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April is unquestionably the best month in the calendar year. It has something for everyone: While Spring Breakers are already hitting the beach, winter sport aficionados can still enjoy some of the finest skiing of the season. As certain bartenders and chefs usher in their lighter, breezier creations, others are holding fast to the hearth. If limitless possibility is your thing, this is a time to savor. So belly up to the bar — any of these bars, really — and make sure you come thirsty and hungry. It’s time for our most satisfying roundup of food and drink to date.
Where: New York City, New York
The Gist: A taste of the Big Easy comes to the Big Apple at this hip and soulful lounge on the eastern edge of St. Marks Place. The interior space is a multi-faceted affair, featuring a boisterous bar, a stately-yet-self-aware dining parlor, and a more tranquil chef’s table experience, adjacent to the kitchen. On the grill, executive chef Andrew Dunleavy is re-creating creole classics such as charred oysters with parmesan and parsley, shrimp and grits, and crawfish po’boys. While the food is serious, the vibes are playful, maintained by Mr. (Jeffrey) White himself, who comes from a career in New York nightlife. While awaiting a full liquor license, the bar offers an all-French wine list, local brews, and some imaginative low-ABV cocktails, working Korean soju into the mix.
Where: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The most exciting thing to happen to Philly since the Eagles won the Super Bowl arrives in the form of this pan-Asian gastropub near 30th Street Station. Diners are wooed by an electrifying interior, inspired by Taiwanese street markets, and hinting at the fun flavors to follow. Out of the kitchen marches a parade of small plates with a penchant for the eclectic. Peking duck on steamed bun; pork sausage with curried potato; sea salt crusted shrimp pad Thai; come for the Taiwanese sausage and stay for the vegetable basmati fried rice. Wash it all down with a lengthy list of cocktails relying on yuzu syrup for citrusy support. Or take it a step further and sample a taste of Yuzuri — a new liqueur made directly from the tangy Japanese fruit, itself.
The Gist: Just off the lobby from the hip Hotel Lucia is chef Vitaly Paley’s ode to wood-fired fare. A trove of locally-sourced proteins awaits the meat-eaters, who would be remiss to overlook the thick cut bacon chop, served with pickled mushrooms and a roast squash salsa. But the vegetarians and pescatarians are met with equal enthusiasm here. This is Portland, after all. Coal roasted sweet potatoes, ember roasted regular potatoes — served with dill, and steelhead a la plancha are all full-flavored winners that won’t leave you wanting for added protein. The craft cocktails are also on fire here, including a Vieux Carré on draft. The classic French Quarter combination is prepared here with both cognac and rye. It’s a good thing the booths are comfortable: You won’t be getting up anytime soon.
Where: Lexington, Kentucky
The Gist: Kentucky’s first vintage spirits bar and tasting room is the result of a new law that passed at the beginning of the year. The legislation allows commercial establishments rare, old liquors found on auction, or salvaged at local estate sales. Looking for a bottle of Old Grandad from before Prohibition? A gallon of Old Fitzgerald from the disco era, per chance? Do you even know what this stuff is? Then this is the place for you. Select tastings can be arranged, and everything in the collection is available for purchase, by the bottle. But it’s by appointment only, which are secured on the website with minimal fuss. Every February, co-owner Justin Thompson helps put on one of the country’s largest bourbon festivals — the Bourbon Classic — so he’s well-versed in America’s native spirit. Come thirsty and curious — he’ll take it from there.
Where: Brooklyn, New York
The Gist: Meaning “luncheonette” in Spanish, La Loncheria is much more than Mexican tortas and taco plates. It’s also an unassuming, frill-free dining room that just might hold the most admirably curated mezcal collection in all of Brooklyn. It helps, of course, that Chef Danny Mena — of Hecho en Dumbo fame — is also part owner of his own brand of agave spirit — but there’s much more to enjoy behind the bar than the multiple selection from Mezcales de Leyenda. The enthusiastic staff is happy to help take your palate where it wants to go, but consider some of their lively cocktail arrangements, such as the Ay Cañita — an unlikely combination of Oaxacan rum, mezcal, and fernet. Park that at the table next to the grilled Iberian pork shoulder with charcoal roasted red onion, and you won’t be wanting for much more in this life.
