Twenty-two-year-old chef Jaime Renedo had a hard time convincing his mother to let him open a restaurant inside her Asian antiques store. How lucky that she relented: Asiana (4 Travesía de San Mateo; 34/91-310-0965; tasting menu for two $195; by reservation only) is one of Madrid's most exciting discoveries. Ring the bell and you'll be whisked down to one of seven candlelit tables in a subterranean space crammed with Ming vases and gilded Buddhas. From the first amuse-bouche—a black oliveand-Parmesan mini "Oreo"—the plated objets command center stage. Renedo has lived all over the world, and he and his Japanese partner are El Bulli veterans. Together, they dream up multicourse feasts that marry Spanish ingredients to their cosmopolitan sensibilities. Tender seared Galician squid is paired with porcini petals and macadamia-oil aioli; pasta handkerchiefs arrive dressed with nuggets of lobster, dusky jamón slivers, and a frothy black pepper infusion. Mom, of course, is thrilled with her son's rave reviews.
Want a crash course in Spain's cocina conceptual?Order the degustation at Dassa Bassa (7 Calle Villalar; 34/91-576-7397; tasting menu for two $100), a mod white-on-white boîte run by the dashing chef Darío Barrio and his wife, Itziar, the most gracious of maître d's. A spoonful of dry martini is "spherified" into an ephemeral bubble with the aid of calcium chloride—a technique borrowed from Ferran Adrià. Next, a chilled almond soup is poured around ginger-ale gelée, the sweetness of which is balanced by bacalao and trout eggs. Dessert brings together carrot cake, beet foam made in a soda siphon, and a flan of reduced mango cream. Distilling the latest innovations from Spain's modern masters into playful personal statements, Barrio has a knack for making avant-garde dishes taste as enjoyable as a plate of Joselito ham at a tapas bar.
Scene-y London-style spots are a relative novelty in Madrid, so the capital is abuzz over Hotel Urban and its Glass Bar packed with pijos (the smart set) grooving over champagne cocktails and sushi. The restaurant, Europa Decó (34 Carrera de San Jerónimo; 34/91-787-7770; dinner for two $120), is more impressive still: golden Venetian mosaic columns, black Brazilian granite floors, Papuan totems. Not expecting great food from a menu presented in faux snakeskin?Por favor, this is Spain! Joaquín de Felipe, one of the city's most accomplished chefs, will woo you with raw fish preparations; turn you on to new-wave gazpachos, like the silky Kamone-tomato purée with fava beans; and reassure you with soulful meat dishes. His skirt steak of Ibérico pig is pure comfort food.
The quest for food that combines Spain's progressive technique with Gallic voluptuousness and a dash of British wit ends at Maze (1013 Grosvenor Square; 44-207/ 107-0000; lunch for two $120), with Gordon Ramsay's gifted protégé, Jason Atherton, at the stoves. The David Rockwelldesigned, split-level room is vaguely Deco, a little sixties, and entirely urbane—while prices are gentle, especially by London standards. When the waiter, eager to please (if a bit frazzled), recommends that you try six tapas-sized plates plus desserts—listen to him. It would be tragic to miss out on something as ingenious as Cornish crab mayonnaise with corn sorbet and a flourish of caviar, or as sophisticated as chanterelles scattered atop a cauliflower emulsion. Paul Smithclad barristers rave about the chocolate fondant with a molten caramel core and savory almond-andsea salt ice cream. The verdict is in: Maze is the city's hottest newcomer.
There are more modern Indian restaurants in London than there are lip-synching lovers in Bollywood, so it takes brilliance to reignite the city's curry-numbed palate. Amaya (Halkin Arcade, Motcomb St.; 44-207/ 823-1166; dinner for two $150), from the owners of Chutney Mary, has done just that. Leather chairs arranged around rosewood tables, flickering votives, and a bar that glows from within contribute to the sexy vibe. In the open kitchen, grill wallahs tend to their tandoors and tawas (iron griddles), exploring new dimensions of texture and flavor in cardamom-spiked, Hyderabad-style grilled chicken patties with an oozy center of raita; masala-smothered, pandanus-wrapped lamb shanks that put osso buco to shame; or a gutsy fish tikka that vibrates in the key of fenugreek. Madonna may have just walked in, but spicy spinach cakes stuffed with fresh fig are the star of the evening.
