Eater Awards National Winners 2015

By: Sonia Chopra

Restaurant of the Year: Shaya

New Orleans knew Alon Shaya for years as the steady, genial executive chef of Domenica and Pizza Domenica, both part of John Besh’s restaurant group. He reintroduced himself to the city — and captured the attention of the nation — when he debuted this exquisite tribute to his Israeli culinary heritage in February. If the idea that a restaurant serving extra-silky hummus, soothing matzo ball soup with duck, and lamb spiked with feta and pomegranates sounds strange in the land of gumbo, look at it this way: Like Louisiana, Israel has its own Creole cooking, a mashup of Middle Eastern cuisines and the foods of the Jewish diaspora. In its own unique and spectacular way, Shaya fits right into The Big Easy’s cultural jambalaya. —Bill Addison

Chef of the Year: Dominique Crenn

Dominique Crenn’s uncompromising artistry has never been on more dazzling display than in 2015. Her San Francisco flagship Atelier Crenn has reached its creative peak, serving poetic tasting menus that marry the sensual and the intellectual. This summer she opened the more casual Petit Crenn, serving family-style seafood and vegetable dishes inspired by her childhood in Brittany, France. And just this month saw the publication of her gorgeous first cookbook, Atelier Crenn: Metamorphosis of Taste, which spells out the technical rigor and broad-mindedness she brings to each of her extraordinary projects. —Bill Addison


Bar Program of the Year: The Walker Inn

A cocktail that replicates the mouthfeel, viscosity, and color of rose wine lands before a drink disguised in a Superman-themed silver pouch that looks just like Capri Sun — it tastes like the best possible version of fruit punch. For good reason, cocktail nerds have been lining up to try Los Angeles's The Walker Inn, an intimate reservations-only bar that has succeeded in making cocktail tasting menus, well, a thing. Proprietors LLC — Dave Kaplan, Alex Day, and Devon Tarby — build serious, inspired drinks with often whimsical presentation around ever-changing themes, like the Pacific Coast Highway or the film Wet Hot American Summer. Borrowing from the Japanese idea of a sushi omakase, The Walker Inn wants you to trust it, and you should. —Kat Odell

Pastry Chef of the Year: Belinda Leong

Belinda Leong’s career spans over a decade: She was the pastry chef at San Francisco’s Gary Danko in the early aughts before embarking upon stages at fine pastry kitchens in France, Spain, and Denmark. The city by the Bay finally took note of Leong’s pastry prowess in 2013, when she opened b. patisserie with her partner, San Francisco Baking Institute founder Michel Suas. In the intervening two years, Leong has established herself as one of the most exciting pastry chefs to watch. Yes, her kouign amann — classic, chocolate, or seasonal fruit — draw lines down the block, but it’s the flavor profiles of what appear to be simple desserts that draw hushed smiles of satisfaction. Her loaf-style chocolate cake, passion fruit bostock, and millefeuille demonstrate both technical skill and, rarer, a finely tuned palate. —Daniela Galarza


Sommelier of the Year: Patrick Cappiello

Patrick Cappiello was the agent provocateur of sabering at Pearl & Ash. He incited the rest of the wine world — and those just passing through it for a moment of exuberance — to lop off bottle tops with bravado and steel. That may not seem like a significant accomplishment until you realize how many cellphone camera bottle slasher videos have been spun out in just the last couple years. By now, shooting pressurized cork is its own subgenre of wine study. Over at Rebelle, Cappiello's newest playground, he has given free rein to the kinds of wines that not so long ago went unnoticed in the corridors of wine allocation and renown. Wines that had been passed like samizdat amongst sommeliers and wine crazies as what they wanted to drink suddenly found a broader focus: at Rebelle these get top billing, and the full vertical treatment. But beyond the bottles, Cappiello's biggest coup is his sense of style. In a moment where the sommelier was looking like a stereotype, he brought back the cool. —Levi Dalton

So Hot Right Now: Liholiho Yacht Club

Chef Ravi Kapur's ties to India, Hawaii, and California vibrate through the food and feeling at his first passion project. Spam fried rice with uni, Manila clams with freshly griddled roti, Instagram-famous baked Hawaii — this is free-wheeling fare that demands serious diners' attention like no other hot shot restaurant on the continent. And they've got the stacked reservation books to prove it. —Carolyn Alburger

Stone Cold Stunner: The Grey

New York entrepreneur John O. Morisano spent several million dollars transforming Savannah’s former Greyhound Bus Station into a breathtaking homage to 1930s Streamline Moderne architecture. The design incorporated the building’s practical and aerodynamic details — such as gate numbers and the bus line’s iconic curving sign — into an eye-popping space inside and out. Its retro-swank atmosphere made it an immediate national draw, as did the oyster pie, smoked greens, and other progressive Southern dishes coming out of chef Mashama Bailey’s kitchen (which was, by the way, once a ticket counter). —Bill Addison

