For the better part of a decade, fine dining was being deconstructed. Tablecloths were removed, the lavishness of table settings reconsidered, service reimagined, and great food democratized, as chefs, restaurateurs, and the dining public reassessed what was actually important in a restaurant. We had confused the fancy trappings of fine dining for quality cuisine, and this was the reckoning. Formal was out, casual was in.
But today, where a great meal can be at your door with a couple taps on your iPhone, restaurants are realizing some of those old trappings are actually worth it. The creature comforts, theater, and grandeur are returning. Thankfully, they’re arriving with an energy uncommon to the cathedrals of dining of a decade ago. “I like fine-dining,” says chef Mario Carbone of the Grill in New York. “I’ve got no problem paying a premium for the best ingredients in the world, but I want to be entertained. I want to be in a place that’s fun. I don’t want to whisper.”
So over the last year of eating out, we’ve been in pursuit of restaurants that create a great experience. We wanted places that had a unified vision of food, service, and design, and delivered a good time—the types of places you couldn’t wait to return to, or tell your friends they had to go. We’ve found them. These are the 10 best new restaurants in America.
“I mean, I don’t have a résumé,” Jimmy Papadopoulos says. “I joke with my friend who worked at Eleven Madison Park that I put in my time there, too—I bought the book.” Though he may not have worked for icons of fine dining, Papadopoulos shouldn’t be so modest. After cutting his teeth at an upscale suburban steak house, he earned rave reviews by making Central European food exciting at Chicago’s Bohemian House. Now, he’s opened Bellemore, a creative and endlessly delicious take on New American cuisine in the Windy City’s West Loop.
The restaurant impresses upon entry. The spacious dining room is filled with curved leather banquettes, soaring mirrors behind the bar, a whimsical mural on the far wall, and an open kitchen tucked in the corner. “We came up with this idea of it being this old reclaimed manor with an Art Deco vibe, and that translated into the cooking,” Papadopoulos says. “We created this opulent, grand, but very soulful menu.”
It is grand, but without ego or pretension. The ideal opener, a slice of Papadopoulos’s briny, luxurious oyster custard pie comes topped with osetra caviar and green apple to cut the richness. The dish has become a star in its own right, but it’s far from the height of the menu. Papadopoulos can take the familiar and add layers of flavor to make it outstanding. The dinner rolls are riffs on classic Hawaiians, served with butter made in-house from cultured cream steeped with ham. Instead of a terrine, curls of shaved foie gras sit atop Gewürztraminer gelée and red fortune plums. Countless restaurants across the country serve two slivers of duck breast side by side on a plate, but Bellemore’s stands out. The 21-day-aged bird is glazed with honey, dusted with fennel pollen, and then presented with a croquette of leg confit, a crépinette of heart, and toasted farro. If Papadopoulos keeps this up, ambitious young chefs will be clamoring to work for him to bolster their own résumés.
#2. The Grill
The Grill’s menu has an oblique entry in the middle of the first page: “A Service of . . . Today’s Chilled Crustacean.” Says Mario Carbone: “What does it mean? Actually, nothing. I build triggers into the menu. I want to have a conversation with you about the langoustine that came from Scotland today or a beautiful prawn from Santa Barbara.” At the Grill, this little interaction and subsequent others are all part of the show.
Major Food Group—led by chefs Carbone and Rich Torrisi, and restaurateur Jeff Zalaznick—kicked off its ambitious reimagining of the old Four Seasons restaurant inside the Seagram Building with a raucous callback to midcentury-American fine dining. Within the landmarked Philip Johnson–designed room, waiters in Tom Ford suits entertain with table-side preparations. The conversation triggers, the old school design, the music, the food trolleys—they’re all meant to transport. “I’m trying to make you a character in this movie,” Carbone says.
The effort would be for naught if the cuisine weren’t equal to the glitz. It is. Start without any sort of theater, and order the crab cake atop a rich remoulade and covered in thin slices of golden brown potato. Then have the hulking duck press wheeled out to crush some bird bones to produce a deeply flavored jus poured over the top of delicate pasta, creating an almost ramen-like quality. The Grill’s star turn is the spit-roasted, table-side-carved prime rib with its salty, crackling crust and the jus made from brisket; it may be the platonic ideal of prime rib. End the night with a Baked Alaska set ablaze on the table, the pyrotechnics making the final scene of Carbone’s movie more Michael Bay than Martin Scorsese.
Los Angeles is booming with outstanding dining right now—and with Italian cuisine in particular. Flavors from up and down the boot are thriving. With comparable climates and a similar culinary ethos, the marriage makes sense. At their best, Italian and Californian cuisines both start with fresh, local meats and produce and let them shine on the plate.
