Tavern | Los AngelesImagine a scene from a Nancy Myers film, a room packed to the brim with glittering (and tipsy) well-to-do people, emitting the aura of competition that can only accompany faux-bohemian suburban wealth. Initially you might recoil, but the garish façade lifts to reveal something worth writing about.
Located in Brentwood, Tavern offers just enough jaw-dropping people-watching to rationalize driving that far West, all while satisfying the full range of LA?s diverse spectrum of diners. There?s the requisite Santa Monica wives and the husbands who would have rather been watching the football game in the bar room; discerning gays (always a plus and the surest sign you?re in a great place); and the glazed-over groups of blissful customers who looked relaxed, well-fed, and perfectly content. Yes, there are celebrities, too, but they?re here not to be bothered and the food will more than hold your rapt attention.
Refined and continental in its style with an emphasis on sourcing locally, the food is jazzed up without overwhelming the senses. Take the doughnuts: deep-fried sweet potato bombs dripped with a bacon caramel sauce. Simply delectable. This past fall/winter, something as standard as butternut squash soup felt unexpected, while a breaded chicken main balanced comfort food with elegance, even when served in a crock pot. Tavern is owned by the same people behind A.O.C. and Lucques, LA standouts that have continually proven themselves over the years. Its less formal front room is sort-of LA?s answer to New York?s Dean and Deluca with great food/pastry to take away. Airy, understatedly elegant and relaxed, Tavern has become the first place I visit when in town. Once I managed to have brunch and dinner there the same day with different people -- weird, I know.
Flour + Water | San FranciscoWho says bone marrow can't be a pizza topping?
Yes, my foodie brethren, the most exquisite pizza experiment is waiting for you on a deceptively quiet block in the heart of the Mission. Flour + Water?s pasta and pizza dough is made from scratch on-site and, even though others may tell you differently, you don?t need a reservation. (Although five tables do take ?em.) Put your name on the list and grab a great glass of wine at the front room communal table while you wait. On my last visit there, a 2005 Flavio Roddolo did me well, it?s rich and smoky though not too harsh tannins paired perfectly with the quality scene, an odd but accurate cross-section of foodies and their friends in a friendly well-curated environment absent of over-the-top Mission hipsterism.
And for pizza, well, places live and die by their margherita. On that mark, Flour + Water might as well be Lazarus. Fresh, thin crusts were appropriately crispy with a doughy interior that can only be achieved by a chef who knows what he is doing. Prices are oddly reasonable given the quality ($13-$17) with mains under $26. Of course this is just an excuse for me to eat more. My fave: broccoli rabe and homemade salami. But don?t be afraid to add a farm egg or anchovy to the pizza. You?re in good hands here. Get creative.
>Flour + Water
2401 Harrison St.
Bohemian | New YorkAlthough NYC?s speakeasy trend is tired, I?m willing to make an exception for Bohemian. Everything about this Japanese boîte is right.
Secreted away on a quiet street in NoHo that used to be artist Jean Michel Basquiat's studio (fun fact: he OD?d here), the fine details of the restaurant?s location, layout and reservation system would almost seem like a joke, if it was not for the pitch-perfect execution of the complete dining experience. There?s room for six -- yes, only six -- tables, meaning that the typical raucous NYC dining atmosphere has been replaced by an intimate sanctuary of engaged conversation and gorgeous 1930's Danish modern (no reproduced pieces from DWR in sight), all lit by skylights and framed by intricate rock formations. The focus of the food is Japanese bistro sans-sushi: fresh oysters, divine cocktails (I'm partial to the Thincumber), and an amazing vegetable fondue app that could stand in as the table?s centerpiece until you realize it?s actually edible. But it?s the sliders I truly love. There are two types: traditional kobe beef and a teriyaki-influenced option, smartly dressed to allow the quality of the meat to speak for itself without drowning it in egregious toppings. Next to them LA?s Umami Burger tastes like day-old McDonald?s. Share plates here because it's all about nuanced tastes.
But how to get a seat? Limited spots result in a grueling reservations process: laymen can e-mail a polite note requesting a table although it's best to be introduced by a person who has dined there in the past. The payoff is an experience far more relaxed, affordable and informal than one might expect, with a surprisingly appropriate $55 tasting menu. The staff couldn?t be friendlier, obviously chosen for their passionate love of food, and the exquisite Japanese obsession here with basic ingredients, meticulous preparation and accommodating atmosphere reminds me of the cocktails at Milk & Honey: simple, sophisticated, sublime. Props also to the Toto toilet in the bathroom, replete with all of the egregious (but delightful) gadgets straight from Tokyo.
