Despite the fact that Joshua Skenes’ restaurant has been named the number one in the country for a second year in a row, we still meet people who haven’t visited it. Which makes us want to ask, what on earth are you waiting for? Intent on “redefining the concept of a fancy meal,” Skenes does things like serving aged fish, and offering a service of ducks that have been dry-aged for 32 and 70 days. Skenes also pushes the envelope in the way he uses the wood-burning grill on the restaurant’s patio. Rather than cook on a grate, Skenes might place ingredients directly in the ash or set them right next to a pile of flaming logs. Editor’s note: Skenes has moved Saison into shiny new quarters in San Francisco’s SoMa district; he also serves a more casual menu in the restaurant’s lounge. Skenes also recently added an eight-person chef’s tasting counter to the restaurant.
Blaine Wetzel, a native of Olympia, Washington, has come a long way. After spending a year and a half in the Noma kitchen, he decided it was time to go back home to Washington and open a restaurant of his own. He checked out a bunch of locations and decided that an inn on a small island off the coast of Bellingham was the ideal spot. Not content with having his own kitchen, he identified a fertile plot of land on the island where he planted a garden to supply the restaurant with produce. Three years later we are seeing reviews like these: “brilliant restaurant, producing the type of magic that can be created only when a well-trained, creative chef finds the perfect spot from which to source the freshest and finest of ingredients”; “several of the vegetable dishes will stay with me forever”; and “his hot-smoked, Lummi Island reef net caught salmon might be the best thing I ate all year.”
After a six-month renovation after a fire destroyed the restaurant’s kitchen, David Kinch is once again behind the stoves of his beloved restaurant, combining the wonderful ingredients that he raises with Cynthia Sandberg on her Love Apple Farms, with a thorough command of culinary technique that spans from progressive to classical French, which he further supplements with techniques derived from a variety of master chefs in Tokyo, David Kinch has managed to do what everyone thought was impossible: He unseated Thomas Keller and The French Laundry for the honors of running the country’s top restaurant. Feast on dishes like Into the Vegetable Garden (inspired by Michel Bras' gargouillou) or a winter tidal pool with abalone, sea urchin, foie gras, shellfish and mushrooms. According to one reviewer what makes Manresa so special is Kinch's, "almost perfect sense of how to utilize modern culinary technique in order to maximize the flavor aspect of a dish."
When he isn't out at the forge having his personally designed utensils made, Grant Achatz is bombarding diners with foams, gelées, Pop-Rock-like chips and puddings, powders and smoke made table side. But the fact that Achatz might vaporize an ingredient or two doesn't mean his cuisine is merely smoke and mirrors. Achatz utilizes the highest quality market ingredients, resulting in a cuisine where technique is not merely postured for technique's sake. The "once-in-a-lifetime experience in molecular gastronomy" might feature creations like truffle explosion; hot potato, cold potato; Wagyu beef with powdered A-1; and lamb three ways cooked on a hot stone. One reviewer was so moved by his meal he went on to say; "Words cannot express the experience - culinary bliss is as close as I can get."
This restaurant serves only a handful of tables at a time (there is reportedly a five-year wait for a reservation), and it took a number of years for it to attract a sufficient number of reviews so that it would qualify for our Top 100 list. But now that it has crossed the threshold, what a debut! What the fuss is about is, in reality, a one-man band named Damon Baehrel, who does everything from raise most of the ingredients used at the restaurant (which includes growing and milling his own flour for bread), to cooking, serving, and even bussing the dishes. If you are lucky enough to snag a table, be prepared for a 23-course extravaganza that will last for hours.
After working under a trio of terrific mentors (Daniel Patterson, Trey Foshee and Daniel Humm, to be specific), and then running the kitchen at Chez TJ, Craig Kostow established residence in the kitchen of this luxurious resort in St. Helena. Taking full advantage of the wonderful ingredients that he was able to grow in the lush surroundings, Kostow’s kitchen produces dishes like a composition of green garlic, bergamot, Marcona almond and root vegetables, fluke steamed en cocotte with summer squash, chorizo and squid and lamb shank roasted with vaudovan, eggplant, date and pickled carrots. Still, despite the fact that he has gained national attention from being awarded a series of culinary honors, we still see comments like; "his cooking is only going to get better."