Around the corner from Sir Terence Conran's noisy Bluebird gastrodome, a discreet sign announces: the club is now open to the public. Welcome to Bluebird Dining Rooms (350 Kings Rd.; 44-207/559-1129; dinner for two $120), a former members-only dining club that Conran's son, Tom, has turned into a temple of British cuisine (yes, oggies, skuets, and potted goose are on offer). Chef Michael Broadbent's menu lovingly lists the provenance of each morsel: Dorset Blue lobsters, Welsh salt-marsh lamb, Tobermory scallops. Vanilla-sweet crabis presented with the kind of deadpan simplicity only Brits can pull off. A slab of organic Middle White pork belly under a crackling layer of skin needs no other accoutrement than horseradish sauce. The sherry-soaked trifle is a doting tribute to Granny.
Occupying a former celebrity hangout where Bowie partied and Warhol painted, Horváth (44A Paul-Lincke-Ufer; 49-30/6128-9992; dinner for two $100), in up-and-coming Kreuzberg, is everyone's idea of the perfect neighborhood restaurant. The restored 19th-century front room is an ideal setting in which to enjoy Eisbein, the greasy pork knuckle, here deconstructed into a terrine and a crisp-fried morsel. Chef Wolfgang Müller's menu is a clever balancing act, roaming from Berlin to Bangkok without losing its footing. He impales pike-and-perch quenelles on lemongrass sticks to top a Thai salad, and scatters floppy pasta sheets with nuggets of foie gras played off against salty bits of smoked eel. Over chilled elderberry soup, expats at the next table brag about the absurdly cheap rents of their palatial digs nearby. A few shots of cherry schnapps later, you too will be contemplating a move to Kreuzberg.
Die Quadriga (14 Eislebener Str.; 49-30/ 2140-5607; dinner for two $180), in the boutique hotel Brandenburger Hof, has long been Berlin's favorite place to celebrate. Thanks to a Bauhaus-meets-Biedermeier look and chef Bobby Bräuer, recently installed in the kitchen, its pull is stronger than ever. Guests can choose between a pale blue salon, updated with Lovis Corinth prints and Frank Lloyd Wright chairs, and a white neo-Rococo confection adorned with tomato-red contemporary art. A quivery veal gelée under a frothy horseradish cream, and the loin of Limousin lamb escorted by a mini pasticcio, are delicious. Still, the best reason to come here is the 850-bottle all-German wine list curated by Romana Echensperger, the charming and erudite 28-year-old sommelier. The 1990 Niederhausen Spätlese from Hermann Donhoff is better than any mood-altering drug. And you can spend an eternity sniffing out the balsamic vinegar notes in the Müller-Catoir eiswein—regretting that you've wasted half your life on Chardonnays and Barolos.
Modellhut (28 Alte Schönhaüser Str.; 49-30/ 9700-5058; lunch for two $36) is the most improbable of restaurants: a fashion-industry canteen sans attitude. During Saturday lunchtime fashion shows, an air-kissing crowd gathers in the moody bohemian space for what feels like a house party that you're quite welcome to crash. The menu doesn't promise much on first glance. What a surprise, then, to discover that salads are impeccably dressed tangles of crunchy, unblemished greens and that the mushroom-andsmoked quail risotto is so generously lavished with chanterelles. The $6 set lunches—perhaps Wiener schnitzel followed by chocolate pudding—are the best bargain in Europe. All that, and no velvet rope in sight.
