2000s Archive


Reef restaurant

Reef excels at the kind of offhand organic fusion that typifies Houston cuisine at its best.


Frontera Grill and Topolobampo

There was sustained applause back in May when chef Rick Bayless’s Frontera Grill won the James Beard Foundation Award as America’s Outstanding Restaurant for 2007. It’s too bad the award couldn’t have included Frontera’s joined-at-the-hip sibling, Topolobampo. The two share an entrance, a telephone number, and some stunning Mexican art. Frontera is a grill restaurant that creates celestial renditions of quesadillas, tacos, and mole poblano, while Topolobampo is more sophisticated in decor and offers food that is more complex. The dishes at both places may have familiar names, but you won’t find them made with such superior ingredients and care anywhere else. 445 N. Clark St., Chicago (312-661-1434)


At Grace, chef-owner Neal Fraser has always used a wide variety of local and California-grown ingredients in his contemporary American dishes. Recently, though, he’s become even more committed to the idea of sustainability, adding a “Close to Home” tasting menu three nights a week. His goal? To serve a five-course meal in which 90 percent of the ingredients are sourced from within 400 miles of his four-year-old restaurant. It’s a tough challenge, but with dishes like grilled pork from a nearby farm served with sugar snap peas and a grainy mustard sauce, or local filet mignon with haricots verts, he manages to meet it, week after week. 7360 Beverly Blvd., Los Angeles (323-934-4400)


Josie Le Balch and her chef de cuisine, Jill Davie, are regulars at the Santa Monica Farmers Market, and the menu here showcases their finds. Farm-fresh produce shows up in dishes like a jewel-box tomato and herbed-goat-cheese tart with wild arugula and opal basil, a simple, pretty heirloom melon salad, and bacon-wrapped quail with a chowder of summer corn. 2424 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica (310-581-9888)

Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink

Chef Michael Schwartz finally has a place of his own in the Miami Design District, and he makes the most of it with dishes calculated to get people talking. Entrées—whole oven-roasted snapper with fennel, lemon, and smoked fleur de sel; and pan-roasted poulet rouge with garlic mashed potatoes—showcase Schwartz’s ability to fine-tune locally sourced ingredients. 130 N.E. 40th St., Miami (305-573-5550)


Reef is something new under the Texas sun: a restaurant devoted to the glorification of local and regional seafood. Chef Bryan Caswell (who last served as Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s lieutenant at Bank, in Houston’s Hotel Icon) is a native-son fisherman and a smart, sophisticated young ol’ boy who scours the area farmers markets for ingredients. Caswell excels at the kind of offhand organic fusion that typifies Houston cuisine at its best. Tempura-fried soft-shelled crabs come with a taqueria-style pickled-vegetable relish, alive with discreet chile heat. Meaty roasted grouper is served with braised collards and strewn with roasty pecan cracklings. Even the immaculate market salad is endlessly varied with the haul from area gardens: baby turnips, infant carrot batons, herbs as true as an arrow. 2600 Travis St., Houston (713-526-8282)

Rendezvous in Central Square

Long a mover and shaker in Boston’s farm-to-table efforts—he originated the Fresh Sheet, a broadsheet sent biweekly to city chefs to let them know what local farmers have on hand—chef-owner Steve Johnson puts it all to work at Rendezvous. Located in Cambridge’s somewhat gritty Central Square, it is a convivial oasis where faculty and students from Harvard and MIT join neighborhood residents and area foodies to swoon over a menu featuring the flavors of Italy, France, Spain, and North Africa. 502 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, MA (617-576-1900)


No chef in Texas is more fiercely committed to the gospel of local and seasonal dining than Monica Pope. At her minimalist temple in Houston’s trendy midtown, Pope cossets diners with such luxuries as the year’s first corn—its kernels incredibly tiny and milky—folded together with heirloom tomatoes into a gentle salad. Every night, Pope’s modular mix-and-match menu features a five-course “Texas tasting menu” that, at $45, is one of the state’s best deals—especially when paired with Texas wines for an extra $20. 3701 Travis St., Houston (713-524-6922)


You wouldn’t think Bill Telepan’s food, served in a soothing pale-green dining room situated in the middle of a block of tidy Manhattan brownstones, would be such a mess. But a glorious, playful mess it is. Plates come decked out in panoplies of superb vegetables and splashed with intense reductions and oils. A salad of sweet lettuces looks like a haunted house under webs of cheese, and every bite can contain a surprise, like a slice of duck sausage that crackles with sweet figs. Add a wine list that prides itself on unusual bottles, and you have a real party. Just don’t wake the neighbors. 72 W. 69th St., New York City (212-580-4300)

White Dog Cafe

Conscientious diners (and objectors) have been taking refuge in this warren of knickknack-laden rooms for almost 25 years. Owner Judy Wicks was one of the early proponents of sustainable agriculture practices and small family farms. Not much has changed, save the menu, now shepherded by chef Andrew Brown. 3420 Sansom St., Philadelphia (215-386-9224)


This big, bustling restaurant with a two-level outdoor deck built from recycled lumber and plastic manages to maintain the same level of sustainability as places half its size. The boisterous young crowds come for the ambience, but they also come for chef Christopher Blobaum’s food: fall fruit salad with Point Reyes blue cheese, Sonoma duck breast with black-grape and almond ragout—and, on Tuesday night, an ice cream extravaganza from pastry chef Danielle Keene. 2454 Wilshire Blvd., Santa Monica (310-586-1707)

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