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.

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Bruno Pizza

204 E 13th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 598-3080 brunopizzanyc.com

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As a rule, it’s generally frowned upon to like your in-laws, much less love them, but when they find you gems like Bruno’s it’s kinda hard not to love the bejesus out of them. A “hot list” mention in Turkish Vogue (yes, there’s a Turkish Vogue), my mother in-law decided to give it a whirl. And then another and another, and before she knew it she was a dervish going back and forth to this restaurant five times in an eight week period. And while I had never even heard of the place myself, if it’s one thing my in-laws know- well, it’s probably diplomacy. But if there are two things, it’s food. So, I made it priority and grabbed wifey to head down for a bite.

The place is much hipper than most pie places, but the subway car-shaped dinning space with white on white box seats that double as a torture device and a music selection that does the same, it starts to make you feel like you’re in Guantanamo being forced to balance your ass on a cinder block whilst being exposed to shrieks and shrills that try to pass themselves off as music.

So already docking one star for setting, the food was going to have to do a ton of work to climb back out of the hole they were starting in. And my glass of wine wasn’t helping things either. Not because the wine itself was bad, in fact it was a very nice Syrah, but it was served in a glass reeking so heavily of the detergent it was washed in that it took away form the bouquet of the vino.

And then suddenly Bruno went on a tear, opening with an Ultimate Brussels sprouts, every bit as good as Ilili, but without the fried guilt, which so many other restaurants are doing now, loading up the sprouts with bacon and other goodies to the point where they are more like French fries than vegetables. But not Bruno. They let the sprouts shine through, with just the right amount of pizazz to make them special. Pizazz courtesy of apple butter, shishito peppers and puffed black rice.

As for the pies themselves, both were outstanding and both were served up on a whole wheat crust, shockingly enough. But not your typical, earthy, over-powering whole wheat. This is done in such a subtle way that you get all of the good and none of the bad, leaving you with a crust that rivals some of the best you could ever name.

The first of the pies was the Tasso Ham topped with smoked blue cheese, thinly sliced Fuji apples, sage and shallots. It’s excellent, but being the heat-seeker that I am, I found that it needed crushed red pepper to give it balance.

On the other hand, the Mushroom pie doesn’t need a thing other than your mouth, and is the best shroom pie I’ve had since Oenotri in Napa, CA. Topped with a blend of locally sourced fungi ranging from shitake to cremini, paired with a decadent béchamel, chives and chiles.

And to finish off, while the options are slim, they prove to be all you need. A refreshing duo of gelatos of which we opted for the Meyer lemon variety. But Bruno doesn’t do anything expected, serving it up with freshly sliced kumquats, mulberries, lemon curd and meringue brittle. It was so much more than we expected, capping the night on the highest of highs.

If you fashion yourself as a pizza connoisseur, then you need to hop your bones in cab and head to Bruno’s, presto!

4 teeth

Tocqueville

1 E 15th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 647-1515 • tocquevillerestaurant.com

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I haven’t been here in a while. Not since they were located where 15 East now resides, which is more of an indictment of myself, if anything, because I am a HUGE fan of this place. Just absolute perfection on every plate. So why haven’t I rushed back? I’m not really sure. Maybe chalk it up to the fact that I’m getting older and more forgetful. Or perhaps it’s that I’m like a kitten and thus easily distracted by new, shiny objects. My failings aside, there are very few, if any, at Toqueville, which was firing on all cylinders from my sashimi appetizer to the epic miso glazed kobe steak with wasabi mashed potatoes. Just simply phenomenal and a gnat’s eyelash away from being an Ultimate. Even the service was great.

In fact, the only exception to the awesome would be the decor. It’s a bit on the barren side. However, the more casual dining room at the entrance which was the non-reservation area was much more charming with its tile work, etc… Odd decision, in hindsight, but who cares- first, because the food is so damn good they could serve it in a black void and I’d still lap it up. And second, because they have since moved making the point relatively moo, as Joey from Friends once said.

5 teeth

Rosa Mexicano

61 Columbus Ave. New York, NY 10023 • (212) 977-7700 • rosamexicano.com

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I’ve been going to Rosa for years. All three locations in the city, and multiple times at that. So I think it’s fair to say that we have some history together. And while there are many things I still love about Rosa, like any long-term relationship, we’ve had our rocky times as well.

The first time we met, I was instantly smitten by her fresh-made guacamole right there table-side. But this was back in the day before Dos Caminos and virtually every other Mexican joint copied them. Since then, however, I’ve learned a trick or two on how to spice things up, literally. Although the innuendo does work nicely. So, if you’re like me and you want more heat in your heat in your guac, you can ask them to double or even triple the chopped jalapeno count in the bowl. And if you’re into oral masochism, again like me, you can even ask that they go in the back and grab some habaneros instead, to give it more kick than a mule with a soccer fetish.