"Bistronomie" is the current buzzword in Paris, a city where young chefs are opening small, accessible spots instead of chasing Michelin stars. You'll eat well at many of these—the chic Mon Vieil Ami, the rafﬁsh Chez L'Ami Jean—but if you have to choose only one, make it Le Comptoir (9 Carrefour de l'Odéon; 33-1/44-27-07-97; dinner for two $100). That is, if you can get in. Yves Camdeborde has gained such a cult following for his lusty cooking and his generous way with charcuterie at La Régalade, in the 14th Arrondissement, that all of Paris is clamoring for a table at the tiny new premises adjacent to his boutique hotel Relais St.-Germain. The cramped mustard-colored room that once welcomed Joyce and Matisse is, as they say, très simpa, and the five-course, $50 prix fixe menu is full of delights. For instance?The bright sweetness of pea jus poured from cocktail shakers over crunchy slivers of veal's feet. The clean marine ﬂavors of crab gelée shot through with bits of piquillo peppers and avocado. The dark punch of the shredded-beef-cheek compote that amplifies the meaty essence of beef tournedos. By night's end, you'll have exceeded your lifetime cholesterol limit—a cheese basket is left on each table so guests can help themselves to oozy Époisses and Brillat-Savarin—and learned about the love lives of most of your neighbors.
Of course, even three-star chefs are seduced by the notion of a more democratic cuisine. This fall, while Alain Senderens was busy transforming Lucas Carton into the more casual Senderens, Pierre Gaignaire, arguably France's most brilliant and daring toque, took over Gaya (44 Rue du Bac; 33-1/45-44-73-73; dinner for two $135), an old seafood stalwart smack across from Joël Robuchon's L'Atelier. There's nothing bistro-ish about the petite gray and blue two-story restaurant, which has been revamped with lots of white Corian by designer Christian Ghion. Although much of the food is high-concept, the menu's rather eccentric range of ideas and prices ensures something for everyone. Young couples in jeans drop by the bar for oysters provocatively paired with coins of grilled tête de veau or delicious (and reassuringly straightforward) raspberry cassata with vanilla meringues. Left Bank publishing honchos clinch deals over $70 lobsters, gorgeous speckled creatures with pearlescent flesh. Gaignaire groupies swoon over faux ﬁsh-and-chips (fried battered logs of brandade and a divine raw porcini salad) and iconoclastic croque-monsieur: a mozzarella-and-pesto sandwich tinted jet black with squid ink and chased by a shot of explosively flavored shrimp "essence." Some dishes misﬁre—like the weird cocktail of noodles, mango, and cod—but the promise of Gaignairian genius is never more than a few bites away.
Barashka (20/1 Ul. Petrovka; 7-095/200-4714; dinner for two $50)—pronounced "Ba-rash-ka"—means "little sheep," and the name's cheeky mix of Cyrillic and Latin characters amounts to a sort of statement of purpose: to garnish the spicy, mutton-intensive cuisine of Azerbaijan with a dash of European finesse. Barashka is no ethnic dive. Opened last year by Moscow's dining czar Arkady Novikov, once a purveyor of flashy theme restaurants, the place is an exercise in the kind of restraint Novikov has recently taken to preaching. The discreetly handsome bi-level space has white-linen tablecloths offset by lots of dark wood, gray pillowstrewn banquettes, photographs of Baku on the walls, and nary a belly dancer. Big glass jars filled with lemons make the boldest design statement—all the real fireworks are confined to the kitchen. Not even the Pilates-practicing matrons who patronize La Marée, Moscow's "in" seafood place, can resist Azerbaijan's meaty offerings: the succulent shashlik (kebabs) and lamb riblets and the piti, a tender braise of chickpeas and lamb presented in earthenware pots. For a carb fix, try dyushbara (thimble-sized dumplings in a clear mint-infused broth) or the aromatic Azeri pilafs layered with spices and meat. You'll overeat at Barashka. Then again, in Moscow these days, there's always a fancy gym around the next corner.
Few parts of Moscow are more beloved and iconic than Patriarch's Ponds, the setting for Bulgakov's novel The Master and Margarita and a place to go figure-skating in winter or feed the ducks when the weather turns warm. Everyone in the neighborhood knows the yellow Neoclassical mansion that once housed the boat depot and skate rental facility. Now it's being colonized by the city elite, who can't seem to get enough of Pavilion (7 Bolshoi Patriarshy Per.; 7-095/203-5110; lunch for two $100), a restaurant that reportedly cost the group behind the wildly successful Fish and Oblomov some $2 million to build. It's easy to understand the appeal: with cushy red couches and blond tables illuminated by chandeliers that look like fantastical snowﬂakes, the bright, cozy space invites endless lingering.
