As your traveling gourmet, I’ve spent a lot of time enjoying both what’s on my plate and the backdrop for it. Somehow, for me, a good meal is enhanced when there’s a beautiful panorama behind it, which means I’m going to take you on a culinary and scenic excursion. We’re going to see mountains, oceans, rivers, cities, and even a fjord thrown in for good measure. We’re going to eat very well, because the one thing that these restaurants have in common, beside the amazing views, is great food. I mean, really: I wouldn’t take you somewhere with bad food, no matter what you saw through the windows. I do have my standards! So let’s see just what it’s like when fabulous meals are accompanied by perfect views.
We’ll start in Northern California, in the tiny seaside town of Jenner, at my absolute favorite scenic restaurant: River’s End (11048 Highway 1, Jenner, CA. Tel: 707-865-2484. www.ilovesunsets.com). Perched on a cliff above the spot where the Russian River flows into the Pacific, it boasts a view that is literally jaw-dropping. A few rocks sit stoically among the waves, while a long spit of sand separates the river from the ocean. On the balcony (prime views though no dining out there), a telescope focused on a distant outcropping might reveal a family of harbor seals basking in the California sun.
While it’s breathtaking any time of day, it’s perfectly positioned for sunset viewing. It was River’s End that taught me it’s possible to have an amazing view, great food, and great service. Led by proprietor Bert Rangel, the restaurant staff is possibly the nicest on the face of the earth. Look for their seasonal special menus, from fresh wild salmon to Dungeness crab, but even if you don’t arrive at one of these times, you can do quite well. I love the “technicolor beet salad,” a multihued tower that’s a visual as well as taste explosion. Duck confit rolls are a rich, dense take on traditional spring rolls, while mains such as prawns over pasta and a stunning vegetable Napoleon prove that not only carnivores dine well here. Dessert? Try their trifle (its ingredients vary seasonally) or the devilishly good chocolate mousse. By all means, though, pause in your indulgences as the sun begins its final descent into the Pacific.
From here, let’s head to the mountains, and aptlynamed Elements (5700 E. McDonald Dr., Paradise Valley, AZ. Tel: 855-245-2051. www.sanctuaryoncamelback.com/dining/elements). This restaurant at Sanctuary on Camelback resort sits right on this famous local mountain, with a view out over the town of Paradise Valley and a 180-degree sweep of mountains through the wall of windows (note: if you want absolutely nothing between you and the view, try to grab a seat on the patio). Like River’s End, this is a great one for sunsets, with the mountains silhouetted against a blazing, rainbow-colored Arizona sky. The seasonally changing menu holds some unexpected touches, like the escargot pot pie I daringly order as a starter. It’s amazing, with a rich and dusky flavor that’s a creative spin on the old standard. The carrot/millet potstickers are another great take on the traditional, with a texture that’s somehow both hearty and delicate, with hints of sesame and yuzu. Hoisin-braised shortribs are a house specialty, as is the wonderfully flavorful swordfish, or their classic miso-glazed salmon. Don’t miss the Brussels sprouts livened with hints of bacon (it’s unlikely your server will let you get away without ordering them!). For dessert, I love their take on s’mores, with chocolate mousse, caramel gelato, marshmallow crème, and crumbled Graham crackers strewn across the plate. Perfect service, great food, classic Arizona vistas: any more questions?
After all this nature, let’s head to the heart of the city and Eiffel Tower (Paris Resort, 3655 Las Vegas Blvd. S. Tel: 702-948-6937. www.eiffeltowerrestaurant.com). Leaving the elevator, you enter along a sweep of carpet, with windows revealing the glistening Las Vegas Strip. Like this crazy city itself, the view never stays the same: neon lights blink and flash, video images flicker across gigantic screens, words scroll, and across the way, the fountains at the Bellagio send their waters skyward in very Las Vegas splendor. Watch the cascading springs as you enjoy a velvety squash soup with a hint of chewiness from little pieces of duck confit made crispy with toasted bits of bread, or a lobster salad that explodes with the zest of Jerusalem artichokes and chanterelles. Cod in a light curry sauce melts in your mouth, livened by thin strips of zucchini and a dense quinoa bed, while steaks come with a choice of sauces from lemon parsley butter to Bordelaise. Be sure to leave room for dessert, whether it’s their signature soufflés, an Alsace-style apple strudel or many-layered raspberry Napoleon. Hint: reservations at 4:30 (the beginning of dinner service) have a guarantee of a window seat, which is otherwise first come, first served. While the cuisine here is itself worth a trip, wouldn’t you like a front-row seat for the action?
