El Chile Cafe Y Cantina

1809 Manor RdAustin, TX 78722 • (512) 457-9900 • elchilecafe.com
There is a bit of a Floridian vibe going on here if you ask me, with its pastel, aqua green walls and the sizeable patio out front. But the menu is full on TEX-MEX from the puffy tacos to the margaritas, which make a long day all worth it.Speaking of puffy tacos, if you’ve never had them, they are essentially fried taco shells that puff up around varying ingredients. Of the three we had though, I only found the veggie to be great, made with portobellos as the star. So skip the chicken and the pork.

The guac is also good, but the salsa is just friggin’ weird. It’s NOT salsa. I don’t care what local custom this is supposed to be, but that is the poorest excuse for salsa I have ever had.

I also didn’t love the habanero carrot sauce, mostly because it’s extremely lacking in heat considering that it’s supposedly made with habaneros.

For dessert, I thought the tres leche was pretty good, but it is simply outmatched by the chocolate pecan pie, which just might be one of the best I’ve ever had. So dense and rich with dark chocolate that you will contemplate ordering a second slice to take home.

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Mecha Noodle Bar

1215 Post RdFairfield, CT 06824 • (203) 292-8222 • mechanoodlebar.com
 

This just might be the most happenin’ strip mall in America. You’ve got Brick + Wood, Milkcraft and then right next door to that you’ve got Mecha. And all three are so damn good that they all have a long, damn wait.

Wait aside, Mecha is like Mecca for ramen. Worth the pilgrimage for great food. The décor is pretty cool as well, marked by the simple touch of 2×4’s dangling overhead to connote noodles. They’ve also cracked the code between kid-friendly and adult crowds, but sadly this secret is out, so there’s pretty much a wait no matter when you go, unless you just happen to hit the seam between rushes.

For those of you visiting from Westport on south, you’re probably wondering how it stacks up to Kawa Ni. Quite well, I would say, although very different vibes. I’d say Mecha is much more casual and high energy, whereas Kawa Ni is more intimate and adult skewed.

The menu is more noodle-based than Kawa Ni though, but very tasty in its own right. We started with a pair of Thai Iced Teas and the roasted mushroom dumplings, which were excellent, particularly with the brown butter miso sauce.

For noodles, I went with the Pho Shore, which as the name implies is loaded with seafood and other goodies. Speaking of which, be very careful with the thai chili add on. I like heat and this kicked my ass.

Wifey was smarter (as usual) and put the heat control in her own hands, opting for the Veggie Ramen and Sriracha on the side. This was also very good and we will definitely be going back. At an odd hour.

A very, VERY strong 3 knives for Mecha. Plus, it doesn’t hurt that Milkcraft is right next door for dessert.

Tavern on Main

150 Main StWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 221-7222 • tavernonmain.com
 

I’m not sure why this place does such good business in the summer, but in the fall and winter, I totally get it. It’s warm and cozy inside with fireplaces and old-world charm seeping out of every crack in the hardwood floor. You kinda just wanna kick off your shoes, throw on some slippers, smoke a pipe and read the paper.

But if pipes aren’t your thing, the vittles don’t disappoint. As for the menu, it’s pretty similar fare to Spotted Horse Tavern around the corner, but much better on the execution, regardless of what the Yelpers say.

I had the quinoa salad which I thought was very good. Fresh ingredients. Light and yet filling at the same time.  I also enjoyed the salmon BLT, fancied up with tapenade, roasted tomatoes, lemon pepper mayo and a brioche bun. Pretty strong.

On the whole, I look forward to going back, especially to curl up in front of one of those fireplaces during the next bomb cyclone.

Cotton & Rye

1801 Habersham StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 777-6286 • cottonandrye.com
 

Billed as one of the top places to go according to Eater, Wifey and I hit this James Beard nominated, Vault wannabe (also a bank renovation), edge of town location, for their southern-with-a-twist (a la Husk) cuisine. Yes, a lot of sub-references on this one as it seems to be one of those places architected to be a success, right down to its ampersand.

Ampersand aside though, the meal began with a promising start marked by a pair of winners, the grilled Caesar salad and the Ultimate fried chicken wings sauced with honey, chili and sumac to help those babies soar like a mofo!

For entrees, Cotton & Rye stumbled a bit. The pork shoulder tagliatelle was a touch bland and in dire need of salt, pepper and parm. But the far greater disappointment came from the pork chop. Mostly because of the stratospheric recommendation from not one, but two different waiters, claiming unequivocally that this was hands-down the best pig chop in town (mainly predicated on the fact that it was sous vide). Which I suppose should’ve been my red flag, because more often than not it’s been my experience that sous vide is really code for “big disappointment,” chef’s always relying too much on the juices and not enough on the seasoning or accompaniments. Worse still, is that these waiters could not have been more wrong. A FAR superior chop exists less than a mile away at Elizabeth’s on 37th. I even asked the waiters if they had Lizzy’s chop before making such wild assertions, but neither of them had (yet, another red flag).

