Music Is Food For The Soul

A restaurant’s soundtrack and make or break the dining experience. And it’s more than just the volume (although blaring techno while trying to converse with your fellow diners can totally ruin a meal). The music sets the mood, changes the mood, and further immerses you in your dining experience. It can even affect the taste and smell of your food and make diners stay longer and spend more.

As part of our “vibe” ranking, here is what the top ranked restaurants had to say about their soundtrack:


On Creating a Unique Soundtrack

“The playlist that we've compiled highlights the diverse cultural history of Brazil, touching on musical movements within the country as well as the places from which those movements draw influence.”
—Ziyad Asrar, Beverage Director, La Sirena Clandestina (#11 in vibe in Chicago)

“When it comes to curating playlists, you want to make sure everyone listening has a good time and feels the vibe. Our playlists create a lively environment every day.”
—Bruce Finkelman, Managing Partner, Dusek’s Board & Beer (#13 in vibe in Chicago)

“Our soundtrack is set up to create a sexy and festive vibe with music spanning many genres.”
—Veronica Beckman, Co-Owner, Tanta (#12 in vibe in Chicago)

“We want to create a great atmosphere for our guests. We like the music to create good energy and vibe but not take over the experience. Our current playlist is extremely eclectic and not too heavy handed in any one genre, rather blending genres to create a similar feeling and sound.”
—Erin Phillips, Boka Restaurant Group Operations and Education Director, Momotaro (#5 in vibe in Chicago)

“We try to put the guest experience first and foremost in our minds—rather than our own subjective musical preferences—because the last thing the music should do is challenge or alienate guests. We strive to avoid those annoying earworms that can really kill a dining experience, and instead aspire to create an atmosphere that is familiar sounding, yet just obscure enough that it provokes curious pleasure.”
—Craig Lane, Bartender, Bar Agricole (#9 in vibe in San Francisco)


On Specific Genre Choices

“Moving from Brazilian psychedelia, Tropicalia, pop, samba and jazz of the 60s, 70s and early 80s to similar music that was being made in Africa and the US in those eras creates a pretty stimulating environment for everyone in the restaurant.”
—Ziyad Asrar, Beverage Director, La Sirena Clandestina (#11 in vibe in Chicago)

“We have a soundtrack with music spanning many genres, including Latin house, salsa, jazz, deep house, and afro-Peruvian. The playlists were all curated by some of the best Chicago DJ's who are experts in these genres. They start the playlist with more down-tempo grooves that set the mood for a relaxing atmosphere then the songs slowly pick up in tempo as the night progresses. That up-tempo of more festive songs allow our customers to have more fun and stay and drink a bit more.”
—Veronica Beckman, Co-Owner, Tanta (#12 in vibe in Chicago)

“Music in our restaurants is very important to us. We like to mix it up: electro-funk, up- tempo, down-tempo, rock and roll, and electro trip hop. It makes for good ambient atmosphere. It adds to the experience but doesn't overwhelm it. Some songs with few vocals allow for good conversation and energy. We have some songs people can recognize but we try to steer away from anything too pop or mainstream.”
—Erin Phillips, Boka Restaurant Group Operations and Education Director, Momotaro (#5 in vibe in Chicago)

“We try to play complete albums as much as possible and string them together in such a way that the tempo of the music will mirror the flow of reservations in the dining room as well as the volume of bar business.”
—Craig Lane, Bartender, Bar Agricole, Trou Normand (# in vibe in San Francisco)  

“We tend to rely heavily on uptempo Jazz, Latin, and Caribbean music as well as Soul and R&B in order to create an unobtrusive and enjoyable dining experience. We have a couple simple, yet firm rules: no indie-rock before 10pm and no charted Motown. Heavy treble guitar sounds don't reverberate well in our cavernous industrial space especially when there are also a lot of voices in the room. Soul and R&B tend to have more bottom end, which plays better off the hard surfaces of the space. By deliberately eschewing charted hits, it forces us to dig a little deeper to find those hidden gems that can be just as enjoyable. The Eccentric Soul compilations by the Numero Group are especially good at delivering on that familiar, yet obscure aesthetic. Similarly, record labels like Ace & Kent Records in the UK, Bear Family in Germany, and Norton Records in NYC, reliably put out these killer comps with great sound quality.”
—Craig Lane, Bartender, Bar Agricole (#9 in vibe in San Francisco)  

On Influencing Consumer Behavior

“It’s all music associated with a good time!”
—Bruce Finkelman, Managing Partner, Dusek’s Board & Beer (#13 in vibe in Chicago)

“I find customers energy and excitement levels are elevated when we play slightly unfamiliar, danceable, interesting music. People can either tune it out , enjoy the experience, or really pay attention and potentially discover something they may continue to listen to later. The goal is to maximize the experience they have while drinking and dining.”
—Ziyad Asrar, Beverage Director, La Sirena Clandestina (#11 in vibe in Chicago)

“The songs slowly pick up in tempo as the night progresses, and that up-tempo of more festive songs allows our customers to have more fun and stay and drink a bit more.”
—Veronica Beckman, Co-Owner, Tanta (#12 in vibe in Chicago)

“I try to embed subtle cues, or shifts, into the playlist each night, which I hope will influence guest behavior in subliminal ways. Nowadays I make sure that the music shifts every hour. It might go from a crooner like James Carr to a more upbeat Jamaican Ska, or we'll shift from The Kinks or The Stones into The Mighty Hannibal. At midnight, when we have last call, we cue up a more dramatic shift from something like a Rare Funk 45s compilation to Dick Curless singing Gospel Country, which usually gives stragglers the hint it’s time to go home.”
—Craig Lane, Bartender, Bar Agricole (#9 in vibe in San Francisco)


The Ultimate Mini Playlist

Five restaurants give a taste of their soundtrack. Check it out!

Q&A with Chef Curtis Duffy of Grace



At Grace, the constantly evolving seasonal menu—described as “thoughtfully progressive”—is an expression of Chef Curtis Duffy’s experience and personality. The menu is broken up into two options: “flora”, for the herbivore-inclines; and “fauna,” for those who want more protein. Duffy’s focus on flavor over technique and high quality ingredients has earned Grace three Michelin stars and countless other awards and recognitions, including the top spot in Renzell’s 2018 Chicago Preliminary Rankings.

We were able to catch up with Chef Duffy and find out his favorite dish to cook and the meaning behind “Grace.”


Renzell: Let’s start at the beginning. What was the first dish you learned to cook?

Chef Curtis Duffy: When I was young, I used to make Cream of Wheat for breakfast.

R: Describe your ideal food day.

CD: Breakfast - Steel cut oats w/ peanut butter, banana on the side
Lunch - usually I have a protein shake on my way into work
Dinner - grilled chicken or salmon with broccoli



R: What inspires you to continue to create new dishes?

CD: The ingredients. We are a restaurant that continues to evolve. The ingredients push the menu forward.

R: Do you have a favorite ingredient to work with?

CD: Coconut, kaffir lime, and fennel are some of my favorite ingredients that I am working with right now.



