These notes cover:





A city with good shellfish and, oddly, baked beans, which are traditional there.



Food rating: 2/10


The main restaurant of the Four Seasons Hotel.  Oddly this is rated the highest in Zagat and was voted best restaurant in Boston, the evidence for which was lacking on this visit.  It is all very pleasant, with a grand hotel dining room with plenty of space and competent service.  To start with pan-fried scallops were fresh and well timed (3/10).  For the main course a risotto was of merely adequate texture, the stock used lacking any real conviction (2/10).  A chocolate ice cream was made from good dark chocolate but has a slightly grainy texture (1/10).  Overall 2/10 only.  To be fair, the lunch menu is quite fairly priced.



Food rating: 3/10


The dining room at the Lenox hotel.  A surprisingly boisterous crowd on the evening that I visited, which avoided the dread “hotel dining room” feel but was not ideal for power meetings.  The menu is moderately ambitious, with even an amuse guele – here a simple salmon croustade.  Two scallops were attractive presented and pan fried well (3/10).  For the main course, medallions of tuna were seared rare and encrusted with peppercorns in reasonable balance (sometimes this combination can be dominated by the sharp taste of the pepper) and featured good tuna (4/10).  ”Lemon dessert” was technically less impressive, but still pleasant (2/10).  A somewhat limited wine list oddly had no dessert wines at all. 



Food Rating: 6/10

Back Bay, 30 Gloucester Street (between Commonwealth Avenue & Newbury Street), Boston, MA, 02115-2509

Phone: +1 (617) 262-3023


Set in a pretty Victorian town house, l’Espalier is the best restaurant in Boston.  It has three tasting menus (one vegetarian) as well as an a la carte.  Service is formal but very good – dishes are remembered, wine is topped up.  The menu tries, however, too hard to impress at times by mixing too many, and sometimes inappropriate, flavour combinations in each dish.  You can just hear the chef saying “now, if I just add one more unusual taste….”, which is a shame, as the basic technique is quite good.  The wine list is very classy, if limited in its selections outside the US and France, and if you have the tasting menu you can have a selection of wines chosen to match the courses for USD 55.   Tasting menus go from USD 75 – USD 175 each, and the a la carte would be around USD 95.    


On my last visit I started with butter poached Maine lobster, which was fairly tender, served with seafood chowder and topped with a few slices of prosciutto (5/10).  Next was an excellent slab of foie gras terrine, which had smooth texture and plenty of deep foie gras flavour, offered with a jelly of Sauternes and some rather dry Mission figs (7/10 except for the figs).   Next was a dish of very well timed, moist and plump divers scallops, tender red cabbage that avoided being too tart, an apple raita (why?) and a more appropriate saffron cauliflower puree (7/10).  Main course of marlin was nicely cooked, with miso broth, bak choi and tender ubon noodles (6/10).   Cheeses were from a mix of the US and France.  I tried Gariotin d’Alvignac goat chees, “Constant Bliss” soft cows milk cheese from Vermont, Epoisses from Burgundy in excellent, runny condition, an aged Gouda and Tomme de Brebis from Vermont, finished with a Spanish blue.  Dessert of chocolate millefeuille was made with Valrhona chocolate and was served with praline ice cream – a very rich dish that could perhaps have been better paired with something to cut through the richness of the chocolate e.g. a passion fruit sorbet (5/10).  Breads were of a good standard, as were petit fours.   Service from my waiter Ray was as smooth one could wish. 


Last visited October 2006.



Food Rating: 3/10

Back Bay/Financial District
52 Temple Pl. (bet. Tremont & Washington Sts.) Boston, MA, 02111-1315

Phone +1 (617) 542-8111


Trendy newcomer, though suffering a bit from confusion – this time mixing Indian with French.  The result is really a set of American dishes that vaguely features spices, rather than a true blend of the two stated cuisines.  Still, ingredients were good e.g. Divers scallops and some fairly fresh sea bass.  The setting is striking, an ex-bank with a very high ceiling and plenty of marble.  Downstairs they have retained the original vault door, which leads to a lively bar.  Last visited February 2002.




Food Rating: 4/10

Downtown Boston/Financial District
8 High St. (between Federal & Summer Streets), Boston, MA, 02110-1604

Phone: 00 1 (617) 426-1234


An ultra-trendy establishment in the financial district.  There is an attractive bar and lots of wood panelling as well as clever lighting to draw the upwardly mobile.  Michael Schlow’s cooking is somewhat inconsistent but can deliver e.g. a very fine diver’s scallop was sweet and had excellent texture, though the vegetables accompanying it were nothing special.  There is an excellent wine list, with many wines by the glass.  Pricey, as you are paying for the rather precious service.  Last visited July 2000. 



No 9 Park

Food Rating: 4/10

9 Park Street, Beacon Hill (between Beacon & Tremont Streets), Boston, MA 02108-4807

Phone: 001 (617) 742-9991


With an attractive view over Boston Common, this restaurant combines modern décor with up to date cooking.  A diver’s scallop was excellent as a starter, while a dish of pork cooked three ways was also of good quality.  The various dishes sampled were very consistent, suggesting that Barbara Lynch runs a tight ship here.  A chocolate tart for dessert was less good, but still perfectly acceptable. Portions are sensible sizes, and the service was pleasant.  Well worth a visit.  Last visited August 2000.




Food Rating: 1/10

1 Faneuil Hall, Boston 


The second restaurant of Todd English, who owns the very successful Olives.  In a street market, this looks like a tourist place but does above average seafood.  I had an excellent scallop on a bed of baked beans, though a tuna burger was less good, with rather soggy chips.  A decent wine list, but as befits a celebrity chef-owned place, the service has lots of attitude.  On a sunny lunchtime in a completely empty restaurant I asked to sit outside – “we don’t seat singles outside”, was the response, with a look as if I’d asked to sleep with the chef’s daughter.  After a discussion with the manager I was grudgingly granted a seat in the sunshine, and the world did not seem to come to an end as a result of this request.  Last visited August 2000.



Legal Seafood

Food Rating: 2/10

35 Columbus Avenue (Arlington St.) , Boston, MA, 02116-3907

Phone: (617) 426-4444


There are actually several branches now just in Boston of this pleasant, simple seafood place.  Don’t expect original cooking but the fish is fairly fresh and the preparation consistent, so in my experience it usually delivers what it promises at a fair price.  Last visited June 1999.



Food Rating: 5/10

223 Columbus Avenue at (Berkeley St.), South End, Boston, MA, 02116-5113

Phone: (617) 867-9300


Trendy dining room with a chic clientele- clearly a place to dress up in Boston.  However the reason to come is not the glamorous waiting staff but Jamie Mammano’s fine cooking.  I started with a tartare of tuna (described as “sushi grade” – I would not wished to have tried the “not good enough for sushi” grade) that was shaped into a cylinder and was indeed of a high standard, laced with ginger and soy, the texture nicely balanced by some shredded crispy wonton (5/10).  For main course I had wild sea-bass, nicely timed and which had excellent flavour, served on a bed of puy lentils with a delicate creamed horseradish sauce (5/10).  Dessert was at a lower level, a reasonable apple tart with vanilla ice cream (2/10), and somewhat lukewarm coffee (2/10).  However the savoury dishes were very good indeed, and the service was of a high standard.  On my most recent visit a main course of scallops with a citrus sauce was superb.  Last visited May 2002.



Sel de La Terre 

Food Rating: 3/10

255 State St. (Atlantic Ave.) Boston, MA, 02109-2617 

Phone: (617) 720-1300


A large, low-ceilinged dining room in the wharf area.  The mostly French wine list is not cheap, though Mas de Daumas Gassac 1996 at USD 55 is a relative bargain.  Caramelised onion, spinach and smoked bacon tart was nicely made with Comte cheese (3/10) while pork medallions were tender, crusted with foie gras and served with tender puy lentils and a good rhubarb and onion jam (3/10).  Accompanying Rosemary pomme frites were excellent. 



One to skip in Boston is the seriously overrated Hammersley’s Bistro, which despite a charming gay waiter could not disguise poorly cooked tuna and overdone vegetables.  This gets a bizarrely high rating in Zagat’s, but unless you come just to look at the very handsome waiter, avoid.  Last visited February 2001.


A new place is Salamander, which despite a good review in Conde Nast is really only 1/10.  Wok-fried soft shell crab was good (2/10), but a tamarind and line glazed wild salmon fillet was ordinary (1/10) and at USD 90 a head with no dessert this is not good value.  Last visited May 2001.





The Flagstaff House

Food Rating: 6/10

1138 Flagstaff Rd.(on Flagstaff Mountain)

Boulder, Colorado 80302-9510

Phone 001 (303) 442-4640


A little out of town up a hill with a great view, this elegant dining room manages to escape French stereotypes and produce original, modern American cooking.  A bonus is the classy service and the stunning wine list – a fine selection of Kistler Chardonnay is a bonus.





These notes are based on a two week holiday in March 2000, with a previous visit to New Orleans in February 1999 for Mardi Gras, plus memories of a brief trip here in March 1986. 


