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Dining at the Masters' Restaurants: Tasting Masterpieces

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Fukui San

Fukui San


Posted Jun 17, 2010 @ 9:38 AM

Wanted to start a thread as I recently dined at a Top Chef Master's place. For my fifth anniversary, my wife and I went to Jody Adams' Rialto with my wife. First an amusing story. When we mentioned that we were going here, a friend of ours recounted that he was incensed when he went there for a Restaurant Week as the server placed the bread on the tablecloth. He called the manager afterward complaining that this was unsanitary, and they explained that this was they way they served bread to pay homage to the rustic Italian region that they draw inspiration from. I was amused to see that on the menu was a note explaining that they don't use bread plates. I don't have a problem with this, but our friend's OTT reaction about this amused me. Our bread did come in a basket, by the way.

The meal was very good, as you might expect. I had an appetizer consisting of 6 littleneck clams on the half shell with some herbs, served on a small cast iron grill. There was also some grilled Andouille sausage and some garlic bread. For an entree I had a nice rabbit dish. Braised rabbit leg and a grilled (and tiny) rack on a bed of polenta with the texture of buttery mashed potatoes. For dessert I opted for a fritter. My wife went for the four course tasting menu, starting with a simply grilled sardine with a veggie and anchovy tart, then two goat cheese ravioli, and finishing with the whole herb roast Branzino. The waiter amusingly asked us if it was alright that the fish was served whole and not as a filet, as some customers are bothered by it. "We're Chinese," we explained. "We're used to it." Her dessert was an almond semifreddo, which was light and refreshing.

We didn't see Jody, but we weren't really expecting to. As a whole, it was definitely a very good meal. I don't know if I'd describe it as one of the best meals of my life, but it was very good and well worth the price, and the service was friendly and conversational. The waiter did forget to put in for my dessert, but he comped the dessert when he brought it later.

The disturbing thing was that the restaurant was half empty when we went, at 7pm on Sunday night and remained so by the time we left. Some other restaurants of the same caliber that we looked at that night were either full or only had seatings at odd hours, like 5:30pm at nearby Craigie's on Main. Perhaps the fact that it's been there so long has made people forget about it, despite Jody's appearance on TCM. Or maybe people just really want bread plates.





  • Location:Dallas, TX

Posted Jun 17, 2010 @ 8:49 PM

I'm heading up to Chicago this weekend, and there is just a hoard of fabulous restaurants to pick from, though if any of you have any additional to offer, I'd love to hear it. Just got a reservation at C-House, which is Marcus Samuelsson's place. Will definitely post back about the meal, and I'd love to meet him. I had an opportunity to meet Rick at RM Seafood when I was in Vegas this past Halloween, and that dinner was fabulous.

So tickled to dine with a Top Chef Master! I think for Friday night, I might go to either Tru (Rick Tramunto) or Spiaggia (Tony Mantuano's place.)

Tough calls!


Darth Kittious

Darth Kittious

    Video Archivist

Posted Jul 17, 2010 @ 7:57 PM

I have had the pleasure of eating at two of the Master's restaurants so I thought I'd post here.

The first one was awhile ago; I had lunch at Elizabeth Falkner's Citizen Cake in San Francisco about 9 months ago before it closed down. I had the special which was freshly made pasta with a wonderful mushroom/broth sauce. It was truly divine as were the goodies we got at the patisserie next door. Shame it closed really. Nice atmosphere, very good food (my sister ate there several times), reasonable prices, good service.

On Thursday, my daughter and I were shopping in Union Square, San Francisco and decided to grab lunch at the Burger Bar in Macy's. We were on a bit of a budget since we had just spent a ton of money shopping and scalper prices for Giants tickets for two days, so we didn't sample anything out of the ordinary.

I had the Black Angus and my daughter had the Country Natural. Boring we are; no add ons for us. But they were two of the best burgers I've eaten (the sweet potato fries were delicious as well) and I'm definitely going to make it a point to return for a more interesting burger and a nutella milkshake in the future.

