Chefs' Favorite Hot Spots
When it comes to eating, the best advice comes from a chef. So T+L asked four chefs for their favorite hot spots.
Mexico City: Enrique Olvera
For the scoop on where to eat in the Distrito Federal, T+L caught up with one of the city’s top chefs.
Renowned for modernizing Mexican cuisine with his signature restaurant, Pujol (dinner for two $145), Olvera is executive chef at the Distrito Capital (dinner for two $70) hotel. “I have enough fine dining at my restaurants,” Olvera says, “so I head to more casual places when I go out.” He suggests starting the day at Nicos (3102 Avda. Cuitlahuac; 52-55/5396-6510; breakfast for two $50). “They use free-range eggs for their huevos a la Mexicana and huevos montuleño, plus all the most flavorful chiles: jalapeños, serranos, anchos.” Lunch at Azul y Oro (lunch for two $60) is the next mandatory stop. “Ricardo Muñoz Zurita is perhaps the most important food scholar in Mexico. His duck empanadas with mole negro are amazing.” For something more upscale, Merotoro (204 Amsterdam; 52-55/5564-7799; dinner for two $50) serves Baja-style seafood. Don’t miss: “The braised abalone,” Olvera says.
Plus, His Other Favorites...
Market: Olvera loves to eat in the city’s many outdoor markets like La Merced (180 Rosario; no phone; snacks for two $3). “I go on Saturdays for quesadillas with zucchini blossoms, Oaxacan cheese, and epazote in a blue-corn tortilla.”
Sweet Treat: When Olvera craves ice cream, he heads to Roxy (161 Tamaulipas; 52-55/5256-1854; dessert for two $4) for his favorite flavor: zapote negro (made from native black persimmon).
Baked Goods: Italian restaurant and bakery Rosetta (bread for two $4) has an excellent foccacia with raisins, while El Cardenal (23 Palma; 52-55/5521-8815; pastries for two $7) makes some of the best traditional sweet pastries (conchas, cuernos) and cinnamon-laced hot chocolate.
Housewares: Maggie Galton (346 Hegel; 52-55/5255-2230, by appointment) sells beautiful ceramic molcajetes (mortar and pestle) and guajes (gourd pots) that incorporate elements of indigenous and modern design.
New York: April Bloomfield
From spice shops to dim sum joints, this British transplant knows her way around the Big Apple.
When Bloomfield isn’t at Manhattan’s Ace Hotel, where she runs the Breslin Bar & Dining Room (dinner for two $66) and the John Dory Oyster Bar (1196 Broadway; 212/792-9000; dinner for two $67), you may find her in Brooklyn at Roberta’s (261 Moore St.; 718/417-1118; lunch for two $25). “Order a growler [of beer] and a pizza from the wood-burning oven,” she says. Just as good are the small plates (sweetbreads with Taleggio and honey) and steaks, fish, and chops. Back in Manhattan, Bloomfield’s go-to dim sum spot is Jing Fong (20 Elizabeth St.; 212/964-5256; lunch for two $24). “Arrive early to beat the crowds, and eat dumplings pushed around on trolleys by sweet Chinese ladies.” For brunch, she heads to Gabrielle Hamilton’s Prune (brunch for two $30). “I’ve waited for a table for hours, but it’s worth it for the house-made merguez sausage with oysters and the fantastic Bloody Marys.” And for dinner? Annisa (dinner for two $95). “It’s fine dining, but I like to eat at the bar: Start with a cocktail, then the soup dumplings with foie gras and the mixed roasted eggplant with yogurt water.”
And She Also Loves...
Pub Grub: For bar fare, without table linens or tasting menus, Bloomfield favors Waterfront Ale House (540 Second Ave.; 212/696-4104; dinner for two $55). “They have an extensive list of beers. More important, they do the best chicken wings, with house-made hot sauce aged in whisky barrels.”
Spices: As long as she’s out shopping for her restaurants, Bloomfield will stop at Kalustyan’s (123 Lexington Ave.; 212/685-3451) for their selection of more than 4,000 spices.
Market: According to Bloomfield, Chelsea Market is a great place to go with the family because there’s so much to eat, from lobster rolls and Italian sandwiches to Aussie pies and ice cream. Don’t miss Bowery Kitchen, the kitchen-supply shop, and Amy’s Bread, where you can watch the loaves being made.
Cookbooks: Bloomfield collects vintage cookbooks, and the best vintage volumes are at Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks (163 W. 10th St.; 212/989-8962). “Bonnie opens around 1 p.m. and sometimes has a special where she sells one genre at a lower price.”
Paris: Thierry Marx
The avant-garde chef leads the way to his hometown’s insider foodie haunts.
