The French are notoriously proud of their cuisine, so it's extra surprising that a new crop of young, ambitious chefs is ignoring French tradition and looking outward. Drawing from the melting pot that is Marseille, chefs are combining top-level French techniques (such as precision knife work) with influences from their neighboring Mediterranean and North African countries (richly aromatic spices). The result is a cuisine as unique as the city that inspired it.
Bistrot d'Edouard At this year-old restaurant, the city's cultural mix is evident in dishes like vermicelli cooked in squid ink and fish broth, garnished with grilled squid and fromage-blanc aioli. Tapas from $7, 150 rue Jean Mermoz, 011-33/4-91-71-16-52.
Cafe Populaire Celebrating the Marseille's mishmash of Mediterranean tastes, Populaire serves up dishes like fried chick-pea flour squares with sardines, grilled squid, and mesclun. 110 rue Paradis, 011-33/4-91-02-53-96.
La Virgule Chef Lionel Levy, whose Une Table au Sud earned a Michelin star a few years ago, opened this small spot next door, where the bistro-meets-ethnic menu (think smoked duck breast served with hummus and sesame oil) is drawing nightly crowds. Entrees from $12, lavirgule.marseille.free.fr.
Even terrific hotel restaurants get overshadowed by the hotel itself (quick: name the restaurant at the Ritz Paris). In Wales, the opposite holds. The culinary experience is paramount. To wit, the profusion of "restaurants with rooms," where the overnight digs are mostly a convenience for foodies who trek to these often remote spots. Some of the restaurants come with Michelin stars, but they still give off the same cozy, come-on-in vibe that pervades Wales—with friendly prices to match.
The Crown at Whitebrook Working here among five lush, green acres in the Wye Valley, head chef James Sommerin earned his Michelin star with dishes like loin of rabbit with asparagus and wild-mushroom mousse served with a smoked butternut squash puree. Tasting menu from $43, crownatwhitebrook.co.uk.
Tyddyn Llan Chef-owner Brian Webb was awarded a Michelin star last year for the creations coming out of this rambling stone cottage in North Wales. Webb's constantly evolving menu features creations like roast pigeon with Savoy cabbage and foie gras. Tasting menu from $45, tyddynllan.co.uk.
The Chef's Room, Fish & Cookery School Wales's food obsession goes beyond restaurants, too. Founded by Michelin-starred chef Franco Taruschio and food writer Lindy Wildsmith, the Chef's Room hosts guests chefs like Shaun Hill (who earned his own Michelin star at Wales's The Walnut Tree), who offer hands-on instruction. Classes, including lunch and wine, from $81, thechefsroom.co.uk.
Cooking with Angela Gray The cooking school at Llanerch Vineyard launched last April, and includes everything from simple bread-baking classes to five-day cooking courses. Guests are also treated to wine tastings and vineyard tours. Classes from $80, angelagray.co.uk.
Foxhunter Want to be even closer to the source? During the new foraging excursions at the Foxhunter, in Nantyderry, guests look for wild berries, mushrooms, and spinach, and then cook with their finds under the instruction of the restaurant's head chef. Foraging classes from about $100, thefoxhunter.com.
In L.A., it's not only the D-list actors who get their 15 minutes of fame. The difference with the city's trendy new "pop-up" restaurants is that they're designed to fade fast, because half the fun is catching them before they're gone. You can find pop-up outfits featuring Californian-American, Italian, Japanese, and more, but they all require some Web savvy (and knowledge of Twitter) to suss out the newest outpost.
LudoBites Founder and superstar chef Ludovic LeFebvre refers to his creation as a "touring restaurant." Much like a band promoting its latest album, LudoBites moves from location to location (and "shows" sell out long in advance). Instead of hit songs, there are hit dishes, like fried chicken bites and "squid noodles" (sliced calamari with black radish, black grapes, bean sprouts, and raw prawns). Entrees from $10, ludobites.com.
Breadbar A restaurant in the traditional sense, Breadbar also hosts pop-up events for outside chefs to showcase their talents with anything from soba dishes to Korean pub food. Sandwiches from $12, breadbar.net.
