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The Biggest Dining Surprises of 2016

These are the openings, closures, and trends that nobody saw coming

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As is the tradition at Eater, our closeout of the year is a survey of friends, writers, and experts. This year, we asked the group eight questions running the gamut from meal of the year to top restaurant newcomers. Their answers will appear throughout the week. Responses are related in no particular order; all are cut, pasted, and (mostly) unedited herein. We've heard about the top standbys, hot newcomers, best dining neighborhoods, and words of the year. Now it's time for the biggest surprises of 2016. Please add your answers in the comments.


Amanda Kludt, Eater editor-in-chief: The permutations of Nishi, the closing of Mission Cantina.


Ryan Sutton, Eater critic/data lead: Olmsted. I mean, I’m not surprised that a veteran of Alinea and Stone Barns managed to open up a great restaurant. But setting up a restaurant of this caliber in Prospect Heights is as stunning as when Carlo Mirarchi debuted the tasting menu-only Blanca in a converted garage in Bushwick. And what’s even crazier is that Olmsted, which serves veritable works of art like like raw fluke and lemon wrapped around watermelon sticks or clams hidden underneath a carrot crepe canopy (which is itself dotted with various tweezered garnishes), is really a neighborhood joint at heart, a fact that’s evidenced by the $25 and under menu. Yes, yes, high-end fare at (somewhat) marked down prices has been a hallmark of the past decade. But to see Greg Baxtrom serving such risk-taking food in a part of the city that doesn’t have much of a track record for this type of high-wire gastronomy, and to see this place quoting two hour waits – that all tells me something. It tells me that operators who keep feeding us carbon copies of the same nouveau-steakhouse or chic-Italian joint are underestimating how hungry New Yorkers are for creative fare even outside of Manhattan or the traditionally hip parts of Brooklyn. Olmsted is the future.


Ando Photo: Nick Solares

Matt Rodbard, TASTE editor-in-chief/Koreatown co-author: Biggest surprise: David Chang’s breathtaking all-in moment. Fuku expansion, Nishi, Ando, a big boy opening in Vegas, Los Angeles on the horizon, Korean BBQ on the horizon (we see you on Instagram). I love watching this all unfold. This is like sports to me. Non-surprise: Service include (no tipping) kind of crashed and burned. A year ago, even with all the headlines, it seemed privately that nobody in the industry wanted this to happen except a select, media-savvy few being quoted in all the articles.


Helen Rosner, Eater executive editor: That Prospect Heights/Crown Heights was the best dining neighborhood of 2016.


Devra Ferst, senior editor at Tasting Table: That fact that classic French food could surprise us.


Daniela Galarza, Eater news editor: Nishi was a flop.


Foster Kamer, Mashable managing editor: New York dining feels interesting and new again for the first time in a very, very long minute, in ways you wouldn't expect (see: Le Coucou, Olmsted, Atoboy) and none of the people making it that way are quote-unquote "names" you're already intensely familiar with. We're seeing a new class of hitmakers arise, and it's incredibly fun to watch take shape.


Bret Thorn, NRN senior food & beverage editor: The line at Pokeworks. Why were people waiting in line for an hour for poke?


Robert Sietsema, Eater senior critic: The weird and completely irrelevant role that restaurant décor has come to play, at Tsurutontan, for example.


Kat Odell, author of Day Drinking: The proliferation of Brazilian-inspired concepts.


Marian Bull, food writer: People actually like Curtis stone's restaurant!!


A bartender at Momofuku Ssäm Bar’s Booker and Dax, in a black and white photo, makes a cocktail, pouring a liquid into a jigger Nick Solares

Sonia Chopra, Eater managing editor: A BAR NAMED GHOST DONKEY OPENED.

No but really: Booker & Dax closed! This was a sad surprise; I hope it comes back to us. There was also a weird amount of rectangular pizza this year?


Joe DiStefano, Chopsticks + Marrow blogger/food tour guide: It’s a tie between The Cheesecake Factory’s excellent pit beef sandwich and the strawberry and salted egg salad at Auttoharos.


Melissa McCart, Eater NY editor: The closing of The Four Seasons: Not the biggest surprise, but the most ground-shaking New York restaurant moment.


Lockhart Steele, Eater co-founder/Vox Media editorial director: My biggest (slash-saddest) dining surprise this year was the closing of Pravda. It’s the bar where Eater was born in 2005, and while that particular memory is unique to two of us, everyone who ever walked down that metal staircase off Lafayette Street and into that dark, subterranean room has at least one night from Pravda they’ll never forget. Take a final moment to mourn its death; we will not see its kind again.


Charlotte Druckman, food writer/cookbook author: The quiet and steady invasion, and subsequent ascension of Nordic cuisine, which I'm not all that interested in, btw. Sorry.


Matt Buchanan, Eater features editor: That it would be so boring and so conservative with so many people so flush with so much cash to power it all. But it turns out that real estate will destroy us all.


Patty Diez, Eater NY associate editor: ​​All of these imports ​that were just kind of, meh.


Serena Dai, Eater NY news editor: Poke running as wild as it did, and how many people lined up for it. Ichiran, I get. Tim Ho Wan, I get. But poke from so many unknown names? Hmm.


Nick Solares, Eater NY restaurant editor: Chumley’s.


[The dining room at Mission Cantina]
[Daniel Krieger]

Greg Morabito, Eater Upsell co-host: The big one for me was the collapse of Mission Cantina. It is quite possibly the only restaurant on the planet to feature cameos from Rene Redzepi and Alice Waters during a friends and family meal. After those Instagram-melting preview dinners, Cantina was very busy, and Danny Bowien, a newly-minted Rising Star Chef, was at the pass, plating every dish. The food was aggressively flavorful but also relatively light, and interesting without being too clever. All the elements were in place for this restaurant to become Manhattan’s newest culinary destination. But that never quite happened, due in large part, I think, to the fact that many of the big critics filed lukewarm reviews, and the foodie hordes moved on.

Every time I see a line outside Black Tap or some other dumbass novelty food place, I think that reviews don’t really matter — restaurants don’t need them to survive. But more and more, it seems that a lot of the good places — the ones with clearly defined, original points of view — do need to be vetted by the professional eaters of NYC to stay in business for the long run. And that's because diners are always questioning their restaurant options, and a lot of people only want to eat at Foodie Destinations. Although we have a constant stream of information coming in from social media, I now believe that star ratings from venerable publications are what really turn restaurants of a certain ilk into members of The Establishment.

Rest in peace Mission Cantina. You were the best inexpensive Mexican-Chinese-Vietnamese-California Cuisine bar and grill that New York has ever seen.

Top photo: the carrot and clam crepe at Olmsted by Daniel Krieger

Momofuku Nishi

232 8th Avenue, Manhattan, NY 10011 (646) 518-1919 Visit Website

Olmsted

659 Vanderbilt Avenue, Brooklyn, NY 11238 (718) 552-2610 Visit Website

Mission Cantina

172 Orchard St, New York, NY 10002 (212) 254-2233 Visit Website
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