But the excitement of the day was seeing Chef Keller there! When he first walked by our table and gave me a smile, I didn't trust my eyes that it was really him. I told daughter Kittious that I thought it might be him and she immediately shot me down. However, when he walked past our table again, I knew it was him. I asked the waitress and she confirmed my suspicion saying that he frequently came there to make sure things were up to par. She then offered to bring him over, but I chickened out. She kept insisting and saying he really, really loved to meet people and talk to customers. I felt totally tongue-tied and was afraid I would be too fan girlie in my current exhausted state so we offered our compliments to Chef Keller and high-tailed it out of there.

Next time I won't be such a chicken shit and I'll order the Rossini or Surf n Turf burger (or at least have black truffle added to my boring burger) so I'll have something to talk to him about! Oh, and the milkshake...for sure the milkshake.

Edited by Darth Kittious, Jul 17, 2010 @ 7:57 PM.


Long Days Night

Long Days Night

    Couch Potato

Posted Jul 31, 2010 @ 10:26 PM

Went to our favorite upscale Hudson Valley restaurant to celebrate our anniversary, and found, entirely to our surprise, that Carmen Gonzalez was acting as guest chef. Meal was very good, with a duck tamale appetizer the best dish served, and the best dish I'd had in years. Chef Gonzalez walked around the dining room toward the end of the evening, stopping briefly at tables and conversing with guests. She was very, very tiny! Also, pleasant, funny and sweet. A lovely surprise all around.

ETA: the restaurant was Crabtree's Kittle House in Chappequa, and I think she is there all summer.

Edited by Long Days Night, Aug 2, 2010 @ 11:28 PM.





Posted Aug 6, 2010 @ 3:50 AM

I was one of the lucky few who managed to score a reservation for LudoBites 5.0, which is running for about six weeks this summer. They took reservations for the first two weeks via ReserveIT, whose server crashed seconds after they began taking the reservations. So they switched to OpenTable a few weeks later, and even they had to reboot because of the traffic spike.

The food was delicious, and at times creative to the point of startling. However, the meal was much more expensive than I was led to believe by others - almost twice as expensive, in fact. One of the benefits of the pop-up restaurant concept is the low overhead, which is supposed to translate to lower prices for the diner. Unfortunately, I didn't really see that here - the prices weren't that much lower than what I would expect to pay at an actual restaurant, with white tablecloths and a full bar.

Anyway, here's the rundown:

Vadouvan naan bread with salted coconut butter - good but could've been better
Lightly smoked grilled squid, cold white bean cream, candied olives, prosciutto chips, meyer lemon - excellent
Heirloom tomato smoothie, ice dashi, squid ink vodka-gelee, seaweed - very good gazpacho, although I don't know how much the other stuff really added to it
Poached egg, potato mousseline, chorizo condiment - one of the two best dishes of the night
Raw wagyu beef, dried miso, somen noodle, peanut vinaigrette, watermelon - noodles slightly overcooked, but otherwise very good
Confit pork belly, raw choucroute Thai style, mustard ice cream - the other best dish; ice cream is a condiment of course, not meant to be eaten alone
Wild striped bass, yellow corn Mexican style, fresh wasabi salsa - very good, loved the corn (though it was still on the cob), salsa also had tomatillo
Caramel soufflé, blanco grapefruit, fleur de sel ice cream - again, ice cream is a condiment (it really tasted like salt), and I wasn't that fond of warm oro blanco, but otherwise it was a really good soufflé

Again, I must say that the food was really good, as was the service. However, I've eaten at restaurants for about half the cost that were almost as good food-wise (though not as strange and creative), with the bonus of being in a nicer space. So unless you specifically want to see or meet a TCM, I think there are some other places in LA where you can get a little more bang for the buck. And if you want to dine at a TCM restaurant, and you can afford to really go all-out, I think Providence (Michael Cimarusti's restaurant) is even better than LudoBites, especially the 14-course chef's tasting menu.