Dan Barber has raised sustainability to an art form. While many restaurants grow their own produce, Barber serves chickens, pigs and other livestock that are raised on the Stone Barns property. Depending on the season, Barber might start you out with a service of heirloom tomatoes, which arrive in guises ranging from simply sliced to gently sautéed, or as an intensely flavored sorbet, to fish that he pairs with fruit raised on the property, before serving the Stone Barns chicken, which some say is the best in the country. Not to be outdone by the delicious eats, the setting - the Stone Barns were built by the Rockefeller family in the 1920s and are reminiscent of a Hollywood movie set - is absolutely magnificent.
A second-generation Japanese-American, Nobu Yamazaki grew up in the Washington D.C. area, the heir to a popular restaurant in Dupont Circle. But Nobu wasn’t interested in a life that was dominated by spicy tuna rollse He moved to Tokyo in order to learn how to be a master omakase chef. His return to the States was celebrated with a complete renovation of his family's restaurant, which now includes a special omakase room featuring a six-person counter lorded over by Nobu himself. Each night he serveswhat is truly the best of the daily market, with delicacies running from unusual vegetables to rare cuts of fish to a shabu shabu of octopus so fresh that it is still moving (we're not kidding) before it's submerged in the steaming broth.
This place is set on a corner in Nashville’s Music Row, and from the outside, you would think you are about to enter your basic neighborhood bar and grill. But then the hostess directs you to an elevator that is waiting to whisk you up to the third floor. The elevator door opens and you find yourself in a hallway filled with twinkling lights. At that point it would be reasonable to ask yourself: Did I take a wrong turn and stumble into some hip club, and am I about to see Tiesto or Skrillex spin? But if you keep walking, you will find yourself in the Catbird Seat. Fortunately, the food is as dramatic as the setting; Erik Anderson turns out some of the best Modernist cuisine in the country, featuring dishes like parmesan and porcini oreos; kimchi-wrapped cod prepared with avocado, kiwi and melon rind; and local pigeon served with soy-infused, caramelized yogurt. The downside is the restaurant serves only 28 people each evening, making it one of the hardest reservations to get in the country. Editor’s Note - Trevor Moran left the restaurant at the end of December. The new Executive chef is Ryan Poli.
When Masayoshi Takayama, decided to move to New York City, the "Zen-like" Hiro Urasawa purchased this unassuming restaurant on the second floor of a Rodeo Drive office building from his former employer. Reserve a stool at the nine-seat counter and watch Hiro works his magic starting with Kyoto-style specialties like homemade tofu studded with gold-leaf or foie gras cooked shabu shabu style, followed by 15 different pieces of sushi, before the grand finale in which live langoustines flop around Hiro’s counter until he turns them into your dinner (talk about fresh!). Eating with this gracious host is an intimate experience, and you will end up spending most of your evening, and the better part of your paycheck, enjoying what one reviewer called "the ultimate omakase at the ultimate price."
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218 N. Rodeo Dr. Beverly Hills, CA 310-247-8939
11minibar by Jose Andres
Now that El Bulli has shuttered its doors, those who are looking to recreate the experience should head over to José Andrés' Penn Quarter restaurant. Each weekday evening, a team led by R+D Director Ruben Garcia—dazzles diners with dishes like linguine made with feta cheese water and gelatin, sweet pea "caviar," conch fritters with a liquid center and a warm foie gras soup with cold foie gras foam. Along with the interesting and tasty food, the close proximity to the chefs allows you to watch them prepare your meal right in front of your eyes with a sleight of hand usually reserved for Las Vegas magicians. Not only is it, “the ultimate in dining as theater,” the experience inspired one reviewer to proclaim; "All dining should be this much fun!"
By day, it's a commercial kitchen that services a grocery store; at night, it turns into a restaurant where 18 lucky diners sit at the kitchen pass and watch the Bouley-trained César Ramirez turn out a tasting menu that change daily. Ramirez's menu is heavy on fish and seafood dishes, which is not all that surprising given his training, but he also turns out delicious offerings like a slow-cooked farm egg in a mushroom broth and topped with truffles. The comments were almost uniformly positive: The Kitchen was described as a cuisine that is "creative yet tethered to traditional technique" and a "friendly price point," plus a BYO-only policy makes it "one of the best quality-to-price ratio" meals you will find in the New York metropolitan area.
