February 23, 2011
Babbo, New York City
What can you say about this place that hasn't already been said? The pasta! That pork chop! Mario Batali is a genius! Rock music in a fine dining restaurant? Brilliant! At this longtime darling of the critics, after more than 12 years, you're still at the mercy of the reservation gods if you want to get in — buona fortuna.
Frank Pepe Pizzeria, New Haven, Conn.
If you want to discuss the loaded topic of America's best pizza with any authority, you've got to make a pilgrimage to this legendary New Haven spot. What should you order at this checklist destination? Two words: clam pie. This is a Northeastern pizza genre unto its own, and Pepe's is the best of them all — freshly-shucked, briny littleneck clams, an intense dose of garlic, olive oil, oregano, and grated cheese atop a charcoal-colored crust. The advanced move? Clam pie with bacon (pictured). Just expect to wait in line if you get there after 11:30 a.m. on a weekend.
Del Posto, New York City
Having earned a coveted four-star rating in The New York Times (the first Italian restaurant to do so since 1974), Joe Bastianich and Mario Batali's temple of contemporary Italian fine dining ranks in a class of its own. In a space that is both luxurious and remarkably comfortable, executive chef Mark Ladner, with the help of pastry chef Brooks Headley, serves dishes that build on the classics with a true innovative spirit.
Frasca, Boulder, Colo.
Taking its inspiration from Northern Italy's Friuli region, but using locally-sourced ingredients, including organic meats, Frasca proposes a menu ranging from imported and domestic salumi to unusual zlikrofi pasta (stuffed with musetto sausage) to beef short ribs two ways. Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey and chef Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson, the co-owners, are currently producing their own Friulian wine — but the wine list in general is superb.
Pizzeria Bianco, Phoenix, Ariz.
Since Serious Eats founder and pizza maven Ed Levine named the pie at Pizzeria Bianco the best pizza in America (a judgment he recently repeated in Every Day with Rachael Ray), this desert classic has become a go-to destination for pizza fanatics. But Bronx-born owner Chris Bianco serves not only addictive thin crust pizzas, but also fantastic antipasto (involving wood oven-roasted vegetables), perfect salads, and homemade country bread. (Reservations are accepted only for six or more, so be prepared to wait.)
Osteria Mozza, Los Angeles
Nancy Silverton, whose La Brea Bakery changed the game for artisanal bread in America, teams up here with New York-based Italian-food moguls Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich in this lively urban inn, complete with mozzarella bar, unusual pasta (calf’s brain ravioli, spaghetti with marinated white anchovies), and main dishes ranging from sea trout with lentils to grilled pancetta-wrapped quail.
Locanda Verde, New York City
Chef Andrew Carmellini’s rustic Italian tavern restaurant, located in the Greenwich Hotel in Tribeca, serves up delicious food from morning to late night. Don’t miss pastry chef Karen DeMasco’s delicious baked treats, or any of the pastas on the menu.
Marea, New York City
One of the most original and consistently wonderful upscale Manhattan restaurant newcomers in recent memory, this very handsome restaurant on the site of the old San Domenico, specializes in exquisitely fresh fish and shellfish in Italian-inspired preparations (crostini with lardo and sea urchin!) by skilled chef Michael White.
A little jewel box of a place, where chef Marc Vetri offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties (foie gras pastrami with strawberry mostarda, almond ravioli with truffle fonduta, crisp-skinned roast baby goat), served with precision and grace.
The more casual, trattoria-like offshoot of Vetri, Osteria is a big, lively place where the pizzas are terrific (try the octopus and smoked mozzarella) and the cooking is homey but first-rate, from veal liver ravioli with figs to rabbit stewed with pancetta over intensely flavored polenta.
Al Forno, Providence, R.I.
Husband-and-wife owner-chefs George Germon and Johanne Killeen received the Insegna del Ristorante Italiano from the Italian government, a rare honor for Americans, attributable to their informed passion for pasta along with their invention of the grilled pizza. They also, though, aim the culinary spotlight on Rhode Island's defining vegetables — corn, squash, beans, and tomatoes — prepared simply, with the authentic Italian panache one would expect of multiple James Beard honorees.
Valentino, Los Angeles
Piero Selvaggio opened Valentino almost 40 years ago, when L.A. Italian dining meant spaghetti with red sauce and veal parmigiana, and he was in no small part responsible for changing how not just Calfornia but all of America looked at (and ate) the cooking of his native land. Sourcing the best products from both California and Italy, building a wine list (Italian and otherwise) that is one of the most comprehensive in the country, and serving both classic and imaginative Italian food with consummate skill, Selvaggio created an enduring gastronomic landmark.