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weinoo

25 Most Important Restaurants of the Last 30 Years

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Mini Bar, if you are going to have wd-50 and Alinea, who have to put it on there

I don't know that the argument "this place is just as good as that place, therefore it belongs on the list" is a valid argument. I can't say that I am as conversant in the American wave of molecular gastronomy or technoemotional or whatever anyone wants to call it as others... but I've always had the impression that Mini Bar never quite had the impact on the restaurant-going public that places such as wd-50 and Alinea have had.

As far as I know, both wd-50 and Minibar at Cafe Atlantico opened in 2003, but wd-50 seemed to get most of the attention. And, one must point out that wd-50 was a whole restaurant devoted to molecular gastronomy whereas Minibar was six seats inside of a larger non-MG restaurant. Alinea, on the other hand, would seem to represent the current pinnacle, or at least logical conclusion of this movement in the United States. It's as close to being "El Bulli America" as any restaurant is likely to get, and certainly seems to be the "most important" restaurant of this kind in the US today.

So, while it seems to make sense to put the first widely-known MG restaurant in the States on the list, and to put the current #1 and most elaborately MG restaurant in the States on the list... you just can't put all the others on there. Molecular gastronomy simply isn't an important-enough movement in the United States over the last 30 years fo merit more than 10% of the list.


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Once again, I agree with Sam, re: minibar. I love minibar. It is one of my very favorite restaurants and is truly the closest thing to elBulli in America, but it is too small and not influential enough to justify a spot on this list. Jaleo may be worthy as it was one of the first and best to really popularize traditional Spanish cooking in the US.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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One thing about a "last 30 years" list like this is that there are some restaurants out there which may turn out to be very important and influential looking back from the perspective of another 10, but it's hard to say now. And, of course, some of the newer ones that seem really important now may turn out to be not so important after all.

Really, if we're going to try to make these judgments about a 30 year period, we have a much better basis for judging restaurants that opened from 1969 to 1999 than we do those which opened from 1979 to 2009. How can we really say anything about the ultimate significance of a restaurant that opened in 2008?

Jaleo may be worthy as it was one of the first and best to really popularize traditional Spanish cooking in the US.

That might make sense looking back from another dozen years or so, provided that Spanish cuisine takes of and becomes a significant player in the American restaurant scene and culinary zeitgeist. But, thus far, it hasn't.


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I like Lupa more than Babbo, but it would be hard for me to argue that Lupa is more important than Babbo.

Is there an argument for Babbo being more important than Lupa?

Yes. I would say that Babbo started the movement in this country of Italian restaurants in America (as opposed to Italian-American restaurants) that create and serve dishes frmo an Italian aesthetic but don't attempt to imitate actual Italian dishes from Italy. I heard Batali once say that, in constructing the menu for Babbo, he decided to think of New York as though it were another region of Italy and to proceed from that viewpoint. This means incorporating local ingredients and taking account of the preferences and practices of the local populance and making a "NYC Italian cuisine" much in the same way that Bolognese cuisine is different from Milanese cuisine. This resulted in dishes such as his "fennel dusted sweetbreads with sweet and sour onions, duck bacon and membrillo vinegar" which is a dish that does not exist in Italy, but is reflective of a certain NYC-informed Italian aesthetic to the extent that most any Italian would recognize it as congruent with their culinary tradition in a way that an Italian-American dish such as "veal parmesan with spaghetti and red sauce" is not.

Well said Sam! I agree.,

While I think there is a case for both of them being on the list, based on the aesthetic of each (and possible because, like Sneakeater, I happen to like Lupa more), Babbo is probably more worthy.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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How can we really say anything about the ultimate significance of a restaurant that opened in 2008?

Since I don't see any restaurant that opened in 2008 on the list, this is a tough question to answer.

But, in the scheme of things, I think when we look at a restaurant like Momofuku Ssam Bar 2006), we can say with a certain amount of confidence that it's an important restaurant, as it has fundamentally changed the way we view a 3 star NT Times review, among other reasons.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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While I think there is a case for both of them being on the list, based on the aesthetic of each (and possible because, like Sneakeater, I happen to like Lupa more), Babbo is probably more worthy.

