With so many names on the James Beard Foundation's newly-released list of semifinalists for its 2013 restaurant awards, there's ample grounds for grousing. Nearly every eater will be able to cite at least one snub or nonsensical nomination.
So to get the bone-picking out of the way at the outset, I was very surprised to see Shanik score a best new restaurant nod. Not only was the Vij's spin-off open for only 27 qualifying days, but over the course of my review visits, I didn't detect anything like the "excellence in food, beverage, and service...that is likely to make a significant impact in years to come," which the award requires.
My review won't appear in print until next week, so you'll have to check back to learn why I'm pitching a fit if the South Lake Restaurant robs fellow local semifinalist The Whale Wins of a finalist slot (an extremely unlikely occurrence, since the list also includes such heavyweights as Portland's Ox, Oxheart and Underbelly, both in Houston, and San Francisco's State Bird Provisions.)
The highly exceptional The Whale Wins was one of two Seattle restaurants to appear on the list twice, earning a Best Chef Northwest mention for chef Renee Erickson. (Canlis also doubled up with a Best Chef Northwest slot for Jason Franey, and an Outstanding Restaurant nod.) Erickson and Franey are joined in the category by Nathan Lockwood of Altura, Ethan Stowell of Staple & Fancy, Jason Stratton of Spinasse and Rachel Yang and Seif Chirchi, listed for their work at Joule. Many of the most familiar names in Portland are also vying for consideration: Greg Denton and Gabrielle Quiñónez Denton of Ox, John Gorham of Toro Bravo, Naomi Pomeroy of Beast, Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon and Cathy Whims of Nostrana are all long-listed for Best Chef Northwest honors.
In the prestigious "Outstanding Chef" category, Seattle's Maria Hines - a member of the foundation's inaugural edition of Chefs Boot Camp for Policy and Change - and Portland's Vitaly Paley were the only Northwesterners to make the cut.
The region also fared well in the "Rising Chef" category, which recognizes a chef aged 30 years or younger. Interestingly, two of the three Seattle area semifinalists represent restaurants associated with hotels (Mark Bodinet of Copperleaf and Blaine Wetzel of The Willows Inn), while the third, Chris Weber, works for the long-established Herbfarm. While stalwarts are perhaps better positioned to take a chance on young talent, it's a shame there isn't a Pacific Northwest upstart restaurant on the list.
Also on the list for potential finalist status: Canon for Outstanding Bar Program; William Leaman of Bakery Nouveau for Outstanding Pastry Chef; Cafe Juanita for Outstanding Service and John Howie for Outstanding Restaurateur. Good luck, folks.
You'll find the full list here.