Marea - New York, NY In a year when fine dining seemed barely able to survive, Marea did
more than just bravely open for business. It effortlessly established
itself as one of New York's top restaurants. Prices are high (Adriatic
Seafood Soup, $45). The room is snazzy, steely, and slick (onyx bar,
glowing walls, bright red lampshades). All quite sumptuous, but primary
credit for the glorious ascension belongs to Michael White, now
America's top Italian chef. (Not bad for a fellow from Wisconsin.) Not
only has he never met an Italian recipe he can't cook; he's cooking
them all at the same time.
Craigie on Main - Cambridge, MA Some might call it a Best Moved Restaurant, not a Best New
Restaurant. Tony Maws's old Craigie Street Bistrot, nearby, was nearly
impossible to get into. Now that he's at a new location more than twice
the size, his place is still nearly impossible to get into. The current
spot doesn't have an open kitchen; it has an open-door kitchen. Walk in
the restaurant and the cooks are right smack in front of you, working
hard and fast. It feels like you're entering a home kitchen through the
back door, although Maws's childhood probably wasn't the inspiration.
The Bazaar - Los Angeles, CA The first time you go, you'll find yourself deliriously lost. The
Bazaar, in the SLS Hotel, is magically absurd, a fun house of
possibilities, absolutely delicious and visually decadent. You drift.
You circle. You won't know the Rojo room from the Blanco room, and you
surely won't understand the half-hidden Saam room (tasting menu,
fancier service). The food, by America's greatest Spanish chef, José
Andrés, isn't the rustic dishes he learned to make back in Catalonia.
It's Spanish food that's lost its exotic ethnicity, become whimsical,
playful, and even molecular—mad-scientist stuff.
Ping – Portland, OR Chef Andy Ricker and his partners took over a building previously
occupied by a Chinese restaurant with one of the best names ever: Hung
Far Low. Ping is way far better, so ambitious its mere presence is
revitalizing Portland's Chinatown. Ricker has assembled a menu that's
multi-Asian, not Asian-fusion, the dishes rigorously executed and
tasting uncannily authentic—there isn't much kowtowing to the West.
Anchovies & Olives – Seattle, WA The best empty restaurant I've ever seen. Anchovies & Olives stays
open until midnight in a city where everybody is in bed by 10 p.m. I
arrived an hour before closing time. I not only ate alone, I also drank
alone—even the bar was vacant. The place, as you might expect, was
dark, quiet, and still. I expected to encounter Edward Hopper painting
a West Coast version of Nighthawks. All the same, chef de
cuisine Charles Walpole was on the job, and his food was everything the
ambience was not: bright, vibrant, and lively.
Aldea – New York, NY Here you'll find the stupendously well-trained (David Bouley, Alain
Passard, Roger Vergé, Alain Ducasse, Martín Berasategui) Georges
Mendes, New York's breakout chef of the year, finally graduated to a
restaurant of his own. Mostly he prepares Portuguese cuisine for the
best of reasons: He grew up eating it. If you've never had the
slightest interest in such cooking, that will change once you try his
Bibou – Philadelphia, PA Bibou (technically Bibou BYOB) is the latest and most improbable reason
to head down to traditionally Italian and now somewhat Latino South
Philly. It's pure French. Chef-owner Pierre Calmels is French. The
hostess (his wife, Charlotte) is French. The butter is French. The
music is French. The menus adorning the wall are French. The recipes
are, of course, French. Dishes include such rustic favorites as braised
pigs' feet stuffed with foie gras, and hanger steak with
54 Mint – San Francisco, CA Three not-so-young Italian guys got together and opened a
not-so-great-looking wine bar in a downtown plaza. The decor: wooden
tables, pots, vases, food products. Not so promising, right? Don't
underestimate old Italians. They can make any dish seem uncomplicated
and natural, no matter how many ingredients it contains. It's not only
the food that seems Italian; the three guys are swell to customers,
which is how guys who grew up in or around the south side of Italy are
expected to act. I sat down on a cold night, and one of them pushed a
platter of salumi, some housemade and some imported, in front of me.
The Bristol – Chicago, IL Superficially a simplistic spot. Blackboard menu. Metal chairs. Edison
bulbs. Brick wall. Wood floor. No tablecloths. Nice beer list, better
wine list. Very much the contemporary bistro, safe and sanitized. That
is, until you notice the food. It's mostly offal, innards, and
oddities. I ate roasted marrow bones with red-wine-shallot jam,
carpaccio of lamb loin, stewed goat on chitarra pasta, and a fabulous tongue parfait en gelée—succulent bits of tongue mixed with a mirepoix of crunchy veggies and topped with a horseradish crème fraîche.
Serpas – Atlanta, GA Serpas is a big, shiny, modern spot in the Old Fourth Ward, where
old-fashioned manufacturing played out. It's so noisy our waitress had
laryngitis from yelling at customers. And the cooking of chef Scott
Serpas is just as raucous—a little messy and a touch out of control,
but I love his passion and sense of place. He does mostly southern and
New Orleans food—sweet, hot, and spicy, with a bonus of being endlessly
inventive. The fried oysters come with rémoulade, classic enough, but
he tops them with pickled chilies. His
caramelized-onion-and-beef-short-rib soup with a single Brie-topped
floating crouton—not so southern, come to think of it—is what French
onion soup dreams of becoming.
Since 1995, "Where The Locals Eat" and LocalEats dining guides have featured locally owned restaurants across America. From the finest steakhouses and sushi bars, to classic burger joints and roadside barbecues, LocalEats recommends unique restaurants to suit every taste and price range. More