There’s no doubt about it – I am a foodie! Hence my constant battle to stay in shape… To me, food is not just the daily fuel that we all need to function, it is a pretext for living new experiences, it is a ritual of both preparation and enjoyment whether at home or at a restaurant. I have travelled extensively and needless to say that restaurants have always constituted a large part of my itinerary. As such, I’m happy to share my memories of a few restaurants that always come to mind whenever I’m engaged in conversations about traveling and wining & dining. (Words by Adina Marinovici)
1. Per Se in Time Warner Centre, New York
Per Se is one of the restaurants owned and operated by the much acclaimed chef, Tomas Keller who owns the famous French Laundry in Napa Valley. It is a 3 Michelin star restaurant located in the Time Warner Centre in Columbus Circle, mid-Manhattan with beautiful views of the heavily trafficked intersection and Central Park. As you would expect from a fine dining restaurant, I enjoyed an impeccable service, divine food and the expertise of one of the best sommeliers I ever came across who took time to explain each of the 10 wines paired with the 10 course tasting menu we had. If you plan on going there, make sure you go in good company as dinner lasts for about 4 hours and as much as the dining experience will offer you entertainment on its own, you might still want some good conversation. Cost wise – it ain’t cheap! It’s the second most expensive restaurant in New York after Masa, chef Masayoshi Takayama’s famous Japanese joint. And that reminds me of Kappo Masa, the famous Japanese chef’s newer restaurant opened in collaboration with Larry Gagosian and located in the latter’s Madison Avenue gallery in Upper East Side – best Japanese food I ever tasted, but that’s a story for another time.
2. Mandolin, Miami
I have debated for a while whether to write about Cipriani in Downtown Miami or Cecconi’s at Soho House Miami, but in the end I decided on Mandolin, a charming Greek/Turkish restaurant located in the middle of the Design District. Somewhere around 3 on a price scale from 1 to 5, Mandolin genuinely feels like a piece of Greece was lifted and dropped in the NE 2nd Ave, Miami surrounded by chic independent fashion boutiques and big luxury brands like Dior and Christian Louboutin. Opened in 2009 by husband and wife team Ahmet Erkaya and Anastasia Koutsioukis who moved from New York to fulfil a lifelong dream of owning a traditional restaurant that serves simple, unpretentious and healthy Mediterranean food, Mandolin is exactly that. A place that is delighting its guests with delicious and hearty dishes that have that homemade taste which can only come from kitchens where passion and love for food represent the barometer they measure themselves by. My main course was moussaka which reminded me so much of the one my mom used to make when I was a child that it truly sent me off on a path of pleasant nostalgia and reminiscing. The outside seating area of the restaurant is surrounded by Mediterranean vegetation and vine which gave it a homely cosy feeling. Well, at least for me, because it strikingly resembled my granny’s back garden where I spent one too many summers eating fruit and veg picked fresh right from her garden. If you want to go there, make sure you book in advance, it is pretty hard to get a reservation and that applies for any evening of the week as the place is packed with locals in love with Greek cuisine as well as some scattered tourists like me.
3. Al Mahara at Burj al Arab, Dubai
Ok, Al Mahara is truly impressive, there are no two ways about it! Set in the opulent Burj al Arab hotel in Dubai, when you enter Al Mahara your jaw drops. The restaurant has a strong underwater feel thanks to a floor-to-ceiling gigantic cylindric aquarium set in the middle of the restaurant and a subtly lit lighting system. I will go as far as saying that I wasn’t even paying that much attention to the food because I was too busy staring at the hundreds of fish (and a few sharks) swimming in the aquarium. If you go here, make sure to have seafood, they claim it’s the best seafood in Dubai and I tend to agree. It comes at a price though! In my opinion, this restaurant is a great spot for a romantic dinner followed by drinks at the Burj al Arab Skyview Bar – I promise, you will love the views from this glitzy cocktail bar.
4. Miss Ko, Paris
Miss Ko is Philippe Starck’s latest venture in Paris just off Champs-Élysées on the famous Avenue George V where the luxurious Hotel George V is located. This restaurant will fulfil anyone’s need for aesthetics, but it also serves beautiful Japanese food and mouth-watering cocktails. It is not overly expensive and it’s a perfect venue for dinner on a Friday or Saturday night before hitting the French capital’s nightclubs. The music is on a similar note as Buddha Bar or Cafe del Mar or actually more of a love child between the two. It will definitely set you in the right mood for the dance floor.
5. Zuma, winter pop-up in Phuket
Having dined at and loved Zuma Dubai and London, I was delighted to have the opportunity to try this world-renowned restaurant’s winter pop-up in Phuket this January. It was set on the grounds of the beautiful Anantara Layan, overlooking the pool and the beach. I fell in love with the place from the first step I took into the venue. It felt so luxurious, yet so simple and welcoming. Like most Southeast Asian 5 star hotels, the simplicity of the wooden structure of the restaurant coupled with charming lighting, exotic plants and water features on a background of chillout Asian music gave this venue a somewhat surreal feel that lingered over you even after you moved on to a beach bar for post-dinner drinks. The beach was magically lit with fire torches and carefully arranged dim lights which added to this intoxicatingly dreamlike ambiance. It reminded me of the atmosphere in a restaurant called Qbara which is a gorgeous Middle-Eastern restaurant located in Wafi City in Dubai. Food wise, the must here is of course fish and seafood, after all it is a modern Japanese restaurant. But please don’t miss the miso-marinated black cod, it is the best I had out of the 3 Zuma restaurants I have visited to date. Pair that with a cold Sancerre and you’ll be in for a treat. It’s not cheap, but it’s definitely worth every penny.
And with this said, I think that that’s it from me, folks! When Corina asked me to write about my top 5 favourite restaurants, I genuinely panicked thinking which ones I should pick. I love SO many places that I could write a book, not an article… But in the end, I am pretty happy with what I shared above and should the opportunity arise again, I will be more than glad to share some more. I hope you find this useful throughout your travels and quest of memorable culinary experiences.
Oh and one last thing. Where to next for me? Well, there are so many restaurants that I would love to try. But the one that jumps at me right now as I am writing this is French Laundry by Thomas Keller. And that’s for two reasons really – it is located in the Napa Valley which is high up on my travel list and also I loved the dining experience at Per Se so much that I am extremely curious about what its sister venue has to offer.