It took nearly forever for American restaurants to understand what American customers want, but now they have it right. We yearn for restaurants that are like us: casual, kindhearted, original, and a little too loud.
Fine dining, once the purview of the prosperous, has become a democratic institution. The beneficiaries of this culinary repositioning are customers who don't mind standing in line in the slim hopes of snagging a table at Little Serow in Washington, D.C. (boy, do they wait), and those willing to sit on benches, stools, and the extraordinarily hard chairs at Central Kitchen in San Francisco (cushions are so 2005). Even our culinary combinations have been updated. Deviled eggs with domestic draft beer is the food-and-beverage pairing of 2013. Peculiarities have become part of the fun.
Last year meals in tiny, unusual restaurants matched and usually exceeded those in conventional dining venues. Small spots got better, a new breed of restaurant unbound.
These eight restaurants on GQ's list of places to go for a perfect night out will make you feel coddled, welcome, and well fed. You can't ask for more than that.
A New Spanish Revolution
Cúrate is a prototype of how genuine tapas—the kind from Spain—might flourish throughout America. It's that accessible, and it's so appealing that the restaurant is packed day and night. Nothing here seems odd or incomprehensible, including the bocata de calamares, which is a fried-squid sandwich. The squid rings are engaging, soft inside and crunchy outside. Want fries with that? The patatas bravas are topped with squiggles of a tomato-based Spanish sauce that challenges ketchup as the ideal match for fried spuds.
A variation on the famous potato omelet of Spain is prepared individually and served hot. It resembles a personal pan pizza. (I always beg tapas restaurants in Spain to serve my tortilla de patatas hot instead of at room temperature. They never listen, of course.) The chicken croquetas, small, rounded fritters that too seldom taste of chicken, deliver the punch of a chicken pot pie. Spinach sautéed with apples, raisins, and toasted pine nuts is impossible to resist when prepared this way.
Cúrate also has a sensational Spanish wine list that includes nearly unattainable classics as well as reasonably priced wines by the glass, starting at $6. Yes, $6.