Best Fancy Restaurant(s) in U.S circa 2018?

Used to be a very simple exercise 1.5 decades ago to rank the best white tablecloth destination restaurants. i.e French Laundry, Alinea easily comes up tops.

What about today? Are there any comparable restaurants with universal acclaim these days?

Pellegrino top 50:

  • Eleven Madison Park (1)
  • Blue Hill at Stone Barns (11)
  • Alinea (21)
  • Saison (37)
  • Cosme (40)

Michelin three-star:

  • Alinea
  • Benu
  • Brooklyn Fare Chef’s Table
  • Coi
  • Eleven Madison Park
  • French Laundry
  • Le Bernardin
  • Manresa
  • Masa
  • Per Se
  • Quince
  • Restaurant at Meadowood
  • Saison

I think Manresa has by far the best food, and there are still some values on the wine list, although they raised prices (I think) after they got the 3rd star. However, the room to me is very meh, and the service can be variable, and it’s a schlep from SF, although there’s some nice hiking in the area and within striking distance of Santa Cruz if you want to make a weekend of it.

I think Manresa is quite good, and chef David is a living legend of sorts in the US, but I don’t think the best food is there - but that’s just for my tastes. In my experience, it has consistently operated at a solid 2*.

I did Manresa and Saison on back to back nights.

I also did Manresa and Restaurant at Meadowood on back to back nights.

In both occasions, we liked Manresa, but also thought it was the least amazing. There were higher highs, greater consistency, and more brilliant flavor combinations at Saison and Meadowood. One person in my party - who does not eat this style of menu much - said that “if Manresa is 3*, then Meadowood is a ‘4*’”. We went both when Manresa’s CDC was Jessica Largey and also Mitch Leinhard. I think Mitch is a very talented chef, but we preferred Jessica Largey’s menu (twice) more in terms of the menu’s flow. Also to note, Manresa’s wine markup was higher than Meadoowod’s for the same bottles - at least the ones we paid attention to.

It’s all personal preference but in my opinion:

Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare
Restaurant at Meadowood

Are my top 3 favorites clearly.

Note: I haven’t been to Singlethread, though I am familiar with CDC Aaron Koseba’s food from about half a dozen visits to Aubergine.

Note, too, that at restaurants like Coi, there have been recent head chef changes.

Full disclosure, I have a slight bias against Quince for service reasons. I also am not a huge fan of Modernist cooking, and my plans to go to Alinea back in 2008 got foiled by a missed flight, so I have not been. Places like e by Jose Andres and Atelier Crenn were nice but also not quite my style.

In my experience, The French Laundry was a bit underwhelming and boring, and lacked the technical perfection I expected. With that said: 1) I believe I caught it a bit late (after the real talented CDCs had moved on) and 2) I am visiting Per Se next month, amongst others, to reevaluate my thoughts on Thomas Keller’s restaurants. I found Le Bernardin to be nice but a bit stolid, like The French Laundry

Seems like SF & NYC restaurants, continue to dominate with a heavier west coast lean. Chicago appears to have faded away save for Alinea.

Pellegrino’s list seems suspect. Michelin’s seems more reliable.

Smyth in Chicago is probably my most anticipated newish restaurant in the US. John Shields is a bit of a young legend, and the dishes there sound brilliant. It’s not white tablecloth but it is a destination for me.

There are some restaurants that aren’t listed in this List, but are within spitting distance of some of the above.

E.g. Aubergine in Carmel, a high 1*- solid 2 imo. Senia in Honolulu, not really “fine dining” but they have a strong tasting menu that is promising and I was pretty impressed; it’s one to watch. The food at Vintage Cave (now called Vintage Cave Club) in Honolulu, was equal in my mind to Quince and French Laundry at least when I first went (and they had chef Jonathan Mizukami). There’s been a couple of chef changes since, and though the ingredients are $$$ it’s not been the same. With that said, I find my opinion differing from that of Michelin in the US pretty often, so my assessment of “star” potential is probably not a great measure of what they would award.

Joel Robuchon