The headline on former Dayton Daily News restaurant critic Ann Heller’s story on Oct. 26, 1990 proved to be both accurate and prescient: “Change is a constant among Dayton’s Top 10 restaurants.”
Six of the 10 eateries that made Ann’s “Top 10” list are, sadly, no longer with us. But hey, the glass is (almost) half full, right? Four of the restaurants on the list have navigated the turbulent waters of the national and local economy and the idiosyncrasies of the restaurant industry to survive 29 years beyond their inclusion in the 1990 “best of” list.
The ones that didn’t make it were a diverse lot.
One of them, Mito Japanese restaurant on Harshman Road, would be sold within four months of the list’s publication, and its name would fade into history.
L’Auberge went down swinging, but it went down. The Kettering restaurant was for years Dayton’s most highly credentialed (and fanciest) restaurant: It earned a coveted and rare four-star rating from the Mobil Travel Guide the first year it was eligible for evaluation, and held the rating for 19 years through 2002. But it was forced to close in 2012, 33 years after its founding, after a bank foreclosed on the property. It met the wrecking ball the following year, and a bank — not the same one that foreclosed on the restaurant — now sits on the Far Hills Avenue property.
Benham’s Restaurant and Catering on Warren Street in Dayton, which traced its roots to 1934 and which in 1984 served a private luncheon to Queen Elizabeth, shut down the same year as l’Auberge, in 2012.
Myung Sung on Brandt Pike in Huber Heights shut down in 2002. The space now houses the Double Deuce Tavern & Pizzeria.
>> Dayton restaurant closes after 33 years (September 2013)
The Savory on South Smithville Road near the Dayton-Kettering border closed in the 1990s and subsequently housed several other establishments. The space has been vacant for several years.
And Kitty’s, a downtown Dayton restaurant that was particularly busy on show nights because of its proximity to the Victoria Theatre, was sold and renamed in 1997.
>> RELATED: L’Auberge meets the wrecking ball
The surviving members of the 1990 list, by the way, are Jay’s Restaurant, China Cottage, The Pine Club and The Winds Cafe.
But for now, sit back and enjoy Ann Heller’s story on “Dayton’s 10 Best Restaurants” of 1990.
FROM THE DAYTON DAILY NEWS ARCHIVES
By Ann Heller
It's time to give out the gold and pin on the stars.
For the third annual compilation of Dayton's 10 Best Restaurants I returned to previous winners plus potential contenders.
As the list took shape, one common thread seemed to set the best apart from the rest. They frequently offer something new.
This commitment to change shows the owners care - not just about the customers but about the chef and cook and waiters and waitresses.
Can you think of anything more boring than cooking - or serving or eating - the exact same dishes week after week, year after year? In most cases, it produces a dullness that is reflected throughout the restaurant.
Eight of the top 10 restaurants change their menus regularly. And at Mito, whimsical creations from the sushi chef show up frequently, new menus occasionally.
Only the Pine Club stays the same, making a change in the menu about every 10 years. But it is the bastion of consistency, and the exception to the rule.
Two new restaurants - at least new since the last Dining Guide - made it to the 10 Best List this year.
Kitty's, which opened last winter in the downtown Citizens Federal Centre, has added excitement to Dayton dining from day one. Sleek and stylish, it has the vibrancy of a true city restaurant.
Also new to the list is The Savory in Kettering. Unlike Kitty's, where the infusion of capital is obvious, The Savory started on a shoestring budget; since its early months, the restaurant has blossomed, turning in a solid and innovative performance in recent months.
Following, in alphabetical order, is my subjective list of the Dayton area's current 10 best restaurants:
This spinoff of a catering operation continues its struggle to succeed. In a less industrial facility - and with the assistance of a decorator - this restaurant could come to life. As it is, dinner tends to be quiet, the clientele older and the conversation muted.
But the dinner menu is innovative, and its execution by a talented kitchen crew can be excellent. Handling of seafood is a strong suit here. Preparation of some dishes, such as salmon, veal medallions and rack of lamb, changes nightly, depending on the whim of chef Diane Alspaugh.
The dinner menu, which soars with such creations as grilled bread or wild mushroom pate, sends a mixed message with country-style desserts. A different cobbler is offered every day. But sometimes, special desserts, such as a key lime napoleon we sampled this year, match the tone of dinner.
