Seven of the best places to savour gourmet travel food.
You are what you eat, so offer yourself the very best when you eat gourmet travel food.
Experiencing a city through its cuisine rates as high with most travelers and most luxury travel agency clients as museums, beaches, mountains, and architecture. In-the-know gourmet travel dining enhances any trip, whether it’s a visit to a parrilla for Argentine mixed grill in Buenos Aires or finding the best pizza in New York City. But how do you know where to go for gourmet travel food, short of soliciting opinions and sifting through guidebooks? To get to the meat of the matter in seven prime gourmet travel dining destinations, we consulted plugged-in restaurant critics and food writers for an insider’s snapshot of the best places to start when exploring the cities’ culinary traditions. These veteran foodies spend most of their nights and many of their days sipping and supping their way through the best – and worst – their cities have to offer. Here, you’ll read only about their raves.
The world of food according to gourmet travel experts like Richard Vines and Michael Bauer
San Francisco Chronicle restaurant critic Michael Bauer has been covering the gourmet travel and food scene by the Bay for more than 20 years. Holding the title of executive food and wine editor as well, he’s totally tuned into what’s going on in the gourmet travel and restaurant world. In many cases, Bauer’s words are the first – and last – about who’s who and what’s what in dining.
Even after 25 years, this local gourmet travel hangout with a national reputation remains hip. With a vibrant, Parisian-style, standing-only copper bar that greets you upon entering, Zuni Café epitomizes casual California chic when it comes to gourmet travel. Chef Judy Rodgers was named the nation’s outstanding chef in 2004 by the prestigious James Beard Foundation, and she’s been making Zuni Café a San Francisco legend since she arrived 20 years ago. The fare is basic but wonderful: Roast chicken, hamburgers, Caesar salad, and espresso granita are “beyond compare,” says Bauer. More specialties you shouldn’t miss include fresh oysters and the house-cured anchovies.
Details: 1658 Market Street; 415/552-2522;
MythBauer still places this chic eatery, which opened to raves in 2004, among the city’s great gourmet travel restaurants. “Elegant but relaxed,” the restaurant’s menu is “stylish, celebratory … think rigatoni with foie-gras cream, maitake mushrooms, and marsala.” Many main courses are available in two sizes, a format that plays into the still-popular small-plates trend. The restaurant nicely blends the romantic with the dramatics of gourmet travel, says Bauer.
Details: 470 Pacific Avenue; 415/677-8986; www.mythsf.com
Few restaurants appeal to such a wide spectrum of gourmet travel tastes as this Mission District haunt, asserts Bauer. Movies play on the wall in the covered patio, there’s an indoor fireplace for the city’s frequent cool nights, and a separate art gallery doubles as a private dining room. The simple French-Mediterranean cuisine showcases fresh, ingredient-driven cooking. Among Bauer’s must-tries: beef carpaccio with fried herbs, lavender-scented pork loin, and pearginger upside-down cake.
Details: 2534 Mission Street; 415/648-7600; www.foreigncinema.com
Richard Vines has spent many of his 53 years eating around the world while working for The Wall Street Journal Asia and The Times of London. He has reviewed gourmet travel restaurants in Japan, Singapore, Thailand, India, Dubai, Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, France, and Germany. The native Brit joined Bloomberg News in 1995, where he’s now a food critic in his hometown.
Although one of the older restaurants in London, Le Caprice has been doing a solid job for decades, reports Vines. Small and intimate, this traditional gourmet travel restaurant owned by Richard Caring is distinguished as much by its service as its food, both of which can be faultless. Vines’ top dishes include eggs Benedict, Mediterranean fish soup, squash risotto, and deep-fried haddock with minted pea puree.
Details: Arlington House, Arlington Street; 44-207/629-2239; www.le-caprice.co.uk
It’s hard to believe that a gourmet travel restaurant dating to 1851 is one of London’s hot spots, but celebrities such as Elton John and Mick Jagger flock to this large, glamorous seafood restaurant with oak paneling and an onyx-topped oyster bar at the center. Among Vines’ favorites are scampi Provençal, roasted monkfish, Scottish rib steak with béarnaise sauce, and, for dessert, sloe-gin jelly in a martini glass with frosted berries and clotted cream.
Details: 20 Mount Street; 44-207/495-7309; www.scotts-restaurant.com
Earlier this year, chef Gordon Ramsay set aside fancy French cooking to open this small, stylish pub in the Limehouse area, which attracts the banking crowd from nearby Canary Wharf. There are fewer than 20 tables, so Vines suggests calling ahead to reserve a spot by the window for a great view of the river Thames. Though the celebrity chef is never there, says Vines, the English pub food is as good as you’d expect on on any gourmet travel itinerary. But don’t look for standard fish and chips: Swathed in a beer-and-vodka batter, the fish here is as light and crisp as tempura. Other London classics touted by Vines include “London particular,” a pea-and-ham soup; creamy soft herring roe; and potted crab with granary toast, fast becoming a signature dish.
