beardcoinjbf.jpg
Did the James Beard Foundation get it right? More to the point, can you?

Beard Awards season opened this morning with the release of the

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Pick the Beard Finalists, Win a Prize

beardcoinjbf.jpg
Did the James Beard Foundation get it right? More to the point, can you?

Beard Awards season opened this morning with the release of the restaurant and chef semi-finalists list, setting off the groundless speculation and heartfelt gripes that accompany the start of any hunting season.

The Seattle area has an unlucky 13 representatives (or two more than Portland, if you count that sort of thing), with Canlis the only multiple semi-finalist among them. The restaurant snagged mentions in the Outstanding Restaurant, Outstanding Wine Program and Best Chef Northwest categories. It failed to semi-final for Best Service, a category in which the institution competed last year for the fourth time. According to the Beard Foundation, if Seattle diners are in the mood for semi-final level service, they'll have to travel to San Francisco.

And, speaking of institutions and consecutive mentions, Tom Douglas - who won Best Chef Northwest back in 1994 - is again up for consideration in the Outstanding Restaurateur division.

The Beard Foundation has a reputation for making safe choices, a predilection perhaps reflected in the nominations for Renee Erickson and the husband-wife team of Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi: While The Walrus & Carpenter and Revel have been rightly lauded for their daring, dynamic cooking, Erickson was nominated for Boat Street Café and Yang and Chirchi were tapped for their work at Joule.

But there are a few new names on the list: Altura scored a surprising semi-final finish in the Best New Restaurant division, and Zig Zag became Seattle's first semi-finalist in the newly-created Outstanding Bar Program category.

While it would be excellent if every semi-finalist could secure a finalist spot, longtime Beard watchers know that's not how the game is played: Dozens of worthy contenders won't make it to the next round. But which semi-finalists will get the early cut? We're offering a restaurant gift certificate and a cookbook to the first reader who can tell us in the comments section which Seattle area semi-finalists (listed below) will survive to compete in New York on May 7.

Finalists will be announced on Mar. 19, when we'll also report our contest winner.

Best New Restaurant

Altura

Outstanding Chef

Holly Smith, Café Juanita

Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional

Alex Golitzin, Quilceda Creek Vintners

Rising Star Chef of the Year

Blaine Wetzel, Willows Inn

Outstanding Bar Program

Zig Zag Café

Outstanding Restaurant

Canlis

Outstanding Restaurateur

Tom Douglas, Tom Douglas Restaurants

Outstanding Wine Program

Canlis

Best Chef Northwest

Matt Dillon, Sitka & Spruce

Renee Erickson, Boat Street Café

Jason Franey, Canlis

Ethan Stowell, Staple & Fancy Mercantile

Jason Stratton, Spinasse

Rachael Yang and Seif Chirchi, Joule

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