Like many of the finest things in life, Eleven Madison Park is a restaurant that seems to get better with age. Although it opened to much fanfare and subsequent acclaim in 1998, Danny Meyers hiring of Swiss-born Daniel Humm to helm the kitchen in 2006 elevated the place to the level of the finest restaurants in the country. Humm who has won such plaudits for the restaurant as four stars from The New York Times, three from Michelin, and a number 24 ranking on last years Restaurant Magazine list of the worlds 50 best restaurants bought Eleven Madison from Meyer last year, in partnership with his front-of-house counterpart, Will Guidara, so standards aren't likely to fall.
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 classical technique, and his French Laundry established new standards for fine dining in this country. In 2012, Keller and the French Laundry received a coveted AAA Five Diamond Award, just another honor to add to the pile.
This elegant dining room overlooking Central Park in the Time Warner Center remains a must-have experience in New York, even for Sam Sifton, who chose the restaurant for his final review as The New York Times' restaurant critic last year giving it four stars. Per Se upholds the standards set by Thomas Keller at the French Laundry, winning a James Beard Award in 2011 for Outstanding Service and being named the 10th best restaurant in the world in this past year by Restaurant Magazine.
Gramercy Tavern is among the finest of the new wave of classic American restaurants. With Danny Meyer running the show and Michael Anthony taking control in the kitchen, the restaurant continues to excel at serving refined American cuisine without pretension. Anthony has become known for his simply prepared fish dishes in particular, such as sea bass with spaghetti squash, walnuts, and sherry sauce. And lets not forget that this is the restaurant that helped to jumpstart Tom Colicchios career; he was a founding partner with Meyer before eventually leaving to open his collection of Craft restaurants.
High-profile organo-loca-sustainavore Dan Barber has found the perfect home at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, a beautiful restaurant in a bucolic but hardworking 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 Barbers modern American food is full of color and flavor.
ABC Kitchen, a trendy New York City restaurant, is a celebration of the best ingredients that each season has to offer, all served in the classically elegant style that Jean-Georges is widely known for. Market-fresh dishes, like roasted kabocha squash toast with fresh ricotta and apple cider vinegar, stand alongside Vongerichten mainstays like pretzel-crusted calamari. The dcor is fresh, with an utterly cool urban sophistication that pairs perfectly with the style of the home furnishings store its connected to, ABC Carpet and Home. The restaurant was awarded the recognition of Best New Restaurant by the James Beard Foundation in 2011.
Its impossible to step inside Girl & the Goat, Stephanie Izards West Loop restaurant, and not feel the joy the sense of community and comfort are widely apparent, from the soundtrack of pop and rock hits playing in the background to the broad communal bar table. The best part about the restaurant, though, is how well made every dish is, from locally sourced creations like farm-fresh roasted beets with green beans, white anchovy, and avocado crme frache to such whimsical plates as escargot ravioli with tamarind-miso sauce.
At this ultimate haven for adventurous carnivores, chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo have won a host of awards for their hearty, straightforward, and innovative cooking. Dishes like their foie-gras-spiked loco moco, oxtail poutine, and "Buffalo style" crispy pig's tail keep chefs and civilians alike coming back for more.
What does one of the world's most successful avant-garde chefs do to challenge himself? Open a restaurant that completely changes concepts every few months. First it was Paris 1906, a menu paying homage to the creations of legendary chef Escoffier, then it was a futuristic Thai menu, and that was followed by a theme perhaps even more ambitious in scope: childhood. It was already hard enough to buy a ticket (there's a special online reservation system) and then chef Grant Achatz decided to do an homage to the now-closed, legendary elBulli. Some people play at being innovative. Not Achatz, and not Next's capable chef, Dave Beran, who has deftly executed the restaurant's concepts.
Canlis is a Pacific Northwestern landmark thats been open since 1950 and serves 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 crabcakes and Wagyu steak tartare are definitive dishes of the restaurant, and the grilled king salmon is about as good as it gets.
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 The Inn co-founder Reinhardt Lynch ended in 2007, but praise for this Five Diamond Award-winning property has continued.
Chef Joey Campanaros gem of a restaurant in Manhattans Greenwich Village is the quintessential neighborhood restaurant in philosophy warm lighting and dark wooden fixtures make for a cozy and romantic atmosphere thats echoed in the thoughtfully prepared Mediterranean-inspired dishes on the menu. Signature dishes include the famed meatball sliders and crisp, juicy, roasted chicken. Theres just one catch due to the extremely tight quarters, reserving a table at The Little Owl is no easy task.