The walls frame blown-up fashion stills from L'Officiel magazine; the arched windows, that lyrical view of the pond. Don't wince at the menu's Japanese-Chinese-Italian-Slavic mishmash that typiﬁes Moscow's current dining scene; Ilya Tyukov happens to be a terrific chef. Leave the eel maki rolls and spice-crusted tuna with a Nobu-esque dressing to the oligarchs and their pouty charges. Go Russian with a rich duck borscht accompanied by veal piroshki or a creamy potato-and-celery soup presented in a hollowed-out loaf of coriander-spiked Borodinsky bread. Follow your potage with rabbit smothered in sour cream or a generous portion of beef Stroganoff. Then take a stroll by the pond and watch babushkas wagging doting ﬁngers at their rosy-cheeked Natashas and Mishas.
As the eternal city falls prey to the enoteca craze, diners should be grateful for restaurants as professional and intelligent as L'Arcangelo (59 Via Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli; 39-06/321-0992; dinner for two $110). On a residential Prati street and still off the radar of most Roman foodies, the place resembles a dozen other amber-hued bourgeois Italian restaurants, with old prints on the walls and guests who all seem to be discussing something extremely private. Look closely, however, and you'll notice the quiet ambition and attention to detail: the stylish, unusually shaped Zafferano stemware, the impeccably sourced salumi, the carefully considered wine list, rich in such $20 ﬁnds as the smooth, peppery Lazio red called Capolemole from Marco Carpineti (Arcangelo Dandini, the restaurant's owner, is a master sommelier and used to run the well-known wine bar Simposio). The menu is equally sharp. Cubes of tomato-drenched country bread accompany an octopus salad drizzled with aromatic olive oil produced by superstar Tuscan chef Fulvio Pierangelini. The leg of lamb, with its plump roasted potatoes and a clean, focused sauce of puréed capers and pecorino dolce, is a small masterpiece. Ziti (long, ridgeless pasta hoses) are tossed with a mere touch of candied lemon and mint and a few meaty chunks of ricciola, a kind of amberjack. Just when you're thinking that the pasta is underdressed, the flavors come together in a way they do only in Italy. And the ur-Roman specialties—veal tripe with scrambled eggs, classic pasta preparations such as amatriciana and cacio e pepe—set the gold standard.
Few chefs in Italy are more admired than Alfonso Iacarino, the force behind Don Alfonso, an Amalﬁ Coast dining temple where he and his wife, Livia, indulge guests in modernized southern Italian flavors fueled by vegetables and freshly pressed olive oils from their farm. Not long ago, the Iacarinos decided that it was time to export their style and philosophy—along with truckloads of those flavorful Vesuvian pomodorini—to Rome's sedately posh Aldrovandi Palace hotel. Baby (15 Via Ulisse Aldrovandi; 39-06/322-3993; lunch for two $195) is what they christened the restaurant, located in a cool white-on-white poolside room enlivened by luxurious silk curtains straight out of a Renaissance painting. Baby, as it happens, is an extremely grown-up and formal affair—silver cloches covering piatti di pasta; that prehistoric practice of not listing prices on ladies' menus—and the presentations can be unnecessarily haute. (Do sauce squiggles and multicolored cubes of bell pepper gelée really contribute anything to an otherwise lovely red pepperand-stockﬁsh "cannoli"?) But the masterfully runny, al dente risotto ai frutti di mare, the chickpea-and-mussel soup that ferries you straight to the Mediterranean coast, as well as the up-and-coming Puglian red the sommelier recommends to flatter your meaty saddle of rabbit with cherry sauce, make up for a lot. This is the perfect place for Belgian diplomats, Russian millionaires, and posh Parioli types to connect with their inner (coddled) child.
