Since it was first seen in Paris in 1935, the famous blue-and-red Les Routiers symbolÂ has traditionally identified restaurants and bars of individual character – mainly owner managed – offering excellent food and good value for money.Â In an age of uniformity, fast food and charmless chains, the members of Les Routiers are not only passionate about what they do, they are the best of their kind, too, whether it is a small cafe serving exceptional sandwiches or a table d’hote laid out with silver and fine china in a luxe hotel or a food truck parked at the side of the road. Tobermory is lucky to have all of these options within easy reach, but it’s the last one that keeps drawing me back. SituatedÂ at the head of the pierÂ in the exact center of town, Fisherman’s Pier chippie gets its fish and shellfish from the boats as they return each afternoon, so whatever’s the catch of the day is what you’ll find battered alongside handcut chips that evening, be it haddock, pollack, scrod, scallops or lobsters. (The cod is lovely, too, but there’s no way it’s come off a lone dayboat.) In this rare stretch of sunny Scottish weather, it’s a most pleasant meal and at 7 pounds, a fair bargain, too. Feet dangling off the end ofÂ the dock, the only thing I’d add would be a chilled glass of rose to take the edge off the setting sun.
Of all the noisy restaurantsÂ in this abominably loud city to Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch must go the dubious distinction of sporting the most inexplicably ear-splitting acoustics. While the decor is a pleasingly comfortable homespun ode to American earnestness, the decibel level makesÂ it a little like dining on the verge of the BQE or trying to eat in the mosh pit of a rock concert: you live in fear of being bumped from all sides because honestly, there’s no way a group of ordinary humans could be THIS LOUD. I want to make the font larger, the bold bolder, the caps more capital to emphasize just how loud the hive is because even for a Saturday night in Soho it is VERY, VERY LOUD! Â And that takes away from the food, I fear, which is pretty darn delicious from soup to nuts. As twilight gently envelope a momentarily quiet corner window table we start with Jersey asparagus because – smelly pee be damned – ’tis the season for asparagus. (In food fetish circles mid-May generally marks the time ramps relinquish their crown to the noble asparagi) Fragrant, toothsome, adorned with the slightest hint of tarragon and the buttery yolk of a fried – versus poached – egg, it’s like eating stalks of spring: verdant, earthy, and above all, vital. Steak tartare is equally alive, the beef tasting of its grassy diet and topped with white anchovy and a piquant dollop of caesar salad. A dozen New England oysters follow: meaty Massachusetts Peter’s Point and Rhody Matunucks thick with brine. Maybe it was the first round of cocktails – for me,Â The Last Oaxacan, a smoky mix of yellow Chartreuse and pineapple infused Mezcal; an aromatic blend of Thai basil, kaffir lime and vodkaÂ for my partner in crime,Â the Cassia Blossom – or the first bottle of Trimbach, but it’s at this point I notice we are speaking quite loudly while leaning in across the table to listen to each other. When main courses arrive we pay significantly more attention to our plates because it’s a losing battle trying converse at aÂ sufficientÂ volume while not shooting torpedos of food at the person across from you. It’s a taste-a-palooza, however, so we’re bothÂ happyÂ to shut up and dig in. I’ve got five plump sea scallops glazed with bacon jam, jalapeno and kumquat. It’s a smoky-spicy-citrus trifecta that makes me want to shout “Yahtzee!” Across the table, my friend has a bowl of tarragon-roasted chicken with morels and charred leeks. The earthyÂ smells perfume the table like narcotics and we happily pass plates back and forth inÂ silence,Â like a joint shared at the beach – as oblivious to the noise asÂ theÂ crash of the surf. It’s a happy spell of satiety that’s cast, made even better by dessert – an ethereal banana cream pie that makes me yearn for summer. In fact everything this evening, save the noise, has been soÂ seasonallyÂ focused that it has me looking forward to what might follow: summer corn, blueberries,Â andÂ sea bass; autumn lamb, apples, and winter game. Chef Carmellini, you can cook for me anytime. But could you find a way to keep it down just a bit?
I’d been dreading this moment since I started the Top 100 project. Mind you, I knew it would arrive; I just never imagined it would arrive so quickly, the subtle realization that as it is in the theater, each night’s kitchen performance is unique – and that remains an essential part of the thrill. Some nights the stars align, defying explanation – let alone codification – to deliver magic on a plate. Other nights – blame the full moon or just an off night – the effort is strenuous and entirely respectable, if not necessarily worth a standing ovation. The meal I eat tonight – despite a restaurant’s striving for some degree of consistencyÂ – will rarely, if ever, be the same meal you eat. So let’s just leave Â it at this: the stars did not align atÂ RecetteÂ the other night.Â That’s not a knock on Jesse Schenker’s food, which is urbane and thoughtful to a fault at times. (You could do a whole lot worse in this city, believe me) Yet I arrived expecting something ineffable. Â What was served was pretty. But for a $300 price tag, entirely too practical.