Scarpetta

355 W 14th StNew York, NY 10014 • (212) 691-0555 • scarpettarestaurants.com
 

Making many a blog’s hottest new haunts in the ole NYC, Scarpetta delivers on the adulation serving up some mighty fine Italian in a simple, classy dining room that is so loud you can barely hear your own “mmm’s”

Fortunately, I could still hear our waiter, who was Johnny on the spot with his recos. Including a phenomenal, velvety Morgan Boujelais that complemented everything from the baby tuna crudo, which was pretty great to the soft polenta with mushrooms and black truffles, which was “I don’t want to share” ridiculicious.

And then the short rib and bone marrow agnolotti (pictured) happened and everything in the world slowed down like a Planet Earth documentary. The ecstasy of every chew as palpable as plastering your blissful puss on the jumbotron in Times Square.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the black cod entrée served on a bed of caramelized fennel. It’s enough to make you want to fuck a fish.

Hell, this place even nails the basics, like their spaghetti with tomato and basil. So simple. So right.

Desert held strong as well, representing with a strong chocolate cake. In fact, the only miss (and a huge one at that) of the night came along its side in the form of one of the worst tart tatins I’ve ever laid teeth on.

But I forgive Scarpetta, because it handily restored my faith in the New York Italian restaurant scene. Again. #Blanca #Eataly #Carbone

Le Coq Rico

30 E 20th StNew York, NY 10003 • (212) 267-7426 • lecoqriconyc.com

According to our waiter, the chef gave up his Michelin star to open this place. Which, in the echelons of stupid decisions, ranks right up there with Jordan’s decision to leave the Bulls so that he could play for the White Sox.

Why so harsh? Well, first because I’m ferocious. And second because this place is literally for the birds. It also just might be the first place I’ve come across that’s as overpriced and overhyped as Eleven Madison Park. Not one thing was amazing save the price tags, ringing in at digits you’re more likely to see at The Strip House. But without the gluttonous satisfaction you at least get from a steakhouse meal.

The Plymouth Rock whole Chicken for example, rings in at nearly $100 and is no better than the one you get at Whole Foods for less than the sales tax on this bird. But shame on us for listening to our waiter who always recommended the most expensive thing on the menu and never chose a single winner, including the wine, going 0 for 3.

The blah continued, even with a layup like seared foie gras, which is actually the first time in my life that I didn’t finish this dish because it was so bland. The terrine version is much better, but even that failed to truly impress me. It’s just the better of the two options if you simply must dine on goose liver.

The fries are also just okay, again, grossly over-hyped by comparison to the likes of the Phoenician Fries at Ilili. Even the profiteroles for desert were a big ole ball of meh.

In fact, the only dish of the night I would feel comfortable recommending is the artichoke salad with gizzards. It’s quite good and between that and the décor it’s just barely enough to keep this place from getting one knife… Barely.

Gusto 101

101 Portland St. Toronto, ON M5V 2N3 • (416) 504-9669 • gusto101.com
 

I’ve never taken a course in gusto before, but had I known the lessons were so delicious I would’ve majored in it. That’s Gusto 101. A crash-course on solid restauranteuring. From it’s open loft, hipster vibe to its tantalizing bread wall that dares you not to order it, I was sucked in like a ball of lint into a vacuum cleaner.

And damn is it good. So be sure not to heed the advice of your parents and do indeed fill up on the bread. It’s very worthy. That said, you might want to leave room for the grilled octopus because it is as remarkable in the belly as it is on the eyes (pictured). The presentation is bar none, like a painting on a wood cutting board canvas with earthy roasted potatoes and vibrant dollops abound of every sort of puree one can imagine. It is truly exceptional.

Whereas the kale salad is much more on the pedestrian side. It’s good mind you, but compared to the other things I had, you can tell this place is capable of so much more. In fact, the only reason I’m staying cautious with 3 knives is due to my limited sampling. Need to go back. Soon. Please.

Vivo

Universal CityWalk® – Orlando 6000 Universal Blvd. Orlando, FL 32819 • (407) 224-3663 • https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/things-to-do/dining/vivo-italian-kitchen/index.html?__source=ban.dfa.142900316;315030842;68637547

I know it’s ridiculous to expect much from a restaurant at Universal Studios, but with places like Flying Fish Café, The Brown Derby and Kouzzina over in Disney, I figured maybe the Yelpers were onto something. Well, more like “on something.”

And while the décor is quite stylish and the service is friendly, the food is exactly what one might expect. Overcooked short rib and pastas, so mushy it defeats the purpose that they apparently make it fresh every day.

It isn’t without it’s hits though. I found the fried calamari to be quite good. As was the bread pudding. But if you truly want great Italian, do yourself a solid and make a rezzy at Prato in Winter Park. Sure it’s a bit of a drive, but remember, you put this stuff in your body. Isn’t it worth it?

Oh! One last thing I almost forgot. If you should decide to eat here anyway, do NOT sit outside. There are speakers right next door that are so blaringly loud you can feel it in your ovaries. Even if you’re a man.

