Most of these restaurants have been open less than a year, but are achieving success. We invite you on a cross-country table-hop.
Set my people frites!
Bandol is not the flavor-of-the-month, hot new restaurant in Seattle. In fact, few locals even know about it. This unassuming bistro, whose name says it all, offers the flavors and sips of southern France to sun-starved Seattle-ites.
The décor is plain and functional. Bandol’s strengths are clearly its food and wine, both made for sampling in snack-sized portions. Better yet, during Happy Hour (3-6 pm M-F), much of the main menu is available at a steep discount.
Try the deep-fried stuffed olives; the decadent pommes frites; the frisée salad with its luscious bacon vinaigrette and poached egg; the saffron-scented fish soup or the thick, flavorful cassoulet. Then dive into the wine list, a tantalizing mix of modestly priced French and Pacific Northwest wines that offers three dozen selections by the glass, pichet or bottle. The featured tasting flight—”Three Great Wines from Bandol”—includes generous pours of Bandol blanc, rouge and rosé for just $12.
Dig through the Captain’s List and you’ll find such gems as a Soter Vineyards Brut Rosé from Willamette Valley, a Buty Winery Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc from Walla Walla and a Domaine Chantral Lescure Volnay. But the best part of Bandol is its genuine lack of pretension. Unlike the better-known bistros in all-too-hip Belltown, the service here is as good as the food, and you don’t have to be a regular to get a table. Bandol, Smith Tower, 508 Second Avenue, Seattle, WA; 206/447-0222 — Paul Gregutt
Foie gras, not frou-frou
Chef Laurent Manrique’s bistro, Sonoma Saveurs, has quickly become a favorite haunt for locals and tourists who congregate in Sonoma town’s fashionable Plaza. It is intimate, crowded and, best of all, unpretentious. The menu (lunch and dinner are the same) is wine-country fancy, with modestly priced grill and roti plates, sandwiches, fresh soups and salads, an extensive selection of take-home charcuterie, and plenty of foie gras. The wine list is color coded to guide diners through a spectrum that ranges from crisp, racy white wines to full-bodied reds—50 selections, all local. Sonoma Saveurs, 487 First Street West, Sonoma, CA; 707/996-7007 — Steve Heimoff
The re-opening of the Door
In one of San Francisco’s most anticipated openings of the year, the new Slanted Door restaurant reopened in the Ferry Building, the grandly restored marketplace located downtown on the Bay. Chef Charles Phan’s French-inspired Vietnamese fare has been wowing diners in several locations since he first opened in 1996.
Slanted Door’s food is worth seeking out. Signature plates, such as grilled Willis Ranch pork loin with ginger-soy-shallot sauce and fresh Florida gulf shrimp with sing qua and giant oyster mushrooms, highlight the powerful balances of heat and sweet Phan is famous for. It’s a cuisine around which wine director Mark Ellenbogen has carefully crafted his 85-item wine list, with its reliance on fruity German and Austrian white wines and Loire reds. Bottle prices are kept relatively low by incorporating value appellations, such as Chinon, Bourgueil and St.-Aubin, although label fanatics can choose stalwarts like Haut-Brion if they want. There’s also a good selection of wines by the glass.
Slanted Door’s eclectic new look, by famed San Francisco designer Olle Lundberg, is museum-tech modern, with exposed steel plates, natural stone and floor-to-ceiling windows with staggering views of the Bay. Reservations are tough to get, so plan ahead. Slanted Door, One Ferry Building, San Francisco, CA; 415/861-8032 — S. H.
But do they pour Jekel?
With its rustic-fancy fare, daily changing menu and reliance on organic products, 1550 Hyde, located on romantic Russian Hill, is giving San Franciscans what they want.
Chef Peter Erickson’s Mediterranean-influenced plates reflect his stints at Chez Panisse and Bizou. Prices are high, but 1550 Hyde is a destination. The wine list, lovingly cultivated by Erickson’s partner, Kent Liggett, takes full advantage of the current glut, especially in the 24-item by-the-glass choices, with all wines below $9. The blue steel and yellow onyx wine bar is the perfect place to try a flight of pours with a plate of marinated olives or prosciutto-wrapped radicchio with basil aioli. 1550 Hyde, at Pacific Avenue, San Francisco, CA; 415/775-1550 — S.H.