BTW, I didn't get to meet Ludo, but the restaurant has an open kitchen, so I was able to watch him cook, and his wife Krissy stopped by my table.




    Channel Surfer

Posted Aug 6, 2010 @ 12:43 PM

My fiancé and I had lunch at Michael Chiarello's Bottega. We were driving through Napa and it was the middle of the week in the afternoon. We called for a late lunch reservation and we got right in.

We started with the risotto of the day. It was a seafood risotto with a little bit of chili oil around the rim. Just the slightest bit of heat without being distracting. Creamy, soft and perfectly cooked. I'm not denying that we considered licking the plate. The portion was a bit small for two people, but for one it would have left you sated but not stuffed.

We ended with the zeppole (Italian donuts) with Meyer lemon curd. Also delicious. Sweet, puffy, light and the curd and conserva with it just raised it to another level.

The table next to us asked to speak with the chef to make arrangements for a party. Chiarello came out and spoke with them in length. He managed to hijack him after he was done and spoke briefly with him and got a picture. Like on TC, he's very soft spoken. Unlike on TC, he's very warm and friendly. However, you can tell he prefers to be in the kitchen then out glad handing.

We've also done Monica Pope's BBQ restaurant (Beaver's). BBQ itself is good, but nothing to write home about. However, it frequently gets "Best Mac and Cheese" in Houston, and it's pretty well deserved. We haven't gotten a chance to go to her main restaunt, t'afia, but we're hoping to rectify that soon.

Edited by SmartSalmon, Aug 6, 2010 @ 12:47 PM.





  • Gender:Not Telling
  • Location:Pacific Time Zone

Posted Aug 16, 2010 @ 11:54 PM

My husband and I were in Las Vegas recently and ate at the Fleur de Lys at Mandalay Bay. It was superb. There was a Top Chef Masters menu, and my husband was tempted by that, mainly because of the mac and cheese, I think, but we both ended up opting for the Elegance Menu with wine pairings. This is a four course meal with two to three choices for each course.

We got tempura cod for the amuse bouche (not counted as one of the courses). It was tasty, with the tempura being very light and airy, instead of the heaviness you often get with battered cod from fish and chips. For the first course, we both opted for the truffle onion soup. It was superb. It ended up being my favorite course for the evening. They served it with the truffle and truffle oil in the bowl and poured the soup into the bowl at table side. I wanted to lick my bowl and have more and more of it. For the second course, I had chorizo-wrapped sea bass with a spicy tomato broth. This ended up being my least favorite dish for the evening since I don't do well with spicy foods (and didn't understand the broth would be spicy when I chose it), and thought the spiciness overwhelmed everything else. But, it wasn't that spicy in the grand scheme of things; just not something I enjoyed. My husband had Yukon Gold potatoes and veal ravioli. This was his favorite dish of the evening. He liked it even better than the onion soup. For the third course, we both had the filet mignon. It was sliced into about five little medallions, and it was, of course, cooked perfectly as we'd ordered it (mine rare, my husband's medium). The fourth course was dessert, but because I had opted for an additional cheese plate (not included in the Elegance Menu), they brought that out next. There were five cheeses on the plate, and they were all delicious. For the dessert course, I had the carrot cake/cheese cake "ice cream sandwich." It was a slice of cake that had cheese cake sandwiched between two layers of carrot cake. The whole piece was chilled/frozen, so the cheese cake acted like ice cream. This was also delicious. My husband had chocolate cake for dessert with a chocolate filling. Served on the side of that was a shooter size glass of peanut butter shake. The people at the next table were asking him how it tasted since it looked really good to them.

