IMARA

Eppendorfer Weg 186 – 20253 HamburgGermany • +49 40 42918080 • restaurant-imara.de
 

I found Imara to be surprisingly empty for a Friday night, because the Aladdin-esque vibe is actually kinda cool and the food, for the most part, is very good. It’s also a great place for large parties, particularly on short notice, primarily because few people know about it, I suppose?

On the flipside, I’m guessing the reason it’s so empty is the service- painfully slow on the drinks, yet painfully fast when it comes to the tapas- like eat or die fast! So, don’t be fooled by the size of the ginormous tables, because they disappear beneath an army of plates faster than you can say dankeshen.

The best things IMNSHO are the spicy shrimp (so good we ordered seconds… and thirds… and fourths… and I’m not exaggerating). Other crowd pleasers were the bacon wrapped dates and plum, the spinach rolls and the lamb rolls with yogurt sauce. I also dug the mini lamb tagines, forgiving the fact they weren’t served covered.

Misses for me were the horribly dry lamb kebabs and the lame bread with tapenade.

Lastly, I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention the bizarre urinal situation. And trust me, it’s not lost on me that this is the second time I’ve brought up urinals in my reviews of Hamburg restaurants alone, but bare with, because it’s worth it. You see, regardless of the fact that there are three urinals, you basically have to go one at a time unless you like touching strangers while you pee, because they are tightly nestled into a corner, so closely together that you’d have to be thinner than Trump’s alibi with Stormy Daniels to not be rubbing shoulder to shoulder with the dude next to you. Now THIS must be the real reason why the place is so empty!

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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.

Estadio

1520 14th St NW Washington, DC 20005 • (202) 319-1404 • estadio-dc.com
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Hey Estadio, the Spanish Inquisition called. They want their décor back. I kid Estadio because I actually like the place, but the décor really is a bit much with its giant throne seating and iron studded everything. I’m guessing Medieval Times must’ve had a yard sale or something. Boom!

Okay, I’m getting snarky, but to be fair, I did say “like” and not “love,” which means there is plenty of room for improvement in this mixed bag. For starters, the sangria was just okay, as was roughly half the menu. The jamon crostini, the pork croquettes, the grilled octopus and the short rib over horseradish mashed potatoes all falling into the land of not.

A notch above the ho-hum were the sizzling shrimp floating in a garlic olive oil that was bread-dipping good. Not great mind you.

But with so much meh, how could I still manage to like it, you ask? Because three dishes soared. The salmon crostini was fantastic, making the jamon look like the pig that it was and the foie gras scrambled eggs with black truffle butter served over toast was also a top two boxer, miraculously done in such a way that kept the flavors on the lighter side, so it was nowhere near as heavy as it sounds. Not that I’d recommend going jogging afterward, but it’s not a gut-bomb either. Just the bomb.

But the front-runner of the night was the crispy Brussels sprouts dish with pine nuts and bacon. They were so damn good they were damn near an Ultimate, tasting a lot like the prep you’ll find at All’onda in New York. In fact, they were so indisputable, that they’re probably about the only thing in DC that you could get a Democrat and a Republican to agree on.

3 teeth

Mi Casa

100 Dorado Beach Dr. Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646(787) 278-7217 • http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/dorado-beach/dining/mi-casa-by-jose-andres

Food by Chef Jose Andres for Mi Casa in Puerto Rico

I don’t mean to come off douchey, because no one needs a Douchey Foodie in their lives and let’s face it, a Ferocious one is already bad enough as is, but if you have the means, I highly recommend a vacation at the Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach Reserve. It is stunning on so many levels you won’t know whether to shit or go blind or just lie on the beach and gorge yourself full of deliciousness, like some wannabe Julius Caesar reincarnate. In fact, I could easily drop a thousand words waxing on about the spa alone, a four-acre, outdoor compound the likes of which you’ve never seen. But that’s for a different blog. So getting back on track, the thing that impressed me the most about Dorado (other than the spa) was the quality of the food at the restaurants, normally a challenge for even the ritziest of island retreats (pun intended).