R: Do you have a favorite dish to cook?

CD: Grilled cheese, for my daughters.

R: How did you come up with the name of the restaurant?

CD: The definition of Grace is what we wanted to give our guests which is refinement, elegance, gracefulness. It is what the restaurant stands for.


Want to try Chef Duffy’s creations for yourself? Book an evening at Grace!

The Pros Spill On Cocktails

We asked top-ranked cocktail spots to spill some insider secrets. Read on to find out how they create the perfect cocktail list and find exciting ingredients. And, since spring is finally here, we also found out about some seasonal cocktails!

From Tanta, #2 in cocktails in Chicago: "Floral and slightly effervescent, La Guapa mixes locally distilled CH lavender-infused gin with lemon, rhubarb and sparkling rose for a light, food-friendly spring cocktail." Source: Tanta. 

From Tanta, #2 in cocktails in Chicago: "Floral and slightly effervescent, La Guapa mixes locally distilled CH lavender-infused gin with lemon, rhubarb and sparkling rose for a light, food-friendly spring cocktail." Source: Tanta. 

On Crafting The Perfect Cocktail List:

“A great cocktail list starts with knowing where you shine. We are known for elevating the classic and familiar flavors of Mexico’s regional cuisines and spirits by adding a ‘Topolo Twist.’ Our guests know their palate will be challenged, delighted, and satisfied by our cocktail program.”
--Jeff Walters, Beverage Director, Topolobampo (#1 in cocktails in Chicago)

“Having a selection of well balanced cocktails that appeal to both serious cocktail drinkers and cocktail newbies is key.  Also, I think the availability of thought out, interesting non-alcoholic cocktails are the sign of a great cocktail list.”
--Kyle Pepperell, GM, Boka (#5 in cocktails in Chicago)

"The key to a great cocktail list is a respect for fresh ingredients. One must experiment and brainstorm, but also make sure to let the individual parts shine. Simplicity over extravagance.”
--Leo Schneeman, GM, Upholstery Store: Food and Wine (#12 in cocktails in New York)

“The highest goal I set for menus is uniqueness. For example you can get a Manhattan riff anywhere- whiskey-and-amaro cocktails abound. I prefer to shy away from that and other ubiquitous styles of cocktail and try to represent something exciting that the guest can only get at my bar.”
--Patrick Brennan, Bartender, Spiaggia (#3 in cocktails in Chicago)

“We balance out shaken, stirred, brown spirits, clear spirits, citrusy, spicy, etc.  Just as in the food, it’s all about the flavor first.  The list is serious, but it has a playful feel to it and we want guests to have fun with it.  Our goal is for everyone to be happy with what they are drinking.”
--Michelle Biscieglia, Beverage Director, Blue Hill (#9 in cocktails in New York)

“I do a slow roll-over change to our cocktail menu rather than one sweeping menu change per season. Right now my method is to replace each cocktail as soon as we come up with something much more exciting!”
--Patrick Brennan, Bartender, Spiaggia (#3 in cocktails in Chicago)


On Seasonality:

“Seasonal changes absolutely drive interest in our cocktail program.  Regulars come in again and again knowing that the list will be different, or they can get a sneak peek at what the bartenders are working on.”
--Kyle Pepperell, GM, Boka (#5 in cocktails in Chicago)

“We strive for change when we sense it's time and when we have concocted the right cocktail, regardless of the season. In this sense, newness is the drive. On the other hand, with each season change, we certainly aim to capture the "feeling" in the glass.”
--Leo Schneeman, GM, Upholstery Store: Food and Wine (#12 in cocktails in New York)

“We try to match the mood and feel of each season in our cocktails.  In the winter, we featured darker cocktails that are boozier and fuller.  Our spring menu is leaning more towards lighter cocktails that are aromatic and refreshing.”
--Kyle Pepperell, GM, Boka (#5 in cocktails in Chicago)

“Spring always brings some of my favorite flavors. Rhubarb starts the season and plays quite well with agave spirits. Strawberries at their peak are my all-time favorite fruit. The fresh herbs and flowers are great for syrups, garnishes, and tinctures.”
--Jeff Walters, Beverage Director, Topolobampo (#1 in cocktails in Chicago)

“It’s generally about the mood of the season… until something runs out.  This is probably our biggest issue.  We test and try a new cocktail, and then the ingredient that we loved too much isn’t available any longer.  When this happens, we have to look to what’s coming next.  All seasons have phases. Spring onions, ramps, asparagus and rhubarb all come in over a couple of weeks.  We lighten it up in the spring and then have richer cocktails on in the winter.  We make our own sweet vermouth seasonally as well so that when we add it into cocktails, it also aligns.  Ultimately, it’s always a waiting game to see what mother nature brings us, and when!”
--Michelle Biscieglia, Beverage Director, Blue Hill (#9 in cocktails in New York)

“This spring I'm trying to incorporate lots of flowers and herbs. Chicago had a long and rainy winter so I think we all need some color.”
--Patrick Brennan, Bartender, Spiaggia (#3 in cocktails in Chicago)

“Spring is the most exciting time for me. I’m itching for it already.  We always first look to the kitchen and the green market.  Everything at the market will turn to 300 shades of green so quickly.  We have a forager at Stone Barns who frequents the market, but also brings us some unique and interesting ingredients from Stone Barns.  As roots, veggies, herbs and fruits start to trickle in,  we will already have several ideas in mind.  We’re still waiting for that first pop of green this year, and then it’s full speed ahead!”
--Michelle Biscieglia, Beverage Director, Blue Hill (#9 in cocktails in New York)


On Finding Unique Ingredients:

“New and interesting ingredients are all around us. I find inspiration in pulling out flavors I find to be particularly unique and interesting from both sweet and savory dishes. Isolating those particular notes that you find intriguing in food can then be translated into any number of cocktails, syrups, infusions, tinctures, etc.”
--Jeff Walters, Beverage Director, Topolobampo (#1 in cocktails in Chicago)

“I always keep an eye out for new and interesting ingredients. I tend to pick up new spices from ethnic markets, seek out ingredients that I read about in books (for example, I'm reading one about perfume right now—ever had a frankincense cocktail?), and, of course, liberally borrow ideas from other bars. Last fall I had a cocktail with activated charcoal at Cindy's in Chicago. For the next month I was feverishly shaking charcoal into all sorts of concoctions!”
--Patrick Brennan, Bartender, Spiaggia (#3 in cocktails in Chicag0)

“An ingredient often captures our attention at the Union Square Greenmarket. Then, we play around to find the perfect companions of liquor, bitters, and other components.”
--Leo Schneeman, GM, Upholstery Store: Food and Wine (#12 in cocktails in New York)

“The ingredients on our cocktail list must be written in a way that sells the drink. It must seem novel, exciting, enticing and a little mysterious, while at the same time remaining accessible to the uneducated drinker by not relying on arcane brand names. When I read a menu I want to be excited to try all of the cocktails!”
--Patrick Brennan, Bartender, Spiaggia (#3 in cocktails in Chicago)

“We all do what every restaurant professional does: We spend all of our money on food and drinks on our days off.  We get inspired by other restaurants. We go to the greenmarket in Union Square and see ingredients that may be new to us.  We travel and get excited by other cultures.  Every time one of us tastes something new, we bring back an idea to the restaurant and try to figure out how to incorporate it someway into a component of a cocktail.  We experiment by making infusions and syrups. We test and taste and usually 3-4 new cocktails will emerge.  Even if the cocktail doesn’t make it on the list,  then we have something different and exciting off-list to play around with for guests.”
--Michelle Biscieglia, Beverage Director, Blue Hill (#9 in cocktails in New York)

How To Make Your Restaurant Influencing And Attractive

Two things that commonly attract customers towards restaurants are its food and interior. Food predominantly is the prime ingredient while we are in the restaurant but the interior is also the main element that attracts people. Restaurants are not just to cater people but to make them feel comfortable, refreshed and depression less. In an infographic created by Industville, you will assimilate some crazy details about restaurant design and how they are developed keeping great deals in mind.

