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Taste Testing: Dining at the Restaurants of Cheftestants/Judges

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Share your personal experiences with the food put out by those seen on the show here.

I think most of the experiences I've had at restaurants helmed by TC alumni are out of date, with the chef having moved on, but I've dined at a couple of Tom Colicchio's restaurants -- great food in general and excellent service, but WAY too much salt for my taste.  So every time he's on a cheftestant for under-seasoning, I figure their food would be right up my alley.

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Thanks for starting this thread, Bastet.

I agree about Colicchio - the one time I ate at Craft, I did not think the food was too salty, but I was aware of the salt. I am easily aware of the salt (is this making any sense?), but when DH said something like "the chef certainly likes his salt," I knew it wasn't just me. Still, it was an excellent meal and I wouldn't turn down another opportunity to eat there.

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Going to one of the Craft restaurants is on my list of things to do someday. I ate at We The Pizza last fall, Spike Mendelsohn's pizza place in DC. It was "just" pizza, but it was quite good. I wanted to go to his other restaurant that's next door, but didn't get a chance. Also tried to go to Volt, Bryan Voltaggio's place in Maryland, but couldn't get in at all. Also hit Xoco, Rick Bayless's casual place in Chicago, it was ok. 

Best Top Chef related place I have been to is Palace Kitchen, occasional judge Tom Douglas's place (well, one of his restaurants, he has a lot) in Seattle. That was fantastic. 

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I went to Stephanie Izard's Girl and the Goat in Chicago last year and it was faaaabulous.  The very friendly server suggested ordering a bunch of dishes to share, and the atmosphere and food were just fantastic.  I remember raves about the green beans, chicken, octopus, goat empanadas and butterscotch dessert from our table. I must have gotten very lucky with my reservation, because on the way out my parents tried to make another reservations 2 months later and there was no availability. Also I remember the price was very decent - we had a ton of food and drink for 4 people and with tip it was under $250.

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I live in Chicago, so I've been fortunate enough to go to The Girl and the Goat as well as to The Little Goat Diner she opened across the street.  Scrumptious, fun, inventive food.  I've eaten at all 3 of Rick Bayless's restaurants and when I asked, they brought me the meal that won him Top Chef Masters.  Really, really wonderful.  I've also eaten Takashi Yagihashi's food which I expected to love and oddly, kind of didn't.  Heather Terhune makes really good food.  And in person, she's really very sweet.  (Must be the editing.)

Haven't tried Graham Elliot's restaurant yet because his prices are so very very high.  (And it's not like any of these places are giving it away.)  So are the prices at Sprout, which is Dale Levitski's restaurant.  Also plan to try out Mexique, which is Carlos's place.  (Sorry, I don't remember his last name.  But then I don't remember the name of the guy who won that last season either.)

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I've been to Spike's burger place on Capitol Hill in DC, it's pretty good. Again it's "just" a burger place but they really are good burgers, and milkshakes, which are also yummy.

My biggest feat is that I managed to get reservations for my step-dad's 50th birthday at Volt's Table 21 back before they expanded it to seat more people. When we ate there it only sat 4 people and it was INSIDE the kitchen. My step-dad was a gourmet chef trained in Davos in the 80s so he had tons of fun questions and he would literally lean over and poke Bryan Voltaggio to ask him how something was made. (Bryan did NOT mind at all btw. he was super excited to have someone who knew about being a chef there and invited step-dad back during closed hours when one of his other chef friends was in town) the food was AMAZING. A lot of food, it's 21 courses but the first one was a drink (homemade ginger ale with fancy whisky, it's like they planned it just for me) I have severe allergies to seafood so they made me special items when there was fish in any of the dishes and since we were sitting in the kitchen watching everything be prepared it's the only time I haven't been afraid of cross contamination. Seriously I cannot recommend it enough if you can manage reservations. It's crazy expensive, especially if you add in wine, but it is a once in a lifetime type meal and it was so great. We still talk about it and it's been several years. 

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OK, prepare for the LOOONG post I wrote right after the dinner which was in September of 2009. Sorry for the length, but it WAS 21 courses...

Keep in mind I'm no food critic, and also allergic to seafood so I didn't get the "full" menu, they made little substitutions for those courses (only 2!) We were all amazed at how QUIET they worked, it was almost like watching a dance, not at all like any other kitchen I've ever been in where there's yelling and cursing and you wouldn't want diners in there at all... There is a whole tasting room actually that looks at the kitchen, so you don't have to do the whole Table 21 thing if you're interested, there's a 6 course menu also but when you pair that with wine it's only like $20 cheaper than Table 21 if you did it and didn't drink any alcohol, or went with less expensive by the glass items it would be more affordable (Table 21 included) keep in mind this was for a very special occasion and I would NEVER be able to afford this. Also there's a regular dining room with A La Cart items that I would go back to in a heart beat.

