Few things in life can be more exciting — or more daunting — than the Special Occasion. Be it a birthday, holiday, anniversary, promotion, graduation, or something different altogether, special occasions call for special meals, eaten at special restaurants. There will always be a reason to visit a fancy restaurant for a fancy meal, and finding that perfect restaurant can prove to be pretty stressful. That’s why we’ve tracked down the best restaurant for celebrating a special occasion in every state: These places will always be a sure bet.
So what exactly makes a restaurant an ideal special occasion place? These are restaurants where you’ll want to dress up a little beforehand, and be prepared to spend a little (or a lot) more money than you usually do when dining out. Maybe you had to work hard at securing that in-demand reservation. Maybe there’s a white tablecloth on your table, and a menu that offers high-end fare (especially celebratory dishes like steak and lobster). If you’re really looking to splurge, maybe there’s a prix-fixe menu and add-ons like caviar and foie gras. There should ideally be a good wine list and a wide variety of cocktails, and of course a nice selection of desserts. It should be romantic, but not so romantic that a family will feel out of place. And a private room for larger groups is always nice. Above all, it should be a restaurant that makes you feel special just by being there. After all, we’re celebrating a special occasion!
This legendary restaurant was focusing on local and sustainable ingredients before anyone coined the phrase “locavore.” Highlands Bar & Grill put the Birmingham, Alabama dining scene on the map when it opened in 1982, and chef and co-owner Frank Stitt (who runs Highlands with his wife, Pardis) has already been inducted into the James Beard Foundation’s Who's Who of Food & Beverage. The restaurant has been nominated for Outstanding Restaurant seven times. What to expect from a meal at Highlands? It’s sometimes best to hear it straight from the source: “We serve a daily changing menu informed by classic French technique, incorporating the foods of our Southern region. We love the ever-changing basket that each harvest allows, from the first springtime shad roe to the blue-green live and kickin' soft shell crabs that arrive a few weeks later. Summer's shell beans, tomatoes, okra, and watermelon bring a smile. The cooler weather game of venison and quail, root vegetables, and greens creates sustenance. Our dishes are prepared with respect and restraint to allow each ingredient's inherent goodness to shine through.”
Located in the luxurious Hotel Captain Cook in Anchorage, Alaska, Crow’s Nest offers 360-degree views and an upscale menu from chef Reuben Gerber. It’s a AAA four-diamond restaurant with plenty of dark woods and a 10,000 bottle wine list, and the menu is positively luxurious: Indulge in foie gras with pistachio, gooseberries, apricots, and fruit coulis; a daily risotto; Alaska king crab bisque with sherry gelée; prime beef rib-eye with roasted broccolini and bordelaise; and duck breast with porcini duxelles, Parisian gnocchi, duck pancetta, spruce tip salt, and crowberry gastrique.
Talking Stick Resort
Offering one of the best sunset views in Arizona, Orange Sky is perched atop Talking Stick Resort and offers 360-degree views from floor-to-ceiling windows 15 stories up. Snag one of the high-backed enclaves on the side of the dining room and you can enjoy dishes like wagyu beef cheek-stuffed marrow bone with Calabrian chutney and celery root purée; a chilled seafood tower; or an elk loin or center cut beef tenderloin sliced tableside in nearly complete privacy.
A serene and stylish white-tablecloth restaurant inside the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas, One Eleven has hardwood floors, original artwork on the walls, and plenty of natural light. Executive chef Joël Antunes won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southeast in 2005 for his Atlanta restaurant Joël, and his culinary skills are on serious display here in dishes like cured and smoked pork loin with mostarda chutney; roast duck breast with duck tortellini and honey ginger sauce; grilled prime beef fillet with bordelaise; and seared diver scallops with shiitake mushrooms, potato gnocchi, and lemon beurre blanc. The wine list is also expertly curated.
The French Laundry/Yelp
Thomas Keller is a perfectionist who approaches contemporary American food with classical technique. His French Laundry in Napa Valley, California, with its now-famous blue door, has established new standards for fine dining in this country. Two $310 nine-course tasting menus are devised each day (one traditional, one vegetarian), and no single ingredient is ever repeated throughout the meal. The classic "oysters and pearls," pearl tapioca with Island Creek oysters and white sturgeon caviar, is a perennial favorite. While items like sautéed fillet of Chatham Bay cod, sweet butter poached Stonington Maine lobster, and charcoal grilled Snake River Farms “calotte [rib-eye cap] de boeuf” may sound simple enough, the refinement with which they are presented are anything but. In 2012 The French Laundry received a coveted AAA Five Diamond Award, and it is perennially named one of the top 10 restaurants in America.