I'm really horrible with remembering wine names and types, so I don't remember any of the wines except for the one they served us with the amuse bouche: a sparkling rosé. And then the one I was served with my dessert was an Italian wine that was made from grapes that were laid out in the sun to dry before being made into wine. That sounds like raisins when I describe it, but I asked the sommelier if it was like the Italian version of ice wine, and he said yes, it's what they do in warm climates because they can't get frozen grapes for ice wine like in the northern regions.

Before we sat down to dinner, we had cocktails in the lounge because we got there at 5:00, before the kitchen opened at 5:30. I had the Fleurtini, which was refreshing, and my husband had a different martini.

All in all, it was an excellent meal, and all of our servers were polite, friendly, and helpful, including the cocktail waitress. The only person I had a problem with was the hostess who kind of looked down her nose at us because we showed up without reservations, and I don't think we quite met her standards of how we should be dressed. The cocktail waitress had to go remind her that we were in the lounge to be seated. I got the impression she would rather have forgotten us. But once we got seated, I had no complaints about the service, only compliments.




    Loyal Viewer

Posted Mar 2, 2011 @ 3:40 PM

Another Bottega visitor here. I really thought Michael Chiarello was a bit of a self-absorbed ass on his season, but that man can run a restaurant. We were in Napa Valley for a week, and ate at other TCM contestants restaurants, Bouchon, and at several Michelin starred restaurants, but both DH and I agree that Bottega was probably our favorite meal, and we definitely had both our single favorite dishes there.

I had the polenta under glass, and he had the green eggs and ham. Both of us agreed that our respective appetizers were hands down the best food we tasted our entire trip. In fact, it was the third time in my life I had eaten something and had to stop tears coming down from my eyes, it was so good. Mine was beyond creamy and delicious, and having had a bite of his, his was almost as amazing as mine. I was amazed, because I hate mushrooms, and this was one of my favorite things to eat, ever.

I had the short rib and my husband had the pork for our mains. The short rib was exactly how I thought it would taste, and that was a good thing. DH also had an amazing pork chop. I would say both were spectacular, but fell short of the appetizer's mark of phenomenal.

Dessert was really good. We at so many meals I can't remember what mine was called, and totally forgot what DH had. They were really good, but we both agreed they were the weakest course of our meal. I was debating if I should just be wacky and order the polenta again instead of dessert, and maybe I should have done that.

I don't like wine, but DH is a huge wine geek, and he was very impressed with their wine menu. Although I could say the same thing at pretty much every other restaurant we went to in Napa Valley.

Service was hands-down the best we've ever had anywhere. The only other place we've dined ever that would come close to comparing was at one of Morimoto's restaurants. The staff was friendly, knowledgeable and thought of things you needed before you even knew you needed or wanted them. All without me feeling like they were hovering. It was as if they were all knowing. We had better service in a packed house at Bottega than we did when we were the only guests in the restaurant for the first 45 minutes of our meal at another high end restaurant in the Valley.

If you are a Michael Chiarello fan, we had more than one person tell us that he is in his restaurant a lot. They said he was definitely in his more than any other "celebrity chef" in the Valley. We were there on a Wednesday night from 6-about 7:30, and he made rounds of the dining room then. DH actually stopped him to talk to him, not because he cared (or even really knew) who he was, but he wanted to let him know how professional and outstanding our service was. According to a lot of the locals, we were there at one of the slowest times of the year, so I guess if we saw him midweek then, he must really be in there a lot.




    Channel Surfer

Posted Apr 27, 2011 @ 11:41 PM

It's been a while but I've eaten at at Rubicon and Aqua back when Traci des Jardins was the chef at both and at Jardiniere-- all excellent. About a month ago, I had dinner with friends at the Ritz Carleton at Northstar -- we didn't eat in Manzanita proper (we were in the more relaxed eating area) but they served food from the same kitchen -- I had the most amazing poblano corn chowder but the price was insanely high. I've been a little surprised that she seems to be mostly coasting in the middle other than 2 quickfire wins because her food has always been so excellent.

