Critics’ choice: Three hideaways well worth tracking down
Dialogue Santa Monica, Calif.
If you have the patience for a 20-course meal and can pony up $220 for the privilege, Dave Beran’s 18-seat tasting-menu restaurant “will take you to places you’ve never been,” said Jonathan Gold in the Los Angeles Times. The decorated Chicago chef, last at Grant Achatz’s Next, recently set up his first West Coast venture in a small room tucked away on the second floor of a Santa Monica food hall. A Dialogue meal “tends to be closer to a conversation between chef and patron than to a culinary tour de force,” but “Beran is nothing if not hyperambitious.” He’ll send you a glass of strawberry-flavored bubbles that conceal caviar and a touch of pork belly beneath. He’ll trick out a Thai papaya salad with burnt lettuce. And he’ll lure you into popping a cheesy fried cube into your mouth and biting down to release the best onion soup you can imagine. Then there’s the pressed duck—a Beran specialty. It’s “one of the grandest dishes of French cuisine,” and here it’s magnificent. “Resist the temptation to lick the plate.” 1315 Third Street Promenade
Maydan Washington, D.C.
A first-time visitor to Maydan “can’t help but feel like Dorothy stepping from sepia Kansas into sparkling Oz,” said Tom Sietsema in The Washington Post. Once you’ve found the right unmarked door in a nondescript alley, you step into a glowing two-story space highlighted by a towering copper-topped fire pit and filled with a fun-loving crowd. Rose Previte, who also created the beloved Compass Rose, encourages her chef co-owners to play with fire as they produce Middle Eastern–inspired fare that transports diners to Morocco, the Republic of Georgia, and stops between. Try the Aleppo kebab, “a ropy wand of garlicky ground lamb that summons Syria with a sprinkling of toasted pistachios.” Tender shrimp warmed on the grill and dressed with chermoula “stage a little symphony for your taste buds.” Servers will warn you that the lamb shoulder requires digging through some fat, “but oh what fun it is once that spice-rubbed lamb lands in your mouth.” Service can be rushed, and the flatbreads still need work, but Maydan is otherwise irresistible. “Once you’ve made its acquaintance, the flames and the food become infectious.” 1346 Florida Ave. NW, (202) 370-3696
Eight Tables San Francisco
Though places of its kind are flourishing in China, George Chen’s exclusive new eight-table venture is “unlike any restaurant this side of the Pacific,” said Rachel Levin in SF.Eater.com. The entrance to the most expensive eatery in San Francisco’s Chinatown sits at the end of a desolate alley, but when you step off the elevator at the building’s second floor, you could easily be in a luxury home. Servers in Ralph Lauren suits deliver each dish in the 10-course meal that follows, with Chen introducing each one. First comes a collection of tiny bowls whose contents conjure the nine essential flavors of Chinese cuisine. Mostly what Chen does from there is take standard Chinese dishes and “turn them into more glamorous versions of themselves.” So caviar and osetra caviar combine in what’s essentially a “next-level” shrimp dumpling, while the “beef and broccoli” dish features Miyazaki A5 wagyu. It’s hard to say if the experience is akin to the way Chinese nobles once dined, but it’s definitely memorable, and Chen and his staff become like friends—“the kind only a fortunate few are able to afford.” 8 Kenneth Rexroth Place, (415) 788-8788