The experts on Bravo's new culinary competition show weigh in on what made last night's winner great, not just good.
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Dining on authentic Italian at Miami”s Dolce. Photo: Jeff Daly/Bravo Media
“Dolce is the kind of restaurant where you walk in and you immediately feel like this is a high-class professional organization where these people know what they're doing,” says Jen Pelka, the senior manager of restaurant marketing at OpenTable. Pelka, one of the show's “mystery diners,” made undercover trips to both Dolce and Doma while hooked up to a hidden camera that captured her dining experiences. Although she was a fan of Doma's pizza and the theatrics of its star server, Igor, Pelka said she had to return her drink to the bar several times. She was, by contrast, thoroughly impressed with Dolce's cocktail program.
“If I go into a restaurant and they have a bar program, I expect a cocktail that's been thoughtfully composed, so it’s a real bummer when you get garbage ice from the ice maker,” she says. “As snobby and silly as that sounds, it’s not, because
But even the best restaurants have their off days. Aldo Lanzillotta, the chef and owner of Wvrst in Toronto and the episode's other mystery diner, ran into some difficulty on a separate visit to Dolce. When Lanzillotta attempted to order the restaurant's renowned spaghetti and meatballs on a lunch trip, he was told it was only available on the dinner menu—until a fortuitous run-in with one of the chefs yielded the elusive dish.
“Sometimes you truly believe as the chef/owner that it’s the type of dish that can only seriously be enjoyed at dinnertime,” he says. “And I back that up. I just wish I could have gotten it at anytime, especially if they’re really known for it.”
On the line with chef Dustin Trani (left) at Doma. Photo: Dale Berman/Bravo Media
One of the challenges Best New Restaurant will face is how to fairly and accurately judge its contestants, which range from white tablecloth establishments to casual barbecue joints. For judge Nemser—who has many years of restaurant reviews under her belt but no formal culinary background—a restaurant's performance largely boils down to the intangibles: Am I feeling good? Was the food memorable? Will I want to tell my friends about this place tomorrow? These are all questions that, to Nemser, need resounding “yeses” before she can consider a restaurant “great,” versus merely “good.”
“It's never just the food or just the ambience or just the hospitality,” Nemser says. “All the pieces have to work so perfectly together that at the end of the meal, as you walk out the door, you can't wait tell your friends about it and you can't wait to return. Either you have it or you don't.”