Photograph by Juliana Sohn
Lasagna is a mess, a delicious, glorious mess. It's hard to imagine an improvement on the archetypal version, but the baked classic hits new culinary heights when it's freed from its rudimentary-red-sauce image. Some chefs are tweaking tradition by using delicate homemade pasta or inventive tomato sauces; others are deviating from the standard, slipping in seasonal ingredients like butternut squash and unusual meats like quailor even going large with white truffles (in Vegas, of course). This isn't your mama's lasagnaand it's really, really good. JJ Goode
THE BEST VERSIONS
1. A Mano (Chicago)
A great meat sauce takes lasagna to a new level. John Caputo braises oxtail, pork belly, and short ribs and tucks the blend, along with herbed ricotta and marinara, between sheets of fresh pasta.
335 North Dearborn Street, 312-629-3500
2. Gramercy Tavern (New York City)
Mike Anthony turns modest white mushrooms and Swiss chard into something special, marrying them with mushroom vinaigrette and baking the dish in a wood-fired oven.
42 East 20th Street, 212-477-0777
3. Fiamma (Las Vegas)
Fresh white truffles elevate this incarnation's ricotta-and-pecorino fillingespecially when combined with the roasted quail that Carlos Buscaglia uses instead of beef.
MGM Grand, 3799 Las Vegas Boulevard South, 702-891-7600
4. Santi (Sonoma County, California)
In the sleepy vineyard town of Geyserville, Dino Bugica layers fresh pasta with exquisite locally made ricotta, spinach, andbecause this is Californiababy artichokes.
21047 Geyserville Avenue, Geyserville, 707-857-1790
5. Rocca Kitchen and Bar (Boston)
Bucking tradition, Tom Fosnot boots tomato sauce in favor of arugula-walnut pesto and tosses in earthy porcini, sweet butternut squash, and a blend of Crescenza cheese, mozzarella, and ricotta.
500 Harrison Avenue, 617-451-5151
THE SPIN: WHO NEEDS PASTA?
Photograph by Roberto D'Addona
After tomato sauce fell by the wayside in some high-end takes on lasagna, it was just a matter of time before pasta became optional. At Arrows, an acclaimed restaurant in Ogunquit, Maine, Mark Gaier and Clark Frasier substitute slabs of polenta for noodles and bake them with mascarpone, eggplant, and sun-dried tomatoes (above). Meanwhile, Frank Santonastaso at Vela, in the Boston suburbs, layers crisp slices of potato with arugula and wild mushrooms, and then adds reduced balsamic vinegar. And Bradford Thompson, the new chef at New York's Lever House, inventively assembles thin slices of celery root with braised rabbit, robiola cheese, and black truffle.