(Travel + Leisure) -- As more and more of you dream and scheme your vacations around unforgettable meals, T+L has searched far and wide -- through eight cities across four continents, to be precise -- to unearth the world's greatest new dining experiences.
What have we gleaned? Well, with celebrity chefs roaming and foaming up a storm, design trends traveling at light speed, and Wagyu beef more ubiquitous than KFC, the planet does indeed seem to be getting smaller.
But it's getting tastier, too. The upside of globalization? We can indulge in a Vegas replica of a grand Parisian restaurant that seems more convincing than the original, taste an exotic Amazonian berry in Paris's 11th Arrondissement, or navigate a Los Angeles freeway to a spot straight out of Hong Kong.
And no, we haven't forgotten those singular neighborhood kitchens powered by homegrown ingredients. From Barcelona to Hong Kong, from Tokyo to Montreal, from Paris to Vegas and beyond, here's the skinny on where to eat well in the world. Your table is waiting.
These days the entire planet seems to be abuzz over molecular gastronomy. Spain, meanwhile, having pioneered the trend, is moving on -- to ingredient-inspired simplicity. This paradigm shift is most evident in the city's new crop of dining bars and chef-driven bistros, among them the irresistible Tapaç 24 (269 Carr. Diputació; 34/93-488-0977; dinner for two $85), created by El Bulli alum Carles Abellan. Unlike his conceptual tidbits at Comerç 24, the cooking at Tapaç is all about transforming a few choice ingredients -- purple-tinged artichokes, cured-tuna shavings -- into swoon-inducing treats. Fight your way to a stool at the counter, a playful evocation of a produce-laden stall at the Boquería market, and don't stop ordering. After the truffled bikini (grilled cheese sandwich) of mozzarella and ibérico ham, try a fragrant sauté of wild mushrooms, then silken anchovies laid on a slab of requeson cheese. Stop back in for a breakfast of a plush salt-cod tortilla, then return at midday for gently cooked duck eggs broken up over french fries. Foam? What foam?
For a city that commands such a choice stretch of Mediterranean coastline, Barcelona has a curious shortage of waterfront restaurants with panoramic views. Enter Mondo (Imax Bldg., Moll d'Espanya, Maremàgnum; 34/93-221-3911; dinner for two $150), worshipped by cognoscenti as the source for the best seafood in town. Here, you get the complete package: a terrace overlooking the old harbor, a chic white-and-red interior, and plenty of leather sofas on which to chill out with a copa. Cut straight to the menu section labeled PRODUCTOS to order delicate raw Carril clams, outrageously perfect cigalas (langoustines), and espardenyes (sea cucumbers) seared, not a second too long, a la plancha. None of it comes cheap, but this is an indulgence worth every euro.
We like grilled seafood as much as the next Spaniard, but when nothing but Spain's wildly creative alta cocina will do, we book at Lasarte (Hotel Condes de Barcelona, 259 Carr. Mallorca; 34/93-445-3242; dinner for two $200), the Barcelonan outpost of Basque virtuoso Martín Berasategui. For those who never made it to Berasategui's namesake three-star flagship outside San Sebastián, Lasarte's menu reprises some of the chef's greatest hits. Here's that legendary -- and much copied -- napoleon of smoked eel, foie gras, and caramelized apples. Here's the diaphanous mosaic of vegetable hearts and raw mackerel touched with seafood essence and dotted with lettuce cream -- a dish so stunning it deserves to be framed. But Berasategui's young Catalonian chef de cuisine, Alex Garés, is putting his own earthy stamp on things: sizzled prawns with an egg yolk-and-truffle emulsion share a plate with papada (pork jowl) ravioli with an explosion of liquid-onion confit inside. Clearly he, too, is a fan of life's simpler pleasures.
Even in Tokyo, where jaw-dropping dining palaces outnumber ramen dives, Tofuya Ukai (4-4-13 Shiba-Koen, Minato-ku; 81-3/3436-1028; lunch for two $110) has a serious wow factor, ensuring that its 550 seats are booked weeks in advance. Announced by a lavish Japanese garden and built to resemble a vast Edo-period mansion, Tofuya Ukai sprawls at the foot of the Tokyo Tower, a replica of the Eiffel. How much expense and political muscle were required to construct this extravaganza, smack in the middle of Tokyo's latest prime real estate -- until last year, the site was occupied by a bowling alley -- is anybody's guess. A kimonoed hostess will usher you past the antique sake-brewing equipment to a light-filled tatami room with views of pebbled pathways, waterfalls, and 100-year-old fruit trees. Sit back, sip your sake, and dutifully contemplate the kaiseki-style meal. A fanciful appetizer set -- jellied duck slices, a salmon-sushi bonbon -- precedes a pillowy crab dumpling afloat in a yuzu broth. Twice-cooked tofu is followed by an earthy, rice-studded matsutake mushroom, all of which comes artfully arranged on handmade ceramics and lacquerware. After lunch, take a look at the kaleidoscopic carp in the ponds outside. In Tokyo, even the fish make a design statement.