The Gist: The second installation of this Michelin-starred sushi den debuted in Miami Beach, earlier this year. By all measures of success, it’s building upon the high marks of its New York-based originator. The space is tranquil and minimal in approach, an instant teleport to Tokyo, once you step behind the curtains separating the entrance from the Marriott lobby. At the traditional sushi counter, four styles of omekase are offered nightly. At the dinner table, a la carte service allows for more personalized experimentation. The kitchen crushes its preparation of Kamo Shirani — a simmered duck served with yuzu pepper — as well as the inimitably Instagrammable uni avocado. Mini Wagyu beef croquettes are a good transitional choice for diners hoping to ease their way into more sophisticated Japanese flavors. Behind the Bar, Azabu already lays claim to Miami’s most extensive selection of Asian single malts. But if you’re craving something less precious, the highballs (whisky and soda on ice) are a gift that keeps on giving.
The Gist: Hiding quietly, a block away from the baseball stadium, James Beard award-winning chef Hugh Acheson is taking his version of southern-inspired fare out for a spin. With dishes like Lowcountry Frogmore Stew and Leek Rice Grits, it’s evident that he wants to inject some gourmet flair into otherwise perfectly fine comfort classics. But in so doing he shows remarkable restraint, opting to let a few, carefully selected ingredients do the talking. The large format proteins — a double bone-in pork chop with thyme and apple butter, and a tomahawk ribeye — are worth finding extra friends to recruit to the table. The lengthy list of local craft on draft also serves as a reminder that this place is perfectly content to be your burger-and-a-beer-before-the-Braves-game kinda joint.
Where: Los Angeles, California
The Gist: The traditional flavors of southern Italy are showcased in bright lights at this brand new Mediterranean menagerie in the heart of Los Angeles’s chic Arts District. The industrial-inspired interior is no accident — the space was reclaimed from a 1920s warehouse, and is built to be boisterous. It’s a casual concept taking the inviting atmosphere of the neighborhood pizzeria and imbuing it with the sophistication of modern Southern California cuisine. So when you order a white pizza here, expect it to come with fennel pollen and arugula to enliven the mascarpone; pair it with wine that leans heavily on the small, family-run vineyards from near the heel of the boot. Downtown LA has found its newest delectable darling.
The Gist: Think of Scottsdale and you likely envision golf courses and cactuses. Cuban flair isn’t exactly part of the picture. But The Canal Club is here to defy your expectations. Bringing the aesthetic of 1930s Havana to the heart of 21st Century Arizona, the newest addition to the Scott is an inviting outpost as colorful as it is comfortable. Chef de cuisine, Chris Castro, works Caribbean ingredients like plantains, black beans, and jicama into artful delights. Vegetable Paella and the classic pressed Cubano sandwich are among his specialities. The cocktails are equally as transportive. Fans of Hemingway will appreciate the inclusion of El Floridita — a Maraschino-infused daiquiri measured to Papa’s preference.
The Gist: The 45th floor of the Ritz-Carlton in central Tokyo has long been home to stunning views and captivating cuisine. But one of the world’s premiere luxury properties elevates the decadence further still with its newest after-dinner addition. La Boutique is a modern reconfiguration of the classic French pâtisserie, infusing the customs and styles of Japanese pastry-making. Chef Jimmy Boulay builds out a collection of confection ranging in size from bite-sized, fruit-flavored cubes, to takeaway cakes in customized boxes (available throughout the day). Sleek and stylish, with all the expected elegance of a Ritz-Carlton outpost, it joins two other eateries on the top floor — Towers and the Michelin-starred Azure 45 —elongating the dining options from breakfast through dessert.
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