Feature

Critics’ choice: Three new James Beard Award winners

State Bird Provisions; Alder; Little Goat

State Bird Provisions San FranciscoThis year’s winner of the James Beard Award for the nation’s best new restaurant was attracting “just about everyone in the food world” even before its triumph last month, said Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle. The location isn’t great, the concrete-walled dining room seats a meager 45, and the lighting leans toward drab, but rival chefs can’t stay away because the food and the overall concept are so original. Most of the dishes that come from the kitchen of husband and wife Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinski don’t even appear on the short menu. Instead, food is prepared on the fly, sent out on carts, and peddled table to table, dim-sum-style. If you go, prepare to run up a bill, because “just about everything is a must-order item.” The duck-liver mousse, served with almond biscuits, is “as light as whipped butter.” The signature “state bird” is a deep-fried quail whose “mottled” exterior “brings out the richness of the meat” and is counterbalanced nicely by tart onions stewed in lemon and rosemary. Our prediction: State Bird imitators will soon be popping up from coast to coast. 1529 Fillmore St., (415) 795-1272

Alder New York CityWylie Dufresne has had a banner year, said Joshua David Stein in The New York Observer. A decade late, he’s finally won a James Beard Award for his influential work at WD-50, the “brilliant beacon of modernist cuisine” that he opened on Manhattan’s Lower East Side in 2003. And this spring he finally opened his second restaurant, a long-brewing project that’s proved to be worth the wait. A molecular gastronomy pioneer, Dufresne has by now perfected the art of “crackerizing things, yogurtizing things, and pastasizing things.” And though the menu at Alder is short, it showcases his full complement of tricks. Nothing is quite what it seems in Alder’s rustic dining room. The oyster crackers in the New England clam chowder? They’re dehydrated oysters, “pureed, turned into dough, and fried.” The “pigs in a blanket” are really Chinese sausages wrapped in a hot dog bun that’s been run through a pasta machine. In lesser hands, these twists of technique could be pretentious, disastrous even. But at Alder, each simulacrum isn’t merely more delicious than the original—it also “makes you smile.” 157 2nd Ave., (212) 539-1900

Little Goat Chicago“Sometimes what can’t possibly be good for you is just what you need,” said Mike Sula in the Chicago Reader. At diners across our great land, the sentiment could be a mantra, as it certainly is at Little Goat, the diner-style offshoot of Stephanie Izard’s acclaimed Girl & the Goat. Izard, who just took James Beard honors for the ultra-competitive Great Lakes region, has given herself more room with this project to make a discipline of her instinct for excess. At Little Goat, she lets things fly with a dizzying compendium of reimagined diner fare, such as eggs and pancakes chopped together with kimchee and bacon, or the “visually repellent but ultimately winning” breakfast spaghetti with clams. Misfires occur, including overcooked burgers and bland home fries. Then again, everything tastes better with a milkshake made from pork-fat ice cream. 820 W. Randolph St., (312) 888-3455

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