Most restaurants are colored in ivory, beige, white or pale yellow, because these colors induce comfort and a relaxed feeling, encouraging customers to stay for longer period. This type of behavior modification is not limited to color. There are many such attributes which help evoke emotions of people, such as lighting, music, and acoustics. Additionally, smell is a key asset which will help you increase footfall in your restaurant.

The infographic we present here describes these assets quite clearly and might help aid your future design decisions. Have a look at these dos and don’ts from Industville.

April 2017 AmEx Promotion

Complete a survey for any four of the restaurants on the list below in April and earn a $500 AmEx Travel Savings Credit. You can click on each restaurant below for more details, to make a reservation, or to take your survey!

UPDATE: Earn 3,000 points for each survey of the restaurants below taken after April 13!

Happy Dining!

The Best Deal In Town

We asked a few restaurateur about their value propositions. Here’s what they had to say:

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“We've always wanted to offer a unique dining experience at Contra—which is influenced by our culinary backgrounds, techniques, and local ingredients—but at the same time remain approachable. That means we start by keeping our tasting menu at a reasonable price: $67 for six to eight courses of snacks, savory dishes, and two desserts.”
--Jeremiah Stone, owner and chef, Contra (#1 in value in New York)

“Blue Plate's value is the combination of many things: we have always retained our blue collar roots (we still sell a can of Olympia for $1), so anyone can come in and get a meatloaf main course and a can of Oly and leave satisfied for $25 including tip.”
--Jeff Trenam, owner, Blue Plate (#3 in value San Francisco)

“Delivering value is a balance of the whole experience. Just on price alone, some items may be cheaper than others but charging more for that and less for a more expensive item is a unique way to create value.”
--Alejandro Morgan, executive chef, Lolinda (#9 in value in San Francisco)  

“So much of our value comes not just in the ingredients—the variety of seafood—but in the balance of tastes, which we care deeply about. Our guests can sense the value from the high-quality fish as well as from the variety of seafood incorporated in our omakase.   That will always differentiate us from our competition.”
--Mitsunori Kusakabe, CEO & chef, Kusakabe (#2 in value San Francisco

“The ingredients are always the leader for us [in delivered value]. We put a lot of focus on quality and we make sure presentation of the experience is always at the forefront.”
--Jeremiah Stone, owner and chef, Contra (#1 in value in New York)

“Hopefully guests get the impression that Blue Plate is still relevant in the evolving culinary scene. So there are comfortable dishes to satisfy primal hunger, but also new dishes, with cool, new, and trendy ingredients, presented with a lot of attention to detail and with great aesthetics.”
--Jeff Trenam, owner, Blue Plate (#3 in value San Francisco)

“We don't want our guests left feeling that they want more. And don't want away hungry. So the amount of food offered on our tasting menu is always accounted for.”
--Jeremiah Stone, owner and chef, Contra (#1 in value in New York)

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“Guests today have a better idea of cost than they did before. So it's extremely important to create value without compromising quality. Sometimes people think value is portion size but it's actually about quality of ingredients vs. portion size.”
--Alejandro Morgan, executive chef, Lolinda (#9 in value in San Francisco)

“We pursue the concept of ‘kaeseki,’ which consists of the five elements: ‘Five Colors, Five Tastes, Five Senses, Five Methods’
Five Colors: Color pallet that is visually expressed in dishes: white, black, yellow, red, green
Five Tastes: Balance of tastes throughout the course: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, spicy
Five Senses: Kaiseki cuisine aims to appeal to five senses: sense of taste, smell, vision, hearing, touch
Five Methods: Five cooking methods used to create the menu: roast, steam, fry, simmer, raw”
--Mitsunori Kusakabe, CEO & chef, Kusakabe (#2 in value San Francisco)

“When it comes to the plate, we have never been skimpy. We are all avid eaters and we certainly don't want people leaving hungry. At the same time, we hope we get portions right so that guests don't leave uncomfortably stuffed. But I think a key part of our value is that we maintain classic dishes, like the meatloaf, mac and cheese, fried chicken, yet we also have smaller plates that are little more ambitious or experimental. These dishes are not usually our top sellers, but they are vehicles to have fun. And along the way, guests don't feel like they are in a highway diner.”
--Jeff Trenam, owner, Blue Plate (#3 in value San Francisco)

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“We are trying to provide the food with traditional Japanese cooking techniques, but we try not to make it just ‘traditional Japanese cuisine’.   We are always looking for some unique brand of originality that our guests can find in each course.”
--Mitsunori Kusakabe, CEO & chef, Kusakabe (#2 in value in San Francisco)

“Guests define the value of Blue Plate by how personal this place feels to them. We have great employee retention and a robust program for recognizing and acknowledging repeat customers. We know a lot of our guests so we are able to personalize their dining experience for them. We do this while still retaining our own quirky character, so the place (I hope) feels like their little secret.”
--Jeff Trenam, owner, Blue Plate (#3 in value San Francisco)

“Guests are putting their faith in our hands and putting their trust in us to provide an exceptional meal. Through their experience they may try new things, and share that with their fellow dining companions too.”
--Jeremiah Stone, owner and chef, Contra (#1 in value in New York)

Q&A with Chef Lee Wolen of Boka

Source: Boka’s Facebook page.

Source: Boka’s Facebook page.

Lee Wolen, Executive Chef and Partner at Boka, got his start at a vocational culinary school during his high school years in Cleveland. From there he went on to work as sous chef at Moto, Butter, and Eleven Madison Park, before joining Boka as executive chef and partner.

Ranked #5 in Chicago’s Preliminary 2018 Ratings, Boka’s quirky seasonal menu has proven popular among Chicagoans and laid the foundation for the Boka Restaurant Group. We had a chance to catch up with the award-winning chef.


Renzell: Let’s start at the beginning. What was the first dish you learned to cook?

Chef Lee Wolen: A ham and cheddar omelette. I used to make them when I was 7 years old for my mom for breakfast.

R: Describe your ideal food day.