After 10 years of cooking his high-minded cuisine at the Château Cordeillan-Bages, near Bordeaux, Marx returns to the City of Light this summer to open Sur Mesure par Thierry Marx (251 Rue St.-Honoré, First Arr.; 33-1/70-98-78-88), in the new Mandarin Oriental, Paris (the hotel group seems to be collecting capital-C chefs lately, having recently installed Heston Blumenthal and Daniel Boulud in London and Carme Ruscalleda in Barcelona). Now that Marx is back home, he plans to make up for lost time at two of his favorite bistros, Bistrot Paul Bert (dinner for two $100) and Le Petit Verdot (75 Rue du Cherche-Midi, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/42-22-38-27; dinner for two $200). “I go to Paul Bert for the thirty-five-euro prix fixe menu,” says Marx, surely thinking of fried eggs with truffles and a proper steak frites. “Le Petit Verdot,” he says, “feels like an authentic countryside dining room—wood tables; exposed ceiling beams. It has a peaceful quality I crave.” Plus: melt-in-your-mouth escargot and foie gras. For fine dining, Marx goes to Restaurant Pierre Gagnaire (dinner for two $860). “I have huge respect for Pierre for his surprising juxtaposition of ingredients and his attention to detail,” he says. But sometimes a chef with a two-Michelin-starred restaurant on his résumé just wants a big bowl of spaghetti, and for that Marx recommends the house-made pasta at Le Monteverdi (5-7 Rue Guisarde, Sixth Arr.; 33-1/42-34-55-90; dinner for two $80), owned by Claudio Monteverdi (yes: he’s a direct descendant of the Italian composer).
He Also Recommends...
Oven-Baked Snacks: One of Marx’s most beloved Parisian bakeries is Du Pain et des Idées (bread for two $7). “The owner, Christophe Vasseur, has delicious rolls, brioches, viennoiseries, and pain des amis—a flat bread with thick crust and a nutty taste.” A new favorite: La Pâtisserie des Rêves (pastries for two $17). Located on a residential street on the Left Bank, the shop displays pastries under beautiful glass bells. “The Paris-Brest is divine, but I particularly like the éclair au chocolat, topped with a bittersweet glaze. Philippe Conticini, the chef of this shop, is a true pastry magician.”
Chocolate: Marx’s most enthusiastic recommendation of all? The decadent creations at Patrick Roger (chocolate for two $18). There are seven locations in Paris, but Marx frequents the one closest to his office. “Patrick Roger always offers exactly what I am looking for,” he says. “Excellence, imagination, and creativity.” Original bonbons include chocolate with thyme and lemon, caramel with vinegar and grape, and caramel with verbena and yuzu. “Anyone who knows me knows how much I love chocolate.”
Melbourne: Donovan Cooke
A pioneering chef crafts the ultimate tour down under.
Donovan Cooke is a legend in Melbourne for his run at Est Est Est, a revolutionary French restaurant that closed nearly a decade ago. Now Cooke, a protégé of Michel Roux and Marco Pierre White, has opened the seafood-inspired Atlantic (8 Whiteman St.; 61-3/9698-8888; dinner for two $210) at the Crown Entertainment Complex, which houses the new Crown Metropol hotel, Australia’s largest. For breakfast, Cooke drops by the European (161 Spring St.; 61-3/9654-0811; breakfast for two $40), where his son is an apprentice. “There’s great people-watching, strong espresso, and perfect poached eggs.” Clamms Fast Fish (141 Acland St.; 61-3/9534-1917; lunch for two $20) provides the city’s top restaurants with their seafood. “They also serve classic fish-and-chips,” Cooke says. “Get yours to go and head to St. Kilda Beach to watch the waves roll in.” Maze by Gordon Ramsay (Level 1, 8 Whiteman St.; 61-3/9292-8300; lunch for two $90) is the chef’s preferred sit-down lunch spot. “I enjoy the small-plate grazing menu.” What to order? “Yellowfin-tuna tartare with radish and a deconstructed beet salad with goat cheese and Cabernet Sauvignon vinaigrette.”
Other Melbourne Musts...
Market: Weekend mornings are the best time to visit the South Melbourne Market (322 Coventry St., Fitzroy; 61-3/9209-6295), which opened in 1867. “There is so much under one roof,” Cooke says. “I buy specialty cheeses from various delis.” And he never leaves without stopping for dim sim, a cheeky play on the Chinese dumpling that’s become a cult snack.
Spices: For spices, Cooke heads to Simon Johnson, Purveyor of Quality Foods (12 David St., Fitzroy; 61-3/9644-3630). “If he doesn’t have it, it’s not worth having. He sells everything from hand-harvested sea salts and smoked paprika to saffron tips and organic Manuka honey from New Zealand.”
Bakery: Noisette (84 Bay St.; 61-3/9646-9555; pastries for two $7) is the place to go for French-style cakes and pastries. “I buy the dense walnut bread to munch on when I’m out and about.”
