There were so many great flavors this year, I could go on for days with luscious food picsand loving descriptions of my favorites. But a restaurant experience is always more than just what you eat. Sometimes the people – and the things they say – tell the just as aptly. Here, then, is a collection of my favorite quotes from this year's reviews, each one revealing in some way of the character of the restaurants I visited in 2012.
A server, welcoming guests to Sbraga with an amuse-bouche of optimism: "Are you ready for your amazing tasting menu?"
Upon hearing our glass of Riesling was too warm at the old Le Bec-Fin, the sommelier snapped dismissively: "That's the temperature I serve my wine."
Sign over the bar in Fishtown's Loco Pez informs the hipster patrons of their payment options: "CASH ONLY BITCHES."
A confused server exits the kitchen at Ulivo and scans the room in a sudden panic: "Oh God — where do these plates go? "
I attempt to order some of the more exotic Indonesian items at Sky Café, but server Edy Yu, also the owner's brother, tries to dissuade me: "We call them stinky beans, and you are definitely not going to like those," says Yu. "I don't even like them. They stay in your body for three days . . . . " Yu's expression lightens suddenly, though, as it dawns on him what's about to happen: "Wait a second. The more I tell you not to get something, the more you want it, right? "
Chef George Sabatino, on the secret ingredient that powers Stateside's success: "We go through a lot of vinegar."
Stephen Starr, on a seafood project that could have been before he settled on Route 6: "In my heart I wanted to take over Bookbinder's and do it all over again," he said. "But . . . . "
Ela's Jason Cichonski wants to be taken seriously as one of Philly's best young cooks. Instead, he says: "All anyone wants to talk about is what my hair looks like."
Vedge's Rich Landau, speaking directly to a box of baby leeks the moment he realized he wanted to focus more on pure vegetable cookery: "Hey vegetables, I am not going to put barbecue sauce on you anymore. "
Why things didn't go so well during my second meal at Birra: "The chef's out drinking with his family," our waitress conceded.
American Sardine Bar's Scott Schroeder on hipsters and gastropubs as urban pioneers: "I have no idea why hipsters like going into bad neighborhoods and obscure locations, but I'm glad they come. I know I feel safe here. Plus, I'm more of a danger to myself."
Hickory Lane's Matt Zagorski is renowned as a burger master. But…"I can do other stuff. I promise. I've got all my chemicals downstairs."
Douglas Henri, on whether he adds any seasoning to the meats he slow smokes at Henri's Hotts Barbeque in Folsom, NJ: "Nope," he says, watching me devour a platter of brisket, whose drenchingly moist, thin slices practically melted on my tongue. "That's Black Angus beef there. It tastes good because that's how God made it."
I asked if the Thai egg noodle salad at Square Peg was "like pad Thai" and our waitress replied: "It's not like paté at all," and, adding her highest compliment, "it's not as gross as it sounds."
"In 2003, we were always packed," lamented Nicolas Fanucci, wistfully recalling the year he left Georges Perrier's orbit to eventually become general manager of Napa's legendary French Laundry. "It is so hard to get people back."
Amid the happy surge of grown-ups that clung to [Lemon Hill's] vintage wooden bar, I saw a familiar and surprising face: my son's buddy from elementary school, a fresh doughnut hole gripped in one hand as he sat on a bar stool beside his little sister. Both their grinning faces were smeared with warm malt chocolate sauce. "I bribed them," confessed their dad, with only the vaguest hint of guilt in his voice as he lifted a perfectly chilled Old Fashioned to his lips. "Can I buy you a drink? "
"I have a very distinct palate," concedes Peter McAndrews, who was [during the review] on his third chef de cuisine at Popolino. "Teaching these guys my palate is a very difficult thing."
Chef Michael Santoro on how The Mildred's cast-iron inspired menu was created: "The Staub [pot] told us what to do. "
Pizza Brain's Bryan Dwyer responds to customers who may be underwhelmed by the restaurant's well-publicized "museum" of pizza memorabilia: "What are people expecting—the Louvre? A pillared building with pizza toys? "