Dominique Ansel Bakery

189 Spring St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 219-2773 • dominiqueansel.com

Made famous by the invention of the cronut and thus by default perpetrator of the Cabbage Patch frenzy that ensued thereafter, DAB is the stuff of legends. And not the kind you’ve been cautioned about, ya know, the ones who never live up to expectation?

Well fret not, because Dom delivers. And I mean that both literally and figuratively. Just go to Trycaviar.com and get yourself some baked-to-order-cookie-nirvana delivered right to your door, still warm and gooey and cracktastic!

The white chocolate macadamia alone is Ultimate-worthy and the chocolate brownie cookie ain’t too shabby neither. Okay, the chocolate chip cookie is pretty kickass as well. In fact, the only cookie that wasn’t just flat-out orgasmic was the gingersnap, but still very good, mind you, it just suffered from three, consecutive, tough acts to follow.

Oh, and the presentation? Like it was coming from Tiffany’s, if Tiffany’s sold baked goods instead of jewelry.

You can also get the cronut, pastries and croissants delivered, but if you want the cronut you need to order in advance, because they are still a hot item all these years later and will sell out before you even hit your snooze button.

 

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Mercer Kitchen

99 Prince St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 966-5454 themercerkitchen.com

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I feel compelled to give Mercer five knives simply on the basis that I found my wife because of this place. Well, technically I found her at work, but this was where we had our first date almost 15 years ago, and for a VERY specific reason,  they have something called “sushi pizza” (pictured). You see, until I met my wife, the only place I had ever even seen this dish was in Toronto at The Sushi Inn (horrible name, I know). It was prepared more like a round hanabe as opposed to the way Mercer does it, but damn was it good. And I hated the fact that the only place I could find it was in the Great White North. So one day, while being my typical Ferocious self, complaining about the sushi pizza inadequacies of Manhattan, this pretty little thing waltzed up and dropped a bomb on me, “New York has sushi pizza!” And just like that, I was smitten. Granted she has many other redeeming qualities, so please don’t think that I actually chose to marry someone solely on the basis of a food recommendation. Not that I’m incapable of it.

So now that I’ve thoroughly over-hyped this dish into the stratosphere, let me explain how it’s made. It starts with a terrific crust, which is then covered in a wasabi spread, in place of tomato sauce. Then, they layer thinly shaved carpaccio-like pieces of sushi grade tuna. And finally, they top it all off with crisp Asian straw vegetables. And not only is it worth saying vows over, it’s actually even better than the one in Toronto.

But Mercer has a much deeper bench than just one dish, should sushi pizza not be your bag. In fact, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. It is, after all, a Jean-Georges restaurant and one of his oldest and most successful to boot. From pastas to prime meats and all the way back to another killer pizza, the fontina with black truffles, you will be golden.

That is, however, only in terms of food. As for service, prepare to be treated more like lead. In fact, not once have I ever dined here when they didn’t screw something up. The last time, being so royally, that we haven’t been back since. After making us wait nearly an hour to be seated at our reserved table, they then had the audacity to ask us to hurry up our meal so that they could seat the reservation after us. Quite the set of balls on that maitre’d. Surprised he was able to wear pants. But that’s just how some trendy places roll in the city. And how one knife also rolled right off of this review.

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Bar Pitti

268 Ave of the Americas New York, NY 10014 • (212) 982-3300

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No longer in its heyday, Bar Pitti is still trucking along, doing its thing and keepin’ it real. And by that I mean the real deal authentic Italian, not trying to cover things up with inventive culinary gimmicks or posh smoke and mirrors. This is just bare bones belissimo.

Now I want to reiterate that when I said “authentic” I meant it. Like as if you were in Italy. As in the specials menu is just a chalkboard that they prop up on your table sans translations. So, you either better be Italian, understand Italian, have Google translate warmed up and ready to go on your smartphone, or be prepared to be insulted by your waiter who will also ask if you know what lasagna is. This is not me trying to be clever, this is them being assy. And yes, they actually asked me this with a straight face. So not the kind of service that’ll give you the warm and fuzzies. The food, however, is.

Simple is the theme top to bottom here and the ingredients carry the day quite capably. For example the arugula salad with tomatoes and parmesan is so damn basic, merely dressed with a touch of garlic, oil and lemon, and yet it sings with simplicity.