Late-Night Feast: After his shift, Cooke drops by the Woolshed Pub (Shed 9, Central Pier, 161 Harbour Esplanade; 61-3/8623-9640; dinner for two $50), in a converted cargo shed on the water. “Start with crisp-fried Berkshire pork belly with coriander-and-red-chili sauce, followed by grass-fed porterhouse steak and chips with horseradish sauce. And sticky date pudding. It’s worth going there for that pudding alone.” The Den (61-3/9698-8888; drinks for two $38), the bar beneath Cooke’s restaurant, is his pick for a nightcap. The Cohiba No. 23, with tobacco-infused añejo rum, pear eau-de-vie, fresh apple juice, and bitters, is served in a balloon glass and delivered in a humidor. “It’s a great way to end the night.”
Very well known, chef Pierre Gagnaire serves high-priced, modern cuisine at his flagship 3-Star Michelin restaurant on rue Balzac. Despite its lofty price tag, the restaurant has a surprisingly informal interior with a wood-and-gray dining room. Preferring to put the food center stage — dishes are often so complex they require a multi-line menu description — the team of in-house chefs specializes in creative and unexpected taste and texture combinations. Durably popular menu selections include the Britanny lobster and the dazzling seven-course Grand Dessert.
Gabrielle Hamilton's gutsy food at her hole-in-the-wall café on the Lower East Side is inspired by classic American dishes. Don't miss the "Dutch Style" jumbo blueberry pancake baked in the oven—it's paired with Canadian bacon, sour cream and powdered sugar. Sample some of the 10 different Bloody Mary cocktails (love the Bullshot) and try the prime dry-aged rib eye grilled with shallot-parsley butter to accompany two eggs any style. Just be prepared to wait: Prune is always crowded for dinner, and snagging a table for brunch on the weekends is tougher than getting an audience with the Pope.
Bistrot Paul Bert
Situated in the trendy 11th Arrondissement, Bistrot Paul Bert is a classic French eatery with unexpected twists. Inspired by local flea market finds, the eclectic interior includes a bright mosaic floor, oversize mirrors, small wooden tables, and unusual chandeliers. The chalkboard menu changes regularly to highlight seasonal produce, but reliable favorites include the steak frites—served very rare and topped with marrow—and the signature Paris-Brest dessert: a large puff pastry filled with chocolate-hazelnut cream. Dishes are paired with hard-to-find small-batch wines from an extensive list.
The Breslin Bar & Dining Room
Annisa, located in the West Village, is an expression of celebrity chef Anita Lo’s Chinese-American roots and French culinary training. Reopened after burning down in a 2009 electrical fire, the sleek, minimalist dining room is now adorned with feng shui design elements, such as copper-red tones, water-filled vases, buried Chinese coins, and a mirror meant to attract good energy. The menu showcases Lo’s innovative French-Asian cuisine, with favorites including the miso marinated sable and the seared foie gras with soup dumplings. Named after the Arabic word for “women,” Annisa also features wine selections chosen primarily from female vintners and vineyard-owners.
Azul y Oro
Tortilla soup gets the VIP treatment at the hyper-authentic Azul y Oro café. Flavored with guajillo-chile paste and tangy crema and strips of pasilla chile, the sopa bears no resemblance to the watery stuff at your local enchilada joint.
Du Pain et des Idées
The words “fabrication traditionnelle” are emblazoned above the entrance of this antique-filled boulangerie (bakery), advertising Christophe Vasseur’s “traditional manufacturing” of homemade breads. Vasseur left a sales career in the fashion industry to pursue baking and, after working as an apprentice for three years, opened Du Pain et Des Idées (Bread and Ideas) in the 10th Arrondissement. Housed in an old bakery space dating from 1889, the shop sells such specialties as the nutty pain des amis (bread of friends), apple chausson (turnover), and mini pavés (bread dough stuffed with dried apricots and blue cheese or dark chocolate and raspberry).
La Pâtisserie des Rêves
Offering a unique, yet still Parisian, take on pastries, La Pâtisserie des Rêves in the 16th arrondissement features the work of Phillippe Conticini. The shop centers on a futuristic display case made of steel and blonde wood, where handcrafted treats sit atop refrigerated pieces of slate underneath glass capsules. Patrons make their selection, which is then brought out from the kitchen. The tarte Tatin, an upside-down fruit confection, is among the most popular sellers. While there aren't tables inside, outdoor terrace seating is available.
“At a proper chocolatier—a place where they make chocolate from actual beans and don’t just mold other producers’—the smell of dark cocoa and butter should hit you when you walk through the door,” Lyn says. What also hits you at Patrick Roger’s five Paris outposts, which sell powdered truffles, 40 different single-origin bars from around the world, and ganaches including basil and lime, oat infusion, Guinness, and Sichuan pepper, is the sharp, modern design. Roger is also the sculptor who creates the massive confection displays, clearly influenced by Alberto Giacometti, for the windows of all his shops.