New York

A kaleidoscopic mosaic of ideas. A city that, despite its high cost of living, is a magnet for creative, entrepreneurial types of all ages. New York fosters innovation by osmosis, in order to make it here you had better be filthy rich or really inventive. It’s a metropolis whose citizens boast about their very low span of attention, making it a petri dish of experimentation on all fronts. Envelope-pushing endeavors see the light of day as old classics shutter under the strain of exorbitant rent hikes. “There goes the neighborhood” is a common cry but it’s most often drowned by curious-natured souls celebrating the arrival of something fresh and new. Fomo – the fear of missing out – is real. All the more so on the restaurant scene.

This sense of urgency propels New Yorkers forward and keeps them inquisitive, informed, impatient and opinionated. As a result the city’s chefs and restaurateurs are forced to be one step ahead, shaping trends, lest the diners tire of their craft. Though there really is no way to get bored with the gastronomical scene in this city of 8.5 million eaters, 45 000+ restaurants and nearly 200 distinct cuisines, from regional Indian to new Nordic. Contributing to this culinary patchwork is the staggering amount of foreign-born New Yorkers, numbering more than the entire population of Chicago. New York is where egg creams, cheesecake, the reuben sandwich, the hamburger and eggs benedict originated. Visitors and chefs flock to The Big Apple, to eat and to cook, whether it’s a “tube steak in the umbrella room” (A hot dog from a street vendor) or an all-out culinary somersault that’ll set you back more than a small car. Dining out is part of the genius loci as most home kitchens are notoriously small.

New York has come a long way since the 80s when futzy Nouvelle Cuisine and newfangled Italian were considered the height of glamour. We’ve seen the 90s emergence of star chefs, honed into pop culture figures by the Food Network, and we’ve embraced the farm to table trend, accented by the novelty of fine dining in far flung Brooklyn neighborhoods where the service was amicably chatty and the menu proudly displayed barnyard pedigree. Lately the nec plus ultra of chic is tasting menu-only establishments, shared plate-menus and unassuming spots where lowly ingredients get the royal treatment. Asian cuisine has also been put in the spotlight, exclusive Japanese restaurants, Korean-French hybrids and an abundance of unapologetically funky Southeast Asian food has everybody reaching for their chopsticks. Old school pampered luxury has taken a back seat, chintzy dining rooms are as hot as yesterday’s cold coffee while tin roofed, mirrored boxes where the noise level is high and elbow room is scant dominate today’s scene, a trend most likely spurred by real-estate prices and the need to squeeze in as many diners as possible to make a profit. It was the end of an era when the stuffy Philip Johnson designed Four Seasons closed last summer.

12forward by White Guide lists 12 eateries in each chosen city that represent the very forefront of gastronomy.