February 23, 2012
When Charlie Trotter announced, just past the stroke of midnight on New Year's Day, that he would be closing his eponymous Chicago restaurant at the end of August, quite a few people vowed to get to Charlie Trotter's, one last time or even for the very first time, before it was too late.
Some of those people, I predict, won't get it done on time. But at least they had ample warning. More often than not, restaurants close abruptly, sometimes shockingly so. One day it's here, next day it's gone, and for those who always meant to visit, the opportunity is lost.
As a restaurant critic, I dine out a lot, and even I don't get to go everywhere; to this day, I wish I'd gotten a chance to eat at The Bakery, a seminal Chicago restaurant that closed before I got this job. And there are a lot of restaurants — Gary Danko in San Francisco, CityZen in Washington — that are still on my to-do list. So, with Trotter's upcoming departure in mind, I asked a handful of chefs to name the restaurants that they have yet to visit, and the gone-forever restaurants they wish they'd been able to experience. This is what they said:
Scott Anderson, elements, Princeton, N.J.
The one to visit: "Where I want to eat the most is David Kinch's Manresa (Los Gatos, Calif.)." The one that got away: "L2O (Chicago), when Laurent Gras was there, is the one that got away."
Jim Burke, Caffe Storico, New York
The one to visit: "Being in New York certainly has an effect on what these answers are. The restaurant I'd like to visit most is Eleven Madison Park; I love the mystery and spontaneity of the tasting menu, and am very impressed with the blending of classic and modern techniques and flavor combinations." The one that got away: "Not to sound corny, but Charlie Trotter's will be the one that got away. I've always had tremendous respect for him as a chef, and found it remarkable that he was able to continue to push his menu forward after so many successful years and so many accolades."
Paula DaSilva, 1500 Degrees, Miami Beach, Fla.
The one to visit: "Currently I'm trying to get tickets to eat at Grant Achatz's Next. I really admire Grant's perseverance and passion for this industry; I also find his style of cuisine very interesting. It's very different from my style of cooking, so I would love to try it." The one that got away: "Sorry, I don't have an answer for this one; nothing comes to my mind."
Graham Elliot, Graham Elliot and Grahamwich, Chicago
The one to visit: "The one I'm anxious to try right now is Manresa. I had the chance to cook with chef (David) Kinch at an event in Bangkok, and am super-excited to experience his cuisine firsthand." The one that got away: "I wish I had had a chance to try Town House, in the middle of nowhere (Chilhowie, Va.), while chefs John and Karen Shields were still there; they departed just last week."
Stephanie Izard, Girl & the Goat, Chicago
The one to visit: "Asador Etxebarri, in Spain. Simple food cooked primarily over firewood sounds perfect." The one that got away: "I would have loved to have gone to Barney's Market Club on Randolph Street; it would have been great to get that authentic diner feel right in this neighborhood."
Edward Lee, 610 Magnolia, Louisville, Ky.
The one to visit: "Ryugin in Tokyo; chef Seiji Yamamoto is doing some incredible things with modern kaiseki." The one that got away: "I guess El Bulli (Spain), but also Lumiere in Vancouver. But mostly I regret never going to Elaine's in New York. I grew up there, probably walked past it a million times, but it never crossed my mind to go in. I figured it would always be there."
Joseph Lenn, The Barn at Blackberry Farm, Walland, Tenn.
The one to visit: "In the States, Manresa. Out of country, Asador Etxebarri." The one that got away: "In the States, Seeger's (Atlanta); out of country, El Bulli."
Andrew Little, The Dining Room at Sheppard Mansion, Hanover, Pa.
The one to visit: "I would really like to visit the French Laundry (Yountville, Calif.). There are so many reasons, but the main reason is that my parents bought me (chef/owner Thomas) Keller's cookbook early in my career, and that book and his work have had such a profound impact on American dining that I feel I need to eat there." The one that got away: "Top of my list would have to be Jean Louis at the Watergate Hotel (Washington) The stories about the food and Jean-Louis (the late Jean-Louis Palladin) are legendary."
Tory McPhail, Commander's Palace, New Orleans
The one to visit: "Tru (Chicago)." The one that got away: "El Bulli."
Julian Medina, Yerba Buena, Toloache and Coppelia, New York City
The one to visit: "I would love to get to Chicago and try either of Grant Achatz's restaurants, Alinea or Next; he is doing incredible things and I wish I had the time to experience a meal of his." The one that got away: "Lespinasse, and The Quilted Giraffe. I would have loved to have dined at these iconic New York restaurants."
Andre Rochat, Andre's, Las Vegas
The one to visit: "Maison Troisgros in Roanne (France)." The one that got away: "El Bulli."
Patricio Sandoval, Mercadito, New York City and Chicago
The one to visit: "French Laundry. Still one of the best restaurants in the world, in my eyes; Thomas Keller really pioneered the whole local movement, and I would love to see their back-of-the-house process." The one that got away: "El Bulli. It changed the way we looked at food, especially in the world of gastronomy; you see Ferran Adria's influences everywhere, and it would have been amazing to experience it."
Art Smith, Table Fifty-Two, Chicago, and Art and Soul, Washington
The one to visit: "Next, and chef Grant Achatz. He is everything I am not, but I respect him greatly. Hope to get a ticket, but it seems like winning the lottery if you get one." The one that got away: "Cafe Provencal in Evanston. At 29 years of age I had just moved to Chicago and met (the late) chef Leslee Reis. A great culinary star, whom I consider to be Chicago's Julia Child and Alice Waters. Loved her, but never got a chance to eat at her famed restaurant."
Dale Talde, Talde, Brooklyn, N.Y.
The one to visit: "I've always wanted to eat at Michel Bras' restaurant in Laguiole, France. I've always admired his philosophies, and his food just looks so beautiful." The one that got away: "I wish I had been able to go to Le Francais in Wheeling. Jean Banchet is credited with bringing fine dining to Chicago, and because I'm from there, I think he deserves credit for helping us start on our paths as chefs."
Rick Tramonto, R'Evolution, New Orleans
The one to visit: "Restaurant Noma (Copenhagen) and chef Rene Redzepi." The one that got away: "Marc Veyrat's restaurant (La Maison de Marc Veyrat in France); I loved his stuff so much, and two times I tried to eat there and both times it did not happen because of flights, or time."
Bryan Voltaggio, Volt, Frederick, Md.
The one to visit: "Alinea and Moto in Chicago; Manresa in Los Gatos." The one that got away: "El Bulli, and soon of course, Charlie Trotter's in Chicago."