Some of these no longer exist, other than in my memory. And while some are expensive, others are quite the affordable but deserve kudos for skillful preparation and good ingredients.
- Big Night, Dover. Anything Chris and Linda did here or in their later incarnations in South Berwick, Maine, was always masterful, often with a French or Mediterranean base. Small-scale, as in a two-person operation, can truly be beautiful. They’re the standard by which we now measure all others.
- Fore Street, Portland, Maine. On a larger scale and an industrial style room, this is simply great food. We had a sauvignon blanc that was delivered with very little markup from retail simply because the owners thought this would be perfect for our meals – and we’re still searching for another bottle that comes close. My wife will rattle off the details of our meal and why we were so thoroughly impressed.
- North, Providence, Rhode Island. Another small setting – 18 seats, plus a small bar – this Asian fusion laboratory was a revelation with tastes I didn’t know even existed.
- Gasperetti’s, Yakima, Washington. A small setting – about 48 seats at the time – this was considered by many to be the best Italian restaurant in the Pacific Northwest when we lived there.
- A tiny Japanese restaurant near Golden Gate Park, San Francisco. Four tables, as I recall on my first and only visit to the city. My introduction to raw fish (shashimi), sake, and plum wine. Heavenly.
- PB Boulangerie, Wellfleet, Cape Cod. Wonderful French with a chef proprietor from Lyons.
- Little Saigon, Worcester, Massachusetts. I love Vietnamese, and this one most of all.
- Lobster in the Rough, York, Maine. Many fine Sunday afternoons here with a cover duo and families playing bocce. They knew how to make fine onion rings and French fries, in addition to haddock and lobster. And don’t overlook the slaw. Straight-forward fare like this can be a tough test for many restaurants. We really admire the ones that pass with flying colors.
- Wonderland Café, Watertown, Massachusetts. Unpretentious Chinese cuisine that demonstrated the importance of fresh ingredients. This was takeout that was welcome a two-hour drive away a day later. ’Nuff said?
- Ta-boo, Palm Beach, Florida. My first truly upscale restaurant experience, thanks to my girlfriend’s parents. Had my first raw oysters and first orange flambe while being entertained by a Yale glee club. After that, everything’s a delirious swirl.
So how about your favorites? And what makes them stand out?
Of course, this is totally unrelated to the theme. Just another thing on my mind.