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.

Advertisements

Witwenbull

Weidenallee 20 – 20357 HamburgGermany • 49 40 53630085 • witwenball.com
 

I’m gonna have to say Witwenbull was probably my favorite all around dining experience in Hamburg. The setting is very nice, without being fancy. Walking that perfect line between casual and dressy. Service is very good as well, particularly with the wine recos, starting with the mostcomplex Reisling I’ve ever laid lips on, to a wonderful German dessert wine that I can’t even begin to figure out how to spell, but I’m pretty sure there were umlauts. 

The food had a strong showing as well, particularly on the bookends. For apps, the eggplant caponatta is fantabulous. Topped with a killer, creamy buratta and given texture and sweetness with cashews and raisins. Dessert was perhaps even more impressive though, a simple crepe suzette and a thing of beauty, paired up with that aforementioned dessert wine and you’ve got a duo the likes of George and Gracie. 

Unfortunately, the entrée was a pretty big miss for me, and I use the word “big” intentionally, because the pork belly was enormous, which at first probably has you saying- “But FF, how could a ton of pork belly ever be a bad thing? Isn’t more of what you love always better?” Well,  I’m not sure I agree. Some things are better in moderation. And pork belly is just inherently one of those things, which is why you always see it as a starter and seldom a main, which is why I blame myself for this, because I should’ve been wary of it listed under entrées. Foolishly I thought it would be smaller, but it was ginormous. Worse still, it also had bone fragments in half of it, which was a bizarre first for me. The flavor was still good, however, and just good enough to eke out a fourth knife. 

Café Paris

Rathausstr. 4 – 20095 HamburgGermany • +49 40 32527777 • cafeparis.net
 
 If it weren’t for the weather, Hamburg would easily be the Paris (or Venice) of Germany. It’s absolutely stunning with its lakes and canals and bridges everywhere. The architecture and the steeples strewn across its skyline. And clinching the deal are charming little haunts such as this, stolen virtually right off the streets of Paris and plopped squarely in the heart of town.

 

The ceiling alone will make you smile (pictured) and the vibe lives up to the name quite faithfully. As do the baguette and croissants. The cappuccino and oj are solid too. But should you veer too far from the French fare, the wheels quickly start coming off.

 

The English Breakfast is made with relatively bland eggs, bacon and beans and is just okay. Worse still is the American, which is a chewy pancake served with syrup and peanut butter. It’s inedible. But it stands to reason, since Parisians probably think this is what most Americans actually eat. Well shame on you Pierre, because it just cost you a knife. And not because I’m exacting revenge as a petty American. It’s because I’m exacting revenge for punitive damages on my mouth.

 

Also shame on me, I suppose, because when in Paris, one should order like a Parisian. Do so and you’ll do magnifique!

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.

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.

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!”

The Cottage

256 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-3701 • thecottagewestport.com

Oh dear my! This place is so friggin’ good it has me talking like an old lady from a Merchant Ivory flick. And I know it sounds crazy skeptical for such a snooty foodie to be dropping yet another 5 knifer in a small suburban town like Westport, but you’ve gotta taste it to believe it. Because it’s not me or my standards that have changed, it’s the game that has changed, and for whatever reason this tiny community of 26,000 has game out the wazoo, hence why I moved here.

Starting with good juju, The Cottage takes the place of another fantabulous restaurant, Le Farm (RIP). But as much as I would like to get all misty-eyed over its passing, The Cottage not only stepped in and carried that torch, they did it with the precision of a gold-medal-winning baton exchange. And then they threw a bucket of lighter fluid on the thing, because hot damn does this place burn bright!

Inside, it doesn’t look like they changed much in terms of the former digs. It’s still quaint and a touch rustic. In fact, many of the tables are so uneven I’d place your wine glass with caution or it’s likely to wind up on the floor.

Speaking of wine, they have a small, but decent selection. We went with the Tensley Syrah and it was perfect with our equally perfect meal. That said, if you’re fancying a cocktail instead, Cottage has skills there too.

Amongst the perfection, the Kushi oysters are my favorite way to start. They are light, sweet, refreshing and palate-cleansing. Not to mention friggin’ delicious with that ginger-yuzo mignonette! Plus, the town of Westport has a seafood vibe about it and this dish honors that swimmingly. Pun intended.

But to be fair, I’ve never had a Kushi I didn’t like. So, for appetizers that are more illustrative of the chef’s prowess, I’d say the crab toast is about as good as it gets, besting the already exemplary version at The Whelk and landing itself a firm Ultimate.

Even as good as the crab toast is, the scallion pancake, AKA “Okonomiyakia,” is every bit its equal. Made with pork belly and black garlic molasses.

And I’m not even remotely done yet with my swooning, because the seared foie gras with pineapple, crispy prosciutto, smoked macadamia nuts and butter toast blows them all away. In fact, it was so life-changingly good that my wife overcame her long-standing principles and said, “Ya know what? Fuck those geese,” as she sopped it up with that crack-tastic toast!

Another starter on the more decadent end of the spectrum would be the build-your-own wagyu beef buns. They are redonkulous! Served with a sriracha aioli, kimchi and thick-ass duck fat potato fries. Hells yeah!

The only mortal starter that I’ve found there is the fluke sashimi. It’s simply not worth your time compared to all of the other gems on the menu. And sure, they try to doll it up with habanero oil, pickled avocado, carrot and ginger ponzu, but the result is still the same. Pass.

