also always surprised with what newcomer chefs are doing with mod-American cuisine, particularly those who are scouting local gardens and throwing together fresh ideas and compositions unlike those seen before (example: Ella’s American Bistro, Majolica).

9. Small shared plates, tasting menu or app/entrée dessert? Tasting menus — always a home run! It’s the best avenue to fully experience a chef’s skill sets and where they execute their most creative dishes.

10. Dish you can’t resist ordering when you see it on a menu? I’m 100% Pennsylvania Dutch, so its in my blood to never resist regionalized, classic foods of my heritage. If I spy elevated soft pretzels, house-made pickles, hand-cut egg noodles — I got to stick to my stick-to-your-ribs gun and consider them mine! Fork and Junto put forth killer interpretations of the classics. Snack-wise, you know if a chef’s throwing deviled eggs on their menu, they’re going to be good. Same goes for hand-cut pappardelle — I usually need that.

11. Have you ever done a bang bang (a la Louis C.K.)? If not, what’s the greatest # of courses you’ve eaten in one restaurant siting? Working as a food writer and reviewer, bang bangs are a regular part of your week! My current course max (at one restaurant) is 14 — but that’s not to say I threw in the napkin. I’d adventure into the 20s. Dare me!

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Celebrate Spring with #SolarVortex Dining Specials in Boston, Chicago, New York + Philadelphia!

Solar-Vortex-Logo-finalThe winter of 2013-14 was one of the most brutal in recent memories. Frigid temperatures and brutal snowstorms kept even the most devoted diners at home, curled up in comfy pants and, assumably, bingeing on House of Cards. Between the Polar Vortex, the back-to-back storms in early February, and more, restaurants in several major cities, including Boston, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia, have experienced declines in business of anywhere from 11% to a whopping 28%.

Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the NYC Hospitality Alliance, confirms,”I’ve spoken with restaurateurs whose business went down 10-15%, if not more, due to the extreme winter conditions. It was also difficult for employees to get to and from work during the snowstorms and a challenge for restaurants to accept product deliveries.”

Chef Harold Dieterle, who operates acclaimed restaurants Kin Shop, Perilla, and The Marrow, and his staff braved these storms, having to shovel snow from their sidewalks regularly and even skip a few services, despite being located in the public transit oasis that is New York City. “We closed for some lunches at Kin Shop due to the storms. And, if guests aren’t coming in, while it definitely affects the restaurant’s bottom line, it also hurts the front-of-house staff who rely on tips. It’s been a challenging season for the restaurants and the staff, for sure.” Both Kin Shop and Perilla are offering #SolarVortex specials, and all three restaurants, including The Marrow have just launched exciting new spring menus. “It’s been a rough winter for sure. I’m definitely looking forward to some warm weather, even though it’s not happening today.”

Despite the chill, to help celebrate the end of winter and the arrival of spring, restaurants in Boston, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia are offering #SolarVortex dining specials today through March 28. Cooped-up diners are invited to take advantage of unique offers, from specialty cocktails, such as the ‘Rose Colored Glasses’ at Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria in Manhattan and deep discounts, including $20 off dinner visit with a $50 minimum spend at Roy’s in Chicago, to almost-free lunch, like the $7 local-focused lunch special at Route 7 Grill in Great Barrington, and even free meals, such as Brandywine Prime’s in which diners receive a free brunch for two for every two guests. Continue Reading

Trending on Recent OpenTable Restaurant Reviews: Irish Fare

CBC-blogHappy St. Patrick’s Day! Even though it’s only March 17th one day a year, diners have been celebrating this fun holiday for several weeks. After all, who doesn’t want to repeatedly observe the holiday that encourages you to drink a Guinness? While everyone knows that corned beef and cabbage aren’t authentic Irish cuisine, they’ve certainly become synonymous with Irish-American fare every March. Find out what diners are saying about the Irish food, authentic and otherwise, and St. Patty’s Day fun they’ve been enjoying in the last few weeks in recent restaurant reviews.

Conor O’Neills, Ann Arbor, Michigan: “We met family from out of town at Conor’s after Shamrocks and Shenanigans. It was festive, fun, and, overall, a great place to enjoy food, Guinness, Irish dancing, and good times with friends and family. It continues to be my favorite neighborhood pub!”

Fado Irish Pub and Restaurant, Austin, Texas: “Authentic, made in Ireland décor. There is nothing on the menu that isn’t great, but the lamb is the best of all! Extensive beer and Irish Whiskey list, choices I didn’t know existed. Great for gathering with friends, watching sports, and St. Patrick’s celebrations are second to none!”

Great Street, Chicago, Illinois: “Booked with Open Table four days before the event, requesting a window seat. The seating area has huge windows facing the Chicago river. I booked for 10AM and then also called the manager saying, “We NEED” a window table.” Arrived 45 min before the event, watching the Chicago River turn green at 9:30AM. It was like having a warm box seat for the event while thousands stood 4 deep on the bridges in the cold. So fun! Did have to wait about 15 minutes for a table to clear….then got the best in the house by 9:45. I thank Open Table and staff at Great Street for giving us such a memorable (and tasty) mid-morning experience on St Patrick’s!”

James Joyce Irish Pub & Restaurant, Baltimore, MD: “The menu had all the Irish traditional foods plus something to satisfy the taste of everyone who might choose to dine at James Joyce. The entire staff was warm and friendly, and the atmosphere was ebullient. We dined here based on other Open Table reviews and it was a fantastic choice. We will definitely come here again when we are in the area.”

Katie Mullen’s Irish Restaurant, Denver, Colorado: “The best Irish restaurant in Denver. My wife and I both LOVE this place and try to make a point to come back as often as possible. The first time we went I made an online reservation and in the Special Request section, I asked them to leave a special love note from me to my wife and they did just that. Made my wife’s night!”

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