Aqua

The Westin Tampa Bay 7627 Courtney Campbell Causeway Tampa, FL 33607(813) 675-8700 • aquatampa.com

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Located in the Westin Hotel, and on the water (as the name suggests), this restaurant manages to pack a few surprises ranging from sushi, which one might expect based on its affiliation with the H2O, all the way to flatbread, which has very little to do with water by my estimation.

The first surprise coming in the form of a California roll. And probably one of the best I’ve ever had, mostly because the crab wasn’t that canned shit. Or that fake crap either. Oh no, they go for the real deal and you can definitely taste the fingerprint of the ocean in every morsel. Along with fresh avocado, cucumber and flying fish roe.

The Tuscan flat bread was also a winner, proving to be more well balanced than one might expect, topped with artichokes, grilled onions, asparagus, and oven-dried tomatoes, all smothered in mozzarella and sauced with a bright, basil pesto.

Then the missteps waltzed in, like the brioche crusted mahi. The crust is so overpowering that I had to scrape it off, just so I could actually taste the fish. Also, the fregola couscous and spiced red pepper puree do little for the dish as well. That said, don’t miss the watercress and pumpkin salad to the side. That’s the real star on the plate. I recommend pealing off the crust and pairing up some of that salad with every bite and you’ll be a much happier camper. Or take the easy way out and just order the scallops.

The scallops where prepared in a dark, almost squid ink-like sauce, and paired up with a wonderful mound of spicy-ass Thai black rice. Me like.

We closed with a bowl of begniets, drizzled with ribbons of chocolate and dusted with confectioner’s sugar. They are nothing spectacular, but they do get by on the simple fact that they are fried dough. That said, if you are looking for more from your dessert, look elsewhere.

So I’m gonna go out on a rare, kind-hearted limb here and give it three knives, by in large due to my lowered expectations… and the fact that I had a few too many glasses of Sonoma-Cutrer Chardonnay, which I normally don’t even like as a grape. Who knew? But deep down, I really do want to give Aqua only two knives in my heart of hearts, because of the major miss on the mahi, the unintentionally cheesy Miami Vice decor and the service, which is slim shady, calling the soy sauce that came with our sushi “teriyaki” and not knowing a single alcohol they had at the bar.

3 teeth

The John Dory Oyster Bar

1196 Broadway New York, NY 10001(212) 792-9000 •  thejohndory.com

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After having read that they offer the best whole fish in the city, I have to say I was a bit miffed when I got there and there was no such option to be found anywhere on the menu. Which is especially effed up when you have a name like John Dory and you don’t even serve the damn fish! But as deflated as I was by the “bait and switch,” I quickly perked back up when the oysters hit the table. Six East Coast, six west coast and all twelve were awesome. Fresh, not too briny. Shucked by pros, so not a shell fragment to be seen and served up with a genius jalapeno mignonette. Horseradish was also in the house, but no cocktail sauce or vinegar. And I gotta say, neither were missed, because both options really let the mollusks shine, without overpowering them.

Having nearly forgotten all about whole fish-maggeddon, the distractions continued with the Spanish mackerel crudo served in a cup of squid crackling and spiced chili. It was quite fabulous. So much so that I started to question the 3 star yelp consensus (not that it’s the first time, of course).

And that’s when the entrees arrived and things started to make more sense. The octopus, while good, didn’t quite reach great, and even at its best, was only made so with yummy additions like Bottarga, olives and the potatoes, which were surprisingly key for this dish. On the other hand, there was no saving the Beer, Lamb & Clam. Great name, but that’s about the nicest thing I can say for it. It’s basically a bowl of steamed clams with a crushed tomato sauce that vaguely resembles notes of beer.

For dessert, the sticky toffee pudding is quite good, reminding me a bit of the one you’ll find one block over at L&W Oyster Co. Granted it’s bigger, just not better. And therein lies the rub, with L&W so close by, I’m not sure I’d pick the John Dory over it 9 times out of 10. But if you’re craving a change of pace, it’s pouring rain or freezing cold and every block matters, or you simply can’t get a table at L&W, then I say jump in with both feet. You could do a helluva lot worse.