Frasca Food and Wine/Yelp
In the Friuli region of northeastern Italy, a frasca is a roadside farm restaurant, serving simple regional food. Frasca Food & Wine captures the spirit of these venues in Boulder, Colorado, while also championing the vast diversity of Colorado’s unique culinary resources. Owners Bobby Stuckey and Lachlan Mackinnon-Patterson have created a warm and inviting space that can accommodate an impromptu dinner or an evening of fine dining.
David Burke Prime/Yelp
The best steakhouse in Connecticut is tucked away inside the gleaming and expansive Foxwoods Resort Casino. David Burke Prime executive chef Pedro Avila dry-ages his steaks on site in a salt-brick aging room, and the overall experience can compete with any of the best steakhouses in New York. Steaks here age from 28 to up to 45 days, and the 55-day dry-aged rib-eye for two is an absolute masterpiece. The menu is rounded out by live lobsters, massive shellfish towers, prime rib, and playful appetizers including surf and turf dumplings and candied bacon.
The Green Room, located inside the elegant Hotel Du Pont in Wilmington, Delaware, is about as ornate as a restaurant can get. The walls are oak-paneled, the ceiling is coffered and oak beamed, rich draperies hang from the windows, and lighting is provided by ornate chandeliers and sconces. It’s also been recognized with the AAA Four-Diamond Award and Forbes Four-Star Award. Even though it may be dripping with Gilded Age opulence, chef Keith Miller’s menu is anything but staid. Standouts include pan-seared sea scallops with smoked blueberry purée and Cheddar grits; grilled veal porterhouse with roasted garlic demi saice, creamed fingerlings, and tri-color baby carrots; and fillet of salmon with red curry coconut cream sauce, forbidden rice, and local asparagus.
Don’t come to Bern’s if you're on a diet; this steakhouse in Tampa, Florida, is about wonderful excess. There are 20 kinds of caviar on the menu of this big, old-style, legendary establishment. The menu also includes two preparations of foie gras, two kinds of steak tartare (one with truffles), oysters three ways, endless varieties of fish and shellfish, 16 different cheeses both domestic and imported, nearly 50 desserts (including gluten- and sugar-free varieties) — served upstairs in a special dessert room — and a list of about 7,000 wines (5,500 of them red). Oh, and did we mention steaks? There are seven different cuts in a total of 51 different sizes (from 6 ounces of filet mignon to 60 ounces of strip sirloin), broiled to eight different temperatures, from very rare ("no crust, cold and raw") to, gulp, well-done ("sturdy little crust, no color, no juice, dried out"). Come hungry.
Part of the Star Provisions complex, Bacchanalia has long been one of Atlanta, Georgia's premier fine-dining destinations. Executive chef David Carson and chef de cuisine Matthew Adolfi propose an elegant five-course menu for $95 (a comparative bargain), with suggested wines in two serving sizes. Start, for instance, with crab fritter with Thai essence, citrus, and avocado; then go on to Maple Leaf duck with chicory and peppercorn; followed by a cheese course of Georgia Gold Cheddar with walnut, endive, and apple; and finish with chocolate cake with olive oil ice cream and puffed rice.
Considered a godfather of modern Hawaiian cuisine, Alan Wong creates traditional cultural dishes with a contemporary twist using the finest, island-grown ingredients at his eponymous restaurant, a Honolulu staple since 1995. While maintaining close relationships with Hawaii’s farmers and agricultural society, Wong has won a James Beard Award for Best Chef in the Northwest and was named Master of Hawaii Regional Cuisine by Bon Appétit, among numerous other awards. These accolades are immediately apparent upon tucking into dishes such as the steamed shellfish bowl with lobster, shrimp, clams, mussels, and snapper in a bouillabaisse-style broth; ginger-crusted long tail red snapper with miso sesame vinaigrette; or macadamia nut-coconut lamb chops.
