The Story: Glitzy, high-end, expensive--not exactly the adjectives you want attached to a restaurant that's opening in the midst of a recession. But proving that rigatoni with shrimp and calamari (or any of Marea's life-changing pastas for that matter) trumps even a shrinking bank account, this Central Park South spot quickly became the best new restaurant in New York (and, arguably, America).
The Team: Chef Michael White (a midwestern boy who mastered Italian cooking) and restaurateur Chris Cannon also own two other not-too-shabby Manhattan standouts, Convivio and Alto.
Must Order: Pick a pasta, any pasta--all the fresh shapes are made in-house. Crudo (think Italian sushi) showcases White's mastery of all things fish.
What's in a Name: Italian for "tide."
The Story: If chef Barbara Lynch ever ran for mayor of Boston, it would be a landslide. Yes, she and her four restaurants, butcher store, cocktail bar, and demonstration kitchen/cookbook store are that popular. Her latest restaurant makes it clear that fine dining is in fact not dead in America.
The Team: Chef Lynch runs the show but executive chef Colin Lynch (no relation) does the heavy lifting. Wine director Cat Silirie is one of the country's best sommeliers.
Must Order: There are two menu options--the seven-course chef's tasting menu and the four-course prix fixe. Shellfish is the star.
What's in a Name: Lynch describes her cooking as a marriage of French technique and Italian sensibility. Menton is a picturesque town in southern France near the Italian border.
The Story: This is the neighborhood restaurant we all wish we lived around the corner from--50 seats, comfy banquettes, prime people-watching from the window bar seats, small but smart menu, and friendly staff.
The Team: James Beard Award-nominated chef Melissa Perello cooked at Charles Nob Hill and Fifth Floor before taking a few years off to plan Frances.
Must Order: Applewood-smoked bacon beignets, chickpea fritters, and pork trotters--all under the Bouchees ("mouthfuls") category on the menu.
What's in a Name: Frances was Perello's grandmother, who taught Perello how to cook--and how to make her famous peanut brittle--during summer visits to Wichita Falls, Texas.
The Story: Los Angeles needs more stylish fine-dining restaurants like Hatfield's--family-owned spots where the food (not the Hollywood crowd) is the top priority. The new, more spacious location has a glass-enclosed kitchen, full bar, and smart design, including a centerpiece light fixture that is shaped like the molecular structure of honey.
The Team: Husband-and-wife chefs Quinn and Karen Hatfield met while working at Wolfgang Puck's Spago.
Must Order: If the croque-madame (yellowtail sashimi, prosciutto, quail egg, brioche) were taken off the menu, customers would revolt, says Quinn.
What's in a Name: Short. Simple. And to the point.
The Story: In a city full of outstanding seafood restaurants, Anchovies & Olives is arguably the best. "Less is more" seems to be the theme here--from the 40-seat space (with a beautiful open kitchen) to the pared-down menu that's divided into two sections: crudo and plates (entrees). What's more, nothing is priced over $16.
The Team: Chef Ethan Stowell and wife Angela (they also run Tavolata and How to Cook a Wolf) and chef de cuisine Charles Walpole.
Must Order: Mackerel with shallot and walnut agrodolce, seared prawns with salsa verde, and geoduck crudo.
What's in a Name: Originally the title for Stowell's cookbook, which is now called Ethan Stowell's New Italian Kitchen. Publishers didn't like it; Stowell did.
The Story: Part steakhouse, part butcher shop, 100 percent ode to all things meat--this is "The Year in Food 2010" distilled into a single restaurant. A chalkboard--with a cow diagram and "cuts available tonight" menu--hangs near the open kitchen in the industrial space. All the good steakhouse cliches (fun, raucous) without all the bad ones (super-expensive, boys' club).
The Team: Owners Benjamin Dyer and Jason Owens and chef-owner David Kreifels (all partners in supper club Simpatica Dining Hall).
Must Order: Meat! More specifically, beef. Try cuts like culotte (a.k.a. baseball steak), rib eye, or hanger steak. Throw in a side of Millennium Farms creamed corn for good measure.
What's in a Name: It's a nod to both the neighborhood where the restaurant is located and the name of the mini mart that used to inhabit the space.
The Story: Miller Union takes the southern meat-and-three tradition and tweaks it. Gone are the steam tables, Formica tables, and dusty decor. In their place are farm-fresh meats and veggies, a modern farmhouse feel in a warehouse space, and a light but satisfying menu.
The Team: Chef Steven Satterfield, a master of vegetable cookery and former executive sous-chef at Atlanta favorite Watershed, owns the restaurant with general manager Neal McCarthy.
Must Order: Griddled chicken made with heritage breed Poulet Rouge; the seasonal vegetable plate.
What's in a Name: The restaurant is built on the site of the Miller Union Stock Yards, which closed in the 1970s.
The Story: Ever wonder what it would be like to have a charming southern grandma who invited you over to her cozy little house for Sunday supper? Ellerbe Fine Foods offers you the opportunity to enjoy a similar experience--from the warm feel of the dining room (in a former service station, no less) to their everyone-is-family philosophy. And with apologies to all you southerners, the upscale country cooking is probably much better than grandma's.
The Team: Co-owners Molly McCook (she's the chef) and Richard King (he works the dining room) grew up together in Shreveport, Louisiana.
Must Order: Riffs on southern classics are best. Two to try--New Orleans-style barbecue shrimp and Maw Maw's bread pudding.
What's in a Name: McCook learned to cook from her grandma, who lived on Ellerbe Court Road in Shreveport.
The Story: Trendy ingredients come and go, but pasta is forever. This temple to the Italian carb of choice is a bustling spot that features a 24-seat pasta bar (it's where the serious eaters like to sit, says chef Isaac Becker) and a long list of dishes made from both dried and fresh pasta.
The Team: Becker and his wife Nancy St. Pierre, who runs front-of-the-house.
Must Order: No matter what the season, customers love the gnocchi with cauliflower and orange. We'd suggest ordering the crab ravioli, too.
What's in a Name: La Grassa means "The Fat" in Italian and refers to the legendary cuisine of Bologna.
The Story: This Mediterranean-inspired hot spot brings daring favorites like roasted bone marrow, pork-neck-bone rillettes, and pig's ear to the Magnificent Mile. Communal tables, small plates, long hours, and a huge L-shaped bar (with excellent beer and wine lists) make this one of Chicago's most delicious--and easygoing--foodie destinations.
The Team: Jimmy Bannos Jr. heads the kitchen, with support from veteran chefs and co-owners Jimmy Bannos Sr. and Scott Harris.
Must Order: Milk-braised pork shoulder, porchetta panini, and pig's tail braised in balsamic. Crispy chicken-thigh kebabs do the original white meat proud.
What's in a Name: The owners must have known they were going to sell a lot of pork and wine. Legend has it that if a pig drinks red wine, it will turn purple.