Most people who want to dine at a José Andrés restaurant while visiting Las Vegas choose Jaleo. But hidden within the restaurant is é by José Andrés, a very intimate dining experience that few people have heard of and even fewer get to experience. In this private room with a counter that holds less than ten diners, with its own dedicated kitchen, Aitor Lozano and a team of chefs and wait staff, will make you feel as if you have been invited to a private, catered molecular gastronomy dinner prepared for the select few. “Tickets” for entry are rather difficult to obtain, but for such exclusivity and bragging rights it just might be worth it. At the very least, you will get an extended menu of Andrés classics. Comments were effusive and included “Tremendous value and entertainment for the price of the meal” and “I'm sure somewhere in this world there exists a restaurant that offers a better dining experience, but I have yet to dine in one.”
Another one of our top movers, Justin Cogley’s cooking has kept Aubergine in the running for the honors of the top dining destination on the Central Coast. But from where we sit, if enough of our reviewers pay him a visit this year, he is poised to crack into our Top 10 in 2016. Cogley’s cooking is dominated by local ingredients, and you are likely to find dishes such as a chilled Dungeness crab with young coconut, roasted banana and candied peanut, Monterey Bay spot prawns with yuzu and a fennel purée emulsified with olive oil, or whole roasted Grimaud Farms duck for two with date, saffron and Szechuan peppercorns gracing his menu. A 4,500-bottle wine list means you won't have much of a problem finding something interesting to drink with your meal, and a cozy dining room (there are a mere 12 tables) make this “one of the most romantic restaurants in the country.“
Having earned the highest honors in cuisine (EMP was awarded three stars by Michelin in 2012), Daniel Humm was not willing to rest on his laurels. He decided to celebrate his achievement by throwing out his menu and replacing it with one that focuses on the cuisine of New York City. The result is a menu filled with interesting dishes like sturgeon smoked tableside and a desconstructed carrot tartare that you can assemble to your liking. Also on the menu is Humm’s signature dish, roast Muscovy duck scented with lavender, honey and spices, which should be a requisite for anyone with a keen interest in fine dining. The dining room is “stunning,” the wine list is “filled with interesting and well-priced selections,” and Humm’s partner, Will Guidara, and his staff make sure that “your every need is cared for.”
Blanca is the result of a slow progression. Carlo Mirarchi made his name serving pizza at Roberta’s, a place with a clientele that could pass for the cast of the HBO series Girls. Not content with the restaurant being one of the most popular in the city, he introduced a nightly tasting menu that focused on raw fish dishes and pastas and that always finished with servings of carefully sourced duck and beef aged to perfection. Now Carlo has once again upped the ante, opening Blanca in a stand-alone building on the other side of the courtyard from Roberta’s. In addition to the spiffy new digs, Carlo has doubled the number of courses in the tasting menu; you can expect somewhere between 24 and 26 different small plates, always ending with his wonderfully aged meats. The restaurant’s fans, who are numerous, call it “a magical experience”; they offer comments like “Carlo is a magician with meat” and “his aged proteins are indescribable and far surpass any others I’ve had.”
If anyone wants to know how this place manages to maintain its high standing despite its celebrity chef owner operating more than two dozen restaurants it's simple: You will often see Jean George Vongerichten standing at the pass of this restaurant’s kitchen, inspecting each plate before it enters the dining room. Vongerichten's unique approach to French cooking revolves around a clever use of acids, combined with innovative spicing and flavor combinations, resulting in even simple preparations, like tuna ribbons with avocado and soy or a tartare of Japanese snapper with champagne grape gelée, that are "bursting with flavor." Lunch is a wonderful time to visit the restaurant as the large plates glass windows allow the light to stream into the room, while offering diners a view of Central Park.
While it is typical to find the more commercial style of tempura dining in American-based Japanese restaurants (a basket filled with pieces of vegetable and seafood that have been coated in a light batter and fried), the better tempura places in Japan serve it omakase style – 10 to 15 different pieces cooked and served one at a time. The Ootoya organization felt it was time to break this golden ceiling and convinced Masao Matsui to come out of retirement and open this restaurant in Midtown East. As you can see from the high debut, they made a wise decision. However, in February of this year, Chef Matsui passed away at the young age of 65. But while he will be missed, his protégés carry on, and reviewers tell us the restaurant continues to turn out the best tempura ever seen in the U.S.
