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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OpenTable Restaurant Reviews Reveal Top 100 Best American Fare Restaurants + Slideshow

Just in time for the holiday dining season, we are pleased to celebrate the 2013 Diners’ Choice Award winners for the Top 100 American Fare Restaurants in the United States. These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for approximately 19,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

With a strong showing from restaurants in America’s heartland, the winners are scattered throughout 29 states and Washington, D.C., and include Bluestem in Kansas City, Lola-A Michael Symon Restaurant in Cleveland, and Senza in Chicago. Ohio and Texas take top honors with eight winners apiece, followed by South Carolina with seven.  California, Colorado, New Jersey, and New York each boast six winning restaurants. Maryland and Pennsylvania both claim five winners apiece, while Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia each have four honorees. Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, and Kentucky all have three winning eateries; and Georgia, Michigan, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah have two. Hawaii, Kansas, Massachusetts, Maine, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Oregon, and Washington, D.C. are also represented.

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James Beard Foundation Awards Nominees 2010: Congratulations!

The list of James Beard Foundation Awards nominees for 2010 has been released. Congratulations to everyone whose hard work and great talents have been recognized by the industry’s most prestigious organization. The winners will be announced on May 3, 2010, but there aren’t any losers in this round-up. Nominees include:

James-Beard-Awards-2010-nomineesBEST NEW RESTAURANT
* Bibou, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Chefs/Owners: Pierre and Charlotte Calmels

* Flour + Water, San Francisco, California
Chef/Partner: Thomas McNaughton
Partners: David White and David Steele

* Frances, San Francisco, California
Chef/Owner: Melissa Perello

* Marea, New York, New York
Chef/Partner: Michael White
Partner: Chris Cannon

* RN74, San Francisco, California
Chef: Jason Berthold
Owners: Michael Mina and Rajat Parr

OUTSTANDING CHEF AWARD
* José Andrés, The Bazaar by José Andrés and Zaytinya
* Tom Colicchio, Craft and Colicchio & Sons
* Charles Phan, The Slanted Door

OUTSTANDING PASTRY CHEF AWARD
* Amanda Cook, CityZen at Mandarin Oriental, Washington, D.C.
* Nicole Plue, Redd, Yountville, California

OUTSTANDING RESTAURANT AWARD
* Boulevard, San Francisco, California
Chef/Owner: Nancy Oakes
Owner: Pat Kuleto

* Daniel, New York, New York
Chef/Owner: Daniel Boulud
Owner: Joel Smilow

* Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham, Alabama
Chef/Owner: Frank Stitt
Owner: Pardis Stitt

* Spiaggia, Chicago, Illinois
Chef/Partner: Tony Mantuano

OUTSTANDING RESTAURATEUR AWARD
* Tom Douglas. Restaurants include Dahlia Lounge, Etta’s, and Lola.

* Pat Kuleto, Pat Kuleto Restaurant Development & Management Co., San Francisco, California. Restaurants include Boulevard, Epic, Martini House, Waterbar.

* Richard Melman, Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, Chicago, Illinois. Restaurants include Big Bowl, Hub 51, Osteria Via Stato, Tru, and Wildfire.

* Stephen Starr, Starr Restaurant Organization, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Restaurants include Alma De Cuba, Buddakan, Morimoto, and Parc.

OUTSTANDING SERVICE AWARD
* La Grenouille, New York, New York
Owners: Charles Masson and Gisèle Masson

* Michael Mina, San Francisco, California
Chef/Owner: Michael Mina

* Vetri, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Chefs/Owners: Marc Vetri and Jeff Benjamin

OUTSTANDING WINE AND SPIRITS PROFESSIONAL AWARD
* Paul Grieco, Hearth, New York, New York

OUTSTANDING WINE SERVICE AWARD
* A16, San Francisco, California
Wine Director: Shelley Lindgren

* Frasca Food and Wine, Boulder, Colorado
Wine Director: Bobby Stuckey

* Jean Georges, New York, New York
Wine Director: Bernard Sun

RISING STAR CHEF OF THE YEAR AWARD
* Timothy Hollingsworth, The French Laundry, Yountville, California
* Grégory Pugin, Veritas, New York, New York

BEST CHEFS IN AMERICA
Best Chef: Great Lakes
*Bruce Sherman, North Pond, Chicago, Illinois
* Alex Young, Zingerman’s Roadhouse, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic
* Cathal Armstrong, Restaurant Eve, Alexandria, Virginia
* Jeff Michaud, Osteria, Philadelphia, Pennsyvlania
* Michael Solomonov, Zahav, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
* Bryan Voltaggio, VOLT, Frederick, Maryland