As a native Californian and son to an Italian mother, chef Steve Samson has long been an exemplar of the LA-meets-Italy mind meld. Sotto, his ode to southern Italian cooking and Neapolitan pizza, established him as a leader in the genre.
With Rossoblu, he’s created a restaurant connected to his youth spent in his mother’s hometown of Bologna. He and his wife, Dina, transformed a hulking concrete building into a welcoming space where the open kitchen and wood-burning hearth turn out hearty, rustic, comforting, and expertly executed food. It’s a testament to Samson that even if he only sent out a heaping serving of his heirloom beans, seasoned with just the right amount of rosemary and garlic, you could be content. That’s merely a side dish, however, so don’t stop there. Slather some crescentine fritte with dry-aged beef tallow; sample the perfectly delicate eggplant with tomato sauce, basil, and Parmigiano-Reggiano; devour the handmade ribbons of tagliatelle coated with, as the menu says, “not too much sauce”; and then save room for the mixed grill of pork porterhouse and house-made sausage. Pair it all with a glass of the delightful sparkling red Lambrusco that Rossoblu unabashedly boasts on its wine list. It’s delicious and unpretentious, just like Samson’s restaurants.
The inspiration for Cote, admits owner Simon Kim, is what he calls his carnivorous mind. “I love meat. Growing up in Seoul, my dad didn’t take me to sports games; we went to restaurants, and sometimes we’d go to Korean barbecue places, where I loved the boisterous atmosphere,” Kim says. “When I came to America, I immediately fell in love with American steak houses.”
As a restaurateur, Kim yearned to combine those two early loves—merging the fun and flavors of Korean barbecue with the premium cuts of beef, cocktails, and wine found at an American steak house. With chef David Shim—formerly of M. Wells steak house—at his side, he’s done it. The duo have created a convivial scene with impressive food to match.
It begins with Cote’s own aging room. Diners heading downstairs can gaze longingly through a window at the dangling slabs and sides of marbled meat, some of which have been hanging there for more than 110 days. Back upstairs, every table is outfitted with a gas-fired grill, which has ceramic charcoals that retain heat to allow even thicker cuts to cook well. Just because there’s a grill at the table, however, does not mean diners are stuck doing the cooking. The meat is the most expensive item in the house, Shim says, so he offers classes for servers to grill the beef right every time.
A first trip to Cote should involve the Butcher’s Feast. Each diner at the table receives a sample of four different cuts of beef that includes galbi—soy-marinated short rib—in addition to a delicious array of ban-chan, two stews, a beautiful savory egg soufflé, and a delightful cup of soft serve with soy caramel to cap the meal’s carnivorous bonhomie.
French Laundry and Per Se alum Edouardo Jordan has gotten personal with his second restaurant. The chef from Florida, with roots in Georgia, opened JuneBaby just blocks away from his first venue, Salare, with a different mission. “I’ve cooked in both French and Italian restaurants,” he says. “The food at Salare represents my professional journey. JuneBaby speaks to who I am as an individual soul and as an African-American male from a food standpoint.”
At JuneBaby, he’s taking a three-star chef’s approach to sourcing ingredients—and creating outstanding flavors—but staying true to the great cuisine of the South with his fried catfish and grits, Momma Jordan’s oxtails, and chitlins. “I have a couple of dishes that are a little more froufrou, but for the most part, it’s two-component dishes done properly, recognizing ingredients, farmers, and still technique driven without ‘Here’s a foam on top of my rice,’ ” he says. Instead, “Here’s my bowl of rice and peas, and done right.” Anyone who has sampled his food knows he’s definitely doing it right.
Ricardo Zarate is a good son. Not only has he named his latest restaurant after his mother, Rosaliné, he’s also put an epigraph on the menu declaring the eatery “a tribute to my beautiful mom.” These sentiments are lovely, but Zarate has honed in on the best way to honor his mother: making absolutely delicious cuisine at the place that bears her name.
Hailing from Lima, Zarate has rooted his West Hollywood restaurant in the flavors of Peru. Begin by tearing off a piece of the stretchy turmeric flatbread and scooping up the smoky eggplant puree studded with briny Peruvian olives, crunchy cancha corn, and microgreens. As a Peruvian restaurant, it better do potatoes well, and Rosaliné certainly does, offering a fun take on the layered meat-and-potato dish causa by turning it into a croquette with salt cod. The deep-fried ball comes topped with pickles and—in a gentle nod to the Japanese diaspora’s influence on Peruvian cuisine—a Dijon sauce that features a hint of wasabi. Mom should be proud.
