Feature

Critics’ choice: The year’s best restaurants, in three cities

The Optimist, CityZen, Altura

The Optimist AtlantaPeople in Atlanta knew from past experience that chef Ford Fry’s new place would be good, said John Mariani in Esquire. But this 7-month-old contemporary seafood palace isn’t merely a “resounding” local success: “It is an overnight totem of all that is wonderful about American food today.” To understand why the Optimist is Esquire’s favorite new American restaurant of the year, start with “the grandness of the space”—a large main dining room with a soaring white ceiling propped up by an elegant weave of exposed steel trusses. Add an oyster bar shaped like a surfboard, a “first-rate” cocktail program, and seafood cooked with “old-school expertise”over a wood fire. It helps the convivial mood that “every table is taken every night by a handsome, casually dressed crowd drinking signature cocktails” as they place their orders. Before your red snapper in lime broth arrives, try the “frothy” she-crab soup with shrimp toast or the glazed Spanish octopus with watermelon. “If seafood can taste better than this, I can’t wait to try it.” 914 Howell Mill Rd., (404) 477-6260

CityZen Washington, D.C. Ask me what my favorite local restaurant is and I can only whittle the list to 40, said Tom Sietsema in The Washington Post. But there’s only one D.C. spot on that list that offers a true four-star experience. At the Mandarin Oriental hotel’s signature restaurant, you get a show every time you snag a table for the $120 six-course tasting menu. Consider the dish called Lobster Magic: seafood-and-pork dumplings served from a cart captained by Eric Ziebold, the executive chef himself. When Ziebold gently cooks them right in front of you in a steamer basket, they change color—from pine green to red—and are then scooped into a bowl with caramelized cauliflower and golden raisins. “The trick is delicious, but it is far from the only thrill of the night in this cathedral of luxury dining.” Think halibut “perched on a nest of young coconut” or “a torchon of foie gras poised on soft peaches and ringed in sparkling wine gelée.” CityZen is 8 years old now, “but it feels as fresh as ever.” 1330 Maryland Ave. SW, (202) 787-6148

Altura Seattle“As Seattle blooms into a world-class food town,” it’s even finding a place in its “come-as-you-are” heart for fine dining, said Allison Austin Scheff in Seattle magazine. When an occasion calls for heels and a skirt, wineglass clinking, and “across-the-table hand-holding,” the city’s best new restaurant “fits the bill quite nicely.” From an “orderly” open kitchen, chef Nathan Lockwood sends forth “soulful, precise three-, four-, or five-course menus.” On any given night, that might include house-made cavatelli “enrobed in a plush duck-liver sauce” as well as “the city’s best Waygu beef carpaccio, melting onto the tongue in fat-studded sheets, accented with Parmesan and shaved fennel.” Be nice to the “ever-charming” sommelier and “you’ll likely get to try several wines to find a good fit.” So what if you feel as if you’ve left Seattle? “There are amuse-bouches, there is candlelight, there is soft music, and there is the overall comfort of being very well taken care of.” 617 Broadway E., (206) 402-6749

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