Arts I Have Eaten Near the World’s Finest Restaurants
Five hundred and sixty international food critics just got together to vote for Restaurant magazine’s list of the world’s 50 best restaurants. Turns out I’m a classier dude than I (or anybody else) expected—I have dined in close proximity to several of these fine eateries. Among them:
Finest restaurant #8: Per Se, New York, New York
Per Se is in Columbus Circle, where they have those bronze reliefs of the NiÃ±a, the Pinta, and the Santa MarÃa. In rememberance of the Spanish invasion of the New World, I got a hot dog from a street vendor. (Pigs, like dandilions and rats and horses, are not indigenous to the Americas.) It was rubbery and unsatisfying.
Finest restaurant #26: Charlie Trotter’s, Chicago, Illinois
My meal at Charlie Trotter’s was actually a steaming, bitter plate of crow. I was walking around with a young lady I wanted to treat to a nice meal. I was new to Chicago—and, apparently, to common-sense research—and had heard that Charlie’s was a “good” restaurant. But really, how fancy could it be with a name that sounded suspiciously like a euphemism for diarrhea? Pretty goddamned fancy, in fact. I asked to see a menu and my eyebrows shot up so fast, I thought I’d sprained my forehead. In retrospect, it’s clear that the maitre d’ was just humoring me and, being a professional, probably would have saved my dignity, saying something like “we’re full up tonight,” if I’d let him. Instead, I blanched, stammered, and nearly threw the menu back at him for fear of incurring a fine for soiling it with my plebian fingers. I left with the young lady and slopped her like a hog at a nearby taco truck—my treat.
Finest restaurant #17: Le Cinq, Paris, France
Le Cinq is off the George V metro stop, part of Line 1, the first subway line in Paris, which opened in 1900. I remember sitting on the subway at the George V station, surprised that a station named for an English king came between one named for de Gaulle and another named for FDR. I was eating a croissant sandwich with ham and cheese—which, I thought, was an appropriate Franco-Anglo-American fusion snack.
Finest restaurant #1: El Bulli, Girona, Catalonia
I was living in Manresa, a fading former textile town near Girona (which is near Barcelona) but further inland. My girlfriend and I wanted to visit the historic old town (singing “my-my-my-my Girona!” a la the Knack) and I discovered El Bulli while googling. It sounded incredible: 27-course meals built of micro-plates made with lasers and centrifuges and other sci-fi machines. El Bulli serves “pistachio truffle cooled in liquid nitrogen” and “air of carrot,” a frothy carrot foam. “Liquid” is just a peach dipped in liquid hydrogen. One day, we got some ham and tomato bocadillos and hiked around the bumpy roads heading out of town, looking for El Bulli. We never found it, but we pretended to; we sat on a stone by the roadside and ate our baguette sandwiches in 27 tiny bites.