Restaurants

I’ve been lucky enough to eat at a lot of great places. Here are the ones I thought were worth remembering.

2016

It’s all about the neobistro here in Paris. Tannat’s a pretty solid example of one: simple, market-driven, casual, not expensive. While deeply French, the neobistro is unafraid to break tradition in service of the customer’s delight — e.g., Tannat’s “tacoyaki churro“, one of the most zany-awesome things I’ve had this year.

  • Cala (San Francisco)

Upmarket Mexican has been tried a few times in San Francisco with mixed results. Maybe it’s a tough sell in a city which data scientists have proven to be statistically overweight amazing taquerias. Or, more truthfully, previous upmarket Mexican places were great, but not great enough. Cala’s seafood-forward approach, fine-dining inspired plating, and reasonable prices made it an instant hit. Is it a Mexican neobistro? A Mexican State Bird? Who cares — just go.

German food is great. Large portions, heavy braises, innumerable interesting potato dishes, dense breads, and less than 10% of your calories come from vegetables! I write this with no cynicism at all. But this often-true stereotype doesn’t lend itself well to Michelin star stuff, so on our first trip to Berlin this year we decided to check out what we could in the time available (thanks to this Berliner’s blog for recommendations).

Facil is service like a Thomas Keller, fish like Le Bernardin, with a little of the imagination of post-Adria Spanish cuisine — the surprises are all the more effective since you don’t expect it in a precision-engineered German dining room. (I’m not kidding; watch the skylight open or the drapes close and it’s like being in an S-Class).

Our favorite restaurant this year. A shapeshifting brunch / ramen / izakaya / neobistro that just seems to belt out all my favorites from Asia using the best of France’s products.

We’ve been here for 8 weeks and we’ve been to Dersou 4 times.

I mean, this katsu sando.

What.

LA is sunnier, SF has better food. Right? Yeah, that’s still true. But Otium’s one of the places that’ll change that. DTLA is super vibrant, creative, intelligent, and tasteful.

But you still can’t walk to anything.

 

2015

  • Contra (NYC)
  • Momofuku Ko (NYC) **

There’s some graffiti in the LES that says “my favorite food is David Chang”. Peak Chang? Maybe, but Ko is spotless.

The single best thing I ate in Tokyo was a croquette of foie gras and mountain potato at Takazawa Bar. It’s a tiny place, just a few seats, but they serve until late and you will probably be handed your dishes by Chef directly. Pretty interesting guy, strike up a conversation.

  • Seiyoryori Shima (Tokyo)

In a Ginza basement, a man and his wife have been cooking huge chunks of wagyu since the 1990s. One imagines the power brokers of some keiretsu dining here, smoky cubans in hand, Hibiki on the table, discussing how to take over the world.

  • Sushi Mizutani ** (Tokyo)
  • the Progress (SF)
  • Saison (SF) ***

Periodically vying for the title of most expensive restaurant in America. It’s definitely the best restaurant in the most expensive city in America, so that’s for sure. But it’s a little white-guy-serving-three-star-Asian-influenced-French-food.

Underrated as far as new Peruvian goes. Get the bread basket, it’s unlike any you’ve ever seen. If you’re leery about trying guinea pig, theirs reminded me of a deep-fried quail.

  • Astrid y Gaston (Lima) (14)

The Casa Moreya is a spectacle, a massive old hacienda completely renovated into a 21st-century temple to Peruvian food and to Gaston Acurio’s empire. The menu is a little backward-looking, kind of a retrospective of their greatest hits since the ’90s, but hey — they put Peruvian cuisine on the world’s to-do list. And without Gaston there is no…

Unbelievable. Conceptually a tour through the many elevations of Peru, but more than that: a menu that draws on the traditions of the people who’ve lived in each region for thousands of years. Only took this one picture, unfortunately.

  • State Bird Provisions (SF)

For some reason I waited for years go here despite it being in my backyard. I wish I hadn’t.

 

2014

  • Noma (1) **

Exceeded expectations, which is surprising for something rated the best in the world. It’s actually not expensive for a restaurant of its class. Worth a detour to Copenhagen, which is exactly what we did.

  • Yoroniku (Tokyo)

Korean BBQ prepared with wagyu and Japanese intensity and attention to detail. We liked it so much we did the sequence of 7 meats over again when we finished.

  • Lung King Heen (Hong Kong) ***

Good, but not great. Mainlanders were there dropping impressive sums.

  • Seventh Son (Hong Kong)

Awesome dim sum.

  • Fook Lam Moon (Hong Kong) *

Michelin-starred awesome dim sum.

  • Din Tai Fung (Shanghai)

Crystal dumplings with morels. Lotus leaf rice with foie. Xiao lung bao for days. I have to go to the ones in Taiwan some day.

  • David Toutain (Paris)

I was a super fan of l’Agape Substance before Toutain moved on to his own place. If I had one eating time slot available in Paris, this would be where I’d go.

  • Spring (Paris)

Or maybe here. Really, it’s hard to say.

  • Juniper & Ivy (San Diego)

Richard Blais’ bit of LA in San Diego. He’s a genius and Kettner Boulevard is pretty cool.

  • Daalder (Amsterdam)

 

2013

  • Del Posto (NYC) *
  • Per Se ***

Someone wrote something bad about them recently and that makes me sad, because this was my favorite restaurant in America for a while — that perfect setup that only Keller’s group can do, but overlooking Central Park South.

In an industrial area across from some train tracks some crazy dudes are dropping ridiculous plates with a Metallica/Led Zeppelin soundtrack, and yuppies from all over the Midwest and elsewhere are absolutely satisfied.

