A dessert of passion fruit mousse, seaweed wafers and smoked mesquite foam
If you’re the type who hangs in moneyed circles in Taiwan, Hong Kong or Shanghai, you may have noticed that si fang cai—or what founder and executive chef George Chen describes as “private château cuisine”—is very much in vogue. Now, this opulent style of dining, with roots in the Qing dynasty of 17th-century China, has reached San Francisco. Hidden on the second floor of Chen’s $20 million Chinatown complex, China Live, Eight Tables is the kind of place where super-rich diners might spend close to four figures on wine, cocktails and a prix fixe Chinese banquet for two. That will buy you some singular food, including a gorgeous opening array of nine cold dishes, a har gow dumpling embellished with luxe ingredients like uni and Osetra caviar, and a truly astounding cube of red-cooked pork belly. They say money can’t buy happiness, but you’re better off getting this pork belly anyway. INSIDER'S TIP True to its name, the restaurant only has eight tables in the dining room, but there is a ninth—the exclusive chef’s table—located inside the kitchen. 415.788.8788
189 by Dominique Ansel
If you’ve ogled pastries on Instagram, chances are you’ve seen the influence, if not the work, of Dominique Ansel. The New York-based chef wowed the world with his ultimate food hybrid—the cronut—which has since inspired countless spinoff Frankenfoods hoping to catch the same lightning in a bottle. But Ansel also has a way with the savory. He opened his first spot, which features a bakery on the first floor and a full-service restaurant above, in Los Angeles at The Grove last year. At the restaurant, the cooking is inventive, eye-catching and delicious. The menu is filled with dishes that are rooted in traditional French techniques yet utilize Cali flavors, such as a perfectly roasted chicken with black garlic rice stuffing and a shot of jus, or a pull-apart sweet corn milk bread that plays on the flavor of the elotes (Mexican-style grilled corn) popular at local street vendors. The restaurant, the name of which references the address of Ansel’s original bakery in New York City, fits in seamlessly with other new dining establishments at The Grove, where institutions like Ladurée and The Fountain Bar have also moved in. INSIDER'S TIP Spring for the boozy Brown Derby cocktail—a whole fresh grapefruit infused with Eagle Rare bourbon. The staff slices it open and brulees it with a pinch of brown sugar tableside; then it's juiced over ice. 189 The Grove Drive, 323.602.0096
Miami Beach, Fla.
Executive chef Jeremy Ford and his team have added interactive movement to their craft. Not everything happens at the same tabletop level, on the same tabletop surface. Sometimes fire is involved. Other times, there’s dry ice. Often, it’s both, taking place in a space that’s simultaneously industrial and art deco. Though the menu is small and relies on what’s in season, it’s nearly impossible to tire of Ford’s creativity. Take the umami short rib, which lives up to its name with a lid of miso-mustard butter that melts into the succulent meat—so deeply glazed it looks like chocolate. It’s accompanied by maitake mushrooms and a variety of playfully done carrots that are either shaved into a curl, roasted or pureed, or turned into sweet pale bubbles. In a less seasoned chef’s hands, these culinary antics could come across as cliche, but it’s clear Ford understands how to deliver both reach-for-the-smartphone presentation and superior flavor. INSIDER'S TIP The prime spot is the Chef’s Table for eight, which is adjacent to a large picture window that reveals all the kitchen action. 786.322.5211
Sparrow + Wolf
While many taste buds turn to world-famous names to get a fine-dining fix, foodies with a keen radar know that some of Vegas’ most dynamic culinary experiences can be found off the Strip. As the city booms, pioneering chefs have opted to pursue an independent path. One such talent is Brian Howard, whose hot spot, Sparrow + Wolf, in Chinatown allows him to flex old-world techniques—from his days at Bouchon Bistro in Napa Valley, Calif., and Comme Ça on the Strip—to create new flavors. The eclectic menu ranges from an uni melt with burrata and blood orange kosho to beef cheek and bone marrow dumplings with spring onion and lemon ash—imaginative shareable plates that make the adventure away from the casinos completely worth it. INSIDER'S TIP Order the snail toast, a secret menu dish that will signal your culinary prowess. Then, end your meal with a pour of Howard’s prized 1848 reserve cognac from the private collection of the late Jacques Hardy—one of only 25 bottles produced—that is also not on the menu, but available to those who ask. 702.790.2147
Chef Matthew Accarrino's fresh cooking style combines West Coast attitude with Italian tradition, as seen in alla spianatoia, a polenta topped with leek, peas and summer truffle.
