And the Award Goes to…: #DinersChoice Winners for Best Restaurants Collect Their Trophies

Late last year, we revealed the winners of the  2014 Diners’ Choice Awards for the Top 100 Best Restaurants in America, and since then, we’ve been busy traveling around the nation to present the honorees with their engraved All-Clad awards in person.

“We are so honored and humbled by this acknowledgement from OpenTable Diners” said co-owners Ariana and Andres Fernandez of Ariana in Bend, Oregon. “Making sure our customers have an exceptional meal with incredible service is our mission at Ariana and we are so very pleased our customers feel that and have responded with such high praise.”

It is our great pleasure to once again highlight these amazing culinary professionals — and to provide them with a rare opportunity to take a break from their busy days in front and back of the house for a well-deserved pat on the back. Diners, meet some of your winners, and book a table at one of these top restaurants today!

OpenTable Reviews Reveal #DinersChoice Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America — with Slideshow

As diners around the world prepare to celebrate love and loved ones on Valentine’s Day, we are pleased to honor the 2015 Diners’ Choice Award winners for the Top 100 Most Romantic Restaurants in America. These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 20,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

From restaurants serving shareable dishes to those showcasing seasonal delights, the complete list includes award winners in 31 states and Washington, D.C., such as Canlis in Seattle, La Grenouille in New York, and Red Fish Grill in Miami. California has the greatest number of winners with 15, followed by New York, Texas, and Virginia with eight each, and Arizona, Florida, and North Carolina with seven apiece, and Nevada with five. Colorado, Hawaii, and Illinois each have four, and Indiana, Maine, New Jersey, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania all have three. Michigan, Missouri, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Utah, and Washington, respectively, have two award winners. Idaho, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Tennessee, and Washington, D.C., are also represented.

Cheese continues to please diners, with fondue restaurants making a solid showing for the sixth consecutive year. American, French, and Italian cuisines are also popular.

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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 Reviews Reveal #DinersChoice Top 100 Steakhouses in America — with Slideshow

In a nod to the long and rich history of the American steakhouse, we are pleased to honor the inaugural 2014 Diners’ Choice Award winners for the Top 100 Steakhouses in America. These awards reflect the combined opinions of more than 5 million restaurant reviews submitted by verified OpenTable diners for more than 20,000 restaurants in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Including well-established meat meccas and newer steak restaurants, the complete list of award winners spans 32 states and Washington, D.C., and includes Bones in Atlanta, Killen’s Steakhouse in Pearland, Texas, and Lawry’s The Prime Rib in Las Vegas. Texas, the top beef producer in the nation, has the greatest number of winners with 15, followed by Ohio with seven winners. California, Florida, Louisiana, and North Carolina each boast six winning restaurants, while Georgia has five, and Arizona and Illinois have four apiece. Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Wisconsin each count three honorees. Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Virginia, and Washington, respectively, have two award winners. Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia are also represented.

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