Tim Shults
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Toyota and Serious Eats Take Readers on a Unique Dining Journey

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There’s nothing quite like dining out at a fancy restaurant, whether you’re celebrating a special occasion or just the end of a particularly taxing work week. But with that fine dining experience comes a not-so-fine bill, which you must pay before leaving the restaurant. For lucky Serious Eats readers in six cities, that check was not only taken care of, but they also got to enjoy a completely private dining experience courtesy of Serious Eats and Toyota.

The cities featured in this series were New York, Dallas, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles, and Miami. Late last year, hopefuls could enter a contest via the magazine’s Facebook page to win the coveted Toyota Sienna Date Night (so-called because winners are chauffeured to the restaurants in a Sienna minivan). To enter, readers had to comment on the Facebook post, explaining why they needed the date night and what winning it would mean to them.

Mighty Minivan: What makes the Toyota Sienna that ultimate swagger wagon?

Leona, Los Angeles

Leona is located close to the beach in Venice, California, and features bright décor that matches well with its location. Chef Nyesha Arrington prepared a variety of dishes for double-date winners London and Justin and Sophie and Neal. The lip-smacking meal consisted of lamb belly wontons, local black cod, dumpling squash, and persimmon ice cream.


Toro, Boston

The idea behind the wildly-popular Toro is to create small dishes that diners can share with each other to get a taste of everything on offer. Winners Adam and Jeanie experienced a special menu designed by chef Jamie Bissonnette, who used Jeanie’s love of anchovies to create the perfect dinner. In total, there were five courses plus dessert, and each course consisted of multiple dishes. Offerings included white anchovies in vinegar and olive oil, griddled garlic shrimp, a seafood paella with Spanish pork sausage and chicken, and churros to end the evening.


“The Library” at Topolobampo, Chicago

Two winning couples were lucky enough to experience a private dinner at Topolobampo’s library, which features two thousand cookbooks lining its walls. Chris and Latoya, husband and wife; and Georgia and Sheryl, mother and daughter enjoyed a delicious four-course meal courtesy of chef Andres Padilla. Palates were first prepared with yellowtail in golden aguachile, before moving on to carnival beet salas with salsa macha. Finally, the four enjoyed carne asada in mole negro for the perfect finish.


Hearth, New York

While chef Marco Canora has run Hearth in NYC’s East Village for more than 10 years, things have changed as of late. In January, Canora closed his restaurant for a week and made a complete overhaul of the menu, removing highly-processed frying oils in favor of non-GMO oils, and sourcing his meat, dairy, and vegetables more sustainably and responsible. NYC winners Paul and Bea, and Michael and Lydia were treated to four courses, including carrot and beet tartare, raw veggies with salty cured egg yolk, meaty grilled cauliflower with smoked trout, and chicken with Swiss chard.


Sissy’s Southern Kitchen, Dallas

Dallas winners Kelly and John were treated to a delectable Southern dining experience at Sissy’s Southern Kitchen. The two have been married for 23 years and have two children together. They got to experience a mouth-watering seven-course meal courtesy of chef Lisa Garza-Selcer, which included deviled eggs, buffalo chicken biscuits, drunken mussels and clams, sassafras and pastrami duck confit, and poached pear and Marsala crème brûlée for dessert.


Pubbelly, Miami

The final episode took place at Pubbelly in Miami. Winners Vanessa and Tom headed to the restaurant in the Toyota Sienna for an eight (yes, eight!)-course meal prepared lovingly by chef José Mendin. This delectable dinner included some foods that might make some diners squeamish, such as veal brains—but Vanessa and Tom took it in their stride, savoring each mouthful. Other dishes included short rib dumplings, stone crab fettuccini, and black truffle rice.


Adventure Time: Consult this checklist before your next off-roading trip