In the end, I'm not sure I see what's so "important" (as opposed to just plain good) about successfully reproducing a favorite type of foreign restaurant in America.


Edited by Sneakeater (log)

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While I think there is a case for both of them being on the list, based on the aesthetic of each (and possible because, like Sneakeater, I happen to like Lupa more), Babbo is probably more worthy.

In the end, I'm not sure I see what's so "important" (as opposed to just plain good) about successfully reproducing a favorite type of foreign restaurant in America.

If you're right, and it's not that "important as opposed to just plain good" to have that type of restaurant in the US, I wonder why there weren't/aren't that many more restaurants that could be added to this list (unless the parameters of this list were changed).


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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One thing about a "last 30 years" list like this is that there are some restaurants out there which may turn out to be very important and influential looking back from the perspective of another 10, but it's hard to say now.  And, of course, some of the newer ones that seem really important now may turn out to be not so important after all. 

Really, if we're going to try to make these judgments about a 30 year period, we have a much better basis for judging restaurants that opened from 1969 to 1999 than we do those which opened from 1979 to 2009.  How can we really say anything about the ultimate significance of a restaurant that opened in 2008?

Jaleo may be worthy as it was one of the first and best to really popularize traditional Spanish cooking in the US.

That might make sense looking back from another dozen years or so, provided that Spanish cuisine takes of and becomes a significant player in the American restaurant scene and culinary zeitgeist. But, thus far, it hasn't.

Sam, I agree with the first part of your statement, but are you so sure of the last part of your statement? I'm not. While Spanish cooking may not be the most popular cuisine in the US at the moment, its popularity, presence and quality have increased tremendously. All sorts of restaurants are now serving "tapas" based on a Spanish model. It seems to me that there may be more Spanish "Babbos" than Italian right now with Jaleo being the first of its kind. Whether emulation of a foreign cuisine is worthy of a list like this or not is yet another question.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I think the point of Babbo -- the reason why it's "important" -- is that it goes beyond emulation of a foreign cuisine to adaptation.

That's why I can't say that I consider Guy Savoy in Las Vegas -- a restaurant I just adore -- "important". It's just the U.S. branch of a great restaurant in France.

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I think the point of Babbo -- the reason why it's "important" -- is that it goes beyond emulation of a foreign cuisine to adaptation.

That's why I can't say that I consider Guy Savoy in Las Vegas -- a restaurant I just adore -- "important".  It's just the U.S. branch of a great restaurant in France.

Good point.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I think the point of Babbo -- the reason why it's "important" -- is that it goes beyond emulation of a foreign cuisine to adaptation.

That's why I can't say that I consider Guy Savoy in Las Vegas -- a restaurant I just adore -- "important".  It's just the U.S. branch of a great restaurant in France.

Good point.

before Babbo, there was Spiaggia

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I would agree with Varmint's inclusion of Crook's Corner. Though I am not personally familiar with the restaurant, it has been a breeding ground for all sorts of top notch chefs who have gone on to wonderful food elsewhere.

There is no question that Charlie Trotter needs to be on the list, even if it is no longer as relevant as it once was.

I agree with Sam re: Per Se. great restaurant, but essentially a re-do of TFL in different digs. Since TFL came first, that gets the nod, IMO.

As for WD-50, I think it belongs there. While I happen to love it, the fact that it is as controversial as it is, puts it there. Love it or hate, most people seriously interested in food in this country at least know of it.

What about Patria or Asia de Cuba? Douglass Rodriguez put Nuevo Latino on the map. How about Blue Ginger? Clio, another great incubator? How about Norman Van Aken as a chef? Tom Douglas in Seattle? Yasuda?

New Orleans certainly deserves more than just Emeril. How about Susan Spicer at Bayona?

I would certainly add Ming Tsai's Blue Ginger. When it opened, who was doing anything remotely like it? I still think that it is remarkable and very particular, very effective, fun and delicious.