The upscale and classy Chandlers is an institution in Boise, Idaho. It features a stylish martini bar, live jazz nightly, and four varieties of beef: USDA Prime from Chairman’s Reserve, natural and organic grass-fed beef from Oregon’s Painted Hills, American Kobe from Snake River Farms, and Japanese wagyu. The 8-ounce center cut American Kobe might just be the single best steak you’ll find in the state, especially when paired with house-made béarnaise and a side of crazy-good mashed potatoes. Chandler’s also happens to have one of the state’s best seafood selections — you just might forget it’s landlocked.
The menu at Alinea can sometimes sound deceptively simple ("scallop with citrus aroma," "woolly pig, fenel, orange, squid," and suchlike), but what shows up on the plate is absolutely original and almost always dazzlingly good. Chef/owner Grant Achatz consistently turns out some of the most imaginative and delicious contemporary (or modernist, if you will) cuisine in the country, and it's better than ever after closing down a couple years ago for an extensive five month renovation. The Chicago, Illinois, restaurant now offers three distinct experiences: The Kitchen Table, a six-person kitchenside private dining room; The Gallery, a 16- to 18-course meal with two nightly seatings of 16; and The Salon, a “more approachable” 10- to 12 course menu served in the three second-floor salons. At Alinea, you never quite know what you’re going to be served, but a paradigm-shifting experience is all but guaranteed.
Setting foot into St. Elmo is like stepping back in time — to 1902 Indiana to be exact. The saloon-style décor hasn’t changed, save for a '90s-era expansion, and neither has the menu: There’s a wide selection of wet-aged steaks and chops, a classic shrimp cocktail with sinus-clearing cocktail sauce and saltines, a wedge salad, and a loaded baked potato, all served with the professionalism you’d expect from a place that’s been doing it for more than 100 years (one waiter has been on staff since 1976). St. Elmo is steakhouse-meets-comfort food, an inviting place where time really stands still. That commitment to keeping the past alive doesn’t mean that quality suffers, however; the menu proudly displays the names of 17 local sources for the food served.
An ideal white tablecloth steakhouse, 801 is a perfect restaurant for celebrating a special occasion in Iowa. All steaks are USDA Prime, and all the standard cuts are covered — strip, fillet, rib-eye, porterhouse — with a few surprises, like a stellar prime rib, a 24-ounce Delmonico steak, and fillet medallions topped with lobster and wild mushrooms. Be sure to start with the pancetta-wrapped scallops or lobster corn dogs, and be sure to set aside time to study the wine list.
Scotch & Sirloin/Yelp
With more than 50 years under its belt as Wichita, Kansas’ top steakhouse, “The Scotch” serves steaks from Sterling Silver (which sources its meat from the Great Plains), ages it in-house for 30 days, portions them into steaks in-house, and cooks them under a 1,600-degree broiler. The prime rib is legendary, the steak tartare and fried lobster strips are must-orders, and the wine list is spectacular. It’s also one of the few steakhouses that offers an in-house butcher shop, so you can grab a couple rib-eyes on your way out as well.
When restaurateur Brian McCarty realized that nowhere in the Lexington, Kentucky, area could he get a steak as good as the USDA Prime cuts he’d eaten in Chicago, he decided to singlehandedly change that. Today Malone’s is one of the city’s best restaurants, and they’re even selling their own line of steaks (purchased from those same Chicago butchers) online. At the restaurant, a wide variety of steaks are cooked under an infrared broiler, including 12-ounce prime sirloin, filet mignon with king crab legs or crispy fried lobster tail, and rib-eye, and prime rib is also a standout. Make sure you start with their famous steak and potato soup.
A slice of New Orleans, Louisiana, dining history — it opened in 1880 — this culinary landmark has long been collecting accolades for everything from its service to its wine list and of course its "haute Creole" cuisine. Two of its alumni, it might be noted, are Paul Prudhomme and Emeril Lagasse — but with chef Tory McPhail at the ovens for over a decade, Commander’s Palace is still going strong. Come hungry and ready for such dishes as the legendary turtle soup; pecan-crusted Gulf fish with crushed corn cream, spiced pecans, petite herbs, and prosecco-poached Louisiana blue crab; and the 14-ounce center- cut veal chop Tchoupitoulas over goat cheese grits and local vegetables.