1) House made Ginger ale with some fancy bourbon I can't remember the name of shot out of one of those seltzer bottle thingey's... can you guess how I felt about this one?? I wanted to steal everyone else's!

2) "Prosciutto chips, potato dip" These were so cool, dried prosciutto that you dip in this warm potato foam stuff (think the texture of the cream on a cappuccino) that was shot out of a whip cream thingey. So delish.

3) "Macaroon" beet macaroon stuffed with foie gras mousse. Melted in your mouth. yummmmm.

4) "Tuna Sashimi with seckel pear and watermelon" I got watermelon sashimi with the rest of the stuff, there was an awesome cucumber gele type thing in there too. Yum.

5) "Carrot sphere with cardamom and ginger" This was cool, it was like liquid carrot that had been trapped in a sphere just a one bite thing, really neat texture.

6) "Buffalo Wings" Boneless buffalo style chicken wing meat with liquid nitrogen frozen blue cheese on top. YUM! Bryan V. served us this one and was really nice in explaining all the components and warning us that the cheese was REALLY cold so he wanted us to be careful. He seemed really shy.

7)"Cherry Glen farm goat cheese ravioli with sweet corn and chanterele mushrooms" OMG I mean I love pasta and cheese, this could have been the only thing I ate and I'd be telling you all to eat there. Delish. mmm. My husband even liked it and he doesn't like mushrooms or goat cheese!

8) "Salmon with fried squash blossoms, grilled zucchini and a saffron risotto" again, I got extra of everything else and no salmon, but the everything else was so so yum. I don't know how he got so much flavor into the grilled zucchini! It was to die for.

9) Shabu shabu of Whitmore Farm goat, with caramelized onion noodles" This is where the love affair between my step dad and Bryan V. starts... Shabu Shabu is really thinly sliced meat that's in a bowl with other stuff (veggies and the "noodles" in this case) and then at the table a really hot consume is poured over top to cook everything. So here the "noodles" are basically a caramelized onion stock that is solidified with agar agar he sucks it up into surgical tubing with a syringe lets it "set" and then squirts back out to make the "noodles" they tasted really cool. My step dad asked him how it was done and he actually went and got the whole rig and brought it out to show him. Super nice. Taste wise I'd say this was fine... it was really flavorful broth, but the goat didn't really taste like anything. Step dad LOVED it because he LOVES a consume.

10) "Sweetbreads with flavors of picata" Fried Sweetbreads, yummy. Husband's favorite, which is funny because it's the course he thought he'd hate :P

11) "Iberico pork trotters with a trio of beans" This was hands down my favorite, it is pulled pork that they press into a terrine and then slice into squares, bread and deep fry, it was like really high end bbq. So So So good. mmmm. want more.

12) "Foie Gras terrine with seckel pear, vanilla brioche and pistachio soil" almost a mousse like texture here, the Foie is whipped with cream and set in a terrine, you spread it on the brioche and then die of happiness while eating it. Very light foie taste here, and also when step dad and Bryan become bff's because step dad starts asking how this is made and Bryan asks step dad if he's a chef and then they bond over chef stuff and talk about people's fear of foie. He spent a long time standing with us talking about stuff, and told step dad to call him when his other chef friend from Germany comes to visit and he'd make a special tasting menu for them. Neat. Like I said, SUPER nice.

13) "Chickpea gnocchi with caramelized leeks" mmmmmm gnocchi... this was so light I can't even describe it.

14) "Longenecker farm rabbit two ways with appelwood smoked bacon" a teeny tiny rack of ribs, and a medallion wrapped in bacon. This was my least favorite dish, it was fine and all, I just don't love rabbit.

15) "Curried Lamb with ras el hanout and eggplant" super yummy lamb.

16) "Pineland Farm beef with whipped potatoes" Steak and Potatoes, cooked to PERFECTION, and very yummy. By this point my mom had almost tapped out, she could not eat any more.. I mean she did, but she was FULL (and reminded us of that every course :P)

17) "Cheese course" Camembert style cheese with tarragon powder and orange gelato. mmmmmmm. I ate my mom's cheese too.

