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A Tasteful Tour

From Manhattan to Kauai, with myriad delicious destinations in between, exciting things are happening on the culinary landscape. Chefs are innovating; hot spots are opening; and diners are embracing new approaches to favorite dishes. Here, a coast-to-coast itinerary for roaming gastronomes.

Unfussy dishes, like squid ink noodles with cortez bottarga, fennel and lemon oil ($7) sing at Octavia in San Francisco.

San Francisco
The saying “simple doesn’t mean easy” could have been inspired by Melissa Perello. Since opening her first restaurant, Frances, in 2009, the chef has become famous for preparing unfussy dishes in which a lack of embellishment belies an outrageous depth of flavors. At her serene second restaurant, Octavia, an airy, elegant 55-seat spot in Pacific Heights, Perello continues to let her ingredients speak for themselves with clarity and poise. Her seasonal menu is a testament to Northern California’s bounty: Smoked Bodega Bay cod is paired with purslane, white corn and poppy seed ($36), while confit Sonoma duck leg harmonizes with roasted cherry, watercress and wild ramp panzanella ($37). 1701 Octavia St., General Manager Robert Wright, 415.408.7507

Don’t-Miss Dish
The deviled egg with Fresno chile relish and marash pepper and spice ($5) has become the restaurant’s signature.
Paired With There’s no specific pairing, since wine selections are guided by the table’s whole order, but the House Cocktail (Lillet Blanc, Alessio Vermouth di Torino, Petal & Thorn, $10) makes a winning complement.
Tablehopping Filmmakers Trey Parker and Matt Stone, former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano and former Mayor Willie Brown have been spotted here.
Power Move To learn about artisanal vermouth during dinner, you can request an impromptu educational flight from your server.

Miami Beach, Fla.
Food truck impresario Paul Qui may not immediately come to mind when one thinks of the Faena Miami Beach, one of the city’s newest five-star playgrounds. At Pao by Paul Qui, the James Beard Award winner’s approach has been given a gilded makeover. Like everything else at the restaurant, the presentation here is flawlessly cinematic. 3201 Collins Ave., General Manager Michael Pounsberry, 786.655.5600

Don’t-Miss Dish
The unicorn sea urchin with grilled sweet corn pudding, kalamansi, chile de árbol and sake aioli ($25) is a tantalizing execution of both good taste and flawless plating.
Paired With Sommelier Chris Zarcadoolas suggests pairing the appetizer with a glass of Trimbach Riesling ($17), a dry Alsatian wine with honeysuckle notes that embrace the brininess of the uni.
Private Dining For those times when privacy is a must, the La Cava dining room seats 22 around a handcarved dining table, which is bookended by a spectacular collection of wines from near and far.
Power Move Make it a night to remember and stay on property, from $495 per night.

Los Angeles
When two L.A. culinary power couples join forces—Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb, who oversee the Rustic Canyon family of restaurants; and chef Bryant Ng and wife Kim, who garnered serious accolades and awards at their beloved Spice Table in Little Tokyo—there’s a good chance the restaurant will supersede all expectations. The menu combines Ng’s Singaporean, Chinese and Vietnamese background with a French brasserie aesthetic, which means things like lemongrass-poached chilled seafood ($24); pot au feu with bird’s-eye chiles ($46); and garlicky, buttery crushed escargot with hot-from-the-oven naan ($18). On the ground floor of an art deco building, the restaurant and its patio are airy, sun-drenched and always bustling. 1314 Seventh St., Santa Monica, General Manager Laurie Pesce, 310.393.6699

Don't-Miss Dish The supple egg custard ($18) is a sleeper hit, an umami-filled dish with braised mushrooms and sea urchin roe.
Paired With Wine Director Kathryn Coker likes anything sparkling with the custard. “The NV Pierre Peters Cuvee de Reserve Blanc de Blanc Champagne ($65 per half-bottle) is elegant and supercrisp to complement the earthiness of the dish,” she says.
Private Dining Across from the wood-fired grill, there’s a hidden room filled with lanterns, leafy plants and colorful flowers that seats up to 20 people.
Power Move Pop over to nearby Esters, the wine bar and shop from the same owners. Start there with light fare before dinner, or pick up a couple bottles for home. 

