America’s Finest Dining: The Northwest

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San Francisco Treat

Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco

If he wished, Gary Danko could make this San Francisco restaurant the flagship of a celebrity chef–driven empire. But instead, he concentrates his talents here, and his patrons savor the benefits. Menu highlights include an appetizer of glazed oysters with osetra caviar, salsify, and lettuce cream, and a main course of lemon herb duck breast with duck hash and cardamom poached pear. Danko’s cheese list includes selections from Britain, Spain, America, Ireland, Sardinia, and France. The staff’s knowledge of the nuances of these cheeses rivals the sommeliers’ mastery of the wine list, which exceeds 1,200 choices. – Roland K. Madrid



Diving In

Aqua, San Francisco

Since taking over as Aqua’s chef in 2003, Laurent Manrique has maintained the 16-year-old establishment’s seafood-centric focus while adding a few earthy accents. The Frenchman is a foie gras master, and his menu may include the specialty served three ways (smoked, in a terrine, and poached in Syrah). Such preparations—as well as classics such as Atlantic Cod with sweet and sour calamari—have ensured that this Financial District institution remains an asset to the City by the Bay. – Bruce Wallin





Kitchen Confidants

Marinus, Carmel Valley, California

If white and black truffles and the nuances of wine delight your senses, then you will find no better spot to indulge than at Marinus, part of the Bernardus Lodge in California’s Carmel Valley. Marinus’ dining room is elegant, but the kitchen holds the best table: a booth in an alcove with walls signed by guests who have dined there. With the hubbub of the kitchen in the background, chef Cal Stamenov will explain each course and may even present a snifter with a rare white truffle inside so you can experience the pungent aroma before the fungus becomes part of his white truffle risotto with a Parmigiano-Reggiano foam. A variety of meats, seafood, and fowl—partridge and pheasant among them—also are on the menu. The wine director, the affable Mark Jensen, and his staff of sommeliers consider guests’ likes and dislikes before pairing each course with a wine and elucidating each vintage’s subtleties. – Debra Ryono



Keane Delight

Cyrus Restaurant, Healdsburg, California

The considerable promise that Douglas Keane showed while serving as sous chef at the Restaurant Gary Danko in San Francisco in the late 1990s has come to fruition in his stewardship of Cyrus Restaurant. He opened the restaurant two years ago at the Les Mars Hôtel, in Sonoma wine country. Keane, whose menu always is changing, utilizes local ingredients—plums from Santa Rosa, farmhouse cheeses from Sonoma—to world-class effect in dishes that might include roast pork with bacon foam over black-eyed peas, mustard greens, and dandelion, or white pumpkin tagliarini with sugar pie coulis and pecorino tartufo. You select three, four, or five courses, or the chef’s seven-course tasting menu, and dine in a warmly lit space, with a vaulted ceiling and Venetian plaster walls, that seats just 65. – Lori Bryan




A Little of This, A Little of That

L’Auberge Carmel, Carmel, California

Many flavors, many bites best describes an evening at L’Auberge Carmel. Here, you begin with Champagne and a bite-size amuse bouche and proceed through an odyssey of full-flavored courses that are not much larger. The meal starts with flavors that are bright, crisp, and clean, and, like the wine that accompanies each course, gradually becomes rounder and earthier. Tim Mosblech, who had served as the restaurant’s chef de cuisine since its opening in 2004, recently became the executive chef. Like that of his predecessor, Mosblech’s cooking involves whimsical interpretations of classic dishes, such as the tournedos Rossini that incorporates medallions of beef filet with truffles and Madeira and is served with an all-American touch of short rib in a four-or-five-bite course. The 10-table restaurant, the centerpiece of a landmark European-style inn, also has a private dining room in the cellar that seats 10. Jessica Taylor



In the Details

Michael Mina, San Francisco

Diners who embark on the tasting menu at Michael Mina’s flagship restaurant, located in the Westin St. Francis hotel on Union Square, select a primary ingredient for each course. That ingredient then arrives in three configurations, with a side dish and sauce for each plate. A second course of pan-roasted Sonoma County duck and foie gras, for instance, may be served, respectively, with saffron couscous, Asian pear, and pistachios; barley risotto, cranberries, and pecans; and quinoa, huckleberries, and almonds. The variety of choices can prove overwhelming at times, but the restaurant’s waitstaff is adept at deciphering Mina’s menu. – Bruce Wallin




Herbal Remedy

The Herbfarm, Woodinville, Washington

Evenings at the herbfarm, a restaurant located 20 minutes from downtown Seattle, begin with Oregon sparkling wine—a bubbly launch into a four-hour, nine-course feast. The gardens behind the restaurant supply organic produce that enhances such dishes as rabbit crépinettes with chanterelles, poached quince, and savoy cabbage; and Anderson Ranch Oregon herb-crusted lamb on flageolet beans.  – Anthony Head




Room at the Top

The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton, San Francisco

After distinguishing the kitchens of such Northern California institutions as Charles Nob Hill, Aqua, and the French Laundry, executive chef Ron Siegel now practices his craft at the Ritz. He demonstrates his affinity for classic French-style preparations with dishes including a roasted chicken breast that he makes extra moist with white port reduction sauce. – Anthony Head




Taste of Sunshine

Cafe Juanita, Kirkland, Washington


With its seemingly authentic ristorante decor and its pan-Italian cuisine, Cafe Juanita, chef Holly Smith’s 7-year-old restaurant, nearly convinces you that you are dining in sunny Tuscany instead of rain-sodden greater Seattle. Her dish of braised pork that is slowly cooked in goat’s milk and accompanied by thin sheets of Ligurian pasta is particularly sublime. Robert Wemischner




Howling Success

Rover’s, Seattle

Northwest ingredients gain a French accent at Rover’s, where the nine-course tasting menu may feature disks of Dungeness crab crowned with caviar or Oregon lamb in a huckleberry reduction sauce. Frenchman Thierry Rautureau purchased the establishment, located east of Seattle’s downtown, 20 years ago. He retained the restaurant’s name (it references a character in an Irish poem about a dinner party for animals) but made the place his own with such dishes as eggshells filled with a delicate cloud of scrambled egg and lime crème fraîche. Rebekah Denn



A Sparkling Reputation

French Laundry, Yountville, California

In 1994, when Thomas Keller purchased and assumed control of an established restaurant that was operating in a century-old Napa Valley building, he kept its unusual name—the French Laundry—rather than rechristening it. His innovative dishes, which include an amuse bouche of salmon tartare atop a cracker shaped like an ice-cream cone, and a dish called “tongue in cheek” because it features braised beef cheek and calf’s tongue, encouraged scores of diners to visit, even if they might have been puzzled initially by the restaurant’s moniker. (It refers to a French steam laundry that once operated on-site.) Keller’s empire has since expanded past Yountville to New York (Per Se) and Las Vegas (Bouchon), and it continues to grow—even beyond the restaurant business: He is building a small inn across from the French Laundry, a name that now is synonymous with peerless meals.- Sheila Gibson Stoodley



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