The Tasting Panel magazine

August 2018

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36  /  the tasting panel  /  august 2018 WHERE WE'RE Food for Thought on The World's 50 Best Restaurants List by Merrill Shindler Y ou know you're a True Restaurant Obsessive if you anticipate the annual World's 50 Best Restaurants list with all the passion of a political junkie waiting for election returns. The creation of William Reed Business Media, the list spotlights restaurants selected by a global who's who of 1,040 "independent experts" (read: foodies with generous expense accounts). We live in a world of food lists, yet they seem to exist in a highly limited reality where their top-rated restaurants are more of a fantasy than destinations around which you can actually build a vacation. El Bulli in Catalonia, for example, had a waiting list before it closed that approached the infinite—and this for a meal that cost hundreds of dollars per person. On the topic of overindulgence, consider one critic's description of the dishes he enjoyed at this year's number-one restaurant, Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy: "an eel flanked by things it might have swum past in the Po River . . . an elegant bonbon crafted from chocolate and aged woodcock and crowned with a sliver of gold leaf . . . camouflage- themed risotto flavored with pureed food scraps . . . a composition made with five different vintages of Parmesan cheese that explored no less than the concept of time . . . " If this makes you feel more perplexed than hungry, you're not alone. For me, an old question from food writer Calvin Trillin on whether the food you're critiquing "made your tummy happy" hangs heavy in the air. Consider the proclamation of Thomas Keller of The French Laundry, which spent several years atop the list, that the best dish in the world is a perfectly roasted chicken fresh from the oven. I'm sure there's a restaurant that offers a roast chicken somewhere in the Top 50, most likely at one of the (very few) U.S. restaurants to make the list: Eleven Madison Park, Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Cosme, Le Bernardin, Alinea, and Saison. What's also notably lacking on the list—and much has already been made of this—is the recognition of restaurants run by women. (The highly regarded Atelier Crenn, led by the excellent Dominique Crenn, came in 83rd among the runners-up in 2017. This year, she fell off the list altogether.) While a quasi-participation award for "Best Female Chef" is offered, it seems like a bit of a cop-out: How clueless can the judges be, especially in the year of the #MeToo movement? Worthy of praise, however, is the growing presence of restaurants not in Europe. The list features a fine selection of establishments in Thailand, Peru, Mexico, Singapore, Chile, Brazil, Japan, and South Africa; France is there, of course, but it's balanced by representa- tion from Spain, Norway, Denmark, and Turkey. If your travels take you to South America, drop by any number of the casual yet high-profile restaurants run by Gastón Acurio—the winner of this year's World's 50 Best Lifetime Achievement Award—in Lima, Santiago, Bogotá, Quito, and Caracas. You don't always need a reservation to access feasts centured around Acurio's famous ceviche, which, gasp, actually looks like ceviche. It's real food that's good for the soul—something those 1,040 foodies could clearly stand to appreciate more.

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