For many years, Masa Takayama ran a restaurant in Beverly Hills called Ginza Sushiko. Then Thomas Keller came calling, and he convinced Masa to open a restaurant next door to Per Se in the Time Warner Center. With dinner costing an eye-popping $500 after adding ingredients luxury like fugu and truffles, the restaurant caused a stir when it first opened, causing many reviewers to question whether a meal based around raw fish was worth that price. But those who had spent time in Tokyo claimed; "It's the only U.S, restaurant that is on par with the top restaurants in Japan." The quality of the fish is absolutely dazzling; a pastry chef of Japanese descent told us, “I gave up eating sushi on a weekly basis so I could afford to eat at Masa once a month.”
It's easy to walk past this basement restaurant located on an East Village side street without noticing that "one of the most authentic, Kyoto-style kaiseki experiences in the country" happens to be inside. But venture down the stairs and they might offer you thin slices of yuba stuffed with sea urchin or a bowl of Japanese white turnip potage with tsukune-style minced chicken and Kamo Shio-yaki - slowly grilled magret of duck with Mongolian salt. And if you're lucky, you can celebrate the start of the hamachi season with a few slices taken from a hunk of fish that cost $2,000, which was delivered from the fish market in Tokyo earlier that day. They allow BYO, if you don't wish to choose from their list of rare sakes.
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94 E 7th St New York, NY (212) 982-4140
This restaurant from former French Laundry executive chef Corey Lee was one of the most highly awaited openings of 2010. Of Korean heritage, Benu’s cuisine relies on mixing Asian ingredients with classical French technique resulting in a menu featuring dishes like Hokkaido sea cucumber stuffed with shrimp, pork belly, cucumber eggplant and fermented pepper and dry-aged “Pre Sale” lamb with ginko nut, pumpkin, pear, date, ginger. It all happens in a cool, sleek dining room that is “appropriately Zen” given the style of food Lee serves. As to be expected, you will find the same “technically perfect cooking” and “precise execution” that is a hallmark of the chefs who trained under Thomas Keller.” No wonder one reviewer described it as “The Asian French Laundry.”
Who could have imagined that this restaurant could survive the departure of Naomichi Yasuda, who not only lent the restaurant his name but lorded over its sushi counter like a shepherd guarding his flock. Fortunately, Mitsuru Tamura, Yasuda’s protégé for the seven years before he departed, is delivering the same beautiful cuts of fish that this restaurant has built its reputation on. The best way to enjoy the experience is to sit at the counter in front of Tamura and order various flights of fish, like five different types of salmon or seven different cuts of tuna. Beloved by our reviewers, this is by far the most popular Japanese restaurant in our survey, attracting comments like “I could eat this every day for the rest of my life.”
The tremendous hubbub around this restaurant has to do with the fact that Daisuke Nakazawa was a student of the iconic Jiro Ono (the subject of the film Jiro Dreams of Sushi). And while certain members of the New York restaurant-reviewing community considered it the opening of the year in 2014, our reviewers were not 100% convinced that the restaurant warranted a slot on our Top 100 list last year, awarding it a spot of 110, which put it on our Just Missed list. But things seemed to have picked up, and Nakazawa’s restaurant is the second-highest new entry in our 2015 U.S. survey. It’s one of the most difficult reservations to get in the city.
Diners used to eating their sushi in Japan, where the top restaurants often resemble cheap lunch counters, will feel right at home at this simple restaurant on the second floor of a small office building in Midtown East. Besides the décor, the other thing that Toshihiro Uezu's restaurant has in common with its Tokyo counterparts, is that many of the ingredients they both are serving were last seen swimming in the Sea of Japan before making their way to the restaurant courtesy of Tokyo's Tsukiji fish market. Better known for his man-sized cuts of sashimi than for his sushi, Uezu creates an array of flavors and textures so dazzling that reviewers typically claim; "you won't find a restaurant with better fish in the entire U.S."