A different city view awaits at XIX (Hyatt at the Bellevue, Broad and Walnut Streets, Philadelphia, PA. Tel: 215-790-1919. www.nineteenrestaurant.com), named after its location on the 19th floor of the Hyatt at the Bellevue. The balcony is the place to be, as the entire city of Philadelphia spreads out beneath you and the river snakes off into the distance. Even from inside, though, the view’s spectacular, and the tasteful dining room, with its 19-foot chandelier and oversized strand of pearls cascading from the ceiling, wisely plays to the vista. Be sure to try “Free” Chicken a la King—invented by 19th-century chef William King at this very hotel. This is 2018, however, and you won’t find the tasteless creamed mass that name invokes. Here it’s a luscious and tender piece of chicken with local mushrooms, sherry cream sauce, and a red pepper purée—a sort of deconstructed chicken a la king that’s absolutely perfect, as are the Crab Normandie appetizer and the local trout with a sweetish stuffing spilling out. Dessert? The Bellevue apple dumpling is rich and sweet with pecans, caramel, and brown sugar. At lunch or brunch, you’ll be in the café, which is where I experience lunch with renowned Philadelphia actress Peggy Smith—though the lovely staff is equally solicitous with the non-celebrities on the balcony. For the full splendor, though, check out the main dining room in the evening, when the chandelier glows, the city outside twinkles, and what’s on your plate shines.
Across the border lie more cityscapes, and a Great Lake thrown in for your delectation. It doesn’t get more Canadian than 360 (301 Front St. W., Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Tel: 416-362-5411. www.cntower.ca/en-ca/360-restaurant/overview), at the top of Toronto’s CN Tower and revolving to give you a series of constantly changing vistas of the city and Lake Ontario. The food is as Canadian as the view, with a concentration on ingredients from the country’s agricultural bounty from Newfoundland cod to Alberta beef and the Ontario sour cherries in their Black Forest Verrine, with a chef’s touch that’s at once creative and light-handed. As you eat, the restaurant rotates slowly, taking about an hour to go the complete 360 degrees that gave the restaurant its name. You hardly realize the restaurant is moving till you look up and your view of the lake and piers is gone, and you’re seeing the heart of the city, with cars tooling along like little ants below. Look up between main and dessert, and you’re seeing the lake again, the full moon now having risen, its soft light reflected in the water. You truly do get a 360-degree view, and the slow unfolding of the constantly changing panorama makes it even more exciting. Look carefully as you sip your Canadian wine, because nothing stays the same.
The best place to dine with a fjord view is, of course, in Norway, specifically Oslo’s wonderful Festningen (Myntgata 9, Oslo, Norway. Tel: 011-47-22-83-31-00. www.festningenrestaurant.no). Set above the Oslo harbor, you’ll see it as you head like a good tourist to the medieval Akershus Palace. Just below the walls of the medieval fortress lies a tiny white building. Enter, and you’re in an atmosphere at once laid back and spectacular. That’s Festningen: comfortable, elegant, and with modern touches livening the timehonored building. The city of Oslo and its harbor appear beneath you, with Oslofjord stretching seemingly into eternity. The menu concentrates on seafood, and my mouthwateringly fresh cod sits atop swirls of langoustine and tarragon sauce, the fish crispy on top and tender inside, the sauce deep and rich. It is, in a word, perfection. There’s definitely attention given to Norwegian products, from the West Coast halibut to the lingonberries in their white chocolate/orange dessert, and it’s only fitting that a view so Norwegian is accompanied by cuisine demonstrating the freshness of the country’s bounty.
Adifferent approach is taken at Motto Am Fluss (Schwedenplatz 2, Vienna, Austria. Tel: 011-43-1-252-5510. www.motto.at/mottoamfluss), where the food is as international as cosmopolitan Vienna. Most of the restaurants we’ve visited so far sit high up above their views. Motto Am Fluss sits right among it, a boat-shaped restaurant right on the banks of the Danube canal. LGBT visitors to Vienna have long loved the sister restaurant (named, simply, Motto) in the heart of town. This winning spot, which opened in 2010, carries the same great food and service, but with a stunning view of the canal and the city of Vienna rising beyond it, the urban lights reflected in this city waterway. The food spans the globe with the insouciance that is Vienna’s urbane trademark, from tuna maki to baked ricotta. Here, gnocchi with Bolognese sauce has the unexpected addition of cranberries, while pike perch (a local specialty) is livened by fermented garlic, and “bacon strudel” (how’s that for a new twist on an old dish?) accompanies the black lentil soup. Desserts show an equal creativity, such as a cheesecake made from Brie and served with pumpernickel and tomato jam. As you sit surrounded by one of Europe’s most exciting cities, you’ll enjoy food that’s equally forwardlooking and creative.
And that brings us to the end of our scenic gourmet tour. What strikes me about these restaurants is that each is somehow such a perfect mirror of the view outside the windows, with a cuisine that is notable on its own but also, in some way, reflects the vistas I gaze at while enjoying it. From a Pacific coast escape to an immersion in the glitter of the city, there’s something unique about each of these very different panoramas, as there’s something unique about the experience of each restaurant. Great food is great food wherever you enjoy it, but isn’t it that much nicer to have something beautiful to look at while you’re indulging?