The prosciutto toast is also deceptively plain Jane, but the prosciutto they use is so phenomenal it puts anything you can buy in Eataly to shame.

The pastas are also tremendous, both in taste and portion. Of the two we tried, I found the lasagna (yes, I now know what it is) to be the clear winner. So layered with flavors and ooey gooey goodness. The artichoke and leek spaghetti with olive oil, on the other hand, was a touch bland for my tastes.

But all of the above went down quite nicely with the Multipuciano they offer by the glass.

The only other miss for me was the affagato. I found the espresso to be too strong and bitter, as opposed to rich and flavorful. I MUCH prefer the one at Fortina in Armonk, because not only is the coffee better, but I love the textural addition of amaretto cookies. But all in all a very admirable showing from a long time NYC icon.

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Charlie Bird

5 King St. New York, NY 10012(212) 235-7133charliebirdnyc.com

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It’s tough to get a reservation at Charlie Bird. Too tough if you ask me, because it simply isn’t worth the aggravation. Hell, even if it were easy to get a table here I still don’t think I could honestly say it’s worth the money or your time, falling into that ever-growing pile of over-hyped Italian restaurants in New York.

The décor is an intimate sliver on the Soho fringe with exposed brick and a floor to ceiling windowed wall, which tends to make the place quite noisy and thus less intimate because you constantly have to break the flow of conversation at your table by saying, “Wha?” The service was good though. Friendly, unaffected and most importantly attentive.

But Charlie choked where it counts, serving up a ho-hum string of dishes seven deep, made up of three starters and all four pastas. The only bright spots being the focaccia they serve as their bread and the painfully simple, yet surprisingly delicious faro salad (pictured).

So starting positive, let’s talk focaccia, which once served you might ask, hey, where’s the olive oil for dipping? But take just one single bite and you will soon learn that ample amounts of oil are already in the bread. It’s very good, but let’s just say you’re napkin is going to look like you had a run-in with one of those Turkish wrestlers and lost.

Apart from the focaccia, the only other thing that managed to impress was the faro salad I mentioned above, made with a colorful array of roasted cherry tomatoes, pistachios, mint and Parmesan. And while it’s very good, why bend over backwards to get a reservation at 6:30pm for a dish you could easily make at home?

So now that the backhanded compliments are out of the way, it’s time to get nasty… The grilled octopus saltimbocca with Tuscan beans and prosciutto is okay, if not a touch dry. Also, after hearing that it was the best in the world, I feel it is my moral duty to bring those hypers back down to Earth, and correct this injustice by setting the record straight. This pus wouldn’t even crack my top five in New York City alone! Pearl & Ash, Gato and Pasha all handily trouncing this lame attempt at an Ultimate.

Far more disappointing than the octopus, however, was the burrata, served up with baby romaine and pickle accompaniments that did absolutely nothing for the dish. In fact, this dish was so boring it makes watching golf on TV seem riveting by comparison. Yet even as boring as the burrata was, I think the cauliflower with hazelnuts might actually be able to out-bore it in a bore-off.

Then came the pastas, and all four tasted like the chef had developed an acute case of flavor-a-phobia. The best two were the corn parapdelle with leek fondue and the linguini with uni, bortarga and lemon. But saying they were the best is like claiming bragging rights after winning a foot race versus a corpse. The corpses being the gnocci, (Élan’s is WAY better, not to mention Frenchier), and the Chitarra Nero with crab and chili, which was just flat out too salty to be enjoyable. And so was the entire experience for that matter. Especially when there are scads of other places out there that are easier to get into and are infinitely tastier. Sorry Charlie (couldn’t resist a little old school Starkist ad humor).

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Sessanta

60 Thompson St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 219-8119sessantanyc.com

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Not all that long ago if you saw a restaurant located in a hotel it was like the kiss of death. But that was before the likes of Maialino, NOMAD and Dirty French. So, when I heard all the rave reviews about this new place in the Thompson Hotel I said to myself, “Self, let’s add it to the list.”

Now, it just so happens that it wasn’t on the list for very long though, because I just recently had a business dinner there and got to see whether it was all that or all hype.

