Uncle Boons

7 Spring St. New York, NY 10012 (646) 370-6650 uncleboons.com

Mieng Kung, betel leaf wrap with ginger, lime, toasted coconut, dried shrimp, chilies and peanuts at Uncle Boons, a newly opened Thai restaurant and bar in SoHo.â€(R)CREDIT: Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journalâ€(R)SLUG: HH.UncleBoons Published Credit: Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journal

Having waited a stupid amount of time to get into the extraordinarily disappointing Spotted Pig, you’d think I’d’ve learned my lesson with these overrated, no-reservation-taking, wastes of time. But apparently not, because one again I found myself standing there like a puppy dog, panting before the hostess in the hopes of getting a table. But had I been more self aware, perhaps I would’ve noticed déjà vu staring me in the face.

Nonetheless, my stubbornness persevered and on we marched to the back room through a tiki-style décor that did little to put a smile on my face, only to then begin a meal that would have a lot of splainin’ to do (to be read like Desi Arnaz).

Out of the gate, the gripes began with the Frozen Basil Vodka which was very good, but I think they majorly skimped on the portion, serving it in a half-filled glass. Never seen that before and I’m guessing it was because they ran out of the cocktail by 8pm on a Friday night. Something else I’d never seen before and I’m not sure which is the more inexcusable part of the story. To run out of booze by 8pm on a Friday night? Or to charge full price for a half-full glass of it?!

But at least it tasted good, the other drink our server recommended, the Bolan, was so god awful that we sent it back after one sip, opting for the Baa Baa Bo Bo which was a nice, spicy-sweet twist on a margarita.

Getting back to our server, however, she was so miserable that she ruined the experience for us (not that the food wouldn’t have done if for her), giving not one recommendation and lying through her blatantly apathetic teeth, saying everything is amazing. It’s not. Far from it. So, between her piss pour attitude and trying to charge us for that drink that she pawned off on us when they ran out of the one we liked, Uncle Boons was starting to look like that creepy uncle we all try to avoid at obligatory family outings.

Toxic service aside, now for the over-hyped menu, starting with the spicy chicken, which while spicy, was also just okay- oh, and it’s completely mislabeled as a small plate. Unless you’re Andre the Giant.

The mango salad is slightly better, but nothing worthy of the wait we endured and neither is the Thai blood sausage, for that matter, tasting a slight notch above Alpo.

And while I would love nothing more than to go on and on shitting all over this place, my integrity is going to get the better of me as I must give props where props are do, even though it pains me to do so.

The first prop going to the dorade. It is so phenomenal that it just might be the best whole fish I’ve ever had. Charcoal roasted and served with charred leeks and a Nam Prik dipping sauce that is pinch-yourself ah-maze-ing!

And believe it or not, we also stayed for dessert, regardless of the abysmal hit ratio thus far, primarily out of spite for having made us wait so long for the table, so I suppose we felt like holding onto the damn thing as long as we could. A philosophy that paid its dividends quite quickly in the form of a rich, creamy, texture-filled coconut ice cream, topped with fresh-made whipped cream, more coconut shavings on top, as well charred nuts, which kinda steal the show.

But even with the strong ending, Uncle Boons was climbing out of a hole so deep it came out the other side of the world in Thailand.

2 teeth

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Katz’s Delicatessen

205 E Houston St. New York, NY 10002(212) 254-2246 katzsdelicatessen.com

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Before this place became famous for Meg Ryan’s jubilant fake orgasm in When Harry Met Sally, people were having real orgasms over their infinitely more famous Pastrami on Rye (pictured), causing an awful lot of people to ask, “I’ll have what she’s having,” years ahead of the screenplay. But as shockingly good as the elephantine sandwiches are at this kosher deli, what many will find even more shocking is that there is nothing kosher about it. Katz’s is Romanian. Not kosher. Granted they do a damn fine job of copy-cat cuisine. So fine, in fact, that they best most of the places that call themselves the real deal. And the fact that Katz’s has been around so long (since 1888), makes its old school vibe all that more authentic, a lot like 2nd Avenue Deli used to be before they lost their lease and had to move. But that’s the charm of the place. I know some people call it touristy, but trust me, this place isn’t dressed like a movie set or some cheesy theme joint. It’s still wearing the same dusty clothes it’s been donning for over a century. And I, for one, love it for all its crustiness and crotchetiness.