Fore Street's wood-roasted specialties have kept the restaurant at the top of the heap in Portland, Maine, since 1996. Locally harvested mussels, diver scallops, turnspit-roasted chicken and pork loin, marinated hanger steak, and other basics, accompanied by vegetables grown or foraged from nearby farms and fields, are the staples of the seasonally changing menu here. Fore Street is all about hearth, rustic charm, and a lack of artifice. The open kitchen center stage fascinates, its chefs behind a vast butcher block working the brick oven as open flames lick the meat that turns on a rotisserie, embers flying. Co-owner and chef Sam Hayward was a pioneer in locally derived, simply cooked restaurant fare at Fore Street.
Open since 1997 in Baltimore, Maryland, restaurateur Tony Foreman and chef Cindy Wolf’s Charleston has been the go-to destination for well-to-do Baltimoreans for more than two decades. Drawing on both French and South Carolina Lowcountry influences, the restaurant offers a prix fixe menu of three to six courses of dishes like cornmeal-fried oysters with lemon-cayenne mayonnaise and Upland cress; shrimp and grits with tasso ham, andouille, and Anson Mills grits; sweetbreads en cocotte with seared foie gras, oyster mushrooms, macaroni, and cognac cream; and grilled French quail with pecan stuffing, Vidalia onion beignets, and banyuls reduction. Each menu item has a corresponding wine pairing; we suggest you take them up on their offer.
James Beard Award-winning chef Lydia Shire is one of Boston, Massachusetts’ legendary chefs, and her restaurant, Scampo, is one of the best Italianish restaurants you’ll ever dine at. While Italian at heart, Shire isn’t afraid to incorporate a tandoori oven or Spanish ibèrico ham into the mix, and the menu is fun and playful. This sense of playfulness extends into the dining room, where whimsical touches dot the brick walls and an open kitchen adds a dose of energy to the proceedings. But all the hallmarks of a great special occasion spot are still there: well-spaced tables, dim lighting, white tablecloths, and flawless service.
Michael Symon is one of America’s most fearless, fun-loving, and unpredictable chefs, and at his entry into the Detroit, Michigan, dining scene, all of this is evident and more. The dinner menu at Roast contains delicious and unexpected twists including beef cheek pierogies, pork belly with watermelon and halloumi, and “roast beast” with cassoulet and pork sausage — and the steak selection isn’t fooling around. Dishes like filet mignon with crab béarnaise, dry-aged New York strip with smoked mushroom conserva, dry-aged rib-eye with preserved lemon and smoked garlic, and dry-aged porterhouse for two with marbled potato and caramelized onion will make immediately obvious why Symon is one America’s top chefs.
If you’re looking for a classic steakhouse experience and happen to be in Minnesota's Twin Cities, drop into the recently renovated Murray’s, which has been going strong since 1946. Opened by Art and Marie Murray, the restaurant is still in the family, and many of Marie’s old recipes are still used.
Their famed "Silver Butter Knife Steak for Two," a 28-ounce strip loin carved tableside, is one of the country’s great monuments to a well-made steak. Thankfully, the renovation didn’t do away with any of the restaurant’s classic charm (although it thankfully replaced the banquet hall-style pink drapes and chairs), and the classic neon sign is right where it’s always been.
The tight-knit city of Oxford, Mississippi, opened its arms to New Orleans-born chef John Currence when he launched City Grocery in 1992 and never let go. Snag a table on the second-floor balcony if it isn’t too warm outside and dine on Southern comfort favorites like shrimp and grits or a muffaletta (offered only at lunch, when you’ll struggle to decide between that, the burger, and the roast beef po’ boy), or indulge in delicious dishes like Mississippi pork osso bucco, smoked and grilled sumac duck breast, and Mississippi rabbit ragù. Don’t forget that Currence has created the best of both worlds for himself, something that you’ll probably want to take advantage of when it comes time for a nightcap: a chef’s restaurant downstairs, and the kind of bar where a chef would want to hang out after work upstairs.
Even in Kansas City, Missouri — a town known for great steak — Jess & Jim’s stands apart from the pack, and did so even before Calvin Trillin put it on the map in 1972, when he named it one of the country’s best steakhouses in Playboy. Family-owned and -operated since 1938, this no-frills, casual steakhouse is no pomp and all steak. The beef is from Wichita-based Sterling Silver and is hand-cut daily (trimmings are ground into meat for world-class burgers). It’s served completely seasoning-free, all the better to taste the meat in its unadorned glory. You could go for the KC strip, a cut that this restaurant helped to popularize, but you might as well go all out and order the "Playboy Strip," named in honor of the publication that helped make this place famous: a two-inch-thick, 25-ounce sirloin. Save room for the twice-baked potato.
