By: Florence Fabricant
Travelers to cities like Paris or Hong Kong often make restaurant reservations long before they book their hotels. That’s because the food in these places has become as much of an attraction as the museums and local scenery. But with popularity comes crowds, punishingly high prices, and worst of all, a certain complacency in the kitchen. Fortunately, wonderful new culinary scenes are emerging in unexpected places around the globe. Sherman’s Travel enlisted Florence Fabricant, one of the world’s foremost authorities on food, to report on the best new culinary destinations.
Rethink the Cliché: You’ll still find stuffed grape leaves in the typical taverna, but leave room for cutting-edge meals by Athens’ new chefs.
Book a Table: In the chic Kolonaki district, 48 reshapes typical Greek dishes like stuffed tomatoes into sushi-like tidbits (48therestaurant.com; entrées from $19). Nearby Varoulko has a rooftop view of the Acropolis but inventive seafood is what really draws attention (varoulko.gr/uk; 3-course menu for $75). Milos serves pristine seafood, like red-fleshed wild Aegean oysters (milos.ca; entrées from $26).
Find a Room: The Grande Bretagne, the grand dame of Athens hotels, anchoring Constitution Square, has been refurbished (grandebretagne.gr; rooms from $340/night). For a modern feel, check into the Fresh Hotel (freshhotel.gr; rooms from $189/night).
Rethink the Cliché: No longer just wurst, kraut, and beer served by waitresses dressed in dirndls.
Book a Table: Located in a former brewery in Mitte (in the east), Restaurant Maxwell offers the best example of modern German cooking with dishes like trout in brown butter, game terrine, and rare duck breast with cabbage (restaurant-maxwell.de; entrées from $20). For a splurge, high-end luxury that doesn’t forget its German roots can be found at the Lorenz Adlon (hotel-adlon.de; fixed-price menus from $140).
Find a Room: For proximity to the Brandenburg Gate, Adlon Kempinski is a smart splurge (011-49-30-2261-0; rooms from $280/night). For value, try Lux 11 near Berlin Mitte (lux-11.com; rooms from $160/night).
Rethink the Cliché: Forget haggis, that iconic Scottish stew bolstered with oats and steamed in a sheep’s stomach. Like London, Edinburgh has become a magnet for chefs who revel in the pristine seafood, dairy, meats, and game that come from the lowlands, highlands, and craggy shores.
Book a Table: Low rent led Martin Wishart, one of the few Michelin-starred chefs in Scotland, to open the restaurant bearing his name in Leith, a once run-down waterfront district. Local lamb, herbs, wild salmon, and langoustines anchor the menu in his elegant, understated dining room (martin-wishart.co.uk; entrées from $47). Leith also boasts Fisher’s Bistro, known for fresh seafood, simply-prepared (011-44-131-554-5666; entrées from $20). Downtown, Hadrian’s in the Balmoral Hotel offers a varied, well-wrought gastropub menu in an art deco brasserie setting (thebalmoralhotel.com; entrées from $27).
Find a Room: The Glasshouse is housed in an old church with giant floor-to-ceiling windows (theetoncollection.com; rooms from $290/night). In Leith, the Malmaison, once a sailor’s mission, has added some edge to the decor (malmaison-edinburgh.com; rooms from $195/night).
Rethink the Cliché: Tourists often play it safe with continental fare at the hotels. But excellent Turkish dishes, often regional, based on Ottoman recipes or featuring locally harvested seafood, are begging to be discovered.
Book a Table: For local culinary pleasures, there is Balikçi Sabahattin, in a traditional wooden house offering a prix-fixe seafood menu (011-90-212-458-1824; fixed-price menu for $17); Develi, with its well-spiced meat-based dishes (develikebap.com; entrées from $5); Pandeli, in the Egyptian market, famous for its Izmir tile decor (011-90-212-527-3909; entrées from $75); and one of the most romantic spots of all, Korfez, reached by boat across the Bosporus and lit only with candles (011-90-216-413-4314; entrées from $10).
Find a Room: When it comes to location, to say nothing of luxury and service, the Four Seasons is the winning property in Istanbul (fourseasons.com/istanbul; rooms from $370/night). Hotel Ibrahim Pasha is set in a four-story townhouse with a rooftop deck overlooking the Blue Mosque (ibrahimpasha.com; rooms from $163/night).
Rethink the Cliché: You only have to see the bottled water delivered to restaurants for everything from ice to washing vegetables, to understand that dining in Mexico has changed.
Book a Table: Patricia Quintana, one of the country’s culinary experts, reinterprets the Mexican idiom with smooth, chili-fueled sauces in a modern dining room at Izote, her restaurant in the chic Polanco district (011-52-55-5280-1671; entrées from $21). The rustic cooking at Fonda el Refugio in the zona Rosa has newfound validity (011-52-55-5207-2732; entrées from $9), as does the varied, simple fare at Café de tacuba downtown near the Zocalo (011-52-55-5578-4950; entrées from $8). Fashionistas find their way to La Valentina in San Angel, a stuccoed room where crisp, fried grasshoppers can be nibbled with tequila (011-52-55-5662-0872; entrées from $20).