18) "Dulce de Leche white chocolate goat cheesecake with caramel dust" Husband's favorite dessert. DAMN it was good. He ate my mom's :P

19) "Coconut Vanilla Lavender" Lavender dust, coconut gelato and a vanilla "cream" All the gelatos are made with liquid nitrogen so they feel like silk in your mouth, this one came in a sphere of coconut that was frozen somehow and really yummy. My favorite dessert. ever. This was something you've seen Bryan make on Top Chef, it was the white dome thing that was sort of broken on a plate with dust around it? Here's a picture.

http://i.imgur.com/v20YtqF.png

20) "PBJ" Chocolate peanut butter bar type thing with concord grape gelato on top. Yummy.

21) "Mignardes" teeeny tiny ice cream cookie sandwiches. So CUTE!

So, there you have it. A once in a lifetime meal, it was fan frickin tastic. They even gave us little lemon poppyseed coffee cakes to take home with us for breakfast.

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Also, I remember the buffalo wings frozen blue cheese thing from Top Chef. But did he do it or did his brother borrow it for the show? I am drawing a blank thinking of it too hard.

I think you're right, and I can't remember if it was Bryan or Michael either.

Honestly the only reason we were able to do this at all was that I was reading the TWoP forums when the cast list was announced and saw that "Hey, one of these cheftestants (tm Keckler) is from Frederick Maryland!" and I thought "That's so close to me! I should see what his restaurant is like!" I found Volt's website and it was clear from reading the menu and looking at the pictures that this was a great chef. I saw the Table 21 thing and called my mom to tell her about it because like I said, my step dad is an ex gourmet chef and his 50th birthday was coming up. We got the reservations before the show had aired its first episode and then I watched with fear every week between when the show started and when we had the reservations because I was scared it would turn out that either Bryan was a jerk or bad. I'm so glad my hunch was right. I have a friend who got in to Table 21 for her 1 year wedding anniversary and she had to reserve the table almost a year in advance! They are booked out the wazoo! I'm just so happy for Bryan. He's such a genuinely nice guy. He's actually got three more restaurants in the area now. I have another friend who ate at the one closer to DC called Range and she said it was also great though not as high end as Volt, then there's Family Meal which is in Frederick also, I want to go there for brunch sometime. It's more casual but seems really cool. Then there's also a sandwich place down the street from Volt in downtown Frederick that's a grab and go type place. So cool. 

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Lisin, I love your detailed description of Volt!

DH and I went there last summer and ate from the regular fixed price menu, which we loved. It wasn't that hard to get in - I made the reservations about 3 weeks in advance - but it was also ghastly hot outside and a Sunday, so there were probably a lot of people at the beach, and Sundays can be slow at lots of restaurants.

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Finally stopped by Spike's burger place in DC a few weeks ago and it was terrific!  Good Stuff Eatery.  I keep thinking about the awesome salted caramel milkshake!  Can't wait to go again!

That was an amazing description of your meal at Volt!  Would love to do that some day!

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Lisin, I am so jealous of your experience. I am dying to try Bryan's food. He's one of my faves and so incredibly creative. Just to watch him work would be a cool experience.

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I've been to the Hi-Life Cafe, which is Carlos Fernandez's restaurant (he was one of the few nice chefs on Season 2) in Fort Lauderdale, FL.  I was just thinking about it because they're rerunning Season 2 on the Esquire channel this morning.  I've been there twice, but the second time was for our office holiday party/dinner a few years ago.  We did a gift exchange and the person who had picked me got me the Top Chef Quickfire cookbook (he had never seen Top Chef and didn't know we were going to a Top Chef's restaurant, but he had heard I liked the show).  When the waitress saw me holding the cookbook, she asked if I wanted Carlos to come out and sign it.  He did come out and talked to me for a while and signed the cookbook.  He was very friendly and was quite happy to come out and talk with us.  Both times I've been there I've had this, which has been delicious:

 

Southwestern Bolognese -- A spicy Bolognese made with ground Filet and NY Strip over Angelhair pasta. Finished with Blackwheel parmesan cheese. 21.95

 

....despite my love of Top Chef, I'm not a very adventurous eater**, so when I try something I like, I usually stick with it.

 

** My screen name on TWOP was Picky Eater.  :-)

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I am visiting Atlanta for a conference.  I would like to go to Kevin Gillespie's restaurant, but won't be able to do it this time.  I did go to a Top Chef type restaurant called Local Three (chef Chris Hall).  My friends and I stopped by FLIP and had the tuna tartar and the beef tartar.  Both were delicious, but I preferred the beef.  I ended the meal with a nutella and toasted marshmallow shake that was delicious, too.  