Courtesy of TEN
Ten, located in the Northern Hotel in Billings, Montana, is a destination for locals looking to celebrate. Chef Nick Steen’s menu puts local ingredients to good (and creative) use in dishes like Montana-raised veal porterhouse with pesto couscous, sun-dried tomato cream, artichoke hearts, fried onion, and bourbon barrel-aged sherry vinegar; milk- braised pork shoulder with caramelized cabbage, local rye berries, and walnut gremolata; and local trout with white beans, Spanish chorizo, pickled peppers, and romesco. Be sure to start your meal with one of the classic drinks on the restaurant’s cocktail menu.
When Warren Buffett regularly holds court in your restaurant, you know you’ve got a keeper. That’s the case at Omaha, Nebraska, landmark Gorat’s, which has been going strong since 1944. It remained in the Gorat family until 2012, when it was purchased and given a renovation, but the quality and preparation of the steak (which comes from — where else? — Omaha Steaks) is as good as ever. For the true Buffett experience, do as he does and order the T-bone, rare, with a double order of hash browns, and a Cherry Coke.
The cooking is simply exquisite in this opulently furnished dining room in the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, which was the only three-Michelin-star restaurant in the city when the guide covered Vegas. As the first restaurant opened in America by the famed, award-winning Robuchon, who passed away last year, Joël Robuchon maintains the highest standards under the guidance of chef Christophe de Lellis. Everything is impeccable, from its superb service and impressive (and impressively pricey) wine list to such finely crafted dishes as Le Caviar Imperial, a disc of king crab topped with an ample amount of osetra caviar, atop a crustacean gelée dotted with cauliflower purée. The 18-course tasting menu, which was completely revamped two years ago, is a truly memorable experience — as well it ought to be at $445 a head, wine not included.
Hanover Street Chophouse might just be the swankiest restaurant in the entire state of New Hampshire; it’s clubby, elegant, and exactly the type of place where you’ll want to become a regular. Classing up downtown since 2005, an ideal meal there might start with a selection of local cheeses, thick-cut Neuske’s bacon, and a seafood tower, then continue with a dry-aged bone-in rib-eye and one of their six filet mignon preparations, in either 8 or 12 ounces (bacon maple burbon jam and blue cheese fondue are always good options). Make sure you accompany it with a wine from their 200-bottle collection.
Located inside a New Jersey farmhouse dating from the mid-1700s, the elegant and inviting Scalini Fedeli is entering its 24th year, still under the helm of founding chef Michael Cetrulo. With white tablecloths, high vaulted ceilings, and antique pine floors, just setting foot inside the restaurant sets the stage for a celebratory (and/or romantic) meal. Cetrulo’s menu fuses French and Italian; some standouts include diver sea scallop carpaccio with citrus dressing and tapenade; soft egg yolk raviolo filled with spinach and ricotta topped with Parmigiano and melted truffle butter; potato-crusted snapper over sautéed wild mushrooms with red wine reduction and roasted beets; and veal chop with porcini-Dijon sauce and braised vegetables. This restaurant was so successful that it spawned a New York City location in 2000, which is still going strong.
Anasazi Restaurant & Bar/Yelp
The luxurious Rosewood Inn of the Anasazi in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is home to the city's most upscale eatery, The Anasazi Restaurant. Chef Edgar Beas sources much of his menu from 13 different local farms, and the end result is a quintessential New Mexican dining experience. The menu is constantly changing, but sample menu items include duck breast with smoked corn pudding, summer squash, and husk cherry; pork belly with Anasazi bean, huitlacoche, wilted chard, and pork jus; and dry-aged prime strip loin, local mushrooms, kohlrabi, onion marmalade, and fingerling potato.
