First & Oak

Rabbit tacos
Tetr de moine
Chocolate mousse

**** (4 stars)

This small, one-room restaurant offers fine dining in a home-spun atmosphere.  Many of the dishes are definitely noteworthy. We particularly enjoyed both of our appetizers, the oysters, and the rabbit tacos. Flavors and textures were perfect in both dishes.

The entrees were fine, but not as impressive.

Desserts were nicely done, with a homemade honeycomb being the standout.

The weakness is the wine list, particularly the wines by the glass, which are heavily reliant upon a single so-so producer. This is odd, since the restaurant is in the middle of wine country.

Service was friendly, but the single server struggled to keep up with the three occupied tables, which were unfortunately simultaneously seated.

The menu allows you to select the number of courses you like, and we felt the price for three courses was extremely reasonable.

First & Oak
409 1st St
Solvang, CA
(805) 688-1703

The Little Door




Sesame Seared Day Boat Scallops, Preserved Lemon Sauce

Chermoula Marinated Grilled Octopus, Preserved Lemon Sauce

Spicy Ahi Tuna Tartare and Shaved Fennel Salad

Patio at night

***** (5 stars)

The extraordinarily romantic ambiance of The Little Door makes it almost a magical dining experience. Divided into many intimate spaces, it feels like you’re dining in a patio, or a forest, or a cottage, depending upon where you sit.

Tuna tartare was a nice starter, but the grilled octopus was even better, extremely tender and flavorful.

The mussels appetizer which my companion had as an entree was huge; she could only eat half!

My grilled scallops were perfectly cooked and accompanied by carrots seasoned with interesting Morrocan spices.

The extensive wine list is extremely reasonably priced.

Service was professional, attentive, and friendly.

The Little Door
8164 W 3rd St
Los Angeles, CA 90048
(323) 951-1210


***** (5 stars)

This bistro serves authentic French bistro food in a modern decor or a pleasant covered outside dining area.

The early evening three course prix fixe menu is an excellent deal, and includes so of the best menu selections.

Duck confit was perfectly crisped, served with a lightly dressed frisee salad.

Salmon was perfectly browned and served over some marvelous vegetables.

Two classic desserts round out the prix fixe menu.

The wine list focuses on affordable French wines, with a limited selection by the glass.

Service was friendly and efficient.

While the ambiance is not traditional, of the French bistros in River North, this is my favorite for food.

840 N Wabash Ave
Chicago, IL 60611
(312) 944-8400


***** (5 stars)

I’m pleased to say that the 2016 reinvention of Alinea has been a phenomenal improvement. So much so, in fact, that it now is again a serious contender for best restaurant in the US.

First of, the complete redesign of the space has resulted in a comfortable, sedate environment where the food and wine are the focus. The new furnishings are cozy and the ambiance is quiet, with no loud soundtrack. As a result, conversations tend to be muted and the communication with the servers is enhanced.

And certainly there are no better servers around than those at Alinea, where everyone is well trained on the components of each complex dish, and the accompanying wine pairings.

Best of all, the new menu has placed the focus squarely on the food. While each course is presented in meticulously chosen dinnerware–from gorgeous dishes fashioned of hand crafted ceramic to ephemeral bowls of ice–the spotlight is on the food in those bowls, not gimmicky utensils or serving platforms.

The didactic instructions of exactly how to eat each course are gone, and now you are invited to experiment and explore with the flavors on your plate.

In this new incarnation, feedback is actively solicited as they find their way to the favorite dishes. Certainly the first five courses were absolute knockouts, and the wine pairings that accompanied them pure genius. It’s a bit hard to count the courses, because the menus is an avant-garde map, and many courses consist of multiple dishes, but trust me, you won’t leave hungry, whether you chose the upstairs salon experience or the more elaborate downstairs experiences.  I felt the salon offered more than enough fine dining, and ten great wine pairings, all at a very fair price.

If you haven’t been to Alinea for a while, or you are looking for a stellar dining experience in Chicago, there can be no better place to start.