The hotel itself is rather quaint, like the street it’s on, but the restaurant is actually rather sizeable winding around corners and bars with its soothing wood, ribbon walls that almost give it a midcentury vibe.

Off on the wrong foot, we embarked with a Brunello that was very strong on the tannins almost to the breaking point, which didn’t do the food any favors, because it really didn’t complement a single dish. And it’s a shame too, because most of the food could’ve benefited from a little help.

Among the starters in need were the tuna crudo, which was what one might expect from a tuna crudo. Nothing more. Nothing less. Well, maybe except for the additions of zucchini and caper berries, neither of which moved the needle in either direction.

But far guiltier of not moving the needle were the beef tongue sliders, which were so surprisingly bland it felt like you were being cheated out of the gluttony you thought you were buying into.

Also on the bland list I would put the highly revered Struncatura Spaghetti (AKA Peasant Pasta). I had heard from friends and blogs alike that it was exploding with flavor. The saltiness of the anchovies, the heat of the chilies, the heat and saltiness of the neonata (a condiment from Calabria made from baby fish). But I guess the chef must’ve imploded under the pressure of serving the Ferocious Foodie, because what I got out of this dish was neo-nada. Go with the lamb ragu. It’s so much better. More on that later.

Moving up a notch from bland was the marinated calamari with puffed black rice and crunchy celery hearts, which proved to be a textural stroke of genius, contrasting greatly with the squid and making what could’ve been yet another snore just passably interesting. But even with that said, I would still opt for the braised octopus with couscous, apricots and turmeric. It was tender, flavorful and apart from the meatballs, the only thing I would ever order again.

Speaking of the meatballs (pictured), they are pretty amazing. Easily the best thing on the menu. But these ain’t your run of the mill balls. They’re made with spicy Italian sausage, red peppers and Sicilian honey, which almost acts like a candied coating, creating a hard outer shell, locking in the juices. But the true magic is when that honey and heat coalesce in your mouth to create a sonata of sumptuousness.

The other high point of the meal was the Tagghiarini (lamb ragu) pasta, made unique with crunchy bits of baked ricotta salata. The flavors of the ragu were bursting, the cheese was crunching- So then why isn’t it something I would order again, you ask? Because after a few bites the crunchy gimmick passes novelty and starts to become distracting and dare I say off-putting. Like crunchy bugs or burnt bits of lamb floating in your sauce. It’s great as a shared dish, but to commit to an entire bowl yourself is a bit overkill on the crunch.

Dessert also proved to be a tale of two Sessantas with the peach cake coming out dry and worthless. Whereas the cream filled puffs, an Italian take on profiteroles, were a far superior way to end your meal.

So, in all fairness, Sessanta is probably a three knifer, but because of all the hype, being lauded as one of the best new openings in New York according to Thrillist, it is teetering precarious on the edge of two, because apparently they have already started to slide. C’est la vie, as they say not in Italy.

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Felix

340 W Broadway New York, NY 10013(212) 431-0021felixnyc.com/soho

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The fact that even a Yelp Elite would dock two stars just because the place only excepts cash or American Express is everything wrong with Yelp in one sentence. And while I am technically friends with said “Elitist,” they should be boiled in oil for such shenanigans, the very same “crack oil” they use on their French fries, which she swoons about in the very same review. In fact, she gave nothing but rave reviews about the food across the board and then coughed up an anemic two star rating. Not cool.

What’s also not cool is that places like Pastis (RIP), Morandi and Balthazar all get crazy over-inflated praise only to fall miserably short, whereas Felix actually manages to deliver where it counts, on the plate. I mean, who gives two shits that Mario Batali or Woody Allen eat there? Last I checked you can’t eat them Hannibal!

But even beyond the food, the are so many other things to love about Felix. First, I much prefer the more intimate-sized dining room, not to mention the amazing sun-lit corner location, especially in the summer, when they open up the glass sides and it’s like you’re sitting outside even when you’re inside. It’s the closest thing to a real Parisian Bistro in Manhattan, if you ask me. And with all of the shoppers strutting up and down West Broadway, the people watching is bar none.

