Top Restaurants in USAGalavante Confidential – Destination Restaurants
Some people eat to live. We live to eat. And if you’re like us, the dishes you experience at a particular destination are often as memorable as the destinations themselves. Consider the lobster ravioli at Fiola in D.C. – whole chunks of lobster are enveloped in a thin ravioli, floating in a frothy lobster cappuccino sauce. With two bonus claws and a tail. We almost didn’t notice Justice Sotomayor dining nearby.
You’ve heard of destination hotels and spas, worthy of a visit in their own right. Allow us to introduce our favorite new concept: destination restaurants. Whether we’re on a Tour de Uptown (Daniel for duck terrine, Le Bernardin for baked lobster goulash, and Jean-Georges for butternut squash sorbet) or chartering a Learjet for an evening of French Laundry’s tasting menu, there’s really no stopping us.
And now there’s a new crop of destination restaurants elbowing their way into the upper echelon of the Michelin Guide. They may not have three-star ratings (yet), but trust us, they’re well worth the trip.We’re as interested in Vintage Cave’s vanilla bean macaron and caviar as we are in hiking Honolulu’s Diamond Head. And really, who can concentrate at the San Francisco Ballet when you’ve got charcoal-grilled lamb belly at Benu to look forward to?
A word to the wise: You’re not the only one eager to experience the culinary world’s latest and greatest, so be sure to secure a reservation before you fuel the jet. Here are the top five restaurants to speed-dial first.
Benu, San Francisco
In the kitchen: Chef-Owner Corey Lee, formerly Chef de Cuisine of The French Laundry.
What’s cooking: A 17-course tasting menu – offered a la carte Tuesday–Thursday – that highlights Asian ingredients (sea cucumbers, rice cakes) with a Western spin.
Standouts: Faux shark’s fin soup with dungeness crab, jinhua ham, black truffle custard, and homemade pumking tofu.
Price: Appetizers $14–22; entrees $26–42; tasting menu $180/person
Reserve: You can make a reservation up to two months in advance via phone (10am–4pm, Tuesday–Saturday) or online. But, procrastinators can still get lucky, even a couple of days out. Though Benu’s online system may indicate that the restaurant is fully booked, it’s well worth calling, as they consistently open up tables when there’s a cancellation.
Atera, New York City
In the kitchen: Originally from Portland, Chef Matthew Lightner's impressive resume includes stints at Noma, Mugaritz, and L’Auberge.
What’s cooking: The tasting menu is whimsical and inspired, with 22 unique bites. You may do a double take with some of the dishes, as things are not always as they seem.
Standouts: Beer macarons and caviar. (We like caviar. Deal with it.) Also, squid-ink baguettes, and roses made of frozen rosewater.
Price: Tasting menu only, $165/person
Reserve: Book by phone (Mon–Fri 11am–2pm) or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Atera requires prepayment of the tasting menu upon reserving. Dinner seatings at 6pm and 9:30pm only.
R’evolution, New Orleans
In the kitchen: Culinary geniuses John Folse, a New Orleans native who goes haute with Southern cuisine without losing sight of its roots, and Rick Tramonto, who invented the caviar staircase at Tru in Chicago.
What’s cooking: R’evolution is set in a gorgeous dining room in the Royal Sonesta Hotel, the foodie hotel in New Orleans and a respite in the chaotic French Quarter. Order a la carte to create your own tasting menu among an encyclopedia of choices. Put your food and wine fate in the hands of the able staff, and you won’t be disappointed.
Standouts: Tramonto’s signature caviar staircase, the crab beignets, and the best shrimp and grits in Louisiana.
Price: Appetizers $10–20; entrees $19–48
Reserve: Yes, it’s popular, but R’evolution spreads out its reservations so you can generally get a table if you book up to a few days in advance, by phone or online. Also, this is a worthwhile mailing list to sign up for – you’ll be invited to range of special events, including rare jazz performances.
Vintage Cave, Honolulu
In the kitchen: Chef Chris Kajioka, a local who cut his teeth in the kitchens of Per Se and Aziza before returning home to open Hawaii’s most high-end restaurant.
What’s cooking: You can check your decisiveness at the door; a $295 tasting menu is your only option. Expect upscale American cuisine and top-notch ingredients.
Standouts: It’s hard to choose just one dish. We love the vanilla bean macaron and caviar, delicate sashimi plates, and sage canelés.
Price: Tasting menu only, at $295/person
Reserve: Book by phone up to 30 days in advance. Get here before the end of 2013. After that, dining at Vintage Cave is for members only – and private membership starts at $50K.
Next Restaurant, Chicago
In the kitchen: It’s Grant Achatz’s restaurant, but Chef Dave Beran (formerly at Alinea, and winner of a 2013 James Beard Award) is in the kitchen at the avant garde Next Restaurant.
What’s cooking: Every few months, the menu is completely rewritten with a new theme – adventure is the only constant. On the 2013 agenda: The Hunt, Vegan, and Bocuse d’Or.
Standouts: Highlights from The Hunt include venison heart tartare and duck tongues with cider vinegar.
Price: Tasting menu only. Tickets for The Hunt and Vegan range from $90 to $150/person, and for Bocuse d’Or it’s $195/person.
Reserve: Tickets/reservations must be pre-purchased online, but they can be nearly impossible to secure, so check Next’s Facebook page where you can buy tickets for last-minute cancellations.
(Photos courtesy of Benu (photographer Eric Wolfinger), Atera, and R’evolution; Vintage Cave photo courtesy of Kathy YL Chan)