LW: I would wake up and have a Cortado from Caffe Streets in Chicago and then have breakfast at Le CouCou in New York: avocado toast with poached eggs. For lunch, I’d stay east and head over to Xi’an Famous Foods for their cold noodles. Dinner would be my wife’s homemade turkey meatballs with steamed broccoli. For dessert, I would eat a chocolate chip cookie. I’m not a big sweets guy, but I can’t say no to a chocolate chip cookie.

R: What inspires you to continue to create new dishes?

LW: Eating out and cookbooks. We have walls of cookbooks at Boka. It’s my favorite part of the kitchen. I don’t drink, so occasionally guests bring cookbooks for the kitchen as gifts!

Source: Boka Restaurant. 

Source: Boka Restaurant. 

R: Do you have a favorite ingredient to work with?

LW: It changes all the time, but right now I’m enjoying cooking with lamb tongue, which is currently corned and grilled at Boka.

R: Do you have a favorite dish to cook?

LW: Pasta, from start to finish. I love how versatile pasta is.

R: Do you ever venture outside the typical cuisine of Boka?

LW: We will at our new restaurant Somerset when it opens in the Viceroy Chicago Hotel this fall!

Want to experience Chef Lee’s creations for yourself? Book an evening at Boka!

Wine Wisdom from Top Ranked Restaurants

Source: Shutterstock. 

Source: Shutterstock. 


Garrett Smith, beverage director at Sushi Nakazawa, New York:  Our list is an interesting one as it contains everything from sake to beer to wine, even teas. Sake and wine are each organized by appellation or prefecture. Prefectures, North to South, and roughly the same with the wines. We moved from a small list containing just countries of origin, organized by price when I first came to the restaurant, to a sort of hybrid. I have the Grand Crus of Chevalier-Montrachet lumped into the Puligny Montrachet section, and Bätard, BBM and Montrachet with the Chassagnes. It gives me a little OCD but my list would break if I added another page.

Jon McDaniel, general manager and wine director at Acanto, Chicago: The Dawson is an interesting place for wine because when we opened up four years ago, it was, and still is, a very cocktail-focused beverage program. Wine is growing more and more in our location because of the shift in how our guests are dining. More and more we’re seeing a younger wine-drinking palate, so our list is organized specifically by price: Great Wines—$44; Greater Wines—$66; Greater-est Wines—$88. (Though we have included a few "baller bottles" to reach above for the connoisseur.)

Justin Lee, beverage director at Atera, New York: Our wine list is organized by region throughout the world, from old to new, north to south. Therefore, terroir plays a big role in our organization. The soil type is naturally integrated into the organization from champagne's chalk soil to Chablis's kimmeridgian soil, down to Burgundy's Limestone and clay soils, all the way down to Beaujolais's Granite backbone.

Michelle Biscieglia, wine director at Blue Hill: The wine list at Blue Hill is organized by style, with categories such as 'aromatic and floral' and 'smooth and earthy.'  Although I'd say that organizing as such is untraditional, it helps to promote wines that would otherwise get lost.  I am able to put a classic Morgon from Beaujolais next to a Blaufrankisch from Austria and a carbonic Listan Negro from the Canary Islands.  Guests who would normally gravitate towards the Beaujolais are often prompted to ask about the other more obscure wines. It makes the list a lot more playful and fun for both the staff and the guests.

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Shelley Lindgren, owner and wine director at SPQR, San Francisco: Our list is follows an all-Italian direction. The way to cover so many regions is to organize by the Roman Roads that exist over the history of the Roman Empire.  This way, we can follow historical routes to cover geographical directions on the list:  Via Appia goes to southern Italy; Via Flaminia heads to Umbria; Via Salaria is the salt route in central Italy towards Le Marche and Abruzzo, Lazio.  

Jennifer Gomez, wine director at The Cavalier, San Francisco: I have fun playing with The Cavalier's theme as a London-inspired brasserie. Here, geography plays a role. We feature a good selection of classic tastes of the British. At one time or another they had strong business and culinary relations in Burgundy, Bordeaux, Champagne, Portugal and Spain. You will find those on our list.

JM: I organized the list in a way that stripped price out of the equation and really focused on what you feel like drinking tonight. This way our guests can engage in the list a bit more, read our quirky descriptions, and find a wine that truly interests their palate and their wallet.  Our goal is to Make Wine Fun Again!



GS: The only reason my job exists is because everyone has a different palate, and everyone thinks differently. Some are specifically looking for Pinot Noir, love the grape and want to try one they’ve never before experienced. Many want to know what one tastes like, and will often times be looking for an extreme style, as in purely mineral, or big and rich, which pertains to both sake and wine.

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JM: Guests at The Dawson respond mostly to buzz words, such as "light-bodied, “ silky," "smooth," and even "blueberries".  Our guests have responded to our staff talking about wine in a way that relates to them, using language, descriptors and flavors that are part of their vocabulary, not sommelier-speak.

JM: When it comes to The Dawson, that bold, rich, powerful aromas of fruit, jamminess, structure, cigar, and spice are what our guests go crazy for.  It is a flavor profile that lends itself towards wines without restraint. Typically wines from classic Old World regions have a long history of bottlings to live up to as to what the wine should taste like, what the tannic structure is, what it represents.

GS: The first thing I think of when I taste a wine is do I even like it? My palate is pretty broad, as long as it doesn’t taste like punishment, I’m usually ok. Then I ask if it has a cool story or history. I don’t want to have the same list as everyone else. But the most important element is if I want to put it next to chef Nakazawa’s food. It’s not just question of pairing, but (and I’m only slightly kidding) if it’s worthy. When I taste a wine or a sake, I want to envision the food and how fantastic it will become with the introduction of this wine or sake.



JL: Our guest is varied and there isn't a grape variety that gravitate to per say. However, we do add more rare grape varieties into our wine pairing menu such as Rotgipfler from Austria to other hidden gems. I alway look for grape varieties that speak of a place, and have authenticity. If I'm selecting a Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, I want it to taste as such, and not a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, and vice versa.  

MB: I think that grape varietal is the easiest route to take when describing a wine.  If I approach a guest who is overwhelmed by the wine list, I like to break it down to the simplest form and ask what they usually drink. Pinot Noir or Cabernet? Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay?  I can then branch off and find them something that maybe isn't the exact grape that they were looking for, but something similar that will hit all of the flavor and body profiles.  It creates a nice dialogue and connection with the guest.

JM: I think of all of these factors that go into creating a wine, our guests respond mostly to the geography. Their familiarity with places like Napa Valley, Willamette Valley, and Marlborough, New Zealand far outweighs appellations in Italy, France, or Spain.  Searching for cool-climate Pinot Noir that gives a great backbone of acid and brighter fruits is very popular with our guests. Our guests gravitate towards warm-climate wines.  They love wines with a bit of juiciness, plushness, and power that you get from ripe fruit in a warm-climate.  

