Chefs and restaurant owners work some of the longest hours imaginable, arriving at their jobs early in the morning and leaving late at night. They are typically on the run; the minute they take a breather, a crisis erupts and off they go again. Days off are rare commodities: a time to do errands, take care of personal business, re-introduce themselves to family and friends and maybe catch up on sleep. It’s a tough job feeding the public. Who has time to eat?
For that reason, when members of the hospitality industry travel, on the top of their agenda is food, whether a return visit to favorite restaurants, a facInding mission to check out new trends or to check out acclaimed veteran chefs and emerging talents. Some food industry professionals are so insatiable in their hunger and curiosity that they travel just to eat.
Here are some favorite dining destinations of local foodies. Put them on your “to do” list the next time you’re traveling.
Marcia & Craig Jervis, The Mad Platter
The chef-owners of Germantown’s charming Mad Platter head far from the madding crowd when they have a break, to the little town of Uvita on the Pacific coast of Costa Rica, where they are building a home. They have fallen in love with the country and its cuisine, an eclectic mix of native dishes, fresh-caught seafood and international influences. “We are very enamored of Balcon d’Uvita, a Thai-Indonesian place run by a Dutch-Indonesian couple. Besides wonderful food, the place offers gorgeous sunsets. There is a terrific Tico place called El Viajero, which serves comida topica or native cuisine, similar to our meat-and-threes. Lots of fish and ceviche and the best thing, pescado entrero, whole fried red snapper. Near Uvita is a small French-Canadian community, Ojochal. There is a place called Exotica. Sweet Lucy runs the front of the house. We also like The Lookout, which is owned by two American couples and has a chef from Israel. Uvita has a fabulous Farmers Market every Thursday, and occasionally we will take over the kitchen of the place we stay in while our house is being built. For some reason, Costa Rica is a chef magnetwe run into other chefs there all the time.”
Josh Weekley, Atlantis
Weekley was brought up in Florida and spent his formative learning years at New York’s only four-star seafood restaurant, Le Bernadine. He now owns Atlantis, Nashville’s best seafood restaurant, with wife Susan Cone Weekley. They recently returned from a trip overseas, and while in Paris, they discovered La Luna. “It was very much off the beaten path, a little place that tourists would never know about. It is small, very French, but it is the best fish restaurant I have ever experienced. They also have a great white burgundy list, which is a treat. In New York, I like Vong. And when I go back to Florida, I go to Norman’s in Coral Gables for New World Carribean-Asian food. I love it.”
Randy Rayburn, Sunset Grill and Midtown Café
Rayburn, one of the region’s most successful and traveled restaurateurs, is not a chef, but has probably hired and/or fired 75 percent of Nashville’s folks in the toques. He knows food and easily rattles off some of his favorite places. “It’s a long listfood is a major part of travel. In Atlanta, I always go to Bacchanalia and sometimes I find an excuse to go to Atlanta just to go to Bacchanalia. In New York, I love Daniel, Jean Georges and Le Bernadin. In Washington, it is Kinkaid’s; in New Orleans, Bayona and Nola; in Florida it’s Norman’s; in Chicago, I just tried a place called Arun’s, which is Thai haute cuisine, fabulous. On the West Coast, I like Jay Danko’s in San Francisco, C’Atahula in Napa Valley, and The Girl in the Fig in Sonoma. Closer to home, no one is cooking better than Chris Hastings at his Hot & Hot Fish Club in Birmingham. In fact, I think his food is even better than Norman’s, and that is pretty astounding.”
Rick Bolsom, Tin Angel, Zola and Mirror
Bolsom is a New York native, and in fact, his Tin Angel restaurant is named after a favorite neighborhood place in Greenwich Village. “When I travel to eat, I go to one of the coasts, New York or San Francisco/Napa Valley. In New York, we go to Aqua Grill for seafood in Tribeca. Casual, simple, immaculate freshness, exquisite food, beautifully handled. For the New York experience, you have to go to the Second Avenue Deli, on Second Avenue of course, for great deli and sandwiches and just that classic New York nosh. We had a spectacular meal recently at Picholine, on the Upper West Side. Terrance Brennan is the chef, and he is known for his extensive knowledge of cheese. He does brilliant food. It was expensive, but an unforgettable dining experience and you get your money’s worth. On the other coast, the obvious choice is Chez Pannise in Berkeley. The drawback for some is the fixed menuyou get what they are cookingbut it is next to impossible to go wrong. I am not a vegetarian by any means, but Vicki has gotten me to go to Greens on the waterfront in San Francisco. It is simply amazing food and exciting to see what people can do without meat. Travigne in Napa Valley is everything an Italian-California restaurant should bebig, happy, wonderful food and right there in the vineyard.”
Jay Pennington, Bound’ry and South Street
Pennington does travel just to eat, often taking key members of his staff along on tasting trips. He checks out everything, from dives to four stars, and is always brimming with stories of some place new he has discovered. “Of course I love to eat cuisines that are hard to get in Nashville. When I’m in New York, 80 percent of the time I seek out small Italian restaurants. I love Italian and it is hard to find the real deal here. They’ve got it everywhere there. I also like the little, no-name, unpretentious French bistros that you find in little neighborhoods and in lower Manhattan. I love Crustacean in San Franciscothey have this garlic crab that is out of this world. It is a secret recipe and no outsiders are allowed in the kitchen when they are making it. When I’m on the West Coast, I have to do French Laundry, if I remember to make a reservation in time. The best meal I’ve had in a couple of years was at Tru, in Chicago. It was eight courses, so beautifully done, perfectly paced and portioned. At the end of the meal they brought out the cheese tray with 18 different cheeses. It was amazing. Not long ago, I rented a bus and took some of our staff down to Birmingham, just to eat at Hot & Hot Fish. We got that big table in the back and did the whole menu. Chris Hastings is a great chef and it was well worth the trip. The last time I went to New York, I took my managers. We ate and ate until I thought we would burst, all over the city, but the best food we had was at a little gyro stand on Fifth Avenuejust one guy cooking. It was 2 in the morning, and we had to wait in line. Only in New York!”