America's Top 5 Restaurants - Dining Destinations Worth Every Penny


If you are a foodie making your bucket list, these 5 altars of haute cuisine are worth dying to try

By: Cindy Kurman Barrie, President, Kurman Communications Inc.

Posted on: May 7, 2015

Not to say that America has a dearth of luxurious, good, fine dining restaurants, but then there are some which outshine, or should we say, out-whip the rest! So here is a little about the top five restaurants in America according to us.

The French Laundry
You would be remiss not to visit The French Laundry when traveling to the San Francisco Bay area. From its location in Yountville, CA, about 60 miles north of San Francisco in Napa Valley, renowned chef/proprietor Thomas Keller’s restaurants set a new paradigm within the hospitality profession. He is the first and only American-born chef to hold multiple three-star ratings from the prestigious Michelin Guide, as well as the first American male chef to be designated a Chevalier of The French Legion of Honor, the highest decoration in France. He has received countless accolades, including The Culinary Institute of America’s ‘Chef of the Year’ Award and the James Beard Foundation’s ‘Outstanding Chef’ and ‘Outstanding Restaurateur’ Awards. Food writer Ruth Reichl wrote in the New York Times that The French Laundry is “the most exciting place to eat in the United States…. (Keller) is a wizard, a purist, a man obsessed with getting it right.”

The name Keller is synonymous with impeccable food and service. The ratio of servers to diners is unprecedented, so be prepared to have every whim met. Don’t expect a stuffy staff or environment. The stone building that houses The French Laundry provides a homey atmosphere with damask covered well-spaced tables and windows peeking into a wine cave. It’s clear that guests are here to not only enjoy the food, but their companions as well.

Two tasting menus are offered daily: a nine-course chef's tasting menu as well as a nine-course vegetable tasting menu. No single ingredient is ever repeated throughout the meal. The prix fix menu is $295 USD per person including gratuity for the base meal, not including additional supplements such as Russian caviar and truffles, and selections from the impeccable wine collection. They also offer a Tasting of Vegetables menu for the same price. The food is mainly French with contemporary American influences.

While they are temporarily closed for renovation, stay tuned for an even better (if that's possible) version of The French Laundry!

Salad at The French Laundry, CA

Do it yourself - An alternative to dining at one of Keller’s stellar restaurants (he has others in Yountville, Las Vegas and New York) is to do it yourself at home. Keller is the author of five cookbooks, of which more than one million copies are in print. His award-winning The French Laundry cookbook debuted in 1999, followed by Bouchon and Under Pressure, a cookbook dedicated to sous vide preparations. He also authored Ad Hoc at Home, a book of family-style recipes that received awards from IACP and the James Beard Foundation, in addition to appearing on The New York Times Best Sellers list for six weeks in 2009 and 2010. His most recent project, bestselling cookbook Bouchon Bakery, was on The New York Times Best Sellers list for nearly two months after its release in October 2012. 

Coordinates: 6640 Washington Street, Yountville, CA 94599
Ph: 707-754-4199

Alinea
Alinea is not a restaurant in the truest sense. There is nothing traditional about the Alinea experience. Even the reservation system is called “ticketing.” and acquiring a ticket can be months in the making. Head chef and co-owner, Grant Achatz, is known for his preparations and deconstructions of classic flavors. The cuisine is considered molecular and experimental. It is inventive, modernist. One could argue that while Chicago is called the Second City, it has securely claimed first place for its dining prowess, led by culinarian Achatz. Even the culinary Oscars, the prestigious James Beard Awards, were held in Chicago recently, a first for the New York-based organization that honors the nation’s top culinary leaders.

What to expect? The unexpected. The menu features a season-driven tasting menu of between 18 and 22 delicious courses. The experience is fun, taking you to a path of discovery with each dish. Alinea is one of the most decorated restaurants in the world. It currently holds the highest rating of three stars from the Michelin Guide, a designation it has held for the past four years. It has three times been named the Best Restaurant in America and also won the James Beard Award for Best Service in U.S. Early on, Achatz received the Beard Foundation’s Rising Star Chef of the Year Award. He was also named among the best new chefs in America by Food & Wine, and Alinea was named Best Restaurant in America by Gourmet magazine.

