This Man Has Dined at 99 of the 100 Best Restaurants in the World

Only one restaurant stands between Paul Grinberg ’89 and his goal

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What do alligator tendon, shark belly, and ant eggs have in common? They are three of the delicacies that Paul Grinberg ’89 has eaten during his quest to dine at every restaurant on the prestigious list of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants plus its expanded “51-100” list. He is just one elusive reservation away from achieving his goal.

Grinberg does not work in the restaurant industry. In fact, this devoted foodie is the president of international and corporate development at Encore Capital Group, an international specialty finance company. While his day job doesn’t involve tasting menus or Michelin stars, it does call for extensive travel, which Grinberg uses as an opportunity to explore the world’s greatest restaurants. He records all of his culinary adventures on his Instagram, @restaurantstodinefor.

What inspired you to start this journey?
I was going on vacation in Spain and was looking for places to have dinner. I did a web search and came across a couple of restaurants, that were, though I didn’t know at the time, on the World’s 50 Best list. One was called El Celler de Can Roca in Girona and the other was called Mugaritz in San Sebastian. We had dinner at both of them. The food was amazing, the presentation was beautiful, and the creativity was unlike anything I'd ever experienced before. Shortly thereafter, I realized these were top-10 restaurants on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list and decided to dine at a couple more. That turned into a few more, and that turned into a few more. Eventually, I said, "I'm going to try to hit all 100 restaurants on the list."

Last we heard, you’re still trying to get into the one remaining restaurant: Sushi Saito in Tokyo. Have you been able to dine there yet?
Not yet. I’ve tried using all of my contacts to get into Sushi Saito, the remaining restaurant on the list. They have only 8 seats and the only certain way of getting in is to be invited by a “regular.” I've had friends contacting the company that distributes fish to Saito to see if they could get me in. I’ve reached out to contacts I have at McKinsey, BCG, Deloitte, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Cerberus, two Japanese auto manufacturers and others to see if they knew a “regular.” The restaurant doesn’t have a website or an email address and they only open up their phone one day a month for any cancellations. I've had up to 16 people dialing for three hours straight to try to get a reservation, unsuccessfully.

How many countries and cities have you visited for the list?
The restaurants on the list are in 60 cities in 30 countries on five continents.

What’s the most exotic thing you’ve eaten?
I've had alligator tendon at Orana in Adelaide. I've had pig’s blood wafers at Atera in New York. I've had ants at D.O.M. in Sao Paulo and at Noma in Copenhagen, and ant eggs at Punto MX in Madrid. I've had thymus glands at Aquavit in New York.

What's the most extreme thing you've had to do to get a reservation?
I flew to Melbourne when I was just on a waiting list at a restaurant, in the hopes there would be a cancellation. A half hour after I landed, I got the call that the reservation cleared. I've flown 12 hours just for one meal. I've woken up at the wee hours of the morning to get online when a restaurant in a foreign country opened up their bookings. I’ve made reservations at specific hotels just because they have a good concierge who has a connection with a restaurant that was on my list.

Favorite dessert?
My favorite dessert was at Alinea, in Chicago. They clear everything off the table and put a plastic sheet down. Then, they prepare the dessert on the plastic sheet and you eat the dessert directly from the table. It's aesthetically beautiful, and the taste is fantastic. The dessert consists of all kinds of sauces, cakes, chocolates, and other things which are presented on the table in an incredibly beautiful way. This was one of the most memorable desserts I've had.

"I've flown 12 hours just for one meal. I've woken up at the wee hours of the morning to get online when a restaurant in a foreign country opened up their bookings. I’ve made reservations at specific hotels just because they have a good concierge who has a connection with a restaurant that was on my list."

If you had to choose one restaurant to eat at every day, where would you go?
Maido, in Lima. In addition to a fantastic tasting menu, Maido has a lot of sushi and sashimi, which I love. Maido fuses Peruvian and Japanese, both favorites of mine, and the flavors are amazing. I also happen to be a sushi fanatic, so if there was one of the 50 Best that I had to go to every day, that’s where I’d go.

Which restaurant had the most memorable décor?
The craziest one was Ultraviolet in Shanghai. You dine in a room with 10 people sitting at a communal table. The walls and the ceiling are all screens. They play music and video timed with how the meal is served. When you're eating a mushroom course, which is smoked at the table, you're seeing the forest and hearing the crackling of fires around you. It really adds to the experience.

When you’re home, what’s your favorite meal to cook?
I love Asian food and I love seafood. When I do cook, it's usually some combination of both. I have an outdoor kitchen, because I'm based in California, so I like to grill a lot.

What’s next?
The new list comes out on June 19, 2018, at the World’s 50 Best Awards’ ceremony in Bilbao, so I'll have to see how many get added to the list that I haven't been to yet. After that, I am thinking about trying to eat at all of the three-star Michelin restaurants in the world. There are 135 or so of them, and I've been to almost 90 at this point, so I've got a few more on that list. That's my next culinary goal.

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