Oak & Almond

544 Main AveNorwalk, CT 06851 • (203) 846-4600 • oakandalmond.com
This might just very well be the best restaurant in the world… that is adjacent to a DMV. A dubious distinction by all accounts, but don’t let that sway you, because even if it weren’t right next door to the DMV, it would still be pretty damn good. So if you’re in the area, pounce. And if you’ve just spent an infuriating day at the DMV, double pounce.

The setting is surprisingly nice considering its locale, although it’s not a place I would propose or anything. That said, it’s set far enough away from the road and the DMV parking lot to make you feel like you are elsewhere.

But what really transports you is the food. From get go, you know they’re the real deal when they serve you their homemade, fresh-baked bread with a whipped butter-like cream thing that is dangerously habit-forming.

And the app-e-teasers proved strong as well. My favorite being the fungi flatbread (pictured). This pie is legit. Doing CT Pizza culture proud. A close second was the buratta, which was melt-in-your mouth creamy, drizzled with balsamic and served up with beefsteak tomatoes and perfectly thin, crisp crostini, just strong enough to provide textural contrast with the buratta, but thin enough so as not to overpower it and let it be the star. A close third for me would be the octopus, just missing the second slot because it was a touch overcooked. But the preparation was wonderful. A mix of fave beans, peas, dill yogurt, fennel, potatoes and chorizo, all drizzled with a kicking’ vinaigrette.

The only miss for me was the salmon tartar, significantly lacking in compared to its bunkmates.

For entrée, I went with the lamb burger. Not sure why, because I was already pretty damn full by this point, but perhaps it’s because I’m like a dog and would eat myself to death if you’d let me. Pressing on, I managed to hork about two thirds of it down. But like the octopus, I do have to say it was also over-cooked. That said, also like the octopus, the balance of flavors made up for a lot with the tzatziki and the olive aioli.

But as good as it is, I’m not suggesting you make a special trip just to go here. I mean it’s still right next to the DMV for Christ’s sake! But, if you happen to work nearby, or be in the area, you could do a lot worse. And if you just failed your driver’s license exam, it’s a nice place to lick your wounds.

Consider it a VERY strong three knifer, trending four when you adjust for DMV proximity.

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Eden Roc Grill – Hotel du Cap

Boulevard John Fitzgerald Kennedy 06160 Antibes, FR • r+33 4 93 61 56 63 •  https://www.oetkercollection.com/destinations/hotel-du-cap-eden-roc/restaurants-bars/

Built in 1869 as sanctuary for writers in seek of inspiration, Eden Roc suffices. I say this with heavy doses of understatement because by all accounts Du Cap is a stunner. Like a mini version of Versai, nestled on the shores of a majestic Mediterranean cove. And while the hotel is a veritable feast for the eyes, the restaurant is regrettably not a feast for the mouth.

But I suppose that’s not why people flock here. They do so to feel special, for the view and the lavish opulence. But this is food blog and I’m sorry to say that you can get the exact same experience at Chateu de la Chevre D’or in Eze without having to compromise on the food. Whereas, if you ask me, Eden Roc is basically a nicer version of the Hotel Belle Rives down the rue.

In terms of food, the risotto with leeks was passable, but slightly flavorless. Granted, that was much more forgivable than the sea bass, which was overcooked and dry. And to be fair, even the bread and olive oil they served at the start of the meal was a big whatevs.

Thus, if it is a gastronomic feat you are looking for, keep heading East on A8 until you reach Eze. But if you’d rather gorge on architecture and affluence, you could do a lot worse.

Saltwater

128 Washington StNorwalk, CT 06854 • (203) 939-9502 • saltwatersono.com

This place should be ashamed of itself being so close to actual saltwater and yet doing its bounty such a disservice. And thing of it is, I kinda blame myself, because from the moment you walk in the décor pretty much screams DANGER! CRAP THEME RESTAURANT. Complete with aqua painted floors, wall and ceiling and actual blue and white beach gazebos as booths.

And yet I pressed on, because this is what I do for you, my readers. I eat shit food so you don’t have to. But that’s just me. I’m a giver… of primarily scathing reviews.

And scathing this shall be, because virtually everything was bland or worse, including our waiter. Not that he was bland, he was just flat-out terrible. But to be fair, we got off on the wrong foot because the place was entirely out of lobster in any way, shape or form by 8pm on a Saturday night! A seafood restaurant, on the second biggest night of the weekend, is out of an ingredient that’s in a quarter of the dishes on the menu. WTF?!