Enlisting the help of famed chef, Jose Andres as their focal point in the dining scene, Dorado manages to stick the landing like Mary Lou Retton with rock climbing spike boots strapped to her feet, to use a self-dating sub-reference. And I don’t say this lightly, because truth be told, I’m actually not a huge fan of Jose. I typically find his cuisine too tricky for its own good, but Mi Casa is a home run (again, intended) way better than The Bazaar in LA.

Now it doesn’t hurt that we were sitting out on the balcony overlooking the Caribbean waves as they crashed into the rocks whilst a symphony of whistling tree frogs serenaded us, but the inside is nice as well. Just hard to compare to the alternative.

Starting with drinks, the Silver Lightning cocktail is quite nice and refreshing, although I don’t quite recall everything that was in it. Cucumber and a silver rum is about the best I can do. Apologies. I was on vacation, so hopefully you’ll find it your heart to forgive me. The wine selections by bottle and by glass are also impressive and service is pretty impeccable throughout 90% of the resort or more, and at Mi Casa it is no different. Waiters were attentive, elaborate with descriptions and knowledge of the menu and best of all, very forthcoming with the recommendations.

Of the recommends, we went with jamon sourced from black-footed pigs which are apparently only fed acorns. It gives the meat a nice underpinning of nuttiness, and the meat itself is very buttery, silky and delicious. On the downside, the tomato bread they serve it with doesn’t do the meat justice. Would love to see this paired with something more worthy, that actually compliments the flavors of the charcuterie more so.

The other reco we pounced on was the sauteed shrimp with arbol chili (similar to cayenne), poblano peppers, shallots and aged black garlic. It was phenomenal. So complex and layered with rich flavors that it might just be one of the best shrimp dishes I’ve ever had. Granted I’m usually just as happy with a good old shrimp cocktail and some kicking sauce, but that should take nothing away from this remarkable dish.

Our only zag from the recos were the Brussels sprouts, lightly sautéed and served up with dried apricots and a medley of other goodies. Unfortunately, this was the biggest miss of the night though, shame on us. Not that it was bad, but the sprouts were decidedly overpowered by the cots in a pretty big way.

For our entrée, wifey and I split the halibut, which was prepared flawlessly, served over a creamy leek purée that danced with the fish like a ballet in your mouth. The perfect light compromise should you want to save room for dessert, which you do. Trust me. Because it steals the show.

First let’s discuss the casa-shaped chocolate ganache, drizzled with flecks of salt and served up with spiced, candied hazelnuts and a heavenly praline ice cream. It is the richest house I’ve seen since the Breaker’s Mansion in Newport, RI. But as good as it was, the deconstructed key lime pie swooped in and bested it. So inventive with the pie on the bottom, a crumbled, crispy crust through the middle and a burnt meringue on top. So inventive. So magically delicious. But is it an Ultimate? Whoa, mamacita yes it is!

So bringing it home like a champ, Mi Casa is also bringing home 4 knives along with it.

4 teeth

Casa Mono

52 Irving Pl. New York, NY 10003(212) 253-2773 • casamononyc.com
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This little corner tapas charmer is located right in the heart of Irving Place, flanked on two sides by huge divided light windows, which fills the tiny dining room with sun. Feels like something you’d expect in The Village or Europe.

Of the small plates, we shared five and unfortunately Mono only hit on dos. The first being the bone marrow (pictured), which was done with capers and olives, giving it a nice, salty flavor, along with a little texture, to help cut through the buttery marrow. One of the more interesting bone marrow dishes I’ve had.

The other gem was a roasted rabbit with habanero sauce and yogurt, so delish I’d have to go back to Playboy or Bugs to find a bunny I enjoyed more. Playing with the elements between the heat and the cool creaminess of the yogurt, it really made every bite somethin’ somethin’.