The Stubborn Mule

100 S Eola DrOrlando, FL 32801 • (407) 730-3400 • thestubbornmuleorlando.com
 

Something is definitely stubborn here and it’s not a mule. It’s the servers, who are apparently very stubborn about clearing plates, constantly bringing out dishes for the next course before ever clearing the previous, making the table crowded and unpleasant with all of the empty, eaten dishes. And every time we asked them to take the dishes back and clear the table first, they acted as if we had six heads. Is it just me? Honestly, you can tell me. I mean I know I’m stubborn- hell, I’m an Aires, but I think I was in the right on this one. Granted that’s a hallmark of stubbornness I suppose.

As for the food, it’s actually pretty tasty for the most part. My favorite dish being the Asian pork belly. Not light, but oh-so good. Essentially cubes of belly done General Tso style.

Other strong options are the mussels, the burger and the scallops, which are perfectly cooked and served over a bed of coconut rice with a dollop of Brussels sprout slaw on the side. The shishito peppers are also solid, but that’s a layup, to be fair.

The only miss prior to dessert were the fish tacos, served hopelessly bland and in dire need of hot sauce and salt to resuscitate them. On the upside though, at least they were salvageable, whereas the lava cake was absolute crap. So bad I think actual lava might’ve tasted better.

Don’t be fooled by the name, which is clearly trying to draft off the success of The Ravenous Pig. This place doesn’t hold a hoof to it.

Red Rooster

310 Lenox AveNew York, NY 10027 • (212) 792-9001 • redroosterharlem.com
 

While I applaud and appreciate Marcus Samuelson’s mission to make world-class cuisine more accessible, I wasn’t quite blown away. Especially in light of the fact that that others out there are also doing it and doing it better. Such as Danny Meyer with Shake Shack or David Chang with Momofuku Ko to name just a few. Also, having been to Aquavit back in the day, when Marcus was there, this is nothing by comparison. Granted it’s a bit like comparing apples to cured fish, but even quality to quality for what it’s supposed to be, things weren’t even in the same league. Aquavit was an experience. This was a meal.

Now for the deets. Starting with the vibe when you walk in, which is absolutely electric. Probably my single favorite thing about the place. Everything is jumping. From the people to the sounds and smells. Even the walls have a life of their own. In fact, the most docile things in the joint are the flavors.

For starters, I found the cornbread to be a big whatevs. Sure, it’s cut that they’re shaped like mandolins, but they a bland and worthless without a slathering of the honey butter and/or the tomato jam. But at that point you have to ask, what wouldn’t taste good with butter and jam on top?

The chopped salad was also pretty basic by all modern-day standards. And not even executed that well as the roasted pears were not very roasted. The spiced walnuts were not all that spiced. The ricotta salata was either not creamy enough or balanced enough in the dish to have any effect. Leaving the apples, Swiss chard and frisee to fend for itself.

The crab fritters and the meatballs were the only starters I would ever reconsider getting. The meatballs being the better of the two, made thrice as nice with a trio of veal, beef and pork. The fritters are also good, though, made with a blue crab base, which is then twisted by some “bird funk” (I’m guessing either chicken fat or fried chicken batter or both) and fermented lime aioli. It was unique but not amazing.

For my main I had to go with the Hot Honey Yardbird, having heard all about his incredible fried chicken, and while it is by all accounts delicious, it is nowhere near the best I have ever had. In fact, from Florida to New York I’ve had better at Highball & Harvest and ABC Kitchen. That said, the collard greens beneath the chicken were beneath nothing else I have ever had. Absolutely delectable and the show-stealers of that dish by a country mile.

For sides, Marcus had another duo of smash hits, but ironically neither of them were the smashed potatoes. Instead, I much preferred the brussels sprouts and the signature mac and greens. The former has almost become a given these days now that everyone but Panera is now serving killer sprouts, but latter is quite interesting because I’ve read a few polarizing dings on Yelp about the mac and I have to blatantly disagree. Okay, so not entirely. I do have to admit they are mega-loaded with calories and cream. But the value prop is still very much in check if you ask me, because arteries be damned is it good!

Come dessert I was pretty certain this was a strong three knives and I was really hoping for Marcus to pull out all the stops and show me some of that Ethiopian-Scandinavian-French Culinary Institute-Chopped jury magic, but alas I found both the chocolate mousse and the sweet potato donuts to be more filler than fabulous. I’d rather have another bit of that mac.

So, Marcus, let’s look in the basket and see what I have for you today. Three knives, lots of hype, a great vibe and a bushel of hit and miss.

