Since 1969, restaurant, hotel, travel & other witty reviews by a handpicked, worldwide team of discerning professionals—and your views, too.

Letter from the Editors

Toujours Bubbles
Toques, Trends & Top Restaurants
by Alain Gayot


Dear Reader
,

Welcome to our Annual Restaurant Issue. In our world, there is a plethora of restaurant establishments that are all different, and all fighting for life with a variety of motivating forces. A restaurant is strictly a business for some, and a labor of love for others. Whether an eatery is trying to take your dollar or your heart, there are many degrees of success, and quite a bit of risk involved. The restaurant galaxy is a bit like a glass of Champagne; pour in the sexy beverage and watch the bubbles travel up the glass, then take it into your body and feel the action.

Our rating system often confuses restaurant-goers, but we’ve used it for over forty years, so we’re keeping the tradition alive. The rating on a twenty point scale is used to grade the food only. Ambience, service, décor and other parts of the dining experience are addressed in the review. So for the most part, our restaurants are at the top of our toque tallies because of what you will find on your plate.

Since we are now publishing our work on the Internet, we actually update these ratings year-round, unlike printed guides. The speed at which stars are born and vanish in the eatery stratosphere is astonishing. Ventures open and close before you’ve even been able to jump on OpenTable.com to secure a reservation.

It’s important for our readers to understand that beyond the food rating, an establishment appears on our “Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S.” list because it offers everything that a successful dining room must provide: top ingredients, pronounced creativity in the execution of the food, solid service and a look that you’ll want to emulate for your next remodel. A small independent restaurant that has remarkable food but a perfunctory wine list would not make the grade, nor would a top dining room with all the trimmings where the chef has fallen asleep at the wheel. There might not be anything completely wrong with the place, except that nothing has changed in ten years. Top golfers and tennis pros eventually fall from their apex and consequently, so do their scores. Even if they maintain their skills, but fail to improve, others may come along who surpass them.

How many times have you dined at a restaurant that you tell yourself you’ll never visit again? Others continue to frequent the place, and they don’t seem to find a problem with it. GAYOT.com has been copied on countless letters to establishments where diners got sick and were seeking damages. This illustrates the risks in evaluating dining. One dish may be off. Perhaps a bad shrimp got into the batch or the chef was thinking of something other than food that evening. Perhaps he was simply tired and too much salt got in. Does Tiger Woods win every Grand Slam tournament? The worst is going in with high expectations, which is understandable, especially when you just listed your new exotic car on eBay to finance the meal. Our role is to give you a map of the solar system, to point out the safe planets to avoid asteroids and to simply watch shooting stars.

I, along with my father André and my sister Sophie Gayot, want to congratulate all the hardworking men and women whose restaurants are heralded herein. We welcome those who made our Top 10 New Restaurants list as well as the nine restaurants that have never earned a spot in our Top 40 before. With so much talent at work in the kitchen, choosing our Rising Chefs was perhaps our most difficult task. If you get the chance, try tasting the work of other notables, including Iacopo Falai, Marco Bustamante, and Ryan Racicot, whose older brother Dave made our list this year.

We also celebrate the return of Urasawa, Seeger’s, and Le Rêve to our Top 40 after their brief absence last year. And while we’re on the topic of resurrection, we’re thrilled to see Le Cirque, like an acrobat, make a successful landing on New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s turf at One Beacon Court, where it can continue to entertain diners. We’d like to bid a sad farewell to L’Orangerie, which will close its doors Dec. 31, 2006, after 28 years of fine dining, as well as other notable restaurants like Bastide.

We also want to thank our growing staff of trusted and dedicated professional food writers around the world who have helped make this issue, and our website, a success.

Best wishes of health and prosperity to all of you.

In last year's Restaurant Issue, we remarked on how top chefs were transforming Las Vegas from a gambling mecca to the Restaurant Capital of the World. With the triumphant openings of Restaurant Guy Savoy and Michael Mina’s Stripsteak, his first steakhouse, the culinary explosion along the Strip continues. But other goings-on in the restaurant world have caught our attention over the last twelve months:

American Pride

In the past, a peek into the kitchen of most great restaurants would reveal either a French chef or one trained in Europe. But now, thanks to fine culinary institutions like the California Culinary Academy and The Culinary Institute of America, the United States is generating a lot of homespun talent who were born and learned to cook stateside. Besides national pride, another benefit of home-grown chefs is the pressure they put on their region’s farmers to produce fresh local ingredients.

Small is Beautiful

The small plates concept has been around for a while, but more and more tapas restaurants, lounges and wine bars are focusing on the fun factor instead of food. Their casual, comfortable atmosphere has made them more of a place to hang out for good times rather than gourmet cuisine.

Burgers Everywhere

While literally billions of these simple sandwiches have already been gobbled up by Americans, more and more places are concentrating on the humble but heralded hamburger. In most cities you can buy and eat one without getting out of your car for the change found under the driver’s seat, but they are also being prepared, deconstructed and cooked to order by top chefs. Hamburgers made from Kobe beef are showing up on top menus from coast to coast, and the hottest item at DB Bistro Modern in Manhattan is the $32 sirloin burger filled with braised short ribs, foie gras and black truffle. (Don’t worry, it comes with fries!) Although steakhouses are still quite popular, at the trendy Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, many people ignore Dakota for the more casual atmosphere of 25 degrees, which specializes in burgers, both beef and turkey. Even über-chef Hubert Keller of Fleur de Lys couldn’t resist opening his own Burger Bar on the Vegas Strip.

Supersizing

Americans like things BIG, and restaurants are no exception. Despite astronomic real estate prices in Manhattan, Buddakan, a two-story Chinese mansion filled with a labyrinth of corridors connecting various chambers including a sunken ballroom, measures a whopping 16,000 square feet. That’s nosed out by Jack’s La Jolla, which houses three different San Diego restaurants under one roof covering 17,000 square feet. The City of Big Shoulders is also the City of Big Restaurants with the Latin-themed Carnivale taking up a staggering 35,000 square feet, bigger than the last two restaurants combined.

Miniaturizing

But some restaurateurs still see the joy in thinking small. True artisans like Daniel Patterson at Coi in San Francisco and Guenter Seeger at his eponymous restaurant in Atlanta are following in the footsteps of Ken Frank (pictured above) of La Toque in Rutherford, Calif., who knows that the best way to please diners is to give their food as much attention as he can. Frank gave up his trendy business on the Sunset Strip to open an intimate place that is all about the food, and not so much on the scene. Coi has just 27 seats in its main dining room, allowing Patterson to focus more on each course of his customer’s meal, as opposed to becoming a food factory.

Which of these last two contrasting trends will play a bigger role in the dining scene of the future? Come back and see what we have to say next year!

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RESTAURANT AWARDS 2014

Check out the 2014 edition of GAYOT's Annual Restaurant Issue, which features the Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S., Rising Chefs and more.