Just a couple of days ago, the James Beard Foundation announced the finalists for the 2016 James Beard awards. They’re also called the “Oscars of Food,” so yeah, getting one of those bronze medallions is a pretty big deal.
Just like the Oscars, the categories are many and varied, from nominees for the best “Vegetable Focused and Vegetarian” cookbook to “Best Chef, Midwest.” And while the restaurants nominated are certainly some of the best in the U.S., if not the world, we wondered—what’s it like to actually eat at these places? Are customers satisfied? Are the meals as beautifully plated IRL as they are in glossy magazines?
We’ve virtually-visited six nominees for the Best New Restaurant category as best we can—by looking at each restaurant’s Yelp reviews and customer photos from Instagram.
Death & Taxes, Raleigh, N.C.
At 69 reviews, Death & Taxes comes in at a 3 1/2 star average rating. Users are often split on it. Yelp user Carly C. gave the restaurant five stars, saying:
We shared the chicken liver, bone marrow, pappardelle, and potatoes aligot. Everything was delicious and seasoned perfectly. The chicken liver pate was smooth and flavorful, served with pickled okra, grapes and I think daikon. The bone marrow was topped with crispy capers and shallots and served with crusty bread. I mean, you really can’t go wrong with bone marrow unless it’s overcooked. It’s the butter of meats!
The pappardelle was topped with Parmesan, truffle and a poached egg. The pasta was the perfect al dente with a little bite. The creamy egg yolk mixed with the pasta to create a sauce was what really made it. Mmmm. Then the potatoes, my favorite. I had seen something about potatoes agliot a while back and have been DYING to try them. These did not disappoint. Just what I imagined they would be. Gooey, creamy, cheesy potatoes.
Raul V., on the other hand, found his experience to be just average, giving it a 3-star review for the cost-to-satisfaction ratio:
The noise in this place was insufferable. They have a semi-open kitchen and the crowd of people joined with that had me close to walking out of the door. My girlfriend and I had to semi-yell to each other to communicate, no exaggeration.
Secondly, the price of total bill versus the taste of the dishes was really sub-par. After ordering 5 small plates which were split between two people, the bill ended up being over $150. No drinks were consumed, just food.
I realize the proprietor was on Iron Chef, she’s obviously extremely talented, but the cost versus reward ratio was pretty low. The food is great, but when the bill comes you might (understandably) feel underwhelmed.
Launderette, Austin, Texas
With 294 reviews, Austin’s Launderette has a solid four-star average. Stephanie S. gave Launderette five stars, saying:
The food was terrific! We only sampled some small plates, but we enjoyed every bit of what we had. The balsamico onions were delicious, the fried oysters were satisfying, but the real star of the show had to be the sticky brussels sprouts. Gosh, I can’t even describe it but just know that my mouth is watering just thinking about them. We ordered these three small plates but we both came out full and pleasantly surprised. People rave about this spot constantly for a reason. Just go already!
But Kyla N. had issues with the service, pointing out an awkward interaction with the hostess:
We got to the restaurant at 8 pm and knew that they dont take reservations. The hostess said twenty to thirty minutes before we could be seated. Cool, that was fine with us. When 8:50 rolled around my roommate asked about the status of our table and said something like, oh its been an hour, to which the hostess said “actually, it’s only been 38 minutes.” Awkward.
Liholiho Yacht Club, San Francisco
Liholiho Yacht Club is doing well on Yelp, with an average of 4 1/2 stars from its 720 reviews. User Jan P. declared it her new favorite restaurant, detailing every aspect of her meal:
**KABOCHA – this is the oxtail croquettes with sour cream. It reminds me of a yakitori. This one’s pretty soft. 4/5
**BEEF TONGUE BUNS – filled with kimchi, pickles, with soft poppy seed buns. The bun is super cushy like a soft plushy pillow. The kimchi is burst with strong flavor that compliments well with the beef tongue. I like it!
**YELLOWTAIL SASHIMI – ONE OF MY FAVORITE DISH HERE. 5 pieces of awesome that melt in your mouth.
**TUNA POKE – fresh chopped ahi tuna on nori crackers. This plate serves 2 pieces. This small plate is literally like crack.
**GRILL SHORTRIB, ESCARGOT, BONE MARROW, MUSHROOMS, LEEKS, FRESH HORSERADISH – the beef is cooked to perfect medium rare. Escargo is under the bone marrow. BOMB.