SL: It has been the most exciting to see the regional appreciation of food and wine take place at SPQR. Even though we have Nebbiolo and Sangiovese represented and valued on our wine list, you might be equally guided to try a lesser known red from Piedmont like Pelaverga, Freisa or maybe a Nebbiolo from Alta Piemonte in areas like Gattinara or Ghemme. Nebbiolo selections have grown over the years so that part is broken up into sub-regions like Barolo and Alta Piemonte, etc.            

GS: I think both looking at wine that reflect a particular flavor profile and which preserve the characteristics of the place are interesting, but can be muddied. I know one pair of winemakers, friends, who have polarizing views. One has vineyards that are spread more than one thousand miles apart, but he makes every one of his wines the same fashion, in his mind allowing the terroir to shine through. The other winemaker makes wines from within about a 100 mile radius, but feels that every site determines itself how it should be treated, as a unique terroir. I think too often we are looking for a right or wrong answer, when all we should be offering is instead an opinion. Every palate is different, of the winemaker all the way down to the customers and everyone in between.

MB: I always want a sense of place in wines that I'm tasting. That is what will define the flavor profile in the end.  A Grenache/Syrah blend from Châteuneuf-du-Pape will almost always fall into the 'ripe and luscious' category on the list.  There are plenty that are full and fruity, but there are also plenty that are fruity with stony minerality, classic southern Rhône mossy flavors and a nice savory quality to them.  It's what the region is about, so I want to be able to taste that in the wine.

JG: I’m looking for wines that have their structural components in balance. I want the wines that keep the integrity of their region of origin.



MB: We don’t intentionally list our wines by terroir but often I find the wines will naturally fall that way since we organize by style. Tradition and terroir will alway lead the style. A Muscadet and a Village Chablis will be on the same page. Pinot Noir on limestone, whether it's from Burgundy, Price Edward County, or California, will all be on the same page. A Fiano di Avellino grown on volcanic soil will be right next to an Assyrtiko from the volcanic island of Santorini. It always just happens on its own!  

MB: Ultimately, geography, climate, and soil variety play the biggest role in the wines that I choose.  I have a particular underlying theme in all of the wines on the list: balance. I often don't look at price or the stories behind the wines until after I've tasted them. If geography, climate and soil come together symbiotically in the wine, the result is going to be a balanced wine that lets the region speak for itself. Burgundy should taste like Burgundy; Sonoma should taste like Sonoma. If one of the components of terroir is masked by too much extraction or too much oak, then it can be tasted. The best winemakers let the grapes speak for themselves.

SL: We look for particular flavors and geographical characteristics. There are whites, for example like Fiano di Avellino, that have a distinct level of complexity from terroir, inherent acidity and texture that we really hope our guests experience from the grape.  Offering wines that we revere helps us match it with our food and the overall experience at SPQR and feel as though we are representing the quality of grapes as best we can.

GS: I try to learn as much as I can about the wine so I can introduce it to the staff and guests, and give them an idea where it comes from, and what lends certain character to it. And that’s really where soil and climate come in.  I’m not putting Klaus Peter Keller’s Limestone Riesling on the list because it comes from Limestone soils, but merely because it’s delicious, and will light that Scallop with Yuzu pepper on fire! Of course, the Limestone has generated that brightness and charged the floral tones more.

Q&A with Chef Marc Vidal of Boqueria

Source: Boqueria. 

Source: Boqueria. 

Chef Marc Vidal knows a thing or two about Spanish food. The Boqueria chef grew up in Barcelona working at his family’s tapas restaurant. When he turned sixteen, he enrolled in culinary school and, upon graduating, began working at some of the finest restaurants in Europe. As the executive chef for Boqueria’s five locations in New York City and Washington, DC, Marc is sharing a  taste of Spain with the US with his Patatas Bravas and Paella de Montaña.

Read on to find out his favorite dish, what inspires him, and more about the Spanish DNA!

Gambas al Ajillo: Shrimp, garlic, brandy, and Guindilla pepper in olive oil. Source: Boqueria.

Gambas al Ajillo: Shrimp, garlic, brandy, and Guindilla pepper in olive oil. Source: Boqueria.

Renzell: Let’s start at the beginning. What was the first dish you learned to cook?

Chef Marc Vidal: A roasted rabbit dish with caramelized onions and potatoes. That was my mom's favorite dish; she used to make it for us on Sunday’s at home. I still get this mouth-watering feeling when I think about it.

R: Describe your ideal food day.

MV: Probably eating pintxos at el Casco Viejo of San Sebastian, the city with more Michelin star restaurants in the world per square foot. You eat in many different restaurants for the meal, the food culture in that city is just something you won’t see anywhere else.

R: What inspires you to continue to create new dishes?

MV: Boqueria, Spain and the seasonal products we find at the farmers markets here in DC and NYC. With great products is very easy to get inspired.

R: Do you have a favorite ingredient to work with?

MV: I put garlic almost everywhere! Onions and tomatoes follow closely behind.

Source: Boqueria. 

Source: Boqueria. 

R: Do you have a favorite dish to cook?

MV: I have a ton of favorites. Right now I’m cooking more vegetables than ever before. But I also love to cook fish and meats, stews, soups. Everything!

R: Do you ever venture outside the typical cuisine of Boqueria?

MV: At Boqueria, we have classics and other dishes with Spanish DNA. We can use ingredients or techniques from other cuisines and make them Spanish in our way. When cooking for myself or family and friends, I probably do the same.

R: How did you come up with the name of the restaurant?

MV: Boqueria is the most important market and culinary center of Barcelona. Since we wanted to make sure our guests were transported to Barcelona this was the right one. Yann de Rochefort, our owner, picked the name.

Want to experience Chef Vidal’s Spanish cuisine for yourself? Join us on Tuesday, March 7 for our first private tasting event in DC at Boqueria. Sign up here.

Q&A with Chef Corey Lee of Benu and Monsieur Benjamin

A dish from Monsieur Benjamin (left) and Chef Corey Lee (right). Photo credit: Alanna Hale. 

A dish from Monsieur Benjamin (left) and Chef Corey Lee (right). Photo credit: Alanna Hale. 

With his restaurants ranked #1 and #9 in the Renzell 2018 Preliminary San Francisco ratings, Chef Corey Lee is a restaurant rock star. Benu and Monsieur Benjamin bring out the flavors of his home, Korea, with the French food and techniques he fell in love with.

Chef Corey Lee has been continuously praised for his skill and vision. “I don’t think anybody understands how remarkable and singular Corey is,” said David Chang of the Momofuku empire in the foreward to chef Lee’s book, Benu.“There’s never going to be anyone like him again. His skill set, what he’s done, and how he’s done it—it’s everything a cook should aspire to.”  

And so, we take brief peek into the mind of the ubiquitously revolutionary Chef Cory Lee.

Renzell: Let’s start at the beginning. What was the first dish you learned to cook?

Chef Corey Lee: Baked ziti. I was 8 or 9, and it was for our Thanksgiving dinner.

R: Describe your ideal food day.

CL: Dim sum followed by dinner at home with someone else cooking.

R: What inspires you to continue to create new dishes?

CL: I think that the creativity in developing new dishes is fueled partly by inspiration and partly by a lingering uneasiness about remaining stagnant.