Sure there are sexy newcomers hitting the scene like Mile End and Russ and Daughters, but there’s something you have to appreciate about a place that’s been around before friggin’ cars and still packing ’em in! We’re talking Gangs of New York guys were swinging by here after a morning brawl to grab a bite. That’s so fucking cool that you can keep your caviar cream cheese and your chocolate babka french toast, because I want a bite of history, piled high with more meat than any one human being should probably consume in a week, dipped in some spicy-ass deli mustard and served up on a blissful, pillowy rye. Then, wash that down with some corned beef, pickles and matzoh ball soup and I’m good to hibernate until Spring.

5 teeth

 

 

Pig & Khao

68 Clinton St. New York, NY 10002 • (212) 920-4485pigandkhao.com

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I have only eaten at the Madison Eats representation, but what I had while respectable, was also not quite as worthy of the praise it’s been getting on the street.

The Bahn Mi is solid. The meat perfectly moist and the roll very nice in texture. But the flavors from the rest of the toppings just didn’t seem to cut through, so it ended up tasting like meat, bread and Sriracha. Granted there are worse things I suppose, but there are also better Bahn Mi sandwiches.

And as for the spring rolls, while delicious, they are so damn oily I couldn’t help but feel I was drinking a bottle of Soul Glo from “Coming to America.”

But to judge them by such a myopic sampling seems a touch unfair, so please take this review with a grain of oil- er, I mean salt.

2 teeth

Rintintin

14 Spring St. New York, NY 10012(646) 666-0114rintintinnyc.com

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While the name is likely to evoke imagery of a German Shepherd, there is nothing German, nor Shepard-like about the restaurant. And being that I was a fan of Bon Marche, I was sad to see that it had been replaced. Well, I was sad until I tried the food, which is even better than its predecessor.  I’m guessing the space must’ve left some good juju for this newbie, because the good vibes were abundant from top to bottom.

First off, the decor is much more open. The space is still small and charming, with nice touches like giant palm leaf arrangements and cymbals as lighting fixtures. And the service, while being a one man show from bartender to host, and waiter in between, managed to outdo many who only have a third of the task.

For drinks we did the cucumber gimlet made with arak (anis arabic booze), which was very refreshing almost like the cucumber water you would get in a spa, only with alcohol in it. And the other cocktail was the spicy cucumber margarita. It was also good, but not as impressive as one would hope, granted I’m part dragon when it comes to my tolerance for heat.

For an appetizer we split a burrata special served with a colorful spectrum of heirloom tomatoes, garlic roasted eggplant and proscuitto. If you should be so lucky as to see it offered when you go, I highly recommend. The garlicky eggplant and the salty dried ham make the dish something special. Ask for extra bread as well. It’s a thin focaccia perfect for sopping up the oil and balsamic remnants. But try to show some restraint, because there is much ahead worth saving room for.

The best of which is the burger. An eclectic mix of flavors from its pita bread bun and harissa topping to a queso fresco option (which I recommend), cayenne aioli and ketchup. It was crazy messy and just as crazy good. As were the crinkled potatoes they serve them with.

Another winner was the quinoa salad with avocado and lemon. It’s light and refreshing, but nothing you can’t find at a Le Pain Quotidien.

The only miss we had was the chicken cilantro soup. It was woefully bland both in terms of salt and spice. Even after adding copious amounts of both it was still only just okay.

And now for the closer… The churros are churrmendous! Both in size and execution. Crispy on the outside, soft and nummy, nummy on the inside. Served with a caramel dipping sauce and vanilla ice cream, both of which need to be used in tandem in order to achieve the maximum effect. And by maximum effect I mean on your belt holes, because by the time you leave here you will be on the very last one.

4 teeth

Public

210 Elizabeth St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 343-7011public-nyc.com

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I think a lot of the reviews on Yelp are getting hung up on the decor, which is really well worth the 4 or 5 stars people are dropping on this place. But I’ve eaten here three times and not once has the food been great. Good maybe, but not four plus stars. And with good food, and an amazing decor you’d think my review would be higher right? Well, that would be because of the service. We were treated so rudely the last time we were there that I will never go back again.

With a reservation for brunch, they made us wait nearly TWO HOURS for a table. First because our entire party wasn’t there yet- I hate that shit. Such a typical American, all-about-the-numbers mentality that makes you feel as welcome as you do in traffic court. They don’t do this in any other country I’ve ever been to, and I’m guessing it’s because they think it’s a shitty way to treat customers.

Oh, the other reason it took so long to get our table is because once our party was finally there, they put us in a backroom waiting area and forgot about us. Meanwhile they kept seating other parties ahead of us even though they came in later, assumingly because they were friends of staff, VIP, or because the hosts were just raging assholes.

