When we review restaurants, we follow the same protocols as when we evaluate hotels: We always dine anonymously and pay full price for our meals. This past year, events forced us to reduce the number of restaurants we visited. But we made notable discoveries nevertheless, both in traditional gourmet centers such as France and Spain as well as in more-unexpected destinations. Each of the venues below creates cuisine that is at once completely modern but also deeply rooted in its region.
Prague, Czech Republic
In an untouristy neighborhood, Levitate is Prague’s most creative and ambitious restaurant. Chef Christian Chu, born in Vietnam and a Czech citizen since 2002, has a unique take on cooking, combining Asian influences with top-quality Czech ingredients. This high-wire act never faltered over the well-paced 12-course menu. I delighted in some delicate Czech sturgeon with a bright dressing of yuzu and ginger and herbaceous gelées of sorrel and sea buckthorn. A local Welschriesling paired beautifully. Wagyu veal tongue came topped with red wine-poached fermented mustard seeds that burst in the mouth like good caviar. Most surprising was the pumpkin-buttermilk-honey ice cream with savory ground pumpkin seeds and a dusting of ground dried salmon, which added depth and complexity to the dessert. The meal was expensive by Czech standards but a sensational value as far as I was concerned.
Štěpánská 14, Prague. Tel. (420) 724-516-996
I had numerous delicious meals in Puebla, a well-preserved colonial city about two hours from the Mexico City airport. But my favorite venue was this stylish restaurant helmed by chef Angel Vázquez. He caused a splash when he opened Intro, a gourmet restaurant serving international cuisine. His new venture, Augurio, housed in a historic building in Puebla’s old center, focuses instead on beautifully composed versions of local recipes. I started with the “Salpicón de Jamaica” salad, with tomatoes, local white cheese, crunchy pickled onion, avocado, aromatic oregano and spicy chipotle vinaigrette. Even better was my main of suckling pig confit, with a rich, tangy pipián verde mole made with pumpkin seeds. The creative cocktails also impressed. Augurio serves as a reminder of the depth and sophistication of Mexico’s culinary traditions.
9 Calle Oriente 16, Centro Histórico, Puebla. Tel. (52) 222-290-2378
Leynavatn, Faroe Islands, Denmark
Koks literally means “flirt” in Faroese, with the connotation of someone who fusses and fiddles in search of perfection. Ever since it first opened in 2011, it has been on a mission to make traditional Faroese foods and recipes a part of the New Nordic food movement, the collective of Scandinavian chefs who’ve made the region a mandatory gastronomic destination over the past 20 years. At Koks, chef Poul Andrias Ziska’s challenge has been to tempt foreigners to sample Faroese foods like fermented lamb, which is made by allowing the meat to cure in the breezes of a curing shed, and to seduce the Faroese into eating locally harvested foods they traditionally disdained. These shunned foods included the islands’ shellfish, which was once eaten only by the poor. Suffice it to say that many people will find some courses rather harrowing, since fermented lamb tallow and whale meat are acquired tastes, while other dishes are unforgettably magnificent, like mahogany clams with kale purée and seaweed.
Frammi við Gjónna, Leynavatn. Tel. (298) 333-999
The name of this restaurant is a Catalan word that means “roots” in English. This references the fact that chef Joan Bagur, a Menorcan native, returned to his island home after cooking at an alphabet of famous establishments on the mainland and was eager to open a restaurant that applied the technique he’d acquired to the island’s finest produce. “Menorca is one of the best pantries in the whole world,” says Bagur. “We have superb seafood, olive oil, cheeses, vegetables, fruit, charcuterie, and this makes it a brilliant place to cook.” Bagur’s all-white dining room with a quiet terrace for alfresco meals serves a menu of inventive contemporary Menorcan and Catalan dishes that change constantly but run to ravioli stuffed with local red shrimp; cold beet-and-basil soup; roast suckling pig; and roasted dentex (a firm white fish) with grilled artichokes and chicken-and-red-prawn terrine.
CarrerSant Isidre 33, Ciutadella. Tel. (34) 971-480-516
Chef Stéphanie Le Quellec’s supper club is the perfect answer to the proverbial question of food-loving visitors to Paris: We want to try someplace new, so where should we go for our big splurge? After a reputation-building stint at the Prince de Galles hotel, where she won two Michelin stars, chef Le Quellec struck out on her own a year ago on the swanky Avenue Matignon. A casual bistro on the first floor is great for lunch, while her gastronomic restaurant downstairs has an intimate dining room that seats 44 covers. Le Quellec’s cooking is light, flavorful and technically impeccable with a touch of originality, as seen in dishes like poached langoustine with buckwheat and a quenelle made with the claw meat of the crustacean; Scottish grouse with morels cooked with smoked tea; and a sumptuous ganache of criollo chocolate from Venezuela made with olive oil. This sleek and stylish restaurant is the perfect place for a very special meal in Paris.
32 Avenue Matignon (8e), Paris. Tel. (33) 1-42-65-05-61