R: Do you have a favorite ingredient to work with?

CL: Not really, I think about food more through the combination of ingredients and how they harmonize or interact with each other, rather than as individual ingredients.

R: Do you have a favorite dish to cook?

CL: Anything with rice.

R: Do you ever venture outside the typical cuisine of Benu and Monsieur Benjamin?

CL: Personally, I’m open to, and enjoy trying, any kind of food. Professionally, I’m also pretty open-minded. My main interest is delivering delicious flavors and I explore the ingredients of different cuisines to achieve that.

R: How did you come up with the name of the restaurants (both Benu and Monsieur Benjamin)?

CL: Benu is the ancient Egyptian word for phoenix. I liked how it represents rebirth, a new beginning, and longevity.

For Monsieur Benjamin, the name caught my attention while I was in Paris and heard a concierge call out to an American guest. I liked the combination of a French honorific with a classically American name. Benjamin is French term of endearment (for the youngest child), and also Benjamin Franklin was actually the first US ambassador to France.


Get a taste of Chef Corey Lee’s culinary expertise by joining us for a private tasting at Monsieur Benjamin on March 21. CLICK HERE to sign up. Stay tuned for more Q&As with the chefs of Renzell!

Swiss Swigs and Piora Pours

On Monday night, Renzell Members in New York made their way to Verve Wine in Tribeca for a wine tasting Experience with Piora. Victoria James, Piora’s beverage director and one of New York’s top sommeliers, chose three Swiss wines from the Piora cellar to taste.

Her selections included two whites and a red:

  • René Favre & Fils, Petit Arvine, Valais 2014

  • Mathier, Fendant ‘Côteau de Sierre’ 2015

  • Cave de la Côte, Gamay 2014

The high altitude and dry climate of Swiss vineyards give the wine a unique balance of acidity and sweetness.  Only 10% of Swiss wines are exported, making this a truly unique experience. Not only are the wines produced in Switzerland also almost exclusively consumed there, but they are also typically consumed within the vintage, satisfying skiers after a long day on the slopes.

Victoria James pours her selections for Renzell Members. Source: Renzell

Victoria James pours her selections for Renzell Members. Source: Renzell

The evening of tasting, hors d’oeuvres, and conversation with Victoria and Dustin Wilson, owner of Verve Wine and the former sommelier at Eleven Madison Park, was topped off with raffling off a bottle of 2012 Futo "OV/SL" Oakville Bordeaux Blend. Congratulations to the lucky winner!

If you are interested in purchasing any of the wines from the tasting, email Verve Wine at

Q&A with Momotaro’s Chef Mark Hellyar

Every Renzell Restaurant offers unique and balanced experiences. And each chef is an artist, creating dishes with inspired flavor combinations, innovative techniques, and traditional approaches.  

Chef Mark Hellyar of Momotaro in Chicago spoke to Renzell this week, giving us some insight in his passion for fresh, seasonal ingredients, and where he finds his inspiration to create new dishes.


Renzell: Let’s start at the beginning. What was the first dish you learned to cook?

Chef Mark Hellyar: The first dish I learned to cook with confidence was braised ossobucco with risotto. By doing this I learned the complicated process of braising along with sauce work, and the ever-challenging risotto.

R: Describe your ideal food day.

MH: I try to eat healthy, so my ideal food day would be lots of fresh shellfish and a simple strip steak executed well. Basically, lots of protein to be turned into lots of energy. I also love cooking outdoors over a fire pit at my parents’ house during the holidays, where I build a stove top over the fire and cook root vegetables buried under the wood coal. 

R: Do you have a favorite ingredient to work with?

MH: My favorite ingredient varies a bit—it is whatever the best fish species we can find at the moment—and nearly always shellfish.  Recently, we received live baby snow crabs from Hokkaido that are amazing and there's nothing quite like live king crab cooked and eaten as is.  Basically, anything pristine and unique and tasty.

Source: Momotaro.

Source: Momotaro.

R: What inspires you to continue to create new dishes?

MH: Inspiration comes from everywhere.  Your team, your friends, family and, most of all, nature.  Creative spells come on strong at times and run their course, but it's knowing and being comfortable with the fact that at times you do not feel creative at all and realizing it will come back to you in another surprising version.  

R: Do you have a favorite dish to cook?

MH: My favorite dish to cook is sausage and kraut, basically my take on a wood fire choucroute. I love all forms of sausage making. For this dish, I like to build a fire and get smoke on an assortment of sausages from knockwurst to brats and blood sausage along with boudin blanc and smoked kielbasa. Then I have a pot on the stove full of beer, kraut, and potatoes that has been cooked in the fire along with mustard. I place all the sausages in the kraut and simmer over the fire until the liquid is nearly evaporated. Then I grill bread and put it on top of the braised sausage kraut to absorb the smoked juices and then serve with pickles and mustards.

R: What other cuisines do you enjoy cooking?

MH: I like cooking an array of foods from old school French to Turkish to Lebanese.  Cooking on a whim with very seasonal products is always a lot of fun.

Stay tuned for more Q&As with the chefs of Renzell!

Out On The Town With Renzell: A Week Of Experiences

Photo credit: Jessica Hernandez

Photo credit: Jessica Hernandez

This was a big week for Renzell Experiences! We held five events around the country—showcasing different restaurants while dining on spectacular food in phenomenal environments. And, in many cases, getting to hear from the chefs themselves.     

We kicked the week off at The Bellwether in Los Angeles on Sunday morning. Chef Ted Hopson put together an eclectic menu—patty melt and grapefruit negroni anyone?—that thrilled the Renzell Members on what was otherwise a rainy and miserable weather night (unheard of in LA!). The toasted sesame cake (pictured above) topped off the evening. You can see the full menu below.

Continuing up the West Coast, on Monday evening we hosted a private tasting at Spruce in San Francisco. Tucked along tree lined Sacramento Street in the historic Presidio Heights, guests mingled and dined in the restaurant’s private dining room, The Library. A curated three-course meal took guests on a tour of Northern California, featuring local foods and wine.

Renzell Members were treated to a unique  Michael White experience over two nights. Osteria Morini played host to special tastings, sponsored by Thuzio and Moet Hennessy, during which White, head chef and co-owner of the Altamarea Group, mingled and spoke to the guests during an early a cocktail hour.. He then prepared and presented a four-course Emilia Romagna-inspired meal.

On Tuesday night, Renzell hosted a grand dinner at Blue Hill at Stone Barns for our Master Members (who had completed 50 surveys for individual restaurants within a year). Chef Adam Kaye introduced each course with a brief history of the ingredients—even going into detail about the progeny of each—and the techniques used to grow and harvest (from their own farm on the premises). We won’t even go into the fresh honeycomb!

Make sure you don’t miss the next Renzell Experience in your city. You can see them all here!

Crispy Pig Face and Bang Bang at Khe-Yo

We hosted a private tasting event on Monday night for Renzell members and their guests at Tribeca’s renowned Khe-Yo.