Aspen, Colo.
Aspen’s Mi Chola gleams hip and contemporary with an edgy graffiti- and tattoo-inspired decor by nightclub designer Davis Krumins. While flavors and cuisine are traditionally Mexican, inspired by East Los Angeles taquerias, owners Darren Chapple and Adam Malmgren have added a global twist. Featured on the menu are unique creations conjured by Head Chef and part-owner Robert Reyes. He puts a healthy spin on standard fare (think roasted Brussels sprouts, $9) and fuses it with other Latin American and Asian influences (think ahi tostadas tartare, $16) and a slew of handmade tequila cocktails that take it back down south of the border. With supporting chefs formerly from Matsuhisa and element 47, Mi Chola’s atmosphere is just what the sophisticated and hip Aspen crowd and visitors have been waiting for. 411 E. Main St., co-owner and General Manager Darren Chapple, 970.710.7076

Don’t-Miss Dish
The chicken chimichurri ($24). With its Argentinian-style pesto, it’s like nothing else in Aspen.
Paired With Owner Adam Malmgren suggests pairing the chimichurri with a Gingercello Margarita ($12), made with Casamigos blanco, locally made Gingercello from the Marble distillery in Carbondale and muddled serrano peppers.
Tablehopping Grab a table on the 50-seat patio and spot an Aspen celebrity (and more than a few resident dogs) strolling down Main Street.
Power Move Because everyone loves to add meat to a vegetarian dish, order the Harvest Bowl ($19) with the beef from the Korean beef tacos. “It’s not on the menu, but the flavors are just killer together,” says Malmgren.

Pao by Paul Qui’s signature execution of sea urchin with grilled sweet corn pudding, kalamansi, chile de árbol and sake aioli ($25)

Orange County, Calif.
Vaca, from Executive Chef Amar Santana, the Top Chef season 13 contender, received excited buzz even before it opened late last year. The menu boasts authentic Spanish cuisine—think killer jamón ($28 to $36 per oz.) and paleta ibérico ($18) and other traditional delicacies. The Bikini sandwich is an outrageous few bites of jamón, manchego cheese and preserved truffles pressed panini-style between brioche ($13); and the canelon de pollo ahumado is the ultimate indulgence, with a foie gras cream sauce enrobing a cannelloni shell filled with tender shredded chicken ($14). But all eyes are on the paella—seafood, meat, vegetarian—each served with a thick layer of flavorful rice (seafood $42, meat $39, vegetarian $32). The steak collection is, of course, impressive too. Vaca’s house specialty: beef rib steak, sold by the pound ($55 per pound) and aged at least 50 days. Vaca is a culinary hot spot that propels O.C.’s food scene to great heights. Viva la Vaca! 695 Town Center Drive, Costa Mesa, General Manager Ghali Benhima, 714.463.6060

Don’t-Miss Dish
The seafood paella ($42) is culinary artistry. Bomba rice is bathed in a seafood-vegetable broth, then topped with a layer of clams, mussels, octopus and prawns.
Paired With Chef Amar Santana recommends the 2012 Dominio de Pingus Tempranillo from Ribera del Duero ($1,800 per bottle).
Tablehopping Fellow chefs, food writers, and a plethora of VIPs and local social elite can be spotted on any given day.
Power Move For a real treat, grab a spot at the eight-seat counter by the bar and watch the pantry-station chefs work their magic.

Nashville, Tenn.
In West Nashville, Fifty First Kitchen & Bar, from serial arts and culture entrepreneur Christy Thurman, offers an ever-changing menu featuring fresh-from-the-farm produce. Expect at least two to three pasta dishes on any given night, including an astounding version of black truffle rigatelli ($16). Like the to-die-for bread selection, the pasta is made in-house under the loving touch of Executive Chef Francesco Vito. Sunday brunch is a local favorite, where tunes from the restaurant’s extensive vinyl collection pair, oh, so well with the rum caramel cinnamon rolls ($4) and zeppoli with orange icing ($6). 5104 Illinois Ave., owner Christy Thurman, 615.712.6111

Don’t-Miss Dish
The charcuterie ($11) with house-cured meats has become one of the restaurant’s most popular offerings. 
Paired With Locals love the inventive cocktails, especially ones using Nashville-based distillers, such as Pickers Vodka, which shines in the blood orange mule ($10). 
Private Dining The expansive front patio area can be reserved (price on request) for a private celebration. 
Power Move Bring your musical requests; they spin vinyl here. Don’t be shy about asking to help play spin doctor if you feel like it.