Michael Cimarusti has raised his game at this seafood specialist located in the space that once housed the original Patina. A fanatic about high-quality ingredients, Cimarusti installed a special cold room in his kitchen so that his fish can be butchered at a perfect temperature. The attention to detail appears to have paid off, as many of our reviewers feel that Cimarusti serves the best New American seafood in the country. Some of the creations are truly inspired: his Dungeness crab with sweet peas, crispy soba and sriracha mayonnaise; his signature Santa Barbara sea urchin served in a farm egg filled with a Champagne beurre blanc; and his dayboat halibut from Sitka, Alaska, served with burdock, shiso and lemon. Non-fish eaters will find that Cimarusti handles dishes like foie gras ravioli or roast tenderloin of veal with chanterelles and shimeji mushrooms with the same level of skill and aplomb. Partner Donato Poto, a veteran of numerous top L.A. restaurants (including Bastide in its heyday), does an equally good job of managing the front of the house.
Back in 2009, when Adoni Aduriz protégé Matt Lightner was hired to run this kitchen, Castagna turned into one of the dining community’s brightest lights. But Lightner has now departed (he is about to open Atera in New York City), leaving his former second in command, Justin Woodward, in his place. Woodward, who also worked with Alex Stupak at WD-50, has continued the blend of Modernist cooking and Pacific Northwest foraging that began under Lightner’s tenure, and his menus are filled with creations like, Cauliflower in various textures and Sea and Mountains and Earth: Petrale sole, Black Trumpet Mushrooms and Salsify. It is still, "the most innovative (yet delicious) food in the Pacific Northwest" and remains “a must visit for those whose view the dining experience through a progressive lens.”
This restaurant has quietly moved up our list from a ranking of 30 in 2010; given recent reviews, it seems poised to crack our top 20 in 2014. At the heart of chef Scott Anderson’s success are the terrific ingredients that come from the Garden State, which he utilizes in dishes like diver scallops harvested from the Jersey Shore and served with ham, split peas and morels, and Anderson’s rice-less mushroom risotto – finely diced mushrooms, mushroom broth, tomato, parmesan and white truffles. Comments were effusive: “absolutely a top-notch dining experience driven by creativity and a dedication to acquiring the best product”; “I’ve eaten at the chef’s table on six different occasions and it keeps getting better”; and “the most creative restaurant between New York and Washington, D.C., and absolutely worth a special trip.” The restaurant is moving into a new location in the spring of 2015.
Despite the fact that Curtis Duffy and Michael Muser spared no expense when they created this restaurant, when Grace opened its doors at the end of 2012 reviews were lukewarm. But as the year progressed, the reviews became so positive that it’s the highest rated new entry on the 2014 survey. Can you imagine the number it would have entered at if it were not for the shaky start? At the heart of the restaurant’s success is the ever-likable Duffy; he worked in nearly every important Chicago restaurant and then did a successful stint running the kitchen at Avenues in the Peninsula Hotel, and finally decided it was time to open a place of his own. And what a place it is, attracting comments like “my meal was sublime” and “Duffy is the natural successor to Charlie Trotter.”
What do you call a restaurant that is set in an old public house that dates from the early 1800’s, and which mixes progressive culinary technique with terrific bio-dynamic ingredients that are raised on a two-and-a-half acre patch of land on nearby Wadmalaw Island. Add the type of Southern sensibilities that result in a menu filled with dishes like smoked Carolina rainbow trout with a salad of potato, parsley and egg, or the belly of a rare breed of pork with pork noodles and broth, and you would have McCrady’s, where the cuisine is “something that only the energetic Sean Brock could have dreamed up.” “Innovative without being stuffy”, one frequent visitor called the experience "as consistent as it is sublime."
Unlike his friends who he attended Trinity College with, David Chang decided he wanted to become a chef rather than a banker or a lawyer. Following stints working with Tom Colicchio and Andrew Carmellini, David felt it was time to go out on his own. But before opening a restaurant, he took a trip to Asia in order to better understand his roots. After returning to the U.S., David opened the revolutionary Momofuku Noodle Bar, before upping the ante by opening Momofuku Ssäm bar. The when moved Noodle Bar to new quarters, David opened his first fine dining restaurant, Momofuku Ko, in the vacated space, where diners compete for 12 counter seats in order to sample dishes like scallop with uni, yuzu and burnt apples and the now-famous foie gras snow served over pine nut brittle. A move to a new space in late 2014 means it is now easier to get a reservation.
