"Where have you been eating lately?" I get this question all the time. And luckily, it's one of my favorites to answer, since I have the opportunity to try the most amazing restaurants around the country. So here's a little update of where I've been recently.
Glen Ellen Star, Sonoma
The wood-roasted dishes at this adorable Sonoma spot are both homey and smart—each has at least one little trick that makes it stand out. Roasted beets are topped with harissa crumble; asparagus comes with spicy lavash. And the wine list is short, well-edited and (surprising for wine country) quite international. glenellenstar.com.
Carbone, New York
It took me a long time to stop fixating on the lacquered blue-green walls in the front room: They're bold, old-school, shiny. Then I moved to the back room, where Uma Thurman was standing on a chair to photograph a friend. Even without the celeb sighting, I'd have loved Carbone for nuanced and delicious dishes like the spicy rigatoni with vodka sauce. carbonenewyork.com.
Calliope, New York
At this small bistro, I had perfectly sautéed local trout with Puy lentils, bacon and walnut vinaigrette, and I reveled in the very Frenchness of it all. calliopenyc.com.
Alder, New York
After 10 years of watching Wylie Dufresne nurture one spectacular restaurant, WD-50, I was excited to try this new venture, which promised to be a gastropub interpretation of his hyper-creative vision. My hands-down favorite dish was the New England clam chowder with "oyster crackers," which was both familiar (it's soup!) and unfamiliar (the crackers are made from oysters). aldernyc.com.
Pêche, New Orleans
I stopped counting after 10: That's how many whole fish I saw waiters carrying out to customers at Donald Link's new restaurant. The whole-animal trend has now been embraced by pescatarians. Two friends and I shared a moist, flavorful grilled redfish with salsa verde. It could have served six! pecherestaurant.com.
Element 47, Aspen
Robert McCormick, chef at The Little Nell hotel's renovated restaurant, makes a broth that is the absolute essence of carrot, pure and fresh, then pours it over carrots prepared several ways—shaved raw, grilled, pickled and roasted. element47aspen.com.
Chefs Club, Aspen
Food & Wine has its own restaurant in Aspen's incredible St. Regis hotel. We serve several dishes from former Best New Chefs, including Missy Robbins, Viet Pham, Jason Franey and Bryant Ng . When I was in town for the F&W Classic in June, I ate through practically the entire menu, which also incorporates dishes by executive chef Didier Elena. I love Bryant's ribs at The Spice Table in L.A., and they were fabulous here, too—spicy, meaty, crisp. chefsclubaspen.com.
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Read more from F&W's September issue on travel and America's best chicken.