But man cannot live on guac alone, and fortunately Rosa does many other things very well. Some classics like empanadas, tacos, enchiladas, quesadillas and poblano dishes, and some with a modern twist, like their skirt steak sandwich on ciabatta with caramelized onions and cojita cheese or their incredible bunuelos served with chocolate and raspberry dipping sauces that make them even more ridiculously addictive than they already are (a borderline Ultimate Doughnut).

Sounds like a Hollywood romance, doesn’t it? But it wasn’t always that way. A while back at their Upper West-ish/Hell’s Kitchen location, I took my cousin and his fiance who were in town for a visit. And let’s just say Rosa treated us like mierda. First they made us wait at the bar for about 45 minutes for our table, and that’s with having a reservation. Fortunately, they have great drinks, but the bar was so over crowded it felt more like being on the subway at rush hour with a margarita in your hand.

Then, once seated, we naturally ordered the fresh made guac, and everything was going deliciously as always… That is, until the entrees came. When a few of us ordered the paella risotto, and while it was tasty for the first several bites, it was also filled with shards of PLASTIC!!! Yes, several bits of plastic were mixed all throughout the dish. And when we told the waiter, they literally did nothing about it! They didn’t comp a single dish. The manager didn’t even come over apologize. Nothing. And just like that they lost a customer for over almost a decade.

However, forgiveness is divine, as they say, and a few years back I decided to let Rosa back into my life. The one near Union Square. And slowly but surely, she earned my trust back and we have been together happily ever since… end scene.

3 teeth

 

Casa Mono

52 Irving Pl. New York, NY 10003(212) 253-2773 • casamononyc.com
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This little corner tapas charmer is located right in the heart of Irving Place, flanked on two sides by huge divided light windows, which fills the tiny dining room with sun. Feels like something you’d expect in The Village or Europe.

Of the small plates, we shared five and unfortunately Mono only hit on dos. The first being the bone marrow (pictured), which was done with capers and olives, giving it a nice, salty flavor, along with a little texture, to help cut through the buttery marrow. One of the more interesting bone marrow dishes I’ve had.

The other gem was a roasted rabbit with habanero sauce and yogurt, so delish I’d have to go back to Playboy or Bugs to find a bunny I enjoyed more. Playing with the elements between the heat and the cool creaminess of the yogurt, it really made every bite somethin’ somethin’.

For the misses, I would take a firm pass on the buratta with snap peas and bacon. It’s a watery mess that tastes more like cream soup than buratta. And considering how low the degree of difficulty is with buratta, I’m gonna have to say this was pretty damn god awful. Like trying to actually shoot fish in a barrel and blowing your foot off in the process.

And the other miss was the Polpo (octopus) with fennel and grapefruit. It wasn’t a shit show like the buratta, but it was definitely a calamity of proportions. So heavy on the fennel and a little too light on the puss. As a result, one might say the octopus was drowning in a sea of fennel. Oh, the irony (note to Alanis Morissette, this is actual irony, not coincidence or tragedy like everything in your song “Ironic,” which tragically helped to successfully misguide an entire generation as to the definition of the word. Okay, I’m done venting)!

Lastly, we went for an attempt at redemption, with my favorite dessert, bread pudding. Because I really wanted to give this place three knives (in my heart of hearts I did like it), but currently it was teetering on the edge of two after burratamaggeddon. Sadly, Mono’s chef screwed the pooch once again serving up a confused dessert that seemed like it was caught between wanting to be a peach crumble and bread pudding and didn’t really stick the landing on either.

So two knives it is, I’m sorry to say. And while Mono may be capable of spots of greatness, there are too many spots of a different color, to the point where one has to question whether or not the chef is just calling it in, or even worse, does the chef at Mono… have mono?

2 teeth

Raines Law Room

48 W 17th St. New York, NY 10011 raineslawroom.com

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Only in New York could you actually get people to stand in line to drink in a basement. But I kid the Law Room because I loved it. And while it’s true that it is in fact located in a basement, it is one of the more exclusive, refined and chic basements you are likely to find yourself drinking in. In place of wood paneling you’ll find art deco wallpaper, floor to ceiling curtains and high-back, over-sized sofas. And for the cherry on top of the cool, there is a doorbell on the wall of every “section” which you ring to call your bitchy meets vampy server over.

The cocktail menu is loaded with options, broken down by palate (strong, refreshing, spicy, etc…). My favorite of the lot is called the Wildest Redhead, made with blended scotch, cherry (to give it the “red”) and a few other things to make it more complex than this lame description.