I only ate at Elizabeth Faulkner's Citizen Cake once back when it was touted as the best dessert place in SF, frankly, I was a little underwhelmed -- went with a bunch of friends & we ordered a bunch of desserts to share. They ranged from ok to good but nothing that special or delicious.

Back when I lived in Chicago, I went to Rick Bayless' Frontera Grill a bunch of times -- he makes a mean duck enchilada and amazing chocolate banana cake. I also love his cookbook, Mexican Everyday-- lots of great, easy to make and relatively fast recipes. I also love Tony Mantuano's Cafe Spiaggia- my roommate and I would save up our pennies just to go and order coffee and his amazing hazelnut semi freddo dessert. Whenever I travel to Chicago, I make a point to stop at both restaurants.




    Loyal Viewer

Posted May 2, 2011 @ 5:43 PM

My birthday was last week, and my husband decided to take me to Beast. We had a good, solid meal there, but there was nothing mind-blowing about it. The difference between our meal there and our one at Bottega only underscored to me the decline in the caliber of chefs from season 1 to season 3.

The strong points of the meals were anything involving meat, and dessert. Surprisingly, I'd say the dessert was the best part of the meal, and probably one of the best I've ever had. Anything else on the meal was good, but not great. I'd say there were good flavors on the plate, but not much depth of flavor. My husband was adamant that there was nothing we had there that I couldn't come close to re-creating at home.

Naomi wasn't cooking, but she came in. She's much smaller than she seems on TV. While she made a lot of hustle and bustle upon her entrance, she was much quieter than she has been coming across on the show. Things were coming out of the kitchen at a very slow pace, and her arrival only seemed to slow down service even more.

In all, we weren't angry that we spent the money there, but we don't really see going back.

I forgot to say that my husband is really into wine, and orders the wine pairing on the menu when there is one, and he graded their wine paring a C-. He rated the first pairing absolutely stellar, but he didn't feel the other wines matched the food as well as they could have, and missed the mark on the rest of the courses.

Edited by estellasmom, May 2, 2011 @ 6:11 PM.




    Couch Potato

Posted May 3, 2011 @ 7:00 PM

This is older, but I still have to share my trip at this time last year to Vegas and my visits to RM Seafood and Border Grill. I ate at four very nice restaurants during that trip, but RMS and BG were exceptional. Didn't see Rick, Susan, or Mary Sue there, but I didn't mind.

I ate at RMS the night of the Mayweather/Mosley fight, so it was jumping. It was my first time there, and I started with the Rhode Island calamari, which was much better than I've had elsewhere. Nicely fried, crispy and chewy without being tough, and the hot pepper kick...all gone! This was followed by the saffron risotto with grilled shrimp and chorizo oil. A very well-balanced dish, the shrimp and risotto were both perfectly cooked, and the oil gave a touch of heat and smoke without overpowering the saffron. My second-favorite dish of the trip.

But first place goes to the chicken mole I ate at the Border Grill on Cinco de Mayo. I'd eaten there before, and while it's an attractive setting the meals weren't so memorable. Good, but not praiseworthy. Not this time. If Rick Bayless' mole is as good as this...dense but not heavy, spicy but not hot, it was what I thought mole should taste like. The chicken was moist and tasty, and the accompanying fried quesadillas were crunchy but not greasy. My mouth is watering remembering it! Add to it a margarita the size of a "Hoarders"-sized Slurpee cup, and a comped front-row ticket to see Lily Tomlin at the MGM Grand that night...the best Cinco de Mayo I ever spent!