Details: 44 Narrow Street; 44-207/592-7950; www.gordonramsay.com/thenarrow
South China Morning Post food editor Susan Jung was born in Los Angeles into a family of Chinese-American food lovers. She worked as a pastry chef in several Hong Kong gourmet travel restaurants before signing on with the newspaper in 1997. With a print circulation of 100,000, the South China Morning Post is one of the city’s two English-language daily newspapers.
Yung KeeYes, it’s in every tourist guide, says Jung, but Yung Kee wouldn’t have survived for so long if it weren’t good. Always crowded, this gourmet travel restaurant is famous for roast goose but many other dishes are equally delicious. Jung recommends succulent roasted goose livers, tea-smoked pork belly (which you’ll need to order 24 hours in advance), and seasonal dishes such as liver sausages or hairy crab roe with bean curd. Pei dan, also known as century or millennium eggs, are served to every diner. Connoisseurs agree that these eggs (usually duck eggs preserved by salting) are some of the best in town. Yung Kee’s history dates back 60 years, although not always in its present space, says Jung. It originally started as a dai pai dong (open-air street café), but today the restaurant occupies some of Hong Kong’s most expensive real estate, covering three stories, with a floor of private rooms and a members-only club. The ground floor level, for fast meals and solo diners, is loud and rushed; the upper floors are quieter and much more relaxed.
Details: 32-40 Wellington Street, Central; 852/2522-1624; www.yungkee.com.hk
Xi Yan Tastes
Star chef Jacky Yu is the mastermind behind Xi Yan, one of Hong Kong’s most famous “private kitchens” – unlicensed restaurants usually hidden away in office buildings. To accommodate those who were unable to get into the original Xi Yan (which requires reservations several months in advance), Yu opened Xi Yan Tastes earlier this year. Jung says the chef’s newest restaurant, which seats about 50 in a contemporary Asian setting, serves classic Asian and fusion dishes such as smoked duck eggs and pickled ginger sorbet with century egg sauce and caramel. Alas, reservations are still recommended – though only a day in advance.
Details: 2/F, Sharp Street East, Leighton Centre, Causeway Bay; 852/2881-6693; www.xiyan.com.hk
Tsim Chai Kee Noodle Shop
Mak’s Noodles Ltd. Wonton noodles are eaten for lunch, snacks, and light dinners in Hong Kong, and the wontons at these two restaurants attract fiercely loyal fans of gourmet travel. Steps away from each other on the samestreet, Tsim Chai Kee Noodle Shop and Mak’s Noodles Ltd. have been rivals for most of their 15 years of existence. Jung suggests giving both a try and deciding for yourself. She adds these caveats: While Tsim Chai Kee’s portions are substantial and wontons are large and bursting with prawns, portions at Mak’s Noodles are much smaller, but the wontons are juicy and the broth deeply flavorful. Because both places are small, they really pack in diners elbow-to-elbow, and sharing tables or booths is part of the experience during busy periods. The menu at Tsim Chai Kee is limited to three toppings (the famous wonton, fish balls, and sliced beef) and a side dish of seasonal vegetables. The selection at Mak’s Noodles is slightly larger.
Details: Tsim Chai Kee: 98 Wellington Street, Central; 852/2850-6471Mak’s Noodles: 77 Wellington Street, Central; 852/2854-3810
Currently the chief restaurant and gourmet travel reviewer for The Sydney Morning Herald, Simon Thomsen has also served as coeditor of the Good Food Guide, the Australian version of the Michelin Guide, for four years. A former chef and waiter, Thomsen has been writing about gourmet travel, food and restaurants for numerous publications for more than a decade.
Chef Tony Bilson has stood tall among the giants of cooking in Sydney for more than 30 years. An unabashed Francophile, Bilson upholds French standards for fine dining, and his eponymous restaurant, opened in 2003, is the closest you’ll get to great French dining Down Under without hopping on a plane. His nine-course fine bouche menu shows the depth and breadth of the chef’s powers, with sexy starters such as aromatic lobster tartlet and spinach mousseline anchored by kombu seaweed poached in lobster stock. “Few understand and demonstrate the symbiosis of food and wine (and art) with such brilliance,” says Thomsen. This is gourmet travel dining at its formal finest, in a “spacious room with damask-clad tables made all the more beautiful by Bilson’s art collection.”
