BEST NEW AMERICAN CUISINE (2003)
What, exactly, is New American food? Nobody really knows. But ultimately, it seems to come down to presenting diners with dishes they think they might know, but then, surprise! There's some crazy twist to keep you scratching your head. Often, it's delicious in an exciting kind of way; at Cowboy Ciao, the surprise is always spectacular. Executive chef Bernie Kantak has come up with dishes like chile gratin (elk, beef loin, white beans, smoked Cheddar and Gouda); rare tuna with ground hops and chamomile over curried chow-chow and mango soy; or peppercorn ostrich tenderloin with blackberry compote and cocoa-nib mashed Yukon golds. You may think you know what you're in for with grilled duck breasts, but then Kantak sideswipes you with apple-chipotle marinade, ancho-pecan chutney and smoked Gouda grits. You may not always recognize the dinners at Cowboy Ciao, but you're going to love them.