3 teeth

Fred L’Ecallier

Place de l’Etang, Cannes, France • 0493431585 • http://www.fredlecailler.com/#_=_
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If you’re staying in the heart of Cannes, it’s a bit of a hike on foot, but it’ll be worth it on your way back, because you’ll want to burn off the mounds of food you are likely to consume. Not that the food is that heavy, it’s more a result of everything looking so damn good and tasting as good as it looks. So before you know it, you’ve ordered enough seafood to deplete the Mediterranean Sea, from bountiful whole fish to shellfish and everything in between, it’s sort of like Astoux & Brun in that regard, but with much better décor.

Speaking of, this is perhaps my favorite reason for making the trek to Fred, for the setting. You sit in a secluded, yet expansive garden, with a delightful wooden trellis overhead, set away from the street, so there’s no such thing as a bad table- unless you have to sit inside due to rain, I suppose. Not that the inside is atrocious, but compared to the alternative, there’s no contest.

Service is also hard to compete with, because they are shockingly warm and friendly, and I’m not just saying that as a stereotypical dig on the French. There is just so much pride in their restaurant that you can’t help but love them for it. Not snooty pride though, sincere pride. Like it’s their baby. And whoa baby is it something to be proud of.

4 teeth

Herringbone

1755 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 971-4460herringboneeats.com

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I struggle a bit to understand this one. The wait to get in is almost as big as the dinning room, which is so cavernous it’s almost to the point of making it feel like a Rain Forest Café, but for seafood. And while it is done far more tastefully (not saying much), with touches like the puffer fish tree at the foyer or the various nautical elements at every starboard turn, it can’t help escape the vibe that it’s a chain. Yet within chain-dom, there are obviously good chains and bad chains and Herringbone definitely falls in the better camp of the two. But to be fair, a chain is still a chain at the end of the day, so leave your expectations at the door, after all, it will have to wait for a table like everyone else.

To start, I opted for the Grow a Pear cocktail made with jalapeno, gin and cucumber. It was refreshing and light enough to go with anything on the menu. And I put that theory to the test, trying it with a host of starters, my favorite being the heirloom tomato salad, which I found to be the best thing of the night (not good for a “seafood” restaurant). Made with perfectly ripened orbs of red, sprinkled with herbs, drizzled with olive oil and complemented by fresh, creamy chunks of mozzarella, caprese style.

The whole fish ceviche (pictured) was also nice, but mostly as a result of its novel prep, in whole fish form. The flavor of it, however was a little par for the course and nothing exceedingly fresh either.

Working our way from good to meh, the Buffalo octopus was just okay for me. Decent Buffalo flavor, but the pus itself was overcooked. Also could’ve been a bit spicier if you ask me.

But the worst by far was the Baja crab, or should I say Baja crap. Don’t let your waiter try a peddle this loser dish on you. It tastes like overcooked rice speckled with shreds of canned crab and a few squirts of Tabasco.

For my entrée, the scallops were passable, but not very well balanced because after three scallops in, I found that I had finished all of the surrounding goodies, leaving me with one scallop abandon on the plate.

Just as the ship appeared to be sinking, however, somehow Herringbone managed to raise the Titanic with their wonderful lemon poppy begniets. Kept light by the lemon. Kept awesome by the contrast of hot and cold with the addition of ice cream. But as great as the bookends were, the laggards in the middle cost this place dearly.

2 teeth

Four Ways

1 Middle Rd, Bermuda • +1 441-236-6517 • http://www.fourwaysinn.com

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I know this place is a historic icon, but I can actually think of about five ways it’s overrated. The first being the “elegant décor.” Yes, if you’re idea of elegance hasn’t changed since the 70’s. Second would be the top billing as the best restaurant in Bermuda. I actually enjoyed myself more at the Swizzle Inn and the Ariel Sands restaurant.

Third would be the “award-winning chef,” which is just about the most over-used claim at restaurants apart from “heirloom” and “homemade.” That latter one being a major pet peeve of mine, because if you make it at a place of business and not in an actual home, then it’s “restaurant-made” isn’t it? Just like almost everything else at most restaurants. But back to the “awards.” What awards are we talking here? James Beard? Best of Bermuda? Or third place at a local bake off? Which is technically still an award won, and thus my gripe with the term. Don’t tell me he’s award-winning, tell me which award he won. Otherwise I’m just going to assume he won it for bowling. After all, you didn’t say the award had anything to do with his culinary skill.