Michael Carlson’s restaurant is famous for two things: Unique creations – like a surf 'n' turf of veal cheeks and branzino with Brussels sprouts and mushrooms; and a reservation system that is so difficult to manage that it sometimes can take weeks to have your phone call returned. Fortunately, Carlson’s cooking is so good that diners happily overlook the reservation hassles, offering comments like, “It was worth whatever effort it took for the privilege of being able to eat the cool food." To say that the other comments we collected were glowing is an understatement: "creativity on steroids"; "phenomenal in every way, with taste, texture and presentation nearly perfect"; and "Small, loud, cool and innovative, Schwa was more fun than ought to be legal."
The highest new entry in our 2015 U.S. Top 100 list is run by none other than Ludo Lefebvre, is one of the most recognizable chefs in the U.S. In fact, Ludo is so well known that when he took over an old Thai restaurant on the edge of LA’s MacArthur Park, he didn’t bother to change the sign. He Ludo also happens to have one of the most recognizable cooking styles in the country. Now, after a period of time when he only did pop-ups, you can enjoy his food at a restaurant that operates five nights a week, throughout the entire year. While Trois Mec is one of the most difficult reservations to snag anywhere in North America, those who can’t get in can “settle” for Le Petit Trois, his French bistro, directly next door, whose buttery and tasty cuisine will make you feel as if you have been transported to France.
While his cuisine will appeal to anyone who has a penchant for contemporary cooking, Daniel Patterson's fare is "surprisingly not as modern as everyone said it was going to be." Relying on a subtle use of technology and a diverse selection of locally grown organic ingredients, Patterson’s menu emphasizes a minimalist, vegetable-oriented approach to cuisine described as "interesting without sacrificing flavor," like his Earth and Sea (new harvest potatoes, cucumber, borage, sea beans and ice plant flowers) or morels served with burnt rice, ash, smoke and pine. And when he utilizes meat in a dish, it's in a subtle way, like a dish of bone marrow with caviar and beetroot purée or a fried chicken consommé served with artichokes, fava beans, radish and green garlic.
Kudos to the team of Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas for coming up with one of the most enjoyable concepts in the world of dining – a restaurant that puts the theme of the evening on an equal footing with the food. Paris 1906, Thailand, Childhood, Tribute to elBulli and Kyoto are some of the themes they have executed to date, and The Hunt, Vegan and Bocuse d’Or are on the schedule for 2013. What makes the concept so successful is that despite the constantly changing cuisine, the kitchen still manages to “knock some dishes out of the park,” like pad Thai prepared in the style of Michel Bras’s gargouillou; a minimalist version of Escoffier’s Supreme de Poussin; and a deconstructed hamburger with cornichon chips, gelled mayonnaise and sesame bun paste that one reviewer described as “having all the flavors you can find at White Castle and McDonald’s.” The unusual ticketing system the restaurant employs means that if they are sold out on the night you want to go, you can probably find tickets for sale on the secondary market. Concepts on the menu for 2016 include The Alps, Tour of South America and The French Laundry.
The “soft-spoken, humble and gracious” Eiji Ichimura lords it over this sushi counter that is located in the same space as Brushstroke. A favorite of locals when he operated his own restaurant in Midtown, Ichimura returned to his native Japan for a spell before teaming up with David Bouley. There are only eight seats and only two seatings per evening. But ask anyone who has been lucky enough to snare a stool and they will tell you about “flights of fish arranged according to fat: . . . so you cycle through several fish tail portions and then fish loins and then several fish bellies . . . finishing with a bang of blue fin chutoro and otoro.” Eiji is also a proponent of aging his tuna, resulting in “cuts that could be a dead ringer for beef.” David Bouley’s sushi bar took the single most significant jump in the rankings in our 2015 survey.
Dominique Crenn describes her cuisine as Poetic Culinaria. The name is fitting, as the artful creations that come out of Dominique’s kitchen are so beautiful to look at that at first it is hard to imagine eating them. While the Brittany native utilizes progressive culinary techniques to work her magic, there is also a large dose of whimsy, along with a distinct nod toward French classicism, in dishes likes Ocean and Land, wagyu beef with smoked sturgeon pearls, red onion gelee and a foie gras log paired with apple, vanilla, cocoa nib and balsamic Juan Contreras is one of the best young pastry chefs in the country; an avid fan described his pear, sage and yogurt dessert as “among the best I have ever had in the U.S.”