Any Turkish gourmand knows that Gaziantep, a city close to the Syrian border and legendary for the spicy intricacy of its stews and kebabs, is the source of the country's best cooking. Most restaurants featuring Gaziantep food in Istanbul tend to be grill houses (such as Develi) or populist joints (like Çiya), but at Mabeyin (129 Eski Kisikli Cad., Kisikli, Üsküdar; 90-216/422-5580; dinner for two $50) this intriguing cuisine has a sultan-worthy setting. Fitted into a 19th-century wooden villa that once belonged to a pasha, the restaurant tries a little too hard to replicate a Michelin-starred auberge. It's best to claim a table under a pine tree in the idyllic bahçe (garden) and let bow-tied waiters ply you with delicacies. Here comes the complex yogurt soup with chickpeas, minuscule rice dumplings, and aromatic swirls of minted butter. Now an exotic dried-eggplant dolma, plump with a pomegranate-tinged rice-and-lamb stuffing. Içli köfte, crisp bulgur torpedoes with moist centers of sweetly spiced meat, give way to succulent minced lamb kebabs laced with pistachios. Getting to Mabeyin is something of an adventure—you take a panoramic ferry ride to Üsküdar, then a short cab drive—but the smoky wafer-thin lahmacun (Turkish pizza) topped with grilled eggplant, along with the delirious syrup-soaked walnut rolls, would be worth a trek all the way to the Syrian border.
Istanbul is being touted as Europe's new capital of cool, and 360 Istanbul (32/309 Istiklal Cad., Misir Apt. K8, Beyoglu; 90-212/251-1042; dinner for two $60) epitomizes the city's newfound worldly glamour. Imagine a sleek concrete-and-glass spaceship plunked down on the terrace of a 19th-century apartment building with a heart-stopping view of the Bosporus, the Sea of Marmara, and Hagia Sophia. Now imagine the spaceship colonized by Istanbul's gilded youth, who are sipping ornamental margaritas and Turkish muscats instead of the traditional raki and eating thin-crusted pizzas with toppings like "Bollywood chicken." The globe-trotting menu is the handiwork of chef Mike Norman, who was born in South Africa, ran the kitchen at the Çiragan Palace Hotel Kempinski, and could moonlight as a male model. With a deft hand and a sense of fun, he whisks diners from Spain (sautéed sardines with a creamy, garlicky almond sauce) to Lebanon (juicy kibbeh drizzled with yogurt) to China (spicy, fragrant duck dim sum), and then back to Turkey with a deliciously updated version of rice-filled zucchini flowers. Heartbreaking as it is to see the atmospheric old tripe joints on Istiklal edged out by high-street accessory shops, places like 360 make globalization a little more palatable.
In Amsterdam you'll sooner find great kebabs or curry than decent stamppot or erwtensoep. So Schilo van Coevorden, the forward-thinking chef at the Dylan Hotel (formerly Blakes), had an inspired idea: Why not go Dutch?Mission accomplished at the College Hotel restaurant (1 Roelof Hartstraat; 31-20/571-1511; dinner for two $95), the Dylan's sister, housed in an 1895 brick school building near Museumplein and staffed almost entirely by hospitality-industry students. But with comfy chairs upholstered in sage-green velour and Delft blue china on the tables, the soaring, casually stylish space is worlds away from a school cafeteria. And the kitchen's creative riffs on Dutch classics bear little resemblance to anything ever cooked by the grandmothers of the fresh-faced apprentices who deliver your dinner. A fan of Ferran Adrià, van Coevorden recasts heavy Dutch pea soup as a collage of emerald foam, pork-belly ravioli, sausage gelée, and brown-bread ice cream. He indulges the Dutch craving for eel with warm smoked fish lacquered with dark apple molasses and set on a bed of crunchy, thinly sliced radishes. And he excels in brawny dishes like roast wild duck, presented with a brûlée of peaches, and a rich, bacony oxtail hotchpotch, a vegetable and bacon stew. Judging from the satisfied crowd, this curriculum is just what the city needed.
