the gibson

Washington, D.C.: The Gibson

It’s become acceptable these days to take 15 minutes to make a cocktail. Fortunately, the ones at The Gibson are worth the wait. Washington’s latest neo-speakeasy mixes up both classics and more modern inventions, like the Salad Days Sour, a creamy blend of celery-infused pisco, lemon, and celery bitters, streaked with burnt cinnamon. Even a drink like the Violet Fizz, which in less capable hands can so easily taste like Aunt Daisy’s lingerie drawer, shines here. The mix of gin, lemon, and crème de violette, thickened with egg whites, is delicately fragrant and decidedly flirty. Too bad the service can be so surly: In one almost comical episode, I was begrudgingly granted a table that had been reserved for later that night (the bar has a no-standing policy). And in the precious minutes I possessed it, the server reminded me of the deadline three times, then—with 10 minutes still on the clock—she unceremoniously swept away my half-finished Manhattan. My advice? Reserve early. And often.

The Gibson 2009 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C. (202-232-2156)

Chicago: Terragusto on Armitage

Convincing cash-strapped Chicagoans to order fancy pastas is a hard sell these days (is there really anything wrong with that inexpensive red-sauce joint down the street?), so the very fact that Theo Gilbert has just opened a second location of Terragusto, his fiercely local, adamantly handmade pasta workshop, means that he must be doing a few things right. Among them are addictive cubes of polenta whose golden, crunchy exteriors conceal warm, creamy interiors. But the real stars are the pastas. Problem is, you have to go through the waitstaff to get to them, and the upselling here—servers push wine with the zeal of a dealer with too much Vicodin on his hands—can get a little intense. And anyone who dares not to go for the four-course “traditional meal” will suffer plenty of wilting glances. But for thick-skinned people who can brush that stuff off, there’s only one way to order: Go for two pastas, the briny neri, dark with cuttlefish ink and tossed with spicy shrimp; and the capellacci di zucca alla modena, pockets stuffed with a lush purée of squash and Parmigiano-Reggiano. These are dishes you’ll want to eat again and again—no prodding required.

Terragusto on Armitage 340 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago (773-281-7200;

Nice: Le Safari

A three-star chef introduced me to the pizza at Le Safari, on the lively Cours Saleya in Nice. Well, Franck Cerutti wasn’t a three-star chef yet; he was the proprietor of a wonderful little place called Don Camillo, around the corner from the Cours, and I’d made arrangements to interview him for a story. He suggested Le Safari, and as we settled in on the terrace, amidst what seemed like the whole stylish, raffish population of the neighborhood, and I started to order the Niçoise-style stuffed vegetables, he shook his head and said, “Get the pizza.” Not surprisingly, he knew what he was talking about. I chose one with anchovies and Niçoise olives, and from the little wood-burning oven just inside the door came what I would consider a perfect pie, a paradigm: The crust was thin, with irregular blisters and blackened spots, and as flavorful as good country bread; the tomato sauce was spiked with Provençal herbs; the cheese was sour-salty Cantal; the anchovies and olives were top quality. I was in pizza heaven. Cerutti has now long since been the chef de cuisine at Alain Ducasse’s three-star Le Louis XV in Monaco, but I’ll bet that he—like me—still stops by for pizza every time he’s in town.

Le Safari 1 Cours Saleya, Nice (33-493-80-18-44)
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