Alta

64 W 10th StNew York, NY 10011 • (212) 505-7777 • altarestaurant.com
Finally, a newbie with rave reviews that actually lives up to them! Yes, Alta is Al that (and a bucket of chicken). Set in a somewhat odd location for a tapas joint, an old Amish home (pictured). But, hey, if it works, don’t knock it.

In terms of the tapas itself, the hit ratio was most admirable. Going 10 of 12 with not one thing being bad and only two mehs. So let’s do role call, from best to mehs:

Top of the list has to go to the ridiculous parker house rolls with dill butter. So good you’ll wanna open a vein. Also muy delicioso are the bacon wrapped dates and olives (granted you could wrap garbage in bacon and I’d probably eat it), the scallops are money, the Brussels sprouts with green apple are inventive and much lighter than so many other sprout dishes getting love these days, and two different desserts, the sundae and the lemon tart also rounded out the best of the best. But there is an MVP from the meal that I feel compelled to give a shout-out to, the wine. The Morgon Beaujolais is phenom. This is now the second time I’ve had it (first at Scarpetta) and it is right up there with Prisoner, for those who are fans.

Now back to the food. A notch down toward very good, I would list the buratta with black truffles, the short rib with beet parpadelle and horseradish slaw and lastly, the warm chocolate cake.

Bringing up the rear would be the fried goat cheese with lavender honey. It’s clearly trying to do the Italian ricotta and honey thing, but misses significantly. The other non-starter, get it? Is the agnolotti with yam, shroom and cheese. As I caveated above, it wasn’t bad, but with so many other hits, it was surrounded by tough competition.

Speaking of, Alta is, or should be, some major competition next time you are planning to go out, because chances are, the place you’re thinking of going to isn’t as good. The name says it all. Alta is tops.

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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!

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.

BOHO

Merkez, Plaj Cd. No:7, 48990 Yalıkavak/Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey • +90 252 385 25 45 • boho.com.tr/boho/food-drink
80508484

The name sounds like an homage to a rodeo clown or something, but it is actually short for Bauhaus, and the way this new hotel is decorated it does that philosophy of design proud. The location doesn’t hurt either, situated on the water in Yalikavak along a charming pedestrian-only street that stretches for several blocks paralleling the shore.

Seated on the deck, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the cocktails somehow tasted exquisite, but to be fair, my judgment may have been askew due to the parched state I was in after waiting over 30 minutes for our drinks. So speed of service would not be listed in the plus column.

The food, however, is very much a plus, all small plates, packing big flavor (I’d show a better picture, but they are oddly cagey about such things). My favorites being the spicy octopus, which packs some serious kick and the pasta, which packs some serious Italian cred.

I also enjoyed the charcuterie and cheese as well as the olives, but those were a little more standard in the scheme of things.

If it weren’t for the service I’d probably consider 4 knives, but the only other thing I will say is that there wasn’t much of a crowd their either, unless you take into consideration the stray cats looming over you, waiting for you to finish.

3 teeth

 

Beauty & Essex

3708 S Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas, NV 89109 • (702) 737-0707 • beautyandessexlv.com

tuna_poke_wonton_tacos-0

Okay, so it’s not the real deal and merely a fabricated replica of the one in New York, but it is Vegas, which means pretty much everything is a fabricated replica of something else with the exception of sand. So put aside any delusions of authenticity and you will very likely find yourself as pleased as punch (let’s make that rum punch, after all, it is Vegas).

Located in the chic Cosmopolitan Hotel on the third floor (as opposed to Essex St. in Manhattan), you will find a pawnshop by the same name, which doubles as a speakeasy entrance through a nondescript turquoise door to the left of the counter. Upon entering you will find yourself swept into a time vortex landing you smack dab in the roaring twenties, complete with a brocade decor and twin, blond, 6-foot bombshell- flappers who cavort around the restaurant and bar along with a parade of burlesque hotties.

Surprisingly, this isn’t to distract you form the food, because almost everything was excellent. That said, it might be distracting to the servers, because I found the service to be a bit sloppy.

The excellent menu of which I speak is made up of shareable small plates, along with a decent list of cocktails and wine. And while most everything was good, there were a few dishes I would steer around such as the lobster roll, which was the only bad thing of the night, served on a warm bun, but filled with canned or even fake lobster meat. Not cool.