Not only was Aspen the country’s first location for Chefs Club, but this summer, the restaurant gets another debut: The Chefs Club residency program will bring five-time James Beard Award nominee Matthew Accarrino, of Michelin-starred SPQR in San Francisco, to town. The multicourse prix fixe menu, available through August, showcases Accarrino’s California approach to his Italian ancestry. The menu includes dishes such as an aperitivi of zucchini and runner bean salad with sheep’s cheese and Senise pepper; a primi of gnocchi with sweet corn and smoked mushroom; a secondi of sea bass with charred vegetable sauce and blistered peppers; and a contorni, or selection of side dishes, followed by dessert. The partnership brings Accarrino back to Aspen; he first visited in 2014 for the Food & Wine Classic, during which he was named a best new chef by Food & Wine magazine. Little did he know, he would call Aspen a part-time home only four years later. INSIDER'S TIP Veteran master sommelier Jonathan Pullis remains at the helm of Chefs Club and will pair Mediterranean wines to complement Accarrino’s menu. 970.429.9581
When a restaurant’s name means “honeycomb” in Spanish, you know it will serve the sweetest bites. That’s exactly what you get at Bresca. It’s executive chef and owner Ryan Ratino's first eatery after working in some of D.C.’s finest kitchens (Richard Sandoval’s Masa 14) and earning high praise (a rising culinary star award from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington). Bresca is a passion project. From the rooftop garden, Ratino tends to the food he serves to gourmands who fill the intimate, sophisticated, cleverly outfitted space. The innovative menu is characteristic of the chef’s cooking style (seasonal American with European roots). Take the sea urchin linguini: Ratino uses a yolk-heavy pasta dough with yeast that’s been leavened for two days, cooks it to remove any alcohol, then folds it into the sauce—made with some 17 aromatics and herbs. The topper is bright-orange tongues of uni (plus truffle too). By the way: Bresca’s up for a RAMMY this year. Feel the buzz yet? INSIDER'S TIP For parties of eight or more, Ratino will craft chef experiences that can be as over-the-top as desired and cater to your every whim. 202.518.7926
The Bee's Knees cocktail is both sweet and savory (and a stunner), with beeswax gin, truffle honey and citrus.
Born & Raised
San Diego’s beachy-casual dining scene was set on its ear when restaurant provocateur Arsalun Tafazoli of Consortium Holdings opened an opulent $6.5 million steakhouse with executive chef Jason McLeod and designer Paul Basile. Born & Raised is pure throwback elegance after the transformation of two levels of the 1930s-era former Nelson Photo building into a custom-designed mix of midcentury modern and art deco. The city’s most stylish slide into cognac leather banquettes with green marble tables illuminated by globe pendants and crystal chandeliers. Soaring walnut-encased beams shaped like blooms are a lavish showcase for classic dishes such as tournedos Rossini topped with foie gras and truffle, and glazed in Madeira; 21-day dry-aged duck; butter-poached lobster; and 100-day dry-aged rib-eye from Creekstone Farms. Tuxedoed waiters (wearing trainers, a wink to the dining room’s contemporary setting) prepare steak tartare and steak Diane tableside. A new Dinner for Two menu pulls out all the stops with lobster thermidor, côte de boeuf and beef Wellington served à deux. That won’t be your last act of dinner theater: A two-tier dessert cart makes the rounds, starring a decadent seven-layer carrot cake. INSIDER'S TIP Don’t miss the selection of rare ports—now on wheels. Being transported to a more opulent era would be incomplete if you didn’t linger over a digestif to prolong the experience. 619.202.4577
You might say restaurateur Aimee Olexy is just as much in the business of building a mood as she is in creating food. Her trio of Talula's concepts—the nationally acclaimed one-party-per-evening Talula's Table on the outskirts of Philadelphia in Kennett Square and the urban oasis of Talula's Garden in Washington Square, which is one door down from her homey cafe and market, Talula's Daily—exemplify Olexy's mission to make the idea of comfort cool. At The Love, the bilevel corner restaurant that opened earlier this year in Rittenhouse Square, her experiment (alongside partner and James Beard Award winner Stephen Starr) continues. Slip into a plush windowside booth; order a whiskey cocktail; and tuck into creative American plates that are at once familiar and brand-new: pappardelle pasta laced with smoked brisket, onion fondue and burrata; cubes of salmon poke dashed with rainbow radishes and Hawaiian salt; and house-favorite the Lovebird, a wholesome chicken dish that changes with the seasons. INSIDER'S TIP On the second floor, dubbed The Loft, a 20-person farm table and its “living room” are the ideal setting for intimate gatherings. 215.433.1555