Although Eleven Madison Park opened to much fanfare and subsequent acclaim in 1998, it was Danny Meyer’s hiring of Swiss-born Daniel Humm to helm the kitchen in 2006 that elevated the place to the level of the finest restaurants in the country. Humm bought Eleven Madison from Meyer in 2011, in partnership with his front-of-house counterpart, Will Guidara, and didn’t miss a beat. The chef is firmly in control: While Humm will tailor his single $295 multi-course tasting menu to accommodate allergies, dietary restrictions, and ingredient preferences, there is no à la carte selection or smaller menu available. The particulars of the dishes change frequently, but the technique is contemporary French and modernist. The ingredients are heavily New York-based, and the culinary traditions on which the food is based are often those of Gotham street or deli food, producing notably unique results (a roasted dry-aged duck, scented with lavender and honey, is a standby). A recent renovation gently modernized the dining room (and completely overhauled the kitchen), and reservations are just as difficult to get as always. If you can snag one, however, and can spare the expense, there’s no better New York restaurant for a special-occasion meal.
Open since 1980 inside the AAA Five Diamond-rated, Relais and Châteaux-operated Fearrington House Inn just outside Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the elegant Fearrington House Restaurant offers four different menus, ranging between three and eight courses. The menus change regularly, as nearly every ingredient is either sourced from the property or from nearby farms and gardens, and they’re served in a series of intimate dining rooms inside an old farmhouse. Expect dishes like house-cured bacon with heirloom carrot, pistachio, Medjool date, and granola; black truffle agnolotti with walnut, Rainier cherry, chanterelle, and Madeira; and veal tenderloin with foie gras, truffle, celeriac, and nori from chef Colin Bedford, with an expertly curated wine and cocktail selection. Be sure to end your meal with the legendary hot chocolate soufflé.
Each of the five dining rooms at the spacious 40 Steak & Seafood represents a different aspect of North Dakota — women of the prairie, cattlemen, governors, oil booms, families — and they each offer different décor and furnishings. USDA Prime steaks offered include boneless rib-eye, bacon-wrapped fillet, flat iron, and hanger steak with gorgonzola mustard and bacon. But for a quintessential North Dakota culinary experience, splurge on one of their bone-in rib-eyes, dry aged for either 90, 150, or a whopping 260 days. That’s certainly something you don’t see too often.
With two locations in Cleveland, Ohio, Red is stylish, classy, and just about everything you look for in a steakhouse. Steaks are certified Angus and there are plenty of traditional classics like oysters, French onion soup, and shrimp cocktail, but you’ll also find unique offerings like a free-range veal chop stuffed with foie gras, mushrooms, and fontina as well as Italian options like lobster fra diavolo and linguine with clam sauce.
Their off-menu surf and turf, which pairs an herb-brushed tomahawk rib-eye with a king-crab-stuffed 16-ounce lobster tail, also might just be America’s best. High-rollers, take note: If you want to top your steak with seared foie gras with black truffle demi-glace, nobody will stop you.
Oklahoma City's upscale Red PrimeSteak is a sleek and modern steakhouse that serves some of the finest steaks and seafood in town. Splurge on a 40-day dry-aged rib-eye or New York strip and top it with your choice of more than a dozen crusts and sauces, including guajillo chile crust, roasted poblano chimichurri, brown sugar and sea salt, and homemade Worcestershire. There’s plenty to explore if you’re not in the mood for steak as well: the lobster-crusted seabass thermidor-style, jerk-ribbed red snapper, and fried chicken are also standouts.
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 family-style dinners served in an intimate atmosphere not much bigger than four or five of Portland, Oregon’s famed food carts. Chef–owner Naomi Pomeroy accepts just enough reservations for two six-course dinner seatings (6 p.m. and 8:45 p.m.) Wednesday through Saturday, as well as two three-course brunch services and one dinner service every Sunday. Patrons dine at a pair of communal tables (the restaurant seats just 24), where they are served the prix fixe menu of the day. Those lucky enough to snag a seat at the tables are sure to be treated like family (the best spot in the house, at the corner of the prep table in the center of the kitchen, only seats two).
Chef Marc Vetri 's 21 year-old Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, flagship Vetri Cucina offers diners sophisticated, hand-crafted Italian and Italianate specialties, served only in the form of six-course tasting menus. Available items are listed under Antipasti, Pasta, Secondi, and Dolce (dessert); chef de cuisine Matt Buehler will personalize the menu to your taste. You might end up with, for instance, roasted cauliflower with bagna cauda, lumache with duck ragù, guinea hen with seasonal mushrooms, and chocolate polenta soufflé for dessert. All is served with precision and grace, and there is a wine cellar of more than 2,500 bottles to choose from.
