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  • Restaurant Gary Danko (San Francisco; tel. 415/749-2060), is always a sure bet for a perfect contemporary French meal complete with polished service and flambéed finales.
  • Chez Panisse (Berkeley; tel. 510/548-5525): This is the domain of Alice Waters, "the queen of California cuisine." Originally inspired by the Mediterranean, her kitchen has found its own style, captivating the imagination as well as the senses. Chez Panisse's delicacies include grilled fish wrapped in fig leaves with red-wine sauce, and Seckel pears poached in red wine with burnt caramel.
  • Bistro Don Giovanni (Napa; tel. 707/224-3300): In this large, cheery Napa Valley dining room, you can get an incredible Italian meal without a reservation. Just drop in and wait at the bar for a seat.
  • Restaurant 301 (Eureka; tel. 800/404-1390): A recipient of Wine Spectator's Grand Award, Mark Carter is passionate about food and wine, and it shows: His hotel restaurant is considered the best on the Northern Coast. Most of the herbs and many vegetables come fresh from the hotel's organic gardens. Indulge in the five-course fixed-price dinner menu; Carter pairs each course with an excellent wine, available by the glass or as part of a wine flight.
  • Erna's Elderberry House (Oakhurst; tel. 559/683-6800): Erna's shines like a beacon across the culinary wasteland around Yosemite. The six-course menu, which changes nightly, is an ideal blend of Continental and California cuisine. Portions are bountiful, served in an elegant European setting.
  • French Laundry (Yountville; tel. 707/944-2380): Foodies already know that one of the top restaurants in the world is in Napa Valley's tiny town of Yountville. For this culinary magic carpet ride from Thomas Keller you'll need to fight for reservations 2 months in advance.
  • The Bazaar by José Andrés (Beverly Hills; tel. 310/246-5555): The Bazaar is the Disneyland of culinary adventure; the whimsical Philippe Starck design augments celebrity chef Jose Andres's hybrid menu, which is half traditional Spanish tapas, the other half all avant-garde, molecular gastronomy technique. Be it a dish as simple as rare, imported Spanish jamon Iberico, or a juice-filled olive "skin" that melts in your mouth like salty candy, the experience is truly one of a kind.
  • Hatfield's (Los Angeles; tel. 323/935-2977): Husband-and-wife team Quinn and Karen Hatfield split duties at this elegant Melrose eatery between savory and pastry. His yellowtail croque-madame and her off-menu chocolate-peanut-butter truffle cake have become sought-after signature dishes. It doesn't hurt that they round out their trifecta with one of the city's best sommeliers and cocktail specialists, Peter Birmingham.
  • Koi (West Hollywood; tel. 310/659-9449): One of L.A.'s hottest restaurants has celebrities arriving nightly for addictive dishes such as baked crab rolls with edible rice paper. Koi is a killer combo of good feng shui and superb Asian fusion cuisine.
  • The Marine Room (La Jolla; tel. 866/644-2351): It has been around for 60-plus years, but chef Bernard Guillas keeps this senior citizen in tiptop shape. Those who come for the smashing beachside view (waves sometimes slam into the windows) may be surprised by the inventive, French-inspired food.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.