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Our editors weigh in on their most satisfying dining experiences.
MANY OF LIFE’S most affirming, formative moments occur over meals. Nothing else provides such a visceral way to honor and absorb new and disparate perspectives, to celebrate, commemorate, and make memories. Food is art and education; it’s medicine and connection. To that end, we’ve gathered some of the most moving culinary experiences of the year. While the cathedrals of cuisine — the likes of New York’s Eleven Madison Park, Copenhagen’s Noma, and Lima’s Central — have continued to inspire us with their constant reinvention and unerring excellence, we also wanted to shine a light on some of the newer and slightly less-known players in the space. So here’s to the pursuit of a delicious life, wherever it may lead.
San Francisco’s 2-Michelin-star Saison focuses on wood-fired cuisine with seasonal ingredients. Flavors take inspiration from the cooking Chef Paul Chung grew up with, namely Korean staples using American ingredients, prepared by his mother throughout his life. Chung pays homage to these nostalgic Asian flavors through dishes like amberjack sashimi with kohlrabi gelee or sea urchin on brown-butter-soaked sourdough, all of which “represent the stunning marriage of West Coast classic and Asian delicacy,” one of our editors wrote. Chef Chung points out that because of the state’s history of immigration, “you can’t say California cuisine without understanding the influence that Asian cuisine has had.” VISIT SAISON
Based in Harlem, in New York City, Contento offers sumptuous Peruvian cuisine in a setting dedicated to accessibility: the floor of the restaurant allows for wheelchairs to be rolled directly into the space, with no ramps; there are no steps to the counter; and the tables are the perfect height, so all can be eye level when sitting down and knees don’t hit the table. The co-founders, both para-athletes and founders of disability nonprofits, wanted to create a space that truly felt open to everyone. “This is a minority-owned business. You have a woman, two people with disabilities, and three out of five owners are part of the BIPOC community,” explains co-owner Yannick Benjamin. “It’s important to us that we’re reaching out to populations that have been ignored or taken for granted by the hospitality industry.” As for the acclaimed cuisine, dishes include things like duck liver mousse with purple corn focaccia; arroz con pato with green rice, pickled fennel and onion, and a spicy cherry emulsion; and dry aged côte de boeuf with tomato salad, crispy Peruvian potatoes, and bone marrow vinaigrette. VISIT CONTENTO
A love letter to Cajun culture, this New Orleans supper club is dedicated to the area’s heritage of seafood and produce in a historical, family-style setting. “On any given night, you could end up sitting between strangers at one of the large tables inside the 1895 Victorian mansion that has housed Chef Melissa Martin’s restaurant for the past five years,” one contributor wrote, “having your gumbo ladled into a bowl of homestyle potato salad by someone you just met.” Chef Martin hopes the meal will educate diners on the nuances of bayou cooking. “We want everyone to leave with just a little bit more information about south Louisiana than they had before. Whether that’s something about mudfish, or you’re having okra for the first time, or you learn that okra and gumbo are the same word [the word gumbo comes from the West African word for okra, ki ngombo].” VISIT MOSQUITO SUPPER CLUB
“A plate arrives at the table — perfectly charred octopus is resting regally on a deep purple sweet potato puree, adorned by punchy slaw and punctuated with pickled grapes,” one contributor wrote. “Every bite brings you closer to the realization that you’re eating something very special.” At the fine-dining Filipino establishment Abacá, Chef Francis Ang’s San Francisco restaurant, each dish represents an innovative fusion between tradition and creativity. Draped in luscious greenery and decorated with woven abacá baskets — abacá, a Tagalog word, is a fiber derived from a banana tree native to the Philippines — the space has a uniquely escapist vibe, with a mix of bar seating, cozy tables, and communal corners that invite both intimacy and immersion. VISIT ABACÁ
Located in the Mercantour, a verdant region where the Alps meet the Mediterranean, the restaurant and inn Auberge de la Roche was an abandoned ruin just three years ago. Amidst the rubble, co-owners Mickaëlle Chabat and Louis-Philippe Riel built the remote, culinary escape named France’s “best restaurant” this year by Le Fooding. Here, Chef Alexis Bijaoui cooks from the land, producing ever-changing seasonal dishes like zucchini flowers stuffed with fig-leaf cream, turnip remoulade adorned with rose petals, a succulent pancetta-style tuna belly, and white asparagus topped with sunflower-seed cream and shaved egg yolk. On a recent visit, one contributor set the scene: “Dinner on the evening I visit tastes like hiking through a shaded forest and cooling off with a swim in the sea.” VISIT AUBERGE DE LA ROCHE
With dishes like bluefin tuna and salsa fresca tostada, Kaluga caviar with smoked heirloom tomato panna cotta, Japanese hamachi with melon and nuoc cham, and Maine lobster with corn and Thai curry, each course of LA restaurant Manzke’s tasting menu is a moan-inducing, heavenly balance of salt, fat, and acid. Service is incredibly discerning, and the space is reminiscent of an old, refined library. As for drinks, after visiting here I wrote: “I began with a cocktail called Lemon Verbena, made of gin, limoncello, yogurt, lemon, and sparkling water — a tart, tangy burst of sun on the tongue — followed by a beautifully orchestrated wine pairing.” VISIT MANZKE
Touted as the world’s first Michelin-starred Peranakan restaurant, Candlenut’s lunch tasting menu in Singapore was one of the most beautiful dining experiences one of our Departures editors has ever had — course after course of impeccably presented food that was as beautiful as it was tasty. He took a photo of the Bakwan Kepiting soup in hopes he would never forget how delicious it was. The ornate tasting menu, which evolves seasonally, felt appropriately matched to the space itself — filled with light, bright colors and fanciful organic touches. VISIT CANDLENUT
New York’s 70 Pine building houses three must-visits: Crown Shy, Overstory, and the fine-dining crown jewel: Saga. Helmed by Chef James Kent, this ultra-glamorous, 2-Michelin-star spot showcases interiors as dazzling as the meals. The experience itself unfolds like theater: After exiting the elevator to the 63rd floor, you are greeted with a welcome drink of your choice from a selection of elemental flavor profiles, which you then take out to a private terrace overlooking the glittering expanse of the city skyline. The exquisite tasting menu is inspired by the flavors and techniques of the chef’s Moroccan heritage; his father hailed from Tangier. VISIT SAGA
With an 8-seat sushi counter, this small, quayside space in Copenhagen is a little stunner. The custom-carved counter is made of blonde pine and the ceramics are sourced from Japan, lugged back in Chef Mads Battefeld’s suitcases. From behind the counter, Battefeld skillfully slices glistening slabs of local fish before your eyes, serving up delicate Edomae-style sushi in seemingly countless courses of exquisite elegance and depth. I highly suggest the sake pairing, which harmonizes beautifully with each course. At one point, somewhere between a fermented jerky-like slice of fish and the umami-rich crunch of a pickled root vegetable, I might have teared up with joy. VISIT SUSHI ANABA
Sophie Mancini is an editor at Departures. Born and raised in New York City, she holds a degree in creative writing from Johns Hopkins University and has a background as a writer in brand and editorial.
Ahonen & Lamberg is a multidisciplinary design studio based in Paris. Founded in 2006 by Finnish designers Anna Ahonen and Katariina Lamberg, the studio concentrates on art direction, creative consultancy, and graphic design.
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