To stay.  In Charleston we stayed in the Woodlands Resort, about 25 miles north of Charleston (17 miles North of the airport).  You would need a car realistically.  There is a Relais et Chateau in the heart of Charleston (the Planters Inn), which would be the alternative if you did not fancy driving.  The Woodlands was very peaceful, in acres of peaceful woods and with a fine swimming pool.  The rooms (we stayed in a suite) were spacious, and ours had a (fake) log fire.  Service was very good, though breakfast service was very slow, and indeed the whole pace of things here is relaxed.  The concierges were very helpful but not overly bright e.g. two of them were incapable of pointing out where the hotel was on the map, even though it was actually clearly marked. The restaurant is the best place to eat for miles around – 5/10 on the basis of two dinners here.  The dining room is in an attractive conservatory, the kitchen serving American cuisine.  The place is fairly formal, with good ingredients and capable execution.  There is a very good wine list with an excellent sommelier (Stefan) when we visited, who had worked at the Waterside Inn. 


To see.  Charleston is beautifully preserved, with a lot of history by American standards and many, many historic houses open for tours.  There is not much nightlife, and I was actually unable to find anything at all on the web regarding food when I went, except for some very sad stuff – Happy Lobster et al.  Hence no food recommendations, though the solitary Mexican place on Market Street, where we dropped in for lunch, was surprisingly acceptable.  With a good guidebook you could do a lot of walking tours here.  The plantation houses are a bit of a con, with Middleton Hall actually just a pile of bricks and some admittedly extensive gardens, but at a whopping USD 42 to visit.  There is a “Passport” which gets you into multiple plantation houses and several historic houses, which looked good value – needless to say the concierge at the Woodlands hotel knew nothing about it. 





Chicago is not really a tourist destination but is a Mecca for lovers of modern architecture.  You can take a boat trip from Navy pier and do a one hour architecture cruise for USD 15 led by an architecture student, and there are many walking tours also.  If you have a little time try going out (either train or a 20 minute cab ride) to Oak Park, a suburb where Frank Lloyd Wright spent most of his career.  There are many of his building in the area and several guided tours. 


Charlie Trotters

Food Rating:   5/10

(Near North/Lincoln Park
816 W. Armitage Ave.(Halsted St.) 60614-4308

Phone: 001 (773) 248-6228


This is very famous (he modestly calls himself the “best chef in the world”) but very ordinary indeed on our visit.  I have heard other good reports, but clearly the kitchen is not able to consistently deliver. 



Food Rating:  3/10

Four Seasons Hotel (7th floor)

120 East Delaware Place (between Michigan Avenue & Rush Street), Chicago

Phone: (312) 649-2349


In the excruciatingly expensive and frankly disappointing Four Season hotel, Seasons has all the hallmarks of hotel dining.  The wood is dark, the lighting sombre, the waiters formal and rather over-present.  The food was variable, with fairly classic dishes executed reasonably well, with some flashes of Modern American cooking also appearing in Mark Baker’s repertoire.  However this is a lot of money (USD 140 a head or more) for what is essentially competent but fairly ordinary cooking.  The wine list is excellent, though nark-ups are generally fierce.  A Guigal Hermitage was the bargain pick, and there are some Austrian dessert wines.  Last visit July 2000.





Denver has surprisingly little to see as a tourist – it is popular with skiers, and the surrounding mountains are very pretty in the autumn, when the aspen trees change colour.  The downtown area has a (shock horror) pedestrianised main street, and there is a charming bookstore called the Tattered Cover.  However a morning would satisfy most visitors’ curiosity.  There is a pleasant old hotel called the Oxford in the downtown, which is “historical” by American standards (built n 1891).  Surprisingly, there is a good restaurant.



Food Rating: 4/10

1400 Larimer St. (at 14th Street), Denver, Colarado 80202-1744

Phone: +1 (720) 946-1433


This is Mexican Jim, but not as you know it.  Not a burrito in sight, but instead a simple, well designed dining room serving genuine Mexican fare.  Freshly made chips are served with either good guacomole or lively salsa, and the quesadillas are an entirely different affair to the gooey things that you may have encountered elsewhere.  Here they are served as a flat flour tortilla on which a variety of toppings are placed e.g. excellent rare tuna with a little black bean and wasabi sauce and a smear of salsa (5/10).  For the main course I tried chicken mole, the Mexican savoury chocolate sauce.  Here it was dark and intense, laced with plblano chilli spiciness, served with carefully cooked pieces of chicken, a little rice and some plantains.  Service was reasonable.  As good a Mexican meal as I have eaten anywhere.  Last visited December 2002.



Fort Lauderdale


Eduardo de St Angel

Food Rating: 4/10

Ft. Lauderdale, North of Broward Blvd., East of US 2822 East Commercial Blvd (between Bayview Drive & 28th Avenue) Fort. Lauderdale, FL 33308-4206

Phone: 001 (954) 772-4731


I have no idea what is maybe the best Mexican place in the US is doing in gastronomic tundra of Florida.  However this place is worth an excursion, serving regional Mexican rather than Tex Mex.  The food is of a very high standard, the service charming.  A real find.  Eduardo Pria has been replaced in the kitchen by his brother Luis, but the standard is apparently still high.






Food rating: 6/10

6600 Kalanianaole Hwy. (Keahole St.)

Honolulu, Hawaii 96825-1273

Phone: 001 (808) 396-7697


Roys, a 20 minute cab ride from Honolulu, is by far the best restaurant in Hawaii (based on two visits, one in 1992 and another in 1997).  Roy Yamaguchi is a French-trained Japanese chef, and delivers genuine fusion cooking.  Seafood dishes are, naturally enough, the highlight.  He has now opened other sites, but the standard here remains high based on my multiple visits.





Ruggles Grill

Food Rating: 5/10

903 Westheimer (Montrose), Houston, Texas 77006-3919

Phone: 001 (713) 524-3839


Ruggles is far and away the best place in town, serving South Western American cuisine.  The menu is extensive, and there is a tendency to add one too many flavour to its dishes, but in general this is kept in check and the strong execution and good ingredients overcome any reservations.  Service is good, and the wine list excellent.


Nit Noi

Food rating: 2/10

2462 Bolsover(Morningside)  Houston Texas 77005-2518

Phone (713) 524-8114


Simple but reliable Thai place in Rice Village, not far from the excellent Ginger Man pub.  The pad thai noodles are particularly good, and in general the classic dishes work well: try the papaya salad or the vast tom yum goong soup that anywhere else would be a serving for four but, hey, this is Texas.


There is also a branch nearby (5211 Kelvin Drive, Dunstan, 713 524-0283) that seems highly consistent, not surprising as they apparently share a common kitchen. 



Places to avoid in Houston include Americas, which is pretentious and poor (1/10), while Café Annie has plenty of dinner-jacketed waiters but also suffers from a complete inability to cook; its high food rating in Zagat is incomprehensible.  Papasitas served an excruciatingly bad Mexican meal on my visit, though Papdodos does a slightly better job of serving fake Cajun food (though their definition of Cajun is loose, to put it mildly).  Trulucks at least serves simple, honest steaks, reasonably well



Key West 


Café des Artistes
Food Rating: 4/10

1007 Simonton St.(Truman Ave.)

Key West, Florida 33040-3107

Phone: 001 (305) 294-7100


This is really the only good restaurant in Key West (based on five visits, first in 1996 and then again in 1999).  It does a fairly light brand of French cooking, and the cosy dining room is supplemented by friendly service.  Sadly, though there are lots of other restaurants in Key West, most are tourist fare.  Stick to this one, based on my other experiences in this beautiful location.



Los Angeles


Los Angeles is an odd city.  It has no real centre but is a vast, sprawling place with a few districts like Beverly Hills and Bel Air with manicured lawns and armed response units, and in between these districts are areas that look something between a war zone and a scene from Bonfire of the Vanities.  Santa Monica is a pleasant beach area with (shock horror in America) a pedestrian shopping area, where people actually walk.  Still, you can park your car on the beach, just in case anyone thought this walking thing may catch on.  The beach itself at Santa Monica is spectacular, and it is easy to see why this is the one used in Baywatch.  When staying in LA, I can highly recommend the Beverly Hills Hotel, a pink extravaganza but with lovely rooms and excellent amenities.  It has a classy pool and the kind of place where everyone is on a mobile doing film deals, but the gardens are lovely and the concierge service is excellent.  The Bungalows at the hotel are self-contained little houses with gardens, where Howard Hughes stayed for many years, but the normal rooms are also excellent.


LA is a bit of a tricky place for restaurants.  There are plenty of places that will charge you lots of money and that are full of wannabee movie types, but few where the food also delivers. 




Food rating: 2/10

9646 Little Santa Monica Blvd. (Bedford Dr.) Beverly Hills, CA, 90210

Phone: 001 (310) 205-8990


A lively Vietnamese place with an under floor fish tank on the threshold.  A large dining room with an upstairs, all completely full.  We had a very pleasant set of seafood dishes e.g. a soft shell crab with spices, and some tiger prawns served in their shell.  Nothing amazing, but well executed, and not trying to be something it was not.  There is a decent wine list, including several Alsace choices.  A very pleasant place, if a little pricey for the standard of the food.  Service was excellent.  Last visited March 2001.



