Reality TV chefs who are getting real
El Jardín San Diego
During Season 15 of Bravo’s Top Chef, Claudette Zepeda-Wilkins was cast as the villain, said Tejal Rao in The New York Times. But San Diego knows the recent James Beard Award nominee for her talent, and at her first restaurant, she is “coming into her full powers.” A city native who spent her childhood summers in Guadalajara, she “understands her cuisine as a jumble of indigenous, immigrant, and colonial influences,” so El Jardín “brings together dishes that don’t ordinarily live under the same roof: immense Sonoran hot dogs, Yucatecan-style octopus cooked with sour oranges, the fava bean–filled tlacoyos of Mexico City.” It’s nice to see her thriving, cultivating a neighboring garden, and commanding a gleaming open kitchen. No matter what you order, the reward is “a meal that weaves an epic culinary narrative in finely rendered and often delicious details.” Maybe the red posole will be infused with kelp or the guacamole circled with ash. Zepeda-Wilkins is a hero, not a villain: Just ask the diners on the patio who are offered big, soft blankets at the first touch of chill in the air. 2885 Perry Road, (619) 795-2322
The Standard Grill New York City
Rocco DiSpirito’s latest gig “turns out, somewhat astonishingly, to be the opposite of a train wreck,” said Adam Platt in New York magazine. Once the toast of the city—a Queens kid with looks and talent—he too soon left the kitchen to chase money and TV fame and wound up wasting 15 years hocking kitchenware on QVC and spiraling into “a whirlpool of C-list projects.” But downtown’s Standard Hotel has done well by bringing him in. Though “the lustrous, intricate style of cooking on which he made his reputation went out of fashion years ago,” it’s worthy of a curtain call. The Standard’s handsome grillroom is now selling nostalgia—“for cream-drenched pastas, white-jacket service, and old-fashioned steaks and chops”—but pleasingly updated. The signature dish, if there is one, is a “richly textured” shrimp and truffle risotto, “which I’m still dreaming about.” But the same could be said of the grilled baby chicken or the couscous-like fregola with Manila clams. “Catch the show while you can,” though, “because our restless hero never tends to stay in one place for long.” 848 Washington St., (212) 645-4100
Bullard Portland, Ore.
Until Doug Adams came along, it would have been easy to be scared off by a menu labeled “Texas Meets Oregon,” said Michael Zusman in Willamette Week. But “sometimes it feels so right to be wrong.” Adams, a Texas native who once spent a season on Top Chef playing the role of a plucky underdog, has executed his vision beautifully. In an “attractive, airy, slightly dude-ish” space at the Woodlark Hotel, he is producing plates that “ride the range between barbecue, local game, fish, and plenty of plants.” Adams’ barbecue beef rib is spoon-tender, and served with housemade tortillas and toasted tomatillo sauce. The long-aged T-bone is another thriller, served with “on-point” onion rings and a tart, truffled ranch dip. Plant-based options also abound, led by cauliflower steak with hazelnut romesco, while the local catch stars in a rainbow trout entrée and a “powerhouse” grilled-scallop tostada. 813 SW Alder St., (503) 222-1670
John Francis Peters/The New York Times/Redux, Stacy Zarin Goldberg/The Washington Post ■