Bar Milano, New York.
After previous successes at ‘ino, the West Village gourmet panini restaurant, and ‘inoteca, which made the Lower East Side a fashionable place to dine, the well-loved Denton Brothers have opened their most sophisticated Italian restaurant yet. Bar Milano, located in the Marcel Hotel near Gramercy Park, is a bustling space where guests can relax in a polished dining room with marble panels and a sleek wine wall. Artful cocktails such as the Veneto, made with Aperol, clover honey syrup, and chilled Prosecco, are a great way to start. Among the menu’s highlights are the pockets of pasta stuffed with ricotta and Swiss chard, or the golden-fried rabbit sweetened with dried apricots. Order a glass of amaro from the roving digestif cart to end the evening in true Italian style. 323 Third Ave., Gramercy. 212/683-3035. www.barmilano.com. AE, MC, V. Median entrée price: $26
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Geisha Wok and Noodle Bar, Cape Town.
Urban trendsetters flock to this casual yet swank Asian eatery to get their fix of moderately priced “Asian tapas” and an array of noodles. Both the menu and seating options encourage sharing, and you’re likely to make new friends (or inspire order envy) at the communal tables. Organic textures prevent the clean white space from feeling antiseptic, and the mood is fun. The dim sum is a must, while both the calamari tempura on rice noodles and the salmon on udon with enoki mushrooms are exceptional. Two Oceans House, Surrey Pl., Mouille Point. 021/439-0533. www.geishawokandnoodlebar.com. AE, D, DC, MC, V. Median entrée price: 80 ZAR (approximately $10 USD)
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Sergi Arola Gastro, Madrid.
At the end of 2007, celebrity chef Sergi Arola—Ferran Adrià’s most popular disciple—left the restaurant he had vaulted to the top of Madrid dining (La Broche) to go solo. The result is a smaller, less minimalist, but equally modern bistro crafted to enhance the dining experience just thirty customers at a time. At the prime of his career and surrounded by an impeccable team—which also includes a talented and talkative bartender in the adjoining lounge—Arola does away with tradition and offers only three sampler menus: a short one, a long one, and one entirely made with cheeses. More than 600 different wines, mostly from small producers, are all available by the glass. Zurbano 31, Chamberí. 91/310-2169. Reservations essential. AE, DC, MC, V. Median entrée price: €120 euros for “Basics” menu which features three tapas, one appetizer, ½ size fish entrée, ½ size meat entrée and dessert. (approximately $185 USD).
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The Grove, Houston.
In downtown Houston’s thoughtfully designed new city park, you’ll find The Grove, an airy, modern eco-friendly restaurant from the people who gave the Bayou City the famed Cafe Annie. Though the space might look contemporary, the food is decidedly hearty and homespun, with locally-sourced organic ingredients and “why-didn’t-I-think-of-that” combinations, such as a deviled egg appetizer made with Spanish chorizo and tapenade, or mesquite-smoked Texas quail with baby turnips and local peaches. For a more casual vibe, head upstairs to the Tree House indoor/outdoor lounge and patio (open Thursday through Saturday) for cocktails and appetizers with a great view of Houston’s skyline. 1611 Lamar, Downtown. 713/337-7321. www.thegrovehouston.com. No dinner Mon. AE, MC, V. Median entrée price: $25.
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Lunchbox Laboratory, Seattle.
Craft your own juicy masterpiece at this small Ballard burger shop from several ground-on-site meat options, including Colorado lamb, buffalo, and “Dork” (a mixture of duck and pork), as well as the traditional grass-fed beef. More than a dozen different toppings, cheeses, and house-made sauces—such as malted vinegar mayo and brown sugar mustard—are all available tucked between an Essential Bakery bun. Other guilty pleasures include mac and cheese and tater tots (don’t skip the bacon salt). Portions are sized to share. Wash down the juicy goodness with a Nutella milkshake or Jackson Hole strawberry rhubarb soda. Seating is limited and lunch hour waits can be long, but thankfully everything is available to go. 7302 15th Ave, N.W., Ballard. 206/706-3092. MC, VC Closed Tues. Median entrée price: $12.
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Intercontinental San Francisco, San Francisco.
The hotel’s arctic-blue glass exterior and subdued, zen-like lobby may be as a bland as an airport concourse, but these things are merely a prelude to the spectacularly light and expansive guestrooms. The rooms are thoughtfully arranged: king size beds face 42″ plasma TVs, while high-tech motion sensors regulate the thermostat for maximum energy efficiency. Corner rooms on the upper floors have thrilling views of the bay and cityscape, while sliding doors with green-tinted glass seal off sand-toned bathrooms for optimum privacy. The bulk of the hotel’s business comes from convention and corporate travelers, because it is shouting distance from the Moscone Center. Extracurricular options at the hotel include the full service “I” spa, an outdoor terrace, and a 24-hour fitness facility. The Club Level lounge is a great place for families with children, as it provides beverage and food service, a spacious seating area, and mammoth flat screen TVs. Bar 888 specializes in vintage grapas and Luce Restaurant serves Italian/California cuisine. Be aware: the hotel, which opened February 2008, is located in a so-called “transitional” neighborhood. Pros: A stone’s throw from Moscone Center; well-equipped gym; hip clubs and edgy eateries nearby. Cons: Conservative décor is short on character; no DVDs; borders a rough neighborhood; a bit of a hike to get to major points of interest. 888 Howard St at Fifth, SoMa, 94103. 415/616-6500 or 888/811-4273 (ph). 415/616-6581 (fax). www.intercontinentalsanfrancisco.com. 550 rooms, 14 suites. In-room: safe, refrigerator, Wi-Fi. In hotel: restaurant, bar, room service, concierge, spa, gym, laundry service, mini-bar, non-smoking rooms, parking (fee), some pets allowed (fee). AE, D, DC, MC, V. Rooms start at: $249.
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Contributors: Alia Akkam, Emma Fox, Ignacio Gómez, Lee Middleton, Tim Moloney, Sura Wood