Food rating: 1/10

113 N. Robertson Blvd. (between Beverly Blvd. & 3rd St.), Los Angeles

Phone: 001 (310) 274-8303


To think – just the previous night Julia Roberts dined here!  That is about the limit of the appeal of this over-rated place, which is all about people watching and serious staff attitude. We arrived on time for a 20:30 booking and were seated around 21:00; no bar, just left standing around, as were plenty of others.  You can sit either out-doors or inside.  A soft shell crab was pleasant enough but very plain, served with a bowl of “Cajun spices” on the side (1/10).  A corn chowder soup was adequate but uninspiring (1/10).  A grilled salmon was fair, served just with a baked potato (2/10) while a slab of tuna also turned out well from the mesquite grill, but with some appalling French fries that a burger joint would have rejected.  The wine list is fairly priced e.g Stags Leap Merlot at USD 55, but weak coffee and some cookies that came as a dessert were below shop standard.  Pricey and purely for the “must be seen crowd”.  Last visited March 2001.




Food rating: 4/10

8338 W. 3rd St. (La Cienega Blvd.) LA, CA, 90048-4311

Phone: 001 (323) 655-4555


Another place to be seen, but delivering better food than most.  Linq has grey marble walls, a fireplace at one end of the narrow dining room and lighting so subdued that you virtually need a torch to read the menu.  My spring rolls of pork and prawn were capable enough, a light batter and a pleasant sweet and sour sauce (2/10).  Better were crab cakes, well made with a salad that featured fresh leaves and a good dressing, a sweetocrn salsa and a home-made tartare sauce. (4/10).  For main course, Chilean sea bass was well timed, with a lemon grass and coriander sauce, some green beans and a wasabi mash, with a couple of julienned carrots (4/10).  I had three generous pork medallions wrapped in bacon, served with a surprisingly good barley risotto and a red wine sauce (5/10).  A raspberry and almond frangipane tart (4/10) was better than an apple tart with vaniall ice crean (3/10).  Service was good.  Overall, probably objectively the best food we ate in LA.  Last visited March 2001.




Food rating: 1/10

129 North La Cienega Blvd. (Wilshire Blvd.) Beverly Hills, CA, 90211-2206

Phone: 001 (310) 659-9639


A casual setting, with plain wooden tables, yet this was the place that later spawned the wildly successful Nobu in New York, and later in London.  This seems to be running mainly on memories now, however; its high rating in Zagat is incomprehensible.  A tuna sashimi was pleasant enough, as was a less good tuna sushi (2/10), but a course of UK Kobe beef managed to be chewy (Kobe beef – chewy?!??).  Little better was a fillet of salmon that was dried out, served with a one-dimensional pepper sauce (0/10).  Prawns with a wasabi pepper sauce was a little better, but again the sauce tasted like gravy with a bit of seasoning (1/10.

Service was brisk and the place was packed; at least the bill is low here – USD 90 for two including beer.  Last visited March 2001



Food rating: 3/10

903 North La Cienega Blvd. (between Melrose Ave. & Santa Monica Blvd.) W. Hollywood, CA, 90069-4792

Phone: 001 (310) 652-9770


This grande dame of LA cuisine is showing her age.  The dining room is lovely, with wide spaced tables, excellent quality tablecloths and cutlery, one wall looking out to a climber-covered trellis, an orange tree in one corner and a stunning flower display.  The current chef, however, is obviously out to make a culinary mark and delivered some seriously misguided dishes in the attempt.  This is a pity as he showed good basic technique.  Also on the positive side was an excellent sommelier from Bruges, who was helpful and knew his stuff.  An amuse guele of crab had a rather sad gelee, but neither could be tasted through a ludicrous dose of star anise, which dominated everything (0/10).  A starter of langoustine was roasted with some distinctly crispy vermicelli but far too much cinnamon, which overpowered the delicate flavour of the langoustine (1/10).  Cured salmon had a crust of herb but, guess what, this turned out to be mainly star anise.  Atop the salmon, which in itself was fine, was about half a herb garden of thyme – again, the chef showed no sign of balance at all, and what on earth was yet more star anise doing here? (0/10).  My chicken was better, cooked well enough and stuffed with some pepper slices, but has an entirely unnecessary citrus zest that permeated the jus and did not work well (2/10).  Monkish was nicely timed, with some pleasant pasta but was with a grapefruit and shallot sauce that was too sweet – overcompensating for the grapefruit. 


That the kitchen can deliver when not on a herb crusade was shown by a very capable chocolate soufflé, classically cooked and served (6/10).  Sadly a chocolate cake was much less good, cloying and with poor texture (1/10), served with a crème anglaise that had lots of black flecks of vanilla but managed to taste not what jot of vanilla; presumably, poor quality vanilla was used. 

Coffee was fine (5/10) but one of the petit fours chocolates tasted of- guess what, star anise.  The chef worked with Alan Passard, but in what capacity I cannot surmise.  Such basic errors in taste matching would never occur in a good restaurant in France.  I have no objection to innovating with French cuisine – just that it should be done competently; Mac Veyrat in Annecy is a fine example of how to do it, but the chef here is a textbook case of how not to do it.  Given the very high bill (nearly USD 300 for two with modest wine) this place cannot be recommended.  The very few diners, mostly elderly me with their “nieces” on the visit we made, suggests that LA diners have cast their own vote on the merits of cuisine “star anise with everything”.  Last visited March 2001



La Serenata de Garibaldi

Food rating: 3/10

1416 Fourth St. (bet. Broadway & Santa Monica Blvd.) Santa Monica, CA, 90401-2309

Phone: (310) 656-7017


It is a sad reflection on the up-market restaurants of LA that I enjoyed this meal as much as any, expect perhaps that at Linq.  This offers some genuine Mexican dishes as well as the more familiar burritos etc, and it does it very well.  A seafood cocktail came as a sort of cold soup, with nicely cooked shrimp in a spicy salsa- like consommé, laced with coriander and full of tomato flavour with a tang of lime (4/10).  I had an excellent quesadilla of chicken, served as a single large sphere, packed with tasty chicken.   A fillet of beef with rancheros sauce was correctly cooked, while a fish enchilada was also excellent.  Try Bohemia beer.  The whole thing, with free chips and excellent quesadilla nibbles, came to USD 60 with service, and the Zagat snipe about portion size is absurd.  The original location is in Boyle Heights, and is still open.  Highly recommended.  Last visited March 2001


Spago Beverly Hills

Food rating: 3/10

176 N. Cañon Dr.(1/2 block north of Wilshire Boulevard)

Beverly Hills, CA 63122

Phone: (310) 385-0880


Spago, which has now moved premises since its appearances in Julia Philip’s great book “You’ll Never eat Lunch In this Town Again”, is actually quite good (3/10) though the desserts, made by a very nice girl who used to cook at the deeply ordinary Charlotte’s in London, are modest.  The original Spago was in rather unassuming premises in Hollywood, and finally closed at the end of March 2001; it had slightly better food than the new incarnation (4/10) but Wolfgang Puck has long since given up cooking and is bent in world-domination, with his name popping up adorning ever more unlikely restaurants these days (“Wolfgang Puck Express???).  Last visited November 2000, with the original Spago last visited in March 2001, just two nights before it closed.



New Orleans


The party town of the South, with some history thrown in, and lots of excellent food.  Though New Orleans lacks any truly world class restaurants, there are multiple place around the 5/10 and 6/10 level, which is a lot more than can be said of most cities in America, or indeed anywhere else. 


To stay, there are two good choices.  The Windsor Court Hotel is a block or so from the French Quarter and is an Orient Express hotel, very modern and flash.  In the French quarter we stayed last time at the very different Maison de Ville.


New Orleans is not short in entertainment opportunities.  There is wall-to-wall live jazz in places like the House of Blues and others.  There are some historic houses in the French Quarter that are interesting.  The cemeteries with the above ground resting places are OK but actually very small (even Lafayette cemetery) so don’t plan a day trip around one of them.  The Garden District is full of beautiful properties to either walk by or see via buggy.  Around the French Quarter are some fairly dodgy areas, so get a taxi if leaving the well-trodden areas at night.  The Mardi Gras factory is a bit if a swizz, by the way, USD 11 to look at some floats.  Of the Plantation Houses, Destrehan is the nearest to the town and small but OK, but San Francisco is much better.  Near that is Oak Alley, which also has a reasonable tour and a lovely avenue of Oak Trees.  Further up-river is the largest plantation in the South, but this would be a 4 or more hour drive from the city (San Francisco plantation is a 2 hour drive).  And of course you can sit in the Café du Monde on Jackson Square and sip coffee while munching on beignets, at any hour of the day or night.  The river itself is not too inspiring, just docks, so skip the riverboat tour – how many barges, dredgers and cranes can you see?