It is rare when a restaurant continues to turn out high-quality food after the departure of its founder. But based on the amazing job that Andrew Taylor, Mike Wiley and GM Arlin Smith have been doing since they purchased Hugo’s from Rob Evans, it appears they have defied the odds. Not only have the trio completely refurbished the place, replacing the stodgy old dining room with a hipsterish 19-seat counter, complemented by a few tables along the back wall, reviewers are saying things like “at the moment, the restaurant is turning out some of the best food in the country.” One even went as far as to say his meal was reminiscent of Saison (number 1 in our 2014 survey.) That is rarified air indeed.
Fish that is flown in from Europe on a daily basis would seem to be a sufficient draw for a restaurant. But not for Michael White, who after learning how to cook at the beloved Romano in Viareggio, Italy, wanted to take the concept of an Italian seafood restaurant a step further. The typical meal begins with an assortment of fresh crudos, followed by “ethereal pastas” like angel hair with crab, sea urchin and chili peppers, and what numerous reviewers singled out as the best pasta in the U.S.: White's fusilli with octopus, bone marrow and spicy tomato sauce. Only then do you get to enjoy those magnificent specimens of turbot and branzino which are so fresh that they seem like they were just pulled from a fishing trawler.
Some young chefs, when they want to open their own restaurant, write up a detailed business plan and begin to look for investors. But Jake Bickelhaupt and his wife, Alexa Welsh, did it the old-fashioned way: After running a successful pop-up in Chicago for a number of years, they saved up enough money to rent a space where they built a working kitchen and an eight-seat counter, with enough space left over for a communal table for ten people. Bickelhaupt’s cuisine shows flashes of his time in the kitchens of both Charlie Trotter’s and Alinea, and the personal interaction diners have with him and Welsh (who runs the service) makes the experience feel like an intimate dinner party.
If Justin Yu’s restaurant were located in Europe, we suspect it would be one of the regular stops on the hard-core foodie circuit, which is not all that surprising given his background: The kitchens he’s worked in range from Napa’s Ubuntu to Copenhagen’s Relae to Belgium’s In de Wulf. Given that list, it’s also not that surprising that Justin’s menus revolve around “studying and getting the most out of individual vegetables and fruits”; recent dishes have focused on a diverse group: eggplant, okra, nectarines and grapes. Breads and desserts are handled by Justin’s wife, Karen Man, and they are so good that one reviewer described them as “deserving of a separate spotlight.” But the best quote came from a reviewer who said “the food is so meticulously prepared and creative, they can make me want to eat dishes I’d ordinarily despise.”
While legendary L.A. sushi chef Kazunori Nozawa is now retired (Chef Nozawa was belovedly known as the Sushi Nazi), his son Tom decided to carry on his legacy by opening a chain of sushi restaurants that go by the name of Sugarfish. But since inexpensive sushi is not really in the family blood, Tom and his partner decided to open this Tokyo-style sushi bar in the back of the Beverly Hills location of Sugarfish. There you will find Chef Osamu Fujita, a disciple of Chef Nozawa, serving what some say is the best omakase in the city. One reviewer told us “the experience can rival Urasawa” but at a cost of $100 less per person.
On its face, Justin Aprahamian’s restaurant looks like the local installment of the typical New American restaurant that you can find all over the country. But what makes it stand out from all of the others is a menu where, "many of the dishes are influenced by Milwaukee's local ethnic groups." Aprahamiam’s menu features dishes like a cheese bourek with a pickled watermelon salad, duck breast glazed with lekvar (prune butter) and roasted apricots; and veal breast cooked for 17 hours and topped with a paprika and caraway seed crust and served with a poppy seed slaw. It's uniformly recommended by reviewers whose comments include; "a marriage of Midwestern pride and culinary genius" and "While L'Etoile might get the press, Sanford is the best restaurant in Wisconsin." "
Take a seat at the counter of this nondescript storefront in a strip mall wedged between Beverly Hills and Culver City, and Keizo Seki will dazzle you with 24 different cuts of fish, including a number of varieties that you probably have never seen before. Seki is a purist, and if you dare to ask him for a specialty roll or some other type of concoction served at more Americanized sushi restaurants, he will respond by barking, "We don't serve junk here."
