Copenhagen’s Noma Named World’s Best Restaurant

Alinea in Chicago and five New York restaurants represent the US on the wold top 50 list

Boy, am a rube — an out-of-loop provincial rube living in America’s Mountain West at that. Until I recently read that Noma in Copenhagen topped the S. Pellegrino list of the 50 best restaurants in the world for the second year in a row, I barely remember reading or hearing aboutt “Noma.

Turns out that last year, Noma rose to number one after beating out elBulli, Ferran Adrià’s groundbreaking Spanish restaurant that pioneered molecular gastronomy, which had held the title for four years in a row, and that I had heard about, of course.  The crown moved from Adrià’s head to that of Rene Redzepi, Noma’s 33-year-old head chef,who  is known for updated Nordic meals that include such  dishes as musk ox and beef cheek. Trendiness these days often seems to be expressed in menus heavy with game, gentrified peasant food and animal parts that not long ago were relegated to sausage.

In any case, this list carries some weight, since it is based on an annual gathering of more than 800 chefs, food journalists, critics and other food experts who “compare notes and name the top 100 restaurants in the world. Even though the name only references 50 restaurants, it has expanded in recent years to a full 100.” Britain’s Restaurant Magazine established the awards in 2002, reportedly as an informal publicity stunt. It’s no longer a joke but a serious honor that chefs aspire to.

Chefs were initially asked to name their favorite international restaurants — though it is unclear how working chefs (as opposed to touring celebrity chefs or TV stars) have time to eat around the world. In any case, the number of chefs and other food experts consulted has grown and restaurants began to compete for what began to be seen as a legitimate honor that is announced from the steps of London’s historic Guild Hall.

It is now the largest and most important competition of its kind for the industry — on the other side of the Atlantic, at any rate — and the list has doubled with numbers 51 to 100 also named. Not surprisingly, just being mentioned in the top 100 is good for business. Noma was reportedly booked three months in advance just hours after its number one position announcement.

Having admitted to provincialism, I’ll share the names of the US restaurants on the 2011 list.

American Restaurants in the Top 50

6. Alinea, Chicago – Grant Aschatz directs this direct heir to elBulli’s molecular magic.
10. Per Se, New York – The restaurant that Thomas Keller, owner/chef of the legendary French Laundry, established in the Big Apple. The Laundry itself was number 56 on the list.
11. Daniel, New York – Star chef Daniel Boulud’s flagship restaurant.
18. Le Bernardin, New York – Three stars from Michelin in mid-town Manhatttan. Eric Ripert runs this temple of fine French fare.
23. Eleven Madison Park, New York – Honors aplenty have been heaped upon executive chef Daniel Humm’s market-driven cuisine and wine director John Hagan’s list and service
40. Momofuku Ssäm Bar, New York – Consider this the Noma of the East Village, where David Chang prepares industrial-strength meats with imagination and a contemporary twist.

The second 50 icnlude half-a-dozen more US restaurants, but unsurprisingly nothing between Chicago and California. Maybe, just maybe, if they ever name the top 1,000 a Colorado or Southwestern restaurant might make this list.