TripAdvisor has unveiled its “Top 10 Food & Wine Destinations in the United States” for 2011, and you can read all about the picks here. If you’re not familiar with TripAdvisor, it’s a website based almost entirely on user-generated material, and each year it features a series of “Travelers’ Choice” awards.
After examining the 2011 picks and reading the reasoning behind each choice, the first thought that came to mind was that the list really should be called the “Top 10 Food AND/OR Wine Destinations.”
Exhibit A: the No. 1 pick—New Orleans. As TripAdvisor points out, the Big Easy offers a “bewildering array of (culinary) options,” including Cajun, Creole and barbecue. And those just happen to be three of the more challenging types of cuisine for successful wine pairing—not impossible, but potentially problematic.
The same challenge presents itself in the No. 7 city, Savannah, Georgia, as well as in the No. 8 city, Santa Fe, New Mexico. In Savannah, you’ll encounter many of the same flavors for which New Orleans is famous. In Santa Fe, it seems as if every dish includes flavorful—but wine flavor-killing—chili peppers.
Obviously, you’ll find a handful of wine-friendly restaurants in all three locales. But in my experience, they are the exception to the rule.
As for the other seven cities in the Top 10, I have no quibble and a bit of commentary. Let’s take a look at them as David Letterman might—countdown-style…
No. 10—Ashville, North Carolina. A meal at The Bistro at Biltmore Estate Winery is a must, as is a tour of the winery. And if you’re into food that’s made from fresh ingredients, Ashville could become your culinary capital.
No. 9—Las Vegas, Nevada. Once known for cheap buffets and 50-cent shrimp cocktails, Vegas is now a haven for foodies. Virtually every restaurant on The Strip is home to at least one celebrity chef, and a number of them host wine-themed special events on a regular basis.
No. 6—New York, New York. Certainly an obvious choice, and the Big Apple is among the world’s greatest dining destinations—particularly if you’re on an expense account. But if you’re visiting on your own nickel, and you love both wine and cheese, there’s only one place to go: Casellula Cheese & Wine Café. The focus is on cheese, but the wine pairings are inspired.
No. 5—San Francisco, California. If you have time for only one dinner in the City by the Bay, head for Restaurant Gary Danko. And bring money. You’ll always be able to make more money, but you may never again have a meal so good. And if you have time for two meals, head to Chinatown for the other. Duck into one of the ubiquitous gift shops, and ask the owner for a recommendation. (And keep in mind that Riesling and Gewurztraminer match nicely with a wide array of Chinese dishes.)
No. 4—Charleston, South Carolina. Check out our recent post on Charleston here.
No. 3—Chicago, Illinois. When some people think of food in the Windy City, pizza comes to mind. Others focus on hot dogs. But foodies will more than likely think: steak. And Chicago has no shortage of great meat-focused restaurants, including a personal favorite, the Kinzie Chophouse, which hosts several winemaker dinners each year. New on the scene is Michael Jordan’s Steakhouse, which is on the expensive side but has received rave reviews. As is the case with New York, there simply are too many destination restaurants to mention.
No. 2—Napa. Awake at a B&B and devour a sumptuous breakfast. Then head up valley and taste world-class wine. Stop for lunch at the Rutherford Grill, where you may spy a local winemaker (or two) at the next table. Hit a few more tasting rooms, then head back to your room for a nap before dining at one of Napa Valley’s acclaimed restaurants.
I love New Orleans, but how it ranked ahead of Napa as a “food and wine city,” I’ll never understand.
Do you have a favorite city for wining and dining? Please share your pick&madsh;and perhaps provide a restaurant tip or two—in the comments box below.