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I'm headed to San Francisco next month...any recommendations for places to eat? Top Chef related or not, I hear San Fran has some great food and I'd love to check out some good places. I've never eaten in a "fancy" restuarant, it's on my bucket list to eat at a Michelin Star place some day, maybe this trip. Any thoughts? 

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We're going to Volt! We're going to Volt! We're going to Volt!

 

Second visit, on an upcoming Sunday evening. I can't wait.

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Lisin,

Thanks for the detailed summary of your experience at Volt. I'm glad that the food was great, but I'm even happier with your report that Bryan V. is a genuinely good guy. He's my all-time favorite cheftestant.

Congratulations, Bella, on securing a table at Volt! I look forward to hearing about your experience. I'm from Texas so my chances of ever eating there are slim.

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Volt is still on my list!

 

I've gone to Good Stuff plenty of times, the one in Capitol Hill and the other in Georgetown, and I've loved it every time. My friends and I also went to Bearnaise (Spike's newest place right next to We, the Pizza) earlier in the year for dinner. I really liked the food. I had the chicken paillard, which was great, but I had to pack it to take home because the breast was butterflied and just too much for me to finish there (since they also have frites with the entree). My two friends both got the flat iron steak, and from what I remember, they enjoyed it as well. Because it was in January, I know there was a great soup that my friend also ordered (I had a taste), but for the life of me, I can't remember what it was. 

 

Our server was awesome, and I swear he looked like he could be Spike's cousin. My friends and I decided that, without any confirmation from him or Spike, that he was Spike's cousin. :) We also got to take a picture (albeit fuzzy, so boo!) with Spike on our way out. Then right after, we hit up Good Stuff for some milkshakes.

 

Another friend and I went to Range, Bryan Voltaggio's place, some time last fall. I didn't order much because I had already eaten maybe an hour and a half before. I think I got the cornbread and some other side, which still esapes my memory. I liked it, but the server was kind of meh. He wasn't all that attentive. I remember asking one of my colleagues how his experience was at Range, and he corroborated what I felt--the servers are not all that attentive unless you're some Very Important Person, which sucks. 

Edited by Mozelle

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Is it wrong that I'm still a (teeny weeny) bit bitter about Carla being saddled with Casey as her sous chef?

Edited by Mozelle
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We live in New York, so we go to Harold Dieterle's (winner season 1) three restaurants fairly frequently. They're all really good.

They're all in The West Village. Perilla was the first one. Seasonal American. That one we go to the most. Really delicious. Very friendly vibe. Then Kin Shop is Thai - but with an American twist. The New York Times went crazy over it when it opened, so it can still be hard to get a table. And finally, The Marrow, which combines the German and Italian influences of Harold's heritage. The Stout cake there is one of the best desserts I've ever had.

We initially started watching Top Chef because we were fans of Tom's and Craft. It's still a favorite.

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Is wrong that I'm still a (teeny weeny) bit bitter about Carla being saddled with Casey as her sous chef?

 

Nope. Although if Casey had owned the role she played in Carla's loss, or at least not confronted her about how she was being picked on about it so Carla would feel like she had to say it wasn't her fault, I would probably judge her less. 

 

Her menu seems a little gimmicky for me (smoked lettuce velouté?). Also, they misspelled huitlacoche. 

 

I was at Elizabeth Falkner's Krescendo during the brief time it was Elizabeth Falkner's Krescendo and had a wonderful meal (funnily, the only thing that didn't work for me was one of the desserts).

Edited by Julia
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We live in New York, so we go to Harold Dieterle's (winner season 1) three restaurants fairly frequently. They're all really good.

They're all in The West Village. Perilla was the first one. Seasonal American. That one we go to the most. Really delicious. Very friendly vibe. Then Kin Shop is Thai - but with an American twist. The New York Times went crazy over it when it opened, so it can still be hard to get a table. And finally, The Marrow, which combines the German and Italian influences of Harold's heritage. The Stout cake there is one of the best desserts I've ever had.

 

 

We always visit Perilla when we're in NYC. We tried Kin Shop and didn't like it nearly as much. How would you compare Perilla to The Marrow?

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Let's see if I can remember all the places I've eaten that are Top Chef related:

 

1.  Aquavit in 2001 (Marcus Samuelsson was still there).  One of my favorite restaurants in NY at the time, and I still rank my meals there as some of the best of my life.

2.  Woodfire Grill.  Got the tasting menu, and it was amazing.  Not a weak bite in the bunch. 

3.  FLIP Burger.  It was fine.  Not my favorite, but the fries and Nutella shake were the highlight.

4.  Empire State South.  The Jars appetizer was wonderful, and my duck had a perfectly crisp skin.  Hugh seems to harp on duck fat not being properly rendered, and I understand why!

