Maison Premiere

298 Bedford AveBrooklyn, NY 11249 • (347) 335-0446 • maisonpremiere.com

 

More like Maison Meh. And to think this place was actually considered for a James Beard! It’s not even worthy of a James Buchanan. Sure, the setting is nice in the back garden and the oysters are money, especially with that marvelous mignonette, but just because the serve absinthe doesn’t make them 4 stars (unless you got really drunk on the absinthe and meant to actually click 2 stars). This over inflation of culinary prowess makes Brooklynites look desperate, trying to keep claiming that all the really good restaurants are now in Brooklyn and not Manhattan. They aren’t. I’m sorry to break it to you. Okay, so you’ve got Vinegar Hill House, Blanca, Red Hook Lobster Pound, Peter Pan Donuts, Peter Luger– Okay, fuck it. So you have a lot of good restaurants. That still doesn’t change the fact that Maison isn’t one of them.

The crudos are crapo. The cod brandade is blandade. The sardines and olive starters are passable at best. And even the octopus is a rubbery mess. And I wish I could say things got better but apart from the Atlantic Cod served over Tarbais beans and the pork porterhouse with mashed potatoes and shrooms, they got so much worse. The lobster roll would be considered a crime in the state of Maine. And the duck au poivre is so inedible it could almost start a war again with France.

But the atrocities against our mouths weren’t quite done yet as the monster rose back up from the dead for one final blow, in the form of empty calories. Both the cheesecake and the absinthe pana cotta were bunk, sealing the fate of MP with a firm two knives.

Bagel Maven

538 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 293-4168

 

Let’s face it, outside of New York City bagels are always just varying degrees of a let down, but in many cases it can at least be a pleasant surprise as to how little that let down actually is. This is the case with Bagel Maven, a mighty fine bagel for those with lowered expectations. It’s a little on the doughy side, but the outer crust has good texture to it. Unfortunately they are a touch stingy on the seed count when it comes to bagels of such standing, but that’s a mild ding comparatively. There are also very few options when it comes to “toppings.” So if you’re looking for sable, lox, nova, whitefish salad and an array of schmears, it’s gonna take you two stops, because you’ll also need to head on over to Gold’s Delicatessen. But at least the bagels are better here.

The only other thing I would note before I leave you to fend for yourself,  is that this place is not, I repeat NOT the kind of place you want to sit and dine. It’s strictly a grab n’ go.

La Casa di Nonna

41 rue Hoche 06400 CannesFrance • +33 4 97 06 33 51 • lacasadinonna.fr

Welcome to Grandma’s House, my newest Cannes crush. Yes, I suppose I have a thing for older women. Shhh! Don’t tell my wife. Actually, she has crush on Nonna too, because this place is just so damn charming. You just want to squeeze the bejesus out of its cheeks. From the servers to what they are serving, brace yourself for a healthy dose of amoré.

Whether it’s just a quick, afternoon snack over a frothy cappuccino and a wonderfully fresh-squeezed juice or a fully-fledged three-course dinner you are in for a treat, because they don’t miss. Particularly if you incorporate their chocolate ganache cake into whatever meal occasion it is. That alone is like a panacea for all of life’s troubles. Ultimate alert!

The other thing they nail eight ways ‘til Sunday is parma. I don’t know where they get it from, but oh lordy is it pigilicious! We had the melon and prosciutto starter and I think it might just be the best I’ve ever had. The melon was perfectly ripe and sweet. And that ham! I’m not even sure how to describe it, and I’ve even had the acorn-fed, quattro-legged stuff before and this is better.

The other dish the shined on the shoulders of this porky perfection was the carbonara, an Ultimate and only bested by the one at Blanca in Brooklyn, NY, mainly because of it’s superior pepperiness. But Nonna knows her shit, keeping the eggy coating just light enough to allow the pig and basil pop from the dish. And while I know basil is no-no to you purists out there, I say Nonna beats a no-no and you should try it before you deny it.

