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Atelier Crenn, San Francisco

By Conde Nast Traveler Thursday, January 20 01:36 PM

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When you think of France, do food, art, and perhaps poetry spring to mind? If so, Atelier Crenn, Michelin-starred chef Dominique Crenn's new restaurant, which opens tomorrow in San Francisco's Cow Hollow neighborhood, is likely to transport you there.

Crenn, who is originally from Versailles, sees plates as blank canvases on which she attempts to remind the diner where the food comes from: Many of the ingredients on her seasonal, modern French menu come from Gouge Eye Farm, a small holding near Sacramento. Winter dishes include slow-cooked eggs, chanterelles ŕ la grecque with wild nettle, and trout fumé served with rose, horseradish, and crispy fennel--but don't be surprised if soil or river stones are incorporated into your dining experience to connect your dish back to its source.

The paintings on Atelier Crenn's walls are by the chef's late father. And the poetry? Crenn is inspired by verse and composes a poem before writing her menus. It seems that she aims to feed the soul as well as the stomach.

Photo: Courtesy of Ron Armstrong

Aburiya Toranoko, Los Angeles

By Conde Nast Traveler Thursday, January 20 11:42 AM

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Here are two words for those of you who are guilty of ordering the same old dish at the same old restaurant month after month: Aburiya Toranoko. Go there, order the shiokara-marinated intestines, and open your palate to a whole new set of sensations. Good ones, we hasten to add.

Aburiya Toranoko, opening tomorrow in downtown L.A.'s Little Tokyo, is the latest offering from Michael Cardenas, who also owns the Lazy Ox Canteen next door. Alongside those intestines, you might also like the miso-marinated beef tongue. But don't worry, there are plenty of play-it-safe dishes on the menu, too, from sumiyaki to sushi--all expertly created by former Nobu Matsuhisa chefs.

As you'd expect from an izakaya cocktail bar, the menu includes an extensive sake selection as well as plum wine, Japanese beers, and cocktails with an Asian twist-- surefire ways to guarantee you won't chicken out.

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Daniels

 

The House of Shields, San Francisco

By Conde Nast Traveler Wednesday, December 29 05:09 PM

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So what if this beautiful old bar in downtown San Francisco doesn't have a clock (or a TV) to help count down the last seconds of 2010? We're hoping it means there won't be a last call, either.

The House of Shields has been around for a while--over 100 years, in fact. But it has just reopened after a renovation that's added some extra polish to the wood-paneled walls and brass statues and stripped the floor back to the original tile mosaic. Owner and chef, Dennis Leary, also runs Canteen restaurant and the much-loved Sentinel sandwich shop next door, so expect some quality eats soon, too.

Grab one of the spruced-up wooden booths for you and your posse to toast 2011...just make sure one of you wears a watch.

Padma Lakshmi Collection, The Surrey Hotel, New York City

By Conde Nast Traveler Tuesday, December 28 05:13 PM

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New York City's Upper East Side, home to the pretty of face and the deep of pocket. Could there be a better place to shill the new jewelry line of model-turned-reality-TV-star Padma Lakshmi?

To catch the eye of chic peripatetic types, the Top Chef host has checked her baubles into the neighborhood's recently renovated Surrey hotel (look for the customized armoire in the lobby). We love the boho elegance of the bold pyrite and garnet necklace that references Masai bead wear and the 14-karat-gold earrings reminiscent of Southeast Asian orchids.

While a touch of Lakshmi's glamour is an added attraction, there's no need for her cooking prowess here--the top chefs of Café Boulud at The Surrey have all that in hand.

The Counter, New York City

By Conde Nast Traveler Friday, December 17 05:26 PM

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Is there such a thing as too much choice? When West Coast burger joint The Counter opens its first New York City outpost in Times Square on Monday, you'll be able to choose from more than 300,000 burger combinations. Surely it's only a matter of time before someone takes that as a challenge.

The options to build your own Angus beef, grilled chicken, turkey, or veggie burger--with toppings like grilled pineapple, roasted corn and black bean salsa, country buttermilk Ranch dressing, basil pesto, fried egg, and dill pickle chips--sound yummy. And the industrial-style interiors with hanging globe lights and mint-colored walls will be a welcome respite from the many gaudy fast-food options in Midtown.

Better still, there's a full bar with spiked shakes. We're there.

Photo: Courtesy of The Counter

The Normandy Hotel, Washington, D.C.

By Conde Nast Traveler Tuesday, December 14 11:21 AM

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Saving a couple of hundred dollars when you're staying in D.C. might feel like a drop in the ocean compared with the sums Congress is arguing over. But for ordinary folks like us, it's a big deal. The Normandy is a 75-room hotel that feels far more luxurious than the bargain rates (often as low as $109 per night) suggest. Located on a leafy side street within walking distance of Dupont Circle's restaurants and bars, the Normandy juxtaposes Old World touches like toile wallpaper with a clean, neutral palette and leather headboards. Service is friendly and efficient, and there's a host of perks (free Wi-Fi, Nespresso coffee machines in the rooms, wine and cheese receptions). It all adds up to a pleasant stay, and, dare we say, the best value in the District.

And while you're in town...

Eat here:
Bibiana
Madeleine Albright, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg have all been spotted in Bibiana's buzzy dining room. So, what's the draw? Chef Nicholas Stefanelli applies a light touch to pasta dishes such as citrus agnolotti (airy pillows perked up with tangy ricotta) and buttery Maryland lump crab on a rich tangle of squid ink spaghetti. The confident yet unobtrusive service is a welcome plus, too.