Shunju Tsugihagi (Nihon Seimei Bldg. B1, 1-1-1 Yurakucho, Chiyoda-ku; 81-3/3595-0511; dinner for two $100) is another visual tour de force by the hip Super Potato design firm (known for, among other things, the swaggering interior of Tokyo's Grand Hyatt Hotel). The mysterious labyrinth of partitioned nooks plays like a conceptual art installation. It's a mind-bogglingly eclectic mishmash of allusions and styles -- Eastern and Western, Zen and zany -- that puts carved Balinese screens against blond Scandinavian furniture, backlit glass bottles against Japanese fabrics. Such a setting makes it perfectly natural to order foie gras or grilled ibérico pork (Tokyo's current "it" swine) alongside a tofu cloud. Among the other standouts are chewy grilled jidori chicken, the sparkling offerings from the sushi bar, and a baked parchment package of delicate fish, sweet potato, and hon-shimeji mushrooms.
Craving primal warmth and sake-fueled bonhomie? Head to Hinokiya (6-19-45 Akasaka, Minato-ku; 81-3/6808-6815; dinner for two $120), a faux-rustic grill house, or robatayaki, patronized by diplomats in the Akasaka neighborhood. Here, fish, meat, and vegetables are slow-grilled over aromatic bincho charcoal. After you take off your shoes and settle around the kotatsu table, a waiter appears with a still life of produce and seafood. Choose some leeks and sweet little tomatoes to start, follow with a giant clam or Hokkaido sea urchin, and proceed to the lavishly marbled slices of Wagyu beef from Kagoshima Prefecture. If Mr. Shigehara, the manager, takes a shine to you, he might even treat you to a tasting from his formidable sake collection -- which is how you'll end up sleeping through your business meeting the next day.
Does the world need another celebrity chef-powered steak house? Should you shell out $160 for eight ounces of meat? If we're talking about Cut (9500 Wilshire Blvd.; 310/276-8500; dinner for two $200), in the Four Seasons Beverly Wilshire hotel, the answer is a resounding yes. True, Wolfgang Puck may be a ubiquitous brand these days, but Cut is his masterpiece, marking a return to sophisticated pleasures. The open kitchen wows with the likes of goose-liver mousse between gossamer Tunisian spiced wafers; perfect asparagus crowned with a fried egg; and adorable American Kobe-beef sliders that stand out even in this burger-mad town. And isn't it fun to watch see-through model-actresses giving their arteries a shock with the decadent bone-marrow flan? Puck himself, looking very Hollywood with his close-up-ready smile, is often seen working the black-leather banquettes consistently packed with Industry players. Clearly, he doesn't want to miss out on the party, either.
L.A. has never been particularly rich in modern European-style restaurants, which is why the arrival of Providence (5955 Melrose Ave.; 323/460-4170; dinner for two $140) is so significant. An ambitious collaboration between Italian-born Donato Poto -- he's the elegant maître d' -- and the gifted chef Michael Cimarusti, Providence announces its serious intentions with the very first amuse-bouche: say, a shot glass of frothy fennel soup, chased by rounds of saffron gelée. Fusing French and Japanese sensibilities with modern Spanish techniques, Cimarusti is at his most creative with seafood, embellishing raw kanpachi with wasabi sorbet and a frosting of osetra caviar, or giving a dreamy risotto an Asian twist with shimeji mushrooms and anago eel. In the softly lit, earth-toned dining room, dinnertime chatter is more likely to run to Burgundy vintages than to development deals. And even if your waiter can recite the ingredients of the Santa Barbara sea urchin sabayon like a well-practiced soliloquy, somehow you don't get the feeling that he'll disappear after the next pilot season.
