The Brancatelli File



November 2, 2006 -- It struck me this week as I spent several hours answering E-mails in another airport club before I stepped on another red-eye flight back to the vast, worldwide JoeSentMe headquarters.

I'm getting too old for endless rounds of work sessions in airport lounges. I'm getting too old for red-eyes. I'm getting inflexible. I can't chase every trend anymore. I want some stability in my life.

I felt better once I had a snooze--I still sleep like a rock on a red-eye--but, you know, airport-club depression is the mother of resolution. And one of my new resolutions is this: Simplify my on-the-road dining list.

I'm more of a gourmand than a gourmet, but, like most of us business travelers, I've always liked to think I've eaten at the new place, the trendy place, the "hot" place. One of the joys of business travel, or so it has always seemed, is being in a new city every few days and taking your pick of the best new tables.

But now I'm going to keep it simple. I've gotten too tired and too jaded for the global hot spots. I want restaurants like they used to be: reliable dining rooms that are synonymous with how people eat locally in the cities that I visit.

So here's my first draft of an "old reliables" list that I've prepared for myself. And next week, when I head off to London, I've promised myself I won't spend too much time in an airport club, I won't fly a red-eye--and I won't run out and grab a copy of TimeOut to scour the restaurant pages.

ATLANTA Bone's is where Atlantans eat steak, but the lamb chops may be better. And since the old Flying Pig BBQ outside the gates of Hartsfield Airport is long closed, where else should I go?

BOSTON I know there are branches of Legal Sea Foods all over the East Coast now. Hell, there's one in a shopping mall just 10 miles from the vast, worldwide JoeSentMe headquarters. But the fish and the service seem better at the outlets closest to Legal Sea Foods ground zero. The outposts at Boston/Logan are a nice touch, too.

CHICAGO Twin Anchors is a turn-of-the-century saloon that still turns out the city's best ribs. It was a lot more fun 20 years ago, before it got famous, but it still works. … The first great hotel I ever stayed at was the Ritz-Carlton in Chicago. I was so impressed that I never left the lobby. I ordered my first glass of champagne at The Greenhouse. And I had a hamburger at 3 in the morning at The Café. I don't eat hamburgers anymore and The Café isn't open 24/7 anymore, but, still…

CLEVELAND All of the gentrified, saved-from-oblivion districts in Cleveland (The Warehouse, The Flats) depress me because the residents and the retailers are trying so hard. But I do like the Blue Point Grille. The seafood is fresh and creatively prepared and the wine list is outstanding. The dining room and bar is an inventive re-use of old warehouse space.

DALLAS Perry's Restaurant is only five years old, but it's what Dallas always needed: great steaks in a dining room that isn't full of steakhouse cliches. … If you've got a DFW layover, drive the eight miles over to Las Colinas and have a meal at Via Real. It fancies itself as a Southwestern-style Mexican restaurant, so there are all kinds of riffs on Mexican cuisine. I like it because there are also some creative vegetarian choices on the menu.

HONOLULU I can't be objective about Chef Mavro because I know chef and my wife once worked with his wife. But this is one of the few places in the world where I insist people dine when they ask me for restaurant reservations. The guy's a culinary genius and he's crazy: He opened the joint with his own money so he didn't have to compromise his vision. The place doesn't even have a bar to peddle overpriced drinks to the tourists!

HOUSTON I have lost count of how many Papadeaux Seafood Kitchen outlets there are in Houston, but the fish and seafood holds up just fine. And now that there's a branch in Terminal E of Houston/Intercontinental, I don't mind changing planes in IAH anymore.

LOS ANGELES Don't be shocked, but Santa Monica's Chinois on Main, the French-Chinese fusion restaurant that made Wolfgang Puck famous, is now 23 years old and still one of the best and prettiest dining rooms in the Los Angeles area. … And I keep coming back to Mariposas, the 24/7 diner at the Hacienda Hotel in El Segundo, about two miles from LAX. Mariposas is a dive, all blue-vinyl banquettes and brown laminate countertops. But it offers a killer breakfast, several terrific Mexican dishes and a nice California club sandwich.

NEW YORK La Mediterranee is all timbers, stucco and pre-nouvelle cuisine French. It's been around for a generation. It never changes. I'm pretty sure the waiters think DeGaulle is still president of the republic. … Peter Luger remains New York's best steakhouse. It's also the city's most overrated and overpriced one. But it's in my hometown of Brooklyn and, well, I've had the restaurant's credit card for 25 years. And since it's a cash-only place unless you have the card, I guess I have to keep going once in a while. … Jewel of India is frayed around the edges, but it's still the best combination of comfort, convenience, quality and cuisine in midtown Manhattan.

SAN FRANCISCO Yank Sing in the financial district cranks out hundreds of varieties of delicious dim sum in a serviceable and attractive rooms. There are two outlets, both open only for lunch. The branch on Stevenson, closest to the Citicorp Center, operates between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The outpost in the Rincon Center, a few steps from the Hyatt Regency, stays open until 4 p.m.

WASHINGTON, D.C. Peking Duck in an Alexandria strip mall is where Washingtonians go for succulent duck on demand. I've been going there so long I remember when it was a big deal when the first President Bush discovered it. … There are three branches of the Lebanese Taverna in the Washington suburbs, but the District outpost is up by the zoo and Woodley Park. The food's always good and the pomposity factor is low.

ON THE PLATE OVER THERE No one writes about the Queen Anne (79 Victoria St.; 020 7222 3871) in London, which may explain why this classic Italian place never seems to change. … And nothing, not even the waiters, has changed in at least a generation at Arnaldo ai Satiri in Rome (8 Via di Grotta Pinta; 6 686 1915). … When Parisians are tired of French food, they go to Chez Babu (18 Boulevard Montmartre; 01 42 46 25 26) for great North African fare; they even drink the Algerian wine. ... Many folks in Toyko, not to mention Iron Chef Morimoto, believe that Kyubei (8-7-6 Ginza; 3571-6523) is the best sushi place in the world. They are probably right. … I love the Cantonese cuisine and the elegant dining at the Summer Pavilion in the Ritz-Carlton hotel in Singapore.

Copyright © 1993-2006 by Joe Brancatelli. All rights reserved.