From initial buzz to opening day, it took about two years for the seed that Iron Chef alum Mary Dumont planted inside the Ames Boston Hotel to sprout. Now, it bears fabulous fruit well-worth the wait. Cultivar—the first self-owned venture since the Food & Wine best new chef winner moved on from Harvard Square’s Harvest—expands on the chef’s farm-to-table philosophy: Dumont plucks ingredients from her Groton home garden and Cultivar’s on-site Freight Farms (shipping containers repurposed as hydroponic gardens allow her to grow kohlrabi, nightshades and more year-round). The resultant menu of modern American "garden cuisine" is excellent and expressive, with dishes including furikake-flecked yakitori beets with garlic scapes and bonito; and a signature roasted chicken ballotine for two, which was recently accompanied by sage and apricot sausage, rye berries and pearl-onion au jus. It’s all exceedingly well-matched to an artisan gin-focused bar program that makes use of wild botanical varieties. The organic-feeling interior is elegant and ethereal, adorned with Japanese moss balls, tree-branchlike chandeliers and a bar topped with 300-year-old copper beach wood, oft-dubbed “the queen of the forest.” INSIDER'S TIP Steps from Government Center, Cultivar is popular with powerful politicos. This year, former Secretary of State John Kerry dined on scallop crudo. Sen. Elizabeth Warren has been spotted too. 617.979.8203
The servers wear tuxedos. Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra croon in the background. An ice-cold martini is shaken at the bar. Fachini, chef and restaurateur Julian Barsotti’s fourth Dallas restaurant, is a nostalgic, glamorous throwback to Italian-American restaurants of the 1950s—sans the kitsch. Highlights include the 100-layer lasagna; veal Parmesan fried in duck fat and served bone-in with housemade mozzarella and crushed tomatoes (both meant to be shared); and a Caesar salad made tableside, which is a dinner-theater performance in and of itself. The food is unapologetically indulgent. And the ambience? It’s next level. Think tufted caramel leather banquets, navy-blue Venetian plaster walls, brass chandeliers and Hermès wallpaper. Framed black-and-white Laura Wilson photographs taken behind the scenes during Wes Anderson movie shoots—Wilson’s sons are Dallas born-and-bred actors Luke and Owen Wilson—adorn the dining room. INSIDER'S TIP For a night out, impress your date by scoring table 81 or 83. For bigger parties, take it up a notch: Call ahead and order the timpano, a baked dish of pasta and sausage. For an even more elevated experience, request a seat on the patio, which is reserved for VIPs. 214.838.9688
There’s an artfulness in the way culinary curator Jason Hammel and chef de cuisine Sarah Rinkavage pack flavor into their dishes at Marisol, fittingly housed inside the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Sunflower hummus delivers a wonderful spicy nuttiness, while rapini soaked in ‘nduja vinaigrette and sprinkled with nuts and aged Gouda is saturated with a savory richness you wouldn’t expect from a mere vegetable. You may get a chance to try these wonders, or you may not: Marisol’s seasonal approach means an ever-changing menu brimming with local produce—the philosophy that first put Hammel on the map at Lula Cafe, a pioneer in farm-fresh, finely prepared fare. Marisol, named for Venezuelan-French sculptor Marisol Escobar, serves up all that seasonality with an added air of sophistication expressed in the crisp decor and whimsical murals. Mix in a stellar cocktail program and it’s easy to declare the eatery the work of masters. INSIDER'S TIP Here is a place where vermouth is king. Off-menu selections like the Cocchi Dopo Teatro Vermouth Amaro are ideal picks to accompany dinner. 312.799.3599
Eleven Madison Park
The famed restaurant reopened its doors in the fall to reveal thoughtfully curated interiors that celebrate the new direction of the restaurant while nodding to the past. Every detail has been carefully selected—down to the uniforms designed by CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist Todd Snyder. Large-scale artworks by Sol LeWitt, Olympia Scarry and Daniel Turner, as well as a monumental chalkboard painting by Rita Ackermann, preside over the space, while plush blue velvet banquettes accommodate the languid three-hour meals. But the true artist is chef and co-owner Daniel Humm. The Swiss-born toque—who is also the talent behind The NoMad and NoMad Bar, as well as fast-casual spot Made Nice—counts six James Beard awards (including outstanding chef and outstanding restaurant in America) and three Michelin stars for good reason: Humm’s elegant, ever-evolving menu showcases his strength in celebrating seasonality. INSIDER'S TIP The bar is first-come, first-served and offers an abbreviated five-course tasting menu ($175 per person), which is your best bet if you didn’t book the ticketed 10-course tasting menu ($315 per person) at least a month in advance. 212.889.0905
Every detail of the new dining space at Eleven Madison Park has been artfully crafted—large-scale works by Sol LeWitt, Olympia Scarry and Daniel Turner, as well as a monumental chalkboard painting by Rita Ackermann, preside over the space.