For the misses, I would take a firm pass on the buratta with snap peas and bacon. It’s a watery mess that tastes more like cream soup than buratta. And considering how low the degree of difficulty is with buratta, I’m gonna have to say this was pretty damn god awful. Like trying to actually shoot fish in a barrel and blowing your foot off in the process.

And the other miss was the Polpo (octopus) with fennel and grapefruit. It wasn’t a shit show like the buratta, but it was definitely a calamity of proportions. So heavy on the fennel and a little too light on the puss. As a result, one might say the octopus was drowning in a sea of fennel. Oh, the irony (note to Alanis Morissette, this is actual irony, not coincidence or tragedy like everything in your song “Ironic,” which tragically helped to successfully misguide an entire generation as to the definition of the word. Okay, I’m done venting)!

Lastly, we went for an attempt at redemption, with my favorite dessert, bread pudding. Because I really wanted to give this place three knives (in my heart of hearts I did like it), but currently it was teetering on the edge of two after burratamaggeddon. Sadly, Mono’s chef screwed the pooch once again serving up a confused dessert that seemed like it was caught between wanting to be a peach crumble and bread pudding and didn’t really stick the landing on either.

So two knives it is, I’m sorry to say. And while Mono may be capable of spots of greatness, there are too many spots of a different color, to the point where one has to question whether or not the chef is just calling it in, or even worse, does the chef at Mono… have mono?

2 teeth

Manolo Tapas

4165 Broadway New York, NY 10033(212) 923-9100 • manolotapas.net
 
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I ate here right before going to an Adele concert across the street, and maybe it was the fact that I ate there right before going to an Adele concert that made everything seemingly taste better, but the food really did seem quite good.

We had a wide variety of tapas and just about everything was worth ordering again. The sangria, the serrano ham & manchego plate as well as the crab cake were all fantastic. The olives, potatoes and octopus were also solid. In fact, the only miss were the lamb stuffed piquillos, which was unfortunate because I had high hopes after all of the other successes, but the lamb was a little too mushy, more like sloppy joe, which cheapened the takeaway of the dish.

Service, decor and price were all great as well, adding to the draw. So, should you ever be in the same hood for a concert at the United Palace Theater, I would definitely recommend Manolo as part of your pregame, it’s a strong three knives.

3 teeth

Gato

324 Lafayette St. New York, NY 10012(212) 334-6400gatonyc.com

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Being that he is a millionaire several times over, it’s not like Bobby Flay needs my approval, but after Mesa Grill closed down in New York and Bar Americain should’ve never opened, I thought he lost it. Spread too thin between Throwdown, Iron Chef and Beat Bobby Flay. Well, apparently he found it again. In spades. Gato is purrrfect!

The décor walks that line between cool and casual, inviting and elegant, topped with great energy and phenomenal service. Not a morsel of attitude from host, to bartender to waiter. And very spot on with the recommendations, lining up three Ultimates and not a single miss amongst six plates and two drinks.

So let’s kick it off with the booze and an interesting wintery twist on sangria. Called Sangree, it’s made with Gamay, which is a black wine grape similar to Beaujolais, rye, orgeat (orangeflower water) and nutmeg. The other was a simple ole glass of red, but it was excellent. Ya gotta love it when the by-the-glass selections aren’t a consolation prize.

And while we’re on the subject of love, the roasted octopus with bacon, oregano and tangerine vinaigrette was so delicious I wanted to curl up in its tentacles and declare myself its bitch. But, the scrambled eggs with almond romesco, boucheron cheese and tomato confit toast were equally deft at sweeping me off my feet. So, suffice it to say that things began with an Ultimate love triangle.

Fortunately for me though, things started to taper off a hair from Ultimates-ville, otherwise my head might’ve exploded from bliss overload, like the guy in the movie Scanners. So on the merely fantastic side was the charred beef with blue cheese and broccoli rabe followed by the paella, which was very different from most, due to the absence of seafood, chicken or sausage. But even though it was entirely void of the usual suspects, this vegetarian version still managed to please. Especially as a nice complement next to the charred beef.