Details: Radisson Plaza Hotel, 27 O’Connell Street; 61-02/8214-0496; www.bilsons.com.au
The Bentley Restaurant and BarThe Sydney Morning Herald’s best new restaurant of 2006 “remains one of the city’s most interesting and exciting restaurants,” says Thomsen. Consider this example of chef Brent Savage’s intriguing food and wine pairing: Gazpacho Three Ways, a trio of chilled soups the color of traffic lights served in small glasses. There’s a green basil version, creamy almond, and, finally, capsicum and tomato. Matched with a riesling, “It’s not just an education; it’s symbolic of the attention to detail invested here,” says Thomsen. This heritage pub’s interior design has a sassy retro look, with chipboard and plywood finishes and a charcoal banquette that runs down the center, separating diners from drinkers at the long, spirits-laden bar.
Details: 320 Crown Street, Surry Hills; 61-02/9332-2344; www.thebentley.com.au
Sean’s PanaromaThough Sydney is enamored of newness and glitz, Sean’s on Bondi Beach proves that the best things don’t change. Since 1993, this laid-back, breezy room full of retro charm has been a perennial beachfront favorite. The short menu, scrawled on dangling blackboard slats, is simple and comforting. “In this deafeningly loud, modest wedge of a room with water views, you can eat some of the best food in the state,” Thomsen says. Among his picks: the signature festoni (long, flat, corrugated pasta) mixed with shredded arugula, house-made chili oil, and Parmesan; the squab salad; and roasted Barossa chook. Diners also love the cheeky and knowledgeable staff who enhance this gourmet travel experience.
Details: 270 Campbell Parade, Bondi Beach; 61-02/9365-4924; www.seanspanaroma.com.au
New York CityFor 15 years Ed Levine has been writing and talking about food in America’s quintessential food city for a variety of media, including The New York Times, Bon Appétit, Gourmet, Business Week, and NPR affiliate WNYC. The author of two books, New York Eats (St. Martin’s Press) and New York Eats (More) (St. Martin’s Griffin), Levine is also the founder of www.seriouseats.com, a website devoted to conversations about gourmet travel, dining and food.
Peter Luger Steak HouseFounded in 1887, Peter Luger is the prototype for the American steak house. Known for its nearly two-inch-thick, dryaged porterhouse steaks, this always-busy place is short on atmosphere but very long on red meat. The menu is brief – “steak for one, two, three, or four,” lamb chops, salmon, plus legendary creamed spinach and steak sauce – but Levine says this a New York City must.
Details: 178 Broadway, Brooklyn; 718/387-7400; www.peterluger.com
In a city ordinarily known for dinner as theater in three acts, Boqueria exemplifies a freer form of gourmet travel dining that elevates the tapas trend. Levine says the casual spot with café tables up front and a communal table in the back has become a symbol of the new, more relaxed and spontaneous way to dine in New York. Boqueria has the intimate feel and rustic look of a small tapas bar in Spain but, as a real sit-down eatery, can accommodate a larger crowd. Named after the famous Barcelona market, Boqueria is known for its adventurous but inexpensive list of Spanish wines. Among the dishes not to miss: fried quail eggs and chorizo on toast, chilled almond soup, fried anchovies, boar terrine, suckling pig, and crema Catalana clásica.
Details: 53 West 19th Street (Avenue of the Americas); 212/255-4160; www.boquerianyc.com
Totonno’s Pizzeria NapolitanoThe original pizzeria opened on Coney Island in 1924, and today it’s said to be the country’s oldest pizza parlor run continuously by the same family. But you don’t have to go to Brooklyn to try these pies that, says Levine, many New Yorkers herald as the best in the city. Brick coal-fired ovens turn out the famous pies in a basic pizza-parlor atmosphere with tables close together and a cluttered bar. Don’t miss the signature white pizza made with mozzarella, pecorino Romano, and fresh garlic. Totonno’s Manhattan location offers a full menu in addition to the legendary pizza, including pasta alla Bolognese and veal marsala. The family is justifiably proud of its pizza. How proud? The website heralds a Zagat’s quote proclaiming, “Only God makes better pizza!”
Details: 462 2nd Avenue; 212/213-8800; www.totonnos.com
Giorgio Benedetti, publisher of Argentina’s widely respected wine magazine En Primeur, has written for the last ten years about wine and gourmet travel for publications in Buenos Aires and Argentina, including El Cronista Comercialnewspaper and several regional magazines. He’s served as a tasting judge at numerous wine competitions, and travels extensively in his quest for “new flavors.”
