Marilyn Monroe may have adored her diamonds, but it turns out that diamonds aren’t just a girl’s best friend. Hotels and restaurants covet them too, but these diamonds are not the dazzlers you wear; the ones they covet come from AAA. The American Automobile Association, along with Forbes and Michelin (who both issue stars), are considered by many to be the gold standard when it comes to awards. Michelin is perhaps better known in Europe, as they only cover New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, but both AAA and Forbes dole out stars and diamonds to a privileged collection of hotels and restaurants across North America. In an age where everyone has an opinion (and tends to share it online), AAA and Forbes serve an important role as trusted authorities.
Certainly it’s an exclusive group—there are only two AAA five-diamond restaurants in Pennsylvania: TÉ and Lautrec. Forbes is slightly more generous and adds Philadelphia’s Volvér to the mix. There are 14 four-diamond restaurants in the Keystone State according to AAA, while Forbes counts just one.
Meals at these highly rated restaurants aren’t simply for special occasions though— groups are treated with the same kid gloves as social diners. Next time you’re tasked with impressing a group or planning a grand celebration, be assured these winners are up to the task.
It goes without saying that winners beget winners, so it should come as no surprise that the Five-Star, AAA Five-Diamond Lautrec is part of the award-winning Nemacolin Woodlands Resort experience. The restaurant is located inside the resort’s Chateau Lafayette and this 96-seat main dining room makes a dramatic impression. Decked out in vivid reds and rich woods, the design was inspired by the life and artwork of the French Post-Impressionist artist Henri Toulouse-Lautrec. Images of his work and lithographs are displayed throughout the restaurant.
While priceless art may decorate the walls, the ambiance is far from stuffy. “We strive for the guest experience to not be described as uptight or pretentious at Lautrec because our associates are warm, gracious and passionate about making every person in the room have exactly the experience they hope to receive,” says Kristin Butterworth, executive chef at Lautrec. Why is this restaurant a consistent winner of the highly coveted (and virtually unattainable) awards? “We never sit still for very long. It’s always about what we can do better and how we can make the experience more unique. There is not a single person in the restaurant that is ever satisfied with where we currently are or where we were. It’s all about forward movement,” she adds.
Lautrec has three private dining rooms, in addition to the main dining room. The Bistro is the largest and accommodates up to 32 with a full view of the kitchen’s action, while the other two rooms sit off the main dining room and feature seating for 6 and 12. As for the food? Most of the time the kitchen prefers to prepare a menu designed for your group. “We like to ensure that we can give everyone the experience they deserve, whether it’s a single dinner or a group of 30, so we offer a private dining room menu for groups of eight or more. This ensures that we are able to provide the service and timing that the guest expects,” says Butterworth.
You wouldn’t expect to find a Five-Diamond, Five-Star restaurant tucked away in the middle of Amish country, but TÉ—the creation of chef John Calabrese—delivers elegant dining that rivals any top city restaurant. “It’s not uncommon for us to pick up guests from the Lancaster Airport who have flown in on private jets just to dine here,” says Randy Howat, VP of Inns of Distinction and board member of Historic Hotels of America. So what makes this restaurant special enough to fly in for? “The presentation and placement of the food is really unmatched,” says Howat.
TÉ is part of the Inn at Leola Village complex and is set within its own building, which adds to the unique character. “Refined, rustic Italian food in a really intimate setting,” he adds. TÉ’s main dining room is indeed the very definition of intimate—with room for just 20 guests—but the private dining room is ideal for groups of up to 12. Smaller groups of up to six guests may want to opt for the excitement of the Chef’s Table. “Guests really enjoy the experience,” says Anthony Hamid, food and beverage director, The Inn at Leola Village. Diners choose from five- or ninecourse meals, both with wine pairings. The experience is one that is meant to be cherished. “It’s not the place to come if you want to dine for an hour,” jokes Howat. Service is exemplary and while the restaurant is only open for dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, TÉ will open exclusively for a private group any day of the week.
This Pittsburgh Four-Star and Four-Diamond winner flies in the face of those who believe hip isn’t here to stay. This restaurant exudes modern sophistication from its rehabilitated warehouse digs to its sexy curvy booths. Expect excellence every time. “Our level of consistency sets us apart; for the 12 years we’ve been open, we have only had three executive chefs and three general managers. We have developed a level of consistency that our guests can expect with each visit, knowing that their experience with us now will be just as special and memorable as it was on their first visit last week, last year, or even when we first opened,” says Jennifer Johnson, manager of private dining and special events. Eleven has very flexible space with a variety of configurations. “We have several different private dining areas from our semiprivate Mulberry room that seats up to 12, to the entire restaurant space, which can seat up to 250. Our Smallman rooms are perfect for up to 40 guests, with A/V and floor-to-ceiling windows that overlook the first floor dining room and have views of our wine cellar. Our outdoor covered deck is a very flexible, seasonal space which can seat up to 50 guests. The second floor dining room of the restaurant is ideal for larger groups—about 125—which, while private, offers open views of the entire restaurant and tavern areas,” says Johnson.