And that brings me to the fourth way, the food itself. It’s not anywhere near as impressive as the swoons you’ll read on Tripadvisor. The fish was overcooked and dried out. The dishes were over-complicated and trying way too hard to impress. I’ll just chalk it up to the fact that most people think things taste better on vacation.

While I’m at it, I’ll also chalk up the fifth way, price. Thank god I ate here on an expense account, because the food simply doesn’t live up to the wallet-syphoning cost, which is made only worse by the exchange rate, the island mark-up and the fact that lobster is used in almost every dish except the desserts.

2 teeth

Ariel Sands

34 Shore Road Devonshire P.O. Box 334 Hamilton HM BX, Bermuda • +1 441-236-1010 • arielsands.com

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The hotel is owned in part by the Douglas family. As in Michael Douglas. As in the actor. As in why you’ll see photos of him and Catherine Zeta Jones on the walls around the hotel and all over the website. But don’t let that sway you into thinking this place is a Hollywood gimmick. It’s actually quite charming and dare I say, a bit understated. It’s also very authentic, with it’s colorful, icing-topped bungalows.

But posh it isn’t, so should you choose to stay here, don’t expect anything glorious. Scratch that. Don’t expect anything glorious from the hotel. The restaurant, however serves up a glorious codfish and potato breakfast (pictured). It looks bizarre, no doubt, but somehow it all just works, especially when you mix it all together into a crazy delicious mush complete with spicy tomatoes, avocado and onions.

Unfortunately that was the only meal I had here though, so I can’t speak about much else on the menu. But even so, l will say that it was the best meal I’ve had in Bermuda, both trips combine (which includes a dinner at the widely acclaimed Four Ways), and all meal occasions considered. But don’t just take it from me, take it from the highly aggressive sparrows that will try to steal it right off of your plate should you dare let down your guard between bites.

Oh, the ocean view from the restaurant is mighty impressive as well.

4 teeth

 

Lunch

1980 Montauk Hwy. Amagansett, NY 11930 • (631) 267-3740 lobsterroll.com

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If you’re watching The Affair on HBO, this is the place that the lead actress, Ruth Wilson, works at as a waitress. And while there is significantly less drama in the restaurant than on the show, the place is better than the tourist trap you might think it is, and I’m not just saying that because it’s an icon of the Montauk-Hampton scene. The lobster rolls (pictured) are solid and the beer on tap is on point.

The setting is also on point. Still charming as all hell with its authentic, 50 year old beach shack vibe, located on the side of a sparsely settled stretch of road with nothing around you but dunes and their bright blue sign. And while I can’t say that the name is a tour de force of creativity, it goes nicely with the no frills personality. Which in turn goes nicely with flip-flops, board shorts and a bushel of mussels.

They have droves of other seafood food options as well, although I haven’t had any of them, always opting for the tired and true. And if someone in your party is bringing down the party, rest assured they have burgers and chicken, etc… for those who don’t dig the oceanic bounty.

3 teeth

Lure Fishbar

142 Mercer St. New York, NY 10012(212) 431-7676 lurefishbar.com

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I was debating whether or not to lead with a photo of their food or of their decor, but in truth there really is no contest as to which is more impressive, hence the photo above. It’s almost as if they built a restaurant using parts from the boat in the movie “On Golden Pond.” Just gorgeous. But sadly that’s close to about it in terms of plusses- well, that and it’s location, right in the heart of prime Soho shopping.

And while the Yelpers may swoon, I have to scratch my head, because the food simply doesn’t hold up to the adulation. For example, the lobster roll is an eye roll, paling in comparison to places like Pearl, Luke’s, Mermaid Inn and Red Hook. And the other dishes weren’t much better, or perhaps even worse, because they were so unmemorable as I can’t even recall what else we had- only that it was more of blah, and enough blah to form a solid opinion that we would rather eat at any of the other dozen or so places in Soho that we love. Guess the name should’ve been a dead giveaway, lure’s are inherently shiny, attractive objects, but when you bite into them, well, you get screwed.

P.S. The sister restaurant Burger & Barrel is much, MUCH better.

