Best of the Best

After finishing off the challenge of eating at 50 of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants before I turned 50, I turned to a couple smaller quests—one of which is to go to all of the Best of the Best restaurants.

A few years back, 50 Best decided that once a restaurant hits the top of the list, it is no longer allowed to compete and is added to the Best of the Best list.

There’s currently nine restaurants on the list, one of which—El Bulli—closed down years ago. I’m sad that I never got the opportunity to go but I have been to Enigma and Disfrutar, both of which have close connections to El Bulli and helps me feel a bit better.

Of the eight left, I went to Eleven Madison Park, Geranium, Noma, and El Celler de Can Roca as part of the 50 Before 50.

This left four other restaurants: The French Laundry, The Fat Duck, Mirazur, and Osteria Francescana.

I went to The French Laundry while tackling other California-based restaurants pre-pandemic. I did The Fat Duck after going to Ikoyi but before hitting up the final restaurant on the 50 quest. That meant that upon completing that, I only had two restaurants left and that seemed like an easy task to complete.

The expediency in completing this side quest, as it were, wasn’t important like it was with the main adventure. I booked Mirazur last summer as part of a French adventure, including Nice and Monaco. Then in the fall, I booked the last one for this March: Osteria Francescana.

My review of Osteria Francescana should probably be its own post but I do have some thoughts in relation to how all of these restaurants compare, not only to each other but to fine dining around the world.

The restaurants and chefs have become celebrities as a result of their dedication to excellence and experience. These restaurants are known for having been innovative and trendsetters. My experiences at each of these restaurants demonstrated that dedication to craft and were all wonderful food adventures.

And yet—and here is my privilege showing—some of the restaurants felt too formulaic and therefore unexceptional. The food is amazing, yes. There’s no doubt about that. Each dish is easily a 9 or 10 out of 10. The service is meticulous and impeccable. Truly a world class experience. But with some places, like Osteria Francescana, there was an understatement, a lack of pageantry and theatre, that left it as just an amazing dinner and nothing more.

El Celler de Can Roca felt the most ambitious, with an abundance of courses, creativity, and visits from each of the Roca brothers, making the entire experience feel very personal.

The Fat Duck felt the most creative including a wine tasting while listening to music and lights turned red, or putting headphones on to listen to sounds of the seaside while eating a dish.

I mentioned to The French Laundry that it was Kitt’s birthday, and they personalized a bottle of wine and personalized her menu. That was a very nice touch that I haven’t seen executed nearly as well anywhere else. (At Blue Hill, I got a dessert for my birthday.)

Ultimately, you’re unlikely to go wrong with any of the restaurants on the Best of the Best list. (With maybe Eleven Madison Park being a less than stellar exception, after my last visit.)

With the visit to Osteria Francescana in the bag, this challenge is now done. What’s next? Every 3-star Michelin awarded restaurant in the United States. Time to make some reservations.

Published March 24, 2024
Categorized as Food
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