The restaurant recently joined the mainstream, adding Monday and Tuesday night dinners to its regular schedule.
Listen up, fire-eaters. This is the one Chinese restaurant in the area where a hot and spicy dish will be just that. The chefs don't pull their punches when they stir-fry a mound of jalapeno peppers and a handful of garlic with the string beans to produce the dish called mala string beans.
Not that everything is hot here. The menu - and this is one of those rare Oriental restaurants that adds new dishes to the menu several times a year - also offers popular and traditional dishes seasoned for the American palate. If you like your Chinese fare a little sweet and mild, try the rainbow chicken, a platter of minced chicken and vegetables to be wrapped in iceberg lettuce and eaten like moo shu pork.
The more experimental should seek out cottage dumplings - silky soft noodles drenched with a spicy sauce, or, if they have it as a special, the hot and spicy chicken wings, an appetizer laden with whole red peppers and green onion with just a faintly sweet glaze.
Presentation has not been a major consideration at this restaurant, but recently the kitchen has tried adding elaborately carved vegetable birds and flowers to house specials. Portions are generous, too.
Sure, most people go to Jay's for seafood. But try the steak sometime.
The big 16-ounce strip steak is a piece of prime beef, not the choice grade most restaurants use. Charred and cooked medium rare, it is the best steak around - flavorful, juicy and with no evidence of the tenderizing seasoning used in most steakhouses in town. It's enough for two with modest appetites, though the whole thing is regularly wolfed down by convention-goers. And if you're into wine, splurge on one of the attractively priced old reds carried on the wine list.
Seafood is fresh and of excellent quality; count on seasonal specialties as they arrive throughout the year. Nobody does soft-shell crabs better and the lightly battered fried shrimp set the standard around town. Bread and vegetables are just Muzak - kind of filler - but a spinach salad rounds out the meal.
Situated in the Oregon Historic District, close to downtown - and the Dayton Convention Center - Jay's is one of three restaurants in the city that are always busy, even on a Monday or Tuesday night. Part of the reason for that success is Jay Haverstick, who is usually on the premises - sometimes in the kitchen, often busing tables. That kind of owner involvement makes the difference.
This smart new downtown restaurant fills up when theatrical events liven the downtown area and maintains a steady pace the rest of the time. The menu reflects the philosophy of proprietor Kitty Sachs. It's in tune with the times and changes frequently enough to pique interest; special events with special menus also add inducement.
Dinner entrees are simple, mostly grilled seafood and meat; pasta, salads and desserts are the stars and make this place ideal for grazing.
The salads are the most imaginative in town, the greens often exotic. Other consistent winners include pasta with wild mushrooms and Parmesan cheese, or with smoked trout when it's offered. Rosemary rolls, baked by Yellow Springs Bakery, are addictive. Save space for dessert. The menu changes monthly, but the crackling, glazed, sensually soft ginger creme brulee is always available.
Or finish off with cappuccino - the real thing here. No booze in it, no whipped cream, just a wonderful head of frothed milk. Ask if they've got any homemade biscotti for dipping.
One of the few restaurants where the chefs have earned their titles by years of study, this formal but contemporary French restaurant is a special-occasion destination.
Though co-owner Dieter Krug provides the steady hand in the kitchen, talented young French chef Richard Blondin, back on board since June, provides inspiration and changes the menus to match the season.
Seafood has always been a good choice here, and game, virtually unavailable elsewhere in the area, is featured here in dishes such as pheasant stuffed with wild mushrooms.
The fall menu also includes such French variations as snails in puff pastry, a salad of Belgian endives with walnuts, and braised sweetbreads. If a gilding of sauce makes your meal, this is the place to go, because each sauce is made to order and used judiciously to highlight, not mask the food.
Desserts can be superb, with presentation sharing equal billing with taste.
This is where I go when I want an exotic night in Dayton. It's not just the food that makes the experience; it starts with the greeting, in Japanese, that hails each customer who comes through the door.
Immediately you're in another country. And the authenticity of what's offered is obvious. Usually 60 to 70 percent of the customers call it their native cuisine.
If you establish a reputation for being adventurous, the management responds with occasional, tiny dishes of mysterious morsels. Try them and ask questions later.