So, with two major strikes already against it, the rest of the menu was going to have to be stellar and spoiler alert, it wasn’t.

The octopus was average. The scallops over the risotto cake was a glorified bowl of mush. In fact, the only things that even registered on the foodometer were the raw oysters and the Sono salad. The oysters being hard to claim as a culinary success, if you ask me, because you’re really taking credit for nature’s unfettered fruits

There were other dishes on the table as well, but I can’t recall what they were, which I think speaks volumes- the fact that my mind is blocking the meal like a traumatic incident. Be warned!

Oko Kitchen

6 Wilton RdWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8404 • okokitchen.com

If you love The Cottage than you will, um, really struggle to like this place as much. As The Whelk is to Kawa Ni, they are sister restaurants, linked by the same chef, who, definitely upped the sushi game in Westport without a doubt. But if you’re going in with expectations that it is The Cottage in Japanese form, you will be disappointed.

Appropriately starting with the starters, I found the attempt at inventive edamame to be noble, yet messy and nowhere near as good as the ones at Koku in Armonk. Jazzed up with garlic, soy butter, gomashio (sesame salt) and shio kombu (a form of dashi). But net, net it’s a lot of pomp and circumstance without a lot of flavor.

Same goes for the shishito peppers, although the slightly better of the two, made novel with chickpea miso, guanciale and shoyu-koji (soy sauce).

For small plates, Oko didn’t wow much either. The deviled eggs with pork belly being the least wowiest and a far cry from two other versions in Westport alone- both Rothbard and The Whelk making far superior versions.

The sticky ribs fared much better, sauced with smoked maple, gochujang and sesame crunch. But the real winner of the smalls is the miso black cod, or as they call it “Torched Black Cod.” It’s cedar grilled and done in a madieira shoyu glaze with shitake and scallion and it…is…killer! As good as the one at Matsuisha in LA, the place that invented the dish.

But what about the friggin’ sushi? Okay, I get it. After all, it is a sushi joint, right? So, long story longer, it’s very good. The fish is fresh and the preparations are inventive without being gimmicky, for the most part- the one exception being the foie gras, which shockingly I would forego and just follow the omakase. Oh, and great news, this is more like it is in fine sushi restaurants in Japan, where you don’t even use or need soy sauce or wasabi, because the preparation is so wonderful on its own.

Speaking of wonderful, come dessert, you have to try the- okay, bare with me on this one… The soft serve. I know! What am I, like five years old?! But I’m not joking here. They take Dairy Queen’s invention to another level. Especially with the friggin’ Oko crunch!!! I mean, other than the miso cod it might’ve been the best thing we had. And that’s not just the killer gin cocktail talking (yes, they also have a killer gin cocktail).

It’s no Cottage, but Oko is definitely a strong three knives and the best Japanese in town. Give it a few more weeks to iron out the kinks and I’d imagine it will be a four or five.

Bacaro

136 Division StNew York, NY 10002 • (212) 941-5060 • bacaronyc.com

Bacaro is like Don Juan in restaurant form, dripping with romance and charm (pictured). But sadly, this quaint veneer is all built around one dish, the gnocceti. And if you stick with that and a glass of wine, you will think this place is the cat’s pajamas. But should venture beyond it, you will soon find that the emperor has no clothes.

All three starters were non-starters for me. The asparagus with egg and grana was relatively bland. The caprese was served with mealy tomatoes. And the spicy meatballs, while the best of the trio, weren’t all that spicy- or meaty, for that matter.

The other two entrées I tried were equal parts letdown, the duck ragu was dry and lacking complexity and the pork shank over soft polenta also left me wanting more depth of flavor.

Hell, even the wine was disappointing as was the service, asking us to leave after only 2 hours at our table. Blasphemy!

Flirting with disaster, Bacaro raised the Titanic with a strong Tiramisu to just barely eke out a second knife.

Sugar Mill

Spring Farm Dr., Rose Hall, Montego Bay, Jamaica •  https://www.halfmoon.com/dining/restaurant/sugar-mill/ • +1 876-953-2211

Sugar Mill, as one might guess, is an old sugar mill from back in the planation days of Jamaica, situated on the stunning Half Moon property (pictured), which pays faithful homage to the history of the island with its grand, Victorian white buildings all the way down to an authentic, antique mill still turning gracefully next to you whilst you dine.

