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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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

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

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

* 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

* 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.

* 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

* Paul Grieco, Hearth, New York, New York

* 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

* Timothy Hollingsworth, The French Laundry, Yountville, California
* Grégory Pugin, Veritas, New York, New York

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.

Chef Watch: José Andrés Gets a Prize; The Obamas’ Favorite Chef; Michael Mina’s New Venture, and More

* José Andrés (The Bazaar by José Andrés) will receive the 2010 grand prize from the Vilcek Foundation, “which annually honors the contributions of foreign-born Americans in the areas of art, culture and science” on April 7th at the Mandarin Oriental in New York. [Washington Post]

* Restaurateur Donatella Arpaia (Mia Donna) can cook. No, really. She’s got a book coming out and everything. [The New York Times]

* Dan Barber (Blue Hill at Stone Barns) discusses sustainable fish at TED. [Daily Blender]

* Mario Batali (Lupa) and Emeril Lagasse (Emeril’s Restaurant) dined at The Publican. [Grub Street Chicago]

* The POTUS is a foodie, and Chicago chef Rick Bayless (Topolobampo) is one of his faves. [The Guardian]

* “No Reservations” Anthony Bourdain (Les Halles) dishes on his latest pursuits to Jennifer Heigl. [Daily Blender]

* Washington, D.C. chefs Mike Isabella (Zaytinya), Art Smith (Art and Soul) , and Bryan Voltaggio (VOLT) work hard to extend their “Top Chef” fame. [Washington Business Journal]

* Chef Michael Mina is set to take over Aqua, where he first made a splash years ago. [San Francisco Chronicle]

* Chef Michael Psilakis (Kefi) has ended his association with Anthos in Manhattan and is rumored to be looking to open another restaurant in Brooklyn. [The New York Times]

* Reality-TV star/chef Gordon Ramsay (Gordon Ramsay) at Boka in Chicago [Grub Street Chicago]

* “Top Chef” season 6 winner Michael Voltaggio, chef de cuisine at The Dining Room at The Langham, talks about his future and what he plans to do with his prize money. [Food & Wine]

* Hoss Zaré (Zare at Fly Trap) is preparing a feast for the Persian New Year, which begins on March 20. [San Francisco Chronicle]

Washington, D.C. Restaurant Week Starts Monday

DC-Restaurant-Week-Winter-2010Washington, D.C. Winter Restaurant Week begins Monday, January 11, 2010, and runs until the 17th. Presented by Destination DC and the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington, diners can take advantage of $20.10 three-course lunches and $35.10 for three-course dinners.

In its 16th year, participating restaurants include Alain Ducasse’s Adour at the St. Regis, The Palm, Sam & Harry’s, VOLT (owned by “Top Chef” contestant Bryan Voltaggio), Zaytinya, and many, many more.

This and other restaurant weeks are terrific opportunities to try out new restaurants and revisit old favorites. Tables fill up fast, so book your free reservations today for this year’s Washington, D.C. Winter Restaurant Week today!