Noma, (Copenhagen, Denmark)
After losing the top ranking in 2013 (it had held the No. spot for the three previous years), Noma is firing on all cylinders these days. Located in an old whaling warehouse, the restaurant is the birthplace of “new Nordic” cuisine, which relies solely on ingredients available in region. But today, the restaurant is pushing far beyond its early days of foraged sea buckthorn and reindeer lichen. Dinner these days might start with a whole kohlrabi, filled with its fermented juice and bored with a straw, so that it looks and tastes like a coconut drink. The meal might then proceed through aebleskivers –a traditional Danish kind of fritter—brushed with a sauce made from fermented grasshopper, and end with a dessert of potato, almond, and plum purée. It sounds wacky, but somehow Redzepi and his crew manage to make it all delicious. As well as deeply pleasurable: Noma continues to offer what may well be the most engaged—and engaging—service in the world.
Celler de Can Roca, Girona, Spain
Celler de Can Roca is run by three brothers — head chef Joan, sommelier Josep, and pastry chef Jordi — who came by their trade honestly: they learned it from their parents. But it’s hard to imagine anything further from your average mom and pop cooking. In what may very well be the most beautiful dining room in Europe, a Roca meal dazzles with its wizardry (a starter called Eat The World that encapsulates, in five distinct bites, the tastes of the five different cuisines; a dessert called Messi’s Goal, that recreates, with a candied pitch, flying white chocolate balls, and a plateside iPod playing the roars of the crowd, what it feels like when Barcelona’s soccer hero Lionel Messi scores), while remaining firmly rooted in the flavors of the Mediterranean. Josep brings lucky guests on a tour of his cellar, where favorite wines have been singled out for multi-sensory treatments.
Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy
Behind a stately exterior, the world’s most emotive chef, Massimo Bottura, cooks flights of fantasy and memory. The first sign that this is not your ordinary upscale Italian restaurant comes from the abstract contemporary paintings on the wall, but the art continues on the plate. The mortadella sandwich of every Italian child’s memory is turned into an impossibly light mousse, a Magnum ice cream bar becomes a sophisticated, foie-gras stuffed bite. And like his spectacular lacquered eel, which Bottura serves with saba and polenta to represent the apples and corn the eel would encounter on its way up the nearby Po river, his dishes are made more evocative by the stories that accompany them.