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2004 Was The Best Year Ever To Eat In Restaurants

There may be no person in America who travels to more cities and eats in more restaurants than John Mariani, who has written a column in these pages for more than a decade about his on-the-road food and restaurant observations. He's not only a great writer, he has an amazing palate and a love for all that is good about this industry. Mariani also writes for Esquire, and every year he pens one of the magazine's most anticipated features—Best New Restaurants in America. I've had the pleasure of joining him on occasion during his search for the best of the best. But I must admit that I was surprised when he announced in the November issue article that "2004 was the best year to dine out in America. Ever."

It's been 23 years since he wrote his first Best New Restaurants piece for Esquire, so to say this year was the best ever is no small statement. After the Esquire piece appeared, I talked to Mariani and his explanation made sense.

You could always count on getting great meals in major cities such as New York. But years ago, he says, food in restaurants that made his list from cities such as Minneapolis or Denver was good only compared to the "dreck" served in most American restaurants.

Restaurants that now make the list, says Mariani, "are damn good—period." Any restaurant on the list is as good as any other. He points out that each year he's been writing the article, everything about restaurants, from the food to chefs to design, has gotten better. And restaurant prices have remained low for decades (see my column in last month's issue about the bargain you offer). Be sure to check out RH's January issue, in which Mariani discusses his selections for the Esquire piece.

Meanwhile, this month's issue is largely devoted to coverage of RH's Concepts of Tomorrow Conference held recently in Chicago. For years, we've been featuring up-and-coming restaurant concepts in the pages of the magazine, and this conference is our attempt to put a spotlight on these growth concepts while bringing in more than a dozen experts with strategies and advice that will help you grow your business. If you haven't been to this conference, you're missing out on a great deal and a lot of fun.

This year's conference, our sixth, also showcased for the first time our Rising Stars. Since the mid '80s, we've been identifying talented young chefs who we believe will become stars of the future. It seemed only fitting to showcase stars on both sides of the business—independents and chains.

To people in the business, working in a restaurant might seem like just a job. But, as a story in our new E-newsletter points out, the public and media consider it one of the world's most exciting businesses. Case in point: When the Food Network's "Great Big Food Show" made a stop in Cleveland recently, foodies lined up for a mile for a chance to see the network's celebrity chefs in action. For more on that and other trends and news, visit our website (www.restaurant-hospitality.com/newsletter) and sign up for free.