Best and Worst of USA

April 21, 2008

Midway through my trip around the United States, I’ve been fascinated by this opportunity to see what and how America is eating today. So here are a few rants and raves to date.

RAVES

*Rotisario (600 First Street, Oxbox Public Market, Napa, CA)

This casual rotisserie restaurant in the sleek new Oxbox market is a concept that deserves to go national. Charming Swiss owner Thomas Odermatt, who got an MBA at Berkeley and then threw over the business world to share his ancestral (he’s descended from a long line of master butchers in Zurich) love of food, serves up terrific spit-roasted free-range chickens, roast pork, porchetta, meatloaf, roast lamb and some of the best fries I’ve ever eaten anywhere (potato slivers and fresh herbs cooked in small batches, sprinkled with kosher salt and served with garlic mayonnaise). There are 8 seats at the counter, but you can also eat on the deck outside.

*Ferry Terminal Market, San Francisco. I could have spent hours and hours at one of the world’s greatest new food markets, and the Stone Hill California olive oil with Persian lime sold here is so good that two bottles will be flying back to France with me.

*Wolfgang Puck, O’Hare International Airport, Chicago. If only Orly and Charles de Gaulle had a restaurant as good as the Puck pizza-pasta-and-grill franchises at O’Hare. Not cheap, but very tasty and reasonably healthy, with a nice selection of wines by the glass. And you’ve got to love a place that sprinkles a little fresh basil on your pizza, to boot.

*Frontera Grill, Chicago. Rick Bayliss’s Mexican in downtown Chicago is better than ever, and brilliant appeased by permanent craving for one of the world’s great cuisines (Mexican), something we just don’t get in Paris.

*Japonica, University Place, New York, NY. The bento-box meals at one of my favorite Japanese restaurants are one of the world’s best buys.

*Mariella Pizza, 57th and 9th Avenue, New York, NY. Excellent pizza by the slice.

*Ardour, Saint Regis Hotel, New York, NY. I had the best and most intelligent wines-by-the-glass experience of my entire life during a tasting dinner at Alain Ducasse’s new New York restaurant. The young female sommelier here is a genuis.

RANTS

*Why has it become so difficult to find a good bagel in New York City?

*The quality of the food at almost all of the food stalls on the lower-level concourse of Grand Central Station in New York City  has skidded into real mediocrity.

*Wine prices in American restaurants have become absurd, with the prize in this category to be awarded to the Four Seasons lobby bar in Washington, DC for a $55 bottle of dead ordinary California sauvignon blanc.

*As long as I live, I’ll never understand the appeal of the Philadelphia cheese steak, and believe me, I’ve tried–popped in Reading Terminal Market and gave it another go when I was down in the City of Brotherly Love doing a radio interview. Any elucidation on this matter would be welcome.

*I wish that more serious American wine shops would renounce classifying their wines by cepage, since this means next to nothing and makes it nearly impossible for anyone with a European wine background to shop vino here.

  • A great list — thanks. I’m a native, life-long New Yorker, but I’ve never been to either Japonica or Mariella Pizza, so I’ll have to put them on my go-to list.

    When I was in Napa in January, there was so much excitement about the soon-to-open Rotisario, I’m delighted to hear that the reality lived up to the expectations. I loved that market and would happily return in an instant. Ditto, the Ferry Terminal Market, which, I was told, was developed by the same genius who put together Oxbow.

    I’m so glad that even with your crazy book-tour schedule you’re finding time to enjoy the local scene and to share it with us.

  • richard waltzer

    I regret to point out that you missed a great one while in Napa – Ubuntu.

    Your book is the perfect blend of restaurants we know and those we don’t; and those we agree on and those we don’t. Very much like a good dinner conversation.

    Hope LA will be added to your tour.

  • RouxTheDay (stacey)

    I so wish I’d found this site before your trip ended, Alex (thanks to Dorie for her write-up of your new book and the link to this site). Otherwise, I’d have directed you to an amazing Mexican food dive in the Boyle Heights area of Los Angeles. El Tepeyac is a true SoCal institution (at least by LA’s fickle, short-lived standards), and should not be missed the next time you’re in town.

    Thanks for the wonderful book. I’ll be hungrily visiting this site often!