Best Restaurant Chain (2001)

Chart House

The word "chain" conjures up images of cookie-cutter chow and surroundings, unimaginative stuff created to appeal to the masses. That's why Chart House breaks the chain for us. The place is too pretty to be prefab, with lots of dark woods, a clubby, upscale style and unparalleled lakeside views, particularly at sunset.

The cuisine isn't chain-style, either. The fish is always market-fresh, and you can always get Pacific swordfish, Hawaiian mahi-mahi and yellowfin ahi, or California bluenose bass, served grilled, baked or blackened. Other preparations are more creative, like pan-seared sea scallops in ginger-soy broth, ginger-crusted miso halibut, or sesame-crusted salmon with coconut peanut sauce. Meats are a marvel, too, particularly the succulent prime rib, rack of lamb and filet mignon. Nothing beats the salad bar, either, groaning with a huge, gorgeous collection of things like fresh-tossed caesar with real anchovies, hearts of palm, marinated vegetables, and two kinds of rich, salty caviar.

Chain or not, we're charting our course to Chart House.

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