Tue March 18, 2014 12:33 pm By Layne Lynch

The James Beard Foundation Award announced its list of finalists this morning, and a handful of Texas chefs and culinary journalists made it through to the final reaping.

As Texas Monthly reported last month, fourteen chefs and restaurants from across the state were dubbed James Beard Award semifinalists. Today, the nominees for Best Chef Southwest were announced and four of the five are from Texas: three chefs from Houston (Justin Yu of Oxheart, Chris Shepherd of Underbelly, Hugo Ortega of Hugo’s), and one from Austin (Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine). Perini Ranch Steakhouse in Buffalo Gap was also honored with a nomination in the James Beard Foundation America’s Classics category.

In the journalism awards, Lisa Fain’s blog, Homesick Texan, was nominated for best Individual Food Blog, and the Houston Chronicle’s Alison Cook received a second consecutive nomination for the Craig Claiborne Distinguished Restaurant Review Award for three selected features: “Corkscrew BBQ: a New Houston Classic,” “The Cosmic Soup of Pho Hung,” and “The Pass Unleashes Plates of Playfulness.” The journalism winners will be announced on May 2, three days earlier than the culinary awards, which take place on May 5 at the Lincoln Center in New York City.

Stay tuned for more news.

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Wed March 5, 2014 9:43 am By Patricia Sharpe

One of the most notable Austin openings so far this year, the French restaurant laV (think “la vie”) will finally debut after many months of construction delays and rescheduled city inspections. Slated for last fall, it will open for dinner this Thursday, March 6, barring a natural disaster. Happily, there is no ice, rain, or thundersleet in the weather forecast.

The menu will be Mediterranean, principally Provençal, with the occasional excursion into other cuisines. The executive chef is Allison Jenkins (a Texas native and graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, who worked most recently at the Little Nell hotel in Aspen). Janina O’Leary, also a native Texan, formerly with Trace at the Austin W hotel, has come on as executive pastry chef. An extensive wine program is headed by laV managing partner and sommelier Vilma Mazaite (who worked at Bartolotta in Las Vegas and Babbo in New York). Darren Scott and Rania Zayyat round out the sommelier team. The restaurant’s owners are Houston investment banker and entrepreneur Ralph Eads and his wife Lisa.

The other day I took a guided tour of the building with Mazaite. Although the brick structure looks old—it resembles a rehabbed 1920’s warehouse—laV was actually built last year from the ground up. So while the kitchen and dining rooms are brand new, the deliberately drab exterior paint and an industrial façade keep the building from seeming pretentious and out of sync with its east side surroundings.

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Thu February 27, 2014 3:10 pm By Patricia Sharpe
The Perini Ranch Steakhouse, located in the tiny West Texas town of Buffalo Gap, Texas, is one of the five winners of an America’s Classics designation, a group of awards given annually by the New York–based James Beard Foundation, the nation’s most prestigious culinary organization. According to the foundation, the “America’s Classics Award is given to restaurants that have timeless appeal and are beloved for quality food that reflects the character of their community.”  
 
The proprietors are Perini and his wife Lisa. In an email, Lisa Perini said, “We are so flattered by this award. It’s truly an honor to our entire Perini Ranch team.”
 
Founded in 1983 by rancher Tom Perini, the steakhouse has become a destination for diners from all over the country, but the restaurant has long been a stalwart in the Texas dining scene. In a December 2007 feature, Texas Monthly ranked the restaurant number three on our list of the 38 best steakhouses in the state, and in April 2011, Tom Perini graced our cover for a story about traditional Texas fare, "Cook Like a Texan."
 
The foundation described the history of Perini Ranch and its proprietor:
 
Cowboy cook and rancher Tom Perini made a bold decision in 1983. With oil and cattle prices depressed, he turned a hay barn on his family spread into a restaurant, hoping to draw folks from nearby Abilene. Serving Texas standards with genuine hospitality, he has created a signature rural roadhouse. 
 
