Style, Names Define Season's Hot Restaurants

Hyde Park finery in London and a stripped-down test kitchen in L.A. lead the season's offerings.
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One of the year's busiest times for business travel happens to also be one of the best times to scout exciting new restaurant concepts. Some restaurants here aren't even open, but each has a key element or business strategy setting it apart from the competition.

Ace Hotels grabs its first star

The Ace Hotel New York isn't new, but its one-star Michelin award for The Breslin restaurant is. The granola-meets-rocker hotel chain, which started in the Pacific Northwest and spread eastward last year, has been on a roll with its uber-hip bar scene, Opening Ceremony boutique and Spotted Pig redux known as

The Breslin

by chef restaurateurs Ken Friedman and April Bloomfield.

Visitors and business travelers unfamiliar with Ace Hotels shouldn't come expecting Per Se; instead, a purposely retro restaurant mixes original hardwood floors and dark wood paneling with exposed concrete ceiling and industrial fixtures that play up the bohemian vibe in a space that wouldn't look out of place in a working-class London borough.

The Breslin is open from breakfast through dinner, and each meal is serious gourmet business, whether it's poached eggs with curried lentils; thrice-baked cheese sandwiches with corn soup; lamb burgers with thrice-fried fries; or a private chef's feast with suckling pig dinner.

Legendary Chicago architect gets namesake eatery

Located along Chicago's Michigan Avenue, across from the Crown Fountains at Millennium Park,

Henri

is an aptly named eatery within a series of 19th century buildings with elaborate facades by Louis Henri Sullivan, who later went on to design the Auditorium Theater and Pirie Scott department store.

But don't judge this book by its cover. Inside, Henri is the picture of a modern design aesthetic as well as one of Chicago's hottest restaurants. The dining room features a perimeter of floor-to-ceiling windows opposite deep-green banquettes covered in mohair. Chunky white crown molding hovers pristinely above period herringbone-wood floors. The walls are framed in chocolate velvet and intricate glossy white. The room is crowned with crystal chandeliers that peer through translucent fabric shades.

Henri is home to a lively bar with pre- and post-dining scenes, framed in silvery shelves displaying fancy scotch and whiskey reserves. The kitchen is led by chef Dirk Flanigan, who works edible wonders with oysters mignonette and steak tartare and follows them with lobster Wellingtons, short-rib burgers and roast chicken -- rumored to have been Henri's favorite.

L.A. eatery -- this is only a test

You can thank reality TV shows such as

Top Chef

for glamorizing the idea of dinnertime guinea pigs. In L.A., this trend has brought an eatery to fruition in

LA Test Kitchen

, on a rather unsightly strip of Beverly Hills-adjacent Century City.

A semi-subterranean space under another now-shuttered restaurant has suddenly become one of the hottest in town. A hush-hush entrance leads to a dark single room with simple bar and dining area free of tablecloths, and any pomp and circumstance at all. Perhaps the mandatory 18% tip on all bills doesn't help.

The restaurant is the brainchild of owners Bill Chait and Brian Saltsburg, who aimed to create a literal test kitchen concept eatery where chefs could use a more-than-eager populace to try recipes. The result is a restaurant where no two visits are the same.

Chefs such as Alain Giraud, vegetarian Gary Menes and Ricardo Zararte whip up five- to seven-course dinners during one- or two-night stints that come with a strict disclaimer: All meals are prix-fixe with absolutely no substitutions. Guests can get a preview of menus from the restaurant website, where dishes such as purple cornbread with foie gras, toro tartare and smoked marlin and guacamole tostada beckon.

Mandarin Oriental lands Fat Duck chef

The buzz is red hot, and the restaurant isn't even open. The opening of Dinner by Heston Blumenthal at Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park in London, pushed to January, will surely be the culinary event of the year. A name foreign to most Americans, Blumenthal -- he oversees England's premiere three-star Michelin molecular gourmand eatery Fat Duck, in Bray -- is regularly touted as the world's top chef.

The look of the dining room, by French designer Adam Tihany, promises to be nothing short of revolutionary. Tihany is orchestrating an overhaul of the Hyde Park-facing dining room that evokes 16th century British Imperialism. Period woods, heavy ironwork and leather-finished decor will serve as a backdrop for such historic English dishes as scallops with cucumber ketchup, cured mackerel salad and slow-cooked short ribs.

Although called Dinner, the dining room will be open for lunch as well, each meal with service for up to 120 guests -- three times the amount of Fat Duck -- and the summertime terrace will have even more seating. While Blumenthal will maintain his Fat Duck toque, Ashley Palmer-Watts, who has worked under Blumenthal at The Fat Duck for almost a decade, will oversee the London eatery.

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Michael Martin is the managing editor of JetSetReport.com, a luxury travel and lifestyle guide based in Los Angeles and London. His work has appeared in InStyle, Blackbook, Elle, U.K.'s Red magazine and on ITV and the BBC.