Pelican Club 

Food rating: 6/10

312 Exchange Alley (at 615 Bienville), French Quarter  70310 2225 

Phone: 001 (504) 523-1504

Open dinner only, daily


By a whisker the best place in town, based on three visits now (one in 1999, two in 2000).  There is a welcoming bar area with a piano and a relaxing dining room with reasonable spaces between the tables.  Shrimp and crawfish cakes were served with Mesculun greens and an excellent chipotle mayonnaise with a nice tropical salsa.  Seafood jambalaya is of a high standard, as was the seared yellowfin tuna, seared and served over asparagus and a bed of noodles with a pepper wasabi sauce, and some snow peas thrown in to add yet another flavour (the norm in the US seems to be to be the more flavours the better).  Desserts are weaker, as was indeed true of every restaurant we visited, though the crème brulee was fair.  Very competent, friendly service, and a fairly priced and well-chosen wine list.  Last visited March 2000.



Food rating: marginal 6/10 (just, 5/10 would be a more solid mark)

800 Tchoupitoulas Street,

Warehouse District

Phone: 001 (213) 528 9393 

(a five minute cab from the French Quarter – don’t walk this as it is a distinctly dubious, though up and coming area).


With celebrity chef Emeril appearing every day on the food channel (he was certainly not present in the restaurant on any of the three visits I have paid here) this has become the hot spot in town, with reservations at a premium and attitude to match.  A much less likeable place than the Pelican Club, though a well oiled machine.  If you reserve you can sit at the food bar, which is just a blowtorch away from the chefs preparing the main courses.  The first time I went they were chatty and gave us extra dishes to try, but on the last two visits it was just flat out cooking with no time for chit chat, and no free nibbles.  It is fun to see them working though.  A kale gumbo was a weak dish, just a basic vegetable soup (1/10) but barbecued shrimps were much better (5/10).  Double cut pork chop is ridiculously big but excellent, covered in a chipotle glaze and served with sweet potatoes (5/10).  A grilled salmon on a bed of creamed corn garnished with crab and with julienned vegetables was very good (4/10).  They did produce the best dessert we had in New Orleans, a highly competent Grand Marnier Souffle.  The wine list is encyclopaedic but bereft of notes and there is no sommelier to help.  Be warned that they stiff you on the dessert wine if you order by the glass – though charging USD 10 for a glass of Bonny Doon Vin de Glaciere (USD 8 elsewhere) they brought an insultingly small glass and half filled it – this could not have been more than a sixth of a half bottle at most.  This is deeply stingy and they were quite unapologetic about it.  Last visited March 2000.




Food rating: 6/10

723 Dante Street, uptown above Napoleon (20 minute cab ride from French Quarter)

Phone 001 (213) 861 7610


Basically a residential house converted into a restaurant, this place badly needs a bar area, as through the evening there were groups of people milling around the narrow hallway waiting to be seated or indeed to be seen at the erratically manned (actually womanned) reception desk.  The dining room sis cosy enough with some eccentric paintings, but the food is actually very good.   Fried catfish with mild chilli sauce (5/10) had very nicely cooked fish and a piquant sauce. Pumpkin soup was superb, maybe the best single dish we ate in New Orleans.  It had great intensity and could have come from the kitchens of a serious French restaurant (7/10).  Blackened tuna was 5/10, served with the usual over-buys selection of vegetables that one gets used to in the US (five different vegetables appeared).  Both home made vanilla ice cream (5/10) and banana bread pudding (6/10) were unusually capable desserts in a town where this aspect of the meal often disappoints.  Service was friendly and competent. 



Food rating: 4/10

430 Dauphine Street

Phone: 001 (213) 525 4455


Cosy restaurant, with a pleasant courtyard area for drinks (useful, as the table was not ready for some time after the time we had reserved).  We had the unusual spectacle of a clearly drunk maitre d’, who managed to pour water into a half full wine glass but was at least very apologetic and produced a new bottle of wine.  Good wine list, including the lovely Zind Humbrecht Gewürztraminer.  Corn biscuit with shrimp was pleasant enough, with nicely cooked shrimp (4/10).  A double cut pork chop (i.e. twice the size of UK pork chops) was very nicely cooked, with excellent snow peas and good sweetcorn to accompany it (5/10).  Salmon with sauerkraut was also capable, with well-timed fish and fair cabbage (5/10).  A lemon tart was not very good, with acceptable pastry but a rather sludgy lemon filling (1/10).  Apple pancakes were also mediocre (1/10).  Overall very pleasant.


K Pauls  

Food rating: 4/10

416 Chartres Street, French Quarter

Phone: 001 (213) 524 7394


The best jambalaya in town (though I guess the Pelican Club might argue with that).  This is hearty, full-on Cajun cooking with no butter spared.  For lunch get there as early as possible, as the restaurant is usually full by noon (no booking for lunch) but you sail in at 11:40.  Salmon was bronzed and served with an asparagus and sweet potato, with a veal reduction (it seems a general problem that true vegetarians will have a hard time in New Orleans, as many of the fish dishes are served with some meat or have a meat-based sauce).  Blackened tuna is very good, though ask for it rare, as medium rare gets you medium to well cooked.  Black eyed peas are less good, but the fried chicken is excellent.  Desserts are rich and fair rather than great, but you probably won’t get that far.  Based on a total of six visits in 1999 and 2000.




Food rating: 2/10

3201 Esplanade Avenue (15 minute cab ride from French Quarter)

Phone: 001 (213) 948 6233


Based on two visits, one in 1999 and one in 2000.  A sad deterioration of what was once a very good restaurant.  Unusually shaped small dining room, with very friendly service.  Sadly the chef has become greedy, opening a second restaurant in town (Gamay) and now drifting between the places.  Maybe Alain Ducasse can do this, but this guy is not Alan Ducasse.  My enchilada (special of the house) was of Taco Bell standard (0/10) while a salad of crawfish remoulade was better, having a nice mustard dressing (4/10).  Stella’s snapper was adequate, but in a totally bland creamy sauce with tasteless button mushrooms.  My fried chicken with rosemary was harmless (1/10) while passion fruit sorbet had a lumpy texture (2/10).  It is very clear that the chef here is a pale imitation of the person who set the place up (I had marked this 5/10 in 1999).  Coffee is very good.


Commanders Palace

Food rating: 2/10

1403 Washington Avenue, Garden District

Phone: (213) 99 8221,


This was once a very fine restaurant (I had an excellent meal in 1986 here) but this is now a tourist-processing factory rather than a restaurant.  It seats 400 now, and is certainly efficient, but the food is very ordinary (even 2/10 is fairly kind).  A pleasant prawn renoulade, an adequate salad, a decent filet mignon.  There are no errors here, but it is all just ordinary, and not cheap.   The wine list is fair but more expensive than most.  The good chefs have long since moved on to set up their own places – avoid.  If you do go, mistakenly thinking that Zagat’s guide cannot really be that wrong, it is directly opposite the entrance to Lafayette cemetery, which can be reached by trolley car.  Get off at Washington and turn left (3 minute walk).  Getting a taxi seems beyond the wit of the door staff, who just mill around helplessly, while it can also be a struggle getting a street-car, so insist that they order you a taxi from your table; we waited almost 40 minutes for a taxi before we gave up and eventually got an overcrowded street car.



Court of the Two Sisters

Food Rating: 0/10

613 Royal St.(bet. St. Peter & Toulouse Sts.)

New Orleans, Louisiana 70130-2181

Phone: 00 1 (504) 522-7261

French Quarter


Jazz brunch in a lovely courtyard.  Tempting, isn’t it?  Sadly the food is gruesome buffet fare, and the jambalaya was so awful as to make a grown man cry.  Instead sit in the courtyard of the adjacent Maison de Ville in peace and quiet and listen to the jazz from there, then go and eat somewhere better, like a MacDonalds.




Food Rating: 1/10

401 Poydras St.(bet. Magazine & Tchoupitoulas Sts.)

  New Orleans, LA70130-3207 (504) 523-9656


This fun neighbourhood café had become a bit of a victim of its own success.  It serves honest to goodness food, specialising in hams, though the jambalaya is actually very capable.  Sadly though, it has now reached the tourist guides, and there are very long queues for lunch.  Pleasant, but not really worth a long wait for.



Food rating: 1/10

7534 St Louis Avenue

Phone: (213) 522 6652


Bistro owned by Emerils, all very trendy with its wood-fired oven but the food is seriously lacking.  A mini-pizza starter with pesto was distinctly burnt around the edges and had a duly, chewy base (0/10).  Stella’s starter salad with a mustard dressing was better.  Crawfish pie was poor, with tiny, tasteless crawfish just deep-fried, and with a limp piece of pastry surrounding more of the same (0/10).  Barbecued shrimps were better but still ordinary (1/10), with another set of strident, competing flavours in the sauce and vegetables on offer.  The wine list is limited but has some good bottles.  Service is cold but efficient. 