A jolt to the taste buds
In a city where the average waitperson is more interested in his or her next audition than the tenets of professional service, Sona‘s staff bucks the trend. Executive Chef David Myers and his wife, Michelle, who is the pastry chef and also Sona’s co-wine director, have made a steadfast commitment to first-rate food, wine and service.
As an artistic chef who changes his menu all time, Myers enjoys jolting his customers’ taste buds. Nearly all appetizers contain a fruit-based element, often citrus. Vinegars, marmalades and fruit emulsions are commonplace. On the “seconds menu,” fish, some uncommon, comprise about half the selections. Among the palate-probing preparations are ceviche of diver scallops and oysters pickled in a yuzu-shuzo broth, and confit of wild Scottish salmon served atop puréed fennel and dressed with veal jus. The meat dishes, often based on products procured from boutique farms, are equally tempting.
For dessert, don’t miss Michelle Myers’s (formerly of Patina) heavenly apple, quince and walnut strudel or her “martinis,” which come across as free-association concoctions of fruit, cream and sorbet served in a cocktail glass. Sona, 401 N. La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles; 310/659-7708 — Michael Schachner
How far from Barcelona does one have to go to find authentic arroz negro (black squid-ink rice)? The answer, surprisingly, is Hollywood, California, at a wine bar/restaurant called A.O.C. Co-owners Caroline Styne (the sommelier) and Suzanne Goin (the chef here as well as at trés popular Lucques) have flat-out nailed the blueprint for the upscale American tapas restaurant.
Begin with charcuterie, some crostini, or maybe some delectable dried figs served with goat cheese. Next up, a Caesar salad of escarole, touched up with radicchio and grated parmesan. Then go for that brilliant arroz negro, which is baked in a wood-burning oven and served in its own crock. And finally, dig into the house specialty: lamb chunks on a skewer, served atop carrot purée and drizzled with yogurt.
Styne’s friendly crew pours more than 50 wines by the glass or carafe. Backing that up is an A-grade wine list that pays homage to California but excels with its French offerings. Fairly priced winners off the full list include Eric Texier’s 2001 Condrieu, Domaine Tempier’s 2000 Bandol, and for dessert, the Dr. Parce 2000 Banyuls Rimage. A.O.C., 8022 West 3rd Street, Los Angeles; 323/653-6359 — M. S.
Rocca around the clock
Two Dons, neither Italian, are drawing fans of refined trattoria fare to their recently opened Rocca, an 85-seat lofted space in downtown Santa Monica. The aim, if there is one, says owner Don Dikmak, is to recapture the great Italian dishes and dining customs he has long admired. Chef Don Dickman delivers on his partner’s promise to deliver true paesan flavors.
In addition to starters such as salumi, authentic bagna cauda, and fresh, crunchy salads, expect ultrafresh pastas numbering about eight as well as satisfying entrées like swordfish with pepperonata and asparagus, or tender lamb chops dressed with sunchokes, oyster mushrooms and minted yogurt. Dickman’s rustic but subtle touch, honed over 20 years of cooking in L.A. and Italy, is just right for wines including the Casanuova delle Cerbaie 1998 Brunello di Montalcino, Zenato’s 2000 Valpolicella Ripassa, or Santa Anastasia’s 2000 Nero d’Avola from Sicily.
And if you don’t care to choose from Rocca’s collection of about 40 mostly excellent Italian wines, corkage on your own bottle is a mere $10. Rocca, 1432-A 4th Street, Santa Monica, CA; 310/395-6765 — M. S.
Every meal is a masterpiece at the art-themed Studio at Montage Resort & Spa Laguna Beach. The restaurant, perched on a 50-foot bluff, has a sweeping 280-degree view of the ocean through open-air windows. The décor is described as “arts and crafts,” but it feels homey—billionaire-homey.
