The third chapter of our series on alternative restaurants run or owned by acclaimed chefs hits North America, where some of the best restaurants in the world are located.
If the United States has established itself as a country where high-gastronomy has become increasingly interesting, with many chefs doing remarkable work, Mexico, on the other hand, has emerged as one of the most relevant supremacies in the food world with its rich ingredients, its ancestral techniques and chefs trying to bring a new approach to gather this all.
But in both countries as well as in Canada, cooks and restaurateurs have also invested in new businesses, pursuing new concepts – such as “fast casual” ones, as Americans say, regarding the restaurants that are more casual in shape, yet still seek to serve high-quality food on the menus.
“Chefs' Satellite Spots”, the series of articles published by Fine Dining Lovers, focus now in Mexico, the US and Canada to present you some worthy alternative places with a renowned chef signature.
Chef behind it: Joshua Skenes
Type of cuisine: seafood-focused, mainly with Pacific coast products
Opened in: 2018
When he opened Saison in 2009, chef Joshua Skenes helped to elevate the San Francisco food scene – and created new parameters for the so-called Contemporary American cuisine: focusing on quality local ingredients, giving a new meaning to seasonality.
Located in SoMa district, his restaurant earned the highest rating of three stars from the Michelin Guide in 2014 and became an instant hit - the same year it debuted on The World's 50 Best Restaurants as the One To Watch. Saison started as a pop-up weekly restaurant, and then it turned into one of the most acclaimed restaurants in America.
Recently, Skenes felt that it was time to think bigger: his first follow-up project after Saison is Angler, opened last September at The Embarcadero in San Francisco, which has more than 100 seats throughout two dining rooms, plus bars, and lounge areas – just to compare, Saison has just 18 available seats.
Angler is seafood-focused and expands Skenes’ work in using mainly Pacific coast products, from the relationships the chef built over the years with local and sustainable fisherman. In a more casual approach, the a la carte menu gathers from smaller dishes (that can be ordered to share between large groups) to the main ones, such as the scorpion fish, California king crab or the giant Octopus - many of them prepared “over the embers” in the live-fire cooking.
Guests can also order Angler’s private-batch caviar and other delicacies from the raw bar (purple sea urchin and Diamond turbot, for example) while drinking a cocktail enjoying the stunning view of the Bay Bridge.
Chef behind it: Daniel Humm
Type of cuisine: A chicken-based fast casual restaurant
Opened in: 2017
Running one of the best restaurants in the US (and in the world), Eleven Madison Park, in the NoMad neighborhood – one of the hippest in New York City –, chef Daniel Humm and restaurateur Will Guedara ventured in the fast casual market with Made Nice to serve, in their own words, “delicious and approachable food”.
The restaurant focuses on serving all kinds of food for all kinds of hunger, in plates, salads, sandwiches, soups, and sides, that can be ordered all day long. The original idea was to apply all the knowledge of the team behind the EMP (and also the renowed NoMad, also run by the duo) to serve casual – and faster – food, but without neglecting the quality, and to reinterpret the upscale dishes that became famous in the group's high-end venues.
Made Nice's menu (run by chef Danny DiStefano) changes regularly but has the chicken as one of the main ingredients used in many dishes, from “hot food” (such as chicken rice and fried chicken) to salads (like the one made with kale and avocado, for example, in where you can add chicken breast or thigh). The options also encompass vegan options, of course, following the current trend.
Other dishes also offer options with the poultry, such as a spicy chicken sandwich. Unlike the other restaurants of the group where the bill can reach 4 digits for two people, here a meal, served in about 10 minutes, revolves around $ 20 to $30 – proof that eating the famous Humm chicken (or a version of it) can be much more affordable than you think.
Chef Behind it: David McMillan
Type of cuisine: all-natural wine bar with local and fresh casual dishes
Opened in: 2018
Joe Beef is probably the most famous and newsworthy restaurant in Montreal. Opened in 2005, it appeared as the first Canadian eatery to make the list on the World’s 50’s Best Restaurants. It not only changed the local food scenario with mountains of international accolades but also became the first spot that any chef visiting Montreal wants to have a meal in when in the city.
Chef David McMillan and his partners Fred Morin and Allison Cunningham have been so successful with serving hearty meats and well-prepared meals that it has led them to two more adjacent restaurants, Liverpool House and Le Vin Papillon. More recently, they have taken a new step: Mon Lapin is a new wine bar they opened in partnership with sommelier Vanya Filipovic and chef Marc-Olivier Frappier (former employees) in Little Italy neighborhood – their first venue outside of Little Burgundy. More than a selected all-natural wine list created by Filipovic (primarily with European winemakers), the menu, that changes daily, offers around 15-20 small plates with ingredients that respect seasonality, based on local produce and what is fresh and available in the markets. The dishes are casual but innovative, like the radishes with chicken liver mousse, the veal tongue on spinach or the halibut served with garlic ramp sauce and white garlic flowers. It’s a no-frills place to eat well, drink even better and have fun – as all the businesses run by Joe Beef team.
Molino El Pujol
Chef behind it: Enrique Olvera
Type of cuisine: A traditional tortillería – with a chef signature
Opened in: 2017
With more and more acclaimed chefs getting into (even more) casual restaurant business, it is not rare to find hamburgers, hot dogs and ice creams with a gourmet signature. Enrique Olvera, from Pujol in Mexico City, and Cosme in New York City, decided to follow the trend and dedicate himself to a Mexican icon in his last recently opened venue, Molino El Pujol: tortillas.
Located in Condessa neighborhood in Mexico’s capital, Molino is rescuing the tradition of freshly made tortillas – in a time when traditional tortillerias are disappearing.
His new brainchild is a hipster (but somehow humble) stand where Olvera’s team serves almost all Mexican recipes made with corn, from tamales to tacos.
The masa to prepare the tortillas is locally-milled using indigenous non-GMO corn and serves as a base for the tacos, such as the one with sliced avocado in a blue corn tortilla (pressed with hoja santa). Molino also provides all the tortillas consumed in Pujol, his high-end restaurant located 5 kilometers from there.
Other recipes made mainly with corn, among them tamales and elote (corn cob with coffee mayonnaise, chile, and Chicana ant powder), are served. Even some beverages are made from the grain, such as a beer and agua de maiz (literally corn water, but it would make more sense to be called corn milk, given its texture and flavor).
Olvera works only with small-scale Mexican corn farmers to help them to grow and to improve their incomes – a similar work he does with his other restaurants, by the way, with high-quality ingredients being harvested by families and small farmers. According to the chef, good gastronomy is made of good products – whether in a fine dining restaurant or in a tortillería.