Windsor Court Grill Room

Food rating: 3/10

300 Gravier Street, Central Business District 

Phone: (213) 523 6000


This is an American idea of what top French food should be like, if you have never actually eaten in a top French restaurant.  The room is formal in the extreme, dark wood and absurdly subdued lighting- I nearly asked for a torch when the menu arrived.  Tian of crab was well enough executed (4/10), as was a somewhat lifeless hare stew (4/10) but the passion fruit soufflé was a disgraceful cardboard affair, the sort of thing something does on their first day at catering college and learns to laugh about it (0/10).  Service was surprisingly ordinary, with difficulty getting attention, and an unnecessary snootiness that again is quite untypical of genuinely top restaurants.  It was as if someone had seen a few cartoons of a French restaurant and had a go at copying from the sketch.  The wine list looked good, but the first three (read it and weep, that’s right, three) wines I selected were “off”.  Eventually trial and error found something that remained in the cellar.  Even the snooty sommelier looked marginally embarrassed as he emerged yet again from the bowels of the hotel empty handed.  Deeply expensive, and proof that Zagat’s really don’t know what they are doing when judging cooking as opposed to price and surroundings.



Bistro at the Maison de Ville  

Food rating: 2/10

733 Toulouse Street, French Quarter

Phone: 00 1 (231) 528 9206


Cosy (for which read cramped) dining room that has an appealing café atmosphere, with red blanquettes along one side of the room in a French style.  Service was distracted but everything actually happened correctly, almost against the odds.  Crawfish renoulade was pleasant enough (2/10) but a tomato and asparagus salad was a joke (0/10), with a couple of slices of supermarket tomato and some none-too al dente asparagus.  A dish of barbecued shrimp was cooked OK but did not seem very fresh (2/10) while an ahi tuna dish was also cooked reasonably, with acceptable vegetables but lacked any interest.  A chocolate crème brulee was actually quite nice (3/10) but the prices here are much the same as the good places in New Orleans.  Though this restaurant once spawned some famous chefs, it is well past its sell by date



New York


A vibrant, throbbing city.  Be sure to go for a walk around the beautiful Central Park, designed by a Scotsman and the best city park I have ever visited.  Try a helicopter tour (especially at night) and visit the remarkable Guggenheim Museum.  Manhattan is best seen on foot, and just strolling around the neighbourhoods is great fun.  The Circle Line cruise (3 hours) is an excellent way to orient yourself to the different districts.  Hotels here are very costly - the Mark was nice but very expensive, the Pierre the same, The Iroquois cramped, so no real recommendations.  Perhaps the W in Times Square is one good bet, as at least you are near the revitalised Times Square area, with its vast new cinema complex on 42nd Street.



Food Rating: 4/10

34 East 61st St. (between Madison & Park Avenues) New York, NY, 10021-8010

Phone: (212) 319-1660


A highly successful venture, so much so that the tables have a distinctly crammed-in feel.  There is a high level of ambition if Gerry Hayden’s cooking, which extends to experimenting with flavour combinations that do not always hit the mark.  Trying the pricey tasting menu, I was struck again and again by good quality technique marred by mixes of tastes that did not really work well together.  Last visited May 2002.




Food rating: 4/10

155 West 51st Street (between 6th & 7th Avenues) New York 10019-6019

Phone: 001 (212) 489-1515


This mainly seafood restaurant gets stratospheric rating for the cooking of chef Eric Ripert.  Yet on my only visit here I had good bisque, a competent main course sea bass but a dessert that was completely burnt and had to be sent back.  I found the service to have plenty of attitude also, though I suppose this is New York.  Last visited March 1999.




Food rating: 4/10

2 Harrison St. (at Hudson Street.) TriBeCa, New York, NY, 10013-2810

Phone: +1 (212) 966-6960


Chanterelle has a quite formal dining room with bare walls and a high ceiling.  The rather hushed reverence is not matched by the service, which managed to make a number of slips throughout my meal here.  The tasting menu varied wildly in standard: best was a butternut squash ravioli with a stunning oxtail ragout and a little sage cream.  To balance this was some extremely chewy pork, which at least had a reasonable sauternes and mustard sauce.  Most troubling was a wild striped bass that was cooked on the outside but was raw inside: this was positively dangerous, with the waiter taking the relaxed “ah, you prefer it cooked more” approach; in a place as litigious as the USA this kind of slip could be expensive.  Cheeses were reasonable, including some from the UK (though why no Stilton?) while a maple walnut soufflé was well made, accompanied by a ginger ice cream.  While the best cooking on display here was very good indeed, there is great fluctuation in execution, which at nearly USD 200 a head with modest wine is hard to excuse.  Last visited February 2002.




Food Rating: 8/10

60 E. 65th St. (bet. Madison & Park Avenues), New York

Phone: 001 (212) 288-0033


Chef Daniel Boulud is the most talented I have encountered in America.  A Jerusalem artichoke soup I had there was pure 3 Michelin star level, and while not everything hits those heights, the standard of cooking here is extremely high, justifying the admittedly steep prices.



Gotham Bar and Grill

Food Rating: 5/10

12 East 12th St. (between 5th Avenue & University Place), Greenwich Village New York 10003-4498 Phone: +1 (212) 620-4020


This popular establishment has very attractive dining room with high ceilings and a lively bar along one side of the dining room.  I started with a very capable linguine with nicely cooked chanterelle mushrooms and spinach (5/10).  This was followed by an attractively displayed fan of slices of rare yellow-fin tuna, in the centre of which was a roll of papardelle pasta containing decorative twigs of rosemary (5/10).  Passion fruit soufflé was capable rather than inspired, the outer layer cooked just a little too much, though the filling had excellent flavour (4/10).  Service was good, and both bread and coffee were fine.  A very pleasant overall experience, though prices are a  little high with main courses at around $34.  Last visited December 2002.


Gramercy Tavern

Food Rating: 7/10

42 E. 20th St. (between Broadway & Park Avenue South), New York

Phone: +1 (212) 477-0777


Why go to America to eat French food?  If in New York, skip the flash places with the condescending maitre d’s and come to Gramercy Tavern instead.  Here you get honest to goodness American cooking, using excellent ingredients and sensible flavour combinations.  The char-grill features heavily, and you can even get an excellent hamburger.  In recent times the cooking has become more sophisticated, and I had a superb dish of scallops with perfectly tender baby carrots with a light salad and vinaigrette, followed by organic chicken with wild mushrooms and excellent roasted vegetables.  These days there is even a respectable cheese board.  Coffee is excellent here and the wine list ranges from simple to the very finest.  A thoroughly likeable place, with friendly, efficient service and no pretension whatever.  My favourite New York restaurant.  Last visited April 2004.



Jean Georges

Food Rating: 6/10

1 Central Park W. (between 60th & 61st Streets) New York, NY, 10023-7702

Phone: +1 (212) 299-3900


In the ground floor of the Trump International Hotel by Columbus Circle, this very fashionable restaurant features an airy dining room with lovely flowers.  The food is fairly inventive American, and is frequented by the seriously rich.  A tuna tart had good pastry and reasonable quality tuna, complemented by some excellent diced vegetables with a citrus sauce.  Free range chicken was well timed, and had a fairly well-made risotto with rather dull shiitake mushrooms.  Passion fruit “sunflower” was a clever idea, a meringue in the shape of a sunflower, on top was with was spooned some fresh passion fruit.  Bread was classy, and service was friendly and efficient.  Very competent, though perhaps hard to see where the “better than sex” comment in the Zagat Guide comes from, unless the person writing it has had some very sad personal experiences.  Last visited February 2002.




Food rating: 1/10

1191 First Ave. (bet. 64th & 65th Sts.) New York, NY, 10021-7106

Phone: +1 (212) 585-1818


Popular Mexican restaurant that moves beyond the Tex-Mex into more ambitious territory.  There is a very fine home-made guacamole, but beyond the novelty of not seeing burritos there are some problems e.g. with ingredient quality.  A lightly seared tuna on triangular flour tortillas was rather tasteless, while a chicken dish with mole sauce featured very poor, utterly bland and dull chicken.  This would still be a pleasant enough place until you look at the bill, which is high for food at this level – USD 58 before tip for two courses and two beers.  The atmosphere is relaxed and service hurried but fair.  Last visited February 2002.




Food rating: 6/10

105 Hudson St. (at Franklin St.), New York

Phone: 001 (212) 219-0500

Much better than the London version (I went to both a few days apart, so had a fair chance to judge).  The New York version sticks to Japanese food and some fusion variants, and does not stray off into South American cooking like its London sibling.  Though the whole thing is just a bit Absolutely Fabulous, I found the service and atmosphere here fine, and the food scored high marks with me.  You are best to get a cab there if you are of a nervous disposition.  If you can’t get a reservation try Nobu Next Door  (same address, phone (212) 334-4445).


Union Square Café

Food Rating: 4/10

Flatiron District/Union Square
21 E. 16th Street (between
5th Ave. & Union Sq. West) New York, 10003-3104

Phone: 001 (212) 243-4020


Of a similar heritage to the Gramercy Tavern (the chef originally at Union Square Café moved to Gramercy Tavern) this is another American restaurant with excellent atmosphere and simple, enjoyable cooking where the ingredients have not been tortured and where ordinary people mingle with the famous.   Last visited April 2004



On the over-rated side, the Shun Lee Palace is the second highest rated Chinese restaurant in New York according to Zagat, but would still be a 0/10 in the London Good Food Guide, featuring flawed timing and heavy sauces.  Also avoid Tabla, a sort of Indian fusion place with a nice room but dubious and expensive food.