You could always find a great steak in Houston—and not much else. Thanks to the growing population of Mexican, Indian, Korean, and Thai immigrants, the ethnic food scene is now thriving. Most places are on the outskirts of town, including a farmers' market on Airline Drive with great Mexican food. Even better is a stretch of Long Point Road that's become home to many Thai, Korean, and Mexican restaurants. Good luck picking among them.
Taqueria El Mercado In a trailer just behind the farmers' market on Airline Drive (where you can sample Mexican hot chocolate and pan dulce) you'll find the place to feast on tripe and carnitas tacos. Tacos from $2, 2520 Airline Dr.
Vieng Thai Long Point Road is another culinary hotbed, with unassuming restaurants serving everything from Thai to Korean to Mexican. Vieng Thai is a hit for its coconut-milk soup and array of curries. Entrees from $8, 6929 Long Point Rd., 713/688-9910.
Where Chefs Eat Chefs are so enamored of Houston's ethnic food scene that a few of them have partnered up to offer culinary tours. Each tour is led by a chef---including local celebrities like Bryan Caswell of Reef, and Mark Holley of Pesce---and focuses on a different cuisine. Tours $180 per person, houstonculinarytours.com.
Patagonia is famous for its adventure tourism, but now it's giving Mendoza a run for its money as a wine-producing hub. In the mid-1990s, investors realized that simple irrigation could transform the arid flatlands at the tip of Argentina. The vineyards, lush patches of green in an otherwise dusty landscape, still look like they got lost on the way to Napa. But the wine coming out of them is special enough to draw visitors and aspiring vintners from miles away.
Bodega del Fin del Mundo When it comes to Argentine wine, Mendoza has held the spotlight for years. But these days, Patagonia seems to be the one to watch. The superstar vineyard in the Neuquen region can be found on nearly 8,000 acres of land planted with several privately owned vineyards that produce impressive Malbecs and Pinot Noirs. Free guided tour and wine tasting, bodegadelfindelmundo.com.
Bodega Humberto Canale It turns out that Patagonia's hot days and cool nights are exactly what grapevines need to thrive---and in the mid-1990s, a few pioneers figured out that some simple irrigation could fix the chalky desert-soil problem. In Rio Negro, Bodega Humberto is a lush patch of green in an otherwise dusty landscape, and it excels in white varietals like Semillon, Viogner, and Torrontes. Guided tour and wine tasting for $20 per person, bodegahcanale.com.
With all the buzz about celebrity outposts such as Morimoto and Nobu opening in Waikiki, you'd think that the native chefs had all skipped town for vacation. In fact, local kitchens are serving some of the most noteworthy dishes, and for good reason. The Hawaiians (several of whom trained in top mainland restaurants) are every bit as skilled as the newcomers, and they've got a kind of home-kitchen advantage, making it easier to hunt down the freshest fare around.
Azure Executive chef Jon Matsubara graduated from the Culinary Institute of America and apprenticed at Jean-Georges in New York---but he's a local boy at heart. At Azure, in the Royal Hawaiian resort, Matsubara starts with the best seafood and produce his native Oahu has to offer and transforms it into something special. Local yellow tail ahi rises to a new level when paired with a salad made of Japanese hamachi, avocado, watermelon, and radish, topped with a ginger vinaigrette and a papadum crisp. Entrees from $22, azurewaikiki.com.
Kai Market Chef Darren Demaya's menu at the Sheraton Waikiki is inspired by the food that was prepared on sugar plantations decades ago, a cuisine that combined local ingredients with influences from the different cultures of the plantation workers---everything from Chinese and Japanese to Filipinos and Pacific Islanders. His Chinese salt-and-pepper Kahuku head-on shrimp is simple and delicious. Prix fixe menu from $51, sheraton-waikiki.com/dining/kai.
Gogi Korean Tacos For lower-key local fare, look beyond Waikiki's main drag. Gogi serves short-rib tacos topped with a kimchee slaw out of a bright-red truck that changes locations regularly. Tacos $2, eatgogi.com.
Let Them Eat Cupcakes The team here offers flavors like locally inspired haupia (similar to pudding) and lilikoi---at food festivals, art fairs, and via special delivery. Cupcakes from $2.50, letthemeatcupcakes808.com.
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