For the timid there is safe sushi: surimi crab in a California roll. It's a beginning, but there's more for those who relish difference. In the past year I have savored marinated scallops, beef sashimi, crisp and thin-skinned gyosa (pot stickers in a different language), noodles with slivered seaweed and - my favorite - the grilled fish cut from the collar of yellowtail. Moist inside, crispy outside, it's scarce because there's only one collar per fish.
A new kitchen chef promises a new menu in November. Shin, the sushi chef, remains at his post.
This is another place for adventure beyond the familiar. The new menu makes it easy to savor Korean food by including all the accompaniments necessary for the total experience.
This is a family-owned and -operated restaurant, started seven years ago by Yei Won Allyn, and one of the Allyns is always on the premises. If you're looking for guidance, just ask for Carl or his wife, Sun Hi, or brother Ron.
Or take my word for it. The best bets on the Korean menu are the slices of barbecued pork, served with condiments and meant to be wrapped in lettuce and eaten like a taco. Mustard salad of shrimp and cabbage in a mustard-spiked dressing is a winning appetizer. The daring should try the fiery-hot cold noodles called bibim naengmyun.
From the Chinese side of the menu, there's a refreshingly different Tiger roll that resembles a giant shrimp-stuffed fresh egg roll served with two dipping sauces, including a lip-tingling Vietnamese sauce. And the gingery Chinese chicken salad is a super appetizer for two or more, or a meal for one.
THE PINE CLUB:
What distinguishes the Pine Club from all the other steakhouses in town, you ask? Well, for one thing, that busy place has always operated without a PA system, which is a rude and insulting way to call guests - like cattle - to the table. The skillful hostesses memorize the customers' faces or dress or some distinguishing part of the anatomy and treat them politely as a guest, albeit one who has to wait for a table.
When you get a seat, the french fries are greaseless, the hash browns crispy, and the blue cheese on the salad is a generous mound of big crumbles. The $29.95 steak for two, is perfectly cooked, sliced and brought to the table with juices oozing. And there's a decent bottle of red wine to go along with the meal.
Frankly, my taste runs elsewhere than beef in this steakhouse. Rather perversely, my consistent choice always includes at least an appetizer order of the small Cape scallops. These sweet morsels are just flash-cooked and juicy. Second choices are the thick veal chop and the giant lamb chops.
Give Mike Shampton and Fritz Montgomery credit. Shampton, a Dayton native, and his friend opened with a limited budget and of necessity were conservative. But now they're stepping out like entrepeneurs who've hit their stride.
A new menu, fine-tuned to be even more appealing than the last, goes into effect Thursday. Some dishes, already favorites with regular customers, will remain.
Don't miss the oysters baked with garlic and Parmesan cheese on sourdough bread. It may be the best appetizer in town. The veal chop with a dollop of mustard butter is as good as any around, and the fresh New Zealand rack of lamb, carved into chops suitable for nibbling, is succulent.
New on the menu - and untried - are grilled yellowfin tuna with red pepper vinaigrette, grilled mahi mahi with red onion marmalade, artichoke fritters stuffed with goat cheese and sauteed mussels with saffron butter.
Desserts, all homemade, get special attention too.
A Saturday/Sunday "bruncheon" with a special a la carte menu begins this weekend.
If this were the Mobil Travel Guide, we'd temporarily list The Winds without a rating. There have been major changes at this favorite restaurant, all too recent to evaluate their impact. The Winds moved to a new location in Yellow Springs. And lead chef Beth Wiley is gone, replaced by Debby Martin, who trained alongside Wiley since last winter.
The restaurant reopened two weeks ago, providing continuity with a menu of past popular features.
At first glance, I like the place, but of course it doesn't have that well-used, slightly seedy look of the comfortable old quarters. It's too new for that, even though the owners kept the mismatched chairs and tables.
Now The Winds has high ceilings and exposed, though painted, ductwork, something of a cross between Yellow Springs and Los Angeles, which is not all bad because the menu often has California or West Coast overtones. Free-standing walls, complete with windows, break up the space and local artwork warms the wall space.
Fortunately, the approach to the food remains the same under owners Mary Kay Smith and Kim Korkan, who offer not only an eclectic changing monthly menu but daily specials as well. They haven't changed the recipe for the black bean chili, but look for innovations to start coming out of the kitchen next month