Gone are the days when even top hotels regarded their restaurants as afterthoughts. In fact, hotels now contain some of the best restaurants in the world. I love this development, because it means I can experience a delicious meal — accompanied by a glass or two of wine, of course — and simply waddle upstairs when it’s over.
We discovered no shortage of superlative hotel restaurants in 2019, just as we did last year. It’s not unexpected to see hotels in Italy and France with excellent restaurants, but it’s more surprising that the other three on the list were in Israel, Mexico and Florida, places that fewer people associate with haute cuisine. Nowadays, it’s not only possible to find superb food outside of the world’s traditional gastronomic centers; it’s essential to travel outside of them if you want to get a sense of the most interesting fine-dining trends. But fortunately, once you’re there, you may not have to travel any farther than the main floor of your hotel in order to dine in a region’s best restaurant.
Here are five of our favorite hotel restaurants from 2019.
The Norman – Tel Aviv, Israel
Part of the pleasure of dining at Alena derives from the restaurant’s location on the ground floor of Tel Aviv’s chicest hotel (plus on an adjacent outdoor terrace), an elegant yet casual setting that is a constant whirl of cosmopolitan social activity. Chef Barak Aharoni’s cuisine is deservedly acclaimed and deceptively simple. His signature dishes include Middle Eastern lamb parcels, pasta envelopes stuffed with lamb, aromatic spices, fresh mint and chile; and white grouper spaghettini, egg yolk pasta with chile, white wine and herbs. After a delicious selection of mezzes, we opted for the grilled chicken with preserved lemon, rosemary, Kalamata olives and kale. This might sound a tad uninspiring, but having been cooked sous vide, the chicken was preposterously tender and the flavors intense. Alena is also open for breakfast, and there are few more agreeable places to begin a day than beneath a white umbrella on the sunny terrace, with gallons of fresh Jaffa orange juice, strong coffee and a generous dish of shakshuka (eggs cooked in a spicy sauce of tomatoes, chile peppers and onions).
Chablé Resort – Chocholá, Mexico
The name “Ixi’im” means “corn” in the Mayan language, a reference to brilliant young chef Jorge Vallejo’s use of local produce to create superb contemporary Mexican dishes like crab with habanero mayonnaise and charred-onion powder, black sea bass with butter beans and grasshopper mojo, and turkey with mole poblano and pumpkin. This exceptionally beautiful restaurant occupies a renovated colonial-era outbuilding on the hotel grounds. Large picture windows in the dining room overlook a water garden. Ixi’im has one of the largest tequila collections in the world with more than 3,750 varieties.
Praia Art Resort – Isola di Capo Rizzuto, Italy
Open only for dinner, the Michelin one-star Pietramare Natural Food restaurant has a handsome setting in a stone and steel-beamed pavilion with picture windows, plus an outdoor terrace for alfresco dining. Helmed by young chef Ciro Sicignano, a native of Naples, it’s rightly considered to be one of the best restaurants in Calabria for its inventive contemporary Italian cooking and delicious modern riffs on traditional Calabrian dishes. All the pasta is handmade daily, and the seafood is especially good, since the restaurant buys almost exclusively from local fishermen. Sicignano’s cooking is spectacularly fresh and delicious, including dishes like langoustines with roasted eggplant and mozzarella, a starter, and roasted suckling pig with a reduction of green apples. The wine list showcases Calabria’s excellent but little-known vintners. Service is alert, friendly, English-speaking and charming.
La Maison des Têtes – Colmar, France
Marilyn and Eric Girardin bought the landmark La Maison des Têtes in 2015 and refurbished it, turning what had been a storeroom into a sleek minimalist restaurant accented by an extraordinary cocoon of gray fabric panels. Chef Girardin himself came to the table to take our order. A tapioca squid-ink cracker topped with octopus and aioli was the Mediterranean in a bite, and an aromatic red beet gazpacho with chunks of yellow beet and apple tasted like summer. A mushroom dish — chanterelles, morels and pickled shiitakes with mushroom foam and a perfect soft-boiled egg — was luxuriously rich. And we relished the crispy-skinned Alsatian chicken breast with chopped artichoke hearts, artichoke purée and chicken jus. The jus tasted so deeply satisfying, we couldn’t resist eating a spoonful straight from the pot. After dinner, we returned to our room, having been seduced once again by the soulful food and vivacious wines of the Alsace.
Four Seasons Hotel at The Surf Club – Surfside, Florida, United States
Michelin three-star chef Thomas Keller’s first Florida restaurant has quickly become the poshest place to dine in Miami. London-based designer Martin Brudnizki has created a glamorous, softly lit interior that evokes the art deco glories of Miami Beach with terrazzo floors, teal-blue banquettes and coral-pink upholstered chairs. Keller, who has three Michelin stars at the French Laundry in Yountville, California, and Per Se in New York City, does a wonderfully tongue-in-cheek take on Continental cuisine. What surprises is how good this country-club food can be when prepared with first-rate ingredients and haute cuisine technique. Standouts include the oysters Rockefeller, jumbo lump crab cakes, lobster thermidor, and beef short rib Wellington with a foie gras sauce. Don’t miss the coconut chiffon cake or the seven-layer dark-chocolate cake for dessert.