How the World's Best Restaurants Awards Got Famous, How Scotch Became Classy

Categories: Talking Points
Today's notes on national stories, local trends, random tastes, and other bycatch dredged up from the food media.

1. World's Best Restaurants. I've skimmed over most of the press involving the San Pellegrino-sponsored annual "World's 50 Best Restaurants" awards, which were announced a few days ago. The only article that I read through to the end was this Time article about the awards, which gives some of the history behind the contest -- and frankly, I needed to do a little remedial reading, because the awards didn't register in the States until a few years ago. Now their buzz is eclipsing that around the Michelin stars, partially because the awards tend to favor experimental, au courant chefs (Alinea, for example, is number 6). If the Beard Awards are any measure of how the Pellegrino contest is judged, it's as much a popularity contest as a measure of merit, due in no small part to the fact that judges can't vote for a restaurant if they haven't been there in 18 months. I wonder if that requirement doesn't factor in 2003 and 2004 winner French Laundry dropping out of the top 50 this year. (Gasp!)

2. Teeccino. I remember seeing Teeccino in San Francisco cafes in the late 1990s, advertised as an "herbal coffee substitute." Being an addict a person who feels no need for coffee substitutes, I ignored it. But then I tasted Deanie Hickox's cheesecake with teeccino crumble at Plum -- a dish she first made at Ubuntu. And then I had a teeccino-cider reduction sauce at Plate Shop, whose chef worked with Hickox. The coffeelike notes in the dish were both subtle and appealing. (I searched the restaurant forums, and also spotted a mention of a flourless chocolate cake with teeccino cream at Incanto.) So I picked up a box of Teeccino bags at Whole Foods, and brewed up a cup. Just like coffee? Not really. But the tea had a waxy-chocolate flavor that seemed as familiar to me as coffee. I turned over the box to check the ingredient list: Carob! The 1970s chocolate substitute may have been the bane of my childhood, but now that I'm no longer resentful it isn't the Snickers bar I wanted, it's nice to encounter the flavor again.

3. This Week in Whiskey/y. The Guardian just ran a concise history of how Scotch evolved from a peasant drink to a luxury spirit wrapped in an intense culture of conoisseurship. And today's New York Times dining section has an article about how Canadians are scrambling to do the same to their own whisky.

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