At this point it seems almost silly to talk about the food, because after I reamed the hostess I’m sure she probably spit in whatever I was having. On the plus side, my wife really seamed to enjoy the Turkish eggs (pictured), so there’s a worthy tip for ya.

2 teeth

The Ultimate Muffin

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The muffin has to be one of the best case studies of successful marketing in history. Simply with a name change they managed to get the world to find it permissible to eat what is essentially cake for breakfast. Well, hats off to marketing and hats off to the best muffin I’ve ever had.

Clinton Street Bakery – New York, NY

Assuming the muffin isn’t dry, you’d be pretty hard-pressed to find a shitty muffin considering dryness seems to be the most common upending for muffin-kind. But moistness isn’t exactly the only thing that guarantees success either. Contrasting textures and flavors are a must for me. Soft through and through, while nice, also gets boring fast, that’s why Clinton’s Chocolate Chunk muffin excels, with its crunchy, crisp sugared top and soft, fluffy innards. But then it goes one better, moving further down the softness spectrum towards gooey, which the chocolate chunks bring in spades. Like the muffin version of City Bakery’s Chocolate Chip Cookie. So, if you should ever happen to be waiting for a table at this place, do yourself a solid and step up to the bakery case and get the Chocolate Chunk. In one bite you will forget all about the wait and find yourself lost in a chocolaty Calgon-like bliss.

The Ultimate Octopus

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Pearl & Ash – New York, NY

If you’ve ever had spare ribs at a Chinese restaurant, than you already have a glimpse into the brilliance that’s behind this dish. One bite of these tentacles and you will be placing your second order of them on the spot. Sorry, pork ribs, you just got schooled.

Animal – Los Angeles, CA

This restaurant is all over my Ultimates list and for good reason, they do a lot of things unbelievably well. And among them just happens to be some of the best pus you’ll ever put in your puss. Marinated in a seeded mustard sauce, then served up with a medley of peppers, onions and taters. It’s the heartiest octopus since Ursula in The Little Mermaid.

Garo’s – Turkbuku, TK

If it’s one thing the Turks know how to do well, it’s seafood. Case in point, Garo’s. But in true Turkish tradition, they don’t get cute with it. They tend to like their fish clean and simple. So, there’s really no opportunity for me to gush about the preparation, sadly enough. But there’s plenty of room to gush about the dish itself, because this octopus, while large, is served up so tender and warm you’d swear you were eating the movie Milo & Otis.

Gato – New York, NY

It would seem that Octopus is very en vogue these days, painting quite an amusing mental picture of an octopus vogue-ing like Madonna with all eight appendages. Well, joking aside, Bobby Flay is serving up some serious pus at Gato. Roasted (not grilled) in a tangerine vinaigrette with oregano and bacon, BACON, BACON!!! So tender and scrumptious I even used the word scrumptious against my better judgement.

Torrisi Italian Specialties

250 Mulberry St. New York, NY 10012(212) 965-0955torrisinyc.com

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Torrisi is what I love about New York. These small places that don’t get noticed by their grand facades, exorbitant prices and inflated reputation. They simply keep things modest, focused and excellent. And those three words pretty much sum up our experience, with a few minor transgressions- enough to cost it a knife, but 4 knives in my book ain’t too shabby.

So, first, the décor. The place is TINY. I guess it’s ironic that I made the word “tiny” big, but it was for emphasis. There are maybe eight tables total. Half of those being two-tops. So don’t even think of having a large party here. Also, with so few tables, you can imagine that even with a reservation, you will most likely have to wait for your table, like we did.

The service, while good, was a bit odd. Our waiter was great in helping us narrow down between two wines (the one we chose was superb “Latittia Domaine Reserve 2009 Pinot Noir”), but then, when it came to ordering a few extras off of the prix fixe, he became quit rigid, and almost pushy on the lobster dish. But, we were already doing the short rib special with sweet corn polenta, on top of the crazy food-a-palooza that was already coming. And in the end, we were glad we didn’t order the lobster- of which he was asking us to order four (one for each of us), which would’ve been a colossal waste of money, because we were stuffed going into dessert as is.

Which brings me to my only other gripe. Dessert was pretty lack luster. And they served four different ones! Not one of them was worth its salt, or should I say sugar? Must be something with this dynamic duo and sweets, because dessert sucked at Carbone as well.