The other two dishes I would skip are not what I would call bad, but they don’t exactly pass mustard for me either. For example much better yellowtail sashimi in ponzu sauce with chili peppers can be found at Blue Ribbon Sushi in the very same hotel or at Sushi Roku down the strip. And the French Onion Soup Dumplings are nowhere near as good as the ones at Stanton Social in NYC, nor are they comparable to some of the other stars of the night.

But enough of the Debbie Downers and on to the stars, like both tartars- the steak and the tomato tartars are so good I don’t know which one I liked better and obviously very different from one another so it’s kind of hard to even compare them even though they are both “tartars.” They are also served differently, the steak is done more like a tartine and the tomato more like an hors d’oeuvres. Both, however, are worth doubling down on.

The bone marrow is also superb and only bested by one other dish for me, the Spicy Lamb Bolognese. Made with penne and some serious Italian game this pasta just might’ve been the best thing of the night- no, the best thing I had all week in Vegas. Not too shabby for twin, amazon, blond, bombshell, flappers. Can you tell they left an impression?

4 teeth

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

Emmer & Rye

51 Rainey St. Austin, TX 78701(512) 366-5530 • Emmerandrye.com Emmer-and-Rye-2015-Austin-restaurant-grain-salad_142903

Born from a French Laundry graduate and found on many a Best of Austin list, Emmer and Rye makes you earn your experience before you even arrive, proving to be quite the trek from the heart of town, located on the far fringe of the booze district, which makes it especially fun to walk to, passing a Mardi Gras-esque scene to get to your grub. But as off-putting as the journey is getting there, the setting is really quite lovely. Somewhere between chic and quaint, the décor nails it with rustic details like an herb garden out front, mixed with more contemporary elements like clean white subway tiles contrasted against oiled bronze hardware.

As for service, I’d like to say that it was great, because they were definitely friendly and accommodating, but when it came to their recommendations they seemed a bit out of touch. Also, while the dim sum cart concept starts off charming, it quickly turns extremely annoying because they are constantly interrupting you every two minutes, making it impossible to carry a conversation. Someone needs a rethink methinks.

Worse still, the intrusive dim sum went a miserable 1 for 4, the worst dish being the lamb tartar with green cherry tomatoes and charred fennel oil. It sounds as good as it looked with it’s beautiful crescent-shaped presentation, but texturally it was very chewy and it didn’t boast the kind of flavor one would hope. For more impressive raw flesh, try the Bison tartar at Spoon and Stable in Minneapolis. It rocks the wool off of Emmer & Rye’s. Then there were two completely unmemorable dishes in the middle and thankfully one resounding winner, which was not only the best dim sum of the night, but the best dish of the night. A green strawberry soup served in a meyer lemon sabayon. It might just be an ultimate for strawberry-kind.

As for things ordered off of the menu, I’ll work from high to low with the peak being the red fife spaghetti ‘Cacio E Pepe,’ made with Challerhocker cheese and chicory. Aptly referred to as an “adult mac & cheese,” it lives up to the description quite handily and deliciously.

After that I’d go with the soft polenta adorned with fermented mushrooms, fresh shiitake and mint marigold spuma (Italian soda). It’s definitely good, but I’m not sure if soft polenta is even capable of being bad.

I felt similarly about the burrata toast with straciatella, kale, mustard frill and black butter. A convoluted, self-indulgent chef’s (Kevin Fink) attempt to make something unique out of a dish that would’ve been every bit as good, if not better, had he just kept it simple.

So after a myriad of mediocrity I decided to skip dessert in favor of one last spoonful from the bowl of green strawberry soup. So good.

2 teeth

Odd Duck

1201 S Lamar Blvd. Austin, TX 78704 • (512) 433-6514 oddduckaustin.com

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I was in town for SXSW and had heard that Austin had some serious culinary game, so after doing copious amounts of recon before our travels, I came upon one recurring must, the Odd Duck. Over and over people said it was hands down the hottest, bestest place in townest. And being the little instigator that I am, I just had to waltz on over there packing chips on both shoulders.

Inside the duck, the décor is very casual, with not much to it, yet just enough cues to make it feel somewhat cool and contemporary, although I can’t honestly say why I felt this way. I just sensed it. Maybe it was our server, who started off with a chip or two on his shoulders as well, wanting to prove to the Yankee scum before him that Austin has skillz. Well, sadly he won, because these small plates packed some big flavor.

