Chefs are returning to their primal roots by cooking over open hearths. The wood-fired infernos allow them to add char and a kiss of smoke on the grill while doing more cooking on the coals below. Celebrate this timeless technique by booking a table at one of these top restaurants for open hearth cooking.
El Che Bar, Chicago, Illinois
Every evening, chef John Manion uses a flamethrower to ignite the 12-foot, oak-powered custom hearth. Featuring two grills, two planches, and a smoker, more than 90 percent of the Argentinian asador-inspired menu is cooked over its fires.
Taste the fire: Herbed gnocchi, veal sweetbreads, and steaks, such as a 32-ounce bone-in ribeye and 16-ounce New York strip.
Make a reservation at El Che Bar.
Maydan, Washington, D.C.
The open, oak-powered stone hearth commands center stage. The conical copper hood is welded to an old ventilation shaft, which extends to the ceiling two stories up. Co-executive chefs Chris Morgan and Gerald Addison and their team tend the grills while fostering the flames with woven fans they keep stuck in the back of their aprons.
Taste the fire: Ras al hanout-seasoned duck breast kebab, spatchcock chicken, and lamb shoulder accented with Syrian seven spice.
Make a reservation at Maydan.
Imperial, Portland, Oregon
Native hardwoods and fruitwoods keep the heat sweet and searing in the large-scale grill and rotisserie. The chef’s counter in front of the flames is the best way to watch as executive chef Matthew Jarrell and his team bend the fires to their will.
Taste the fire: Coal-roasted sweet potatoes with charred onion butter and pepita salsa, grilled Caesar salad, sausages, and roasted half chicken.
Make a reservation at Imperial.
Summer House Santa Monica, Chicago, Illinois
Experience the thrill of the grill. A centerpiece of the open kitchen, the stainless steel set-up from Grillworks is fueled by white oak and hardwood charcoal.
Taste the fire: Chili lime-marinated chicken tacos, center-cut filet with herb butter, and grilled salmon.
Make a reservation at Summer House Santa Monica.
The Hitching Post II, Buellton, California
Santa Maria-style barbecue can trace its smoky roots back to the Spanish rancheros, who cooked their meats over an open fire powered by red oak. The traditional technique endures today and is now also applied to vegetables, seafood, and fowl.
Taste the fire: Grilled artichoke with tomato-ancho mayonnaise, grilled lobster tail, and grilled Texas quail.
Make a reservation at The Hitching Post II.
Lulu Kitchen & Bar, Sag Harbor, New York
Seasoned oak for the blaze, applewood chips for the sweet haze. The restaurant’s 62-inch Infierno from Grillworks is put to use grilling a variety of produce and proteins.
Taste the fire: Grilled octopus with confit pork belly, grilled whole branzino with smoked tomato Provençal and lemon-infused olive oil, and grilled cauliflower with spicy grapes, toasted sesame, yogurt, and white balsamic vinaigrette.
Make a reservation at Lulu Kitchen & Bar.
Marta, New York, New York
The open fire grill hits high temps while imparting complex smoke tones. This duality is due to a combination of woods, such as cherry oak, white oak, ash, chestnut, and maple.
Taste the fire: Anatra (duck breast, crispy sunchokes, Calabrian chili honey, and burnt orange) and pollo ubriaco, beer-brined chicken with charred Caraflex cabbage, Fresno chili, and mint.
Make a reservation at Marta.
Osteria, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
A wood grill and rotisserie from J&R Manufacturing lets executive chef-owner Jeff Michaud add a charming char and a kiss of smoke to many dishes. A mix of mesquite charcoal, white oak, and red oak ensures the blaze burns brightly and its smoke is full of flavor.
Taste the fire: Grilled octopus, ribeye for two, and smoked tuna tonnato.
Make a reservation at Osteria.
Maple & Ash, Chicago, Illinois
The restaurant takes its names from the types of wood it burns in its impressive 12-foot wide hearth. Executive chef Danny Grant uses the blazing beast to work his fiery magic on steak, seafood, and seasonal vegetables.
Taste the fire: Caesar salad with grilled romaine lettuce, baked-in-coals French onion soup, fire-roasted seafood tower, and the whole roasted Dove sole.
Make a reservation at Maple & Ash.
What are your picks for restaurants for open hearth cooking? Let us know here in the comments or over on Facebook, G+, Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter. And, remember to snap + share your #dishpics with us on Instagram for a chance to win in our weekly giveaway.
Nevin Martell is a Washington, D.C.-based food and travel writer and the author of several books, including Freak Show Without A Tent: Swimming with Piranhas, Getting Stoned in Fiji and Other Family Vacations. Find him on Twitter @nevinmartell and Instagram @nevinmartell.
Photo credits: Rey Lopez (Maydan); Anjali Pinto (Summer House Santa Monica); El Che (Maypole Photography); Daniel Krieger (Marta); The Hitching Post II (Jeremy Ball); Doug Young (Lulu).