Last week, we got through handicapping the top of the list for this year's James Beard Restaurant Awards. In Part 1, I gave the odds on Tom Douglas taking home the prize for Outstanding Restaurateur (30-to-1 against, and I might've been being generous) and explained why, as cool as Poppy might be in concept, local boy Jerry Traunfeld has very little chance at bringing home the gold. In my opinion, he does have a pretty good shot at making the finals, though. It might just be me, but I really do love the ideda of an all-thali restaurant. It's one of the few truly original ideas I've seen in menu design in quite some time.
Part 2 concerned both the biggest of the big, national awards (Outstanding Restaurant) and the coolest and most competitive (Rising Star Chef of the Year, a race in which Seattle has no horse). Canlis for Outstanding Restaurant? The odds are all over the board, all depending on how the spread in the finals shakes out. My completely informal win/place/show calculations gave Canlis anywhere from a 50-to-1 to a 3-to-1 shot, all based on the competition and circumstances of the final list. As for Rising Star Chef, I had my favorite and will stick by him to the bitter end.
In Part 2 was also the restaurant I saw as Seattle's best medal contender so far: Cafe Juanita for Outstanding Service. Because of a past win for Cafe Juanita, I think it has a real chance at picking up the Service award. My odds: 5-to-1 to make the finals.
Today, we're going to take on Best New Restaurant (another highly competitive category, made up of both young turks and old hands) and clean up some of the wine and pastry awards before taking a look at the big dance--the local award for Best Chef Northwest which is a huge category this year and a serious sprint for the finish line.
With all that in mind, let's get started with the big prize first.
Award: Best New Restaurant
Local Favorite: Anchovies & Olives
The Competition: Hard to say--being as these are all new restaurants, I don't know a lot about them. Thus, I've decided to judge this by how they've shown up in other award categories this year and which ones are being talked about in the press. Those of you out there who don't believe the press has any bearing on who gets the nod, just remember: they say the same thing about the Academy Awards, but that doesn't stop studios from spending gazillions of dollars on awards-season pimping for their pet projects.
The Field: This is a huge list--31 restaurants this year, more than in any other category. And by the standards I laid out above, Marea, Locanda Verde, Miller Union and A Mano ought to fill out the list for the finals. And yet, the nominating body for the Beard Awards has been known to throw in some surprise twists now and then, hanging the medal on someone that no one in their right mind would've bet on. Unfortunately, in recent years, Best New Restaurant has not been one of those wild card categories. Momofuku ko won it last year, surprising precisely nobody. Michel Richard took it for his eponymous restaurant in '08 and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon got it the year before. Big names, big restaurants, no upsets. Even the fact that this year's semi-finalists list has no absolute darlings (like Momofuku) doesn't really improve the odds for A&O. What does? That Food & Wine magazine "Best New Chef" nod in 2008 for owner Ethan Stowell. Thus, a lot will depend on the memories of those Beard foundation voters.
Moving On To The Finals: As above, A Mano and Marea. I'll leave one spot open for possible dark horse candidates and just hope like hell its Anchovies & Olives.
Final Odds: 10-1 to show, 30-1 to win
Award: Outstanding Pastry Chef
Local Favorite: James Miller of Cafe Besalu
The Competition: It's pastry. Who doesn't love pastry? This category is basically twenty of the best dessert cooks in the country all slugging it out for the hearts and appetites of all those James Beard voters.
The Field: In years past, this one has almost always gone to the chef at the biggest name restaurant. Probably because it is only the really big name restaurants that can afford to have a full pastry department in the first place, keep it stocked with the best ingredients and staffed by the biggest talent. Past winners were Babbo, Le Bernardin, Tartine Bakery in San Francisco--places like that. This year's semifinalists are somewhat less well known, but I think the impulse to reward bigness will be the same. This is truly one of those categories where those who make the semis should just consider it an honor to be nominated.
Moving On To The Finals: Amanda Cook from CityZen, Kamel Guechida from Joël Robuchon at the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino, and I'd love to see Yasmin Lozada-Hissom from Duo take home the whole thing. I mean, she won't, but I'd still love to see it.
Final Odds:Total longshot across the board
Award: Outstanding Wine Service
Local Favorite: Canlis
The Competition: I have eaten at a lot of restaurants. I have drunk a lot of wine. Of all those meals and all those bottles, I can, off the top of my head, remember the names of precisely two of the sommeliers who took care of me. One was Aldo Sohm at Le Bernardin (who took home this award last year, along with being named something like the Greatest Sommelier in the Universe), and the other is Bobby Stuckey from Frasca Food & Wine, which is nominated this year.
The Field: There are some serious heavy-hitters on this list--Alinea, Emeril's, Jean George, Restaurant Gary Danko to name just a few. Counterintuitively, I actually think Canlis has a shot here, simply because its sommelier, Nelson Daquip, has been making a big splash in the wine world over the past few years--winning awards and bringing a lot of attention to his restaurant and its wine list. Not only that, but when people are talking about Alinea or Jean George, is it really the wine that they get excited about?
Moving On To The Finals: Canlis, which has been here before (it received the same nomination last year) has a shot--and a good one.
Final Odds:3-1 to show, 5-1 to win
Addendum: Alex Golitzin from Quilceda Creek in Snohomish is also up this year for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional, a completely separate race from the one above though, oddly, making it a two-fer for nominations in 2009 and 2010. And while I don't have any particular gut feeling on this category (because I barely recognize most of the restaurants/breweries/distilleries in the running, let alone the names of those in charge), I do wish Alex nothing but the best. Go get 'em, buddy!