5.  Anjeo.  This is one of my favorite meals ever, mainly because Angelo was there and hung out at our table for a few minutes.  He also brought us all tequila shots!  The food was pretty good, but the overall atmosphere made me want to go back!  Fun place.

6.  Craft.  The best scallops of my life.  Like butter. 

7.  Red Rooster.  The best deviled eggs of my life!  I also loved the décor of this place.  I am reading MS's book now, and it makes me want to go back!

8.  David Burke Townhouse (when it was called David Burke and Donatella).  Cheesecake lollipops!

9.  WD-50.  Crazy food, but delicious.

10.  Aureole.  Was a long time ago!

 

I think that's it!  Have a reservation at Perilla next weekend, so I'll report back.  Also, am going to Chicago in July and have reservations at Girl and the Goat and Frontera Grill.  I love visiting Top Chef places!

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Reporting back from Volt , where we dined last night:

 

This was our second visit. The first time, we were in the general dining room, but this time we were in the same room as Table 21 and the kitchen. We actually had the table closest to Table 21, so we had a great view of both that activity and the kitchen. I will say that as much as the TV food shows indicate there's a lot of yelling in kitchens, there was none of that. At one point, a cook had a hasty 1-1 conversation with Graeme Ritchie, the de facto head chef, and they were obviously discussing some kind of problem, but it was fairly quiet. At another point, the line cooks seemed visibly tense, but there was no conversation audible to us about 20 feet away (I'm bad at guessing distance, btw), and that passed. There were from 8 to 11 cooks of various stripes visible to us at any given time, and 2 were women, including one of the line cooks. I'm not sure where the desserts came from, though - there was clearly another area behind the main kitchen, and a small alcove off to one side where the other woman appeared to work.

 

Anyway, wine. We didn't do a tasting menu, and we pretty much let TJ, the sommelier, revise our choices. He's awesome, though don't ever tell him you've been to a wine-producing area without touring vineyards. He couldn't believe that we went hiking in Oregon instead of tasting the state's wines, for example. Anyway, we told him what we intended to order, then he suggested some alternatives that would go better with the wines he was going to recommend. This was more of an issue for me than for DH. I don't follow food themes that lend themselves to a single wine, yet all I wanted was a glass. Then after we tweaked our preferences, he brought me a taste of an acid bomb of a white wine. I usually like acidic wines, but I could not see drinking any more of that one. He then brought "something different" that I loved - also acidic, but more flavorful. It was a 2004 white rioja that TJ described as a "nerdy adventure," adding that not everyone likes it. I thought it was amazing. TJ said that it would change with each course, so I ended up ordering another half glass later in the meal.

 

Food: Here's what's close to the menu from last night, though not exactly. DH had the beet salad, something that's not on this menu for a second course, black bass, and pork belly. I had the English pea, which was a soup, and very good. My second course, the ramp bucattini, was awesome. I could have eaten a large plate of that. I love ramps, and I'm sure the pasta was made in house. I'll also roll over and play dead for morels, I love them so much. (Yes, I'm going to use the word "love" a lot.)

 

The third course, softshell crab, was amazing, though I wasn't completely sold on the way they handled the rice. Perhaps a different starch would have worked better. But the crab itself was small, delicate, and meaty, of very high quality. I also had the squab, which TJ had talked me into and which was presented differently from the on-line menu. It had morels, sprouted quinoa, ramps, and something else. The presentation made it look like duck, which is another thing I love. Finally, for dessert, DH and I each had the chocolate.

 

At the end of the meal, one of the higher-level floor staff (all wearing Converse sneakers but otherwise in various levels of dress; this guy wore a suit) brought us four small bites - two filled chocolates each, plus a blueberry gelee bite and a vanilla and strawberry (I think) maccaron. They also gave us each an individual coffee cake on our way out.

 

The meal was stupidly expensive and worth every penny. If you can ever go, do!

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Btw, @Fukui San mentioned in the spoiler thread something about having a 3-year-old, and reminded me that I forgot something really important about the Volt experience: there was a child at the table across from us. She was there with her parents and grandmother, and she couldn't have been more than five. 

 

There is no kids menu at Volt that I'm aware of, but Bryan Voltaggio has four or five kids himself, and one of his other restaurants is oriented to families. The staff at Volt talked to the parents at length, and talked to the little girl herself. They brought out something for her every time they served a course to her parents. Once it was pasta in some kind of mild sauce - might have been browned butter or something like that. The kid ate slowly but constantly and cleaned her plate. They also brought her apple sticks with some kind of white vegetable also in stick form, and she had a cake-like dessert.