Sleek multipurpose lounge-club-restaurant extravaganzas are the latest dining trend in design-crazed Amsterdam. At industrial-cool Onassis, music, celebrity-spotting, and bacon bruschetta come with a sundeck and moody river views from the terrace; the swank Odeon, in a former concert hall, offers updated Burgundian fare followed by dancing. Envy (381 Prinsengracht; 31-20/344-6407; dinner for two $75), which debuted this summer on one of the city's most stately canals, modestly bills itself as a "wine bardeli." Well, it's a delicatessen as could only be conceived by the impresarios behind the terminally hip Supperclub and Concrete Architectural Associates, a trendy design firm—both intent on turning the space into a visual showcase. Here, ceiling spotlights cast a sexy glow on the dark wood "tasting tables," which contrast theatrically with the gleaming stainless-steel show kitchen. Twenty-six eye-level refrigerators display the oysters, cheeses, hams, chutneys, hand-dipped chocolates, and liqueurs you'll be having for dinner. The blond, preening crowd of models and cool kids is probably more prone to pride and lust than to gluttony—which isn't to say that the cuisine takes a backseat to the scene. It's hard to go wrong with cured meats, especially ones as fine as lardo di Colonnata ripened in marble and Sanchez Romero ibérico ham. Equally crowd-pleasing: the chef 's vodka-marinated salmon with vermouth foam; quail tempura accompanied by a spicy papaya salad; and saffron-tinted monkfish served with a cauliflower couscous and sage mayonnaise. The portions may be tiny, but that's no excuse to hoard the jamón-wrapped scallops with truffle mousseline. Greed doesn't become you.
Anya Von Bremzen is a T+L contributing editor and the author of The New Spanish Table (Workman).
The soaring Arola (43 Calle Argumosa; 34/91-467- 0202; dinner for two $85), part of the Jean Nouvel expansion of the Museo Reina Sofía, offers tapas—Ibérico pork carpaccio, deconstructed patatas bravas—courtesy of superstar chef Sergi Arola. • Lágrimas Negras (41 Avda. América; 34/91-744-5400; dinner for two $150) at the design-centric Hotel Puerta América surprises with intelligent neoclassical cooking: razor clamand-bacon salad on a bed of lentils, grilled wild turbot dressed with truffles. • Even if Balenciaga is not for you, the Museo del Traje's Bokado (2 Avda. de Juan de Herrera; 34/91-549-0041; lunch for two $100) is reason enough to visit. Look for such avant-garde Basque treats as roasted squab in a "shirt" of leeks, or apple and foie gras terrine caramelized with Pedro Ximénez sherry.
The petite Glade at Sketch (9 Conduit St.; 44-870/777-4488; lunch for two $100) has jeweled walls and a lunch-only menu by mega-toque Pierre Gaignaire. Oeufs en cocotte come in a jar of smoked milk; skate is crusted in chickpea flour and sauced with anise-flavored foam. • Brothers Chris and Jeff Galvin have worked in some of London's best kitchens; their highly anticipated Galvin Bistro de Luxe (66 Baker St.; 44-207/935-4007; dinner for two $140) delivers unabashedly rich Gallic cooking: wood pigeon and glazed chestnut pithiviers; oxtails and black pudding Parmentier. • Waiters in white uniforms with gold epaulets serve Cantonese classics, such as crab claws stuffed with shrimp mousse and suckling pig with crisp, lacquered skin, at China Tang (The Dorchester, Park Lane; 44- 207/629-9988; dinner for two $180), designer David Tang's opulent evocation of Deco Shanghai. Celebrity sightings are virtually guaranteed.
Perched on the 14th floor of the InterContinental hotel, Hugos (2 Budapest Str.; 49-30/2602-1263; dinner for two $145) draws Berlin's beau monde with a dazzling view, modern design, and Thomas Kammeier's clever cuisine: pink nuggets of lobster over truffled artichokes; jade-green risotto spiked with wasabi. The cheese trolley and balsamic-poached plums with marzipan ice cream are a must. • Adventurous diners gather at Remake (32 Grosse Hamburger Str.; 49-30/2005-4102; dinner for two $190), where Cristiano Rienzner, a Venetian-born chef who worked at El Bulli, pushes the envelope with dishes such as quail breast with bitter chocolate foam and berry reduction, or scallops in a velvety pumpkin and passion fruit sauce. • At the Regent, chefs Christian Lohse and Yves Mattagne (this Belgian is arguably Europe's greatest seafood maestro) have devised creative takes on surf and turf—wild-trout tartare with bits of pork belly; Atlantic prawns with roasted sweetbreads—for Fischers Fritz (49 Charlottenstrasse; 49-30/ 2033-6363; dinner for two $180).