Best Of :: Food & Drink
Over the past twenty years, Sonoda's has grown to four locations that serve big crowds. It's clearly making money, and just as clearly pouring it back into buying more fish, since the dining rooms don't look like they've been redecorated since the late '80s. But as long as Sonoda's keeps buying tuna, that's okay with us. Anything you can imagine being done with these tractor-trailers of the deep, Sonoda's does it: sashimi and tataki, hand rolls made from the collar, flank, belly, loin and tail. In one meal, you can come close to eating an entire fish. The best way to prepare for this nose-to-tail eating experience? With a bowl of the best Japanese soup in town, a powerful and salty broth made of -- what else? -- bonito.
For reasons we'll never understand, some people out there are afraid of eating pork belly. Maybe it's the name: The idea of eating anything's belly could be a little disturbing. But still, everyone with a tastebud left in their heads should immediately swallow all prejudices against this noble butcher's cut and get a taste of the wonderful pork-belly entree with smoked bacon, hedgehog mushrooms and apple chutney at Frasca. On a menu filled with nothing but winners by chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, this plate is singularly amazing. The fat cap of each thick slab of pork belly is rendered in the pan, seared crisp just at the end, and then the beautifully tender meat is sliced and fanned over a pale white smear of horseradish sauce for a real treat by a wickedly talented kitchen. So if the civilians out there continue to eschew the potential wonders of pork belly, that's fine with us. Frasca is a busy place, and that just means more belly for us.
Empress Seafood Restaurant is a classic dim sum joint. It's huge, it's entirely impersonal, and almost everything that goes on here happens in a different language. Every dim sum item available -- from dumplings to tripe -- is listed on one long paper menu, and no matter what you think you ordered, it's impossible to reconcile that with what eventually makes its way to the table. The exception to this rule is the char siu bao, pork buns that arrive hot and steaming from the kitchen like giant, puffy white softballs filled with chunky, honey-sweetened barbecued pork. The house makes its bun dough once a day, using yesterday's leftovers as a starter for the new batch, and the result is a light, airy breading, slightly sweet, always soft as eating a cloud. If you're not up for fried pork intestines or chicken feet in black bean sauce, the Empress's buns are a perfect choice for even the least adventurous diner.
Just staying open for more than three decades is an achievement for any restaurant. But staying open and staying relevant? That's a real accomplishment. And that's what Tante Louise -- which opened in the old home of the even more venerable Normandy in 1973 -- has managed to do. In a newly hot restaurant neighborhood in a town where fine-dining houses open and close so quickly that it's hard to keep track of the failures, la grande dame of the white-tablecloth scene has the legs to keep up. Sure, Tante has occasionally stumbled. But owner Corky Douglass has always had a good nose for talent; a solid reputation for training tomorrow's execs and restaurateurs; an understanding that new hands in the galley serve to keep things fresh, often taking even the most staid and traditional kitchens in surprising new directions; and the patience to let his chefs find their own voices. And today, Marlo Hix is speaking loud and clear with her cooking, bringing a little pan-Asian flavor to traditional French fare -- and ensuring that Tante Louise can hold her own, running a marathon in a world full of sprinters.