For years, if you were to ask 10 restaurant experts what the best restaurant in the world was, nine out of 10 would have agreed: Ferran Adria's El Bulli, in northeast Spain. There was El Bulli, then there was a large handful of other universally- admired restaurants, no one of which could definitively have been considered second-best. That meant that when El Bulli closed, last summer, a power vacuum opened up in the world in high-end gastronomy.
Many quickly seized on Copenhagen's Noma, helmed by chef Rene Redzepi, as the heir apparent. Restaurant magazine, which publishes the most widely-read listing of this sort, actually been named Noma the world's best while El Bulli was still open. So once El Bulli actually closed, food writers rushed to adorn Redzepi's brow with laurels.
But not everyone is a believer. The Michelin Guide, for example, has refused to induct Noma into the elite company of restaurants with three stars. (It has just two.) And in a brand-new ranking of the world's best restaurants, from Elite Traveler magazine, Noma doesn't even make the top 10. It comes in at a lowly 24th.
The top spot in Elite Traveler list went instead to Chicago's Alinea, which Restaurant magazine calls the best restaurant in America. Alinea's chef Grant Achatz, like Ferran Adria, is known for incorporating lessons from science and industry into his cooking.
Most of the other restaurants near the top of the Elite Traveler rankings are mainstays on these sorts of lists. Number two went to Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck, in Bray, England, while third place went to Thomas Keller's New York restaurant Per Se. The most unusual feature of the full list, available in PDF form here, is a surprising abundance of restaurants in the U.S. and the U.K..
Elite Traveler also seems to favor restaurants that are luxurious in conventional ways. That tendency may explain the relatively poor performance of Noma. Its dining room is spare, even rustic, compared to luxe eateries like Louis XV in Monaco, number eight on the Elite Traveler list. After all, when legendary Los Angeles restaurant critic Jonathan Gold, who is known for his admiration of humble, rough-hewn ethnic restaurants, compared Alinea and Noma for the Wall Street Journal magazine, he wrote that Noma was the better restaurant by a longshot.
You may have to take Gold's word for it for now, even if you can afford to spend thousands dining out. Noma books up months in advance, and Alinea will soon adopt an electronic ticketing system that some say will make getting reservations, already tough, even tougher.