    Couch Potato

Posted May 20, 2011 @ 1:30 PM

For those who haven't been to his Chicago restaurant, Rick Bayless has a 3-restaurant complex going on in the same building. Topolobampo is fine dining restaurant with a hefty price tag, and it's only open for dinner. Frontera Grill is much more affordable -- but not inexpensive by a long shot -- and it's open for lunch. Right next door is XOCO, which is soups and sandwiches and much more casual food, including breakfast and takeout. Sandwiches run in the neighborhood of $12 so again, not cheap. Having said that, the food is outstanding and I've never once eaten something I didn't think was worth the charge. The service is excellent in all 3 restaurants, but only Topolobampo takes reservations, so the wait time is horrendous, particularly if you go when there are tourists in town -- which means I usually go in the dead of winter. Frontera opens at 11:30, and there's a line outside by 11.

Two days after Rick Bayless won TCM, I went to his Frontera Grill. Now the meal he'd cooked to win the show is served on the Topolobampo menu for dinner, not at Frontera for lunch, but the wait staff was only too happy to get me a lunch-size portion of the winning dish. It really was amazing. Every now and then you do get a glimpse of Rick himself, but he does not interact with the patrons. Not even eye contact. That's ok, I figure he just doesn't want to be living as celebrity, you know? If you ever get a chance to go to Frontera, try the ceviche trio. I'm not a hound for ceviche but this is addictive. It's astounding how he gets 3 completely different flavor profiles from the 3 dishes.

(Edited for misspelling.)

Edited by FineWashables, May 20, 2011 @ 1:33 PM.




    Channel Surfer

Posted Jun 11, 2011 @ 8:52 AM

My first meal at Jody Adams' Rialto was during a restaurant week - an event that can be very hit-or-miss in terms of the service or quality of menu in my experience - and I still dream about the milk-braised pork I had as an entree. We now go a couple of times a year, and I've yet to be disappointed. The closest they've come was accidentally serving me the wrong cocktail. I ordered an Aviation but got served something else, which I drank anyway because it was delicious.

We have seen Jody herself there on multiple occasions, chatting with guests and checking in on the kitchen. She even validated my parking once.

I just with they'd do that pork again...




    Channel Surfer

Posted Oct 21, 2011 @ 11:24 AM

I hit Frontera while I was in Chicago. I was there on a Wednesday evening around six and it was wall-to-wall people. So if you're wanting to go, get reservations. After about 20 minutes, I managed to carve out a spot at the bar to order dinner.

Started with chips and salsa which was good, but nothing too awesome. Not sure if it's worth $4 by itself, however...

I got the Enchiladas de Mole Poblano which is chicken enchiladas with one of his mole sauces on top. Dear lord, everything everyone has said about how great his moles are are really well deserved. You really could put it on a shoe and it would be awesome. This is where the chips come in handy to scrape the plate.

So that's two out of the three Season 1 TC Masters finalists for me. Watch out Keller, I'm coming for you!

Edited by SmartSalmon, Oct 21, 2011 @ 11:35 AM.





Posted Apr 3, 2012 @ 8:43 AM

While in NY last week, I got to eat at Barbuto, home of TC Master Jonathon Waxman and his amazing chicken. Had a terrific meal and there was some great people watching. Barbuto is very casual-it is a converted garage and on warm and quasi warm nights they open up the doors and most of the tables are outside or close to it. The night we were there was a little chilly, but they still had the doors open.
Started with a fennel compote bruschetta that was so good that we fought over the last piece-rich and savory, yet still light. We had the chicken and it lived up to its reputation and also had risotto with spring veggies that Mrs. AU said was the best she had ever tasted. My son had a pasta dish ahd he basically licked the bowl clean and we devoured an order of potatoes that were crunchy and salty but not greasy.

Great service, interesting people watching and all in all a great meal.

While in NY we also ate at Mesa Grill and got to meet not only the owner and chef, Bobby Flay, but his fellow Iron Chef Michael Symon who was dining there with his family. Meal was very good, but not "Barbuto good" as my son said. I know it is not Top Chef, but still cool!

Edited by TWoP Nikita, Apr 3, 2012 @ 7:06 PM.
moved from Top Chef forum