**BAKED HAWAII!!!!!!!!!! Enough said. MUST GET. The best way to end the night. Nicely looking beehive confectionery.
Although it’s difficult to find reviews less than four stars, user Heather H. did feel that her meal wasn’t worth the price, and said of the of the service
Service was too attentive. Let me breathe and eat! Every 5 min..”soooooooo…anything else?” “I’d order soon that takes a longgg time to cook” Geez.
Shaya, New Orleans, La.
With 260 reviews, Shaya is holding steady at an average of 4 1/2 stars. Arvind B. said
Loved it. There are a lot of mediterranean restaurants these days where all you really see are falafel, hummus and baba. This one takes it to the next level. Who wants hummus when you can get it with fried cauliflower and caramelized onions? Me! My wife! Everyone! Oh and you could just be satisfied with the fresh pita.
we also really enjoyed the israeli salad but honestly I will come back just for the cauliflower hummus.
Definitely on my list for every new orleans visit.
Although reviewer A B. found something to complain about, saying
Rip off alert!
I’ll be frank, it wasn’t that the food wasn’t good, it was very good, but any person who is familiar with middle eastern food can tell you that what you’re getting is mediocre and sample size versions of the real thing. I basically laughed when I received our order– I’ve never seen hummus, tabule and baba ganush in such small plates! Oh and the cauliflower was the most ridiculous one! While in Israel any restaurant will serve you a whole roasted cauliflower head, here you get about 6 small florets. In Hebrew we call it “hutzpe” = the nerves to charge so much for so little. The owner is laughing all the way to the bank, at your expense.
Staplehouse seems to be the Yelp baby of the group, with just 30 reviews landing it at its healthy average of 4 1/2 stars. User Thomas B. raved about his meal there, saying
We could not have been happier with our experience. We opted to go with the 5 course tasting menu with wine pairings. Stephen did a phenomenal job with the pairings and each wine did an excellent job of elevating each course. We had some specific dietary restraints and the staff was very conscientious and accommodating of our needs throughout the meal.
The tartare, scallops, and dessert were all delicious. All and all, it was a great experience and everyone did an amazing job of making us feel taken care of throughout the meal. We will definitely be back.
Erinn K., though, had problems with—surprise, surprise—the price-to-satisfaction ratio:
I was charmed by the gorgeous layout (admittedly a bit cramped) and our server was so precise and professional. However, those two factors alone aren’t enough to make me return.
The food is grossly overpriced. I ordered a $22 scallop dish that came with two scallops. With a party of five, we all tried each other’s plates and I begrudgingly shared one of the prized scallops with the group.
I get it, it’s high end. But I walked away hungry at an exorbitant price.
Don’t come here if you’re hungry. Go if you’ve already eaten and you’re in the mood for an expensive snack.
Wildair, New York City
The last finalist of the Best New Restaurant category is another Yelp baby, earning an average of four stars with its 49 reviews. Sol C. gave it the full five stars, complimenting the exceptional service before moving on to her rave of the food:
I’ve never had a more enjoyable salad at a restaurant in my entire life. Like, seriously. Get the romaine lettuce! It sounds boring but it was outstanding! Trust me. Doused in pistachios and lemon juice and topped with a delicately piped dressing made out of reduced lettuce…unusual but so delicious. The burrata and persimmon salad was equally delicious. Both are must haves.
Next came the delicate beef tartare topped with smoky cheddar and then the potato darphin – basically the best hash brown I have ever had topped with decadent uni and chopped jalapeños.
The only dish of the evening that we found disappointing was the squid, and that was because the batter was too heavy – you couldn’t really taste the seafood. I would recommend passing on this one but make sure not to miss out on any of the others!
And get the chocolate tart. Just do it. You deserve it.
Mahsa T., on the other hand, did not enjoy her meal at Wildair, for many reasons, saying
Don’t come out of your way to eat at Wildair, you’ll empty your pockets and leave unsatisfied. I can’t believe there’s a line to get into this place and I can’t believe all the good reviews on here. I get that they’re trying to do something unique and organic, but none of it tasted particularly good. The uni and potato was flavorless and greasy. The beet plate was the only thing that was good. The bread was ordinary and should’ve come free, instead they charge you $4 for bread here. The pork milanese was TERRIBLY undercooked, as in bloody, I couldn’t eat more than a few bites. The shrimp came in the shell and again was completely bland. Our $50 bottle of wine wasn’t even that good. Cramped and very few seats. Communal tables.
If you want to eat disgusting and tastless food and pay a whole lot of money for it, by all means go to Wildair.