Sadly, I am less experienced with their entrees, because I keep filling up on all of their damn, tempting-ass starters. But the one I did try was fantabulous. The duck fried rice is a thing of beauty, dressed with bok choy, maitake mushrooms and a sunny quail egg that mixes into the rice, complementing the savory duck meat like salt to caramel.

Speaking of sweets, The Cottage doesn’t let up there either. The Pavlova lives up to its name, making you drool like the dog you are and the bread pudding, as well as the dark chocolate pie, are like edible exclamation points at the end of a flawlessly written story.

Neat

6 Wilton Rd. Westport, CT 06880(203) 557-8955 neatwestport.com

images

 

Breakfast all day? All right! Damn, I love Westport. And as if I needed yet another reason to want to move there, they go ahead and open yet another great restaurant. Cute to the core and serving up the best chai latte I’ve ever had. More foamy than Cujo’s mouth, yet still piping hot and spiced to the brim with cinnamon, fennel, star anise, peppercorn, nutmeg and cloves. So good. As is their fresh squeezed OJ, enough so to make even a Florida boy like me happy.

Of the breakfast fare my favorite thing on the menu was the ciabatta BLT, which is also a nice go-to if you should want a more lunch-y option. The other dish I was digging was the trio of Egg soufflés, granted I would just go with three of the sundried tomato and burrata. Trust me. Skip the plain. And while the bacon would seem like it would be worth it, it’s not. If you want bacon then get the BLT.

The waffles are also solid if you’re craving something sweet. And if “kosher” is your thang, then the pretzel bagel with pastrami salmon has you covered. That said, I did find it to be a wannabe Pastrami Russ from Russ & Daughters, and while it’s definitely good, it falls very short of its mentor. Mostly because the bagel is pretty sub par. What is on par is the net, net. Worthy of a strong four.

4 teeth

 

Chez VIncent et Nicolas

92 rue Meynadier 06400 Cannes, France+33 4 93 68 35 39 chezvincentetnicolas.fr

ls

Just before the bottom of the hill on the main drag in Old Cannes, there is a little alley to the left or right depending on which direction you’re heading, and within that alley you will find three more restaurants tucked away from view. Now I can’t speak about the other two, but Chez Vincent was a nice find indeed.

The night started off with a great bottle of Syrah and very friendly service, and as for the meal, it started off with a gooey, baked Camembert served with sliced green apples and toast. Unfortunately the apples were sliced razor thin and didn’t hold up to the cheese at all. Also, the toast was actually a bit stale. Fortunately, the baguette in the breadbasket was incredibly fresh, so we used that to sop up the cheese instead and it was nummy, nummy.

We also did the scallops wrapped in bacon, which is an oldy but a goody. And finally another classic starter, a whole artichoke served with Dijon for dipping. Both were also very good, but nothing game-changing.

For entrees it was a mixed bag. My mushroom and chicken risotto being extraordinary, the elbow pasta being interesting and the salmon tartar being a touch bland as the fish itself was overpowered by the dill and onion within. And while the French fries served with it were quite soggy, they were actually the best thing about the tartar. That said, if you want the fries without the salmon, I’d suggest going with the burger. It looked crazy good. As did the moules frites (pictured).

And speaking of crazy good, the tart tatin for dessert is another must get, nearly equal to the risotto and between the two enough to have me flirting with the thought of 4 knives. Unfortunately the dessert medley was not-so fantastic, keeping things firmly supplanted at three.

3 teeth

La Mirabelle

24 rue St Antoine 06400 Cannes, France • +33 4 93 38 72 75

mirabelle-la

Located on the main drag in Old Cannes, I had actually eaten here many years ago and while I vaguely remember what I had to eat, I do recall that I drank a  wonderful bottle of Chateau Margaux. And funny enough, I also remember sitting downstairs in “the cave.”

This time we sat upstairs, however, in the cozy little dining room right by the bar in front of the kitchen where you get to witness all sorts of interesting theater play out before you. For example, just watching the waiters try and squeeze their way out through the spring door with trays full of food, whilst also navigating their footing on a tight spiral staircase leading down from the kitchen upstairs is almost as nail-biting as watching Danny MacAskill ride his bike on the precarious railing of a skyscraper.

The other thing that makes this a front row seat worth getting is that you will see all of the dishes on the menu before you order them, like the cote de boeuf, which looks like it is off the charts and only slightly smaller than the slab of cow Rocky Balboa used to train on. And then there’s the dorade, which we had and I must admit was very good. But a word of caution, both of those dishes are humongous and require sharing. So if you prefer an entrée all to your self, I definitely recommend the burger, served on a brioche bun, smothered in mushrooms, duck jus and black truffles. And while I found the burger meat to be somewhat mediocre and a little on the overcooked side for my tastes, the flavors were insane. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had better black truffles anywhere. So good, that I want to go and high-five the pig who sniffed them out.

The appetizers, conversely, were more like unappetizers and unfortunately so was the less than wonderful bottle of red this go around. I found the bread to be stale and the fried zucchini flower salad a bit tasteless. Even the caprese was nowhere near as good as the one I had earlier in the same day aboard a yacht. And while I don’t review yachts as of yet, should you ever be so lucky as to find yourself aboard the Grenedines III, ask for the caprese. It’s ridic. Oh, and yes, I am a complete and total douche for just name-dropping a friggin’ yacht. But as Ferris Bueller once said, “if you have the means, it is so choice.”

Ending strong, Mirabelle delivered with a tart lemon tart, topped with meringue florets and fresh strawberries which might be every bit as good as the one at Astoux and Brun. And the chocolate fondant is no slouch either, giving the one at Sushi Roku a run for its money.

3 teeth