But dining inside or out, the space is beautifully done. And the music comes courtesy of nature itself, as tree frogs serenade you throughout the evening. Also adding to the grace of the experience is the service, which was bar none the best we received on the island.

The other superlative of the night was the rum punch. The best I’ve had since Mata Chica in Belize. So damn fresh and potent after just two glasses it will have you feeling as irie as ganja.

But then the sugar wheels came off as flavorless dish after flavorless dish came out. From a pumpkin soup that could’ve passed as water to a lobster in need of even more salt than the soup, served next to a side of risotto that might be the worst of the three.

It was so disappointing that I starting mooching off of my friend at the table and even her starter was a waste of jaw muscles. And brain muscles as well, because I don’t even recall what it was. Fortunately her entrée was decent, though. A special shrimp prepared in a spicy red sauce.

Also redeeming was the pineapple tarte tatin and the Blue Mountain Coffee Ice Cream. It’s rastafuckingawesome!

So on the whole, Sugar Mill was a surprisingly sour experience, despite all of its charms, because at this level of the game and at this price point there were just WAY too many misses to give it anything more than a deuce.

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.

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. 

Die Bank

Hohe Bleichen 17 – 20354 HamburgGermany • +49 40 2380030 • diebank-brasserie.de
 
Had the service not royally screwed the pooch, The Bank would’ve easily hauled in a strong 4 knives. But not only did the waitress completely mess up my appetizer order by bringing me Pear Ravioli instead of Dove Etouffe, when they raced the correct dish to the table, the moron handed it to me, burning me quite badly. A first in my life and an offense easily worth a knife and then some. Especially because no manager even bothered to come out and apologize or make up for it in any way. Perhaps they wanted me to “Die.”

Now, I’m well aware that these are clearly first-world problems, but I was pissed and in pain and as you probably know by now, the last thing I need is a reason to be even more scathing than I already am, and to be honest, I still really struggle to empathize with how a waiter in a restaurant of this caliber could ever mix up these two dishes as they don’t even sound remotely alike, even when you account for a multitude of umlauts.

But Scheiße  service aside, the décor is very nice, set in a refurbished bank, which seems to be the “in” thing these days. And, for the most part, the food was excellent, with only a few misses. The best thing by far being the duck for 2. It’s a tour de force. Crsipy and juicy in all the right places, with potatoes, beet slaw and jus on the side. So good.

Next best for me would be the foie gras crème brulee, clearly inspired by Jean-Georges and just about as good, although a completely different presentation.

Of the two pastas, the tagliatelle is the clear winner, made simple with tomato and olives. The blue cheese ravioli with pear was undercooked and lacking a bit in the bleu coming threu. Oh, the irony to be burnt by an undercooked dish!

Speaking of lacking, I was most disappointed in the Dove Etouffe with foie gras. First, because there was no foie gras to be found. Second, because there was no etouffe either. Zero spice. But not bland. It was quite nice actually, just nothing like its description and not at all what I was craving and prepared to eat.

The chocolate lava cake and my cappuccino for dessert were strong endings and just enough to keep The Bank from going bankrupt. So, I’m giving it three knives in total. Two for the food and one for décor. Minus one biggie for the service.

East

East Hotel Simon-von-Utrecht-Str. 31 – 20359 Hamburg, Germany • +49 40 309933 • east-hamburg.de

To sum this place up before I even begin, it’s Peruvian meets Asian meets Gaudi meets catacombs. An odd combination by most accounts with trendiness pouring out of every crease and crevasse, but somehow it all works. From the projection of tropical settings on the twisting white walls, to the deer antler wine racks and the polyp ornamented bar, you’d think you were back at Iridium near Lincoln Center in the 90’s.

But acid trip-inspired décor aside (pictured), the food impressed. Starting with a decent showing in the sushi department- but the clear winner of that course is the tuna tataki. This is a must-get. No seriously. If you don’t I will hunt you down and force-feed you.

Other top dishes were the red Thai curry boasting some kick-ass heat and moist-ass fish. The salmon poke was also the shiznit. Fresh and flavorful and smarter than your average bowl! Both are strong winners in the entrée round. The duck and the ribeye, however, were just okay.

For sides, ya gotta give it up for the truffle fries. And for dessert, I say skip the chewables and go for the liquid. The liquid tiramisu that is. Holy caffeinated hangover batman! Might just be an Ultimate in two categories at once- Cocktail and Tiramisu.