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9824 National Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 310-842-3977
Given the long list of famous chefs who appear on James Syhabout’s résumé (he has cooked with everyone from Heston Blumenthal to Adoni Aduriz, not to mention his long term stint as the sous chef in David Kinch’s kitchen at Manresa), the high level of sophistication found in Syhabout’s cuisine is to be expected. The extensive training is exemplified by dishes like a watercress soup with oysters enveloped in milk skin or a corned pork jowl that one reviewer dubbed "the best piece of swine to ever cross my lips." We suggest you reserve one of the six seats at the counter, where you can "just tell James to work his magic" and sit back and wait for "an explosion of synergistic flavors."
Given that when most people travel to New Orleans their idea of dining out extends to things like po’boys and gumbo, we applaud Phillip Lopez for showing the courage to open this type of fine dining restaurant in New Orleans. It features a 17-seat counter that allows diners to watch the chefs perform their magic, and guests are plied with interesting creations that are riffs on the local cuisine, such as a muffuletta made with ‘nduja, face bacon, olive salad and Grana Padano; fried chicken paired with fried-chicken-flavored cotton candy; and the simply titled Breakfast – country ham with a sous vide egg and redeye gravy. After dinner you can head upstairs to Root2 (Root Squared), one of the coolest cocktail bars in New Orleans.
After years of running Atlanta's top Japanese restaurant, Sotohiro Kosugi shipped his Suisin knives to Manhattan. Hiring the architect who designed the Momofuku restaurants, you can now find him slicing fish in a sleek-looking space in the heart of Greenwich Village. Kosugi's cuisine is focused on creative sashimi preparations, like thinly sliced fluke flavored with yuzu or long fin squid wrapped around a quail egg and uni, a dish Tom Colicchio told us was "one of the best things I ever ate." While her husband stands behind the sushi counter garnering attention, Mrs. Kosugi is back in the kitchen, quietly preparing the cooked food, like light-as-air tempura or a broiled langoustine stuffed with mushrooms and uni, that rivals her husband's raw fish dishes for deliciousness.
In a city that is overflowing with Cal-Ital restaurants, a chef has a difficult task insetting himself apart. But with "a command of culinary technique rarely seen in an Italian restaurant," Michael Tusk does just that. Everyone raves about Tusk's handmade pastas, like spaghetti with clams, melon and espresso, and trofie “frutti di mare,” topped with wild nettle and Pianogrillo Particella 34 olive oil. Those who are avoiding carbs can opt for starters like octopus that Tusk tenderizes by hand, and mains like Liberty duck with a blood orange glaze and fennel mostarda. The lovely ambiance and the warm welcome drew positive comments, with one person praising the front of the house for "greeting guests as if they were coming to their home for dinner."
Creative, playful, balanced and delicious food” were the words one reviewer bestowed upon Bryce Shuman’s cooking. Shuman has put his experience to good use (you can count Eleven Madison Park among the places he worked before opening Betony) in order to create dishes like marinated trout roe with puffed rice and cucumber, a hen’s egg with black trumpet mushrooms and cavatelli and what has become his signature dish – poached lobster with chestnuts and a spiced bisque. One thing that attracted a few negative comments was the décor. But most people were willing to look past the environment in order to enjoy the cooking of “a chef who is on track for a higher rating” working from “a Midtown location that is convenient to get to from all parts of Manhattan.”
Imagine a restaurant that serves a myriad of different types of small plates, ranging from traditional tapas to molecular gastronomic creations, located alongside a trendy hotel bar packed with hordes of people. That's the best way to describe this restaurant from José Andres, located in the SLS Hotel, where the combination of "the food, the space, the people is unlike anything you've seen in L.A. or likely anywhere else." While it is easy to like the classic fare like shrimps in garlic sauce, most of the comments were directed at the modern tapas Andres serves, like foie gras cotton candy, modern olives, miso linguini with smoked trout roe, tomato, lemon and chervil and Andres’ own take on a Philly Cheesesteak—air bread, cheddar, Wagyu beef.”
After earning a spot on our 2011 list, only to tumble to the Just Missed list the next year, Ben Sukle’s restaurant has once again returned to our Top 100 list in 2015. It’s a great accomplishment for Sukle, who left the safe confines of The Dorrance to open this cozy, 18-stool restaurant near the Johnson & Wales campus. Sukle has an amazing touch with vegetables, mixing them with local seafood in clever ways, like kernels of sweet corn laced with thin slices of Point Judith squid and nasturtium flowers and a dish of warm Jonah crab served with new potatoes, green tomatoes, egg and spicy grains.