FOOD VACATION IDEAS
10 Restaurants That Started a Food Movement
Some of the most popular foods—like Asian noodles, gastropub fare, sushi, and locally grown produce—were relatively unknown only a generation ago. Here, we recognize, and recommend, some of the restaurants and chefs that changed the food world.
It wasn't long ago that the phrases "local food," "gastropub," "New Nordic," or even "rustic Italian" would have left most Americans scratching their heads in confusion. Now, thanks to pioneering chefs like Alice Waters and Mario Batali, we all know a lot more about where our food comes from and the tradition that informed its preparation. Here, some of the standout restaurants that started it all, plus tips about how to place your order and, in some cases, more affordable offshoot restaurants that still live up to the quality of the original.
Momofuku Ssäm Bar
New York City
Ssäm Bar, one of restaurateur David Chang's empire of 10 Korean-fusion restaurants, opened in 2006, on the heels of Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar ("Momofuku" is a reference to Momofuku Ando, the inventor of instant noodles). Ssäm, with its cozy communal-seating bar and busy din, soon became an instant fixture and a destination on the NYC dining scene after it ditched its initial "Asian burrito" concept. (Trivia: "Ssäm" means "wrapped" in Korean.) Well-composed dishes like soft, savory steamed pork buns with cucumbers, scallions, and hoisin sauce, and raw seafood, such as the striped bass with plum, cilantro, and green peppercorns, are hallmarks of the menu.
How to order at Ssäm Bar: This menu of small plates is intended for sharing and nibbling. Or, make a quick pit stop by grabbing a seat at the adjoining, newly revamped bar, Booker and Dax, and ordering a drink like the Laurel & Hardy, made with rye, cognac, maraschino, fernet, benedictine, and mole bitters ($15), plus an order of steamed pork buns ($10) or a plate of ham slices straight from farms in Kentucky or Virginia (momofuku.com/restaurants/booker-and-dax) from the limited bar menu. For sheer per-person savings, you can order an entire pork shoulder (the "bo ssäm" meal) for six or more people ($200) or a newer menu item, the whole rotisserie duck for three to six ($140)—each comes equipped with a selection of sides like oysters, in the case of the pork shoulder, or chive pancakes with the duck (momofuku.com).
Winner of the U.K.'s prestigious "Best Restaurant in the World" award three years running, Noma is considered to be the premier destination for "New Nordic" cuisine. Using local ingredients like halibut, roots, and berries and "molecular gastronomy" techniques developed with University of Copenhagen scientists (foams, emulsification, and liquefaction, for example), chef René Redzepi produces inventive dishes like roast filet of muskox and skyr and toasted rye kernels. Redzepi once worked for molecular gastronomy's forefather, chef Ferran Adria, at previous "best restaurant" El Bulli, in Catalonia, which just closed.
Here in the U.S., get your Norse fix from New York City restaurant Acme, whose chef, Mads Refslund, was one of Noma's founders. The menu is divided into four distinct parts: raw, cooked, soil, and sea/land.
How to order at Acme: Choose a few small plates and pass 'em around. Acme recommends that new diners try the country toast with nectarine, brie, carmelized onions, and honey ($12), farmer's eggs with Parmesan and cauliflower ($10), and the pearl barley and clams dish, which is packed with scallops, artichokes, and roasted sunflower broth ($19, acmenyc.com).
That "slow food" movement that's so trendy right now? Chez Panisse started it all four decades ago. Chef Alice Waters opened Chez Panisse in 1971, with a menu emphasizing locally and organically grown ingredients and sustainable production methods. Her first creations, such as a pate en croute and an almond tart, wowed critics and attracted the attention of culinary luminaries such as Julia Child, and the place has been an institution ever since.
Waters opened Chez Panisse Café, a moderately priced offshoot featuring an open kitchen with a wood-burning oven and charcoal grill, located directly upstairs from the first restaurant, in 1980.
How to order at Chez Panisse Café: Perfect for gastronomers on a budget, the café offers a three-course $29 prix fixe menu that changes daily. One recent lineup: garden lettuce salad; hand-cut fettuccine with sweet corn, zucchini, crème fraîche, and basil; and blenheim apricot sherbet with mulberry gelée and summer berries (chezpanisse.com).