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Tuesday, July 26, 2005

San Francisco Magazine: Critics' Choice Awards for 2005


Every August, the editors of San Francisco magazine put out an issue that is focused on features relating to food. Included in this issue are the winners of the magazine’s annual “Critics' Choice Awards,” in which a panel of food writers from around the country is asked to choose the Bay Area’s Best Chef, Best Pastry Chef, Rising Star Chef, and Best Wine Director.   Well, the August 2005 issue of San Francisco magazine just recently hit the newsstands, and the results are in.

The award for Best Chef this year goes to Michael Mina, of the eponymously named establishment that entered the San Francisco market last summer with a resounding splash.   Mina, of course, has a long and impressive history of success, most notably a nine-year run heading up the kitchen at Aqua.   At his new restaurant, Mina offers courses comprised of one primary ingredient prepared multiple ways – an intricate, and interesting, approach that is certainly distinctive.   My one dinner at Michael Mina was on its second night of operation, and it was very good.   And although that meal did not quite rise to the level necessary to compete with other top-tier establishments, I'm sure that the restaurant was still in the process of working out the kinks.
Accordingly, a return visit is definitely near the top of my to-do list.

This year’s award for Best Pastry Chef goes to Nicole Krasinski of Rubicon, a restaurant that I recently visited and reviewed.   Krasinski has often noted the fact that she is not particularly fond of sweets, an unusual trait that might explain her penchant for incorporating unusual ingredients – such as olive oil, basil, balsamic vinegar, or Pecorino cheese – into her desserts.   I have so far tried only two of Krasinski’s offerings: a Blueberry Meringue Tart was excellent in its simplicity, while an Apricot Tarte Tatin was, well, not so good.   I do look forward to sampling more of Krasinski’s desserts, however, especially some of her more innovative compositions.

The Rising Star Chef award for 2005 goes to Sean O’Brien, the former sous chef at Restaurant Gary Danko who struck out on his own late last year to become the opening chef at Myth.   I regrettably have not yet had a chance to make it over to the restaurant, but I’ve been hearing some incredible things for the past several months about the food coming out of O’Brien’s kitchen.   Prior to opening Myth, O’Brien spent his entire career working under Gary Danko – following him from The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, to Viognier, to Fifth Floor, and then to Restaurant Gary Danko.   It’s little wonder, then, that O’Brien has made such an impressive debut.

Finally, the award for Best Wine Director goes to Shelley Lindgren of A16.   There are few Bay Area restaurants with a greater “buzz” at the moment than A16, and co-owner Lindgren is undoubtedly a part of the reason why.
With prior experience at Fleur de Lys, Boulevard and Bacar, she was identified as one of the best new sommeliers by Wine and Spirits magazine last October.   Lindgren has developed a particular expertise in the wines of Southern Italy, which obviously pairs nicely with the Campania-region cuisine of Executive Chef Christophe Hille.   And notably, the restaurant offers forty wines by the glass, providing something for every taste.

So, congratulations to Michael Mina, Nicole Krasinski, Sean O’Brien and Shelley Lindgren on their San Francisco Magazine Critics’ Choice Awards!

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