Old-world elegance and historic beauty make for an unforgettable evening at Wrigley Mansion in Phoenix. Perched atop a pinnacle in the ritzy Arizona Biltmore, this 16,000-square-foot estate boasts sweeping terraces with panoramic views of the Valley below. Chef Christopher Gross—who was named best of the Southwest by the James Beard Foundation and was the first chef in Arizona to receive the Robert Mondavi Winery Culinary Award of Excellence—shifted his focus full time to the food and beverage program at the mansion, including the signature restaurant, Geordie’s. Expect French-American fare like terrine of foie gras with brioche, and rhubarb tortellini with wild mushrooms and asparagus, paired with sommelier-selected wines. INSIDER'S TIP VIPs can book a private table inside the newly renovated kitchen for an intimate evening with the renowned chef himself. Wrigley Mansion is a private club that requires, at minimum, a trial membership to book a reservation. We suggest the Wine Membership ($75 per year), which unlocks access to off-menu bottles and exclusive wine events. 602.955.4079
There are few restaurants where you can choose LP records from the chef’s personal collection to play while you wait, sipping on a glass of crisp Champagne, naturally. Theodore Rex, or T. Rex for those in the know, is one of them. James Beard Award winner Justin Yu has finally opened his latest venture in the artsy warehouse district north of Downtown Houston, more than a year after shuttering his famed Oxheart. The flavors at T. Rex are decidedly Houston—a melting pot of tastes from Asia, Latin America, the Gulf and the Deep South. Bruschetta gets added flair as browned slices of Mexican honey bread are brushed with tomato water and topped with a bright compote of locally sourced heirloom tomatoes, while a roast strip loin of Texas wagyu beef is sliced thin and served on bright, fresh turnips. Reservations are recommended, as the space only seats 28, but walk-ins have a shot if they’re willing to cozy up to the action at the open kitchen’s bar. Because Yu’s team is so small—and loyal—bar patrons can even chat with the chef, if they clean their plates and ask politely. INSIDER'S TIP Even with a reservation, arrive early: That’s the best way to have a chance at lounging in the backroom. It’s a little unusual—but wonderfully unique. 1302 Nance St., 832.830.8592
New York has Daniel Boulud; Napa Valley, Calif., has Thomas Keller; and Orange County, Calif., has Florent Marneau. After a seven-month hiatus for a taste-bud tour around the globe, talented husband-and-wife duo Florent and Amelia Marneau (a pastry chef) moved their storied Parisian-chic dining concept—previously housed at South Coast Plaza—to Newport Beach’s Crystal Cove Shopping Center. The dining room is decked out in style and sophistication, with velvet and leather seating, and crisp white tablecloths, but the heart and soul of Marché Moderne is the kitchen. Everything Florent touches is heavenly, and, of the many standouts, you don’t want to miss the foie gras and chestnut ravioles. Cooked in duck stock and vin jaune, the dish is flawless—and the perfect excuse to order a glass of Sancerre. But do save room for dessert. Filled with Tahitian vanilla cream, Amelia’s exquisite napoleon is paired with tangerine orange-blossom sorbet and serves as the ultimate palate-cleanser. INSIDER'S TIP Launched this spring, the bistro’s beloved spontané menu returns for dinner. Served Monday nights only, the three-course prix fixe menu is 11 years in the making and changes weekly. Think endive salad followed by braised Colorado lamb shank with truffle and Reggiano-scented creamy polenta, garlic ramp and pencil asparagus. To finish: Amelia’s decadent coconut panna cotta. 714.434.7900
Marché Moderne's cocktail menu delivers on freshness with libations that team herbaceous flavors with citrus notes and top-shelf spirits.
After more than a year of delays, master sommelier Dennis Kelly and executive chef Anthony Secviar—who worked together for years at The French Laundry—opened their highly anticipated Protégé this spring. The 80-seat venue features a lounge, along with a prix fixe-only dining room. Guests can get a taste of Secviar’s new American cuisine that’s driven by French techniques, seasonal local ingredients and Spanish influences from his time cooking at Catalonia’s legendary elBulli. Among the menu highlights are exquisite ricotta dumplings, a short rib pithivier and “brick chicken” surmounting saffron rice. The desserts by pastry chef Eddie Lopez are at once polished and familiar (like his dark chocolate pavé, inspired by his love of mixing peanut M&M’s into a bucket of popcorn at the movies). The interiors showcase the talents of Jon de la Cruz and include a striking macramé partition by textile fine artist Windy Chien. INSIDER'S TIP The 250-selection wine cellar holds rare finds such as Romano Levi grappa with hand-drawn labels, and Marc de Bourgogne, which is considered the best and most expensive example of the pomace-distilled spirit known as marc. 650.494.4181
Photography by: Eight Tables photo by Nader Khouri; Bresca photo by Greg Powers; Eleven Madison Park photo by Gary He; Stubborn Seed photo by Michael Pisarri; Marché Moderne photo by Dylan + Jeni