Oviedo RestauranteThis venerable restaurant reflects the European roots of Buenos Aires cuisine, offering “excellent Spanish food” in plain yet elegant surroundings, says Benedetti. Known as much for a distinguished clientele as its menu, Oviedo specializes in suckling pig. Other delights: raw oysters (enjoy with a small glass of dry sherry), scallops, squid-ink paella, and Norwegian cod. Ask for a tour of the caves that house the wine cellar, hidden behind a trap door just inside the entrance and offering labels from around the world. Benedetti says the warm lighting and rich decor make dining here a relaxing gourmet travel experience. Service is excellent, and so is the English spoken by the staff.
Details: Beruti 2602, Palermo Viejo; 54-11/4821-3741; www.oviedoresto.com.ar
Casa CruzAn impeccable restaurant in the fashionable Palermo neighborhood, Casa Cruz has been famed for its lively bar scene since opening in 2004. Enter through imposing, polished-brass doors, and don’t let the lack of a sign deter you. Once inside, the dark, modern interior has the feel of a nightclub where, says Benedetti, “fashion models, celebrities, and cool businessmen wander around as if it were their own living room.” But they come for the eclectic menu as much as the scene. Chef Germán Martitegui’s “urban Argentine cuisine” (distinctive because of its strong resemblance to European cookery rather than other Latin American cuisines) is at once “refined and explosive,” says Benedetti. Do not miss the warm oysters and provolone soufflés, he recommends, or the potato and black pudding gnocchi.
Details: Uriarte 1658, Capital Federal; 54-11/4833-1112; www.casa-cruz.com
Argentina is a carnivore’s paradise, and nothing is more Argentine than a grill house or parrilla. Owner Hugo Echevarrieta presides over his restaurant with an orchestral conductor’s aplomb and a surgeon’s eye for detail. Steaks are big enough to serve four, especially the 30-ounce rib eyes. Benedetti says the best choices are theasado (short rib roast), lomo (sirloin steak prepared with a mushroom or pepper sauce), and mollejas de chivito al verdero (young goat sweetbreads in a scallion sauce). The gourmet travel gourmet travel, menu also includes venison and buffalo, and the local wine list, says Benedetti, is excellent. With the sounds of tango in the air, dining rooms on two levels are characterized by whitewashed walls and crisp linens, while gaucho memorabilia adds a regional motif.
Details: Estados Unidos 465, San Telmo, Distrito Federal; 54-11/4361-5557; www.labrigada.com
Ceci Connolly, a staff writer with The Washington Post for the past decade, now writes about food and culture from Mexico City. A true foodie and reformed political reporter, Connolly began filing restaurant listings in her Palm Pilot during several hungry years on the campaign trail. In addition to the Post, her articles have appeared in Every Day with Rachael Ray and Inside Mexico magazines.
Chauffeur-driven cars line up outside Contramar, which combines a funky, slightly mod decor with the traditional rites of comida, Mexico’s late-afternoon marathon meal. Reservations at peak hours (after 2 pm) are snared by embassy types and corporate executives, so Connolly suggests arriving at 1:30 when the doors open. Waiters display plates of giant raw clams and offer buttery Chilean sea bass or the signature pescado a la talla Contramar – a butterflied red snapper garnished with chile and parsley sauces in the colors of the Mexican flag.
Details: Durango 200, Colonia Roma; 52-55/5514-3169; www.contramar.com.mx
Aguila y SolThis elegant dining room embodies the ultrachic vibe of the swanky Polanco neighborhood (think Rodeo Drive en español). Connolly says chef-owner Marta Ortiz Chapa is the hippest thing going on the capital’s power-dining scene. Now ensconced in larger, airier digs, Aguila y Sol has an impressive wine list and a menu imbued with flashy variations on classic Mexican themes. Connolly recommends the fall-off-the-bone duck in a rich, dark mole sauce, and says the enormous appetizer sampler serves a crowd. Thoughtful touches with style: Water glasses are garnished with star fruit, and meals end with a selection of on-the-house sweets. Watch out for the chile-infused tidbits, Connolly warns: They’re delicious but dangerous.
Details: Avenida Molière 42; 52-55/5281-8354
El TajinAn off-the-beaten-path gem, El Tajin is tucked inconspicuously into the Veracruz Cultural Center in the southern neighborhood of Coyoacán, famed as the home of Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés, as well as Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Connolly says chef Alicia Gironella De’Angeli is considered Mexico’s leading advocate of the “slow food” movement, and “her graceful creations make you want to slow down to savor each element.” Start with the perfectly balanced lime soup, or try the edible squash flowers highlighted in many dishes. Ask for a table on the veranda, which overlooks the garden.
Details: Miguel Angel de Quevedo 687, Colonia Coyoacán; 52-55/5659-5759
by: Dotty Griffith
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