Given that this Danny Meyer restaurant is located within the renowned Museum of Modern Art in New York, its no wonder that design plays such a vital role here, both in the dcor and on the plate. The restaurant is divided between the fine dining room and the bar room, which serves a completely different menu. The food is inspired by the cuisine of Alsace, but executed with a distinctly modern hand. The handcrafted cocktails, spiked with house-made liquors, and their notable wine program are also outstanding.
Four years after its opening, Minetta Tavern continues to demonstrate the vision of restaurateur Keith McNally and his partners, chefs Lee Hanson and Riad Nasr. Originally opened in 1937 and named for Minetta Brook (which once ran from 23rd Street to the Hudson), this Greenwich Village haunt was frequented by every literary figure of the day Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Eugene O'Neill, e.e. cummings, Dylan Thomas, and Joe Gould among them. The current incarnation boasts celebrities, too, but above all, the food is fantastic. Minetta has made its reputation on its fabulous Black Label Burger, ground dry-aged cte-de-buf with roasted marrow bones, and on potatoes, what potatoes! frites, Anna, aligot, and "punched." The crowds and the 6 p.m.- or 10:30 p.m.-only reservations aren't for everyone, but the new lunch service helps and brings with it one of New York's great new sandwiches: the French dip.
There was a time when many chefs felt obliged to list every single farm, grower, vintner, and cheesemaker on the menu. Then, there was the backlash. None of this seems to matter to chef Ray Garcia, whose philosophy at his Wilshire Boulevard restaurant is to put ingredients first, building a menu around what's in peak season (with the help of their in-house forager Kerry Clasby). The bistro menu features enough vegetables to have critics raving, and a pastaless lasagna keeps the gluten-free happy, but with a playful Bloody Mary menu (Foie Mary, anyone?) and dishes like the black truffle cavatelli and cte de boeuf for two, it doesnt skimp on the soul-satisfying stuff, either. With the queso fundido, theres even a nod to Garcias background.
Chef Suzanne Goin was nominated for a 2011 James Beard Award for her first endeavor, which remains as good as ever.The restaurant shines with a warm dining room, an enchanting patio, and a menu of bright, full-flavored food (ricotta dumplings with sunchokes and walnuts, slow-roasted lamb sirloin with parsnip pure), based on raw materials from sources "guided by principles of sustainability."
Napa Valley winemakers crowd into the unpretentious Mustards Grill to sample Cindy Pawlcyns American-international cooking, encompassing everything from wild mushroom tamales to grilled Laotian-style quail to seafood tostadas to one of Californias best burgers. Pawlcyn is one of the chefs that were part of making Napa into what it has become foodwise.
The second restaurant on this list from chef Andrew Carmellini (the first is Locanda Verde at #44), The Dutch serves elevated Italian- and American-inspired fare in a spirited yet unfussy setting. The whimsical nature of the restaurant is fully apparent in the dessert menu, which is chock-full of nostalgic Americana items, such as sandwich cookies and banana cream pie. Carmellini opened the second branch of his critically acclaimed restaurant in Miamis W Hotel this year. The location serves most of the same dishes that are available at the original, along with his take on a few Miami specialties, such as a grouper sandwich.
Most New York City restaurants would consider themselves lucky to even get a review in The Times. In the 27 years that its been around, Gotham Bar and Grill has been reviewed no fewer than six times by the Gray Lady. Even more impressive? It has scored 15 stars five three-star reviews (four is the best) since chef Alfred Portale took it over in 1985. You can argue about what other restaurants could better stand in for this Greenwich Village institution as the standard-bearer of American haute cuisine, but few would debate the merits of its classics or its long-term commitment to innovation.
There are restaurants you walk into, see the dcor, and shrug your shoulders, and then theres a restaurant like The Publican, a James Beard design award winner, which shows you what restaurant design can be. The cavernous, high-ceilinged affair filled with communal seats and warm hanging globes simultaneously makes you feel like youve stepped into a contemporary fine dining establishment and a restaurant in a Charles Dickens novel. But this self-described beer-focused restaurant in the West Loop by chefs Paul Kahan and Brian Huston is much more than ambiance and even beer. This may look like a European beer hall, but the food is next-level. Yes, there are potted rillettes, aged hams, duck hearts, boudin blanc, and suckling pig, but there are also fresh oysters, hamachi crudo, cured meats, and daily pickles. You sit, you drink, you eavesdrop on the people next to you, and on no occasion do you skip ordering the amazing spicy pork rinds.