Perhaps the greatest reco of the night came next, the walnut brown butter cake, something I would’ve never ordered otherwise, especially with things like the tart tatin in contention (pictured). But I’m so glad I listened (for once), because head-to-head, the walnut easily reigned supreme and would be an ultimate if it weren’t for the fact that I don’t think I’ve ever had a walnut cake before, so it seems a bit unfair to crown it from a sampling of one. So TBD on that for now. What isn’t yet to be determined, however, is that Gato is the cat’s meow.

5 teeth

Boqueria

53 W 19th St. New York, NY 10011 • (212) 255-4160boquerianyc.com
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Tapas/Small Plates are all the rage these days, but Boqueria is one of the reasons for that. For the last seven years they’ve been killing it. With their very cool decor and contemporary twists on authentic tapas classics. A tad hit and miss, as most tapas usually is, but they are more hit than most.

Some hits are definitely the blistered shishito peppers and the dates stuffed with almonds and cheese, wrapped in bacon. Also, for brunch, their egg sandwich with chorizo is perfection!

Other dishes that are worthy, but not headliners, would be the spicy potatoes and the charcuterie. Skip the salt cod fitters.

P.S. They also have one in Soho and it’s every bit as good.

4 teeth

The Bazaar

465 South La Cienega Blvd. Beverly Hills, CA 90048(310) 246-5555 • thebazaar.com

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I know… Jose Andres… blah, blah, blah… Well, sorry to say it, but the décor/scene definitely steals the show. And it is quite the scene. Great people watching set amidst an extremely modernist take on a bazaar. But unfortunately you can’t eat those things, so if it’s food you seek, welcome to Russian Roulette. Everything is SOOO hit and miss- even the cocktails were a disappointment. And unfortunately I would say we only hit on about 20% of our selections. So for us I guess it was more miss and hit. My one reco would’ve been the foie gras cotton candy- yes, you heard right. So inventive and delicious, we put in a second order on the spot- good thing, otherwise we probably would’ve starved. But now for the rub, since California has banned foie gras, there’s absolutely zero reasons to go here anymore. Culinary speaking, of course.

2 teeth

Aldea

31 W 17th St. New York, NY 10011(212) 675-7223aldearestaurant.com

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Sometimes I think Michelin and I aren’t on the same page. I mean, sure the place is good. But great is pushing it. The service is painfully slow. Decor is fine. Nothing special. Clean. Simple. Modern.

But the food, it just never seemed to get to that next level of transcendent foodgasm status. And I had all of the signature recommended dishes.

That said, they started strong with an amuse bouche that rocked. But unfortunately I can’t even remember what it was, because it was followed by so many lesser bites, it drowned the memory on my taste buds.

The cured meats and cheeses, for example, I found to be less flavorful than anything you can buy at most decent delis worth their salt. For example, Eataly, just blocks away.

The octopus dish, while good, is easily bested by dishes at Taralucci e Vino, L&W Oyster Co. and Manzanilla. All in the same hood. And none of which have a “star.”

And the duck. The almighty duck (pictured above). The signature dish that has more hype than a Wes Anderson movie… Was just eh. I’ve had many a better duck dish at a host of places that also get no love from Michelin.

So, by the time dessert came, I was reluctant to press on. Partly because of the slow service, but also because I hate eating wasted calories. Meaning highly caloric without being highly awesome. But since everyone else got dessert, I caved and got the doughnuts (because of their RAVE reviews). And while texturally they are wonderful. Their flavor was again, just eh. And yes, I am about to list a bunch of places that do it better, many of whom do not have Michelin stars… Craft, Manzo, Rosa Mexicana & The Doughnut Plant.

In the word’s of Arnold Schwatzenegger on Opposite Day, “I will NOT be back.”

2 teeth