The tour is a wrap, and after nonstop dining in SF, LA, and NYC for three weeks straight it's fun to be able to compare the cities and look back. Here are some observations:
Off with Your Flash!
New York proved to be the least food-photography-friendly city: We had to turn off the flash starting with our very first meal in town. It made it harder to do our job, but overall, I have to agree with restaurants that have a no-flash policy: It is an obnoxious thing to do, especially in the dark dining rooms we were hanging out in. Nobody in Los Angeles or San Francisco ever said anything.
Bottled Water, Still Cool?
New York and Los Angeles haven't quite gone through the "tap water is cool and politically correct" phase that San Francisco has, and still offer still, sparkling, or tap water at most restaurants. San Francisco's self-righteous environmentalism can be annoying, but I think in this case, it's been a positive move in the SF restaurant industry to glamorize tap water and cut out the waste of bottled (plus it's cheaper for the diner).
Favorite Food Trend: Savory Granola
Eleven Madison Park in New York executed this the best, sprinkling it in between heirloom tomatoes and mozzarella ice cream. I want to start working on some savory granola breakfast parfait concepts.
Best High-End Meal
It's very hard to decide between Daniel Humm's cooking at Eleven Madison Park and Michael Voltaggio's at the Langham (he's since moved on). Voltaggio's style is more playful, and almost sculptural in presentation, with the flower pot of edible dirt, buttered popcorn purée, and piquillo pepper fruit roll. Humm's is more traditional in flavor combos and presentation: He keeps it a little simpler, with the ingredients more central, like his stellar lobster lasagne with ribbons and pieces of tiny summer squash. Both meals were impressive. But the chefs also have a lot in common. They both seem to be into goat butter and savory tomato lollipops, for a start.
Worst City for Service
Sorry Los Angeles, but the service there sucked compared to San Francisco and New York.
Favorite Restaurant Experience Overall
Aziza, in San Francisco. But that's sort of cheating on my part because it was a favorite restaurant long before CHOW Tour. The combo of its dark, beautiful-but-casual atmosphere and incredibly creative cooking is hard to beat, and I think the pace fits more with my personality than sitting down to tasting menus with a more formal atmosphere.
Best Beer Town
San Francisco, which I'm grateful for since it's where I live. I never realized how prevalent great beer is in San Francisco, but in other places you really have to go looking for it. I do wish we'd get Brooklyn Brewery's beers out west though. Good stuff. Now, if the CHOW Tour had hit Philly, I might be singing a different song.
Favorite Dishes of the Trip
Lobster and corn two ways at Annisa; Chego!'s pork belly rice bowl; truffle brioche at the Langham; ceviche at Mo-Chica; fried strips of pig ear at the Lazy Ox; bone marrow at the Alembic; the Bazaar's wrinkly, salty potatoes; nettle risotto with morel mushrooms at Incanto; abalone with coastal herb sauce at Saison; strawberry jelly doughnut at the Doughnut Plant; fresh vegetable pickles at Takashi; charcuterie plate at Resto; corn with roe at Aziza; COI's potatoes with dark, inky, oily sauce; Kaya toast at Street; poutine at Animal; the lobster lasagne course at Eleven Madison Park.