It has received the AAA Five Diamond Award, the highest level of recognition given by the AAA, in consecutive years from 2007 to 2014 and is ranked No. 9 on the S. Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants.  

Dessert at Alinea, Chicago

Do it yourself - We don’t pretend to believe that anyone can cook Grant Achatz’s food at home. His books, however, are beautiful and great for your coffee table or as a gift. Alinea is the, the debut cookbook from the restaurant that Gourmet magazine named the best in the country. Grant Achatz: The Remarkable Rise of America's Most Celebrated Young Chef, a collection of articles taken from the Chicago Tribune, is an up-close examination of Achatz's personal history and international impact in the culinary world. Included are rare interviews on Achatz's humble beginnings as a young chef and modest lifestyle, stories from his stint as executive chef of Evanston, Illinois's four-star restaurant Trio, long-unseen restaurant reviews, as well as features on his innovative restaurants Aviary and Next, which play with Achatz's trademark concept of molecular gastronomy and the importance of presentation and memory in fine dining. The most poignant of the collection is Life, on the Line: A Chef's Story of Chasing Greatness, Facing Death, and Redefining the Way We Eat. "One of America's great chefs" (Vogue), Grant Achatz, shares how his drive to cook immaculate food fueled his miraculous triumph over tongue cancer.

Coordinates: 1723 N. Halsted St., Chicago, IL 60614 
Ph: 312-867-0110

Le Bernardin
Le Bernardin is New York's only four-star seafood restaurant. It is renowned not only for its impeccable cuisine, but also for its understated elegance. The food served in Le Bernardin's beautiful dining room is as subtle and refined as any in the world. Chef Eric Ripert’s cuisine stays true to the restaurant’s legendary cofounder and first chef Gilbert Le Coze, focusing on the quality and freshness of the fish. 

Perhaps the chicest, most fabulous restaurant in New York, Le Bernardin has gone through an elaborate makeover designed to make Le Bernardin more accessible to what longtime co-owner Maguy Le Coze describes as the restaurant’s “younger clientele.” Postmodern touches including an upbeat soundtrack and edgy art, as well as new Bernardaud plates helps to make the space more upbeat and contemporary. Gone is the former stately character that gave it its “Frenchness.” 

New is The Lounge, offering a casual and elegant way to experience Le Bernardin. Offering small plates as well as a signature cocktail list of old classics and new favorites, the lounge sits under the watchful eye of Maguy and Gilbert Le Coze’s grandfather, whose portrait has been hung in the restaurant since it opened in New York in 1986.

In 2009, Le Bernardin was voted 15th best restaurant in the world in the Restaurant magazine Top 50. It is one of only seven restaurants in New York awarded three Michelin stars, and is the restaurant which has held four stars from The New York Times for the longest period of time, having earned the ranking in early 1986. James Beard Foundation Awards honored Le Bernardin with a number of awards including Outstanding Restaurant (1998), Outstanding Chef – Eric Ripert – 2003, Outstanding Pastry Chef – Michael Laiskonis – 2007. In 2013, Zagat cited it as being voted NYC’s Most Popular and No. 1 for Food, with a food rating of 29.

Do it yourself - There are three cookbooks about Le Bernadin: 
•  A Return to Cooking 2002 which includes a dazzling collection of recipes to do it at home
•  On the Line 2008 - How does a 4-star restaurant stay on top for more than two decades? In On the Line, chef Eric Ripert takes readers behind the scenes at Le Bernardin, one of just three New York City restaurants to earn three Michelin stars.
•  Le Bernardin Cookbook: Four-Star Simplicity 1998 - Maguy Le Coze traces the origins of Le Bernardin's "simplicity" to her late brother.
In addition to the above, Chef Eric Ripert has penned a number of cookbooks. A Culinary Journey with Eric Ripert, Avec Eric, and My Best: Eric Ripert.

Coordinates: 155 W 51st St., New York, NY 10019
Ph: (212) 554-1515

Joël Robuchon
If it’s a celebrity driven fine dining restaurant you want, you need not look any further than Las Vegas. Just about every award-winning celebrity chef has flocked there in recent years, making Las Vegas one of the world’s greatest eating cities. With close to 40 million annual visitors, Las Vegas is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, with visitors from every part of the country and from every corner of the globe.