On South Main Street in the heart of Providence, Rhode Island, Al Forno offers quintessential Italian dining for those who can’t afford the flight across the Atlantic. 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 Award honorees. Sadly, George passed away a few years ago, but his flagship invention, grilled pizza, is still influencing chefs around the world, and Al Forno still serves the definitive version. In fact, it's the best pizza in Rhode Island.
When a restaurant is so venerable that it lands a spot on the National Register of Historic Places and Landmarks, you probably expect classic dishes that don't rock the boat. But McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina, is anything but traditional, with an innovative menu that changes regularly. In fall 2016, founding chef/ owner Sean Brock transformed the original McCrady's dining room into the more casual McCrady's Tavern and moved the fine-dining McCrady's into an adjacent space; the 22-seat restaurant features an open kitchen and a chef's tasting counter (Brock left his restaurant group last year, and today McCrady's is helmed by chef Jim Stein). Expect dishes like 60-day dry aged beef from Bear Creek Farm with ember-roasted carrot, bordelaise sauce made from carrot juice, and chickweed; and cured foie gras covered in peanut chocolate with a base of puffed Carolina Gold rice and caramel.
Minerva’s today has nine restaurants in South Dakota, Iowa, and Michigan, but the original Sioux Falls location, dating back to 1977, is the one to visit. With white tablecloths, dark woods, and spacious booths, it’s a comfortable and inviting place to linger over a celebratory meal with a hand-cut steak, roasted duck, Dakota buffalo burger, breaded Canadian walleye, or their famous crab artichoke bake. The wine list is varied and affordable, and there’s outdoor seating in the summer.
The cuisine at Barn at Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tennessee, is so emblematic that it has inspired a new category: Foothills Cuisine (the foothills being those of the Smoky Mountains), a term that has actually been copyrighted. If ever there was an appropriate use of the term “farm-to-table,” this is it. The Barn (think antique linens, custom chairs, and sterling silver — with gentlemen required to wear jackets) uses the estate’s produce and products in a dynamic menu of Smoky Mountain regional dishes with global flair like Springer Mountain Chicken with Carolina Gold rice grits, broccolini, and roasted mushrooms; apple and duck heart salad with hop vinaigrette, candied pecans, crème fraîche, and sage; and hearth-roasted celery root with parsnip, cippolini onions, and mushrooms.
Located in The Ritz-Carlton Dallas, Fearing’s features modern Southwestern-American cuisine with a farm-to-table approach. Chef Dean Fearing kind of wrote the book on modern Texan cooking (one of his cookbooks is literally called 'The Texas Food Bible'). What does “modern Southwestern-American cuisine” mean? Barbecued shrimp taco with mango and pickled red onion; barbecued short rib enchilada with queso fundido; mesquite-grilled wagyu rib-eye with West Texas mop sauce; and “Texas carpaccio” — wagyu beef with Texas olive oil, grana padano, crispy capers, and pickled golden beets. With many dining venues on-site, diners can choose from anything from the outdoor patio to the more upscale Gallery. If you’re dining chef-side in Dean’s Kitchen, or at the Chef’s Table, look for the ebullient chef; he’s almost always present. And make sure to order his signature tortilla soup.
Located inside Park City, Utah’s luxurious Waldorf Astoria, the season-driven menu at Powder is creative, delicious, and quite expensive. Relaxed yet upscale, with reclaimed wood floors and large windows overlooking the hotel’s courtyard, Powder is an ideal restaurant for both an après-ski meal or an anniversary dinner. The menu highlights seasonal mountain-inspired dishes like braised buffalo bolognese with hand-made pasta and Parmigiano-Reggiano; local Wagyu bavette with carrots, turnip, potato-bacon pavé, and bordelaise; and herb-rubbed buffalo tenderloin with ratatouille, cipollini onion, farro risotto, Burgundy reduction, and foie gras foam.
