When the history of the Twin Cities food scene is written, Bob Macdonald and his lovely wife, Sue, will be people at the center of the web, linking all to all. Why? Because Bob and Sue travel the globe widely, eating everywhere, simply everywhere. For instance, they’ve eaten at all 25 of France’s current 3-star restaurants, and then everywhere else on the planet: Fat Duck, Arzak, Mugaritz, L’Arpege—you name it. Who does this? No one. But happily they share their knowledge, when they come home—to a South Minneapolis home near Lake Harriet. They tell all the chefs and critics what they’ve had, and where, in person, and via Bob’s mailing list, by which he sends paper copies of annotated menus of his recent meals. This August, Bob Macdonald is publishing a fascinating book about his life in great restaurants, called Knives on the Cutting Edge: The Great Chefs’ Dining Revolution. This week however, San Pellegrino announced its annual list of the top 50 restaurants in the world—the world! To me, this is an annual exercise in what global food thinkers are thinking about, but I’ve never been to most of the restaurants on the list, and I’ve certainly never been to Arzak seven times, like Bob Macdonald has. So what does someone who actually eats in these restaurants make of this list?
Dara: Lot of buzz here—but overall, what do you see?
Bob Macdonald:“There are not a huge number of changes from last year. It’s a fun list because they mix in the trendy places and the 3-star Michelin ones, and what comes out, well, you can certainly argue about the order. Mugaritz [#3] is absolutely one of the most innovative, brilliant dining experiences available in the world, an El Bulli-type experience, but Osteria Francescana [#5] is the greatest meal I’ve ever had in Italy—he’s a genius. Picking one over the other, it’s fun to do but hard to see how you’d justify it.”
Dara: But there are some turkeys?
Bob Macdonald: “There are some trendy picks. Momofuku Ssam Bar [#37], it’s fun, but it’s not in the same league as Per Se or Le Bernardin, by any means. Daniel [#25], he’s my least favorite of the 3-star restaurants in New York. I’ve never thought the food at Daniel is as good as it is in many other New York restaurants, and we’ve had three meals there. The most absurd one of all, though, is Chateaubriand [#15] in Paris. It’s a joke. It’s not a tourist-trap—it’s a foodie-trap. People think it’s innovative—it’s not. It’s just low quality. We had a salad that had little specks of oysters . . . you could hardly tell it had oysters. We kept waiting and waiting for what was really going to be good—there was nothing. It doesn’t even deserve to be in the top 100; I didn’t even write about it in my book because I didn’t want to be too negative.”
Dara: So kick out Chateaubriand, and add what restaurant?
Bob Macdonald: “Akkelaré, in San Sebastian. That [chef Pedro Subijana]’s not on there is a travesty.”
Dara: Other rising stars?
Bob Macdonald: “The Ledbury’s Brett Graham [#14]. I think we’ll see him soar. We had one meal there, everything was delicious, it was just one of those meals where you think, ‘This is incredible talent.’”
Dara: As an American, the first thing that leapt out at me was Daniel Humm at New York’s Eleven Madison Park jumping to the 10th spot. What do you see?
Bob Macdonald: “That’s well deserved, I think Daniel Humm at Eleven Madison Park [#10] has been cooking at a 3 star Michelin level for a while, but no one was noticing. And the David Kinch [re-entry at #48 with Manresa] he’s doing some really good things. We’ve had two meals there in the last year, which have been just awesome. He and Daniel Patterson at Coi [in San Francisco] are equal to anyone in New York, they’re that good. When we were out there last SF Magazine was running a big cover story on Kinch, about how he was doing some of the most creative things in the world. He deserves all the attention, that’s going to be a restaurant that makes big waves.” To check out The World’s 50 Best Restaurants: http://www.theworlds50best.com/ To Pre-Order “Knives on the Cutting Edge” http://www.amazon.com/Knives-Cutting-Edge-Dining-Revolution/dp/0983021988