Best Restaurant to Die and Be Reborn (2005)

KM at the Grapevine

If you believe in reincarnation, you probably think you'll come back in the next life as a sky princess or a space wizard. But odds are just as good you'll eke out your latter days as a skink. Dramatic transformations are the stuff of the afterlife. Hell, even restaurants undergo major shape-shifting in their reincarnations. Thus did the Armadillo Café, a gargantuan and popular Southwestern food palace, bite the dust in the summer of 2004 and reappear six months later as KM at the Grapevine. The new place is a tiny neighborhood fooderie wedged into a gourmet shop, open on Wednesday through Saturday nights only and offering a drastically pared-down menu. But there's no net loss of flavor, imagination, and personality in these scaled-back digs. Among our favorites were a $27 lobster quesadilla and a special: the "wild" Tasmanian salmon, which went for $26 and was simply poached in white wine and butter, nestled in a bed of sautéed spinach, and served with slim, crunchy green beans and broccolini. Kevin McCarthy, one of the partners from the old Armadillo, now has breathing space to come out of the kitchen and gab with customers, to change the menu weekly, and to experiment with exotic fish from around the globe. Favorite 'dillo standbys join new creations, the atmosphere is cozy and congenial, and the plain-Jane looks of the place can't conceal a heart of purest gastronomic gold.

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