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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Living to Eat: The World's 50 Best Restaurants

So you think you know restaurants?

You've dined your way through the finest that New York and Napa have to offer. You know what soft openings are because you get invited to them. When a hot new place comes to town, you get a table at 8:00 pm. (This sentence, "We only have 6pm or 10pm," doesn't exist in your world.)

Maven that you are, you'll recognize many of your favorites on The San Pellegrino World's 50 Best Restaurants of 2011 list.

Or will you?

The annual awards have just been published in Britain's Restaurant magazine, a co-sponsor along with San Pellegrino.

Noma's squid legs with potatoes, mayonnaise, brown butter

Topping the list this year is Denmark's Noma for a second year in a row and succeeding El Bulli, the 2006-09 winner. Even if you haven't been there yet, you might have heard of it. It's been getting a lot of media attention lately, especially from the British press.

Chef Rene Redzepi uses only seasonal, locally foraged ingredients – nothing imported, including olive oil. Some of his creations: beef tartare with a tarragon emulsion and wood sorrel; fresh cheese with axel berry shoots and watercress; and radishes in edible soil.

Restaurant magazine says that dining at Noma is an "emotive, intense, liberating way of eating." (Affective writing like that just makes you want to drop everything and jump on the next flight to Copenhagen, doesn't it?)

You also might know The Fat Duck and The Ledbury in Britain, Pierre Gagnaire and Alain Ducasse au Plaza Athenee in France, and Le Bernardin, Per Se, Daniel, and Momofuku Ssam Bar in New York. (Although we cannot recall Momofuku, while popular, making anyone else's best restaurant pantheon).

From here, the road moves into unfamiliar territory, at least for a lot of Americans.

Not many will have heard of the modernists Mugaritz and El Celler de Can Roca, two of the five Spanish restaurants on the list. Or Le Quartier Francais in South Africa, Chez Dominique in Finland, or Amber in Hong Kong?

And then there's Biko in Mexico, Iggy's in Singapore, Astrid y Gaston in Peru, De Librije in Holland, or Steirereck in Austria.

Chocolate nougat at Vienna's Steirereck
They were chosen by an international academy of some 800 chefs, restaurateurs, food and restaurant journalists and gourmands representing 27 geographic regions around the globe. Sounds impressive, but, apart from Mark Bittman, Wolfgang Puck, and Charlie Palmer, it's unlikely you'll recognize many of the members. Doubtless you will be familiar with the group's sponsor, Electrolux, famous in Europe for making high-end, high-design stoves, refrigerators and appliances – and in the U.S. mainly for producing vacuum cleaners.

Some journalists have called into question the group's choices and methodology. The list is not universally accepted as definitive.

Still, it's not necessary to approve of every establishment on the World's 50 Best Restaurants to enjoy the thought of dining at every one of them.

If you decide to try it, just make sure you have an understanding spouse, an ample supply of Pepto Bismol and a few million frequent flyer miles.

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