Kapaa, Kauai, Hawaii
Chef Jean-Marie Josselin’s new venue on Kauai’s Coconut Coast, appropriately dubbed JO2, offers a vibrant menu that puts the spotlight on heirloom vegetables grown right on the island. “For me, it’s a question of lightening everything up,” says the chef. The menu is highly seasonal and changes daily. With his focus on the fresh and inventive, it’s no surprise that JO2 receives more than its share of local VIPs—movie producers, actors and politicians—many of whom have second homes on Kauai. As his diners want privacy (you’ll be sure to see faces hidden by baseball caps), Josselin graciously grants them sanctuary in his tasteful culinary refuge. 4-971 Kuhio Highway, General Manager Steven Rodrigues, 808.212.1627

Don’t-Miss Dish
Marinated for a full day, the Hunan-style rack of lamb with chipotle-blackberry sauce ($35) demands to be experienced.
Paired With Hawaii’s best-known sommelier, Chuck Furuya, suggests the Scheurebe Trocken Hans Wirsching ($40 per bottle).
Private Dining Ask for the newly finished private patio, which can accommodate parties of up to 25.
Power Move Share your preferences with General Manager Steven Rodrigues. He’ll convey them to the chef, who will add a special spin to your dining experience.

Inspired by Roman cuisine, Dallas chef Julian Barsotti’s Sprezza (shorthand for sprezzatura, meaning all special things that derive from a studied nonchalance) sums up his culinary philosophy nicely: “It looks effortless, but actually requires a lot of thought and nuance.” For instance, the stellar squash blossoms on top of a tomato anchovy sauce and stuffed with mozzarella ($11) look easy, but making something this simple means that everything has to be pitch-perfect. The wood-fired pizzas ($16) are a must here. Order one with mozzarella, salame, long hot peppers and caciocavallo for a spicy kick that will make you glad you snagged the hard-to-come-by reservation. 4010 Maple Ave., General Manager Adam Karpf, 972.807.9388

Don’t-Miss Dish
The spaghetti suppli ($11) is particularly popular.
Paired With Try an easy-drinking white like Tenuta di Pietra Porzia Frascati ($55 per bottle).
Private Dining Request tables 5 or 17 if you are with a group.
Power Move If you know your classic Roman pastas—think cacio e pepe or spaghetti alla carbonara ($17 each)—and you don’t see them on the menu, simply request them. Chef will happily oblige.

New Orleans
Fresh from his recent James Beard Award win, chef Alon Shaya’s much lauded New Orleans restaurant provides a warm and welcoming approach to the cuisine of Israel. Particularly tempting menu items include red snapper with spring potatoes, field peas, fresh dill and ramp aioli ($32); and slow-cooked lamb served with whipped feta, walnut and pomegranate tabouleh ($36). Bright-blue accents, from the wood-fired oven’s gleaming mosaic tiles to the ironwork in the courtyard, pay homage to traditional Israeli design as well. 4213 Magazine St., Executive Assistant Meredith Dunbar, 504.891.4213

Don’t-Miss Dish
The hummus with tahini, extra-virgin olive oil and Aleppo pepper ($9) is a classic representation of a traditional Israeli dish.
Paired With Sommelier Matthew Portnoy recommends the Shvo Chenin Blanc ($95 per bottle) from Israel. 
Private Dining Shaya offers two spaces available for private dining–the Magazine Dining Room and the Courtyard Dining Room.
Power Move Reservations can be tough, but call at 10am to book one of the courtyard tables. 