Find a Room: Casa Vieja has suites filled with hand-carved furniture and original artwork (casavieja.com; rooms from $300/night). Condesa DF is hipper, with playful decor and a rooftop lounge (condesadf.com; rooms from $155/night).
Museums in New York City
Rethink the Cliché: In city museums, cafeterias of convenience have given way to serious restaurants that serve visitors hungry for more than just culture, hold the Klimt.
Book a Table: At Danny Meyer’s The Modern, in the Museum of Modern Art, chef Gabriel Kreuther leavens his contemporary American fare with touches of France, especially his native Alsace (themodernnyc.com; 3-course menu for $85). Café Sabarsky, situated in a grand, wood-paneled room in the Neue Galerie, serves smoked trout, Wiener schnitzel, and other tempting Austrian specialties (wallse.com; entrées from $11).
Find a Room: On the Upper East Side, Lowell offers amenities uncommon in city hotels, such as fireplaces and terraces (lowellhotel.com; rooms from $665/night). Surprisingly affordable Hotel QT, one of hotelier André Balazs’s flashy newcomers, allows guests to put their savings toward dining out (hotelqt.com; rooms from $125/night).
North Fork, Long Island
Rethink the Cliché: This bucolic, newly established New York wine region lacked fine meals to match the merlots. Until now.
Book a Table: At the North Fork Table and Inn in the town of Southold, the menu exploits the area’s bountiful fresh seafood and vegetables (northforktableandinn.com; entrées from $28). At Scrimshaw on the waterfront in Greenport, a few touches of Asia season fresh ingredients (scrimshaw restaurant.com; entrées from $28) while the nearby Frisky Oyster gets inventive with seafood (thefriskyoyster.com; entrées from $24). The Jedediah Hawkins Inn in Jamesport offers a lengthy list of local wines to accompany finely wrought food in a restored sea captain’s house (jedediah hawkinsinn.com; entrées from $22).
Find a Room: The Harborfront Inn is situated in the historic heart of Greenport on the water (theharborfrontinn.com; rooms from $189/night). Bartlett House Inn is an elegant 10-bedroom bed and breakfast in Greenport. (bartletthouseinn.com; rooms from $150/night).
Palm Beach and the Gold Coast
Rethink the Cliché: Fancy but boring resort fare has been replaced by respected chefs who discovered the value of following their customers to this vacationland.
Book a Table: Café Boulud transfers New York style to the Brazilian Court hotel in Palm Beach (danielnyc.com; entrées from $33). In Delray Beach, connoisseurs seek out 32 East’s well-seasoned meat and seafood dishes that deliver Floribbean touches, such as Key lime aioli with calamari (32east.com; entrées from $26). Mark Militello, who made his name in North Miami, holds forth at his flagship Mark's Las Olas in Ft. Lauderdale (chefmark.com; entrées from $23).
Find a Room: Go for authentic, historic Palm Beach glitz at the renovated Brazilian Court (thebraziliancourt.com; rooms from $350/night).
Rethink the Cliché: Typical resort and tourist fare in Puerto Rico has given way to cutting-edge Nuevo Latino cuisine prepared by local talent and imported mainland chefs who jockey for the tourists’ dollars.
Book a Table: Book a table Alfredo Ayala, who worked with Jöel Robuchon in Paris, has opened his latest, Delirio, in a Miramar mansion not far from the historic district. He brings touches of his native Puerto Rico – like fresh cod in coconut and pumpkin juice – to a complex menu (787/722-0444; entrées from $21). At Dragonfly in Old San Juan, Asian and Caribbean are blended smartly in dishes like fresh lobster udon with ajillo sauce and Mongolian beef ropa vieja (787/977-3886; entrées from $14). At sister restaurant Aguaviva, seafood is infused with local spices and flair (oofrestaurants.com; entrées from $25).
Find a Room: In Old San Juan, El Convento – built in a converted 17th-century convent – has a welcoming mix of old- and new-world charm (787/723-9020; elconvento.com; rooms from $235/night). Just outside the city, Condado Plaza is a stylish (its new lobby is designed by David Rockwell), less expensive option (787/721-1000; condadoplaza.com; rooms from $169/night).
Rethink the Cliché: Tunisia, once mainly a tourist destination for northern European sun-seekers on a budget, is finally coming into its own. Along with spectacular Roman ruins and mosaics, it boasts a varied cuisine that rivals Morocco’s but with more spice. Tunis, the capital, with ancient Carthage and chic Sidi Bou Said as its suburbs, must be on the itinerary.
Book a Table: Palatial, tiled, and turning out platters of couscous is Dar el Jeld in Tunis’s Medina district (dareljeld.tourism.tn; fixed-price menus from $36). Le Carthage, a simple whitewashed dining room, features tender lamb cooked in a clay jar and tagines, which are not stews like in Morocco, but a kind of pâté (011-216-71-255-614; entrées from $9). The Rest’ô in Carthage melds French flair and the Maghreb in a minimalist setting (villadidon.com; entrées from $12).
Find a Room: The Villa Didon overlooks the sea, has a spa, and is near Punic and Roman ruins at Carthage and the coast (villadidon.com; rooms from $307/night).