Julie Stalmer 6:30 p.m., July 23
Local California Restaurant Association Awards
If the legendary Smitty's BBQ of Lockhart, Texas, were to move here, Phil's BBQ would still win Best BBQ. If Eric Ripert were to branch out from New York, Blue Point would still win Best Seafood (although they are very good — but not as good as the Westgate). And, of course, Indigo Grill is once again "Best Ethnic" (another of Deborah Scott's Cuisinart of ethnicities) competing FIERCELY against Sab-E-Lee, Pho Cao Cali, China Max, Pomegranate, Cafe 21, Costa Brava, et al. No real ethnic food need apply here.
This year, the Cohn Restaurant Group won eight awards, with Melting Point triumphing over Tender Greens (was it even nominated?) as "Best Family/Casual Chain" and Corvette Diner winning best burger. (Take that, Hodad's!)
Pay attention: David Cohn was for several years the president of the local chapter of the CRA. Best Mexican: Cafe Coyote in Old Town, of course — the owner is another present or former head of the organization (who can keep track of who's when?) Cucina Urbana and other Tracy Borkum eateries also won four awards. Sbicca's in Del Mar won "best neighborhood." (Is Del Mar a real neighborhood or just an invisibly gated upscale development? Fortunately, it was tied with Ken Grill, just as Island Prime was tied with my choice for a steakhouse, Cowboy Star.) Best Pacific Rim was the newly-redecorated Bali Hai. I know they've upgraded their decor and menu but — surely there's something else. Maybe Saigon on 5th, or Roppongi, at least.
A few choices were really good: Kitchen 1540 at L'Auberge and Nine Ten tied for best hotel fine dining; Bice tied with Cucina Urbana for best Italian fine dining. But oy-yoy-yoy, best continental-French was Bleu Boheme, recently taken over by Ken Irvine, who's won before for Chez Loma just as the latter restaurant hit its lowest days. (I have tales to tell about bad meals there that I didn't review, but can't tell them in print.)
Why, you may wonder? Why such narrow, grim choices? It's built into the structure of the voting for the CRA choices. First, each restaurant gets one vote. A chain with 11 restaurants like the Cohn Restaurant Group thereby gets 11 votes. Your favorite neighborhood Thai place probably isn't even a member so gets no votes. And then, of course, there's inter-restaurant shmoozing. That makes it a popularity contest in the narrower votes.
Then, too, restaurant supply purveyors who join the CRA also get to vote. Sysco (the huge one) also got an award, of sorts. Many restaurants buy stuff like paper towels from Sysco, but the company also sells all manner of foodstuffs. So a restaurant that buys organic produce from Susie's Farm in I.B. and contracts somewhere for recycled napkins is not likely to get any of Sysco's votes.