As for the food, I’ve never had a bad meal, but the things I love the most are the eggs. They do such an amazing job with everything from omelets to benny, and as noted above, the fries on the side are pretty killer too, in both the slang and literal sense. Lunch is also pretty money, but I’ve actually never had dinner here. Not sure why, especially after seeing that picture above. Mmmm….

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Lure Fishbar

142 Mercer St. New York, NY 10012(212) 431-7676 lurefishbar.com

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I was debating whether or not to lead with a photo of their food or of their decor, but in truth there really is no contest as to which is more impressive, hence the photo above. It’s almost as if they built a restaurant using parts from the boat in the movie “On Golden Pond.” Just gorgeous. But sadly that’s close to about it in terms of plusses- well, that and it’s location, right in the heart of prime Soho shopping.

And while the Yelpers may swoon, I have to scratch my head, because the food simply doesn’t hold up to the adulation. For example, the lobster roll is an eye roll, paling in comparison to places like Pearl, Luke’s, Mermaid Inn and Red Hook. And the other dishes weren’t much better, or perhaps even worse, because they were so unmemorable as I can’t even recall what else we had- only that it was more of blah, and enough blah to form a solid opinion that we would rather eat at any of the other dozen or so places in Soho that we love. Guess the name should’ve been a dead giveaway, lure’s are inherently shiny, attractive objects, but when you bite into them, well, you get screwed.

P.S. The sister restaurant Burger & Barrel is much, MUCH better.

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Momofuku Milk Bar

72 Wooster St. New York, NY 10012(347) 577-9504milkbarstore.com

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Momofuku Milk Bar is what happens when you let a mad scientist (David Chang), who is very in touch with his inner five year old, into the kitchen. Yes, this tiny dessert café (a.k.a. bakery) sports a menu that reads like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, minus the snozberries.

Starting with the cookies, the Compost Cookie (pictured) is most definitely the one to be getting, made from a menagerie of ingredients including (are you sitting down?) pretzels, potato chips, coffee, oats, butterscotch, chocolate chips and about 40 other things. No exaggeration. It’s salty meets sweet meets the kitchen sink. In fact, this cookie is so complex, it’s likely to give the other cookies a complex. And it does, because after the Compost, the other cookies range from good (the blueberry & cream) to good riddance, like the corn cookie.

The Cereal Milk in all of its various forms from milkshake to soft serve to, well, plain old milk (about which there is truly nothing plain), tastes like the leftover milk from a bowl of Fruit Loops. Genius in theory, but in practice there’s actually something a bit unsettling about this one, because you can’t help but wonder who, and how hygienic was the person who ate the bowl of cereal from the milk you are now drinking? Granted this is obviously not how it’s made, or at least I pray it’s not, but for some reason it still triggers this visceral off-putting reaction.

Another infamous treat at the Milk Bar is the Crack Pie. Basically a variation on a chess pie with toasted oats and hints of butter cake. The net, net is supposed to yield something so addictive it’s like that other addictive thing bearing the name “crack.” Well, having never tried the cocaine version, I can only speak from my experience of the pie, and addicted I am not. Primarily because it is way too sickly sweet. And that’s kinda the problem with Milk Bar in general, much of the stuff is so crazy sweet that it becomes polarizing.

But polarizing means there are two extremes, and while the Cereal Milk and Crack Pie fall at the low end, the Compost Cookie and the Birthday Cake Truffles fall at the peak. Now I know some people dismiss these as birthday cake pops without the stick, but I would say that is a drastic oversimplification. It’d be like calling quantum physics similar to algebra because they are both math. Yes, there’s way more going on in these balls than meets the mouth.

So ,while it’s not exactly a smashing success like Ko, the Milk Bar still has its moments. You just have to navigate your way through the sugar bombs.

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The Ultimate Cocktail

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Maysville – New York, NY

Being that I’m a heat-seeker it should come as no surprise that I even like my drinks spicy. And what makes the alchemy of the Bourbon Bonnet such a triumph isn’t just the spice. It’s the refreshing contrast of elements, like the sweetness of the pineapple juice against the jalapeno infused bourbon. And while the spiciness is worth a warning for some, the bigger caution is that they are WAY too easy to drink. So much so that you’ll easily be three or four in before you even realize you left your underwear in the bathroom.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

While you’re sitting there stuck at the bar waiting for a table, do yourself a solid and turn lemons into a warm and fuzzy buzzy. Three sheets to the wind later you’ll care less about the fact that you just waited two hours for a burger. The drink is comprised of Tito’s Vodka, cucumber, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters, lime and something that apparently makes you fall in love with the notion of ordering a second round of Rhubarb Sophies.