Boca

43 Main StWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0720 • bocawestport.com
 

Tucked away right off of the main drag in an alley adjacent to West Elm, is a bit of a sleeper with big aspirations. A two-story Italian ( I know they call themselves Mediterranean, but it’s mostly Italian), that is probably trendier than it needs to be, with staff that’s trying almost as hard as the décor. But what a view form upstairs! Overlooking the Saugatuck River. You could do worse my friend. Same goes for the food, because Boca is better than most of the Italian options in Westport, which admittedly isn’t saying a whole lot. It seems to be the one cuisine in town that isn’t nailed yet. Tarry Lodge is decent, but that’s really it (granted I hear good things about Filamente Trattoria, so TBD on that one). But if the owners of The Whelk, Kawa Ni & Jesup Hall ever decide to get in the game, count me in as an investor!

Until that happens though, Boca will have to suffice. And suffice is does with killer dishes like the lobster with soft polenta. I also found their mussels with fava beans to be damn skippy.

In the middle I’d peg the fig, goat cheese & honey bruschetta as well as the kale salad with walnuts, green apples and gorgonzola. Both are good, but come off a little too basic and/or simply lacking that wow factor, missing the boat on either texture, contrast or balance.

As for misses, steer clear of the crispy artichokes. They are overly breaded and underly sauced, netting out as unsettling balls of fried batter. We didn’t even finish a third of the dish. Fortunately my glass of red wine will help make up for the cholesterol bomb.

So, with more hits than misses, and the void that it fills in the Italian Westport scene, I’d say it’s a worthy stop. Especially if you’re in the middle of a Main Street shopping spree and you get the grumbles.

Momofuku Nishi

gou232 8th Ave.  New York, NY 10011 • (646) 518-1919 • momofuku.com

David Chang is a master of the impossible, so it only makes sense that he would create a veggie burger that tastes imperceptibly close to its meaty alternative, hence the name Impossible Burger (pictured). It is deception on a bun. Edible hocus pocus. The patty made predominantly from soy bean, it somehow even takes on the texture of meat.

As for the burger itself, it’s only amazing that it’s vegetarian. But as a burger itself, it’s just okay, coming off more like your classic simple cheeseburger (granted the new version now has truffle mayo and gouda) that isn’t as good as other veggie burgers like the Gouchujong at Cinnamon Snail or meat burgers like the Shack Stack at Shake Shack, The Bash Burger at B&B or my personal fav, The Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern.

Beyond the novelty of the burger, however, Nishi is very hit and miss. The kimchi is just okay as is the beet salad with avocado and a dusting of nuts.

The only other hit you can chew would be the pistachio bundt cake for dessert. It’s far from epic, but it’s a solid choice if you want to end things on a sweet note.

That said, if you really want a hit, do yourself a Gin & Julius to drink. It’s like an alcoholic creamsicle. It’s also like really friggin’ yum and after two or three you won’t have your mind on your money or your mind.

Oscar Wilde

45 W 27th StNew York, NY 10001 • (212) 213-3066 • oscarwildenyc.com

Ungapatchka might just be the only word strong enough to describe this bar. For those of you not up on your Yiddish, it means ridiculously over-decorated. But as ostentatious as it is, they actually make it work somehow, pushing things so far past gaudy that it becomes cool again. Almost like flying to Chicago and over-shooting it so far that you go all the way around the world and wind up back in Chicago. That’s Oscar Wilde, a $4 million-dollar tribute meets renovation meets booze.

From giant bronze statues to peacock feather chandeliers to ornate tchotchkes (also Yiddish for little miscellaneous trinkets and keepsakes) on every inch of every wall and surface, this place doesn’t miss an inch, also boasting the longest bar in Manhattan, wrapping around 90% of the perimeter. Mahogany, you ask? Please. That’s so two million dollars ago. We’re talkin’ white Italian marble.

Now here’s the trick. You’d think that all of this pomp and circumstance is purposefully perpetrated to mask its inadequacies, but I am compelled to tell you that it also delivers on the drinks. I personally only had the Bee’s Knees which is vodka based with honey infusions and lemon bitters. It is damn good. Others around me also seemed happy as they ordered seconds and thirds of their respective cocktails. Granted they could also just be alcoholics.Whatever the reason, find one to come here. It’s a one of a kind joint, that’s for sure, taking very much to heart Oscar’s sage wisdom, “Be yourself. Everyone else is already taken.”

Kazu Nori

15 W 28th St. New York, NY 10001 • (347) 594-5940 • kazunorisushi.com

The concept of this place is Japanese minimalism at its finest. No host. One bar. One offering. Hand rolls. Okay, so they have other things, but not many. It’s really intended to be all about the hand rolls and let me just say, mission accomplished. And not the George W. Bush bullshit kind of accomplished that leads to a twenty-year war and occupancy. I mean done and done. Fresh fish. Crispy kelp. Booyah!

So here’s how it works; when you enter, walk to the outer corral and wait in the queue for a spot at the bar (maybe peruse a menu on the wall while you’re there). Once the number of seats at the bar opens for your party, you sit down and order either a set meal (e.g. 3pc, 5pc, etc.) or you can go a la carte. I went with the six piecer and there wasn’t a single miss. Toro, salmon, yellowtail, crab, bay scallop and lobster. All on point and priced pretty darn reasonably for Manhattan.

I think I’m in love.