Beard Predictions: Best New Restaurant

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Marea's dining room. Photo: Hannah Whitaker/New York Magazine

Throughout the day, Grub Street will post its predictions for tonight's James Beard Awards. Congratulations and good luck to all the nominees.

Best New Restaurant
"A restaurant opened in 2009 that already displays excellence in food, beverage, and service and is likely to have a significant impact on the industry in years to come." Recent winners include: Momofuku Ko (New York), Central Michel Richard (D.C.), and L'Atelier de Joël Robuchon (New York).

Bibou, Philadelphia
For It: Former Le-Bec Fin chef de cuisine Pierre Calmels is "cooking the most soulful and polished French bistro fare around," said Craig LeBan. Alan Richman called Bibou one of the "best new restaurants in America."
Against It: It's a BYO. Great for value, but isn’t wine service an integral part of the restaurant experience?

Flour + Water, San Francisco
For It: It boasts one of Travel & Leisure's eleven best pizzas in the country; pizza fanatic Michael Bauer raved and raved; it was named one of Michelin's Bib Gourmand picks; and both the Times and Gourmet love it, too.
Against It: The food may not be as refined as its competitors, being primarily a pizza-and-pasta joint, and the atmosphere is a lot more casual (and loud) than at Frances or RN74.

Frances, San Francisco
For It: Chef Melissa Perello's new solo effort has already garnered a three-star review from the Chron's Michael Bauer and accolades from the weeklies, as well; was named one of Forbes' Best New Restaurants in the nation; and Perello was a Chron Rising Star Chef back in 2002 and one of Food & Wine's Best New Chefs in 2004.
Against It: It's only been around since December, and may be too new to beat out its slightly more seasoned competitors.

Locanda Verde, New York City
For It: Andrew Carmellini is well liked by critics, chefs, and the public alike, and his Locanda Verde quickly became an affordable favorite for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. New York gave the restaurant Best Baked Goods honors, Sam Sifton highlighted the maple budino as one of 2009's best dishes, and John Mariani put Locanda Verde on Esquire's Best New Restaurants list. Carmellini's lamb-meatball sliders took top honors at the NYWFF's inaugural Meatball Madness event.
Against It: "This kind of crowd-pleasing cooking isn’t designed to win culinary awards, of course," cautions Adam Platt.

Marea, New York City
For It: The biggest New York opening of 2009. Chef Michael White's upscale, glittering seafood palace drew early raves from people who didn't care how expensive it was, how far uptown it was, and how far the fish traveled to the kitchen via FedEx. Bloomberg's Ryan Sutton called it the "restaurant of the year". Adam Platt pegged Marea as a best new restaurant, as did Esquire. Anthony Bourdain told his No Reservations audience that White's bone-marrow pasta with turbot baby octopus was “the most magnificent pasta dish in memory."
Against It: It's a boom restaurant in a busted world.

RN74, San Francisco
For It: After Michael Mina's casual concept opened in mid-2009, Michael Bauer gave it three stars and said it "gives the wine bar concept a white-tablecloth turn." Exec chef Jason Berthold is a French Laundry alum and proprietor Mina is a previous Beard award winner for his cookbooks, for Rising Star in 1997, and Best Chef: Pacific in 2002. If already being part of the club counts, then this should help.
Against It: It got some mixed reviews for the service; and while Mina is an established name, Berthold is still proving himself.

Grub Street Predicts: Marea
Too many San Francisco entries could split votes. Bibou is a BYO. Locanda Verde is a high-quality neighborhood restaurant. But Marea is proof that restaurants can still go big. Chefs and restaurateurs are not immune to that hopey-changey thing.

Read all of Grub Street's Beard predictions.