Oh, and one of the appetizers was also a miss. The fluke ceviche. Way too fishy. Scallops were just “eh” as well.

But everything else, the fresh mozzarella with toast, the heirloom tomato salad, the veal wrapped in bacon with foie gras and peaches, the pasta Bolognese, and the short rib with sweet corn polenta were all outstanding.

Such a great place for an intimate date or a nice meal with good friends. Granted, probably no more than two friends or you’ll never get a table.

4 teeth

Balaboosta

214 Mulberry St. New York, NY 10012(212) 966-7366balaboostanyc.com

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Having been a HUGE fan of the Taiim Falafel truck for years, I finally made my way to Balaboosta and it did not disappoint.

First, I love the décor. Nothing fancy or lavish, but done in a way so as to hint to its name. Balaboosta means “homemaker” and there are accents in the dining room to suggest just that- that you are in someone’s home. The shelves speckled with knickknacks and books and wine. Or over the kitchen pass through, jars of pasta and beans as though you were in someone’s kitchen. All done tastefully, not gimmicky.

Then there’s the service, which we also loved. Our waiter was great with the recommendations, friendly and attentive.

And most importantly, the food. By far the best thing we had was the ceviche served with mint, hot peppers and pistachios. Such a wonderful combination of flavors and textures. In second place, a three-way tie. The Hana cocktail made with arack is VERY nice, especially for those who like Turkish Raki (which we do). Another hit was the short rib empañada which is moist and marinated with a yogurt sauce inside. And the last member of the tie, the banana bread pudding with frozen yogurt for dessert. I am a sucker for bread pudding and bananas so admittedly I was an easy target on this one.

Bringing up the rear would be the salad with artichokes, which was good, but it is just a salad. The crispy cauliflower which is also good, but it’s quite large and not as good as the reviews crack it up to be. If you truly want a dish like this to rock your world ask for the off menu version at Tamarind. Or the cauliflower version that Illili makes when B-sprouts are out of season.

Oh, and the rib eye skewers, which were cooked perfectly, I will concede, but a touch boring by comparison to everything else.

But putting all the small nits aside, Balaboosta deserves mad mazels- especially on that ceviche.

4 teeth

The Musket Room

265 Elizabeth St. New York, NY 10012(212) 219-0764 musketroom.com

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On our way to dinner at Pearl & Ash, we stumbled upon this seemingly new place and made a mental note for the future. We were immediately impressed by the décor as well as the menu. But looks can be deceiving, right?

Wrong! Well, sometimes right, but in this case wrong. Musket Room lives up to its looks and might even exceed them. Although that’s quite a statement, because every detail in this place is thoughtfully considered. The water glasses are sleek and unusually beautiful. As is the silverware and the table they all rest on. The exposed brick and natural, old world elements almost make you feel as if you have stepped back into time, that or into a contemporary Nordic haunt, for a bite to eat.

The service was also excellent. Solid recommendations, attentive, knowledgeable and best of all, friendly. Not a snooty bone in the place. Even though they have every right to be, because this isn’t a casual nibble. This is fine dining in every sense of the word. From the chef’s tastings to the platings to the choreographed delivery of courses.

But let’s get to the food since that’s all you really care about. To start with, the bread is marvelous. Fresh baked rolls with a hard, buttery, golden brown exterior and soft fluffy insides that spring to life with their REAL homemade, green salted butter. Such a rare treat in the States to have real butter. Most everything else outside of France tastes like nothing.

For appetizers the salmon with mandarin oranges was very good, but the real gem was the waiter’s recommendation, the cold-smoked scallops. Brought to the table under a metal dome, it is revealed in a magical puff of frost. A beautiful crescent of scallops, pickled cucumbers, black garlic, sea beans and pear. Such a wonderful mix of flavors between the smokiness of the scallops and the refreshing sweetness of the pear and cukes. Best thing of the night.

For entrees, here was the only misstep. Both were just okay. The cod being the weaker of the two. A touch bland and not particularly memorable.

The steak entrée, on the other hand, while good, was nothing compared to the apps the preceded it. Nowhere near as inventive and the “cheese pie” just didn’t translate from ear to mouth very well.

But redemption soon followed with two winners for dessert. The chocolate torte was rich and dreamy and while I could go on more about it, I actually thought it was quite handily upstaged by the strawberry and Camembert mousse with pineapple sorbet, rhubarb and granola. Friggin’ yum!

So, welcome Musket Room. You’ve done New Zealand proud. Not to mention Soho.

4 teeth