On the mortal side, I found the artichoke salad, the gnocci with tomato sauce and the spaghetti to all be, well, mortal. But nothing is bad and with THREE Ultimates, I’d put this tops on your list for your next visit to the Cote ‘d Azur. Plus, as I said before, if you end with that ganache cake, you’ll be crooning like old Dino… “When you walk down the street and you have this to eat, that’s amore!”

Underwest Donuts

2 Pennsylvania Plz New York, NY 10121 • (347) 952-0079 • underwestdonuts.com

 

Brace yourselves Underwest fans, because things are about to go South. I know it’s bad form to bitch about a donut, after all, it’s sugary bread, what’s to bitch about? Well, hype for one. I mean, I haven’t fallen this far from the hype tree in a while. What am I missing? Is it because it has West in the name that somehow people think there’s an affiliation with Westworld and therefore must be brilliant?

Regrettably, about the only thing these donuts have in common with the hit HBO series is that when you’re done, it’s not quite as satisfying as you would’ve hoped.

I tried several different flavors too, strawberry, helva and brown butter, but it pains me to say that they were imperceptibly different from one another, each tasting like a bag of sugar with food coloring. I honestly think Dunkin’, Krispy Kreme and even Entenmann’s are better options. And cheaper.

But if it’s fancy dough you crave, try Peter Pan in Brooklyn or The Doughnut Plant in multiple Manhattan locations. Both are amazeballs and make Underwest seem underwhelming by comparison.

Salsamenteria di Parma

86 Rue Meynadier, 06400 Cannes, France • +33 4 93 99 66 67 • salsamenteriadiparma.com
 

At the bottom of the hill just before you officially enter “Old Cannes” there is wonderful new Italian restaurant that specializes in transcendent charcuterie (pictured). In fact, that’s kind of their big thing. In fact, there’s not much else on the menu with the exception of salads and bruschetta. And cheeses, of course.

But in its simplicity lies its genius. To quote the great four-legged philosopher Baloo, “Look for the bare necessities. The simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife. I mean the bare necessities. Old Mother Nature’s recipes. That brings the bare necessities of life.” That there is some sage wisdom from a bear, because their parma bruschetta with honey is a thing of beauty. The tomato and pesto bruschetta is also quite nice, but challenging to keep those little grape tomato slices on the bread and not in your lap.

The charcuterie was also quite impressive, so I’m guessing they know how to source their hog. Which shouldn’t come as a shock, I suppose, considering a bifurcated pig is their logo and themed décor.

Salads, however, do not appear to be their thing, serving it undressed and underwhelming. Luckily they made up for it handsomely with a crazy chocolate sausage dessert. What?! Yes. Chocolate sausage. For desert. It is stupid good. Almost like a cookie, but with the consistency of helva. It’s kinda hard to describe, but trust me, it’s VERY easy to wolf down.

Not sure I would ever choose this place for a full-up dinner, but for lunch or a snack or a light dinner with a bottle of wine and lots of goodies- it’s hard to beat it.

La Table du Chef

5 Rue Jean Daumas 06400 CannesFrance • +33 4 93 68 27 40

 

An acquaintance of mine who used to live in Cannes turned me on to this place, and if you are sick of the Cannes scene, Table du Chef is pretty perfect for you, because not many people know about it and there are only about 8 tables in the entire joint, so the odds of you running into anyone you’ll have to schmooze are slimmer than Christian Bale in The Machinist.

The concept is French Omakase. Four courses of whatever the chef wants to make you. Or in other words, whatever looked good at the market that day.

Our meal began with a yummy, garlicky gazpacho that cancelled out any chance for kissing later that evening. On the heels, we had surprisingly thin tuna steak served over white beans that was decent, but because the fish was so thin it was a bit overpowered by the totality of the dish.

Three is a magic number, and not just at School House Rock, because third in the line up was a killer duck entrée that somehow tasted like foie gras. I have no idea how he pulled it off. Perhaps he cooked is sous vide in foie gras juice? As I said, I have no idea and I have never tasted duck like this before, but I would definitely like to sign up for more!