Escape to one of Joël Robuchon’s most beautiful restaurants. Considered one of the best restaurants in the US if not the world, it is nestled within the famous MGM Mansion and is the global flagship of the most Michelin-starred and decorated chef in history. A recipient of Forbes Five-Star and AAA Five Diamond, Joël Robuchon defines Las Vegas fine dining.

The restaurant is set in an Art Deco townhouse, exquisitely decorated by Pierre-Yves Rochon. It’s extraordinary, even by Las Vegas standards where everything is over the top. The Las Vegas kitchen is led by executive Chef Claude Le Tohic. Joël Robuchon is a jewel in every sense. The ever-changing menu never fails to wow. The spectacular décor, flawless service and overall experience is one that you will remember for a lifetime. If you truly understand the concept of fine dining, you can’t do better. The full degustation menu can run more than $900 for two, and it’s worth every cent.

Joel Robuchon Las Vegas restaurant

Do it yourself - There are an abundance of books by Joël Robuchon or about him, 18 to be exact. The Complete Robuchon by Joël Robuchon and Robin H.R. Bellinger; Le Cuisine de Joël Robuchon: A Seasonal Cookbook by Joël Robuchon; L'Atelier of Joël Robuchon: The Artistry of a Master Chef and His Proteges, by Patricia Wells and Joël Robuchon; and French Regional Food by Loic Bienassis and Joël Robuchon would be a fine addition to any collection. 

Coordinates: 3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, Las Vegas, NV 89109
Ph: (702)891-7358

Restaurant Gary Danko, San Francisco 
San Francisco is certainly a culinary capital and choosing the best restaurant here is difficult. There are many outstanding choices. That being said, only one consistently rates as the best and has since its opening in 1999. Restaurant Gary Danko namesake chef/owner Gary Danko is widely recognized as one of America's most talented and respected chefs. The Danko name has come to epitomize sophisticated modern cuisine. Nabbing a reservation, while difficult, is so worth the try.

Danko continues to impress. He manages to accomplish a luxurious fine dining restaurant with no pretense. His food is spectacular, offering an American menu firmly rooted with traditional sensibilities, yet he draws from world cuisine and techniques from Asia and India. Creative and adventuresome with great finesse and balance of flavors, Danko is dedicated to using seasonally, locally grown and raised foods. An early pioneer of sustainable cuisine, he has developed relationships with local artisan cheese makers, meat and produce suppliers, long before other chefs discovered the virtue of this approach. Save room for the beautiful cheese cart packed with local artisan cheeses and be prepared to enjoy flawless service and excellent wine pairings. 

The restaurant has received its sixth Five Star rating from Mobil as well as a Relais & Chateaux designation, and reviews continue to extol its delights. At this point, most chefs would relax and count their blessings, but not the unstinting Danko. "We may be three thousand miles and twelve blocks off Broadway, but what we do here is definitely theatre," explains Danko. "We work hard to ensure that each evening's 'performance' is seamless and magical."

Danko has won the James Beard Foundation "Best Chef - California" award. Years of study, hard work, experimentation, combined with his creative ability to create dishes that have depth , and simplicity and warmth of home cooking is what defines Chef Danko.

Coordinates: 800 North Point at Hyde Street
Ph: (415)749-2060

Baked Chocolate Souffle by chef gary danko

Cindy Barrie KurmanCindy Kurman Barrie is president of Chicago-based integrated marketing agency Kurman Communications, Inc. and is founding partner of Newsline360.com, a cloud-based newsroom builder that provides a direct link between journalists, bloggers and consumers who elect to follow company newsrooms. She was recently chosen as one of Chicago Business Journal’s Women of Influence. She is a respected news evangelist, well known for her marketing prowess, especially in the lifestyle, restaurant and hospitality, automotive, publishing and technology arenas. Her work has been widely published and is often quoted regarding industry trends. Cindy is on the board of Chicago’s Green City Market and the River North Business Association and is a past board member of Women Chefs and Restaurateurs. Follow her on Twitter at @prcindy

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