Palm Beach


Palm Beach is an up-market part of Florida that people seem to retire to – I felt like the youngest person in town.  It has a superb hotel, the Breakers, a vast imposing place that somehow works like clockwork despite its scale and which I can highly recommend.  Palm Beach is not a foodie destination, but plenty of money means that there are several upmarket restaurants.  Reasonably good was 191 Bradley Pl.(between Oleander & Seminole Aves.), Palm Beach 33480-3786, phone: 001 (561) 659-5223.  This served French food in stylish, rather over-designed surroundings.


Rather in time-warp mode was Café l’Europe, 331 S. County Rd.(Brazilian Ave.)  Palm Beach, FL33480-4443 (561) 655-4020.  This is strictly for those of pensionable age who have never been to Europe but think this is what it is like. 


Miami Beach has beautiful art deco buildings but the only restaurants I tried were gruesome rip-offs.





Le Bec Fin

Food Rating: 3/10

1523 Walnut Street (between 15th & 16th Streets), Philadelphia, 19102-3067

Phone: (215) 567-1000


This features a seriously over the top dining room that looks like an attempt at a room from Versailles.  If only the same attention went into the service and cooking.  I did have a good dessert here but the rest of the meal was very ordinary, and I was served by someone who looked and behaved like he was on the run from the law.  Deeply overrated and very expensive.


San Diego 


San Diego has perhaps the best climate in the USA, just fifteen miles from the border with Mexico.  It is a major naval port, and your quiet breakfast overlooking the bay can be interrupted by the sight of an aircraft carrier steaming in, or a military helicopter buzzing overhead.  San Diego has the best zoo in the USA (so probably anywhere) and a superb wildlife park under the same management.  There is an attractive old town with Spanish architecture, and a fair attempt at some preservation of some of its central Victorian buildings in the gaslamp district.  One restaurant to avoid there is the Octopus Garden, featuring truly inept Japanese food, but fortunately there are better places.



Food Rating: 1/10

416 Third Avenue (at J Street), Gaslamp district, San Diego 92101-6803 

Phone: (619) 702-4455


“Modern Mexican” cooked by a chef from Mexico city, so no burritos here.  Instead this pleasant restaurant fuses Mexican cooking with modern American style food e.g. “estructura de Aguacate”, avocado stuffed with scallops, shrimps and crab, flavoured with serano chilli, attractive presented and featuring very fresh seafood.  As a main course, halibut was also of high quality and timed well, wrapped in a lobster tail and served on a tomato and mustard sauce that cried out for more distinct mustard flavour, with a couple of superfluous and watery scallops (were these frozen?) and a chewy portobello mushroom.  Still the fish itself was excellent.  There is a wine list biased heavily towards reds (a little odd given that the speciality is seafood) and with a decent selection of Spanish wines, though my first choice was “off”.  Friendly service.  Last visited 2001.


Las Fajitas

Food Rating: 2/10

628 Fifth Avenue, Gaslamp District, San Diego 92101
Phone +1 619.232.4242


A cut above the usual Tex-Mex, this simple restaurant serves some of the familiar dishes but also goes on to offer genuine Mexican cusiing.  For example chicken mole features the wonderful and authentic savoury chocolate sauce that is never seen in Tex-Mex places.  The chef is really from Mexico, and it shows.  More conventional dishes like chicken quesadillas are also reliable.  Friendly service.  Last visited October 2002.


Georges at the Cove

Food Rating: 3/10

1250 Prospect St. (between Cave Street & Ivanhoe Street), La Jolla

Phone:+1 (858) 454-4244


In the very chic La Jolla, this restaurant has a formal downstairs dining room, and a charming open air roof-top area with a splendid view serving rather simpler cuisine.  It is the latter that I have tried, and very good it was indeed.  A tuna burger was generous, cooked well and served with a tasty sauce, served with good quality French fries.  Sometimes the simple things are the best, and my companion’s dishes were similarly of limited ambition level but capably cooked, and who can ask for more than that?  Last visited October 2002.



Food Rating: 3/10

505 Laurel Street (at 5th Avenue), Downtown, San Diego 92101-1634 

Phone: (619) 239-2222


Terribly trendy place that could as easily be in New York or London.  Successful thirty somethings dress in black and finally have somewhere to show off their designer clothes in San Diego.  The food is Modern American and is executed generally well indeed e.g. a juicy dish of divers scallops on one visit.  A second visit also featured fine scallops but some variable dishes elsewhere; still, a nice venue.  The restaurant is near the attractive Balboa Park.  Last visited October 2002.


Mille Fleurs

Food Rating: 2/10

6009 Paseo Delicias (Avenida de Acacias) Rancho Santa Fe, CA, 92067

Phone: +1 (858) 756-3085


In the exclusive Rancho Sante Fe district, nearer Carlsbad than San Diego, this is a well-hyped restaurant.  With German chef Martin Woesle who trained at the top notch but now defunct 3 star Michelin Aubergine in Munich, I had fairly high hopes.  The decors is pleasant if a little formal, with very good service throughout.  A starter of smoked eel was the best dish sampled, though a plate of vegetables for one of my companions was also very capable.  There area lot of salads as starters on the menu, and if you do this at an expensive restaurant then you had better be able to dazzle.  Certainly the leaves were fresh and the dressing well made, but this was nothing remarkable (go to France to Alain Ducasse to see just what can be done with a salad).  Moreover, my main course of mahi mahi was distinctly bland, while my companion’s dish of antelope had a decent sauce but rather dried-out, lightly chewy antelope (they had no idea what antelope it was either, and having eaten several in Africa there are major taste differences, so this seems careless).  My apple strudel was pleasant, but my wife (who admittedly has an Austrian background) makes better strudel than this.  My companion kindly paid the bill, but I assume it was large.  The wine list is excellent, with rather varying levels of mark-up.  However rare wines like Kistler single vineyard are here, as well as top producers from the old world e.g. Guigal Brune et Blondes at USD 75.  At these prices the cooking is too erratic and fails to dazzle.  Last visited November 2001.


Pamplemousse Grill

Food Rating: 1/10

514 Villa de la Valle, Solana Beach 92075
Phone: +1 (858) 792 3591


In a rather dingy shopping mall location, the restaurant is smart inside, serving American food despite its French name.  Highly rated in the Zagat’s guide, this is a true rip-off that should be avoided at all costs (and believe me, the costs are high).  It features the single most expensive wine list I have ever encountered, wide in scope but with wines not merely at two or three times retail price, but at four, five, six times or more retail price.  A simple Penfolds Bin 389 was only three and a half times retail price, and that was the best value wine I could find on the entire list.  Sadly, the food does not make up fro this daylight robbery.  A medley of starters featured an acceptable crabcake, fair smoked salmon, some tasteless grilled tomatoes with Mozarella and a chewy ravioli of mushrooms (2/10).  This was still much better than the main course, a disappointing fillet steak with a surprisingly tasteless mustard sauce and wildly overcooked vegetables (1/10).  My companion’s veal (essentially a schnitzel) was large in scale but dull in taste (1/10).  Last visited October 2002.


Winesellar & Brasserie

Food Rating: 5/10

9550 Waples St. (between Mira Mesa Boulevard and Steadman Street)
Phone: +1 (858) 450-9557


In an unpromising location in a dark alley in the suburbs, this turns out to be a fine wine shop on the ground floor and a dining room upstairs.  Table spacing is generous, and service is classy.  Yellow fin tuna tartare was very good, the minced tuna enlivened by zest lemon and capers (4/10).  Braised leek and potato tart was pleasantly cooked, served with home-smoked salmon and a well-balanced lemon and horseradish vinaigrette (5/10).  Szechuan pepper and coriander cured pork loin was tender and served with lightly cooked baby bak choi, Asian (for which read shiitake) mushrooms and a curry and dry vermouth sauce, which tastes better than it sounds (5/10).  Pan roasted Alaskan halibut was timed well, served with a garnish of Maine lobster, leeks, corn ginger and fennel, in a seafood-based tarragon sauce (5/10).  A bonus is a stunning wine list, which is not only vast in scope (over 2,000 entries!) but very kindly in mark-up.  A fine Kistler 1995 wine we had this evening was USD 85 (little more than its retail price), and by comparison the identical wine at a different restaurant the following night was USD 280.  This is by no means an exception, with wines in general marked up just 20% over retail price.  The best food experience I have had in San Diego.  The cooking can slip, as evidenced by a dried out piece of pork loin on my last visit, but this was the only slip, and it was dealt with well.  Last visited April 2005.



San Francisco 


A restaurant town, though there are a lot of duds amongst the supposedly top places. Consistently best is the seafood of Aqua on California Street.   Masas was once top notch but the chef Julian Serrano has now departed to (would you believe) Las Vegas to open a place called Picasso (highly rated), and it is a shadow of its former self, but the prices are still stratospheric.  Fleur de Lys is deeply disappointing (1/10).  Over the bridge, Alice Waters may have been a great innovator, but the spark has long since gone from here (1/10).  Bix has a great atmosphere and does simple enough food (2/10).  Postrio does reasonable Cal-Ital food (3/10).  A recent discovery is the Charles on Nob Hill, which on my last visit served very good French food in a formal setting (5/10).   The Cypress Room is strictly for those with a loving for camp surroundings (1/10).  The Tadisch Bar and Grill serves food as ancient as its waiters – avoid. 



