GIGI ITALIAN BISTRO – Albuquerque, New Mexico

“If you can go through with what Gordon Ramsey puts you through there’s nothing much more you can do. I mean the berating from that guy is unbelievable, but the reward is even greater.” ~ Chef Robert Hesse Chef Robert Hesse isn’t the man he used to be. In fact, he’s literally and figuratively a shadow of his former self. Once tipping the scales at over 600 pounds and espousing the attitude that you should “never trust a skinny chef,”…

Trattoria Mollie – Montecito, California

In its three best-selling editions–published in 2006, 2008 and 2012–National Geographic’s “Passport to the Best” has enthralled, excited and educated connoisseurs of matters of taste across the globe. With top ten lists in dozens of categories studded with savvy tips and inspiring imagery, this wayfarer’s bible invigorates investigative yearnings for exotic travel, if for nothing else to confirm or refute the opinion of the authors. Still, when the “Passport to the Best” recognized Trattoria Mollie in Montecito, California as “one…

JENNIFER JAMES 101 – Albuquerque, New Mexico (CLOSED)

The number 101 has some very interesting connotations. If you grew up in the 60s, you might remember the Benson & Hedges cigarette jingle, “One, oh, one, one, oh, one, a silly little millimeter longer one, oh, one, a silly millimeter longer.” Talk about ear wax. That jingle was like It’s A Small World and the Gilligan’s Island theme. Once you got it into your head, you couldn’t get rid of it. My brainiac mathematician friend Bill Resnik appreciates that…

Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar – La Jolla, California

My baby sister Anita paid me the ultimate compliment, not as a brother, but as a savvy restaurant essayist. When we ran into her at the Nine-Ten Restaurant and Bar in picturesque La Jolla, she told me “I knew you’d find this place,” acknowledgement that she recognizes my prowess in finding the very best restaurants everywhere I travel. Born nine years apart with four siblings in between, Anita and I are anomalies in our family in that we’re passionate gastronomes…

Pizzeria Mozza – Newport Beach, California

“Breadmaking is one of those almost hypnotic businesses, like a dance from some ancient ceremony. It leaves you filled with one of the world’s sweetest smells –there is no chiropractic treatment, no Yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music throbbing chapel that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.” ~M.F.K. Fisher, The Art of Eating For those of us geriatrically advanced enough to have had moms who actually baked bread in…

Arthur Bryant’s – Kansas City, Missouri

Shortly after Arthur Bryant died in 1982, the Kansas City Star published a cartoon showing St. Peter greeting Arthur at the gates of heaven and asking, “Did you bring sauce?” Perhaps not even in Heaven can such a wondrous sauce be concocted. Arthur Bryant’s is probably the most famous barbecue restaurant in the country, if not the world–an institution to which celebrity and political glitterati make pilgrimages. If Schlitz was the “beer that made Milwaukee famous,” then Arthur Bryant’s is…

Frontera Grill – Chicago, Illinois

Not everyone has the relentless drive and impassioned fortitude to parlay their most ardent desires and zealous fervor into a wildly successful thematic venture, but then not everyone is Rick Bayless, America’s Mexican chef and restaurateur nonpareil. His single-minded passion for the Mexican culinary experience is reflected in multimedia ventures such as his successful PBS television series “Cooking Mexican” and “Mexico – One Plate At A Time” as well as his genre-redefining, award-winning books. One of those books, Authentic Mexican…

Bobcat Bite – Santa Fe, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Update:  In a twist of cruel irony, the Travel Channel’s May 13th airing of the Burger Land program celebrating the Bobcat Bite debuted just a few days after the announcement that the world-famous Bobcat Bite as we all know and love it will be forever changed.  An official statement from Bobcat Bite, issued on May 9th, announced the restaurant renowned for its outstanding green chile cheeseburger would shutter its doors in June, 2013.  The press release read: After 12 years,…

Lawry’s The Prime Rib – Las Vegas, Nevada

“What keeps me motivated is not the food itself but all the bonds and memories the food represents.” ~Michael Chiarello Many of my most cherished memories involve the act of eating and quite often those memories don’t involve the food itself.  The memories which sweeten most over time invariably involve the people with whom those meals were shared.  The act of degustation is infinitely more satisfying and the meals so much more pleasing when shared with loved ones.  In part…

Geronimo – Santa Fe, New Mexico

Consistency over time, excellence every time–that’s what sets apart the one or two restaurants all the cognoscenti herald as the very best. These few truly extraordinary restaurants don’t so much raise the bar or reinvent themselves continuously as they do maintain the rarefied levels which earned them the distinction of being singled out in the first place.  Almost without exception, the Santa Fe restaurant most consider the best restaurant in a city of great restaurants is Geronimo.  It’s been that…

Chope’s – La Mesa, New Mexico

During our inaugural visit several years ago, we ran into a former Las Cruces resident now living in the nation’s capital. His near teary-eyed testimony about how much he missed Chope’s was more powerful than a Sunday sermon.   When he kissed the hallowed ground in front of Chope’s, we knew he meant it.  An elderly gentleman recounted the time Chope’s salsa was so hot it made him hiccup for three days.  A middle-aged woman from Las Cruces rhapsodized about Chope’s…

Three Forks at Rancho De San Juan – Ojo Caliente, New Mexico (CLOSED)

Expansive views of the Jemez Mountains and of Georgia O’Keeffe country–whether bathed in pink, coral and gold sunset hues or under New Mexico’s incomparable cerulean skies–combine with the surreal topography of unnaturally contorted rock formations and juniper laden foothills to form the unique vistas which await guests at Rancho de San Juan, New Mexico’s premier country inn and restaurant.  At night those views are obfuscated by a canopy of stars spilling from  an ebony sky so clear and unencumbered that…

Davio’s Northern Italian Steakhouse – Boston, Massachusetts

“When I talk about a great dish, I often get goose bumps. I’m like, whoa, I’ll never forget that one. The Italians are just like that. It’s not all about food. It’s part of the memory.” ~Mario Batali When discussing my upcoming trip to Boston with Dave Hurayt, it evoked a nostalgic sentiment in a fellow gastronome whose opinion on food I respect.  As a graduate student matriculating at one of the fine universities in the “Cradle of Modern America,”…

Mike’s Pastry – Boston, Massachusetts

Ralph Waldo Emerson, the founder of the Transcendentalist movement of the 19th century, called America the “Utopian product of a culturally and racially mixed “smelting pot.”  Melting pot rapidly became one of the most frequently used metaphors for describing America.  The term describes the fusion of different nationalities, ethnicities, religions and cultures to form a new, ostensibly better community, a heterogeneous whole. Implicit in the term melting pot is the way ingredients in the pot combine so as to subord…