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This month, for the holidays, we take you to seven of America’s greatest restaurants. Coast-to-coast, any of these would be a perfect venue for that really grand seasonal celebration. Some are old favorites, justifiably famous for years. It would be the rare food fancier indeed who would deny Spago Beverly Hills or Charlie Trotter’s the pole position in their respective cities, Los Angeles and Chicago. Wolfgang Puck plays second fiddle to no one when it comes to Asian American cuisine. More recently, he’s begun to add traditional dishes from his native Austria to the Spago menu — to great effect. In Chicago, the archperfectionist Charlie Trotter emphasizes “tasting menus,” course after course of perfectly cooked, perfectly presented delicacies. As you would expect, the wine list here is famously long (even intricate) and fine. Philadelphia’s master chef Georges Perrier of Le Bec-Fin has dominated the culinary scene there for longer than most can even remember. His Burgundian-inspired cuisine is rich, heavy on the cream — and sumptuous. The poulet de bresse here is as good as anything a French grandmother (with a Michelin three-star rating!) might have cooked. In New York, Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Daniel Boulud preside over restaurants where culinary ingenuity and graceful service are legendary. (Don’t miss Jean-Georges’s signature frog’s legs with garlic soup.) But there are also newer names pushing the envelope, like Laurent Tourondel (Cello) and Rocco DiSpirito (Union Pacific), Gourmet magazine’s chef of the year. Tourondel’s cooking is elegance personified, while DiSpirito’s is as bold as you’d expect — from a magazine coverboy. Jean-Georges (New York) 28 26 27 $82 Trump International Hotel, 1 Central Park West (between 60th and 61st Sts.), 212-299-3900 The brilliant chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten holds court at this cool, contemporary setting off Columbus Circle. The cooking is, in a word, splendid. Every attention to detail is paid here, from table service to wine list. One might, of course, feel the distinct need to arrange financing after a dinner for four here — but that’s another matter. Cello (New York) 26 25 24 $80 53 E. 77th St. (between Madison and Park Aves.), 212-517-1200 Cello was rated the best new restaurant in New York by Gourmet in 2000, and one can easily see why. Chef Laurent Tourondel is a master of subtle flavors and exquisite presentations. The setting is an Upper East Side townhouse, complete with garden. The specialty of the house is fish, but Tourondel’s mastery far transcends even the art of the poissonier. Charlie Trotter’s (Chicago) 27 26 27 $92 816 W. Armitage Ave. (at Halsted St.), 773-248-6228 This Lincoln Park temple to New Americandining consistently wins raves for chef Charlie Trotter’s highly individualistic approach and painstakingly presented courses. Indeed, it’s a rare chef who presents dishes as artfully as this man. And while some guests may find the style here a bit precious, the vast majority continue to be enthralled by Trotter’s culinary art. Spago Beverly Hills (Los Angeles) 27 26 23 $52 176 N. Ca�on Dr. (a half block north of Wilshire Blvd.), Beverly Hills, 310-385-0880 Easily the most famous eatery in Southern California, chef Wolfgang Puck’s flagship is a perpetual hot spot that often exceeds even the highest expectations with incredible Cal-French cooking. Barbara Lazaroff’s wild decor is simply eye-popping — just like the Tinseltown celebrities who flock here to eat and be seen. Daniel (New York) 28 27 27 $82 60 E. 65th St. (between Madison and Park Aves.), 212-288-0033 “Heavenly is as Daniel [Boulud] does,” sigh the great chef’s followers at this Classic French restaurant. Boulud’s cuisine actually seems to get better all the time, and service and decor are both sure to pamper. The only problem here is getting a reservation. Book well in advance. Le Bec-Fin (Philadelphia) 29 29 29 very expensive 1523 Walnut St. (between 15th and 16th Sts.), 215-567-1000 Le Bec-Fin rates number one for food, decor, service, and popularity in Philadelphia — and no wonder. Chef Georges Perrier’s Classic French restaurant is the perfect blend of cream and truffle-laded Burgundian cuisine, gorgeous decor, and impeccable service. It’s expensive (the prix fixe dinner is $118), but devotees joke that “if you die and go to food heaven, Le Bec-Fin will be the name over the door.” Union Pacific (New York) 26 26 25 $69 111 E. 22nd St. (between Lexington Ave. and Park Ave. South), 212-995-8500 Recently hailed by Gourmet as the best young chef in America, Rocco DiSpirito is surely one of the most creative cooks at work anywhere. He’s a risk-taker in all the best senses. The serene Gramercy setting of Union Pacific, with its mesmerizing waterfall, makes a wonderful backdrop for this most beautifully presented of New American cuisines. The French Laundry (Yountville) 29 26 27 $78 6640 Washington St. (at Creek St.), 707-944-2380 Who would have believed it? Arguably, the finest restaurant in America lies on a quiet (did someone say dead?) street in obscure little Yountville, Calif., in the Napa Valley. Never mind. Chef Thomas Keller’s cooking dazzles. Acolytes find dining here a near-religious experience. As well they should.

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