One of the most romantic restaurants in Burlington, Vermont, the 26-year-old Trattoria Delia occupies a charming basement space and warms the cold night with a fireplace and traditional regional Italian fare. It’s been going strong since 1993, and all pastas are either hand-rolled and cut or made using an Arcobaleno extruder with traditional Italian brass dies. So we definitely suggest you sample some pasta dishes — the chitarra all’Amatriciana (with house-cured guanciale) and tagliatelle al terre e mare (with local scallops and porcini mushrooms) are standouts — but entrées like prosciutto-wrapped Vermont rabbit and slow-braised short rib are also spectacular. Make sure you sample the house-made gelato for dessert.
Self-taught chef Patrick O'Connell opened this Virginia restaurant in 1978 in what was originally a small-town garage, 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. Menu items at The Inn at Little Washington might include classics like American osetra caviar with peekytoe crab and cucumber rillettes, napoleon of chilled Maine lobster with pommes Anna, and veal “Shenandoah” (prosciutto-wrapped loin with country ham ravioli and fontina); there are also vegetarian creations like apple rutabaga soup and cauliflower steak with yellow Indian curry, along with indulgences like hot and cold foie gras with Sauternes gelée and quince marmalade. The Inn, a member of the Relais & Châteaux group, has a much-deserved AAA Five Diamond rating.
Canlis is a true Pacific Northwest landmark. It’s been open in Seattle, Washington, 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. Canlis was revolutionary when it opened due to its stunning architecture (Roland Terry and Pete Wimberley collaborated on an original design meant to echo Frank Lloyd Wright) and trailblazing menu of upscale Northwest cuisine (which founder Peter Canlis essentially invented), and it’s still blazing new trails while keeping the classics, such as the famous Canlis salad (romaine, bacon, mint, oregano, and Romano with a dressing of lemon, olive oil, and coddled egg), on the menu. Note that current co-owners Brian and Mark Canlis try to maintain the restaurant’s reputation as Seattle’s dressiest restaurant by requesting that men wear a suit or a sport coat.
They really have tried to make it easier on everyone, but getting into Washington, D.C.'s minibar, where protean chef José Andrés channels Spanish avant-garde cuisine, is still difficult. The restaurant now accepts reservations on a seasonal basis (in three-month periods), with each season opening one month in advance. But you still need to send them an email a couple of months ahead of time and keep your fingers crossed. When you do get what is still essentially the reservation of a lifetime (let’s be honest here), you’ll perch at one of two counters that overlook the kitchen, which The Washington Post critic Tom Sietsema called "suggestive of an operating theater when you factor in the chefs in their whites, bending over dishes manipulated by tweezers, tongs, liquid nitrogen and cloches galore." Expect a "molecular gastronomy" experience filled with culinary hat tricks — think edible rubber duckies, popcorn that smokes in your mouth, and a churro made with veal tendon. Even with a price tag of $275 for 25 to 30 (mini) courses, it's a steal of a deal.
The Chop House/Yelp
Diners in the mood for a classic and old-school steakhouse experience in West Virginia's “other Charleston” should look no further than The Chop House. All steaks here are USDA Prime, available as 8- or 11-ounce filet mignon, steak au poivre, New York strip, 24-ounce porterhouse, or 22-ounce blackened or barbecued cowboy rib-eye. Beef Wellington on the menu is also a nice touch, as is a generous seafood platter, fried lobster bites, and a roasted rack of venison.
Renowned chef Paul Bartolotta’s flagship Italian restaurant, Ristorante Bartolotta, is located on the outskirts of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and it’s been drawing guests from downtown for more than 20 years. A must-order is the Uovo in Ravioli (a single large raviolo encasing ricotta, spinach, and a whole runny egg yolk). Other standouts include hand-cut pappardelle with slow-braised duck ragù, a half chicken roasted under a brick, and whatever is on the chef’s three-course seasonal menu.
Piste Mountain Bistro/Yelp
You need to ride a gondola up to Piste Mountain Bistro in Wyoming's Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, but you’ll be glad you did. Chef Wes Hamilton serves locally-sourced dishes 9,095 feet up, where the vibe is sleek, modern, and comfortable. Grab a seat outdoors if the weather’s right (dinner is only served during the summer, but a more casual lunch is available year-round), and enjoy entrées including Snake River Farms rib-eye cap with corn nage, asparagus, wild mushrooms, and spoon bread; black cod with coconut kafir rice cake, edamame purée, chile-roasted turnips, miso glaze, and nori salt; and a daily farmers market salad. If you visit, though, be prepared to shell out: It's also the most expensive restaurant in the state.
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