The Rickhouse – San Francisco, CA

There’s something about this place that just makes you want to drink whiskey. And there’s something about the La Bonne Vie that makes you lose track of that whiskey. I would imagine the smooth bourbon is partly to blame. And the refreshing lemon and grapefruit juice doesn’t hurt either. Keeping it far from sweet. As does the fresh basil, which brightens the whole thing up. And bitters to bring an old school complexity and depth to the whole thing.

Balaboosta – New York, NY

There is a lot right about Balaboosta, but none righter than the thirst-quenching, buzz-inducing Hana. Made with Fifty Pounds Gin, triple sec, lime and arak, it’s a crazy mash up of cultures in a high ball. But apart from just being a kickass cocktail, the Hana pairs so unbelievably well with the food due to the arak.

Brushstroke – New York, NY

Apparently the Japanese Cucumber with Almond has been on New York Magazine’s top ten cocktail list 2 years running. I know this because our rather braggadocios waiter informed us of such. But as cocky as he was, he was also well within his right, because it really is quite something. Made with gin, lime, cucumber (obviously), and coarse ground roasted almonds used to dust the rim as a variation on the sugar and salt that you normally come across on most other cocktails.

Mata Chica – Ambergris Caye, BZ

It’s been a while since I was there, but that’s how enduring my love is for the rum punch at Mata Chica (of Temptation Island fame). Made by a charismatic young man named Winston, the balance of sweetness to refreshing to inebriating was dangerously perfect. Luckily you are in the middle of nowhere, with not a car in sight for miles, so drinking and driving isn’t even an option. Drinking and drowning, however…

ABC Cocina – New York, NY

You could give Tom Cruise a week and unlimited tosses and twirls with bottles and cocktail shakers, but I sincerely doubt he could ever make a cocktail as staggeringly good as the blood orange margarita at ABC. Not that there’s too much more to describe as the name of the drink itself is rather self explanatory, that said, the euphoric sensation you get when it hits your lips is beyond explanation.

Truck – Bedford, NY

I find it hard to go with just one drink here because the Power Wagon margarita is more than just a drink, it’s a franchise. A brand unto itself, spinning out seasonal versions like a game on the App Store. For example, here are some of the “updates:” grapefruit, blood orange, cranberry, pumpkin, jalapeno and of course the formidable classic. And everyone one of them is awesome. And everyone one of them is as strong as all get out, so go easy or go with a designated driver.

Burger & Barrel – New York, NY

Most Bloody Mary purists are about to scoff, so I’ll wait while you preemptively get those scoffs out of the way…. Done? Good. So, while I do indeed love the classic and have had my fair share of some delicious ones, this inventive twist on the tried and true had me at jalapenos. Made with tequila instead of vodka, the Bloody Maria puts the Mary through a Mexican lens and out comes a hybrid that could give the Prius a run for its money.

Back Forty

70 Prince St. New York, NY 10012(212) 219-8570backfortynyc.com

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My experience here was somewhat atypical considering I’ve only been for a private event. That said, most everything they served was off of their menu, so my review should be somewhat accurate.

Starting with the drinks, Back Forty served up some perfect tens. Just awesome, inventive twists on classics. Some margarita inspired, some mojito inspired and others just really-ass-good inspired. Pulling in a host of tricks using ginger beer, muddled strawberries and dare I say love.

As for the food, it was solid good. Nothing exceedingly memorable however, with the one exception being the pork belly fritters- I popped so many of these in my mouth hole it was like I was channeling my inner Harvey Weinstein.

And then there’s dessert. Which are all very good and everything, but let’s cut to the chase. It’s not all about that bass. It’s about the DONUTS!!! (to be read with Homer Simpson inflection). Had I not gone all Jabba on the pork fritters I would’ve easily pounded a half dozen of these suckers.

In other news, staff is friendly, decor is quaint and intimate and I probably should go back under normal circumstances before considering this an accurate review, but since I have no idea when that might be…

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