When is a tuna melt not a tuna melt? When it's actually fresh seared ahi with warm foie gras. Haute toques around the West are presenting refined dishes in tongue-in-cheek ways that will take the stuffing out of even the most serious customers. Having fun with flashy food: It's the new wave in upscale dining.
Tartare Cornet. Chef Thomas Keller started the trend by beginning every meal with a salmon tartare, red onion, and crème fraîche, hors d'oeuvre playfully presented like an ice cream cone (prix fixe meal $135). The French Laundry, Yountville, CA, www.frenchlaundry.com or 707 944-2380)
Tuna Foie Gras Melt. Stylish innovator George Morrone tops a thick potato pancake with seared ahi tuna, then melted foie gras, and finishes it all with a Pinot Noir sauce ($29). A definite splurge, but the taste is heavenly. Tartare, San Francisco, www.tartarerestaurant.com or 415 434-3100.
DC Burger. Canada takes on New York's famed high-end burgers with a version from chef Damon Campbell that boasts a patty of Kobe beef and flank steak, plus short ribs, foie gras, and a truffle aioli ($28 U.S.). Diva at the Met, Vancouver, B.C., www.metropolitan.com/diva or 604 602-7788.
Lobster Corn Dogs with Smelt Fries. Razzle-dazzle restaurateur Michael Mina's top dogs are filled with meltingly rich lobster sausage and encased in a sweet, crunchy cornmeal batter ($18). Seablue, Las Vegas, www.mgmgrand.com, 702 891-3486.
Ice Cream Baked Potato. Disconcerting but delicious. Chef Patrick Lambert's dessert is ice cream rolled in chocolate powder with a banana frosting "butter pat," whipped cream "sour cream," and green chopped pecan "chives" ($4.25). Cowgirl BBQ & Western Grill, Santa Fe, 505 982-2565.
The Coconut. At Hawaiian culinary kin Alan Wong's eponymous restaurant, a chocolate shell is filled with coconut sorbet―a dead ringer for a half-coconut ($7). Alan Wong's, Honolulu, www.alanwongs.com or 808 949-2526.