Food rating: 6/10

252 California Street (between Battery & Front Streets), San Francisco, CA 94111-4336

Phone: 00 1 (415) 956-9662


A seafood restaurant that successfully combines atmosphere with excellent cooking.  The kitchen here does not over-reach itself but instead concentrates on fresh ingredients and an appealing menu – sounds simple, but how few places actually succeed in doing this?  This formula has led to considerable commercial success that makes it hard to get a table, which is the main drawback.  Service is good and there is a good wine list, with plenty of Californian selections.  Last visited June 2002.



The French Laundry

Food Rating: 9/10

6640 Washington St. (Creek St.) Yountville, CA, 94599-1301

Phone: 001 (707) 944-2380


Actually in the Napa Valley rather than San Francisco, just over a one hour drive from the city in the small town of Yountville.  Thomas Keller’s restaurant is generally reckoned the best restaurant in America, and based on my three visits here I would concur.  The rustic establishment has a little garden where you can have a drink before entering the main room.  The dining room is simple with bare walls and no distracting music, with a corresponding room upstairs, each with about eight tables.  An amuse guele of cornet of salmon mousse with crème fraiche was superb, as was a vegetarian version the following night (9/10).  A further nibble of pike mousse in a little tart had lovely texture (8/10).  Tuna tartare was of a high standard, on a bed of radish and cucumber drizzled with aged Tamari soy sauce (7/10).  Next up for me was a Maine scallop, topped with a mousse of foie gras, with a ring of superb mash, all sitting within a classic demi-glace reduction (9/10).  Stella’s warm asparagus and tomato salad, drizzled with 100 year old Balsamic vinegar, was of a very high standard (8/10).  For main course I tried excellent squab with a sliver of warm foie gras and a red wine reduction (7/10) while Stella had tortellini stuffed with white beans, with a creamy herb sauce, fresh tomatoes and sprigs of chervil with shavings of Parmesan (9/10).


Cheese was not quite to the same standard, with my Longues and Stella’s Brie both around 5/10, but it is very difficult to get good cheese in the USA due to the ludicrous insistence on pasteurisation for most cheeses (perhaps the US government would like to check the relative life expectancy of their population with that of France before jumping to conclusions about cheese import restrictions).  A passion fruit ciboulet with matching ice cream with a biscuit was good (6/10) but again not the league of the initial courses.  Coffee was superb (9/10). 


Service is impeccable, with a visit the following evening notable for them having prepared a separate menu so that no dishes would overlap with what we had, and with a waiter quoting what dishes Stella had ordered the previous night; impressive enough until you realise that it was not the same waiter!  The wine list is very fine, and mark-ups are less fierce than in London.  The tasting menu which we had the following evening had many components and was even better than the meal described above.  A lovely restaurant that stands head and shoulders above just about anywhere else in the USA. 


My most recent visit brought an extensive sixteen course tasting menu, which goes some way to showing the range of the kitchen, as follows.  It is worth noting that the male and female diners had different dishes for every course, 32 courses in all, as if to emphasise just how broad the kitchen’s capabilities really are.


Puree of fennel bulb soup, pickled medjol dates and Jacobsen’s farm green almonds


Granite of green apple with Russian sevruga caviar


Connecticut river shad roe with Persian lime salt and shaved, aged bonito


Monterey Bay Dungeness crab, green asparagus and sauce bearnaise


Poached Araucana hen eggs, truffled English muffins, truffled Hollandaise and grated Perigord truffles


Salad of French Laundry garden spring onions, picked pearl onions, broccolini and red onion “gastrique


Carnaroli risotto “biologico” with shaved Perigord truffles and truffle emulsion


Herb roasted Dutch turbotine, spring fava beans, morel mushrooms and whole grain mustard sauce


Main lobster tail with slow-cooked heirloom beets, black trumpet mushrooms and Mizona coulis


Heirloom beets with garden broccolini and Perigord truffle crème fraiche


Creamed ramp top “pierogis” with French Laundry garden shallots, cipollini onion, glazed ramp bulbs with sauce soubise and chive-infused olive oil


Fricassee of roasted marble potatoes, California grey morel mushrooms, split English peas and pea puree


Ricotta gnocchi made with shaved Roquefort, 50- year old sherry vinegar and virgin walnut oil


Texas ruby grapefruit sorbet with black liquorice “genoise”, yoghurt panna cotta and grapefruit “supremes


Cinnamon sugared doughnuts with cappuccino semifreddo


Kalrhona bitter chocolate soufflé, plumped Michigan cherry relish and brown sugar ice cream


Every course had a small glass of matching win, which proved a lot to get through.  The meal started at 19:00 and finished at 13:30 i.e. over six hours.  Throughout the ingredients were excellent and the culinary technique very good; there were no technical slips.  It was perhaps a little overwhelming in the end but clearly demonstrated why Thomas Keller (who was present in the kitchen) is regarded as the top American chef.


Last visited April 2005.



Gary Danlo

Food Rating: 7/10

800 North Point at Hyde Street

Phone: +1 (415) 749-2060


This is San Francisco’s top dining destination, and booking a table is a major project in itself.  Once you finally make it, you can relax in a quite smart setting surprisingly near Fisherman’s Wharf, better know for cheap T shirt shops.  People seem to dress up here, a rare thing in California, though there is no formal dress code I am aware of.  The dining room is fairly intimate, and had a particularly beautiful display of orchids on my visit.  Amuse bouche was a dish of mussels, clam, rock shrimp and baby squid in cold green pasta flavoured with basil (4/10) followed by a excellent warm blinis of smoked salmon with crème fraiche and caviar (7/10).  Bread is simple sourdough (5/10). 


A starter of crab salad was shaped into a circular tower, topped with grapefruit, baby leaves and a ring of dried apple crisp.  The crab was of high quality but was plain and perhaps would have benefited from a dressing.  The salad leaves were fresh, and there were two smears of tarragon mayonnaise as dressing (6/10).  Ahi tuna was seared and prettily presented in the shape of a butterfly.  This was resting in a very fine citrus sauce, along with pieces of avocado and some superfluous ennoki mushrooms and a few salad leaves; the balance of the citrus dressing was dazzling, having just the right level of acidity to balance the dish (8/10).


My two scallops were unfortunately cooked for a little too long, being distinctly crisp and served with some rather salty shiitake mushrooms (4/10).  This dish lacked colour that a few salad leaves could easily have provided.  This was a rather surprising glitch from the kitchen tonight.  A further amouse bouche of chopped mushrooms topped with artichokes had too much lemon juice even for me, though it had good salad leaves (5/10).


Stella’s salmon was two medallions of wild salmon, cooked very well, moist at the centre and with a lightly browned horseradish crust.  This rested on a bed of very finely diced carrots and very fresh cucumber pickled with dill.  There were also five pods of edamame peas and a light mustard sauce (7/10).  My quail was cooked pink and was stuffed with foie gras and wild mushrooms in a simple jus (6/10).  We skipped the cheese board, since in the US it is so difficult to get unpasteurised cheese, and the board did not look that appealing. 


A pre-dessert of passion fruit sorbet was only pleasant (6/10).  Pineapple coconut Napoleon was three layers of puff pastry (the top one glazed) with a filling of pineapple cream and finely chopped pineapple flavoured with vanilla. There was also a carpaccio of pineapple topped with a classy coconut sorbet.  This was all extremely good, the fruit very fresh, the pastry light (8/10).  My passion fruit cake had reasonable texture but lacked real passion fruit taste, and was served with vanilla ice cream and two raspberries as garnish (4/10).


Coffee was good.  It was served with petit fours as follows: a caramelised stack of nuts, a red jelly, a mini chocolate brownie, a chocolate tart, a raspberry tart and a caramelised orange (7/10).  The wine list was extensive with conventional mark-ups, but the food prices were quite fair.  Service was superb. 


Last visited 24/4/2005.




Food Rating: 5/10

648 Bush St (between Powell & Stockton Streets), San Francisco, CA 94108-3509 

Phone: +1 (415) 989-7154


At one time the best restaurant in San Francisco, Masa’s has suffered from its chef Julian Serrano moving on to, of all places, Las Vegas.  Now the cooking is still good, but hardly worth the USD 150 a head price tag.  The dining room is formal, in a somewhat unlikely basement of the charming but mid-range Vintage Court hotel.  The wine list is good, including Chateau d’Yquem dessert wine by the (half) glass.  Food is traditional French.   Last visited 2000.




Food Rating: 4/10

1 Mission Street (at Steuart Street), San Francisco, CA 94105-1209

Phone: 001 (415) 543-6084


A pleasing emphasis on a wide, appealing menu that concentrates on the char grill and the rotisserie.  Nancy Oakes’ kitchen prepares meat dishes particularly well, but the overall standard is high.  Ingredients are good e.g. divers scallops timed very well, and an excellent pork chop on my last visit, but sauces and extras are variable.  The dining area is relaxed and the service excellent.  Last visited April 2005.