2 teeth

Anthony’s

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – Central Terminal • 17801 International Blvd. Seattle, WA 98158 •  (206) 431-3000anthonys.com

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If you need a bite to eat in the Seattle Airport look no further than Anthony’s. Not that you could look any further, because the facade of this place is so massive it’s almost impossible to see around it. But as sprawling as this restaurant is, this juggernaut still manages to pack ‘em in. Not an empty seat in the palatial dining room. But fear not, because this place turns over its wait list like a famine is coming. And yet somehow the service doesn’t suffer either, well, at least not in terms of speed. You’ll have to take a rain check on the warm and fuzzies though, because this waitstaff is all business. And so is the kitchen, spitting out plate after plate like a well-oiled fish taco machine.

And those tacos (pictured) are actually pretty darn good. We split the grilled Mahi and the blackened halibut and both were solid. Two tacos per order (on a corn or flour tortilla depending on which you fancy) with sizable slabs of fish in them. No skimping here. I also recommend adding avocado and salsa, not to mention Tabasco sauce. They’re not viscerally wow inducing, but for an airport, you’d have to be a heartless bastard not to be impressed.

Our waitress was strong with the upsell as well, convincing me to bite on the lure of a New England clam chowder cup (because let’s be serious for a second, Manhattan style isn’t even an option). The soup was surprisingly good. The clam really popped through the cream, as did the other seasonings, making it one of the better cups I’ve had, especially being that I was so far from the homeland.

Upselling me again (either she was really good, or I’m really easy), I also bit on their old fashioned strawberry shortcake, which proved to be excellent. The shortcake struck that perfect balance between crunchy and moist, and the local Washington strawberries were bursting with fresh-picked flavor. Even the cream was spot on. Clearly homemade and not overly sweet. It might just be the best strawberry shortcake I’ve ever had. I know, I’m conflicted about it too.

And last but not least, the prawn Bloody Mary was tall, spicy, Ketel One-y and prawny. Just the way I like it. The spicy tomato concoction almost acting as cocktail sauce for the prawn garnish.

An all-around impressive, airport food showing Anthony. Bravo sir. Bravo. Consider the below a very strong three.

3 teeth

Cull & Pistol

75 Ninth Ave. New York, NY 10011(646) 568-1223 • cullandpistol.com

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Can I just say how much I love Chelsea Market? I mean as a foodie it’s like a dream in mall form. Fish markets, Italian markets, spice markets, meat markets, bakeries and restaurants lined up like culinary wishes come true. It’s a bit like Faneuil Hall in Boston, only cooler and less touristy. Not to mention less food courty. If you haven’t been you really need to take a stroll. And if you have been, but haven’t tried one of the restaurants yet, well, you need to do that too (Hale & Hearty Soups withstanding).

I did just that very recently at Cull & Pistol and I have to say, I was pleased & delighted. The vibe is fish shack chic and the service is surprisingly warm and friendly for NYC, from door to table and back again. Not many tables though, so I recommend making a rezzy or going at an off-hour.

Impressing the palate were some of the freshest oysters I think I’ve ever had. Granted I suppose it shouldn’t be that surprising considering they are affiliated with the Lobster Place fish market next door. That said, I didn’t think they had as huge a selection as some other joints in town, but I think they are playing it for quality not quantity and quality they were. My favorite being from Osterville, MA funny enough, which is near and dear to my heart for other reasons as well, I spent many a summer there over the years.

If you don’t dig on the raw variety, however, I highly recommend their fried option, called Pistols on Horseback. Three fried oysters wrapped in prosciutto with crème fraíche and chives sitting atop a mini tortillas. I’m not sure why the name, but I’m pretty damn sure you’ll like ‘em.

The grilled octopus was one of the weaker dishes IMO, but most certainly not bad. Perhaps it’s more due to the fact that I’ve had some pretty astounding plates of pus lately and this was not amongst them.

For the main course I went right into the eye of the storm, ordering the highly acclaimed Connecticut Lobster Roll (pictured), well-knowing that head-to-head with Red Hook Lobster Pound this would most likely pale, and pale it did. Again, most definitely not bad by any distortion of logic, in fact, it was actually very good, but it’s also no Ultimate.

And for dessert, C&P ended strong with a very tasty slice of lemon meringue pie. Not too sweet, with that perfect punch of tartness, which is just how I like it. And like it I did, from the first bit to the last… and from Cull to Pistol… not that I have any idea what that even means.

3 teeth