Much of the charm at Beast, apart from that provided by the wide-ranging modern American menu (need we add that it's local and sustainable in nature?), comes from the intimate atmosphere. Chef-owner Naomi Pomeroy accepts just enough reservations for two dinner seatings Monday through Saturday and two brunch seatings on Sunday. Guests dine at a pair of communal tables, where they are served the prix fixe menu of the day (no exceptions). Those who are lucky enough to snag a seat at the tables are sure to be treated like family.
What do you get when you go to Father's Office, chef Sang Yoon's gastropub in Los Angeles (now in both Santa Monica and Culver City)? No table service. And no pretention. There's a wood-paneled, comfortable vibe of a great local lived-in spot, but it's clean and to the point. There are great craft beers and small bites (think smoked eel, sobrasada, spinach mushrooms, and white anchovies). You can also "Eat Big" and opt for the spicy oatmeal stout ribs or the bistro steak. But lets face it, you're here for the Office Burger, which many people in L.A. refer to as the city's best burger. There's nothing bougie or frou-frou about it, just caramelized onion, bacon, Gruyre, Maytag blue, and arugula. It's a very, very juicy burger with funk, freshness, and great flavor. Checklist item? You bet.
Thomas Kellers fourth showing on this list, Ad Hoc began as his opportunity to showcase the dishes that he grew up eating, presented in a warmer and more casual setting than fancy places like Per Se or the French Laundry provide. Ad Hoc started as a simple, temporary concept with a single, constantly changing, four-course, family-style meal served nightly (except for the legendary buttermilk fried chicken, which is available every day except during the winter), designed as a space-holder while Keller developed another restaurant here. The response was so positive, though, that Keller and his staff decided to make this one permanent. The restaurant is currently undergoing a remodel and will open again in March 2012.
The latest venture by the chef duo behind Animal (a repeat fixture on our 101 Best list), Son of a Gun does to fish what their first restaurant does to meat; that is, find ingenious ways to take familiar tastes and recast them in new roles with more esoteric ingredients. Lauded chefs Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo use the element of surprise to their advantage they prefer low-key interiors and minimal flourishes to spotlight the complexity of their seemingly simplistic "beach shack" food. To add to diners sense of excitement, the menu at Son of a Gun, like Animal, is ever-shifting, so one day it might include a smoked fish dip and another alligator schnitzel, but oysters on the half-shell and a lobster roll with celery and lemon aoli are in heavy rotation likely due to demand.
The Four Seasons is 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 grown-up.
Boulevard exudes the warm, relaxed San Franciscan ambience that marks many of the city's best restaurants, but chef and owner Nancy Oakes, named 2010 Best California Chef by the James Beard Foundation, aims high with her hearty but modern, sophisticated American cuisine the likes of Monterey red abalone with abalone mushrooms, artichokes, sunchokes, and octopus; wood-oven-roasted California lamb with potatoes crushed with nettles, sauted chard, and romanesco broccoli with Tokyo turnips; and DeVoto Gardens apple tart with cranberry caramel and bruled fig.
Hurry, you only have until Aug. 31, 2012, to eat at this landmark restaurant. In January, Trotter announced that he'd be closing the restaurant after 25 years of groundbreaking, award-winning cuisine, and instead moving on to academe. The classic dining experience, Charlie Trotter's Grand Menu, with items like Hawaiian big eye tuna with sunchokes, serrano ham, and New Zealand spinach, references a world of influences while remaining quintessentially American.
A whimsical name for a pretty straightforward restaurant, The Walrus and the Carpenter is a relatively new addition to the hip Ballard dining scene. At the raw bar, bearded men pedal eight different kinds of oysters from metal baskets of ice while diners take in the industrial-chic interiors along with steak tartare or geoduck chowder. Also the chef and owner of Boat Street Caf and Boat Street Pickles, Renee Erickson embraces the artisanal, locavore ethos typical of the Pacific Northwest but is also heavily influenced by French cuisine, which can be evidenced in dishes like the duck rillettes, and she has created a menu of Francophile bar food to enjoy while singing a sea shanty and sipping on a fancy cocktail.
As the owner of 18 restaurants, Mina is one of the most successful chefs and restaurateurs in the country, but he's not a TV food star (yet) and he remains somewhat under the radar. He has become an important figure in the Las Vegas restaurant scene, but its his flagship restaurant in San Francisco, Michael Mina, which was named as Esquires Best Restaurant of 2011, that gets the most praise for its Japanese- and French-inspired take on the best American ingredients.