WASHINGTON, May 3, 2013 - I’ve written, spoken and fantasized many times on the topic of the restaurant itself becoming an aphrodisiac. Sometimes it’s the setting, the moment in time and our ability to be present in that moment rather than the food that creates romance. Although what I set out to promote with this column is a diet and lifestyle rich with those aphrodisiac ingredients known to support a healthy libido, sometimes it’s good to indulge. At the beginning of the year I made a list of all the restaurants I would visit this year if I had a private jet, cellar of gold bullion and endless days of leisure.
The list I’ve created doesn’t necessarily represent restaurants that will top other writers’ lists of the world’s greatest chefs or most innovative meals. Some have been recently named among the cream of the crop and others are this year’s culinary movers and shakers. But that’s not why they make my list. These restaurants may be “in” for those reasons but they’re also hot for another, perhaps more meaningful reason. There is something, be it a use of exotic ingredients or combination of textures on the plate, style of service or dark and sexy interior, they are all offer sensual intrigue worthy of an evening’s romantic exploration.
Los Angeles, CA
This is one that I’ve already been able to check off the list. My favorite restaurant in the City of Angeles, it has been the destination of my birthday dinner for the past three years. And although it is one of the few restaurants left in the USA to celebrate the pomp of fine dining, it is not just a special occasion place. Providence’s seafood-based menu is light yet creative, inspiring without becoming overbearing–the perfect sort of place for frequent gastronomic—and romantic—recharging.
San Francisco, CA
My brother discovered Chef Dominique Crenn a while back and it seems like the critics have finally caught up. This Bay Area gem has become one of San Francisco’s hottest tickets. The food at this restaurant is not what you might expect from a San Francisco restaurant. It is poetic, romantic, mysterious and altogether indefinable. Intrigued? So was I. In fact, it inspired an entire blog post on how Chef Crenn may perfectly define that which is special about female chefs.
Two years ago I held one of the notoriously hard-to-get reservations at what might be the most talked about restaurant in America at the moment. With its notoriously hard-to-get reservations, Chef Grant Achatz Alinea might be the most talked about restaurant in America at the moment. I honestly don’t think Achatz cuisine is my “kind of food,” but I do suspect that one evening of being stunned and delighted by the sensory assaults for which Achatz is famous would provide a sensual experience to embrace for life.
Those who follow my personal blog, The Aphrodisiac Queen may recall my ode to Chef Ken Oringer. My mild obsession with one of Boston’s favorite chefs has perhaps a smidge to do with his Prince Charming smile but my captivation has much more to do with this chef’s forward-thinking style grounded by traditional technique. His food at Clio is clean yet creative, light yet filling. It is the sort of place where you can go all in and experience the full tasting menu without buyer’s regret in the morning.
I’ve been visiting this beach town temple to French gastronomy beloved by Julia Child every summer since I was 8 or 9 years old. It has contributed to my passion for my profession, my respect for French technique. It offered my first tasting menu experience, my first soufflé (to this day my favorite dessert) and many special memories. But what makes the restaurant special is not just the cuisine but the intimacy, history and romance of the space.
The Fat Duck
I’ve been fascinated by Chef Heston Blumenthal for many years. His approach to cuisine seems to have multiple sides. He is grounded in classic technique yet dabbles in the “molecular” pool. However, what most intrigues me is his passion for accentuating the sensuality of the dining experience. I remember reading a few years ago how he offered patrons the opportunity to listen to the sounds of the sea as they ate one of his seafood dishes. I suspect that diving headfirst into the sensual surprises one of Blumenthal’s menus might provide would be about as exhilarating as dining can get. Although Blumenthal has a London restaurant that is all the rage, for me it’s all about the Duck.
Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons
If I am fascinated by Blumenthal, I am in love with Raymond Blanc. His Oxford establishment is not just a restaurant, it is a destination. Were I to visit Le Manoir, it would not just be for dinner but for the night in one of this Old World inn’s sumptuous bedrooms–who doesn’t love a world famous restaurant that also offers down covered sheets? Blanc, a charmer from France offering French fine dining in England is not a traditionalist, he is a trailblazer. He has created not just a restaurant, but an environment that celebrates the Old World’s gastronomic tradition.
Although De Librije has made many critics lists of the top restaurants in the world, it escaped my sphere of interest until my brother gave me the Dutch restaurant’s cookbook. I can’t get enough of the book’s imagery. The restaurant is a theater with its chef Jonnie Boer a master illusionist. Seasonal and agriculturally-based ingredients are transformed by the magician into shapes and colors far beyond their original forms.
This place represents a primal element of cuisine. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in all of the fluff and prestige of great dining that we become separated from the true purpose of food – that it is an element of survival. Set on the grounds of a remote hunting estate, the restaurant features hyper-local food from a land of snow and ice. A 12-seat restaurant with a very clear concept, from what I understand Faviken can offer a dining experience that is often overly intense but incredible in flavor and altogether unforgettable.
I’m not typically one for casino restaurants but this one has me fascinated. Guests in the 25-seat dining room are offered a 10-course tasting menu of the season’s freshest luxury ingredients. It is run by Chef Tetsuya Wakuda who rose to fame in Sydney and offered what were, for a considerable time, Australia’s hottest tables. What could be a better form of seduction that the experience of dinner in this tiny temple of excess?
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