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Breaking Down NYC’s 2016 James Beard Award Semifinalists

james_beardLike an Oscar is to a director or actor, there’s no tribute more coveted by industry folk than a James Beard Award.  It’s such a big deal that — even in advance of the eventual, May 2nd ceremony — a long list of semi-finalists is announced.  Not all of them will be in actual contention, of course, but when it comes to the JBA’s, it really is an honor just being nominated.  Here is who’s in the running in NYC this year.

Best New Restaurant: Two New York hotspots — Contra’s wine bar follow-up, Wildair, and Brooks Headley’s veggie patty juggernaut, Superiority Burger — both interestingly made the Beard’s long list.  Considering factors for inclusion include excellence in food, beverage, and superiorityburgerservice (Wildair has two out of three; we’ll have to dock a few points for those stools), the inclusion of Superiority Burger is admittedly puzzling, considering the “beverage program” amounts to a water cooler by the window, and “service” consists of shoving Sloppy Daves into paper bags to be consumed in nearby Tompkins Square Park.

Outstanding Baker: In this category, NYC’s nominees make a lot more sense.  Zachary Golper’s Bien Cuit helped beat back the tide of the encroaching, anti-gluten movement (incorporating whole, locally-sourced, house-milled grains in their long-fermented breads), and former Roberta’s baker, Melissa Weller, is one of the best things about Major Food Group’s faux old timey appetizing shop, Sadelle’s; not only crafting their dense and chewy bagels, but also a slew of other Jewish delicacies, from sadelles--bagels-melissa-wellerrugelach and challah to chocolate chip loaf and a killer babka.

Outstanding Bar Program: We only have one horse in this race, but it’s a doozy; Williamsburg’s oft-nominated Maison Premiere.  Not only does it boast the city’s most formidable oyster happy hour, but it also has a remarkable, unprecedented selection of absinthe to go along with it — either incorporated into cocktails or served straight up in grand, classic style, using the world’s most accurate working replica of the absinthe fountain, from the Olde Absinthe carmelliniHouse of New Orleans.

Outstanding Chef: Awarded to chefs who have been working in the industry for at least five years, whose careers have set national industry standards and have served as inspiration for other food professionals, Andrew Carmellini is repping New York in this category for 2016.  He’s served as chef-at-large for all of the NoHo Hospitality Group’s estimable projects; including Locanda Verde, The Dutch, Lafayette, Bar Primi and Little Park.

Outstanding Pastry Chef: A nom for Lafayette’s Jennifer Yee is yet another feather in the NoHo Hospitality Groups cap (and we have to say, her banana-coconut-chocolate chip croissant was one of the most memorable things we’ve eaten this year!). Ghaya Oliveria also received props this year for her elaborate, multi-course dessert menu at Daniel; having worked her way 20140128-281367-GhayaOliveira-Raposo-Herrig4through the ranks since 2001, as pastry commis at Café Boulud.

Outstanding Restaurant: Granted, eateries need to have been in operation for over 10 years to be eligible, but NYC’s quintet of “standard bearing” restaurants are anything but surprises or terribly exciting.  Included in the running year after year, The Spotted Pig and Momofuku Noodle Bar are essentially autopilot nominations, Frankie’s 457 doesn’t even rank amongst our top 10 best Italian restaurants in Brooklyn, and while we admire Craft, it’s more of a wayward Gramercy institution nowadays.

20120411-april-bloomfield-demo-brooklyn-kitchen-25Outstanding Restaurateur: It’s a bit tougher to quibble noms for Ken Friedman and Andrew Tarlow, both of whom have basically remade their respective boroughs in their own image. Together with April Bloomfield, Friedman turned the success of Spotted Pig into a massive Manhattan dynasty, including the John Dory, Salvation Taco and the just-opened Salvation Burger.  Meanwhile, Andrew Tarlow is largely credited for the explosive growth of Brooklyn’s dining scene, with Diner, Marlow & Sons, Reynard, Roman’s and many, many more.  And neither shows any signs of ever slowing down.

img_3562_pggov6Outstanding Service: Interestingly enough, NYC’s sole nominee, Eleven Madison Park, shook its own foundation completely this year; ditching their long-format, New York-inspired menu for a system akin to Rao’s — structuring dishes based on what each customer feels like eating, and alternating individually-portioned courses with larger, family-style plates.

Outstanding Wine Program: Another year, another pat on the back for David Chang.  Not only is Noodle Bar in the mix for Best Restaurant, but despite NYC’s impressive aldo-sohm-1x1proliferation of wine bars (Rebelle, anyone?), his recently revamped Momofuku Ko is the only spot to make the grade here.

Outstanding Wine, Beer and Spirits Professional: Eric Ripert’s inimitable right hand man, Aldo Sohm, is feeling the love for his tenure at Le Bernardin (not to mention his own vino-centric offshoot, Aldo Sohm Wine Bar), while Torst’s quirky gypsy brewer, Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, is holding it down for the idiosyncratic craft beer drinkers of Brooklyn.

Rising Star Chef of the Year: Make it a JBA trifecta for David Chang, with a nomination for Matt Rudofker, of Momofuku Ssäm Bar (what, no Fuku for Best New Restaurant?  If Superiority can do it…).  We’d just as soon break the streak with Angela Elise-610x554Dimayuga of Mission Chinese Food, Elise Kornack of Take Root, and José Ramírez-Ruiz of Semilla — with all due respect to stalwarts like Bloomfield, Colicchio and Chang, this is the crew currently redefining dining in NYC.

Best Chef NYC: Needless to say, this initial list will get culled considerably, but we’re personally pulling for Markus Glocker of Batard, Bryce Shuman of Betony, Anita Lo of Annisa, and Rawia Bishara of Tanoreen.  Jonathan Benno of Lincoln Ristorante?  Really?  Again, with Marco Canora and Hearth?  Here’s the rest (and arguably best) of the bunch.

Nick Anderer, Marta

Jonathan Benno, Lincoln Ristorante

Rawia Bishara, Tanoreen

Marco Canora, Hearth

Mario Carbone and Rich Torrisi, Carbone

John Fraser, Narcissa

Markus Glocker, Bâtard

James Kent, The NoMad

Anna Klinger, Al di Là Trattoria

Anita Lo, Annisa

Ignacio Mattos, Estela

George Mendes, Aldea

Carlo Mirarchi, Blanca

Joe Ng, RedFarm

Alex Raij and Eder Montero, Txikito

Bryce Shuman, Betony

Justin Smillie, Upland

Alex Stupak, Empellón Cocina

Jonathan Waxman, Barbuto

Jody Williams, Buvette

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