Let others play Spot Lindsay Lohan at this week's celebrity hangout while you engage in a far more thrilling Los Angeles pastime: exploring the authentic cuisines in the city's far-flung ethnic communities. Haven't done Chinese in Monterey Park? Hop in the car and get yourself to Macau Street (429 W. Garvey Ave., Monterey Park; 626/288-3568; lunch for two $40). Nominally Macanese, the menu is actually most reminiscent of casual Hong Kong coffee shops, where red-bean slushies and safe Cantonese standbys coexist with exotic animal parts. The red walls, decorated with prints of Old Macao, get brighter with each new dish brought by the yellow-bloused servers: soft, rich slices of "roasted pig neck"; squab with a lacquered, mahogany skin; a crisp-bottomed rice hot-pot larded with nuggets of sweet Chinese sausage and preserved duck. And don't even think of passing over the chicken knees. Chewy and crunchy at once, these spice-dusted nubbins are a million times more addictive than Buffalo wings.
Ever since 2005, when Alain Senderens renounced his Michelin macaroons and opened a bistro de luxe, every chef in Paris, it seems, has decided to go prêt-à-porter. While still clutching the three stars at Le Grand Vefour, Guy Martin made headlines last fall by opening the more casual Sensing (19 Rue Bréa, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/43-27-08-80; dinner for two $140) in Montparnasse. Blond sycamore tables, video projections on the walls, and an endless alabaster bar fronted by cool but comfortless stools add up to the chilly-chic look so popular in Paris these days. (The back room on the first floor is the coziest.) The same aesthetic continues on the plates, with geometric arrangements of rectangles and cylinders and Miroesque squiggles of sauce, but don't dismiss Sensing as a fashion victim. First, try the squab, trapped in a muscovado-sugar caramel crust and served alongside perfectly glazed turnips. Then sample the elegant baby-mackerel tart, with its palate-cleansing dollop of fennel confit, and the pink slices of herb-crusted veal escorted by tubes of mushroom-filled macaroni that are nothing if not ancienne. It's annoying to see ladies' menus sans prices -- those haute-cuisine habits die hard -- but should Madame wish to pick up the tab, she'll find the total très acceptable. Now that's modern.
Parisian chefs are in a revolutionary mood these days: Away with white table-cloths! Down with the tyranny of truffles and foie gras! Leading the neo-bistro charge right alongside Yves Camdeborde's mobbedLe Comptoir is Le Chateaubriand (129 Ave. Parmentier, 11th Arr.; 33-1/43-57-45-95; dinner for two $120), helmed by Inaki Aizpitarte, a raffishly handsome young Basque pan-rattler. After a stint at the boho La Famille, Aizpitarte took over this vintage bistro and has left its classic dark thirties' ambience mostly intact. The setting would seem to promise lentils with andouillettes; instead, waiters with six o'clock shadows deliver shucked oysters on a bed of puréed açai, an exotic Brazilian berry with a flavor that hints at chocolate. Aizpitarte's global palate owes more to his frequent-flier status -- he has spent time in Israel and Egypt and roamed across Asia and Central America -- than to the current Parisian vogue for fusion. His startlingly short blackboard menu might list tartare de boeuf with peanuts and a tangy Vietnamese dipping sauce; steamed cod accented with Moroccan spices; or a beautiful dish of rare tuna slices bathed in a pink-beet foam and scattered with pomegranate seeds and white-beet julienne.
Under attack in its homeland, grand French dining is finding an unlikely refuge in the Nevada desert. Vegas as the Paris of the Wild West? The mock Eiffel Tower visible from Guy Savoy (Caesars Palace, 3570 Las Vegas Blvd.; 877/346-4642; dinner for two $350) renders that illusion rather persuasively -- except that you're simultaneously staring at a faux-Roman Forum. For anyone who's been living under a rock: Guy Savoy is the neoclassicist whose Paris restaurant holds three Michelin stars, and who coached the likes of Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsay to greatness. And while his bring-on-the-truffles brand of grande cuisine hasn't quite caught up with the times, Savoy's new Vegas outpost makes a good case for saving it from extinction. With cathedral ceilings and enough space between tables to plot a casino-vault heist, the room is an exercise in understated glamour. Indulge in the "color of caviar," a shot glass that layers purée of haricots verts with osetra caviar and caviar-vinaigrette foam; a satiny artichoke soup strewn with truffle shavings like a gambling table with poker chips; and the clean flavor of turbot steamed with spinach and a poached egg laid atop a garlicky fish bouillon. If the sweet barrage of ganaches, glaces, and crèmes that follows inspires you to propose, the restaurant shares a floor with a wedding chapel. You won't find that in Paris.
