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As an annual rite of spring, gourmet food and drink stakes out an al fresco reposition. In more exotic parts of the world — the Southern Hemisphere or, say, Miami — outdoor dining is a way of life throughout the calendar year. We should all be so lucky. But wherever you find yourself this March, you ought to start seeing fun, lighter fare emerging on high-minded menus. Just because it’s playful, though, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take it seriously. Al fresco, it turns out, isn’t just about being outdoors — it’s an attitude.
Where: Auckland, New Zealand
The Gist: SkyCity Auckland is its city’s pinnacle visual landmark. The tallest spire in the skyline is home to a luxury hotel, casino and dozens of restaurants representing cuisine from across the globe. Newest upon this landscape is Huami: a Chinese-influenced eatery combining the eclectic styles of Canton, Sichuan, Huaiyang and Beijing into an ambitious seasonally-informed menu. Keep things familiar with their signature wood-fired Peking Duck, or experiment with the kitchen’s Asian reconfigurations of New Zealand seafood staples, such as abalone or crayfish. The bar side showcases China’s native rice wine (baijiu) in a colorful interior space, with minimalist appointments of the Far East.
Where: The EAST, Miami, Florida
The Gist: Atop the 40th floor of Downtown Miami’s chic and elegant EAST hotel sits this polished outdoor bar and restaurant. Although the venue has long established itself as one of the city’s preeminent destinations for rooftop nightlife, the kitchen just launched a significant overhaul, placing the food on par with the scenery. Spicy small plates, such as Bang Bang Shrimp and Boneless Korean Chicken Wings, share the spotlight alongside satay, sashimi and artfully-assembled sushi rolls. Lounge-like seating surrounds a boisterous bar, mixing up Japanese whisky highballs, backdropped by iconic high rises.
Where: Ace Hotel, Portland, Oregon
The Gist: Follow an unmarked entrance into the basement beneath Portland’s Ace Hotel to arrive at the city’s sleekest new speakeasy. Cocktail impresario — and local legend — Jeffrey Morgenthaler has assembled another knockout menu, this time built around a 16-foot zinc bar where local spirits are placed on a pedestal. Try Westward’s versatile single malt, for example, arranged into simple Manhattan-hemmed medleys. The drinks avoid indulging in sweetness, while small plates steer clear of preparatory excess. Low ceilings, compact booths and 1920s-era jazz all maximize the transportive effect: a drinking den from a bygone era.
Where: Hotel Villa Michelon, Bento Gonçalves, Brazil
The Gist: This “galeteria” in the heart of Brazilian wine country plates Italian-inspired fare alongside the region’s finest viticultural offerings. Under-appreciated is the impact that Mediterranean flavors have had on the cuisine in this part of the world. But a visit to this vibrant trattoria exposes the elegance of pastas, wood-fired pizzas and grilled chicken, recast with South American flair. The homemade noodles are delivered in over a dozen varieties of sauces, leaning heavily on local produce and often resulting in unctuous riffs on familiar Italian flavors. Their Bolognese variation, paired with the Agnus Tannat from nearby Lidio Carraro Winery, hits all the right Old World notes, demanding consideration for something you might not have even known existed: wines of Brazil.
Where: Louisville, Kentucky
The Gist: If you’re going to open a whiskey bar in Louisville, Kentucky, you best come correct. Celebrity chef Edward Lee seems up to the challenge with his newest concept — a whimsical eatery shelving over 200 examples of its namesake spirit. Opened in February, Whiskey Dry is already drawing crowds, not just for the breadth of its liquid largesse, but for what’s being hailed as the best cheeseburger in town. The overall ambience — in accordance with the cocktails served herein — exudes seriousness without succumbing to stuffiness. This is a welcome reprieve from the austere drinking parlors dominating the surrounding landscape.
Where: New York City, New York
Lower Manhattan’s cocktail scene is without equal. Flexing its majesty further still is this precious drinking parlor, hidden above Freemans Restaurant on the Bowery. Head bartender Eryn Reece is a visionary behind the stick, pouring potent-yet-soothing elixirs such as the Fortune and Glory, which arrives by way of teacup and saucer. A truncated bar menu of assorted seafood snacks makes for great aperitivo hour. But with space for only 18 imbibers, operating six nights a week (closed Mondays), you’ll want to secure your spot well ahead of time.
Where: Grand Hyatt, Taipei, Taiwan
The Gist: For authentic Cantonese dim sum, both locals and tourists converge at this fanciful affair, a floor above the outsized lobby of the Grand Hyatt in downtown Taipei. A parade of steamed dumplings march towards the linen-clothed tables during busy weekends, accompanied by pork buns, pan fried turnip cakes and steamed chicken feet in oyster sauce. If you have yet to experiment with some of the more esoteric elements of Cantonese cuisine, here is your place to dig in. The signature roasted goose platter is obligatory for large dining parties, but must be ordered a full three days in advance. Afterwards, sooth your filled bellies by the restaurant’s extensive tea service, which showcases an artful array of native leaves.
The Gist: A dense forest on the outskirts of Singapore isn’t where you’d expect to find an homage to Cuban cocktail culture. But Bob’s Bar, amidst the stunning Capella resort, excels at defying imagination. Its small interior space is girded by an outdoor patio and veranda, suspended below a canopy supporting an abundance of jungle flora and fauna. The drink menu is no less exotic. Here you’ll find the bar’s signature rum blend, imported from the Caribbean, aging in a cask, on-site. The staff works the bespoke liquid into several assortments which are barrel-aged further still — Negroni, Sazerac and El Presidente. Each offers a unique spin, subduing the sweeter notes of a base spirit for something savory and enduringly complex. Pair any of these expert arrangements alongside a narrow selection of island fare. Cuban sliders and house-marinated satays are built upon the highest quality wagyu beef. Far fancier than anything you’ll find in the country that inspired it; this is Singapore, after all.
The Gist: Chef Jose Andres isn’t just a humanitarian, he’s also one hell of a chef. To make sure you never forget it, he just opened this immersive, multi-sensory experience wherein guests are brought into the kitchen for a Catalonian-inspired dining excursion. A $235 ticket is purchased ahead of time, affording diners very little in terms of expectations. Details are guarded for good reason: It’s a continually evolving concept, helmed by Aitor Zabala, with a strong element of improvisation. Simply have faith in Andres and his team of skilled chefs. Of this you can be sure: You will leave happy, but not hungry.
Where: Memphis, Tennessee
The Gist: Wood-fired cooking finds its crescendo at this new eatery in the heart of downtown Memphis. The Gray Canary — hinting at the bird’s classical connection to coal — is dedicated to flamed fare in all its form. Meaning you’ll find South American asado cuisine on the same menu as backyard country barbecue. But don’t dine here expecting a unidimensional onslaught of meat. The kitchen hits its stride in a smattering of vegetable arrangements, including maitake mushrooms, sweet potatoes and kohlrabi, sizzling in a bath of grapefruit brown butter. Whether produce or protein, expert execution insures that char marks the spot.
Featured photo courtesy Banzarbar
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