Empire Builders of the Year: Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo, and Ludo Lefebvre

Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo, and Ludo Lefebvre have been changing the way Los Angeles eats — individually, and as a collective — for years, though 2015 may well be their strongest effort to date. Tossing outmoded L.A. health food tropes into the gutter, this TV-friendly trio continues to grow stronger on a backbone of hearty American/French/Mexican fare, spread across their unstoppable multi-restaurant empire. Whether it’s a ticketed fine dining experience booked well in advance, a bustling French bistro with turn-and-burn seating, or a lingering Silver Lake brunch with a clipboard waitlist, these three true mecs know how to deliver at every level. —Farley Elliott

Gamechanger of the Year: Tock

Tock, the long-awaited revamp of Nick Kokonas's four-year-old restaurant ticketing system, isn't just a better alternative to OpenTable; it's a powerful tool that makes reservations more fair for everyone. Whether diners fully prepay for their meals like they do at Noma Australia, or whether they simply put down a deposit toward the price of dinner, as they do at Pok Pok in Los Angeles, Tock represents a smarter way to book tables. Restaurants no longer have to worry about the financial pain of cancellations, and diners who really want that reservation have a fairer shot at getting it due to the higher barrier to entry. Tock is the future, right now. —Ryan Sutton

Cookbook of the Year: Franklin Barbecue

In her cookbook review, Helen Rosner says of Franklin Barbecue and its author: "Pitmaster Aaron Franklin's rise to national prominence was synchronous with the rise of Central Texas barbecue itself. America is having a brisket moment: restaurants are springing up thousands of miles away from Texas where diners can pay by the pound for long-smoked meat served on a butcher paper-lined plastic tray, Shiner Bock longnecks on special. Franklin and barbecue grew in fame together, reinforced one another. You couldn't tell a story about barbecue without mentioning Franklin. You couldn't tell a story about Franklin without getting everyone really interested in trying barbecue."

Comeback of the Year: Manresa

In July 2014 a fire devastated David Kinch's Manresa. But by the year's end the Los Gatos restaurant was up and running. By the following September Kinch was a nationally recognized figure starring on PBS's Mind of a Chef. And the next month he became the fifth Bay Area recipient of the Michelin Guide's highest honor: three stars. Kinch started practicing his modern style of cooking, where vegetables are largely seasoned with judicious bits of meat or fish — rather than the other way around — long before all the cools kids were doing the same. Kinch, the American answer to France's Alain Passard, and the co-author of one of the best culinary tomes to come out since Thomas Keller's The French Laundry Cookbook, is back, and our country is a better place to dine because of it. —Ryan Sutton


Platonic Ideal Neighborhood Restaurant of the Year: Sqirl

In a corner of LA's Silver Lake neighborhood is Sqirl, a sunny counter-service cafe with comically large ricotta toasts, housemade jams for purchase, and perfectly right now rice bowls. It's Instagram come to life, but instead of being twee, it's just totally delicious. This is the restaurant that every Eater editor wishes was a short walk from their own home. —Hillary Dixler

The Actually Doing Something About It Award: Dan Barber

Food waste — edible food that finds its way to the trash uneaten — has been something of a buzzword in 2015, thanks in large part to pioneering Blue Hill chef Dan Barber. He formed the wastED community of chefs, farmers, and processors. His wastED pop-up became one of New York City's hardest tables, quite a feat considering he was serving what many think of as garbage. Beyond that, Barber took the message to heart at his acclaimed Blue Hill at Stone Barns by working "wasted" products onto his tasting menus, creating one of the most pronounced collisions of high/low in cooking this year. If 2014 was the year Barber taught us the dark side of "farm-to-table" and the need for the "third plate," this is the year he revealed the dark side of food production, shopping, and preparation — and started doing something about it. —Hillary Dixler

Worth a Month's Rent Award: Saison

Recommending someone dine at Saison is a fraught proposition: It's just so expensive. But dine there even once and you'll get it. Without hesitation, you'll know you are endorsing one of the all-time great meals in America, let alone in the world. It's in the way that chef Joshua Skenes and his crew combine elements of the ocean, the hearth, and the California landscape in a tasting menu that leaves diners feeling invigorated. For example: uni on liquid toast, an incredible specimen of sea urchin served atop of a vegetable juice-soaked piece of Tartine bread that made you reconsider all other sea urchin you've tasted. It might feel funny when you say it out loud the first time, but you'll call dinner at Saison the meal of a lifetime. —Hillary Dixler