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Star grazing in foodie paradise

By Katie Sweeney

Above, Manresa’s sea bream, sashimi style.

Hungry for a memorable Michelin-starred meal? Look no further than these established local hotspots with stellar cuisine, unique atmosphere and impeccable service. The cuisine also spans a pantheon of styles, from upscale American delights to more adventurous, experimental fare like uni and farrotto, delighting the region’s diehard gourmands. With five-star wine lists and rock-star chefs, sommeliers and visionaries that wouldn’t be out of place in the world’s culinary capitals, the Peninsula is redefining the epicenter of Northern California food.

Madera

The Rosewood Sand Hill is arguably the best resort in the South Bay, so naturally, it has one heck of a restaurant. Madera, which has one star, specializes in wood-fired upscale American cuisine. Led by chef Reylon Agustin, the open kitchen is buzzing with activity, and if you have the chance to sit facing it, do so -— you’ll be delightfully entertained. Although it’s a hotel restaurant that is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, there is nothing casual about Madera. This is thoughtfully prepared, elegant and sometimes decadent cuisine. Pillowy pan-fried gnocchi is paired with porcini mushrooms, black truffle, preserved onion blossoms and pecorino cheese. Melt-in-your-mouth octopus sits on a bed of hearts of palm and leeks then topped with a delicate chile emulsion. Celebrating? Why not get the dry-aged ribeye for two. It’s cooked to perfection and served with black garlic, savory rice, broccoli and spring garlic jus.

Plumed Horse

If you’re into wine, book a reservation at chef Peter Armellino’s one-Michelin-star restaurant in Saratoga. The eatery is home to a gorgeous three-story glass wine cellar that holds more than 16,000 bottles. Wine director Jeffrey Perisho and sommelier Joseph Karakas have put together a sensational selection that includes everything from grower Champagnes to Sonoma Coast chardonnay to super Tuscans. For the most cohesive experience, opt for the tasting menu with wine pairings. Armellino is known for sourcing luxurious ingredients from across the globe — think foie gras from Hudson Valley and scallops from Maine, but he also works with local producers for meat, vegetables and more. He even harvests and makes his very own caviar. The restaurant’s most beloved dish? Black pepper parmesan soufflé with Dungeness crab and uni fondue. It’s wildly rich and indulgent — seriously so good you may want to lick the bowl. It’s a must try, so when it’s not on the tasting menu, order it a la carte. Trust us: You won’t be disappointed.

Baumé

This experimental flagship remains a favorite for French cuisine moderne fans who adore its two-waiter limited service and adventurous takes on in-house staples like grape sorbet, miso flourishes and cassis jam. The restaurant’s beloved modernist design fits right into the Peninsula’s love for all things sleek and clean, an aesthetic that’s carried over to the minutae of the menu’s beautifully crafted and well-balanced pairings. With only one dinner seating a night for their multicourse fixed-price extravaganza, diners at the Michelin two-starred Baumé count themselves lucky to find a seat at one of Palo Alto’s most revered foodie experiences. Purists can delight in exquisite versions of boeuf medallions, while those with a winsome palate will find plenty to love in the parsley paper and yozu. Another perk? Chef Bruno Chemel and his wife, Christie Chemel, run a tight ship, with a staff of only two helming the impeccable operation. At more than $800 a person for the cheapest wine pairing, Baumé is worth it.

Manresa

Last year, the three-star Los Gatos restaurant from acclaimed chef David Kinch celebrated its 15th anniversary. Now well into its second decade, the eatery is better than ever. Kinch was one of the first chefs in the area to work exclusively with a single farm to cultivate the exact product for which he was looking, a practice that has become mainstream. This made him a pioneer of contemporary California cuisine that features hyper-local, super-seasonal ingredients. The nightly tasting menu at Manresa changes constantly, but diners can expect esoteric dishes like Into the Garden, a signature course that includes delicate just-picked herbs and vegetables in a variety of textures and temperatures. Two master sommeliers are on the floor, and every four guests are attended to by their dedicated server. The wine features distinctive bottles from classic old world regions like Burgundy and the Loire Valley.

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