To kick things off the Khe-Yo chef Soulayphet “Phet” Schwader and restaurateur Marc “Forge” Forgione sat down with Town & Country’s Sam Dangremond to discuss culinary inspiration, food trends, and the uniqueness of Laotian food.

Phet and Forge are former roomates (when they both worked for BLT) and now friends and partners. Forge, who serves “Laotian Sushi” at his own restaurant, had never had Laotian food until living with Phet. Understandable, given that Khe-Yo is one of the only Laotian restaurants in New York. Phet even has to have his mom send Laotian ingredients to New York from Kansas where there’s a sizeable Laotian community. The pair also divulged their perfect food day: eating home cooked meals with family.  

After the interview, we moved on to the tasting…and, oh boy, did we taste! The menu consisted of two exclusive cocktails, four small plates, five large plates, and two desserts; all served family-style and with the recommendation to “eat with your hands.” Take a look at the menu to the right, featuring everything from traditional Crunchy Coconut Rice and Pork Curry Noodles to Crispy Pig Face and Wok Seared Lobster & Noodles.  

Tuna Laap (left) and Lime Mint Sorbet & Pomegranate (right).

Tuna Laap (left) and Lime Mint Sorbet & Pomegranate (right).

Chef Phet making his signature Bang Bang Sauce.

Chef Phet making his signature Bang Bang Sauce.

At the end of the evening, Chef Phet gave everyone a jar of his famous Bang Bang Sauce. But not before demonstrating how to make it at home. Using a mortar and pestle (hence the name “Bang Bang”), he combined Thai chilies, fish sauce, garlic, sugar, lime, and cilantro.  

Now you try!

Thank you to all who joined us for the event! Keep an eye out for upcoming Renzell Experiences!

To Tip or Not to Tip…

Source: Getty Images. 

Source: Getty Images. 

The recent trend among restaurants to eliminate tipping—opting to raise menu prices and distribute the profits more evenly amongst the staff—has produced a number of mixed results.

Thad Vogler eliminated tipping in his restaurants—Bar Agricole and Trou Normand in San Francisco—raising menu prices by 20% and paying servers a salary. In the 10 months the policy was in place, Vogler lost 70% of his service staff who had formerly relied on tips.

On the flip side, Tom Colicchio of NYC’s Craft successfully got rid of tipping during its lunch service, and Danny Meyer eliminated tipping at several Union Square Hospitality Group restaurants including The Modern and Gramercy Tavern, raising menu prices across the board. In cities such as Seattle, restaurants en masse have moved towards a no-tipping policy, often adding a 20% “service charge” to every check, which is distributed evenly among the staff.

Why are restaurants bothering to buck the status quo? And why is it not working out for some?

Tipping, many restaurateurs argue, creates an unequal pay system across the restaurant’s staff. After all, your dining experience does not depend solely on the server. It takes cooks, hosts, busboys and a whole host of other front and behind the scenes players. Why should servers reap the benefit of their own pay system?  

As appealing as evenly distributed salaries for restaurant workers sounds, it turns out diners (and servers!) may actually prefer the tipping system. Diners believe that the prospect of better service is dependent on the private payment system between them and their server. It is, in many ways, the one controllable part of the dining experience. A survey from Horizon Media shows that 81% of restaurant-goers said they would prefer to stick with tipping.  

As Vogler’s experience showed, servers might prefer the tipping system, too. The prospect of a limitless, and sometimes untaxable, salary can be much more appealing than a bi-weekly paycheck. The Horizon study found that 60% of servers would forgo a salary in place of tips.  

Price-fixe and tasting menu only restaurants, such as Eleven Madison Park and Atera have traditionally been more successful in weaving service into the cost. It’s possible when there is no choice to make—and no need to consult a waiter—the relationship between diner and server becomes less driven by economics.

Furthermore, raising menu prices can potentially change consumer dining patterns. Higher menu prices may create less demand for tables or cause diners to choose lower priced restaurants. “It’s a very different emotional calculus,” explains chef Danny Meyer.

What do you think about the movement towards eliminating tipping? Would you prefer to pay more for your meal if you didn’t have to tip? Tweet us @renzell and let us know!

Winter Cocktail Recipes from Top Restaurants

The holidays are almost over...but winter has just begun. We’ve gathered some of the top winter cocktail recipes to help you get through the season. For restaurants, seasonal cocktail menus are essential, because who wants to drink a mojito when it’s 30 degrees outside? So, we recruited the experts to show us how it’s done!


Blood Orange Margarita from Empellón Cocina

Empellón Cocina, ranked on our list of New York’s top cocktail lists, is known for putting its signature culinary flair on traditional Mexican fare. This blood orange margarita is no exception!


  • 1.5 oz Pueblo Viejo Blanco Tequila

  • 0.25 oz New Holland "Clockwork Orange" Blood Orange Liqueur

  • 0.25 oz Agave Syrup (agave nectar diluted with water in a 1:1 ratio)

  • 1 oz Blood Orange Juice or Pureé

  • 0.75 oz Fresh Lime Juice


Combine all ingredients in an iced cocktail shaker. Shake and strain over fresh ice. Serve with a half-rim of citrus salt.


Lost In Translation from Daniel

At Daniel, ranked #3 on our New York cocktails list, attention to detail is everything. The Upper East Side restaurant balances taste and presentation for an impeccable dining (and drinking) experience. Plus, adding matcha to a cocktail is one of the trendiest thing you will do this winter!


  • 1 oz Auva Prata Cacacha

  • 1 oz Mizu Shochu

  • 0.5 oz Lime

  • 0.75 oz Simple Syrup

  • 1 scoop Matcha Powder

  • 0.75 oz Egg White


Add all ingredients into shaker. Dry shake, shake with ice, strain into black clay bowl (or whatever vessel you prefer). No ice. Garnish with dusting of matcha powder.


First Frost from Green Zebra

Green Zebra’s new mixologist, James Knittle, has created a list of winter cocktails for the vegetarian restaurant. Knittle’s flair for the dramatic--probably from his tiki bar background--is further elevated by the vintage glasses Green Zebra uses are part of its bar program.


  • 1.5 oz Tanuki Raccoon Sake

  • 0.5 oz Chareau Aloe Liqueur

  • 2 dashes Bitter Truth Cucumber bitters

  • 0.5 oz Yuzu Juice

  • 0.5 oz Lime Juice

  • 0.75 oz Simple Syrup


Combine all ingredients in an iced cocktail shaker. Shake and serve up in a frosted coupe (or your preferred glass) with mint speared cucumber float.


There you have it! Three delicious winter cocktails from top restaurants that will be sure to impress this season. We’d love to see you make them! Tag us in your posts on Instagram (@renzellrestaurants) or Twitter (@renzell)!

In case you missed it, check out our list of New York’s Top 15 Best Cocktail Lists!

Closings (and tears)


Sometimes even the best of times come to an end. A few Renzell Restaurants are, sadly, closing at the end of this year: Betony and Soto in New York, Range in San Francisco, and Perennial Virant in Chicago. And DC's Ocopa has already closed its doors.