La Folie

Food Rating: 3/10

2316 Polk St. (between Green & Union Streets) San Francisco, CA,

Phone: 001 (415) 776-5577


A nice feature is that you can make up your own four or five course tasting menu from anything on the a la carte.  Home-made tomato soup with a central stuffed tomato had good intensity and fresh flavour (4/10).  This was followed by good seared ahi tuna with a sherry vinaigrette, asparagus and haricots verts (4/10).  Less good was “line cauht king salmon”, which was cooked for too long and has an utterly inedible fennel sorbet with it (1/10).  Quail and squab were roasted and stuffed with wild mushrooms, wrapped up with overcooked “potato strings”(3/10).  Service was pleasant and relaxed, the wine list long but expensive.


Charles Nob Hill

Food Rating: 4/10

1250 Jones Street (at Clay Street), San Francisco, CA 94109-4261

Phone: 001 (415) 771-5400


Formal French place up on the hill, with a cosy dining room.  The French dishes here are executed to a high standard, and service is efficient. 




Food Rating: 4/10

545 Post Street (between Mason & Taylor Streets), San Francisco, CA ,94102-1228

Phone: 001 (415) 776-7825


Part of the Wolfgang Puck empire, this bistro manages simple Californian cooking.  The mini pizzas are excellent, as are the salads, and there is a good wine list.  The fusion attempts don’t grate as much as at most places that try, and the dining room is suitably fashionable.



Chez Panisse
Food Rating: 1/10

1517 Shattuck Avenue (between Cedar & Vine Sts.), Berkeley, CA  94709-1598

Phone: 001 (510) 548-5525


Alice Waters invented Californian cooking but this place is now a shadow of its former self, still knocking out the dishes but this is such a time-warp it almost feels like a tourist place these days.  Pleasant, and the cooking is at least simple, but only food history buffs should make the trip over the bridge to Berkeley. 


Harbor Village

Food rating: 2/10

4 Embarcadero Centre (Drumm St.), San Francisco 94111-4106

Phone: 001 (415) 781-8833


There is an old saying about San Francisco dining “never eat fish at Fisherman’s wharf or Chinese food in Chinatown” that has more than an element of truth in it.  The best dim sum I have had here is not in Chinatown but here in the financial district.  There are very fresh ingredients and good cooking in this bustling setting.  


Places with high ratings to avoid in San Francisco include Fleur de Lys (surreal décor but deeply variable cooking) and Hayes Street Grill (pleasant but wildly overrated seafood).  Fortunately Stars has finally gone to that home of overrated restaurants in the sky. 


Slanted Door

Food Rating: 2/10

100 Brennan Street (Embarcadero)

Phone: 001 (415) 861-8032


Trendy modern Vietnamese in its relocated Embarcadero setting, with a light, open dining room overlooking the bay.  The cooking is reasonably authentic, with cold spring rolls, good baby bak choi and a capable seared ahi tuna with spices.  They much of being visited by Bill Clinton, a little odd given that the man’s self-confessed favourite food is the hamburger.





Seattle has several attractions to its residents: a fairly appealing town centre, nearby hills and mountains, reasonable culture, which gives them something to do during the rain (Seattle has as almost as much rain as Manchester).   It also has some very nice restaurants. 


Food Rating: 5/10

2328 1st Avenue (between Battery and Bell Streets), Seattle, WA, 98121-1617

Phone: (206) 448-8884


New establishment by established chef Kerry Sear.  An elegant dining room has high ceilings and acres of wood panelling, giving a calm atmosphere.  There are four set seven-course menus, each reflecting aspects of a distinctly Northwest cuisine.  I started with an excellent salad of chilled Dungeness crab, featuring fresh crab, fine leaves and a celery root apple relish (6/10).  This was followed by a half cured slab of salmon with crisp sweet potatoes but with a somewhat dull green herb sauce (4/10).  Better was skillet-roasted crab cake with some juicy scallops, served with some grilled potato and with an elderberry syrup, an odd idea that actually worked quite well (5/10).  Next was a cylinder of bacon encasing some rainbow trout with a cornmeal stuffing and some grilled yams; the bacon kept the fish moist, and the strong taste of the trout was able to stand up to the bacon (5/10).  The mian course was tenderloin of tender local beef, served with rosemary garlic fries on a bed of creamed spinach with grilled leeks (5/10).  Oregon blue cheese was very salty, and of course pasteurised, this being America (1/10).  Dessert was a generous portion of excellent gingerbread (5/10), rounding off a very fine meal.  Service was excellent throughout, the wine list well thought out.  Last visited January 2001. 


Wild Ginger 
Food Rating: 1/10

1401 Third Avenue, Seattle, WA, 98101

Phone: (206) 623-4450


Ever-so-trendy Wild Ginger has seen Jeem Han Lock move into larger premises next to the concert hall recently from its original Western Avenue site and achieve commercial success at the expense of what matters: the food.  The vast, low-ceilinged, bar and dining room now extends over two floors, and there is no doubting the popularity or noise levels of the place.  However a reasonable beef satay also next to it had a virtually inedible “Princes’ prawns”, marinated in galangal and coconut.  The apparent speciality, “fragrant duck”, had four distinctly chewy Chinese-style steamed buns, and rather over-cooked duck that had too strong a flavour of star anise (0/10).  Locals assure me that it was much, much, better prior to its move.  Service was bustling but good.  Last visited January 2001.


Café Campagne 
Food Rating: 5/10

1600 Post Alley (Pine St.) Seattle, WA, 98101-1567 (206) 728-2233


After some shopping in Pike Place Market this is definitely the place to come.  This has a relaxed, bistro setting and genuinely warm service, but above all the cooking here is to a very high standard.  I will remember the stunning soft shell crab here for a long tome.  Presumably the main Campagne restaurant (86 Pine Street) is even better, though it does have a new chef as of 2001.   



Washington DC


A very attractive city that has managed to preserve a lot of open space amongst its many grand buildings.  One slightly lesser known attraction worth a look is the Library of Congress, which has spectacular marble.  The Federal attractions are a bit fickle, as they can close without warning for official business (both the White House and the FBI building did this on my last trip here).  The subway, an American rarity, is modern and excellent.  Avoid straying from the main central areas, as this is the country’s murder, as well as its political, capital.  For food, there are some decent places, but nothing exceptional.



Food Rating: 4/10

Foggy Bottom, 2000 Pennsylvania Avenue NW (I St., between 20th & 21st Streets) Washington, DC, 20006-1812

Phone: 001 (202) 296-7700


Jumbo lump crab cake was excellent, served with a very well-balanced mustard sauce and a corn pimento relish (5/10).  Black pepper crusted tuna was served rare, with flageolet beans, some rather tasteless portabellea mushrooms and a reasonable pinot noir sauce (4/10).  Tarte tatin was capable, the pastry not great but the apple tatin filling well made (3/10).  The wine list is superb, with obscure wines like the excellent Wachau Austrian Riesling and with eight dessert wines by the glass.  Last visited May 2001.



Butterfield 9   
Food Rating: 3/10

600 14th *(at F Street), Washington DC, 20005-2008

Phone:  001 (202) 289 8810


Smart, modern décor, with a trendy atmosphere.  The wine list expensive, with few wines under £50.  There are, however, many dessert wines, including the excellent Bonny Doon vin de Glaciere.  Sautéed crab cake was excellent, with fresh, tasty crab, roasted in garlic butter, served with warm coleslaw and a little bacon (3/10).  Sesame crusted tuna was also good, lightly seared, served with a fresh Asian salad, some crackers flavoured with wasabi mustard, and a basil and tomato aioli (3/10).  Service was friendly and efficient, while coffee was also good (3/10).  Last visited May 2001.



Food Rating: 3/10

3000 M Street (at 30th Street), Washington DC 20007-3701

Phone: 001 (202) 625-2150


An attractive dining room with a view into the kitchen.  I tried a good soft shell crab (this part of the world is known for its crab), served simply with a tasty tartare sauce (3/10).  Bread was poor, lacking in much taste (1/10).  My sea bass was timed well, served on a bed of tender puy lentils (4/10).  The wine list has some quality producers but has hefty mark-ups e.g. Bonny Doon Old telegram at a stiff $85.  Pleasant but expensive.  Service is good, if a little slow.   Last visited May 2001.



Gerard’s Place 
Food Rating: 1/10 (just)

915 15th Street (between I and K streets), Washington DC 20005-2302

Phone: 001 (202) 737 4445


This has a low-ceilinged dining room with tent-like drapes across the ceiling.  Bread, often a telling sign in a restaurant, was stale and poor (0/10).  Soft shell crab did not have particularly good flavour, with a sauce that was far too citric (0/10).  Sea bass seemed none too fresh to me but was accompanied by good morels with a reasonable creamy sauce (1/10).  Coffee was fine.  The wine list is mostly French but has no half bottles.  As ever in lesser restaurants, although I left almost all of my sea bass (just one bite taken) the waiter removed the plate with no inquiry at all as top whether there was any problem with the dish.  Given the prices, this cannot to recommended, whatever Zagat thinks.  Last visited May 2001.



Marcels was 0/10 on my visit; my tuna was actually cooked grey, something I thought only happened in school canteens these days.  Last visited May 2001.




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