#7. La Mercerie
Breakfast used to be a restaurant afterthought. But now with major cities awash in all-day cafés and chefs devoting themselves to making the most important meal of the day a memorable one, it’s now possible to eat creative cuisine around the clock. An exceptional and elegant take on this trend is chef Marie-Aude Rose’s La Mercerie at the Roman and Williams Guild. This isn’t an all-day spot devoted to chia pudding and grain bowls; at La Mercerie, Rose is taking the simple pleasures of classic French fare—pastry, niçoise, boeuf bourguignon, and more—and executing them perfectly, serving them inside an airy space with plush velvet banquettes and warm wide-board floors.
You’ll be treated well any time of day, but when Rose moved to America from Paris in 2016, she brought a delicious petit déjeuner with her. Head to La Mercerie in the morning for brioche in a bowl of crème anglaise, a savory vegetable croissant, and tourteau fromager—a traditional French cheesecake with a charred crust. If morning turns to afternoon, order the house-made smoked salmon paired with crème fraîche and spot-on blini, and then peruse the entirely French wine list if you’re in the mood for an even more languorous day.
#8. The Charter Oak
Christopher Kostow, the uber-talented chef behind Napa Valley’s three-star Meadowood, wanted to strip down to the essentials. At his latest restaurant, the Charter Oak, he and chef Katianna Hong do so with understated audacity. Their beautiful raw vegetable plate, picked from the garden and served with a fermented soy dip, gets no more fuss than that. There’s no chefing the plate up. They have the confidence to grow and select the right vegeta-bles and then serve them in the most elemental way. When the duo does cook, they make use of the hearth that anchors the dining room, grilling and smoking rustic dishes such as beef rib cooked over Cabernet barrels or the grilled buttermilk-brined chicken served with Napa grape leaves. Combine the food with the gorgeous space and a wine list sourced almost entirely from the region, and the Charter Oak gets our vote as Napa’s next culinary institution.
#9. Stubborn Seed
Merging the influences of his two mentors, chefs Dean Max and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, Top Chef winner Jeremy Ford has created an outstanding debut restaurant with Stubborn Seed in South Beach.
The Jacksonville native returned to Florida after a stint in California, finding his way into Max’s kitchen at 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale. “Dean shared with me a passion for quality and great purveyors,” Ford says. “Chefs can buy carrots from anywhere. But if there’s a place that has better ones in July, you only learn that through guys like Dean.”
At Vongerichten’s Matador Room in Miami, Ford advanced his grasp of flavors. “He balances them so well, from salt to acid to the way he seasons. It’s different but so simple,” he says. “Chefs overthink food a lot. JG’s recipes are by no means easy, but there’s a simplicity to them. There’s a tomato gazpacho that you’ve had a million times, but his ratio of vinegar to tomatoes is perfect—not too sour, not too bland, just on point.”
Those influences of superior product and modernist technique unite in dishes like Ford’s tea-cured cobia with finger lime and celery broth, or the celery root with crunchy maitake and a mustard froth. He’s even bringing his creativity to Sunday, serving entrées like a mezcal- and citrus-cured salmon atop a round of brioche with salsa verde, accompanied by crème fraîche, herbs, and a sphere of liquid habanero—deftly achieving the balance for which he lauds Vongerichten.
A longtime lieutenant to the great Daniel Boulud, Gavin Kaysen left New York behind in 2014 to return to his hometown of Minneapolis. The first restaurant he opened there, Spoon and Stable, featured a mix of influences from Italian to Thai. “We didn’t want it to be pretentious,” Kaysen says. “It doesn’t have a label on it; it’s just good food.”
It is safe, however, to put a label on his second restaurant, Bellecour, located just outside of the city. He has honored his time with Boulud and his reverence for Paul Bocuse with a French restaurant and bakery that celebrates France’s traditional fare. “A lot of chefs are classically trained in French cuisine, and we don’t want to see that style of food go away,” Kaysen says. “I love to eat like that.” Enduring classics like coq au vin, steak frites, and duck à l’orange populate the menu. A must-try is Kaysen’s play on sole Véronique: trout Véronique. He replaces the traditional Dover sole with trout raised locally, steams the fish, and then serves it with Champagne beurre blanc and grapes that provide just enough acid to cut the richness of the dish.
Better yet, he’s managed to bring back these classics without any stuffiness. “We wanted to create a place for the neighborhood where you could go in during the day and casually have a coffee and croissant and come back at night and have a glass of red wine and cassoulet.”
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