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Btw, @Fukui San mentioned in the spoiler thread something about having a 3-year-old, and reminded me that I forgot something really important about the Volt experience: there was a child at the table across from us. She was there with her parents and grandmother, and she couldn't have been more than five. 

 

There is no kids menu at Volt that I'm aware of, but Bryan Voltaggio has four or five kids himself, and one of his other restaurants is oriented to families. The staff at Volt talked to the parents at length, and talked to the little girl herself. They brought out something for her every time they served a course to her parents. Once it was pasta in some kind of mild sauce - might have been browned butter or something like that. The kid ate slowly but constantly and cleaned her plate. They also brought her apple sticks with some kind of white vegetable also in stick form, and she had a cake-like dessert.

I'm jealous - I really want to eat there some day.

I love Bryan Voltaggio's take on kids' meals. We fed ours whatever we ate, and she didn't like some of it, but we never had the picky eater battle. It makes me happy that he treats kids like (very small) customers.

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Hi Bella-

If you like Harold Dieterle's Perilla, you'll probably like The Marrow too. Those two are more alike in food and ambiance than Kin Shop. People who love Thai food (my husband) go crazy over Kin Shop. I'm more more into Harold's other two restaurants. (They are all near us).

The food at The Marrow used to be heavier than Perilla, I'm not sure that's completely the case anymore. Unless you go for the Schnitzel! They have killer homemade pretzel rolls and a great mushroom "steak"for vegetarians. And a really great wine list.

I used to LOVE Aquavit when Marcus was still there. One of my all time favorites. This thread reminded me I want to try The Red Rooster!!!!

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I've been to Spike's burger place on Capitol Hill in DC, it's pretty good. Again it's "just" a burger place but they really are good burgers, and milkshakes, which are also yummy.

My biggest feat is that I managed to get reservations for my step-dad's 50th birthday at Volt's Table 21 back before they expanded it to seat more people. When we ate there it only sat 4 people and it was INSIDE the kitchen. My step-dad was a gourmet chef trained in Davos in the 80s so he had tons of fun questions and he would literally lean over and poke Bryan Voltaggio to ask him how something was made. (Bryan did NOT mind at all btw. he was super excited to have someone who knew about being a chef there and invited step-dad back during closed hours when one of his other chef friends was in town) the food was AMAZING. A lot of food, it's 21 courses but the first one was a drink (homemade ginger ale with fancy whisky, it's like they planned it just for me) I have severe allergies to seafood so they made me special items when there was fish in any of the dishes and since we were sitting in the kitchen watching everything be prepared it's the only time I haven't been afraid of cross contamination. Seriously I cannot recommend it enough if you can manage reservations. It's crazy expensive, especially if you add in wine, but it is a once in a lifetime type meal and it was so great. We still talk about it and it's been several years. 

 

Lisin, I'm so jealous.  That is so cool of him to invite him back.

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Made it to Spike's DC burger place. Very good burger.  The toasted marshmallow shake was superb.  Wanted another, but I didn't want to be a pig.

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I was in DC last week and took the opportunity to eat at Mike Isabella Graffiato restaurant, in Chinatown.  It was lovely, and the service was impeccable, and friendly.  We had mixed drinks and then I had a first course of cucumber gazpacho poured over crab and it was amazing!  Then I had fresh pasta with a veal Bolognese sauce.  The pasta was both soft and firm. My friend had the roasted cauliflower and chicken thighs with pepperoni sauce.  The servings were served on small plates (except for the soup) and all were delicious.  I ended with a scoop of salted caramel and a scoop of roasted strawberry ice cream (small scoops, as the server asked me if I wanted full size scoops or small ones, and I appreciated having the choice).  My friend had the cheesecake, which was a large piece she could not finish.  It was a great choice (we were running away from a conference about five blocks away).  I recommend it.  Not pretentious but really everything was really good.  With two cocktails and tip, we each had a bill of just over $50.

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Huh, I've actually been to one of the cheftestant's places but never knew it.  Arnold Myint (didn't see his season) apparently is the chef at PM over by Belmont in Nashville.  I like PM a lot though I've never eaten there.  I see it as more of a college/young adult casual bar than a place to get food.  The drinks are good, but no clue about the food.

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I'm not sure Arnold is still there. He just recently moved, was talking on FB about moving to a new place, new apt., etc. in Chicago. Cha Chah closed a year ago, that was his previous place. He was pretty sad, upset when he had to close it down.

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Bravo now has a Top Chef Finder. You can search by chef, cuisine, or location. Find restaurants owned or helmed by a TC contestant.