57 Great Jones St.
Dean Street Townhouse | LondonDean Street Townhouse might be owned by the Soho House Group, they of the media-centric private social clubs in NYC, LA, Berlin and of course London, but don?t hold that against the place. The setting -- every bit as spectacular as all the institution?s other elements -- is urban and refined, warm and convivial, decidedly sophisticated without the pretension. A tricky balance to be sure, but Dean Street seems to take pride in defying expectations. A respite from hectic Soho lurking right outside the door, I particularly enjoy the venue?s muted palette, lovely art collection and the so-comfy-I-want-to-take-a-nap-here club chairs. The cuisine is British-inspired but continental, in other words, the perfect London fare, quasi pub food upped a few notches, like cabbage stuffed with oxtail and haggis, an unexpected but richly balanced combo. It?s great for a long dinner, afternoon tea, or just a quick drink, and the different rooms are appropriate for different moods. There's a loud bar in the front or a quieter, more clubby lounge in the back that's conducive to long dinners and intimate conversation. It reminds me of what the Wolseley used to be: a one-stop spot to be seen yet productive at all points during the day (breakfast, tea, lunch, drinks or dinner).
Having been on a short-lived health kick when I was last there, the chopped salad did the trick along with the Dover Sole. The oysters are always worthwhile, but when in Rome (so to speak), splash out on the British-oriented fare, like leek and ticklemore tart or devilled whitebait, reminiscent of delicious, yuppified, fish sticks. The ingredients are local and worth the adventure. Go with it.
Dean Street Townhouse
71 Dean Street
+44 207 434 1775
Saturne | ParisSure there?s Le Chateaubriand, well-priced, comfortable and spectacular, but a pain to travel there; and Frenchie, but diners seem more excited to tell you they landed one of the restaurant?s eight tables than what they ate for dinner; and, of course the last-meal-worthy Michelin-heavyweight Pierre Gagnaire, but Parisians in the know head to Saturne, an absolutely wonderful Scandinavian-inspired restaurant and wine bar in the 2nd arrondissement near the Bourse.
Befitting its of-the-moment stature, leave your fate in the hands of the 23-year-old chef, Sven Chartier, who surely deserves all the accolades coming his way. The only decision you?ll need to make are the four- or six-course menu (37 and 59 EUR, respectively) and what wine to order, rattled off by the expert sommelier. Think Alice Water?s famed Chez Panisse in that the menu has been chosen in advance and the same food is served to the entire restaurant; everything they present is incredible and part of a larger plan. The night I went it was roasted duck with crispy skin and sweet onions plus delicate sweetbreads served with mushrooms and a wonderfully smooth oyster sauce. I can?t wait to return to see what?s next. Particularly pleasurable: the dining room?s glass-ceiling, which enables you to see the stars, and the winebar at the front, offering a relaxing respite from the street and nearby Bourse. The Scandinavian chic décor is elegantly paired down and clean, allowing the food to take center stage. Go now! It?s already abuzz with everyone you?d expect at a hip and amazing Paris restaurant and will only get more intense if they keep at this pace.
17 rue Notre Dame des Victoires
+33 01 42 60 31 90
Longman & Eagle | ChicagoA Midwestern native, I have always held Chicago in a special regard when it comes to culinary creativity. The scene here is top notch because it's so laid-back on the surface, but everyone there is so serious about good food and looking forward to what lies ahead. Before describing any further, few experiences can match that of Alinea, arguably ground zero for molecular gastronomy at its most dramatic in a four-hour meal that you will remember for your entire life; however, I?m uniquely impressed with Longman & Eagle because it?s informal, smart, executed to perfection. Far more importantly, it?s thoroughly enjoyable and feels very one-of-a-kind.
Located near Logan Square, a recently gentrified neighborhood West of the Kennedy, Longman & Eagle does what I am hoping Brooklyn?s Hotel Delmano will do: build a strong following around cocktails, amazing food and now a small inn. Think locally-sourced American gastropub with a menu that changes almost daily. As they don?t take reservations, and were just anointed with a Michelin star, calm your nerves with cocktail during the long but completely worth-it wait. There?s a big push for whiskey-based cocktails -- for me, a perfectly executed Sidecar -- but trust the bartender when they offer their daily concoction. For nibbles, the pretzel with spicy cheese sauce is a great alternative to typical bar food. For mains, the Wild Boar Sloppy Joe was simply excellent and the accompanying duck fat French fries sealed the deal in making me hate myself for ordering them. A pot au feu was also excellent, concocted out of succulent short ribs, bone marrow and beef tenderloin all perfectly balanced in a smooth broth. And with insanely reasonable prices -- $8 cocktails, $12 burgers -- it?s worth indulging.
Longman & Eagle
2657 N. Kedzie Ave.