I think you're absolutely right about Norman van Aken and Tom Douglas, too.


"Life itself is the proper binge" Julia Child

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I might get laughed out of the joint with this suggestion, but I would add Chapel Hill's Crook's Corner to the list.  Why?  Because its owner/chef, Bill Neal, re-introduced Southern cooking to the country.  There aren't many Southern restaurants that weren't influenced by the work of Bill Neal in his little pig-adorned restaurant.

Many people besides Neal make a claim to that sort of influence, and I'm not sure I'd pick him. Regardless, there should definitely be someone representative of the "(new) southern" movement on the list.

Highlands Bar and Grill?

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As a Texan living in Dallas for the last couple of decades I think that Fearing and the Mansion set the pace for new Southwestern cooking. Personally, I prefer Pyles cooking and over their two new restaurants, I think Pyles is more refined and a better experience than Fearings. However, the Mansion and its epic dishes such as the Tortilla Soup and Lobster Tacos introduced fine dining to Southwest concepts. These are still dishes that are famous in the "Mansion style" today. Pyles greatly contributed to this movement, but I think Fearing was eastablished as the face of modern Southwestern cusine prior to Pyles. Also, if Pyles makes the list, I would argue that his Star Canyon Restaurant was much more important, at least in the Dallas dining scene, than Routh Street or its predecessors.

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If you want to say Texas cuisine ok, but Mark Miller did all that with Southwestern cuisine well before either Pyles or Fearing. Miller's Coyote Cafe, though now a shade of its former self, absolutely belongs on that list. I'm not sure either Pyle or Fearing do (I have had all three).


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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That may be, but what kind of food were they doing then? Miller was doing his thing from the get go and was the one who brought attention to modern southwestern cooking. That was the era when every thing Santa Fe was hot the so-called "Santa Fe Style" in everything from food to decor. Certainly there is not room for all three on this list.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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It seems to me that many here are lured by the great restaurants of our day or mere celebrity of the chef heading the restaurant. Babbo is an fantastically good restaurant, but is it an "important" restaurant? Same goes for Mesa Grill.

Perhaps we ought to focus on the great, modern-day restaurants and see where their influences come from. Surely, the most "important" restaurants of the past 25 years will have imprinted their legacy on a number of today's great chefs and, I believe, those results will bear our the most "important" restaurants for the list.

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As a Texan living in Dallas for the last couple of decades I think that Fearing and the Mansion set the pace for new Southwestern cooking.  Personally, I prefer Pyles cooking and over their two new restaurants, I think Pyles is more refined and a better experience than Fearings.  However, the Mansion and its epic dishes such as the Tortilla Soup and Lobster Tacos introduced fine dining to Southwest concepts.  These are still dishes that are famous in the "Mansion style" today.  Pyles greatly contributed to this movement, but I think Fearing was eastablished as the face of modern Southwestern cusine prior to Pyles.  Also, if Pyles makes the list, I would argue that his Star Canyon Restaurant was much more important, at least in the Dallas dining scene, than Routh Street or its predecessors.

If you want to say Texas cuisine ok, but Mark Miller did all that with Southwestern cuisine well before either Pyles or Fearing. Miller's Coyote Cafe, though now a shade of its former self, absolutely belongs on that list. I'm not sure either Pyle or Fearing do (I have had all three).

Stephan Pyles opened Routh street 1986 or before, can't tack that down.

Dean Fearing became Executive Chef at The Mansion in 1985.

Mark Miller opened Coyote Cafe in 1987.

That may be, but what kind of food were they doing then? Miller was doing his thing from the get go and was the one who brought attention to modern southwestern cooking. That was the era when every thing Santa Fe was hot the so-called "Santa Fe Style" in everything from food to decor. Certainly there is not room for all three on this list.

Fearing was doing southwest cuisine even before he became exec chef at The Mansion in 1985.

Pyles was doing it when I ate at Routh Street in 1986. I just can't recall when he opened it.

