The results of the James Beard Foundation Awards for 2008 were announced earlier this week. Some observations on what I found to be surprise winners:
Central Michel Richard got Best New Restaurant. While I have tremendous respect for the big man himself (who I think does food tricks better than Grant Achatz and Jose Andres when he is not phoning it in) and the burger and "Kit Kat" dessert are indeed quite clever and tasty, I cannot imagine that this is actually the best new restaurant that opened in 2007, regardless of the fact that it is markedly better than Citronelle (among my picks for the Emperor Has No Clothes Award, not an official JBF category).
Terra won Outstanding Service. I love the food at Terra, and it remains one of my favorite restaurants consistently for the past decade, but best service? Maybe best casual service, but this one was a head scratcher. Per Se definitely. Jean-Georges of course. Masa's in San Francisco. Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. Not that service at Terra falls short in any way, just not something that comes to mind when I think of Terra. The fried oysters with pork belly, on the other hand, absolutely.
Craig Stoll of Delfina won for Best Chef Pacific over David Kinch of Manresa. Delfina is well-conceived and well-articulated comfort food, but not in the same league as Manresa, which more appropriately belongs in the French Laundry/Jean-Georges/Charlie Trotter's category.
The biggest shocker was in the Rising Star Chef category. My favorite chef of all time (because of his complete crazy obsessiveness, innovation, diligence, and creativity), Johnny Monis, was edged out by Gavin Kaysen. Not to take anything away from the team at Cafe Boulud, but were you impressed with Kaysen's showing on Next Iron Chef? (It was not materially better at Cafe Boulud).