the top chef restaurant tour

It wasn’t until we started dating that I began to watch “Top Chef”.  Season 4 was just ending, so when we moved in together, it was time for Season 5, and my obsession with the show began.  One of the most appealing things to me were these chefs reminded me of, well, myself.  Many of them had careers in things completely unrelated to food before becoming a chef, so their story was something I could relate to in a way that made me think that I could possibly be them one day.

Now that we’re approaching Top Chef Season 11, I’m wondering if this space is starting to get diluted. Top Chef Texas was by far my least-favorite season. The food seemed uninspired. Thankfully, Season 10 in Seattle seemed to get better, so here’s hoping Season 11 in New Orleans can be just as good. I know we’ll have a decent dose of Emeril. BAM!

(SIDEBAR: There was a point in time I was considering culinary school instead of college.  I knew that if I changed my indecisive 17-year-old mind, transitioning into a traditional college setting might be difficult for me, but I could always go back to school to be a chef.  I have not let go of that dream).

It was during this season we started to research the chefs, where they worked, how they got there, and decided we’d visit their restaurants.  No matter where they were.  Eating well, and traveling as far as we desired.  Fast forward several years later, and my career in marketing for a food company allowed me to meet Top Chef Season 5’s Fan Favorite, Fabio Viviani (and I still have his cell phone number in mine, and I plan to use it whenever we get to visit Moorpark, California so we could get prime seating at Cafe Firenze).

As time went on, and we watched more and more food shows on Bravo and Food Network, it’s become the celeb-chef restaurant tour.

So here’s our list of the “Restaurant Tour” – where we’ve been, and where we want to go.

Graffiato, Washington, DC.  Chef Mike Isabella, Top Chef Season 6 & Top Chef All Stars (2 Visits)

  • Notable dish: pulled pork potato gnocchi; sweet corn agnolotti in sage brown butter sauce

Volt, Frederick, MD. Chef Bryan Voltaggio, Top Chef Season 6 (runner-up)

  • Chef’s 6-course tasting. Notable dish: pork belly, cannellini beans, cranberry (it tasted like Thanksgiving); chocolate chip cookies

Bandolero, Washington, DC. Chef Mike Isabella, Top Chef Season 6 & Top Chef All Stars

  • Notable dish: Guacamole. Mike Isabella succeeded in making me like guac.

Marc Forgione, New York, NY.  Chef Marc Forgione,Winner, Next Iron Chef Season 3

  • Notable dish: Chicken under a brick

Mia Dona, New York, NY.  Restauranteur Donatella Arpaia (who I fell in love with when she was judging Next Iron Chef).

  • Notable dish: Rigatoni bolognese with smoked mozzarella

Barbuto, New York, NY. Jonathan Waxman, Top Chef Masters, Season 2

  • Notable dish: flank steak; gnocchi

Rioja, Denver, CO. Jennifer Jasinski, Top Chef Masters, Season 5  (sidebar: We also went to Euclid Hall, her other location, but only for beers. They were delicious.)

  • Notable dish: lamb

Not “Top Chef” Restaurants, but notable meals:

Wayfare Tavern, San Francisco, CA. Tyler Florence

  • Notable dish: Deviled eggs appetizer; fried chicken.

Mesa Grill, New York, NY.  Bobby Flay

  • Notable dish: Venison chop with pomegranate sauce.

Linger, Denver, CO

  • Notable dish: Mongolian duck buns.

Duo, Denver, CO

  • Notable dish: Fried rabbit fritters.

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