Best of the Best 2002: Dining: Best Restaurants

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Table With A View

Heaven seems a little closer when you wine and dine on the terrace of Restaurant Principe Leopoldo at the Villa Principe Leopoldo & Residence in Lugano, Switzerland. Perched atop the Collina d’Oro (the Golden Hill), the restaurant offers breathtaking views of the city and Lake Lugano, as well as of the mountains of Italy: Monte Bre, Monte San Salvatore, Monte Boglia, and Denti della Vecchia. It’s the perfect setting for gazing into your lover’s eyes—if you can stop gazing at the natural scenery, that is. Prince Frederic Leopold von Hohenzollern ordered construction of the villa in 1868. It served as his private home and was frequented by European aristocracy before becoming a hotel in 1986. Today, Swiss efficiency characterizes the restaurant’s service, and Italian passion—chef Dario Ranza is from Bergamo—shapes its cuisine. Dine on branzino in crosta di sale (sea bass baked in a crust of sea salt), sip a flute of Champagne, gaze down at the lights of the city, and settle in for a long and leisurely dining experience. 

Villa Principe Leopoldo & Residence, +41.91.985.8855, www.leopoldohotel.com  

Invitation To Dine

Dining in an haute French restaurant once meant an overbearing waitstaff serving food in settings as stuffy as the Reading Room at the British Mu-seum. Fortunately, chef Daniel Boulud recognized that lack of appeal, and restored the plea-sures of eating delicious food with pleasant company. At his restaurant Daniel, on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, hospitality and warmth are always the specials of the day. Maybe the inspiration developed from Boulud’s upbringing on a humble farm in Burgundy. Perhaps his training under chefs Roger Verge, Georges Blanc, and Michel Guerard convinced him that simplicity and elegance were essential ingredients in the dining rooms. Or it could be that Boulud was simply born that way. No matter, his sunny personality, sense of humor, and regard for guests are reflected in the way his restaurant looks and how you feel when dining there. Cooking haute cuisine is one thing, but a restaurant achieves greatness only when strangers entering its portals immediately feel embraced and at home.  

Daniel, 212.288.0033, www.danielnyc.com

 

Cellar Storage

When Piero Selvaggio opened Valentino restaurant in Santa Mon-ica, Calif., in 1972, first-rate wine cellars were a rarity in the United States. Those restaurants that did stock fine wines mainly favored the French. Even today, most upscale dining establishments stock more vintages from Burgundy and Bordeaux than anywhere else. Valentino has hundreds of rare French wines to choose from, including a 1971 Romanée Conti ($3,800), an 1893 Lafite Rothschild ($19,000), and a 1998 LeFlaive ($1,400). But what makes this cellar unique is the Italian collection. The Nebbiolo grape used in the wines of Piedmont has a starring role here. At Valentino you will discover world-class wines such as Barberesco from Angelo Gaja and Barolo from Giacomo Conterno. The 1974 Monfortino from Conterno ($450) is a real find. Should you prefer the taste of Sangiovese or blends from Tuscany, the restaurant stocks Sassicaia, Tigna-nello, and vintages of Brunello di Montalcino from Biondi-Santi that date as far back as 1891 ($25,000). If there’s any cellar to get locked in, this is the one.  

Valentino, 310.829.4313, www.welovewine.com

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