Executive Chef James Boyce’s Mediterranean-influenced menu changes often, but starters have included roasted foie gras with cipollini onions and niçoise olives, and pan-seared skate wing with porcini mushrooms and dates with a tamarind-ginger caramel. Pan-seared New Zealand John Dory makes a frequent appearance as an entrée. Pastry Chef Richard Ruskell’s desserts are just as pleasing to eye and palate.
The restaurant’s cellars boast 35,000 bottles of 1,800 labels, a vigorous Champagne program, a great many half bottles and a “Gallery Class” wine by-the-glass program that includes Alois Kracher, Opus One and Trimbach Cuvée Frédéric Émile. Studio, Montage Resort & Spa, 30801 South Coast Highway, Laguna Beach, CA; 949/715-6000 — Tim Moriarty
Best Sushi in a Landlocked State
Rob Cronin got his first taste of Hailey, Idaho in 1995 when he came west to open The Mint Bar for Bruce Willis. Now Cronin, his wife, Kris, and partners are the ones who’ve achieved celebrity status.
Fresh tropical fish arrives from Honolulu at 8:30 am every day. By evening, Zou 75 is packed with locals and tourists, anxious for the unusual sushi. Some offerings are named after ski slope signs, such as the Black Diamond, with spicy firecracker scallops; others are named for frequent celebrity diners, like the Priestley Roll (as in Jason), with hamachi, shiitake mushrooms and garlic chips. Executive chef Earnest Ouellett is a CIA grad; sushi chef Motohiko Sato hails from Japan. But Kris Cronin is partial to local contributions, both on the menu—you’ll find maki roll made with Idaho trout—as well as the wine list—try the L’Ecole No. 41 Semillon from nearby Walla Walla, Washington. Zou 75, 416 North Main Street, Hailey, ID; 208/788-3310 — Margaret Littman
Both pinnacle and peak
Located on six acres at the base of Pinnacle Peak, Sassi is a dramatic villa-as-restaurant featuring stone floors, wood trellises, a blazing limestone hearth and original log-beamed ceilings. The restaurant gives northern Scottsdale residents an authentic taste of Italy’s countryside trattorias, with a simple yet stellar menu created by chef Wade Moises, a veteran of Mario Batali’s Lupa, in New York City.
To match the home-style Italian fare, Wine Director and General Manager Stephen Plunkett has assembled a mostly Italian list featuring high-end bottles from Piedmont and Tuscany, and lots of food-friendly values from Puglia (Colli de Lapi Fiano de Avellino), Sicily (Hauner Rosso Antenello, a Nero d’Avola and Sangiovese blend), and Sardinia (Argiolas Vermentino), and a few impressive Cal-Itals like Runquist Sangiovese, and Martin and Weyrich Nebbiolo. Sassi, 10455 East Pinnacle Peak Parkway, Scottsdale, AZ; 480/502-9095 — Andrea Strong
La Lou’s loo is a lulu
With the glitter of gold leaf to beckon the stylish set, The Bar & Bistro at La Louisiane has managed to maintain the integrity of its historic building—original brickwork, natural cypress, gas lighting and copper fixtures. Like the renovation, the reasonably priced menu and wine list are a fusion of old and new, offering both current and classic selections inspired by French-Creole, Italian and Mediterranean cuisines. The flavor of the Bourbon-marinated hanger steak is enhanced by a bold chipotle butter and pairs beautifully with a Boutari Merlot. Cap off a meal with Valpolicella-spiked chocolate pudding. The split-level arrangement of the dining rooms flanked by open French windows makes people-watching at “La Lou” unparalleled. This includes the perch in the first-floor “loo,” which is enclosed by one-way mirrors, so the occupant can see, but not be seen, while keeping an eye on the restaurant’s lively scene. The Bar & Bistro at La Louisiane, 725 Iberville Street, New Orleans, LA; 504/378-8200 — Kendall Gensler
For more restaurant reviews, check out this month’s issue of Wine Enthusiast.