 

http://www.bravotv.com/bravo-chef-finder/top-chef?CID=TCD_PHO

 

Pretty cool. Best soup I ever had was fois gras soup at  Kevin Sbraga's restaurant in Philly. To die for.

 

I really want to go to Kevin's restaurant.

 

And thanks for sharing that link. I'm going to bookmark it.

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There's also an app called Food Mafia which Stacey Johnson developed. It's totally unbiased ratings of restaurants, or so she says. From what I've seen on it, I'm going to try it on my next trip to L.A.

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I got to go to the Little Goat this week with my mom.  We'd originally thought of going to Girl & The Goat, but neither one of us a big foodie, so we chickened out and opted for to go to the diner.

 

Mom's meal: a cup of tomato-apple soup, pork chops with cauliflower and kimchi.  She said the soup was fantastic, and although she struggled a bit to cut up the pork chops, she said they were very good.

 

My meal: a cup of goat chili, sea bass on a bed of mashed potatoes and plantains with stir-fry mushrooms.  This was the special of the day, so I don't remember exactly what was in the sauce--sorry.  The chili was very good--I would probably rate it higher, but it was surpassed by the sea bass, which was absolutely amazing.  The sauce was out of this world, which is why I wish I could remember what the server told me it was.  I also had the Jack O'Lantern shake, which was pumpkin with caramel corn.

 

For dessert, my mother and I split a slice of honey graham cake with a scoop of vanilla gelato.  I hate to admit this, but after the wonder of my entree, I thought it was a little bit of a let down.  My mother enjoyed it a lot, however, so I didn't say anything.

 

Overall I would highly recommend the restaurant to anyone going to Chicago.

Edited by wallflower75

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I was lucky enough to have a friend take me to ink last year for my birthday. It was outstanding. Really creative and tasty. I definitely recommend it if you're in LA.

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I ate at the Langham when Michael Voltaggio was still there, and it was awesome. As someone said about their husband above, the two items on the tasting menu that I thought I'd be iffy about turned out to be my favorite courses (marrow; foie gras). It was super tasty, but the venue is a little formal. I can see why he wanted to move to a place of his own. The sommelier was awesome, though. When he realized we weren't the stuffy type, he was very funny and really was a highlight of the dining experience. I still remember one wine that he said smelled like kerosene, but didn't taste it. And it did (and didn't)! It was amazing. I think I still have my menu around somewhere -- I'll have to see if I can find it. The couple seated next to us asked to go back to the kitchen, so I felt a little inhibited about asking, too. But I had the most recent copy of Los Angeles magazine with Michael's picture on the cover, and he very graciously autographed it with a short message. I want to go to Ink now, because this was such a good experience.

 

Michael Cimarusti was on Top Chef Masters, right? My birthday dinner at his Providence (in West Hollywood) two years ago was, hands on, the best meal I've had so far in my life. It was a three hour meal, but the time flew by. Service was perfect -- attentive, but not obsequious-- and the food was so, so good. It's primarily a seafood restaurant, so appropriately enough, my least favorite course was the veal filet (a little bland, but still good). There was a super cheese course, and the appetizer of 3 molecular "cocktails" was so cool. My favorite was the Screwdriver which was a globe that just dissolved in your mouth.

 

Not Top Chef, but last year's birthday dinner was at a Chopped winner's -- Ado in Venice on Abbot Kinney. Best veal chop I've ever had. And the beet linguini with quail ragu was soooo delicious. I was so happy the server suggested that we share some of the courses, which worked out really well. I actually had room for dessert (yummy panna cotta)! And the house Prosecco was excellent.

 

Maybe I'll go to Ink for this year's bday!

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P.S. I also have eaten at JAR (Suzanne Tracht from Masters). I just noticed a commerical on TV that had been filmed there. Very good. She found her way into my heart with fried clams (I have a weird obsession with fried clams). And the butterscotch pudding is to die for. Be sure to leave room for it if you go there.

 

P.P.S. I almost forgot about Campanile (Mark Peel's -- another Master). I took my brother there for his birthday about five years and went about four times before they closed, because it was so comfortable with yummy food. I will always fondly remember his grilled prime rib with olive tapenade. I haven't been to the airport location yet (even though I live in PDR), because you have to go through airport security and pay for airport parking. Also, a lot of the Yelp reveiws say it isn't as good as the original restaurant. Bummer.

