Beard Predictions: Outstanding Restaurant

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Inside the kitchen at Spiaggia. Photo: Carolina Bolado

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

Outstanding Restaurant
"A restaurant in the United States that serves as a national standard-bearer for consistent quality and excellence in food, atmosphere, and service. Candidates must have been in operation for at least 10 or more consecutive years." Previous winners include: Jean Georges, Gramercy Tavern, and Frontera Grill.

Babbo, New York
For It: Mario Batali's beloved smash hit changed Italian food in New York into a highbrow culinary pursuit. It won Best New Restaurant in 1999 and was nominated for Outstanding Restaurant in its first year of eligibility. The Guardian called Babbo "the best place to eat ravioli in the world" last year.
Against It: Given the Italian culinary explosion in New York in the past decade (thanks in no small part to Batali), Babbo is sometimes taken for granted.

Boulevard, San Francisco
For It: Chef Nancy Oakes won a Beard Award for Best Chef, Pacific in 2001 and Boulevard has been nominated for this award for six years running. After sixteen years, her restaurant maintains a consistent three-star rating and never falls off Michael Bauer's list of the Top 100 Restaurants in the Bay Area. Consistently lands among the 100 Top Grossing independent restaurants in the country too, grossing over $16 million annually.
Against It: Not much, and it's been a while since a San Francisco restaurant got the nod.

Daniel, New York City
For It: Daniel Boulud looms large over both the French and New York food scenes, especially since he picked up a third Michelin Star. It is one of only six restaurants in New York with four stars from the Times.
Against It: Jean-Georges won last year.

Highlands Bar & Grill, Birmingham, Alabama

For It: Highlands was nominated for this award last year, and chef-owner Frank Stitt won Best Chef, Southeast in 2001.
Against It: It's in Alabama and it's not likely that many voters have eaten there.

Spiaggia, Chicago
For It: Gourmet's verdict: "Many gourmets believe Spiaggia is the best Italian restaurant between the coasts." The restaurant gained a national profile after it was endorsed by the Obamas. It was nominated in 2006 and 2007 for Outstanding Restaurant, but fell off the list until this year. Tony Mantuano won Best Chef, Midwest in and 1994 and 2005, with several repeat nominations in-between.
Against It: If an Italian restaurant is going to win this year, it'll be Babbo.

Grub Street Predicts: Boulevard
Babbo needs to sit with the nominees a few more times before getting the award. Daniel will be honored one day soon, but not likely on the heels of another French restaurant in New York City. Highlands Bar & Grill diversifies the list, but won't get past a nomination. Spiaggia's increasing national renown will earn it an award one day, but not this year. Nancy Oakes's Boulevard is practically the Susan Lucci of this category, with five previous nominations in this category. The Foundation will honor her consistent excellence.