Emerging chef William Wright’s intimate taverna, which opened last fall in Houston’s trendy Rice Village area, produces light and bright Hellenic dishes that sommelier Evan Turner pairs with America’s largest all-Greek wine list west of the Mississippi. Fresh seafood changes daily, depending on what the restaurant’s fisherman, Frixos—yes, they really have their own guy across the Atlantic—catches, while classics like the feta-brined chicken ($28) and the Black Hills pork gyro ($48) are fixtures. The concept is simple, but the execution is exceptional. 2429 Rice Blvd., General Manager Sharif Al-Amin, 832.831.7133

Don’t-Miss Dish
The chargrilled octopus served on fava beans ($36) is a classic.
Paired With Sommelier Evan Turner recommends the Gavalas Nykteri ($61 per bottle) from the island of Santorini.
Tablehopping With only a few dozen tables inside, the venue packs in socialites, Texas Medical Center surgeons and Rice University professors like fresh sardines.
Power Move In a city known for easy parking, this is perhaps the only neighborhood where finding a spot rivals Manhattan. Park in the nearby Village Arcade garage and do a little shopping at Elaine Turner’s boutique or new French design store CloClo & Rino before dinner.

Las Vegas
Hailing from the California coast, Herringbone presents star chef Brian Malarkey’s fish-meets-field concept at ARIA in Las Vegas. In a city saturated with celebrity chefs and high-end restaurants, Malarkey and Executive Chef Geno Bernardo expertly elevate the Herringbone dining experience without coming off as pretentious. The inside dining area is light, open and airy with a roomy bar, while the outside patio is outfitted with comfortable social seating, natural lighting and ample vegetation. Herringbone’s menu is a study in naturally sourced seafood and produce grown by regional farmers, accented with a well-balanced wine, beer and cocktail list that transcends typical Las Vegas restaurants. 3730 Las Vegas Blvd., General Manager Candice Kinsey, 702.590.9898 

Don’t-Miss Dish
The restaurant’s coastal cuisine concept is finely executed in its signature dish—the whole grilled branzino with shaved fennel salad, salsa verde and lemon ($45).
Paired With To enhance the grilled branzino’s flavors, Beverage Director Constantin Alexander recommends pairing the dish with a Flower & Vine cocktail ($16), a provocative mix of G’Vine Floraison gin, Esprit de June liqueur, muddled blueberry and lemon.
Tablehopping Recent celebrity sightings at Herringbone include Nicolas Cage, Drake, Alicia Vikander, Tiësto and Derek Jeter.
Power Move Discreetly promoted Champagne packages ($2,000 to $10,000) that include bottles and magnums, such as Dom Pérignon Brut Rosé 2003 and Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 2006, are available for brunch, which is served Saturdays and Sundays starting at 10am.

Scottsdale, Ariz.
Located in the heart of Old Town Scottsdale, this elegant eatery garners buzz for its posh digs and sublime prix-fixe meals. Chef Branden Levine, who appeared recently on Food Network’s Beat Bobby Flay, rotates the four-course menu weekly to allow room for creativity and innovation. Expect dishes that incorporate fresh, local and seasonal ingredients, like seared hand-harvested sea scallops with fiddlehead fern succotash, beluga lentils, grilled corn, red quinoa, lobster reduction and blood orange beurre blanc ($40); or grilled filet mignon with garlic and cipollini onion risotto, asparagus and Banyuls wine bordelaise ($45). Add foie gras to any dish for an extra $25. Try the prix fixe menu ($70 per person) or enjoy the menu a la carte (from $16 per dish). 7044 E. Main St., General Manager May Evans, 480.949.6296

Don’t-Miss Dish
The roasted corn soup with jumbo lump crab, micro wasabi salad, lemon oil and smoked sea salt tortilla ($16) has become a popular summer fixture.
Paired With The Barbara Jean cocktail with gin, strawberry liqueur, chamomile syrup and lemon juice ($14) brings out the bright pop of citrus in the soup.
Private Dining Diners can rent the patio area (from $3,500) for a more intimate experience.
Power Move Book your visit for a Thursday night. After your meal, browse more than 30 nearby Scottsdale art galleries, which extend their hours to 9pm on this night, to showcase top artists.  