Grilled steaks are the heart of the menu. Tom knew that if he opted for prime beef, he would price himself out of the local market. He chose instead to grill the best choice rib eyes, strips, and filets. The appeal of those steaks owes much to mesquite. The scrubby, thorny trees grow everywhere in this arid terrain. And their coals yield a pungent smoke that perfumes the air. 
 
Comfort foods and chuck wagon favorites fill out the offerings, including green chile hominy and garlicky cowboy potatoes. For dessert, there’s whiskey-laced bread pudding.
 
The other four recipients of Classics awards are Hansen’s Sno Bliz, in New Orleans; Nick’s Italian Café in McMinnville,Oregon; Olneyville New York System in Providence, Rhode Island; and Sokolowski’s University Inn in Cleveland, Ohio. 
 
Honorees will be recognized at a ceremony May 5 at the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center in New York City. 
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Thu February 20, 2014 3:58 pm By Patricia Sharpe

Alan Richman, restaurant critic for GQ, has sent some big love Texas's way. Number one on his list of the best new restaurants of the year is Qui, in Austin. Also making the list, at number thirteen, is La Barbecue, in Austin. No other Texas places were included. (Qui, incidentally, is number eight on Texas Monthly’s list of the ten best restaurants in Texas, published in our March 2014 issue. La Barbecue was on our roster of the top fifty barbecue joints in Texas, published in June 2013.) Here are excerpts from Richman’s comments. 

QUI

“On the long-overlooked east side of Austin stands the most fascinating new restaurant in America. Thanks to Paul Qui and other local chefs, what used to be the toughest part of town is now the tastiest. Qui's high-end restaurant could be mistaken for a sushi bar but isn't one—you'll realize it's more than that when you see the vast, gleaming open kitchen where he prepares food displaying an array of Asian and Texan influences. Most unusual and daring are dishes from the Philippines, where Qui was born. These include dinuguan, a pork-blood stew containing mushrooms, meat, and potato gnocchi. . . . His Ode to Michel Bras pays homage to the famous foraging French chef and is one of the best vegetable dishes of the year. . . .There's also beef tartare, which wanders far from cattle country—it's spiced with kimchi. . . .If Paul Qui isn't the most fearless chef in America, he's surely the most confident.” 

LA BARBECUE

“It isn’t pretty, that’s for sure. It subscribes to the new school of barbecue aesthetic, which means it’s almost a dump. You enter a compound with a dirt floor and chain-link fencing, pick up your food at a trailer, sit at a picnic table under what could be a second-hand revival tent . . . . The barbeque is some of the best ever, as good as barbecue gets. . . .The brisket is so exquisite you can ask for it lean, usually a mistake, and it will come out soft and savory.”

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Wed February 19, 2014 6:26 pm By Layne Lynch

One day after Texas Monthly unveiled its list of the Best New Restaurants of 2014, the James Beard Foundation announced their 2014 Restaurant and Chef Awards semifinalists early this morning, and there were quite a few overlapping restaurants and chefs. Here’s are the fourteen Texas chefs, bars and restaurants that were nominated to win the food industry’s Oscar equivalent.  

Best New Restaurant

Casa Rubia, Dallas 

Outstanding Bar Program

Anvil Bar & Refuge, Houston   

Outstanding Pastry Chef

Philip Speer of Uchi, Houston and Austin

Outstanding Wine Program

Café on the Green at Four Seasons Resort and Club Dallas at Las Colinas, Irving

Outstanding Service

Abacus, Dallas
Mansion Restaurant at Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek, Dallas

Best Chef Southwest

Justin Yu of Oxheart in Houston
Hugo Ortega of Hugo's in Houston
Chris Shepherd of Underbelly in Houston
David Bull of Congress in Austin
Bryce Gilmore of Barley Swine in Austin
Matt McCallister of FT33 in Dallas  
John Tesar of Spoon Bar & Kitchen in Dallas
David Uygur of Lucia in Dallas

Finalists will be announced March 19, 2014.

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