  • l’Arpège (19) ***

A reference point for how food is supposed to taste when it is perfectly grown, prepared, and served.

  • El Celler de Can Roca (1) ***

Unmissable. The Rocas have been at it for 30 years and it shows. They’re working with the best products in Catalonia and have a great library of creative-but-never-gimmicky classics to present in their uber-modern dining room.

  • Manresa **

Probably the best restaurant in California.

  • Atera **

Atera was awesome but I understand there’s been a chef change, so I don’t know what means. I was there when Matthew Lightner was in charge. I need to go to Ninebark.

  • Daniel ***

It was Christmas and there was snow on the ground and white truffles on the pasta.

 

2012

  • Eleven Madison Park (NYC) *** (10)

I really liked EMP in 2012, but people who’ve been more recently say they were unimpressed. Someone I know was really not into carrot tartare.

  • Benu **

Corey Lee is quietly doing the best Asian-influenced-French in a town that seems to have a boundless appetite from Asian-influenced-French. Also check out Monsieur Benjamin.

  • Agapé Substance (Paris)

Closed now, but this was a 20-course frenzy from David Toutain.

  • Abac (Barcelona) **

Yogurt lollipop with caviar? Smoked Norway lobster cooked table side? I don’t see this on too many Barcelona/Costa Brava lists, but it was well worth the trip.

  • Saturne (Paris)
  • The Oval Room (Washington DC)
  • Blue Hill at Stone Barn
  • Sant Pau (Sant-Pol-de-Mar, Spain) ***

Less flashy than some of the other new Spanish places, and the focus on quality over sparkles really works. One of the most memorable dinners I’ve had in Catalonia.

  • Mugaritz (San Sebastian) ** (3)

It was here in Basque country that I realized that creativity was the thing I valued most. So many surprises, so many things I’d never seen before. Perhaps the most complex menu I’ve ever seen, all executed flawlessly, except for when a server knocked over a wine chiller. But no one cares about stuff like that, right?

  • Pujol (Mexico City) (36)

Ants on the cob! Huitlacoche! Unforgettable.

  • Biko (Mexico City)
  • Matsuhisa (Los Angeles)

 

2011

  • Dovetail (NYC) *

In New York you can get dinner at a place this good at 10PM on Christmas Eve.

  • Sons and Daughters *
  • Aubergine (Carmel)
  • Le Chateaubriand (Paris)

The original neobistro?

  • Le Comptoir du Relais (Paris)

Still a contender for my favorite restaurant in the world. Reliably great for anything on their menu, any hour of day or night, except August, when I assume the good cooks are on vacation.

  • Coi **
  • é (Las Vegas)
  • Commonwealth
  • Aramburu (Buenos Aires)

This one was a bit of a surprise — on a dark corner in San Telmo, with a broken bathroom sink and a tiny kitchen we found one of the most memorable restaurants we’ve been to. In 2011, South America was barely on the culinary map, and working with products of that terroir was unheard of, foreign, and completely exciting. Who forgets a coca leaf ice cream that numbs the mouth and gives you a noticeable buzz?

  • Atelier Crenn *

 

2010

  • l’Atelier Saint-Germain de Joel Robuchon (Paris) *
  • El Celler de Can Roca (Girona) ***
  • Morimoto (Napa)
  • Meadowood *** (Napa)

Deconstructed mission burrito. A much bigger deal today than it was when I went.

  • Coi **
  • Bouchon (Napa)
  • Cyrus (Healdsburg) **

Now closed. A white guy cooking Asian-influenced-French food. Nearly was late for a wedding (not my own) because I was eating here. Hmm.

  • Madrona Manor (Healdsburg) *
  • wd50 (NYC) *

Sad that it’s gone. When I went, it was truly the greatest hits of Chef Dufresne’s 30 years of avant-garde stuff. Aerated foie gras that was actually better than 98% of traditional preparations I’ve had. Square scrambled eggs. Bagels that aren’t bagels. Some of it might seem gimmicky in retrospect, but one has to respect the place that deconstruction has in all artistic theory.

  • Corton (NYC) **

Also gone. A documentary about Paul Liebrandt is available on Netflix. TBH I found Corton a little overwrought, always one too many elements competing for your attention.

  • A Voce (NYC) *
  • Momofuku Ko (NYC) **
  • moto (Chicago)

 

2009

  • Per Se ***
  • Gary Danko
  • Bazaar Jose Andres (Los Angeles)

Spanish madness, stateside, in a Dada-inspired hotel. Ham bar.

  • 1789 (Washington, DC)

Georgetown elegance.

  • Coi (58)

In 2009 Daniel Patterson had avant-garde cooking in San Francisco pretty much all to himself. The field is much more crowded now, but for a time, this was my favorite place in the world.

  • Alinea (Chicago) ***

It’s Alinea. Unforgettable. You have to go.

 

2008

  • The French Laundry ***

The first thing people usually ask me is whether it’s worth it or not, which is strange given that it’s not even the most expensive place in America anymore. In 2016 I’d probably choose Atelier Crenn or Manresa over TFL, but like l’Arpege, it’s a classic. If it’s important to you to understand cooking in America — and how much TFL helped shape that — you should go.

2005

  • Charlie Trotter’s (Chicago)

Super glad I went here while Charlie Trotter was alive and in his prime. I used to watch his show on PBS when I was a kid. Maybe it’s the years, but we still remember this as one of the best of all time.

the 90’s

  • Chanterelle (NYC)
  • Le Cirque (NYC)
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