Silicon Valley, Calif.
Chef Robbie Wilson’s stints at The French Laundry, Matsuhisa and, most recently, Mattei’s Tavern in Santa Barbara, inform Bird Dog’s frequent menu changes. From small-plate veggie offerings such as a beets and berries medley ($16) to slices of ocean trout topped with crispy squid chips ($16) to entrees like a wagyu preparation with black beans, jalapeno and cotija ($29), or the outstanding fried chicken thigh accompanied by green curry, egg yolk and smoked uni ($18), it is hard to make a wrong move here. If Wilson’s goal is to provide dishes that are creative and delectable in stylish environs—mission accomplished. 420 Ramona St., Palo Alto, Assistant General Manager April Lanier, 650.656.8180

Don’t-Miss Dish
The wood-grilled avocado ($14) has emerged as a signature item.
Paired With 2014 Pierre Henri Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine Sur Lie ($10 per glass)
Private Dining Leather-lined sliding panels can be closed off to create a private venue, complete with a fireplace.
Power Move Request Table No. 31, which is next to the open kitchen. You’ll be right on top of the action, practically rubbing shoulders with the chefs.

New York City
The latest offering from Michelin-starred Dovetail’s chef John Fraser and former Condé Nast Editorial Director James Truman, Nix focuses on vegetarian food cooked in a wok and a tandoor oven. This Indian-Chinese hybrid means plenty of South Asian-style dishes, like naan with spiced eggplant and avocado ($5) and curry dips ($4 each); and overnight clay-oven beets and pistachios ($15)—while wok specialties include fried farro and Brussels sprouts topped with a poached egg ($17). A subdued dining room works as a serene background for the artisanal, seasonal food, which is largely sourced from the nearby Union Square Greenmarket. Housemade sodas like carrot and saffron are the healthier option, but original cocktails like the delicately decadent Valentine, a liquid symphony in almond milk, sake and fresh roses, will round out the meal more satisfactorily ($12). 72 University Place, General Manager Chris Bialecki, 212.498.9393

Don’t-Miss Dish
The tangy, refreshing salad with blood orange ribbons of jicama drizzled with Fresno chile ($12)
Paired With The Baja cocktail, a sweet-and-sour concoction of fresh mango and tequila garnished with lime and paprika ($12)
Tablehopping Thanks to co-owner James Truman’s editorial-world connections, the place is regularly frequented by the literary set from Condé Nast and Hearst.
Power Move For an impromptu drop-in, skip the long wait for a table and grab seats at the cozy lively bar, which draws a sophisticated, colorful crowd.

San Diego
For San Diegan food lovers, living 15 minutes from the border has its perks. One of the most important? The unparalleled connection with the booming Baja food scene. Chef Javier Plascencia, nicknamed the “Master of New Tijuana” by The New York Times, takes that connection seriously with Bracero Cocina de Raiz. Recently opened, the eatery has quickly become one of the city’s most popular fine dining destinations, highlighting the deep culinary relationship San Diego has with its neighbor to the south. The menu is filled with traditional Mexican dishes, like a fresh fish ceviche tostada with avocado and cilantro ($11) and tamales with roasted poblano peppers and queso fresco ($16), but it is Plascencia’s unexpected plates that are truly outstanding. The 36-hour Niman Ranch pork shank served with mole, avocado leaf and wood-fired baby sweet potatoes ($34) is a must, as is the wood-grilled octopus served atop olives, crispy garbanzo beans, yuzu roasted peanuts and jalapenos ($17). No need to make a trip south of the border! 1490 Kettner Blvd., General Manager J.M. Woody Van Horn, 619.756.7864

Don’t-Miss Dish
The wood-grilled octopus small plate ($17) is the venue’s most recognizable offering for its extravagant presentation.
Paired With Pairings from the Baja wine region are highly recommended. Go for the Monte Xanic Sauvignon Blanc ($40 per bottle) from the Valle de Guadalupe, which will bring out the seafood’s fresh flavor.
Private Dining Diners can book a chef’s tasting experience ($100 per guest) in which Plascencia will serve eight to 10 of his most inspired dishes alongside beverage pairings.
Power Move Head to the upstairs lounge rather than beelining to the first available bar stool. Up top you’ll find more room, more privacy and unobstructed views.

