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Year in Eater: Biggest Dining Surprises

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As is tradition, our Eater closeout of the year is a survey of industry types, restaurateurs, chefs, bloggers, media, and readers. This year, we asked seven questions, from Best Newcomers to Top Standby, and previously saw everyone's Most Memorable Meals. The rest will be answered by the time we turn off the lights on Wednesday. The responses are in no particular order:
The bar at Palate Food + Wine [Photo: Alen Lin, 5/08]

Q: Were there any dining surprises?

Lesley Bargar, Los Angeles Magazine: When the bartender at Palate grabbed a few kumquats off of the flower arrangement and made me a drink. Also, when Apple called to ask if our reservations could be moved 2 1/2 hours later because, supposedly, their linens hadn’t come. Now THAT’S a first. Secret Pop Rocks hiding in the frosting on the Cher cupcake at Nickel Diner.

Jonathan Gold, LA Weekly: The sheer number of wonderful, seemingly functional restaurants that seem to have the lifespans of fruitflies. It used to be that critics gave new restaurants a few months to get on their feet before the review. These days, the restaurants may not last that long.

Lonny Pugh, UrbanDaddy: Walter Manzke going over to Church & State. Whoa.

Jeff Miller, Thrillist: The sausage at Wurstkuche was one of the best I've ever had, and tempts me to go downtown just for cased meat -- that's something I never thought I'd say.

Vinny Dotolo, Chef/Owner, Animal: Surprises every time at Nishimora.

Rich Alossi, Angelenic: The O Hotel has excellent food and a strong locals' scene - while maybe not "unexpected," it was a nice surprise, considering restaurants in small hotels don't always deliver nor do they generally cater to locals.

Brad Johnson, Angeleno: Yes. I’d forgotten just how excellent Capo can be. Also, Craft. The restaurant got off to a rough start, but, wow, they really pulled it together and are now truly outstanding. Oh, and at Mako, I watched in horror as a waiter picked up a customer’s napkin, which had fallen to the floor beneath the customer’s feet (it was a rainy day, and the floor was understandably not pristine), and put it back into the customer’s lap instead of replacing it with a new one. I wish I hadn’t seen that.

Food Marathon: All the restaurants that had cars smash through their front windows? Everyone rallying behind taco trucks? That I didn't gain any weight despite all the food marathons?

Caroline on Crack: Enjoying the cheap happy hour-priced food at Bourbon Street Shrimp in West L.A. I know, I know. Oh, and actually liking the vegan food at Akasha. A lot.

Pat Saperstein, Eating L.A.: How many high-end restaurants continue to open in this economic climate.

Josh Lurie, Food GPS: Silverlake Wine's Sunday tastings were remarkable, especially when Matthew Poley and Tara Maxey cooked the food. My two experiences at SLW in October yielded highlights like suckling pig, Jerusalem artichoke lasagna and phenomenal roasted vegetables.

H.C., LA & OC Foodventures: Finding out that Providence's dessert tasting menu didn't wow me as much as I expected (but still good); and the automatic 20% "service charge" tacked on my party of one bill at Spago (though Beverly Hills is a tourist destination and out-of-towners may have different tipping customs.)

Noah Galuten, Man Bites World: Oh yeah. Quite a few. The biggest though had to be wandering into Nana & Naa International Enterprise in Inglewood with no idea what to expect, noticing that it's essentially just an African market, and ending up getting a made-from-scratch and really delightful Ghanaian meal of fried fish in okra stew. That's one of those days that makes you feel good about the world. There were also some really bad surprises, but I'm choosing to ignore them right now.

Marissa Gluck, Curbed LA: Loteria in Hollywood - good food, excellent cocktails, nice looking space and reasonable prices in a no-man's land for food. Bar Marmont actually has excellent food, if only the doormen weren't such dicks, the service is VERY well intentioned and eager to make up for any mistakes. Gjelina is just beautiful. XIV had better food than I expected for an SBE place. I hope it survives. and Animal - someone once told me adding bacon to anything is sort of an easy way out - but I'm ok with that.

Alissa Walker, Gelatobaby and Eater LA guestblogger: A Father's Office burger is actually better when you don't have to sucker-punch two Santa Monica assholes in suits while clawing out a square-foot of Montana Avenue real estate. Who knew?

Lesley, Eater LA: What isn't amazing that should be: Anisette, with the exception of a few dishes. What is amazing and shouldn't be: Foie gras covered in cotton candy at The Bazaar. Personal surprise: That I didn't hate tofu as much as I thought, especially after eating copius amounts in an 11-hour food marathon through the SGV. Shocking and yet not: Bastide's closure, Gordon Ramsay's meh factor.

As always, please add your thoughts in comments.