3. Osteria Francescana, Modena, Italy. Cost of a meal for two, without wine: $360-525.
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.
That said, in the past several years, the highest-ranking positions have tended to go to restaurants that balance at least a degree of luxury (although not always formal, none of them are cheap) with an embrace of innovation.
Here’s a quick look at the top ten on this year’s 50 Best List. In most cases, the descriptions are based on my personal experience, but research and—the reports of colleagues—have filled in the details for the restaurants I haven’t visited.