After tasting what chef Noah Sandoval could do at gluten-free restaurant Senza—and earning a Michelin star in the process—Chicagoans couldn’t help but wonder what he could do without the ingredient restriction. At Oriole, an elegant 28-seat spot in the West Loop, Sandoval offers a 15-course tasting menu ($175) that serves as a reminder of why this type of dining still matters. If there’s a running theme through the chef’s diverse dishes—ranging from Santa Barbara sea urchin with yuzu kosho to lamb belly with huckleberry—it would be a purity of flavors that come through loud and clear. 661 W. Walnut St., General Manager Cara Sandoval, 312.877.5339

Don’t-Miss Dish
The Alaskan king crab served in a lovely ceramic bowl topped with cara cara oranges and edible flowers is a standout from Sandoval’s seasonal multicourse tasting menu ($175).
Paired With The delicate fruitiness of the 2014 Domaine Weinbach Clos des Capucins Riesling, part of Beverage Manager Aaron McManus’ $75 pairing menu, goes perfectly with the subtle sweetness of the crab and onions.
Tablehopping During the week, Oriole’s dining room includes some of Chicago’s top food-industry players. Rumor has it one top sommelier had a standing weekly reservation—and we can totally see why.
Power Move While every table at Oriole offers a view into the glass-enclosed kitchen and all the magic happening within, tables 22 and 32 give diners the ultimate front-row seat.

Washington, D.C.
To anyone who may think that chef Eric Ziebold lost his touch during the planned hiatus after he left D.C.’s renowned CityZen, his answer came earlier this year with the opening of Kinship, the chef’s first foray into restaurant ownership, in the trendy Mount Vernon Triangle and Shaw neighborhood. The 80-seat venue conveys Ziebold’s cooking pedigree (stints at both uberchef Thomas Keller’s Per Se and The French Laundry) with a wildly ambitious menu. But its Penn Quarter setting, coupled with an understated elegance, also reveals a brand of dining grace that’s quite rare these days. One starter that has been sending guests to the moon is a torchon medallion, in which white mushroom puree (whirled with butter) subs for foie gras ($14). Another favorite is Ziebold’s duck confit with fava shoots, maitake mushrooms and red-wine sauce ($26). It’s the type of dish that reminds gourmands that tradition and modernity can coincide beautifully in the most brilliant kitchens. 1015 Seventh St. NW, General Manager Jamie Morris, 202.737.7700

Don’t-Miss Dish
Maine lobster French toast with persimmon, cucumber and sesame mousse ($30) is a heady indulgence that feels gloriously right every time.
Paired With Sauvignon Blanc Domaine Vacheron Chambrates 2011 ($130 per bottle). Sommelier Kerstin Mikalbrown eagerly showcases a collection of impressive older wines and selections from small producers.
Private Dining Customization for any size party is an art here. Insiders have opted for the recently opened Métier (inquire for pricing), a private culinary warren tucked alongside Kinship that serves as a chef’s table.
Power Move Getting a table is tricky every night of the week, but insiders know to ask for tables 21 or 22 in the dining room, as these bar booths are available for walk-in guests.

Look to the latest apps and online technology, especially if you are from out of town, not only to find insider, local advice and dining direction, but also to snag those hard-to-get table reservations.

Reserve combines the best of a booking service with the personalized information only a concierge can provide. Covering major cities like Los Angeles, New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C., the app employs filters like neighborhood, cuisine and atmosphere to narrow down your resto search. Plus, when the check comes, you can easily settle the bill with the credit card on file—much like Uber. Free, booking fee $5

Born from a simple promise to keep a steady date night with his wife, Santosh Jayaram and his partner, Pete Goettner, created the Table8 service to help the ultimate procrastinator. Now available in a dozen major cities from Atlanta to Seattle, the premium Table8 Dining Club gives members access to coveted last-minute reservations, unique culinary experiences and exclusive special events. Dining club membership $95 per year, bookings included

“I started building Tock after watching the crazy inefficiencies in the restaurant industry and using applications that were built in the ’90s and never improved upon,” says Tock CEO Nick Kokonas. Kokonas began developing the software, which allows diners to book prix fixe dining experiences. Now in eight countries and 30 cities (with a heavy focus on Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago), Tock is accessible through Google Cloud, meaning you don’t actually have to download a thing. Free, dining experiences price upon request