1723 N Halsted St
Chicago, IL 60614
(312) 867-0110

Thirty Two

***** (5 stars)

This restaurant far exceeded my expectations. The decor is great, and there’s a lovely view across the cay toward the Beau Rivage, which is a lot nicer hotel but without this caliber of restaurant.

We started with table-side tuna tartare and escargot. Both were excellent. Our server did a masterful job with the tartare, and it was interesting to see the ingredients and proportions. The escargot was the Bourguignon variety which is sometimes too wine-based for me, but this was perfect, with a nice balance of brown butter.

Our second course was the soup sampler and lobster chopped salad. The soups were all delicious, but so rich we couldn’t even eat the small servings on the sampler. The chopped salad came with a wonderful wasabi vinaigrette, the highlight of the meal as far as I was concerned.

We finished by sharing a prime New York Strip. It was perfectly cooked and very tender. The accompanying creamed spinach was much too salty, and I didn’t feel like the goat cheese went with the side of cauliflower.

Thirty Two offers an excellent wine list, and we were fortunate to be there on a Sunday during the fall off-season, when all the bottles were half price. We took full advantage of that boon.

Service was perfect, and we had a delightful meal.

Thirty Two
850 Bayview Ave
Biloxi, MS 39530
(228) 436-3000

Pied à Terre

***** (5 stars)

Pied a Terre has become one of our favorite London restaurants. The atmosphere is intimate, and perfectly suited to romance or business discussions.

The food–especially the tasting menus–is as good as any from London’s other top rated restaurants. But the real difference at Pied a Terre is the wine service.

Rather than simply selecting and pouring wines with each course, it is the restaurant’s practice to offer a blind tasting, where the wine is poured first so you can taste it alone, then the course is served so you can see how it matches, and then you are asked to comment on the wine and (if you wish) guess what it is.

We find this to be tremendous fun. It forges a camaraderie with the sommelier that sets the experience apart from all other fine dining experiences.

Pied à Terre
34 Charlotte Street
London, W1T 2NH
+44 20 7636 1178

Roux at Parliament Square

***** (5 stars)

We were fortunate to find a table available when we wandered in for a late lunch. There is a superb prix fixe lunch menu at a very affordable price (so affordable, we couldn’t resist spending several times as much on a wonderful Corton Charlemagne, the perfect accompaniment).

I selected a cassoulet of squid and smoked mussels as my starter. It was richly flavored without being excessively buttery, although there was certainly plenty of that on the wonderful toast served with it.

For my main I had the mackerel. This is a dish for true fish lovers, as it’s of course quite fishy, but was not at all oily, just moist, and with a perfectly crisped skin. The accompanying beets were luscious.

A wonderful cheese trolley capped off a delightful meal. Professional yet friendly service increased our enjoyment, making us feel particularly lucky to have been squeezed in without a booking.

Highly recommended as a dressy, sophisticated retreat from the tourist-choked streets outside!

Roux at Parliament Square
11 Great George Street
Parliament Square
London, SW1P 3AD
+44 20 7334 3737

The Cellar Restaurant

***** (5 stars)

I love the ambiance of this restaurant in both of its very different rooms. Downstairs is intimate (although it can get noisy) and not at all cellar-like because of the clever use of backlit stained glass windows. Upstairs is light and airy, like eating in a conservatory surrounded by flowers and shrubs.

The food and wines are mostly traditional Italian, and the ingredients are fresh.

Service is impeccable, and the proprietress keep a sharp lookout to make sure it stays that way. A terrific fine dining experience.

The Cellar Restaurant
220 Magnolia Ave
Daytona Beach, FL 32114
(386) 258-0011

The Venetian Room

**** (4 stars)

One of the few “old style” restaurants left in Florida. Refined atmosphere, subdued lighting, and formal service. The menu leans toward foods that can be prepared by a sparingly staffed kitchen, I suspect because the guest load varies wildly when there is a convention in town. Sauces are generally good. For me the standout is the Venetian Salad, a complex blend of flavors and ingredients that includes fennel, tomato and asparagus.

The Venetian Room
8101 World Center Dr
Orlando, FL 32821
(407) 238-8060