For dessert, they served an artful tower of apple, cream and crisp and while it was certainly very good, it somehow didn’t wow. Similar to 3 out of the 4 courses, making Table a solid 3 knives, but just shy of greatness.

Le Club 55

Plage de Pampelonne 83350 RamatuelleFR • +33 4 94 55 55 55 • club55.fr

There is an old French saying that roughly translates to mean, “may this misery never leave us,” which is as sarcastic as it is perfect for describing what it was like to sail to Saint Tropez for the day and dine on the beach at Le Club 55. Yes, I live an extremely charmed life and I work very hard to keep that in perspective. So I tell you this not as a “look at me,” but rather as strong nudge to YOU, because if you should ever find yourself in the South of France, you owe this to yourself. Yes, it’s a bit of commitment (two hours from Cannes each way), but sacre bleu is it worth it!

Strung together like a bunch of Gilligan’s Island-esque straw huts, this place continues to grow and sprawl across the sand like the Zabar’s of the Cote d’Azur. And also like Zabar’s, it is as far from fancy as it is from Cannes. This is toes in the sand and swim suit on butt couture.

But don’t let the casual façade fool you, because getting a table is serious business, and so is the food. For example, their crudité bests some of the finest restaurants in the world, including Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Bohemian in NYC. Served on a bountiful wooden board (pictured) and loaded with farm-grown fireworks in the form of vegetables. The tomatoes speak for themselves, needing no salt, nor sauce. The radishes bite back. And the red pepper tastes like a conversation you simply can’t get enough of. Oui, it is an Ultimate of ultimate proportions.

Two other stellar dishes are the beef tartar served with crack-tastic chips and the bone-simple, equally magnificent, perfectly cooked whole fish. And that seems to be the name of the game here. Keep it simple, because when they strayed and tried to get a little too fancy they missed.

For example their salad with shaved parmesan and black truffles didn’t hold up to the rest. I’m guessing because the truffles weren’t real. Blasphemy to say, but they were virtually flavorless next to the crudité, which makes zero sense. And the other concoction getting trickier still, would be the odd variation on a caprese salad, made with tomatoes, goat cheese, hollandaise and mint. It wasn’t awful, but after having seen the tomato as a solo act, this seemed like a crime to drown it with such an odd combination of flavors.

On the simpler side of things I did also find a miss, ruined with a very simple error. The langoustines were very (and sadly) overcooked. But misses aside, Le Club 55 is a triumph, as if anybody needed another reason to love the beach.

Pearl at Longshore Restaurant & Bar

260 Compo Rd SWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-6260 • pearlatlongshore.com

Four!!!! That’s the knife count I’m giving, because it is very seldom that country club food is ever this good. Not even remotely. But once again, Westport manages to buck suburban expectations to show the world that you can have your crab cake and eat it too.

Like most country clubs the setting is a stunner, after all, you’re usually sitting amidst an immaculately landscaped golf course. But very few clubs are on the ocean, overlooking the water. Which decidedly takes things up a notch as you sit on the outdoor patio, overlooking a sailing class as they practice in the channel between there and Saugatuck Island. Also, a little know secret, Westport is apparently where Great Gatsby was inspired, looking across the Long Island Sound to the houses on the other shore. And while I sat there having my brunch, I must admit, I felt pretty great.

Things did start off a little rocky, however, with poor service and the Nutella cinnamon buns that tasted a lot like Pillsbury. Not that I have anything against the Dough Boy, but when I go out to a restaurant I expect them to up the game over things my kids could make.

But after that, Pearl went on a tear. The warm, fresh-baked bread and olive oil was so good you could tell it was the start of something special. Then came the Maine lobster benny which was absolutely superb! The eggs, runny, the potatoes spicy and the lobster…lobster-y?

The egg white frittata was also delish, although a bit inconsistent. My wife’s was loaded with all sorts of goodies and full of flavor. Whereas my mother’s was anemic with ingredients and the lesser of the two. So if you get gipped, I’d send it back for a do-over.