Dessert boded well though, with an apple crumble bread pudding. Two of my favorite things in one dessert. Kinda hard to fuck that one up.

So a little more work on the main event and I’d agree with Eater, but until then, head to The Grey if you truly want Savannah’s best.

Dominique Ansel Bakery

189 Spring St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 219-2773 • dominiqueansel.com

Made famous by the invention of the cronut and thus by default perpetrator of the Cabbage Patch frenzy that ensued thereafter, DAB is the stuff of legends. And not the kind you’ve been cautioned about, ya know, the ones who never live up to expectation?

Well fret not, because Dom delivers. And I mean that both literally and figuratively. Just go to Trycaviar.com and get yourself some baked-to-order-cookie-nirvana delivered right to your door, still warm and gooey and cracktastic!

The white chocolate macadamia alone is Ultimate-worthy and the chocolate brownie cookie ain’t too shabby neither. Okay, the chocolate chip cookie is pretty kickass as well. In fact, the only cookie that wasn’t just flat-out orgasmic was the gingersnap, but still very good, mind you, it just suffered from three, consecutive, tough acts to follow.

Oh, and the presentation? Like it was coming from Tiffany’s, if Tiffany’s sold baked goods instead of jewelry.

You can also get the cronut, pastries and croissants delivered, but if you want the cronut you need to order in advance, because they are still a hot item all these years later and will sell out before you even hit your snooze button.

 

The Vault

2112 Bull StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 201-1950 • vaultkitchen.com

 

The name doesn’t scream Asian fare, but once you discover that it’s a stunning renovation of a former bank, it all makes total and complete cents. Get it? No seriously, whoever did this renovation deserves a ferocious high five, because they didn’t miss a trick, from the safe deposit box art on the walls, to the bar made up of the same. To the private dining room inside the safe, to teller cut windows and nickeled bathroom floors it is a smile everywhere you look.

Speaking of smiles, the service is delivered with big ones. Regrettably, however, the servers are bit off with the recos and even worse with clearing the plates, leaving us with more of a grimace.

The food, on the other hand, will have those corners spreading ear to ear. In fact, considering my expectations walking in, I couldn’t have left too much happier. My greatest joy coming in the form of an Ultimate Tuna Tartar (pictured) served over a bed of seaweed with a layer of avocado for creaminess, masago for saltiness, spicy mayo for heat, sesame seeds for texture, all topped with crispy crab for fucking awesomeness!

Also worth its weight in gold is the lemon coconut soup with shrimp, mussels, ginger, lemongrass and red curry. It’s perfect on a “cold” day (I use quotes because cold is obviously relative in Savannah) and just perfect in general. Might even be an Ultimate soup, still ruminating on that one.

The embarrassment of riches continued as Vault even served up one of the best stir-fry noodle dishes I’ve ever laid chopsticks on. The Nickel Noodles are a clinic on proportions and balance as the wide rice noodles hold up handsomely to the overloaded goodies within, like beef and shrimp, scallions and onions, bell peppers, egg and basil. Yummity Yum!

And making it rain in the Asian-Mex category were the FICO Fish tacos (see, it’s not just me with the money puns). Jazzed up with mango, cabbage, daikon, chipotle sauce and kimchi dressing.

But then, just like the market, things leveled off. The roasted duck dumplings, while very good, were decidedly more of this earth. As was the grilled calamari. And then, just like the market, things started sliding in the other direction, with a doughy miss, the steamed BBQ tofu buns. Which is crazy when you read what’s in them (spinach, shitakes, Szechuan glaze, Sriracha) – and yet all you taste is bun, bun, bun. Hard to believe the same restaurant made this.

Another pair of misses, per the aforementioned poor recos, are the desserts, which came highly recommended by the waiter compared to the lure of a trip to Leopold’s Ice Cream. Well, learn from our mistake and go to Leo’s. The key lime cake tasted like something you’d get on a plane and the pecan pie was way off balance with a meager dusting of pecans across the top and the rest all goop, whipped cream and crust.

Transgressions aside, The Vault is still a gem, albeit one knife shy of a diamond.

Reins New York Style Deli

435 Hartford TpkeVernon, CT 06066 • (860) 875-1344 • reinsdeli.com

Calling this place “New York Style” is either an affront to New York City or the loosest use of the word style since the 80’s.  Oh, and please don’t ask me why I was in Vernon, Connecticut. Also, don’t ask me why the Republicans have a headquarters in this strip mall, flanked only by minority businesses which Republicans are actively working to screw over in every way possible (love thy neighbor fail!). And whatever you do, do not ask me why there is a line out the door to eat here… granted I think I can surmise the answer to that last one, because I’m guessing the pickens are mighty slim in Vernon (the people, not so much).

The food is your very basic kosher deli fare. And I can only imagine that the reason this place is packing ‘em in is because these poor souls don’t know that Russ & Daughters has shipping (not to mention they don’t know Russ & Daughters, period).

But catty jibes aside, if your heart is set on this place, I vote for the corned beef Rueben (pictured). Easily the best thing I had. After that it’s a slippery slope with the pickles and the potato knish ranking in at decent, the latkes ranking at Jimmy Dean and the kugel at futile.

