Savvy hoteliers have discovered that a great flagship restaurant can do more for business than Frette linens or a luxury spa. Old-school food-and-beverage directors are being eased out and Michelin-worthy chefs lured in. We crisscrossed the globe looking for hotels that are redefining the rules of in-house dining. Destinations in their own right, these 10 temples of haute cuisine are proof that you needn't stray far from your suite to find a memorable meal.
HIGH STEAKS The Gordon Gekkos of Manhattan have found a new home. Just when it seemed we'd entered leaner times, Terrance Brennan—who previously wowed New York with Picholine and Artisanal—proves that a classic American steak house is always timely. The dimly lit dining room at Terrance Brennan's Seafood & Chop House, with its burgundy and gold velvet walls, outsized leather banquettes, and a surfeit of dark wood, is an ideal setting for indulging in macho favorites like dry-aged porterhouse and Dover sole. Watch the intricate ballet of waiters pushing their carts like bumper cars around the dining room; thankfully, their tableside preparations of Caesar salad, chateaubriand, crpes suzette, and baked alaska are far more skillful than their steering. And the requisite over-the-top menu item?A $55.95 plate of steak and eggs with smoked salmon and caviar (of course). Benjamin Hotel, 565 Lexington Ave.; 212/715-2400; dinner for two $125.
ALSACE ON THE POTOMAC It's not every day that a Michelin three-starred chef waltzes into an American city to launch an ambitious restaurant, so it comes as something of a surprise that Café 15 at the Sofitel Lafayette Square has received so little national buzz since opening last year. Granted, Antoine Westermann, of Strasbourg's revered Restaurant Beurehiesel, isn't a globe-trotting celebrity chef along the lines of Alain Ducasse, but his menu delivers classically based, hyper-creative dishes that reach similarly stratospheric heights. The best riff on traditions of Westermann's native Alsace: plump frog's legs arrive with velvety onion ravioli called Schniederspaetle; guinea hen soaks up the richness of leeks, black truffles, and potatoes while baking in a bread-sealed cocotte. Like Ducasse at the Essex House in New York, Café 15 suffers from a confused look (a little bit bourgeois, a little bit modern) and a museumlike atmosphere that can make it difficult to have fun, but with food like this, who's complaining?Sofitel Lafayette Square, 806 15th St. NW; 202/730-8800; dinner for two $120.
EAST MEETS SOUTH The chopstick-wielding Frenchman Bruno Ménard just might be the most adored new face in Atlanta. To welcome him, the Ritz-Carlton brightened its stately Dining Room with apple-green silk, ornate Orientalist banquettes, and Asian ceramic tableware. Fresh from a stint in Osaka, Ménard woos diners with an ever-changing menu that might feature a conch salad with soba and a touch of rare Moroccan argan oil, or cocoa-coated lamb loin with pecan couscous. Still, the best comes last: a wicked tart made with vintage Cuban chocolate (Ménard is the son of a chocolatier from Tours). Amazing how you'll find room for pot de crèmes and lollipops from the petits fours trolley—plus a cup of exotic tea (Egyptian chamomile, Imperial gunpowder green) brewed while you watch. Ritz-Carlton, Buckhead, 3434 Peachtree Rd.; 404/237-2700; dinner for two $144.
NOUVEAU KID ON THE BLOCK In France they call them "la génération Robuchon," that competitive band of burningly talented young chefs who trained under the great and merciless perfectionist Jol Robuchon and then went on to make names of their own. The one stealing headlines these days is Éric Briffard, who recently took over the stoves at the Michelin two-starred Les Élysées in the Hôtel Vernet. In a frankly leaden dining room that is saved only by a handsome Gustave Eiffel stained-glass ceiling, Briffard knocks the stuffing out of haute cuisine, serving his signature dish of sea urchin gelée with fennel cream, fricassee of langoustines (their sweetness drawn out by spicy Bellota chorizo), and a virtuoso salad of scallops, mango, shiso, and Iranian osetra caviar. The chef, who grew up in Burgundy and whose grandparents were farmers, insists he's simply a peasant at heart. Just keep that caviar coming. Hôtel Vernet, 25 Rue Vernet; 33-1/44-31-98-00; dinner for two $140.
ROOM WITH A VIEW When in Rome, you never want a day of sightseeing to end. Don't worry: Just book an outdoor table on the seventh-floor terrace of Mirabelle, where the views stretch from the Borghese and Medici Gardens to St. Peter's Square. The crowd of Roman regulars confirms that chef Giuseppe Sestito's seasonal cuisine (spinach risotto with orange zest and jasmine flowers; sea bass served with deep-fried sage leaves) is among the best in town. Sweet-toothed Roman signoras risk their waistlines for settimo cielo, or "seventh heaven," a semifreddo with layers of three types of chocolate, topped with gold leaf. Throw Atkins-induced caution to the wind and follow their lead. Hotel Splendide Royal, 14 Via di Porta Pinciana; 39-06/4216-8838; dinner for two $150.
OLD-SCHOOL GOES COOL A female rising star on the unapologetically testosterone-driven London restaurant scene?Angela Hartnett, a protégé of Gordon Ramsay (that bloke of all blokes), is the talk of the town for taking over the city's bastion of tradition. With help from designer Nina Campbell, who updated the masculine space with plush colors and modern art, Hartnett's Menu is breathing life into the clubby Connaught. Even old-guard supporters of Michel Bourdin (the hotel's previous chef) and his sole jubilee are being seduced by Hartnett's relaxed, British-Mediterranean dishes (pouchy tortelli with roast pumpkin and sage butter; halibut confit with raw fennel salad). The smoked pork belly with caramelized root vegetables is the best we've tasted. Sorry, old boys. The Connaught, 16 Carlos Place; 44-207/592-1222; dinner for two $140.
SO FAR FROM SOBA In a city that pulses like an animé cartoon, one is grateful for the minimalist grace of the Four Seasons in Marunouchi, whose flagship restaurant, Ekki, is quickly earning a reputation for its rarefied atmosphere. The stark red and dark brown room is meant to focus one's attention on the precise flavors created by Jérôme Legras, the 28-year-old former sous-chef of the Michelin three-starred Le Cinq at the Four Seasons George V in Paris. French in essence, Japanese in execution, the menu includes an extra-buttery grilled chutoro tuna with an improbably perfect poached egg, and Kobe beef tenderloin with slow-cooked shallots. Go à la carte or opt for tasting combinations with cryptic names such as "Veracity" and "Insulation." Either way, end with the quivery panna cotta infused with verbena. Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Marunouchi, Tokyo Pacific Century Place, Marunouchi; 81-3/5222-7222; dinner for two $200.