In Los Angeles, a local favorite gets a makeover...
The owners of Gaylord, a venerable local favorite, have created a totally new experience by dramatically transforming the design and menu of their traditional Indian restaurant. Lighter contemporary fare prepared with seasonal California ingredients dominates the menu, and colorful spaces with sleek blond wood surfaces, a glass-ensconced wine cellar (photo, right
), and an ultra-hip lounge enliven the interior. Coriander-crusted tuna with avocado raita
(a yogurt-based condiment) and tandoori sea bass have replaced the Old School Indian cuisine, creating mixed emotions among regulars. 50 N. La Cienega Blvd. Beverly Hills. 310/652-3894. Reservations essential. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Median entrée price: $20.
Food fanatics have sampled chef Marcus Samuelsson's cooking for years at posh and upscale Aquavit, but at Merkato 55 they have a chance to try more casual cuisine that pays homage to his African roots. The seductive bi-level eatery, with dark tables and chairs and African poems and proverbs etched into steel, is named after a marketplace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. A mandatory precursor to any meal is an order of assorted African breads that includes Mealai
, a sweet cornbread infused with chilies and dipped into one of the spicy sambals
(condiments) or sweet chutneys. The appetizers and main courses showcase assorted seafood, meats, and wild game. The entry-level bar area is ideal for a drink, a small bite, and people watching. 55 Gansevoort St. West Village. 212/255-8555. www.merkato55.com.
Reservations suggested. Closed Mon. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Median entrée price: $25.
It might seem audacious to present hungry diners with nothing more than a wine list, but the gamble is paying off for Enrico Bernardo at his newly opened restaurant. Winner of the world's best sommelier award in 2005, Bernardo now oversees a dining room where food plays second fiddle (in status, not quality). The hip décor -- plum-color banquettes, body-hugging white chairs, a few high tables -- has attracted a mostly young clientele that is happy to play the game by ordering one of the blind, multi-course tasting menus for €75 or €100. This might bring you a white Mâcon with saffron risotto; a crisp Malvasia with crabmeat and black radish; a full-bodied red from Puglia with Provencal-style lamb; sherry-like vin jaune d'Arbois with aged Comté cheese; and sweet Jurancon with berry crumble. You can also order individual wine/food combinations a la carte or pick a bottle straight from the cellar and ask for a meal to match. 13 boulevard de la Tour-Maubourg. Trocadero/Tour Eiffel. 01-44-11-72-00. www.ilvinobyenicobernardo.com.
AE, DC, MC, V. Median entrée price: €35 (includes a glass of wine).
Citronelle by Michel Richard.
The shining gem of the recent $12 million makeover at Carmel Valley Ranch is Citronelle by Michel Richard. Chefs Michel Richard and Anthony Keene wow palates with a whimsical "Mosaic" appetizer of paper-thin slices of raw fish, meat, seafood, and vegetables. Cinnamon-dusted duck with port-wine sauce and perfectly crisped duck confit is another stand-out. Desserts are Richard's claim to fame. Wines are heavy on the French, California, and Monterey County selections. The minimalist dining room is intimate, and the bar and lounge area is by far the sexiest space to socialize on the Monterey Peninsula. When the weather warms up, al fresco dining on the new outdoor deck overlooking the pool will be in high demand. In the meantime, book the Petit Salon, where 22 guests can dine overlooking idyllic Carmel Valley. One Old Ranch Rd. Carmel Valley. Reservations essential. No dinner Sun. and Mon. AE, MC, V. Median entrée price: $32.
The Westin Alexandria.
The staff seems genuinely happy to see you come through the door at this new hotel in a recently developed section of Old Town, Alexandria. The lobby and public areas are done in blues, wood tones, and imported Jerusalem Stone. Rooms offer standard Westin features like the Heavenly Bed and the Heavenly Bath, and flat-screen TVs. It is an ideal place to stay outside D.C., where you'll get more for your travel dollar. It'll take approximately 25 minutes to get downtown by the Metro, and the closest stop is about four blocks from the hotel. Some guests have been unable to get cell phone reception, but the hotel is working on a solution. Pros: rooms have pretty views of either the Masonic Temple or Old Town; close to National Airport and the Metro. Cons: not centrally located; limited cell phone coverage. 400 Courthouse Square. Alexandria. 703/253-8600. www.westin.com/alexandria.
319 rooms, 15 suites. In-room: safe, refrigerator (some), Wi-Fi. In-hotel: restaurant, room service, bar, children's programs (ages 4-12), pool, gym, laundry service, concierge, executive floor, public Wi-Fi, parking (fee), some pets allowed, no smoking rooms. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at $499.
The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua.
After a multimillion dollar renovation, this elegant hillside property reopened in early 2008 with upgraded accommodations, spa, restaurants, and pool. Refurbished guest rooms and 107 newly created one- and two-bedroom condominium residential suites (some available for rent) are decorated in themes incorporating the rich colors of the ocean, mountains, and rain forests that surround the resort. The expanded spa facility includes a fitness center, yoga studio, 15 treatment rooms, private outdoor shower gardens, and Hawaiian design elements. The renovated multi-level pool and hot tubs are open 24 hours and are set amid the lush grounds of the resort. There is a new Environmental Education Center as well as a full-time cultural advisor who instructs employees and guests in Hawaiian traditions. Pros: newly renovated; many cultural and recreational programs. Cons: can be windy on the grounds and at the pool; the hotel is not on the beach and is far from major attractions such as Lahaina and Haleakala. 1 Ritz-Carlton Dr. Kapalua. West Maui. 808/669-6200 or 800/262-8440. www.ritzcarlton.com/resorts/kapaluaa.
450 rooms. In-room: safe, Wi-Fi. In-hotel: 6 restaurants, bar, tennis courts, pool, gym, spa, beachfront, children's programs (ages 5-12), laundry service. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at $505.
Contributors: Emma Fox, Bonnie Friedman, Roger J. Grody. Rosa Jackson, Beth Kanter, and Shivani Vora