All of that said, once you wash it all down with a Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda who really cares? Am I right?

Le Turtle

177 Chrystie StNew York, NY 10002 • (646) 918-7189 • leturtle.fr

I am shell-shocked. Get it? But seriously, I was not expecting this place to be anywhere near as fantabulous as it was. Charming the pants off me from the moment I stepped through the door with its small, casual meets quaint dining room, down to Earth service and killer grub. Almost reminds me of Pearl & Ash (RIP), one of my top 5 favorites in the city.

So how did I love thee? Let me count the ways. One, the bread. I know it’s six friggin bucks, which is absolutely absurd, made only worse once you see what that six dollars actually buys you- a small hunk of bread with some weird, green spread next to it. But trust me, once you take a bite with that killer wasabi spread, your bitching and moaning will turn into patting yourself on the back and ordering seconds.

Another simple starter that will blow your socks off is the charred broccoli salad. So much depth of flavor and yet as basic as it gets. And speaking of basics, the classic Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) is nailed like Bob the Builder on meth with a twin-barrel nail gun and something to prove.

Better still was the oxtail risotto which was so rich it will probably benefit from Trump’s new tax cuts. Even the Whole Sasso Chicken (pictured) was quite impressive from flaming presentation to palate. Far more of a crowd-pleaser than Le Coq Rico, and half the price.

But as good as everything was, the best two things of the night were the scallops and the dorado. Both flawlessly cooked and magically prepared in a way that celebrated the flavors of the fish, while also showcasing the chef’s creativity and command of ingredients.

As we sailed toward the glorious promised land of five knives, sadly twas not to be as Le Turtle stumbled. The foie gras, while decent, comes with a stark warning – our waitress told us it was seared and it was actually terrine. Major issue for me and she should’ve comped the dish because I wouldn’t have ordered it had I known.

More egregious still, were the lame desserts of which they only offered two and neither were good. For shame! If you’re going to have such a small dessert menu at least make sure one of them is worth it! But hey, not even Lebron hits every shot, so I will not only forgive Le Turtle, I will return. As fast as a hare.

Scarpetta

355 W 14th StNew York, NY 10014 • (212) 691-0555 • scarpettarestaurants.com
 

Making many a blog’s hottest new haunts in the ole NYC, Scarpetta delivers on the adulation serving up some mighty fine Italian in a simple, classy dining room that is so loud you can barely hear your own “mmm’s”

Fortunately, I could still hear our waiter, who was Johnny on the spot with his recos. Including a phenomenal, velvety Morgan Boujelais that complemented everything from the baby tuna crudo, which was pretty great to the soft polenta with mushrooms and black truffles, which was “I don’t want to share” ridiculicious.

And then the short rib and bone marrow agnolotti (pictured) happened and everything in the world slowed down like a Planet Earth documentary. The ecstasy of every chew as palpable as plastering your blissful puss on the jumbotron in Times Square.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the black cod entrée served on a bed of caramelized fennel. It’s enough to make you want to fuck a fish.

Hell, this place even nails the basics, like their spaghetti with tomato and basil. So simple. So right.

Desert held strong as well, representing with a strong chocolate cake. In fact, the only miss (and a huge one at that) of the night came along its side in the form of one of the worst tart tatins I’ve ever laid teeth on.

But I forgive Scarpetta, because it handily restored my faith in the New York Italian restaurant scene. Again. #Blanca #Eataly #Carbone

Brick + Wood

1275 Post RdFairfield, CT 06824 • (203) 939-1400 • lovelifeandpizza.com

Mama Mia! I have to admit I was already pretty happy with the pies at Tarry Lodge in Westport, but after Brick & Wood I am a changed man. Granted Tarry is a lot easier to get into, because sadly Brick & Wood is no secret, which stands to reason once you sink your teeth into a slice of za (that’s pizza for all you non-Scrabble lovers out there). The sauce! The crust! So fresh and balanced and perfect. From plain to pepp and all the way up to fancy, like the GUMBA, billed in all-caps because it’s worth shouting about. Topped with a gorgonzola buratta (you read that correctly), that is so skillfully balanced so that the creaminess and stank live in harmony without either one overpowering the pie. A level of difficulty not to be taken for granted. Then they top it with spicy soppressata and cherry peppers to give some heat. Pair that up with a glass of their Troublemaker and you are indeed in trouble- or at least your waistline is.

Speaking of gut-busting good, the Kit Kat bread pudding is worth breaking your diet for. Hmm, perhaps that’s what they really mean with their “Gimmie a Break” jingle?

The only mortal dish of the lot, was the arugula salad with pecans and shaved parm. Which was still good, but a bit overdressed.

Also worth noting, service is very friendly and surprisingly on their game even amidst the rush. Which reminds me, they don’t take reservations so a word of advice if you don’t want to wait too long for a table, either go at an off hour or go as a couple and sit at the bar. Otherwise the wait will make you earn the meal. Fortunately, it’s very worth the wait.