The brainy chef behind French Laundry in Yountville, California, is known for reinventing such iconic American pairings as macaroni and cheese, peanut butter and jelly, and coffee and doughnuts. Lately, Thomas Keller has been away from his Napa Valley kitchen to oversee the launch of Bouchon (The Venetian, 3355 Las Vegas Blvd. S., Las Vegas; 702/414-6200; dinner for two $65), and Per Se, at the Time Warner Center in Manhattan (10 Columbus Circle; 212/823-9335; dinner for two $250). So, what does one of America's top chefs crave on the road?"Ethnic food. I just want to experience different flavors," he says. Here, his favorite spots for wielding his chopsticks. • Noodle Asia (The Venetian, Las Vegas; 702/414-1444; dinner for two $50), for har gow (shrimp dumplings). • Shun Lee Café (43 W. 65th St., New York; 212/769-3888; dinner for two $70), for cold sesame noodles. • Vietnamese pho at San Francisco's Pho Hoa Hiep (1833 Irving St.; 212/664-0469; dinner for two $20). • For a quick sushi fix, he visits his Time Warner Center neighbor Masa (212/823-9800; dinner for two $600). "I can go out Per Se's back door, and there's Masa's kitchen. You can't get any better than that."
Located just steps from the casino in The Venetian Las Vegas, this casual Pan-Asian eatery is owned by acclaimed chef Kevin Wu, also known for his Royal Star Seafood Restaurant in Santa Monica. Open daily until 3 a.m., Noodle Asia is ideal for a quick lunch or late night feast of authentic cuisine. A painted recessed ceiling and arcade of arches create an open, airy space in which diners enjoy signature dishes such as the Sichuan beef noodle soup and Cantonese sausage fried rice with Chinese broccoli.
Pho Huynh Hiep
Also known as Kevin's Noodle House, this family-owned restaurant serves an extensive menu of authentic, affordable Vietnamese fare. At this Outer Sunset branch—one of five regional locations—the no-frills space is simply decorated with small tables, tiled floors, and sparse white walls. The focus is on the food, particularly the signature noodle soups like pho bo, a light broth flavored with cardamom, star anise, and cinnamon, and topped with thin slices of beef. Also popular are the spring rolls, rice plates, and fruit shakes, available in flavors like watermelon, lychee, durian, and jackfruit.
Shun Lee Café
The Shun Lee Cafe is perfect for a pre-show stop; it's across from the Lincoln Center, blocks from the Theater District, and the dim sum cart makes for quick service. Black and white checkerboard ceilings and walls and white tables with black chairs are artfully arranged beneath lanterns modeled after the Chinese calendar. Dim sum carts zip through an otherwise calming atmosphere, bringing dishes such as shrimp and ricotta puffs, giant fried crab claws, and fresh dumplings. Full-size entrees are also available, such as the Szechuan-style rack of lamb and the Beijing duck served with crepes, spring onions, and hoisin sauce.
Masa, New York
Patience grasshopper, there are some restaurants where experience trumps food. In the Time Warner Center in Columbus Circle, you’ll be transported up the escalators to an ethereal realm where chef Masa creates one of the premier dining experiences in the world. Blending the philosophies of shibui (simplicity and honesty) and umami (the inherent essence,) he prepares sushi on a glowing counter of Japanese hinoki cypress against a bamboo and ikebana backdrop. With no set menu, customers must surrender to the flow (and available ingredients)—so open minds are as appreciated as open mouths.