Best Chef: Midwest
* Colby Garrelts, Bluestem, Kansas City, Missouri
* Alexander Roberts, Restaurant Alma, Minneapolis, Minnesota
* Lenny Russo, Heartland, St. Paul, Minnesota

Best Chef: New York City
* Michael Anthony, Gramercy Tavern
* Wylie Dufresne, wd-50
* Daniel Humm, Eleven Madison Park
* Michael White, Marea

Best Chef: Northeast
* Michael Leviton, Lumière, West Newton, Massachusetts
* Tony Maws, Craigie on Main, Cambridge, Massachusetts
* Marc Orfaly, Pigalle, Boston, Massachusetts

Best Chef: Northwest
* Ethan Stowell, Union, Seattle, Washington
* Jason Wilson, Crush, Seattle, Washington

Best Chef: Pacific
* Michael Cimarusti, Providence, Los Angeles, California
* Jeremy Fox, Ubuntu, Napa, California
* David Kinch, Manresa, Los Gatos, California
* Matt Molina, Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles, California
* Michael Tusk, Quince, San Francisco, California

Best Chef: South
* Zach Bell, Café Boulud at the Brazilian Court, Palm Beach, Florida
* Scott Boswell, Stella!, New Orleans, Louisiana
* John Harris, Lilette, New Orleans, Louisiana
* Michael Schwartz, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Miami, Florida

Best Chef: Southeast
* Sean Brock, McCrady’s, Charleston, South Carolina
* Linton Hopkins, Restaurant Eugene, Atlanta, Georgia

Best Chef: Southwest
* Bryan Caswell, Reef, Houston, Texas
* Ryan Hardy, Montagna at The Little Nell, Aspen, Colorado
* Rick Moonen, RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino, Las Vegas, Nevada

Read more about the James Beard Foundation and the 2010 Awards, click here. Purchase tickets here. And, reserve your seat at the next James Beard House dinner in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village for a unique dining experience in the birthplace of modern American gastronomy.

Valentine’s Day 2010: Put a Fork in It!

Valentines-Day-2010-Put-a-Fork-In-ItValentine’s Day 2010 is just a fond (I hope!) memory by now. I hope yours was as fun as mine (I dined at SHO Shaun Hergatt and had a delightful Valentine’s Day dinner!). I didn’t get there in a limo, but some lucky Tweeps had that option, thanks to winning the OpenTable Valentine’s Day Limo Twitter Giveaway, sponsored by Limos.com. Congratulations to all our winners!

One of the most popular eateries for Valentine’s Day, according to your tweets in response to Monday’s query, was — surprise! — The Melting Pot. On Tuesday, when we asked who your celebrity dream date is, the most popular celebs were actors Halle Berry and Tyrese. Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds took second place. Angelina Jolie may have Brad Pitt, but more of you want to dine with his first wife, Jennifer Aniston. The “Jersey Shore” cast proved popular, with JWoww, The Situation, and DJ Pauly D getting some love from OpenTable diners (but not, alas, Snookie. Poor Snickers!) Your most random dream dates? “Golden Girl” Bea Arthur and hockey great Gordie Howe. Someone chose reality-TV-star-turned-punchline Jon Gosselin. Let’s hope it was in jest.

In terms of your favorite food to eat on Valentine’s Day, your tweets told us that it was a bad day to be a cow or a lobster, as surf and turf was one of top most romantic dishes. OpenTable diners are clearly chocoholics as chocolate, though, took first place. Strawberries dipped in chocolate were also wildly popular. Back on the savory side, a stand-alone steak, pasta, oysters, and fondue were also all the rage. The sweetest most romantic food-related tweet I saw? A diner tweeted, “Anything healthy so we can live a long life together.”

When we asked you to tweet your favorite romantic movie on Thursday, Love Actually was the winner — but just by one vote. The Notebook came in second. Other picks included Casablanca, Ghost, Sleepless in Seattle, When Harry Met Sally, and The Princess Bride. Offbeat tweets highlighted Better Off Dead, The Empire Strikes Back, and Shaun of the Dead (Nothing says romance like zombies, really.). Cutest tweets: Lady and the Tramp got two votes. That pasta-sharing scene gets me every time I see it, and, clearly, I’m not alone. It also makes me want to eat spaghetti every time I see it.

Finally, the most romantic city, according to your tweets, is — shocker! — Paris. New York bumped San Francisco to third place, by just a single tweet. Florence and Venice, Italy, each got a lot of love as did Charleston. Unique suggestions included Bruges, Pittsburgh, and Warsaw.

Congratulations again to our winners, and thanks to Limos.com and for all your terrific tweets. If you’re still seeking more romance until next Valentine’s Day, check out the Top 50 Most Romantic Restaurants, according to the 2010 OpenTable Diners’ Choice Awards.