Whether it is turkey and pumpkin pie on Thanksgiving or a favorite cake on a birthday, food is an undeniable cornerstone of celebrations that transcends culture, location and tradition with delicious consistency. James Beard, the legendary American chef and writer, called food a "universal experience" and restaurants in recent years have taken that to heart.
Today's headlining chefs often reach celebrity status, and with more and more diners worshiping at the altars of culinary innovation and artistry, fine dining has become a religion of sorts. A few of these food pioneers have rocketed to the top. Chef Grant Achatz of Next, the gastronomic innovator in Chicago's West Loop, leads guests through a series of carefully crafted courses with near-scientific precision. Réne Redzepi focused on simple local ingredients in a quest to embrace Nordic cuisine and catapulted Noma, his restaurant in Copenhagen, to international superstardom.
While invention and spontaneity are having a moment, old-world grandeur and old-fashioned hospitality will always have a seat at the table. At Hatfield's in West Hollywood, diners are welcomed like family. "I think you can feel a very personal touch at our restaurant, in every aspect," says chef Karen Hatfield. "Even though it is an elegant dining experience, it's still very intimate. With every dish we conceive and every item we put on the plate we're thinking about the person eating it." And who could imagine a more exquisite dining experience than French delicacies enjoyed under the high ceilings of Le Grand Véfour in Paris? It is a restaurant so divine, the French have been frequenting it for 200 years.