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Here's an article from Nation's Restaurant News when Routh Street Cafe closed January 6, 1993.

When Routh Street Cafe opened in November 1983, Pyle's menu drew immediate national attention for its innovative use of regional South-western ingredients.

"Routh Street will be legendary as the home of Southwest cuisine," said Dean Fearing, chef, at The Mansion Turtle Creek and another neer in Southwest cooking. "It was monumental in the fact that Routh Street helped produce what we were doing on a big scale from the very first day it opened. That did more for Robert Del Grande, Stephan and myself than anything. It was his total commitment to Southwest that put the whole thing on the map."

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I absolutely agree that Coyote Cafe should be on the list. I also think that the Texas take on Southwestern cuisine that was established by Fearing and Pyles is a different ball game than Miller's. I attribute this to the localities and also personally think of the differences as being analagous to the differences between Tex Mex and New Mexican cuisine. Thus I would argue that there is room for Coyote Cafe and the Mansion on the list. I also see validity in arguing who ends up on the list between Fearing and Pyles, I personally think the Mansion was the most influential, but could make valid arguments for Routh Street or later Star Canyon.


Edited by bobag87 (log)

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Here's an article from Nation's Restaurant News when Routh Street Cafe closed January 6, 1993.
When Routh Street Cafe opened in November 1983, Pyle's menu drew immediate national attention for its innovative use of regional South-western ingredients.

"Routh Street will be legendary as the home of Southwest cuisine," said Dean Fearing, chef, at The Mansion Turtle Creek and another neer in Southwest cooking. "It was monumental in the fact that Routh Street helped produce what we were doing on a big scale from the very first day it opened. That did more for Robert Del Grande, Stephan and myself than anything. It was his total commitment to Southwest that put the whole thing on the map."

Here'san article that reinforces both our points:

t's not just that Miller is considered one of the country's best chefs by oh-so-in-the-know food trendies such as Food & Wine magazine. Or that these same people inform us that the new Southwest cuisine--which features hybrid delicacies such as blue corn tacos with oeufs truffes, or butter lettuce tacos of escargots with garlic cream sauce--has long surpassed Cajun cooking as the most incredibly "in" food trend sweeping the country.

Okay, so Texas has a rather impressive list of chefs and food writers (Anne Lindsay Greer, author of "Cuisine of the American Southwest," for one), who have been championing the cause of this new all-American cuisine for about four years now. But even Greer is originally from Chicago, and Texas, is, well, Texas--a sort of world unto its own. Caviar and corn?

Face it: When most of us think "Southwest" we think of places like New Mexico and Arizona. Places where a taco is still a taco, and there are real steak-and-potatoes folks who haven't heard about, much less tasted, corn chowder with tic-tac-toe of caviars, a dish in "Modern Southwest Cuisine," by chef John Sedlar of St. Estephe.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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I don't see how that excerpt refutes the fact that both Pyles and Fearing both were doing southwest cuisine a few years before Mark Miller, both brought national attention to southwest cuisine before Mark Miller came into view, and both have endured and may be now better than ever. Because the writer prefers New Mexican and says so in a flipant-cute-dismissive style?

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I think it supports both points as it acknowledges your point that a style of southwestern cooking was being done in Texas for a few years by a number of people before Miller opened the Coyote Cafe. It also gives an independent assessment to support my belief that it was Miller who put Southwestern Cuisine on the map for the majority of the country even if he was not necessarily the first to cook under a "southwestern" label. Interestingly, Miller came to his approach from Chez Panisse, where he was the chef after Jeremiah Tower. What Miller did was take the Chez Panisse approach and apply it to Southwestern, especially New Mexican ingredients.

All three were/are great chefs who did great things with the foods of their regions and all three have been influential. It is my belief that Miller has had the greatest impact on a national level and as a result is most worthy of inclusion on this list. That should not and does not take anything away from the accomplishments of Pyle or Fearing. That being said, my most recent visit to The Coyote Cafe was nothing like it was back in the late 80's when I had a revelatory meal there (certainly one of the best in my life to that point).


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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