Best American Cuisine
How did a chef whose innovative restaurant in Manhattan failed and who headed west to cook in a downtown L.A. hotel suddenly emerge in the Napa Valley to create a restaurant to rival the great three-star establishments of rural France? Hard work and outsize talent, most probably. Taking over what had been a good but far simpler restaurant, chef Thomas Keller approached contemporary American food with French technique and his French Laundry established new standards for fine dining in this country.
Having triumphed in California, Thomas Keller returned to New York with this elegant dining room overlooking Central Park in the Time-Warner Center. Per Se upholds the standards set by The French Laundry, and — despite the defection of longtime chef Jonathan Benno to open his own place (Lincoln) — it remains one of the outstanding dining experiences in the city.
Chez Panisse is, of course, where it all started, four decades ago this year. Before Chez Panisse, practically nobody in America served only fresh local foods and wrote menus according to the season, if not the day. Practically nobody cared like Alice Waters and her associates did. It has become fashionable to criticize this culinary icon as (take your pick) tired, irrelevant, pretentious — but the truth is that the food is still superb, both in the one-menu-a-night downstairs restaurant and the lively, diversified upstairs Café. A must.
Chez Panisse ©Aya Brackett
Patrick O'Connell, self-taught as a chef, opened this restaurant in 1978 in what was originally a garage in a little town about an hour's drive from D.C. He formed alliances with local farmers and artisanal producers long before it was fashionable, and developed into a sophisticated modern American chef of the highest order. His partnership with Inn co-founder Reinhardt Lynch ended in 2007, but praise for The Inn at Little Washington has continued.
A Pacific Northwestern landmark, open since 1950, serving fresh, seasonal dishes that are more polished than cutting edge, in a rustic-modern space whose use of native wood and stone evokes forests and streams. The Dungeness crab cakes and Wagyu steak tartare are definitive, and the grilled king salmon is about as good as it get.
A New York original, with a stunning interior designed by Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson, a faithful clientele of Gothamite high-rollers, and an American menu that offers few surprises but usually manages to satisfy everyone’s tastes. This is the place to order things like assorted cold seafood, smoked salmon carved tableside, grilled Dover sole, pheasant coq au vin, or crisp farmhouse duck, then sit back and dine like a grownup.
Jennifer Calais Smith
Located in downtown Chicago, Publican serves up a beer-focused menu in a rustic space reminiscent of a European beer hall. From farm-fresh pork to hand-selected fish and seafood preparations, each dish is simply prepared and beautifully presented; don’t miss their frites, touted as the best in town.
The Fearrington House Restaurant has kept its AAA Five Diamond rating for 16 years and is the only restaurant of its caliber to receive Green Certification from the Green Restaurant Association. Executive chef Colin Bedford offers a highly refined blend of classical French and New American cuisine, inspired by his commitment to environmental sustainability.
Behind the critical acclaim he has earned for the modern French cuisine at Restaurant Eve, chef/owner Cathal (pronounced CA-hull) Armstrong, a native Dubliner, has a simple philosophy: “Nature is perfect. Extract the flavor. Enhance it. Don’t take away from it.” In addition to the upscale cuisine in what Armstrong calls his Tasting Room, there's excellent but less formal fare, with multi-cultural influences, in the Bistro.
According to Michael Schwartz, winner of the 2010 James Beard Award for Best Southern Chef, the most important thing you can take away from dining at this New York Times Top 10 establishment is: Know Your Source. The restaurant procures its Old World rustic-breed chickens, for instance, from North Carolina's Joyce Foods, the only producer of Label Rouge poultry in the U.S.; heirloom tomatoes figure not only on the menu (more than once), but as decor in the minimalist dining room.
Redd is known for both chef Richard Reddington’s unique global/American cuisine and pastry chef Nicole Plue’s award-winning desserts. Its pristine, modern dining room puts the focus on the food and sets the tone for Reddington’s thoughtful take on Napa dining.
Boulevard is the perfect neighborhood eatery. It exudes the warm, relaxed San Franciscan ambience that marks many of the city’s best restaurants, but chef and owner Nancy Oakes aims high with her hearty but modern, sophisticated American cuisine.
Chef and owner Michael Schlow has made a mark on Boston with his award-winning French-American food. Now a decade old, Radius still draws crowds looking for an urbane dining experience, from the lauded $19 burger to one of the rarefied five-course tasting menus.
Good Essen, LLC
High-profile organo-loca-sustainavore Dan Barber has found the perfect home at Blue Hill Stone Barns, a beautiful restaurant in a bucolic but hard-working setting on a year-round farm and educational center. Most of what you eat here will be grown, raised, and/or processed on the property, and Barber’s modern American food is full of color and flavor.