So you've lost your private jet at baccarat, then had to pawn the Rolex to pay for the Guy Savoy meal? That's still no excuse for bailing out of a dinner at Robuchon at the Mansion (MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Blvd. S.; 702/891-7925; dinner for two $320) and discovering why Joël Robuchon has been hailed as the greatest chef on the planet. A cart loaded with 15 types of bread baked in-house, all sublime (especially the bacon-laced epi lardon)? Voilà. Jewel-like amuse-bouche? Lemon gelée veiled in anise cream, and Granny Smith apple "pearls" on vodka granita brightened with yuzu foam -- coming right up, Monsieur. Every morsel served in this spiffy dining room, which evokes an Art Deco town house, is a marvel: ephemeral langoustine dumplings bobbing in an intense crustacean reduction; an amazing truffled napoleon of spinach and tofu. While you dine, Robuchon might be busy tending his fifth Atelier -- in Hong Kong -- but the precision, perfection, and ingenuity of his flavors prove that the man keeps his creative edge as sharp as a Laguiole knife. The only thing as astonishing as your meal is the check, though a gift bag of bread somewhat softens the blow. Chew on the soft, oily basil focaccia as you reemerge into the din of MGM's penny slot machines -- and good luck trying to recover your fortunes.
Feel like crashing a boisterous soirée in the cramped-but-adorable living room of a friend? Then call ahead and book a banquette at the bistro-oyster bar, Joe Beef (2491 Notre-Dame St. W.; 514/935-6504; dinner for two $80). Having named the place after the legendary 19th-century Montreal innkeeper, owners David McMillan and Frederic Morin channel his ebullient hospitality into this vest pocket-size space, which manages to be both down-home and branché. Inspired by whatever Morin feels like cooking that day -- not to mention his deep affection for bacon and cream -- the blackboard menu pushes all the right buttons with a cozy mix of Gallic-Canadian standards (rabbit ballotine or sole meunière) and New England inspirations. The deeply flavorful chicken legs, braised in crayfish-infused cream and brought to the table in a red-lidded pot, prove that cuisine grand-mère is alive and well. Slow-simmered beef might come garnished with a towering marrow bone. Clams, crab, and lobster tend to be prepared with minimum fuss (though sometimes overcooked). But the soul of the place is the oyster bar, where world-champion shucker John Nil he's the one with the tattoos -- tends to his sweet, briny Cape Bretons and Malpeques. Don't stop at a dozen.
L'Atelier (5308 St. Laurent Blvd.; 514/273-7442; dinner for two $75), a streamlined, airy storefront in the trendy Mile End district, is a virtual primer on boutique Québécois foodstuffs. Black-and-white photographs of produce adorn the walls; the owners' passion for local duck, rabbit, venison, and even bison and horse fuels the kitchen's bold, meaty flavors. Scenesters gather on a brown banquette under a log-paneled wall to share small plates of crisp wonton-skin ravioli filled with boudin noir, and terrific house-made charcuterie. Though the menu doesn't offer English translations, someone will be on hand to explain the ingredients of the wild-rice risotto scattered with escargots and foie gras shavings, or to recommend that you try the poutine -- a vernacular grease-bomb of fried potatoes, gravy, and curd cheese, reinterpreted here as fat Yukon Gold frites under a cap of pulled rabbit, dabbed with barbecue sauce and curls of nutty Allegretto cheese.
Within months of its opening, Three, One, Two (312 Drummond St.; 61-3/9347-3312; dinner for two $110) snagged multiple Best New Restaurant awards from the Australian press. Everyone loves to love a sharp, quirky gem infused with the chef's personality. Especially if that chef is the fabulous Andrew McConnell, who has won quite a following at Circa at the Prince hotel. With white-napped tables, cowhide rugs on terrazzo floors, and whimsically torn faux-suede curtains, the setting at his new place is crisp and sexy. And McConnell's focused cooking strikes just the right balance between adventure and comfort. The best strategy: order his nine-course degustation, which kicks off with crunchy Tunisian brik, pastry rolled around fromage blanc and figs -- cleverly served in a Romeo y Julieta cigar box. An entrée of Chinese white-poached chicken with feather-light corn quenelles, pickled shimeji mushrooms, and a gingery watercress sauce pays elegant homage to Hong Kong, where McConnell once cooked for M at the Fringe. The roasted pheasant, by contrast, tastes like British gourmet-granny fare, with its bread sauce, salsify, and perky accent of sorrel. For dessert, a terrine of sliced apples, simmered just short of forever until reduced to a pure essence of fruit, then chilled, is lifted right off the plate with burnt-butter ice cream and a sweet-salty caramel sauce. What's not to love about that?
