Once upon a time, gentlemen wore hats, ladies dined on chocolate souffles, and the stately rituals of haute cuisine were settled, sedate, and written in stone. But these days, everything about the restaurant world is helter-skelter, topsy-turvy, upside-down. While the city’s superstar chefs spend half their time out of town, launching spinoffs in places like Miami and Shanghai, all the hot new restaurants are being opened by out-of-towners, parachuting in from London, Paris, and other world capitals. Barflies and hipsters are congregating in ever-more-leviathan dining palaces, while small groups of worshipful gastronomes are jamming into tiny, dimly lit dining bars. Even the most retrograde steakhouse carnivore is now acquainted with Greenmarket-era buzzwords like “pasture-raised” and “self-sustaining,” and if you want good dim sum, you’re more likely to find it in some half-restaurant–half-nightclub than down in Chinatown. These days, New York restaurateurs are more apt to imitate Vegas than Paris, and Italian grub, once the most accessible of cuisines, has become high-minded, self-conscious, even effete.
On the following pages, you’ll find our annual summation of the city’s best places to eat right now. The restaurants we recommend are not necessarily the most popular (Zagat’s will give you those), or the most venerable (you can go to Luger’s anytime), or the least expensive (we save those for our summer “Cheap Eats” issue). They are what we consider to be the newest, most fabulous, possibly the most incandescent dining establishments in town, grouped, for your reading pleasure, into categories that reflect what we consider to be the newest, most fabulous, possibly the most incandescent culinary trends of the moment. These are the places we might go if a visitor from Tokyo, say, or Dubai asked to be taken on a gastronomic ramble around this, the restaurant capital of the world. As a bonus, we offer our selections for the best new restaurants of the year; the best up-and-coming chefs; and the best places to take a client for dinner, propose marriage, and enjoy a fine, properly virtuous vegan-friendly feast. And entering this New Year of 2007, what do most of these venues have in common? Money, glitz, and glamour, of course. Some things change in the big city, some things don’t.