Landmark Restaurant Commander’s Palace Makes History with New Chef

The New Orleans Grand Award winner appoints its first female lead in the kitchen. Plus, City Winery debuts a sprawling New York flagship and Wolfgang Puck Steak closes in Detroit

Landmark Restaurant Commander’s Palace Makes History with New Chef
Co-proprietors Lally Brennan and Ti Martin are handing the top position in the Commander's Palace kitchen to Meg Bickford, the restaurant's first-ever female executive chef. (Chris Granger)
Oct 22, 2020

For the first time in its 125-plus years of operation, Wine Spectator Grand Award winner Commander's Palace in New Orleans has appointed a female executive chef, Meg Bickford.

“I’ve been here for over a decade now, and this has always been a dream of mine, and more recently became my goal,” Bickford told Wine Spectator via email. She said numerous kitchen mentors along the way have made her “more ready than ever to take on this new challenge.”

The former executive sous chef is replacing chef Tory McPhail, who held the reins for 18 years. McPhail is moving to Bozeman, Mont., to be closer to family and pursue an opportunity at another restaurant group.

"Walking into Commander's Palace every day as the chef has been an honor," read a written statement issued by McPhail. "I couldn’t be prouder of [Bickford] and I look forward to seeing her stamp on the legendary restaurant as it continues to evolve ... It has been a helluva run!"

Bickford is excited to foster Commander’s next batch of young cooks and add her own personal twists to the Creole-Cajun menu. “I look forward to proving to everyone that I can really push Commander’s to the next level, something that Tory had so tirelessly done,” she said. “This is the most exciting time for food in New Orleans and my mind is just brimming with ideas.”

Growing up with wine always on the family dinner table, Bickford says she’s developed a natural knack for pairings. She hopes to work even more closely with wine director Dan Davis and his nearly 3,000-selection wine list, which excels in a plethora of regions including Burgundy, California, the Rhône and Bordeaux. When the doors to Commander’s shut to follow stay-at-home orders in the spring, the two worked on forming a weekly wine-and-cheese Zoom party, which has since gone nationwide and includes winemakers, musical guests and cheese-and-charcuterie pairings.—Taylor McBride

City Winery Unveils New Manhattan Flagship

The indoor dining room overlooking the outdoor space at City Winery in New York
Even at 25 percent capacity, there’s still plenty of seating at City Winery’s latest location. (Courtesy of City Winery)

City Winery—a restaurant, winemaking facility and music venue with seven Restaurant Award–winning outposts nationwide—opened its relocated New York City flagship on Pier 57 at Hudson River Park Oct. 15. The move from the original Varick Street location in Lower Manhattan was originally slated for April, but was delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I launched the City Winery brand in a major economic downturn and now I am launching our new flagship during a global pandemic,” founder and CEO Michael Dorf said in a statement shared with Wine Spectator. “No matter what happens in the world, City Winery will remain a place for people to come and enjoy the small pleasures in life like food, wine, music and community.”

The sprawling space has been updated to adhere to new pandemic-related restrictions, including operating at 25 percent capacity. But at more than 32,000 square feet, that still means 200 indoor seats and 70 outdoor ones. “The goal is to give my neighbors a much-needed feeling of normalcy and offer a safe dining experience where we can escape, even if just for a night,” Dorf said.

First established in 2008, City Winery New York received its first Restaurant Award in 2010, for a dynamic wine list that also includes selections produced on-site. Though tours of the on-site winery and concerts are currently suspended, guests can enjoy the Mediterranean-inspired menu by chef Robert Hamburg. Dishes like mushroom and goat cheese risotto balls, Long Island duck tostada and Hudson Valley Trowbridge angus sirloin are served alongside the 1,300-selection wine list organized by national beverage director Ganna Fedorova. The list represents over 20 countries and offers locally produced wines on tap and in flights.—T.M.

Detroit’s Wolfgang Puck Steak Permanently Closes

The private-dining wine room at Wolfgang Puck Steak in the MGM Grand Detroit
The now-closed Detroit location of Wolfgang Puck Steak housed more than 5,000 bottles. (MGM Grand Detroit)

After eight years of service, Best of Award of Excellence winner Wolfgang Puck Steak will not return from its formerly temporary closure at downtown Detroit’s MGM Grand Hotel. “Wolfgang Puck Steak was one of the first chef-driven, fine-dining restaurants in Detroit’s dining resurgence that has taken hold in the last decade, and a favorite dining destination for our casino and hotel guests over the years,” David Tsai, president of MGM Resorts International’s Midwest Group, told Wine Spectator.

The restaurant was a Midwest gem among the celebrity restaurateur-chef’s numerous restaurants, offering a noteworthy menu of steaks, lamb chops and shellfish. The menu accompanied a wine list that featured more than 950 labels, with regional strengths in Burgundy, Bordeaux, California, Italy, Spain and more, making it the second-largest Restaurant Award–winning wine list in the Motor City.

It’s not clear what will happen to the wine collection, however, the MGM Grand Hotel is now in the process of converting the restaurant’s former space into a new steak house, D.Prime, which is set to open in late October. Some of the Wolfgang Puck Steak staff will transfer to the new venue. “This contemporary, upscale restaurant and lounge was crafted with a downtown vibe in mind and is a no-nonsense take on what a Detroit steak house should be,” Tsai said, adding that D.Prime will feature a similarly substantial wine selection.—Collin Dreizen

Keep up with the latest restaurant news from our award winners: Subscribe to our free Private Guide to Dining newsletter, and follow us on Twitter at @WSRestoAwards and on Instagram at @wsrestaurantawards.

News Restaurant Awards

You Might Also Like

Proof of <em>Terroir</em>? Researchers Dig Deep into Argentine Malbec

Proof of Terroir? Researchers Dig Deep into Argentine Malbec

A study from the Catena Institute of Wine finds chemical evidence that the soils in which a …

Apr 23, 2021
New York Grand Award Winner Del Posto Closes for Good

New York Grand Award Winner Del Posto Closes for Good

Chef Melissa Rodriguez will bring three new concepts to the space this fall. Plus, …

Apr 22, 2021
Frost Strikes Vineyards in Leading Italian Wine Regions

Frost Strikes Vineyards in Leading Italian Wine Regions

Vines in Piedmont and Tuscany were impacted by the same cold snap that devastated France; …

Apr 20, 2021
Exclusive: Thomas Rivers Brown Acquires Full Ownership of Sonoma Coast's Aston Estate

Exclusive: Thomas Rivers Brown Acquires Full Ownership of Sonoma Coast's Aston Estate

Brown aims to revitalize the Pinot Noir brand he co-founded with Fred Schrader and Chuck …

Apr 19, 2021
Pio Boffa, Piedmont Wine Patriarch, Dies of COVID-19

Pio Boffa, Piedmont Wine Patriarch, Dies of COVID-19

The visionary leader of the historic Pio Cesare winery converted his family's négoce …

Apr 18, 2021
Restaurant Award Winners that Have Permanently Closed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Restaurant Award Winners that Have Permanently Closed During the COVID-19 Pandemic

A running list of wine-focused dining spots that have been forced to shut for good as the …

Apr 14, 2021