Betony, a beacon of urbanity on West 57th St, and one of the original Renzell Restaurants, is run by Eamon Rockey, a restaurateur by trade but a bon vivant by practice, and chef Bryce Shuman. They originally met at Eleven Madison Park before transforming the former kitsch-filled Brasserie Pushkin.  

The numbers don’t lie: Betony ranks #1 in hospitality on Renzell (and top 10 in cocktails, design, food, and service). 


Soto, the non-descript uni palace in the West Village, and a recently named Renzell Restaurant, is ending a more than decade long run in the West Village. Sotohiro Kosugi—a master with a knife and a multitude of creative glazes and reductions—has run Soto with aplomb for more than a decade. Kosugi is returning to Japan, which may be reason enough for a trip in the future. 


Range, one of the original pioneers on the Valenica strip in the mission, is closing after more than a dozen years. Phil West, owner and chef, returned to the kitchen a few years back returning the modern dining room to the forefront of creativity. West was a master at indulgent foods, but Range stood alone with it's forward thinking cocktails. 

Ocopa, located along Washington, DC’s H Street Corridor, has permanently closed its doors. The Peruvian restaurant was well known for its signature Pisco Sours, ceviche and one-of-a-kind brunch menu. With touches of Asian influence, Ocopa melded its Peruvian flavors into the raw fish and potato dishes that dot the menu.

In Chicago, Perennial Virant will be closing until the beginning of May. Its chef, Paul Virant, will be leaving at the end of the year. Boka Restaurant will use this break to “reconcept following a final service on New Year’s Eve, and a new restaurant with two new partners should open in the spring,” according to Eater Chicago.

Post updated on December 20, 2016. 

New York's Top 15 Best Lighting Designs

In a restaurant, light isn’t just practical, it’s another layer of aesthetic curation that restaurants play with.

Dimness is a value in a public space—it affords intimacy where spaces sometimes won’t allow it. But visibility is just as valuable: you’ve got to be able to read the menu, get the full effect of the presentation, and know what you’re eating. Striking a balance can be tricky without interrupting the design of the space—but these restaurants have perfected it.

With lighting design that achieves both art and, well, light, here are New York’s Top 15 for Best Lighting Design.

New York's Top 15 Best Bathroom Designs

It’s inevitable: you’ll end up in the restroom at some point during your evening out. The transition between dining room and bathroom shouldn’t feel like a stark interruption, but flow naturally. It offers a moment’s quiet reprieve from the hustle and bustle—it is a restroom after all—but you shouldn’t forget where you are. You’re in a luxury restaurant, and that luxury should extend to all corners of the building.

These fifteen restaurants have restrooms that wowed our members—maybe you should give them a try.

Making The Rounds!


There’s often an assumption that, as a founder of a restaurant rating system, I get a lot of free food and drinks. Nothing could be further from the truth! As opinionated as I am about restaurants, my preferences don’t factor into Renzell’s methodology so there’s no need for anyone to impress me.

The upside is that I can talk openly with owners, sommeliers, chefs, servers, bartenders, general managers, private dining directors, and everyone else in between, at restaurants around the country. Since launching our first list in New York City—and expanding to San Francisco and Chicago—and releasing our first set of official ratings in September, I’ve learned a lot about the restaurants Renzell covers and the people on the inside who make them so successful.

Over the past month I’ve hand-delivered each NYC restaurant’s personalized Renzell plaque of recognition. I try to stop by just before service begins, and always find the restaurants buzzing with pre-service energy; prep-work in the kitchen, final touches to the tables, bar re-stocking, uniform-primping, and family meals.

Not one person has been too busy to take a moment, say hello, shake my hand, talk about their restaurant and, in many cases, they’ve pulled back the curtain to show me a whole lot more. Michael White took me downstairs to the underground kitchens at Marea to show off his fresh fish selection and then proceeded to play a video on his phone of his own East River striped bass catch. Jean-Georges Vongerichten happily posed for a photograph in the Jean-Georges kitchen and even allowed a patron to photobomb our shoot. Eamon Rockey laughingly played frisbee with the plaque along with the entire Betony team while posing for a group shot on 57th Street. Cedric and Louise Vongerichten shared stories at Perry Street of their philanthropic efforts with Food Dreams while touring me around their kitchen. Daniel Boulud brought his team out front of Daniel and personally curated the Renzell photo shoot on 65th street while simultaneously greeting fans. I amiably chatted with Ronny Emborg, Matthew Abbick and Michael Stein at Atera about what really drives them—the soundtrack!



Dan Barber let me sit in on the pre-dinner, front of house, meeting at Blue Hill as they discussed that night’s menu. The team at Carbone showed me around their sumptuous dining room while gracefully handling a guest who had showed up at 3:22pm for a 5pm reservation. At ZZ’s Clam Bar, Cody Loiselle made me a Bee’s Kiss; the Eleven Madison Park team insisted that I sit have a midday cocktail; and Christine Wright at Hearth poured me her latest favorite wine (ok, so every once in awhile I do get a free drink!). At Contra I witnessed Fabian von Hauske casually transporting a tray of uni between Wildair and Contra. Matt and Barbara Lambert, and the entire Musket Room team, piled out onto Elizabeth Street for an impromptu photo. At Craft we were given a royal tour even as we barged in on their family meal. Norihiro Ishizuka at Kura, Hirohisa Koyama at Hirohisa and Ju Yong Kim at Jungsik all happily posed for solo shots. Soulayphet Schwader at Khe-Yo claimed to be camera-shy before flashing the biggest smile around. At L’Artusi, the team showed off the 19th century self-published cookbook after whose author the restaurant is named. At Minetta Tavern, I was assured that the Renzell plaque was much better looking than their Michelin stars (we’ll take it!), and Simon Kim at Piora instantly installed our plaque right next to his own star. And at Upholstery Store, Kurt Gutenbrunner covered his boyish face with our plaque. At Momofuku Ko I spoke with Sean Gray, Chase Sinzer and Su Wong Ruiz about the perils of modern journalism and I got into a heavy conversation with Joel Steiger at Morimoto about the Renzell scoring system. At Pearl and Ash, Trae Basore astonishingly whipped up three dishes for us to photograph. On quiet Commerce Street a small crowd of tourists gathered to watch Daisuke Nakazawa, Garrett Smith and the entire Nakazawa team ham it up. Misha Mariani and Jonathan Benno graciously hosted me for dinner at Lincoln. And the Zenkichi team graciously posing for a photo right before throwing a Renzell experience for twenty Renzell members.

Everywhere I go, I’m met with eager kindness and a genuine interest in the Renzell project.

In the midst of all the activity that goes into running a restaurant, I’m grateful any member of the staff would give me the time of day, let alone shake my hand, talk with me, show me around, and pose for a picture. There’s a reason these people are in the hospitality business, and their passion is clear the moment you step in the door. It’s been amazing to talk about what Renzell does and hear that people in the restaurant business see a need for it. From the celebrity chefs to the runners, people who work in restaurants—especially the ones on our list—care deeply about feedback from their guests. And if they hear the guests are pleased, they’re pleased. And so am I.