Starting things off, we enjoyed the goat brie with jam, a white balsamic syrup and multi grain crackers. It is bone simple and bone delicious. It can also be found on the dessert menu, depending on how you roll with the fromage.

After the strong start, however, it was followed up by two of the weakest dishes of the night, the sweet potato and the pig face buns. The pig face was rapped inside a Parker house roll sitting in a pool of mustard and it wound up tasting a lot like a pastrami sandwich from a kosher deli. Good, but not at the level of anything else we had. And while the sweet potato was also fine, with its green chile, nacho spice and fried skins, I’m really not gonna get into it, because we have bigger and better dishes to get to.

At the tippy top, an Ultimate two times over, was the jerk spiced pork belly, served over a cheddar rice cake and complemented with the genius addition of fresh strawberries, giving it a pop of sweetness to accent the heat, along with a little moisture to quench the fire. It was ire mon!

Another fantastic dish was the duck fat fried rice (duck had to be on the menu somewhere, right?) loaded with goodies like a soft egg that oozed all through the rice, Brussels sprouts, chile and ez cheese, which I am so conflicted about I can’t even tell you, but it was so good that when I later die from it, I need to go back and re-read this review to remind myself that it was worth it.

Keeping the interesting coming, the braised goat with masa (tortilla dough) , queso fresco, peanut pipian (a sauce typically found in Mexican food) and lime mayo was such a genius blend of Middle Eastern and Mexican flavors.

Now, after such artistry and inventiveness, I had to double down on dessert going with the sensational cream filled donut brightened with orange, sweetened with honey, dusted with pistachio and bested by no one. Yes, Doughnut Plant and Peter Pan, you just got served!

But as good as that donut was, the second dessert was every diet’s worst nightmare. A pear butter cake made with bran, pecans and topped with vanilla bean ice cream. It was moist and dense and packed with so much yumminess, it was as if every pecan in the state of Texas were summoned into this little, round disc of delicious.

Easily the best meal I had in Austin and a very Texas-big four knives.

4 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

Chappaqua Station

1 Station Plaza Chappaqua, NY 10514 • 914-861-8001 • chappaquastation.com

5-2

I’ll give the place an A for effort, but sadly the exchange rate of A’s to knives isn’t a favorable one. But before leaping all the way to the end, let’s discuss how we got there.

Located in the Chappaqua train station, as the uninventive name suggests, it seems to be taking a page out of like-minded restaurants (Via Vanti & Iron Horse) both one stop up and down on the Harlem line. That said, CTS is more of a bar with small plates. The wine selection is rather thin, however, whereas the cocktails go much deeper, which is strange for a place that sports a menu predominantly made up of charcuterie and cheese.

Also strange is the décor, if you can call it that. Basically all they did was stick a big bar (pictured) in the middle of the room and tables around it (albeit the space was already nice as is, I suppose). Then, they converted the café next to the main room into the kitchen, if you can call it that as well. More of a prep area if you ask me. And considering you’re on my blog it would appear you are asking. Oh, and one more thing. The seemingly intimate back right corner by the velvet red curtain is anything but. DO NOT SIT THERE. On the other side of the curtain is wait station where they will come and go repeatedly carrying dirty vats of water and other undesirable cargo.

Service is a variation on the Bar Taco method, using a check box menu, but somehow less fun and a touch cheap, because CTS uses laminated cards and red Sharpie’s. Also not helping the cheap vibe is the use of paper plates.

Among the small plates, the best things by far were the wine and cheese/charcuterie, but that’s not to say that even that was good. More passable than anything. The cheeses out shining the meat, even with such hopefuls as salami with pistachios and lemon zest, or the even more underwhelming salami with coriander and chili. On the cheese side, we went camembert, Vermont cheddar and bleu, and all three were solid. And while they surround the board with goodies such as jam, mustard, candied nuts and grapes, it does little to mask the failings of flavor.

Speaking of fails, the di parma, basil, tomato and mozzarella flatbread is not even on par with Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza! Not that I’ve had it in nearly three decades, but I ate a shit-ton as a kid. But saving the flatbread from the dubious distinction of the low point, dessert swooped in with an apple pie so bad we didn’t have more than a bite or two. Instead we focused our efforts on the Sherry B’s vanilla ice cream on top.

So not a great showing, but not entirely a train-wreck either. I look forward to them upping their game. And hopefully the MTA does the same.

2 teeth