Rockpool Bar & Grill (Crown Casino, 8 Whiteman St., Southbank; 61-3/ 8648-1900; dinner for two $150) is the opposite of a small, chef-centered restaurant but then nobody expects understatement from Neil Perry, the ponytailed übertoque who has better name recognition in Australia than the prime minister. Here he is wokking prawns on telly, there he is designing a menu for Qantas and launching yet another product line. For his Melbourne debut, Perry chose a glitzy location and spent millions furnishing the cavernous, copper-hued room with spotted-gum tables, a showy polished-steel exhibition kitchen, and a dramatic partition, made of 2,000 pieces of sailing rope, that divides the bar from the dining room. Whereas his Rockpool in Sydney is famous for its razzle-dazzle Pacific Rim fusion, here Perry draws on American steak houses. OD'd on steak houses, you say? No worries, mate. Besides the awesome Blackmore Wagyu beef, the menu presents a veritable roster of crowd-pleasers: live Tasmanian scallops on the half-shell with a sprightly ceviche dressing; a perfect lobster-and-avocado salad highlighted with hazelnut-lime foam; slow-roasted chicken from ecologically pristine Kangaroo Island, and biodynamically raised local lamb, simply grilled with garlic and rosemary. Locals are still deciding whether Perry's gambit rocks their world ("too flashy," "too Sydney," some say) but that doesn't prevent them from bragging that Rockpool's arrival finally proves Melbourne's culinary supremacy over the rival city.
Judging by the recent openings of Nobu (at the InterContinental) and Joël Robuchon's Atelier (in the posh Landmark shopping mall), Hong Kong may be the new favorite playground of global celebrity chefs. The loudest buzz, however, was reserved for the October debut of Pierre Gagnaire's Pierre (5 Connaught Rd.; 852/2825-4001; dinner for two $260), atop the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Every black-and-gold-upholstered banquette was booked weeks in advance while the French iconoclast was still obsessing over -- and, often, personally designing -- the details: the shaggy black lampshades; the pink-tinted water in the hydrangea vases. Simultaneously austere and sumptuous, the gray-and-black room sets the tone for Gagnaire's brainy cuisine with its herbaceous accents, citric jolts, and complicated flavor arrangements. A sea-bass carpaccio confettied with tiny white-and-pink cubes of horseradish-and-red currant gelée is haute couture for the palate, but basic dishes like roast pork with fennel and cabbage shine just as brightly. Even the flops -- such as the cold poached egg in a strange, new-wave tonnato sauce -- are rather fascinating. Still, not even the astounding desserts (try the "passion du citron," composed of multicolored lemon Jell-O sticks, meringue, and limoncello) can diminish the heartbreak of peering out at the harbor and seeing the ghost of the old Star Ferry terminal, a beloved city landmark now shut down (and relocated) by the callous city authorities. So much for progress.
Classic Cantonese cooking focuses on texture, fanatical dedication to quality, and status-laden exotica like abalone and shark's fin, and it reaches exquisite heights at the Four Seasons' Lung King Heen (8 Finance St., Central; 852/3196-8888; lunch for two $100). The confident modern space is refreshingly free of chinoiserie, instead offering acres of warm amber wood, columns wrapped in coils of Indonesian silk, a silver-leafed ceiling, and sweeping views of Kowloon. Tycoons and fashionable tai-tais gathered around damask-swathed tables clearly think that this is the best Chinese food in town. We agree. The illustrious chef Chan Yan Tak was lured out of retirement to deliver his signature refined, crystal-clear flavors -- which are mainly Cantonese but include an occasional French or Southeast Asian flourish. Among the stellar dim sum are such masterpieces as Chan's weightless green dumpling of lobster and prawns, and his flaky barbecued-pork puffs with their unexpected accent of blueberries. If the famous Shanghainese hairy crab is in season, its delicate meat and roe might be folded into an emerald tangle of sautéed pea shoots. Crisp frog's-leg lollipops are presented in a crunchy basket of tiny fried whitebait; suckling pig arrives paired with foie gras. And don't write off Chinese desserts until you've tried the bright-orange chilled sago cream dotted with pomelo and mango. Simply perfect.
The information in this story was accurate at the time it was published in April 2007 but we suggest you confirm all details and prices directly with any establishments mentioned. The quality of offerings and services tends to change over time. E-mail to a friend
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Anya von Bremzen is a Travel + Leisure contributing editor. Her latest book is The New Spanish Table.