Opening a restaurant is one of the riskiest financial moves someone can make. Many won’t even make it to their one-year anniversary, and the odds of a restaurant leading its chefs and owners to fame and fortune are slim at best. But sometimes a restaurant opens, and people across the country stand up and take notice. It doesn’t happen too often, but it happened for these 12 restaurants this year.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s long-awaited vegetarian restaurant finally opened in February, and immediately upped the city’s veg game. In lieu of mock meat and cashew cheese, the menu has a decidedly upscale angle, with items including honeynut squash with tahini, sumac, mint, and fresh pita; grilled donko shiitake mushrooms with spring onions, caramelized fennel, and yuzukosho green goddess; wok-fried ramen noodle with Brussels sprouts, romano beans, and pickled radish; and a dosa filled with yogurt, avocado, and sprouts.
Chefs Enrique Olvera and Daniela Soto-Innes are the power duo behind Mexican game changer Cosme, and their more casual second outing, with its emphasis on fresh, healthy fare, is pretty much impossible to dislike. There’s a major emphasis on breakfast and brunch (chia bowl, flax seed chilaquiles, scrambled eggs à la Mexicana), but dinner doesn’t get short shrift (hiramasa tiradito, chicharron en salsa verde, herb guacamole).
The Pump Room was one of Chicago’s most legendary restaurants, having opened in 1938. With Lettuce Entertain You’s Rich Melman back at the helm (the group ran the space from 1976 to 1998), the restaurant’s been renovated and re-opened with a new name, Booth One. The restaurant only opened earlier this month, but it’s already one of the hottest spots in town.
Eight Tables by George Chen/Yelp
A marketplace, event space, three bars, and three restaurants await visitors to China Live, a new hub for all things Chinese in San Francisco’s Chinatown. Marketplace items include everything from woks and high-end steamers to extra virgin tea oil and Fang Rong Hejia rice. China Live’s real showpiece, however, is Eight Tables, a high-end tasting menu-only restaurant from chef George Chen specializing in “Private Chateau Cuisine,” where meals start at $225 per person.
Dave Beran won numerous accolades during his 10-year tenure as Grant Achatz’s right hand man at Chicago’s Alinea and next, and for his first solo outing, he decided to open a tiny 18-seat tasting menu-only restaurant in Santa Monica called Dialogue, where each meal includes 22 courses. French and Japanese influences abound, and many ingredients are sourced from the farmers market located steps away. It’s already proving to be one of the region’s most talked-about restaurants.
The trio of Mario Carbone, Rich Torrisi, and Jeff Zalaznick — known collectively as The Major Food Group — jumped at the opportunity to take over the hallowed spaces that were for decades home to the seminal Four Seasons restaurant (and its downstairs neighbor, Brasserie), and the resulting restaurants — The Grill, The Pool, and the Lobster Club — have opened incrementally over the past few months. Expensive, showy, retro, and glamorous (not to mention delicious, if early reviews are any indication), these restaurants (each with its own chef and concept), are nothing short of the biggest opening of the decade.
From 2012 until November, the chef with more Michelin stars under his belt than anyone else didn’t have a restaurant in New York. That changed when Joël Robuchon opened an outpost of his high-end tasting counter L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon in the Meatpacking District. Two nine-course tasting menus (one vegetarian) come from the open kitchen, and an à la carte menu is served in the 56-seat front room, which is called Le Bar de Joël Robuchon.
The duo behind 10-year-old Sepia — chef Andrew Zimmerman and owner Emanuel Nony — opened this Randolph Street spot in June, and it’s already the talk of the town. It specializes in international street food and is unlike any other restaurant in the city, bouncing between the cuisine of India, the Middle East, Japan, and Thailand with aplomb. Dining here is a fun — and very tasty — experience.
The Gold Coast of Chicago got a breath of fresh culinary air when the inexhaustible Boka Group — with Boka’s executive chef Lee Wolen and pastry chef Lee Galus at the helm — opened Somerset. The large restaurant has an air of vintage glamor thanks to design firm AvroKo, and the accessible menu has a variety of share plates, salads, fresh pastas, meat dishes, and a killer whole roast chicken.
James Beard Award-winning chef Justin Yu’s sequel to his now-shuttered Oxheart is relaxed, unpretentious, and inviting, with a simple tagline: “A modern bistro using ingredients from our area.” The hotly-anticipated Theodore Rex opened in October, and by all accounts it’s lived up to all expectations. Pavé of farm potatoes roasted in chicken droppings, Guinea hen with preserved green garlic broth and onion salad, and roasted Texas wagyu with fermented radish and “beefy bits” are going to keep reservations very hard to get for quite a while.
Diego Hernandez is a star of the modern Mexican cooking movement, and his Baja restaurant Corazon de Tierra is on the World’s 50 Best list. Verlaine, his first U.S. outing, opened in March, and the dining room is almost entirely outdoors; like at Corazon, the majority of the ingredients are sourced locally. It got off to a rough start, but word is that it’s improved dramatically, and it’s proving to be the most exciting and creative Mexican restaurant to open in Los Angeles all year, which is definitely saying something.
Chef Jordan Kahn’s “dinner experience in three acts” is quite possibly America’s most talked-about new restaurant, and with good reason. Vespertine defies all definition, but there are a few facts: A meal there lasts around four and a half hours, it’s tasting menu-only, and it can easily top $300 per person. Most critics agree that a meal there is confusing, pretentious, inscrutable, and borderline metaphysical, but still intriguing and worthy of the price of admission. Perhaps Los Angeles Times critic Jonathan Gold put it best: “You are not sure exactly what you are eating. You are not meant to know. You have traveled from darkness into light, and that is enough.”