Graham Elliot, Chicago.
Guests groove to the tunes of Wilco and The Police while sampling Chef Graham Elliot Bowles' inventive fare, some of which foodies may recognize from the chef's stint orchestrating elaborate tasting menus at Avenues (for reference, try the cheddar-apple risotto). Yet much of the menu, from "BLT-style" salmon (salmon served with pancetta vinaigrette) to pork prime rib will satisfy diners in far fewer courses than the old Avenues tasting menu did. Service can be unconventional: servers take dessert orders at the start of the meal, for example. Yet the boisterous space with exposed brick walls succeeds in combining a casual vibe with fine dining flourish. Bowles calls it "bistronomic;" his fans simply call it good eating. 217 W. Huron St., River North. 312/624-9975. www.grahamelliot.com. Closed Mon. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Median entrée price: $31
Bar Q, New York.
Anita Lo, the chef behind New York City's perennially popular contemporary American spot Annisa and the casual Rickshaw Dumpling Bar, has expanded her empire with this hip Asian barbecue restaurant. The 126-seat space has minimalist décor in the main dining room and also features a greenhouse atrium. Bar Q's menu gives a subtle twist to the dishes you would expect to find in a traditional barbecue joint, offering entrees such as the grilled tuna ribs with yuzu and green chili; grilled short rib with Korean flavors; and spareribs stuffed with lemongrass barbecue sauce, peanuts and Thai basil. Instead of cornbread and collard greens, tasty sides such as steamed buns and sticky rice with Chinese sausage round out the meal. There is also a playful cocktail menu with creations such as the "Margaret Lo," a kaffir lime margarita with a chili salt rim. 308 Bleecker St., West Village. 212/206-7817. www.barqrestaurant.com. No lunch. Closed Sun. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Median entrée price: $25.
Bar Jules, San Francisco.
An open kitchen, a counter lined with red-topped stools, a dozen or so small tables, and a generally young crowd are tucked into this cozy, bright eatery on the edge of trendy Hayes Valley. The daily-changing blackboard menu is small and invariably appealing, with dishes such as leeks in vinaigrette dressed with sieved hard-cooked egg and capers; a buttery crab omelet; braised short ribs with pureed potatoes; and lamb chops with white beans. Desserts range from a lemon tart to butterscotch pudding to apple crisp. Sunday brunch draws a neighborhood crowd. On the downside, service can be slow, and the sea of hard surfaces can make quiet conversation impossible. 609 Hayes St., Hayes Valley. 415/621-5482. Reservations only for groups of six or more. AE, MC, V. No lunch Sun. and Tues. No dinner Sun. Closed Mon. Median entrée price: $25.
Donovan House, Washington D.C.
The Donovan House is doing its part to dispel the myth that only stodgy hotels exist in the nation's capital. Complete with hanging egg chairs in the lobby, deep plumb color scheme, bedside iPod docking stations, Kiehl's toiletries, and circular showers, it's not even remotely close to the colonial reproductions you might normally find downtown. The urban boutique-style hotel opened in March 2008 and is the first DC property for the Thompson Hotels chain. Guests tend to be as hip as the décor, often taking advantage of the nearby clubs when the sun goes down. The in-house restaurant and bar are set to open in fall 2008. Pros: rooftop pool; located near clubs. Cons: rooms on the small-side; 10-minute walk to metro. 1155 14th St. N.W., Downtown, Washington, DC, 20005. 202/737-1200 (ph.). 202/521-1410 (fax). www.thompsonhotels.com. 193 rooms. In-room: safe, refrigerator, Ethernet, Wi-Fi. In-hotel: restaurant, room service, bar, pool, gym, laundry service, concierge, public Wi-Fi. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at $179.
The first W hotel in Europe combines posh ultra-modernity with the property's historic pedigree as an 1870s Ottoman residence. The centerpiece of Istanbul's newly redeveloped Akaretler neighborhood, the W is surrounded by upscale restaurants and designer shops. With its sexy-bordering-on-showy lighting and chic East-meets-West décor, plus extensive amenities like iPod docks and 350-thread-count sheets, the hotel attracts business travelers and hip couples looking for pampering and a luxe alternative to lodging in Istanbul's tourist areas. Consistent with the chain's "whatever/whenever" philosophy, service is attentive and personalized. Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Spice Market restaurant offers delectable Southeast Asian cuisine, while the Living Room is a relaxing place to have a drink. Eight rooms have outdoor cabanas. Pros: exceptional service; luxurious amenities; destination restaurant. Cons: some room features are so hi-tech they are not user-friendly; fee for in-room internet access. Suleyman Seba Cad. No: 22, Akaretler 34357, Bosphorus, Istanbul. 212/381-2121 (ph). 212/381- 2181 (fax). www.whotels.com/istanbul.134 rooms. In-room: DVD, Ethernet, Wi-Fi (fee), safe, mini bar. In-hotel: restaurant, bar, room service, public Wi-Fi, gym, spa, laundry service, valet parking (no fee), pets allowed, no-smoking rooms, 2 meeting rooms and private dining room. AE, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at: €280.
The Water Club, Atlantic City.
This modern, boutique-style hotel dotted with pools, fountains, and flowers will especially appeal to swimmers and spa aficionados, rather than gambling buffs. Adjacent to the Borgata, The Water Club is an innovative, non-gaming destination offering sweeping views of the marina and ocean. Immersion spa on the 32nd floor is a high-tech jewel, with an infinity-edge pool; deluge showers as forceful as deep-tissue massages; milk and honey cocoon floats and soaks in bourbon; and blossom and bark-filled tubs. Chef Geoffrey Zakarian (of Manhattan's Town and Country restaurants) reinvents Philly cheese steak, french fries (with truffles) and shrimp cocktail (with fresh wasabi), serving summery food and cocktails in the Sunroom lounge and poolside. Indoor pools and Jacuzzis next to the luxurious lobby are surrounded by pineapple plants, palm trees and bamboo that transport guests from the Jersey shore to the tropics. Pros: a relaxing getaway; access to the Borgata's casino. Cons: music too loud in some areas; views facing West are less attractive. 1 Renaissance Way, Atlantic City, New Jersey, 08401. 609/317-8888 and 800/800-8817 (ph.). 609/317-1100 (fax). www.TheWaterClubatBorgata.com. 761 rooms, 36 suites, 3 residences. In-room: Wi-Fi(fee), Ethernet (fee), safe. In-hotel: restaurant, 2 bars, room service, 5 pools concierge, valet parking (fee), no-smoking rooms, laundry, spa (fee), gym. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at $329.Contributors: Lisa Amand, Beth Kanter, Vanessa Larson, Kate Leahy, Sharon Silva, Shivani Vora