Drink here:
Columbia Room
The tiny Columbia Room is part apothecary, part Japanese omakase experience. Owner and master of ceremonies Derek Brown chips ice from a wooden hangiri while holding forth on the chemistry of tinctures and the history of tiki. Tipplers tend to linger, taste-testing new recipes, mellowing out to the acoustic indie soundtrack, and ordering one last cocktail. We suggest the martini, the perfect marriage of precision (Brown uses a thermometer) and flair (that cut crystal coupe!).

Photo: Courtesy of the Normandy Hotel

La Terrasse, Bern, Switzerland

By Conde Nast Traveler Thursday, December 09 11:52 AM

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If you like the idea of watching a chef at work but prefer to keep your distance from sharp knives and hot sauces, La Terrasse at the grande dame Bellevue Palace hotel in Bern, Switzerland, is the place to eat.

Diners already use an iPad to browse the French dishes on the menu. Now they can use the tablet to watch head chef Gregor Zimmermann cook their dinner. And beginning next year, it will also be possible to connect to the kitchen directly via instant messaging to say hello or share some "constructive criticism."

We're told the communication will be one-way, so you won't hear what the chef thinks of your culinary advice. Probably just as well.

Photo: Courtesy of the Victoria-Jungfrau Collection

Babylonstoren, Drakenstein Valley, South Africa

By Conde Nast Traveler Wednesday, December 08 12:27 PM

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Locavores are likely to think they've died and gone to heaven when they arrive at Babylonstoren, a 300-year-old working farm in South Africa's Cape Winelands that has just opened 14 Dutch-style luxury cottages in its gardens.

Green-fingered types can roll up their sleeves and get to work planting, pruning, or picking produce. But if getting your hands dirty is the last thing you want to do on vacation--no judgment--you can enjoy the fruits of someone else's labor in the seasonal farm restaurant, Babel, or kick back at the hotel's spa and pool. The comfortable, high-ceilinged suites have modern furniture and open hearths and are housed in traditional whitewashed buildings with ornate gables and thatched roofs.

If you think this place can't get any better, think again: Babylonstoren's first batch of wine will be ready in mid-2011.

Photo: Courtesy of Babylonstoren

Canal House, Amsterdam, Netherlands

By Conde Nast Traveler Monday, December 06 12:35 PM

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A bit tulip-sniffing organic, a bit debauched, Amsterdam is a city with a split personality. Now a new hotel, opening in January, is looking to bridge the divide.

Comprised of three 17th- and 18th-century canal houses perched on a particularly elegant stretch of the Keizersgracht, the Canal House hotel will include a dusky bar and 23 rooms with a seductive black, purple, and copper palette, plus come-hither open bathrooms that would seem custom-made for an illicit tryst. The tulip-sniffing side? The Great Room restaurant, carved out of a former ballroom, will serve Dutch locavore dishes, and a hidden garden out back includes a Garden House folly for private dinners.

Photo: Amy Murrell

JapaCurry, San Francisco

By Conde Nast Traveler Wednesday, November 17 11:44 AM

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Spicy food in the open air. It's the perfect combo. So when we heard that JapaCurry, a new food truck selling (no surprise) Japanese curry, is rolling out in San Francisco on Friday, we had to point you in the right direction.

Jay Hamada's journey to food truck owner came by way of Silicon Valley (he lost his IT job) and Japan (where he learned the art of making ramen). But after spotting a long line outside a local Japanese curry restaurant, he decided that was the right dish to take on the road. While curries (beef, pork katsu, chicken katsu, and vegetable) will dominate the menu, Hamada also plans to add some lesser-known Japanese dishes, too.

It seems San Fran's food truck scene is hotter than ever.

Track down JapaCurry in San Francisco on Twitter

Photo: Courtesy of JapaCurry

The Wellesbourne, Los Angeles

By Conde Nast Traveler Thursday, November 11 10:41 AM

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When the weather outside is frightful, there's nothing like a bar serving classic cocktails beside a roaring fire--someplace, in fact, like the newly opened Wellesbourne. We like it so much, we're even prepared to forget that--despite its 19th-century-manor appearance--it's in West Los Angeles rather than the English countryside.

The Wellesbourne has wooden booths with little desk lamps, walls lined with books or toile wallpaper, assorted comfy sofas, and a stone fireplace--all freshly aged for added atmosphere. Along with classic cocktails, it will soon serve traditional pub grub like Welsh rarebit and that classic Brit pudding-and-sausage combo, toad in the hole.

So what if snowflake sightings are rare in L.A.? This is the perfect place to toast the festive season with a Brandy Alexander.

Photo: Courtesy of Elizabeth Daniels

Aloft Harlem, New York City

By Conde Nast Traveler Tuesday, November 02 09:56 AM

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Aloft Harlem has been a long time coming (and we're not just talking about the delays with the opening). The last time there was a hotel in this neighborhood was back in the 1960s, when the Theresa hosted the likes of Ella Fitzgerald and Muhammad Ali.

The 124-room property, which opens its doors next Thursday, is bright, modern, and confident enough about its other attributes--like a funky bar, w xyz--to offer only a grab 'n' go menu (and, really, you should be out there tasting what the neighborhood has to offer, anyway).

With room prices starting at $239 through December--approximately 10 to 15 percent lower than rates at similar properties in Midtown--we think Aloft Harlem might just be leading the charge above 120th Street.

Photo: Starwood Hotels and Resorts

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Prices and other information were accurate at press time, but are subject to change. Please confirm details with individual establishments before planning your trip.

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