2015 Restaurant of the Year: Shaya
Honorable Mention: Providence, Los Angeles
“Providence in its quiet way embodies everything a restaurant should aspire to be.” That is the high praise Los Angeles Times restaurant critic Jonathan Gold heaped upon chef and co-owner Michael Cimarusti’s seafood-driven venue, which Gold named Los Angeles’ No. 1 restaurant for the third consecutive year last month. He’s not the only one smitten by Providence, as other accolades garnered by the establishment include two Michelin stars, a spot in the Top 50 Restaurants in the United States by Gourmet magazine, and an accolade as the city’s Best Seafood Restaurant by Los Angeles magazine — not to mention the fact that Cimarusti was nominated this past spring for the James Beard award for Best Chef: West.
While awards and acclaim are all very nice, however, it’s what Cimarusti is actually doing — and not doing — in his kitchen that earned him this honorable mention.
The chef has managed to take the broad concept of seafood and simultaneously deliver both a worldly and localized culinary narrative on his plates. True, his proteins are sourced from all over the globe, but he makes sure it’s done so sustainably; so, while you may find prawns from Santa Barbara and Norwegian red king crab, you certainly won’t see dishes of Chilean seabass or Florida marlin coming out of this kitchen. Meanwhile, guests are always reminded of exactly where they are enjoying their meals, as much of his produce is sourced locally in California, which in turn creates a sense that you are eating some of the best food that both the world and the local area have to offer.
Chefs typically shy away from monikers such as “signature dish,” but some of the best chefs have created them in recent history — Ferran Adrià had his olive at elBulli, Jonathan Waxman’s roasted chicken at Barbuto is legendary, and now Cimarusti’s Ugly Bunch is attracting similar attention from critics and diners alike. Slices of geoduck clam and generous dollops of uni are arranged on a pool of smoked crème fraîche along with colorful edible flowers, uniting the essence of both land and sea in one bowl, delighting the eyes and the palate, and surprising the guest by showcasing these ingredients in a way most likely never before executed.
Honorable Mention: Cosme, New York City
Cosme, in New York City’s Flatiron district, perfectly embodies chef Enrique Olvera’s culinary background. Born in Mexico, he spent hours in his grandparent’s kitchen as a child, which cultivated a love for cooking within him. Fast forward about a decade, and Olvera decided to attend the Culinary Institute of America in the Big Apple. Four years later, he opened the now-acclaimed Pujol in Mexico City, after the turn of the millennium. Then, in the fall of last year, Olvera gifted New Yorkers with Cosme, and there has been a steady stream of praise directed its way ever since.
In his three-star review of the restaurant in February, New York Times critic Pete Wells reported that “the cooking is a thrill, largely because it sails right over ideas like tradition, authenticity, and modernity. Many underpinnings come from Mexico, while a lot of the ingredients were bought locally. The flavors are here and now, though; you connect with the dishes right away.” In other words, he hits diners’ expectations of Mexican food on the head while also delivering his own unique vision of this food, which feels distinctly modern and absolutely inimitable.
It’s this balancing act between what is expected and what can be achieved, which Olvera so impressively maintains, that makes Cosme so extraordinary. In a piece published on The Daily Meal last year, Colman Andrews expounded on Cosme’s tortillas, explaining that “Sometimes you can't improve on simple perfection.” Tortillas are one of the essential building blocks of fine Mexican cuisine, and the chef’s care in developing his is testament to both his a priori understanding of his home country’s cuisine, as well as his utmost respect for it. (Pete Wells recently cracked that Cosme's tortillas made other examples around New York City seem like "corn-based coasters.")
Cosme is rightly known as much, much more than a joint with excellent tortillas. There’s scallop aguachile with poached jicama and fresh wasabi-cucumber-lime, and “Ants in the Forest” (sirloin carpaccio, various lettuces, chicatana ant oil, and radish) — dishes that expand the palate and mind of those that order them. He sources much of the menu from the surrounding Hudson Valley, which — just like Cimarusti’s produce sourcing in Los Angeles — reminds guests of just where Cosme is located, while at the same time brings traditional and modern distinctly Mexican flavor profiles to the table.
In order to strike this perfect balance, Olvera spent the year leading up to Cosme’s opening studying some of the most successful restaurants in the city and asking notable chefs for advice on how best to serve New Yorkers, who are notorious for being underwhelmed and unimpressed by top chefs’ best efforts. Remember, this is not an up-and-coming chef opening their first restaurant, but rather a globally-acclaimed master of the kitchen — and his humility and dedication has paid off. The space is clean and calming but short of cold, and while you can hear your dining companions’ exclamations of joy at the bites they just took, the noise level is far from mausoleum-esque. Nearly everyone who enters Cosme agrees that it’s a modern culinary revelation, which in turn makes the restaurant one of the most innovative and exciting we’ve seen in a long, long time.