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New York: Best Dining Bets

  • Aquavit (New York City; tel. 212/307-7311): The Scandinavian seafood dishes here will frequent your daydreams. The restaurant moved from its intimate town house setting, but the food and service are just as spectacular, if not better. Enjoy the herring plate with a glass of Aquavit (distilled liquors not unlike vodka, flavored with fruit and spices) and a frosty Carlsberg beer.

  • Peter Luger (Great Neck; tel. 516/487-8800): Hands down, this is one of the best steakhouses in the country. People flock here for one thing and one thing only: porterhouse. In fact, if you try to order anything else (or even ask for a menu), you'll likely get a quizzical stare from your waiter. The dry-aged meat comes brushed with a tasty glaze and is tender enough to make vegetarians reconsider.

  • Culinary Institute of America (CIA) (Hyde Park; tel. 845/471-6608): The most elite training ground in the country for chefs has not one, but four on-campus restaurants run by students -- but they're a far cry from what college students typically eat. Choose the sophisticated Escoffier Restaurant (French), Ristorante Caterina de Medici (Italian), American Bounty Restaurant (regional American), or St. Andrew's Cafȳ (casual). You'll be impressed and unsurprised that so many of America's finest restaurants have CIA chefs at the helm. Plan ahead, though, because reservations are about as tough to come by as admission to the school.

  • The Valley Restaurant at The Garrison (Garrison; tel. 845/424-2339): Ensconced within the gently rolling grounds of a golf course high above the Hudson Valley, this understated but quietly creative restaurant has quickly become one of the finest in the valley. Its seasonal American menu features the best from local Hudson Valley farms, and its wine cellar is peerless in the region. While golfers munch on simple fare next door at World's End Bar, the dining room draws foodies from New York City and around the region who are anxious to check out this buzz restaurant.

  • Terrapin Restaurant (Rhinebeck; tel. 845/876-3330): Chef/owner Josh Kroner ambitiously adds creative Mexican and Asian accents to American cuisine in this popular restaurant that inhabits a 19th-century church in the quaint village of Rhinebeck. There's fine dining in the evenings on one side, and a casual bistro on the other, and the well-thought-out wine list is as good as they come in the Hudson Valley.

  • Depuy Canal House (High Falls; tel. 845/687-7700): A fabulously creative restaurant in a lovely, rambling 200-year-old stone tavern in the Catskills, Depuy Canal House is the longtime standard-bearer in this part of upstate New York. It draws foodies from New York City and around the state for elegant and surprising selections served in a perfectly elegant but rustic setting. If you've brought an empty stomach and full wallet, check out the four- or seven-course prix-fixe dinners; otherwise, drop in to the more casual downstairs bistro in the wine cellar.

  • Chez Sophie (Saratoga Springs; tel. 518/583-3538): Having made the leap from a 1950s stainless steel diner outside of town to a large luxury hotel downtown, Sophie's hasn't suffered. It remains a charming French bistro and one of the best restaurants upstate. The original Sophie became something of a local culinary legend, and her son is now the chef, continuing his mom's simple but refined approach. One of the best bargains around is the "pink plate special," a three-course meal for just $30.

  • Alex & Ika (Cooperstown; tel. 607/547-4070): This couple recently took the plunge, moving their tiny restaurant into Cooperstown from nearby Cherry Valley and expanding the space and hours. Fortunately, the food has lost none of its punch -- it's still packed with so many flavor combinations that you'll be talking about your dinner long after you leave. With a menu that changes weekly, it's hard to believe they can hit a home run with every dish, but somehow they do.

  • Suzanne Fine Regional Cuisine (Hector; tel. 607/582-7545): Suzanne's looks like a harbinger of the future in the Finger Lakes -- fine dining to accompany the region's swiftly improving wines. Meticulously crafted American food, using the finest local ingredients, is the calling card at this sophisticated but relaxed country-elegant spot, in an old farmhouse with swoon-worthy views of Seneca Lake. Locals consider it the place for a special dinner.

  • The Dining Room at Mirbeau Inn & Spa (Skaneateles; tel. 877/MIRBEAU): Though part of a stylish and swanky spa boutique hotel in Skaneateles, this restaurant manages to shine in its own right. The romantic grounds evoke the Provence countryside, and the dining room wouldn't be out of place in that region of sophisticated eaters. The prix-fixe menus are calibrated to show off the young chef's creativity and artfully prepared dishes.

  • The Bistro at Red Newt Cellars (Hector; tel. 607/546-4100): At the forefront of the movement to focus on the bounty of local farms, this terrific and creative bistro restaurant is also keen on matching food with local wines. And why not, since the restaurant is intrinsically connected to one of the Finger Lakes' better wineries (which not coincidentally is run by the chef's husband). Try a wine flight and some imaginative dishes from Debra: Red Newt is the perfect place to explore all that's great about Finger Lakes gastronomy.

  • Dano's Heuriger (Lodi; tel. 607/582-7555): A radical departure from what one might expect to find along the shore of one of the Finger Lakes, this Austrian restaurant, a modern version of a Viennese wine garden, is nonetheless perfectly at home. The menu encourages diners to sample small plates and unique tastes, which pair perfectly with the local wines (or Austrian varietals, such as Gruner Veltliner). As at nearby Red Newt, the proprietors are a husband-wife team.

  • Tempo (Buffalo; tel. 716/885-1594): This newcomer has quickly risen to the top of the city's dining scene with a creative Italian menu and a modern, romantic setting. The inventive food is dramatically presented, but dig in and you'll see that Tempo will be no flash in the pan.

  • The View (Mirror Lake Inn, Lake Placid; tel. 518/523-2544): This top-notch inn has always served up some of the best dishes in the Adirondacks, and with its change from black tie to casually clad servers, it fits in better with the area's laid-back atmosphere. Meals are consistently excellent, so whether you order meat or fish, you won't be disappointed. Best of all, they come with a gorgeous view out over Mirror Lake.

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