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I agree with other posters here on Stephanie's restaurants in Chicago-good, all of them!  The brunch at Little Goat is fantastic, the line isn't terrible at all on Sundays, plus they have a coffee/pastry area there where you can grab a cup of coffee while you wait (and share a pastry if you're hungover and starving).  Girl and The Goat is so wonderful, if the pork shank is on the menu, you must eat it.  There is nothing as primal as eating a piece of meat off of a Flintstones' size bone.

 

I ate at Chilam Balam when Chuy was still the exec chef there, it's a BYOB, but the food was tops.  I'd recommend any restaurant he's helming these days.  I've heard rave reviews about Sable and Spiaggia, in fact, Sara grated parmesan for my friend's plate when he was there and he said she was really friendly and bubbly.  

I've been to Frontera Grill and it was good, nothing mind blowing, and lots of friends that rave about Topolobombo (sp?).  I do have to say if you have a layover at O'Hare that his tortas are the best airport food in America.  

 

Sean Brock (judge) has 2 Husk restaurants, I've been to the one in Nashville, and it is probably the second best meal I've eaten in my life.  Perfection on every plate, even a dish that had crab and eggplant (I know, it sounds WEIRD) together was surprisingly my favorite.  The waiter convinced me to get the vegetarian entree (I am a true carnivore), and it was like 6 or 7 little dishes on a massive wooden platform and it was marvelous.  

 

The gnocchi at John Besh's restaurant August is the best single dish I've ever eaten.  I wanted to order 6 more and just eat that.all.day.long.

 

I got to meet Dale Levitski randomly once-my sister and I went to brunch at Sola (this has been years ago) still wearing the clothes we had on the night before (um, long story), sat at the bar, and lo and behold, there was Dale!  We opted to not ask for a photo since we did not want our appearances to be documented in any way.  But he was cool, we were the only ones up there, so he would chat with us between making drinks for other tables.  Funny guy.

 

The best meal of my life and best Top Chef restaurant experience comes from Mr. Hubert Keller, however.  We had just eaten an incredible meal with beef cheeks, amazing wine, and were starting in on our dessert when the waiter brought over another dessert tray "from the chef."  My sister asked if Keller was in the kitchen, and we were told yes.  After stuffing ourselves even more with his special tray, we were up at the hostess stand waiting for a cab when the silver fox walked up, and we went in for the kill, complimenting the food, and asking if we could get a photo, which he sweetly obliged.  My sister and I are both chatty and talkative, but we were both rendered mute by that killer accent.  He was a very sweet gentleman, and the food was the best food I've ever eaten!

Edited by larapu2000

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Sarah's not at Spiaggia any more. She says for new opportunities, but the new opportunity turned up in a small town in Florida. Tony Mantuano, from All Stars, is still there. I don't think he would sit still for her dragging that toxic attitude into his place, so it doesn't surprise me that she behaved like a civilised adult at her day job.

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I've also been to We The Pizza in D.C. A friend took us there when were were visiting because she liked it; I had no idea it was a Spike restaurant until I was waiting for the bathroom and read all the news articles about him and his restaurants on the walls. Like others have said, it's "just" pizza, but it's damn good pizza, not your standard pepperoni and cheese grease bomb. They also have a lunch combo - I think a (giant) slice of pizza, a side salad, bread? (I can't remember) and a drink was something like $8. My drink was a housemade lemon/limeade and was delicious.

 

When I go back to visit friends in Baltimore I'm totally going to make them go with me to a Bryan Voltaggio restaurant. They all sound awesome.

 

She's much less memorable, but I'd like to try (also TC: Las Vegas) Eve Aronoff's Cuban inspired restaurant, Frita Batidos (just because it's in my backyard), but I've heard good things.

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Tony Mantuano, from All Stars, is still there. I don't think he would sit still for her dragging that toxic attitude into his place, so it doesn't surprise me that she behaved like a civilised adult at her day job.

 

Quick story. During the TC Texas season, I flew into O'Hare and recognized Tony Mantuano at baggage claim. I walked up to him and asked for an autograph and told him that he must be excited to have Sarah advancing so well and he smiled and said "we are very proud of her and you can compliment her yourself since she will be here in a minute." Sure enough, she walked up while I was chatting with him about his family's restaurant in Kenosha and she was actually very nice. Bottom line is that he backed her up and did not seem concerned about what you view as a toxic attitude-personally,

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Sarah's not at Spiaggia any more. She says for new opportunities, but the new opportunity turned up in a small town in Florida. Tony Mantuano, from All Stars, is still there. I don't think he would sit still for her dragging that toxic attitude into his place, so it doesn't surprise me that she behaved like a civilised adult at her day job.

 

Who is Sarah and what small town in Florida?  I live down here and if it is close I would like to go.  

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