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America’s Finest Dining: The Southwest

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Friendly Fire

The Anasazi Restaurant, Santa Fe, New Mexico



The Anasazi Restaurant. (Click image to enlarge)



Martin Rios’ menus showcase the chilies of New Mexico in such dishes as cinnamon-chili-rubbed beef medallions and roasted polenta with ancho chilies. The 92-seat restaurant’s wine cellar provides an intimate setting for as many as a dozen guests. The thousands of bottles that flank the room twinkle in the candlelight, like the stars in the endless New Mexico sky. – Anthony Head



He Stays in Vegas

Bradley Ogden, Las Vegas

After creating a handful of successful California restaurants, Bradley Ogden left for Las Vegas to open his first and only eponymous establishment. On most evenings, he is on hand to oversee the kitchen, preparing dishes such as Maytag blue cheese soufflé with port wine reduction sauce and garnished with trumpet mushrooms or hazelnuts. – Anthony Head



Pacific Crossroads

Chef Mavro, Honolulu

In Honolulu, George Mavrothalassitis found a city reminiscent of his sunny seaside hometown of Marseilles, France. While the cities’ climates are similar, their cultures are not, but Chef Mavro’s food proves he has adapted well to the Pacific. His tasting menus capture the flavors of Hawaii’s multicultural cuisine, from the sweet delicacy of Korean pears to the bright lemony bite of yuzu kanten, a small, sour citrus fruit from Japan. Mavro’s fans joke that they barely can understand his French-accented English, but words are superfluous when the food speaks so eloquently. – Nadine Kam



Under Desert Skies

Mary Elaine’s at the Phoenician, Scottsdale, Arizona



Mary Elaine’s. Desert sunsets provide the dinner theater at this Arizona establishment. Photograph by Mark Boisclair. (Click image to enlarge)




Mary Elaine’s chef de cuisine, Bradford Thompson, creates French-influenced cuisine that is as alluring as the sunsets that color the Arizona desert. Entrées such as fricassee of Dover sole, glazed buffalo tenderloin with horseradish spätzle, and guinea hen and foie gras terrine can be matched with a bottle from the wine cellar that holds an inventory worth about $3 million. – Anthony Head






French Connection

Guy Savoy, Las Vegas

This restaurant, located inside Caesars Palace, shows why Guy Savoy is one of the world’s most celebrated chefs. The menu imports favorites from its Parisian counterpart: roast duckling with citrus and turnips, oysters in ice gelée, roasted foie gras in a cabbage and red wine broth, loads of black truffles, and a green masterpiece called tout petit pois, which combines fresh whole peas with cooked pea puree and a poached egg. – Anthony Head




Welcome Oasis

Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas

Although rows of gaming machines stand within feet of the restaurant’s entrance, Joël Robuchon is an oasis on the Strip that allows you to believe you are in a Paris salon. A 16-course tasting menu, the highlights of which include sea urchin and potato puree that is lightly flavored with coffee, sustains the illusion. – Sheila Gibson Stoodley




Rare and Well-Done Formality

La Mer, Honolulu

The faded 1930s-era wallpaper, exposed wood beams, and warm breezes in La Mer’s open-air dining room belie a sense of decorum that is unique in Waikiki. Indeed, on a recent evening, a gentleman, clad in Hawaii’s usual attire of shorts and sandals, had flown a plane from Maui specifically to dine at La Mer, but he was turned away for not meeting the restaurant’s requirements of a long-sleeved collared shirt or jacket. More formal than the dress code is the service, with waitstaff flocking to tables in threes and addressing each guest by his or her surname.


La Mer’s name, French for “the sea,” is more descriptive of the restaurant’s ocean-side location at the Halekulani hotel than it is indicative of the fare, which includes a sautéed duck foie gras brioche with apricot confit and grapefruit compote, and a Kobe-style filet of beef with bone marrow and bordelaise sauce. Chef Yves Garnier, who last year received France’s equivalent of knighthood, also imprints his native style onto local ocean bounty such as hamachi and onaga, while the Halekulani’s on-site chocolatier—yet another unlikely find—produces creamy truffles daily to sweeten the meal’s end. – Nancy Wong Bryan



Balancing Act

Providence, Los Angeles


Providence. The setting’s neutral palette

belies vibrant dishes. (Click image to enlarge)

Michael Cimarusti’s genius lies in his ability to craft perfectly balanced dishes. His filet of wild striped bass with Tahitian squash puree is precisely as complex as it should be. He completes it with a bed of chanterelles, a sprinkling of applewood bacon pieces, and a dash of smoked paprika syrup, yielding a dish that remains engaging and delectable through the final forkful. – Robert Wemischner








Hollywood Canteen

Spago, Beverly Hills, California

Spago remains Hollywood’s preferred spot for power lunches and dinners, as well as one of the best places to enjoy Wolfgang Puck’s food. The restaurant’s indulgences include a quintet of Hudson Valley foie gras, roasted Cantonese-style duck, and charcoal-grilled côte de boeuf. Some people may long for the days when Spago reigned in West Hollywood rather than in Beverly Hills, but Puck has not remained one of the country’s foremost chefs by looking back. – Anthony Head




Liquid Assets

Water Grill, Los Angeles


Water Grill. (Click image to enlarge)

Water grill, which is located midway between the Staples Center and the Music Center complex in downtown Los Angeles, is an inviting spot to begin a stellar evening. Chef David LeFevre’s menu includes Australian sumac–coated barramundi and pastrami-spice-brined Scottish king salmon, among other standouts. An appetizer of wasabi-marinated bluefin tuna, placed on a dish next to seviche of striped bass or six types of oysters, rouses the taste buds. 


While LeFevre excels when preparing food from the sea, he also is a master of the turf, as evidenced by his peppercorn-crusted venison loin with mulled-wine pear, beluga lentils, and celery root–pear puree. – Debra Ryono




Formally Fun

Studio, Laguna Beach, California



Studio. (Click images to enlarge)

While good food is an imperative for notable dining, sometimes the service can contribute as much to the dining experience as the meal itself does. Such is the case at Studio at the Montage Resort & Spa, where an unobtrusive coterie of servers attends to your every whim. A more casual atmosphere may be the general preference in Southern California—or the United States as a whole—but the staff at Studio demonstrates that formal elegance still can be fun. The restaurant’s chef, James Boyce, prepares a variety of meats, game, and seafood, and has a seasonal truffle menu, but the John Dory with Madras curry sauce has become his most acclaimed dish. To complement the menu, the restaurant offers more than 1,800 selections from its wine cellar. An added bonus at Studio is its panoramic view of the Pacific; even at night, the white foam of the breakers crashing into the bottom of the bluff is visible. – Debra Ryono



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