Travel News

Truly Unusual Dining Experiences

Locations in this article:  Chicago, IL San Francisco, CA

lobsterChances are, many of you will be traveling to some of America’s large cities this summer. Whether for business or pleasure, dining out can be a real highlight of your trip–if you choose the right place.

Instead of hitting up the generic Hard Rock Cafés or Planet Hollywoods, why not try something a little more … unusual?

Have you ever wanted to eat your own menu, dine in complete darkness, or maybe even eat road kill à la mode?

Well, here are some great dining options for your next trip to the metropolis:

Moto, W. Fulton Market, Chicago, IL
In describing Moto’s dining experience, Chef Homaro Cantu says guests will enjoy “interactive, very experimental” courses, beginning not with an amuse bouche—but with the very menu itself. Chef Cantu designed edible, paper-thin menus, which “taste like Italian salad with garlic bread.”

Even more amazing, Chef Cantu synergizes the culinary arts with technology and scientific elements, using liquid nitrogen and a class IV laser, and he has been known to experiment with a hand-held ion particle gun and a centrifuge. As he says, “Gastronomy has to catch up to the evolution in technology, and I’m just helping that process along.” Moto’s soft lighting, simple, linear design, and minimalist interior allow guests to be distracted by one thing: their carefully crafted course. The five-course menu is $70, and the 10-course menu is $105. 312-491-0058,

Opaque, 8401 Sunset Boulevard, West Hollywood, CA
Here at Opaque, you won’t remember any of the physical interior because you will be dining in complete darkness. This culinary trend began in Europe and soon reached West Hollywood. Dining in the dark heightens the remaining senses, which we often neglect. Of course, negating one’s sense of sight is considered controversial among the gastronomy community because many chefs will stress the importance of the food’s presentation.

But, according to Opaque’s Managing Member Ben Uphues, “It’s all about the flavor; why let the eye fool you? It may look impressive but may not taste good.” The combination of darkness and European “chill-out, lounge music” adds a dream-like quality to your taste bud’s feasting frenzy, and you will feel as though you’re savoring a phantasmagoria of courses. The seating is limited to 50 people, and the restaurant is almost always booked, so make sure to reserve a table a week or two in advance. The restaurant is open on Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m., and dinner is $99 per person. 310-546-7619,

Linger Lodge, 7205 Linger Lodge Road, Bradenton, FL
If you’re visiting St. Petersburg, FL, you just have to drive 30 minutes south to Bradenton… that is, if you fancy “Pigeon Smidgens,” “Swirl of Squirrel,” or “Chunk o’ Skunk.” Even Al Roker himself called the Linger Lodge “one of the top five weirdest restaurants in the country.”

Although the road menu is a joke, Linger Lounge boasts a large indigenous taxidermy. The original owners were taxidermists, and in 1968, Linger Lounge became a full-service restaurant. Some of the many critters inhabiting the restaurant—most of which were caught on and around the property— include rattlesnakes, bobcats, and jack elopes.
If you are ravenous for reptiles, Linger Lodge does serve frog legs and alligator. It is also one of the few restaurants to serve red fish. For the less-adventurous diner, the restaurant also offers more traditional dishes, such as Southern fried chicken, fish and chips, and beef tenderloin fillet. Check out the restaurant on Sundays for all-you-can-eat barbecue with live music. 941-755-2757,

wd~50, 50 Clinton Street, New York, NY
Chef Wylie Dufresne has garnered national attention with his restaurant wd~50. It’s not just about unusual flavor profiles and combinations, but the chef’s mad scientist approach to creating cutting-edge dishes. This cuisine, often referred to as “molecular gastronomy,” involves deconstructing food and putting it back together using techniques like lasers, flash freezing and using unpronounceable chemicals to achieve the desired effect. Chef Dufresne uses something called “meat glue,” an enzyme that holds together proteins to create noodles made of shrimp, with nary a carbohydrate to be found. Other culinary wonders include pickled beef tongue with fried mayonnaise, and a poached egg broken into a broth made of Parmesan cheese. A nine-course tasting menu is available for $115. 212-477-2900,

Foreign Cinema, 2534 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA
In San Francisco, it is rare enough to enjoy your dinner en plein aire, but at Foreign Cinema, you can even watch a movie projected onto a building wall partially covered with ivy. The classic, independent, and foreign films rotate monthly, and the menu, which offers a broad range of Mediterranean choices, changes daily. Votive candles dot the tables, providing romantic illumination dim enough to fully enjoy the movie, and the pseudo-industrial interior ironically enhances the restaurant’s chic appeal. And, here’s the best part: if you find your company dull, you conveniently can be distracted by the movie. When making reservations, be sure to request a courtyard table, or else you’ll miss the show. 415-648-7600,

By Monique-Marie DeJong for

Check out the rest of our Culinary Travel section.