The French toast is also really good, soaked like a baller, dusted with confection and berries and hard to resist wolfing it down before anyone asks for a bite.

The only miss for me was the Belgian Waffle. It’s pretty pedestrian compared to the other options.

As for dinner, I haven’t actually been yet. Only for drinks, but watching some of the dishes go by, I have very high hopes.

Barcelona

971 Farmington AveWest Hartford, CT 06107 • (860) 218-2100 • barcelonawinebar.com

If the Bar Taco next door is anywhere near as good as the one in Westport, CT, then I’m not sure why you would go here unless, like the one in Westport, the wait for a table is just way too crazy long.

Okay, I lied. For brunch, there is one other reason I can think of, the DIY Bloody Mary table. Just pick your vodka (Tito’s), then choose your base mix. Sriracha, Horseradish, Chipotle or Black Pepper. Then load that baby up with virtually anything your heart desires. Bacon, cornichon, olives, celery, bell peppers, papadew peppers, marinated mushrooms, pearl onions, cauliflower, cheese, pickles… this could take a while. Seriously. The table is that bountiful.

But apart from the Bloody Mary’s and a couple other dishes, it’s a bit of a letdown. The sangria is so watery it doesn’t even pack the punch of grape juice. The meatballs owe an apology to the cow that died in vain.

Equally disappointing was the lamb chop with romesco and arugula. First they served it raw. Then they served it eh.

The pulpo (octopus) with smoked paprika is just okay, but if you know me and how much I like octopus, for me to be so tepid can only mean one thing, skip it.

Also located in the okay corral are the mixed greens with manchego & pistachios, the Brussels sprouts, the broccolini and much to my chagrin, the veggie paella loaded with eggplant, sprouts, peppers, asparagus and disappointment.

The winners, while sparse, could add up to a decent meal, though, if you played your cards (and ordered) right. For example I found the Mushrooms a la Plancha to be pretty darn tasty. Made with crimini, shitake and button. The Patatas Brava where also bravo, zazzed up with salsa brava and a garlic aioli. And since I’ve never met a charcuterie and cheese board I didn’t like, let’s throw that in too.

But if you’re like me and good isn’t good enough, your options dwindle further still, to only two dishes. The jamon and manchego croquettes and the chorizo with sweet and sour figs in a balsamic glaze. The latter being the best thing of the lot. And as you can see, we tried a LOT.

The Boarding House

720 N Wells StChicago, IL 60654 • (312) 280-0720 • boardinghousechicago.com

If I were just reviewing the chandeliers this place would receive a resounding 5 knives, because they are both stunning. Impressive in both size and beauty they each cover roughly 75% of the ceiling footprint on their respective floors. Over the bar on the first floor, the chandelier is made up of thousands of wine glasses, whereas the one upstairs in the dining room is made up of just as many wine bottles (pictured). Fortunately Chicago isn’t on a fault line or I would’ve been very nervous about being crushed beneath them.

The theme of the chandeliers is very intentional as I understand it, the restaurateur being well known for their skill at compiling a killer wine list. And judging from the bottle of wine I had, I’d say I have to concur.

Sadly, a little more attention toward the food might be nice, because I found everything to be pretty average.

The baby octopus appetizer was shockingly bland regardless of its rather inventive preparation, sporting two of my favorite things on earth, shishito peppers and chorizo. But somehow they managed to find the least spicy versions I’ve ever encountered.

Then, the mahi entrée came it is was so overcooked and dry that I only bothered to eat half of it. Served over an equally overcooked risotto. In hindsight I probably should’ve sent it back, but after the appetizer my confidence was waning that they would ever get it right. And besides, I’m always a bit reticent to send shit back to the kitchen, because pissing off the chef is a surefire way to wind up with Ebola on your plate.

So, after the lackluster food we decided to forego dessert in favor of after dinner drinks instead, since that is clearly their forte. And chandeliers.