It was different last year, when Z Cuisine won Best New Restaurant honors. I loved Z Cuisine from the first moment I set foot on its odd little dead-end block in the Highland neighborhood. What's more, I've continued to fall in love with it every time I've visited -- feeling a fresh thrum of passion and recognition each time I see it at night, bleeding light out into the street like warm butter, each time I see chef/owner Patrick Dupays's menu.
The charcuterie maison thrills me with its little cornichons, rough country-style pâtés, duck and rabbit rillettes, hidden treasures like grapes, roasted beets, warm pear chutney. Often, that's as far as I get on the menu -- a charcuterie plate, two glasses of wine and au revoir, chef as I wander back out into the evening, giving up my seat to those who come here like supplicants, knowing that seating is at a premium, banking on the luck of the turn.
Cassoulet in winter with white beans and wilted greens. Leg of lamb in spring. Beef-tongue ravioli. Last week, the seafood galette was fresh scallops, crabmeat and crayfish tails like shrimp pretending to be lobsters, all dressed in a caper-and-dill champagne sauce.
It took me a while to love Fruition, but at Z, I fell immediately and hard. Every time I go there is like the first time, every night a unique and sometimes startling wonder. And because of the cuisine du marche style in which Dupays works -- because of his daily-changing menu and love of market shopping and limited space and stock and seating -- every night really is new. The Z Cuisine that won last year's Best New Restaurant award is not the same as the restaurant I ate at last week, last month, last season. But they're all still the best.