My second fav would be the Garden Paloma, a refreshing tequila based version of the Bourbon Bonnet at Maysville, if you’ve ever had it. A close third, and dead ringer for taste would be the 10 Gallon Hat. Not sure why they would have two drinks on the menu that taste so similar, but let’s just assume that my taste buds were too inebriated to notice the difference. And speaking of not noticing things, there was another drink with mint in it that was also quite refreshing, but I can’t recall the name for the life of me, and no, it wasn’t a mojito. But whatever it was, should you spot it on the menu, it would be fourth for me.

And bringing up the rear, chosen from the “strong” category, the Sazerac was the only one I didn’t like. Not because it was too strong, but because it felt too heavy. Not something you can drink more than one of, and not something you would ever want on a hot summer day. Granted, if it were a hot summer day you probably wouldn’t be looking to grab a drink in a friggin’ basement, now would you?

4 teeth

 

Laut

15 E 17th St. New York, NY 10003 (212) 206-8989 • lautnyc.com

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When you enter Laut, you can’t help but like it, with its exposed brick, colorful murals and Prozac jolly waiters. And at lunch, the value gives you even more to like with soup or salad, shumai or spring rolls. On top of your main. Not literally. Actually laid out quite nicely in a bento box next to each other.

But as euphoric as the waiter was, unfortunately I didn’t have what he was having (to quote “When Harry Met Sally”). The Malaysian noodles were too greasy and not even close to spicy, as described by server and menu alike.

On the uptick, the soup and shumai were both very good, but the salad was just okay and the Singha was a bit flat, so back we slid into the two-knife mire. And while I’d almost consider 2.5/3, it’s hard to do when you have Republic and Rohm right around the corner, both of which are better.

2 teeth

All’onda

22 E 13th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 231-2236 allondanyc.com

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Hype strikes again! Damn YOU HYPE!!!!

I swear this place must’ve made it onto at least half a dozen top lists in NYC, from Thrillist to New York Magazine. Well, unless you’re caught up in some cockamamie Brewster’s Millions scheme where you’re trying to squander your hard-earned coin, I’d say skip it, because it’s almost all’unda whelming.

From the moment the first starter hit the table things were off. The arancini with black truffles were so lacking they should be blacklisted. Not even the faintest hint of earthiness from the truffles, which most likely didn’t come from France. And no butteriness or creamy cheese to make the risotto shine from within.

The polenta crisps had their issues as well, served with a baccalà montecato dip (cod salad) that was so incredibly salty no one was able to endure more than a single bite.

The best of the lot was easily the duck crostini, but that was in large part due to the lack of competition. Almost like a foie gras terrine, the duck was silky smooth, spreading over the toast like a blanket of richness, sweetened with pickled Asian pear and contrasted with a little hazelnuttiness.

I shared the short rib risotto for two (pictured) with a friend, and fortunately she didn’t disown me after talking her into it, because it was a huge mistake. Both in physical and conceptual terms. Starting with the physical, let’s just say that I think they misprinted the menu and it was supposed to be for 20. That, or Fred Flintstone was in the kitchen and no one ever bother to discuss portion control with him. Also, it’s not a risotto dish. It’s the friggin’ side of a cow on a plate next to a drizzle of tomato mostrada and a tiny bowl of Arborio rice, so don’t be fooled by the misleading description. Also, just don’t order it, because it’s too expensive for what it is and how it’s served, “sous-vide” as they like to call it. Or “raw,” would be another way to describe it. The server tried to convince us that the color was a result of the sous-vide process, but I can assure you that the texture didn’t lie.

The garganelli was much, much better, prepared with peekytoe crab, citrus and tarragon. But somehow it still didn’t reach the level of expectations. If you want a truly special crab pasta try NoMad or Frankies 457.

Then, just when all hope seemed lost, All’onda rallied with an Ultimate. The Brussels sprouts are as good as the reigning champ Ilili. But this is no copycat. All’onda goes its own way, using candied pancetta and bottarga (dried mullet roe) to harness greatness. It was so incredibly good, the Japanese eggplant turned green with envy.

Another surprise came from the dessert course and while I usually don’t recommend olive oil cake, this was the best I’ve ever had. But considering it’s still just olive oil cake, it’s hard for me to get so excited that I can declare it an Ultimate. I suppose it is though, trouncing the likes of Maialino and The Inn at Pound Ridge.

The apples were also good, basically a deconstructed crumble. And the sorbets were delicious as well, the best being the kiwi.

And last but not least, a shout out to the cocktails. The basil gimlet was nice and refreshing and the La Serenissima was nice and spicy. But while it had its moments, it had its misses. Too many, if you ask me, to ever call it one of the top new spots in the city.

2 teeth

ABC Cocina

38 E 19th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 677-2233 abccocinanyc.com

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If you’ve ever been to ABC Kitchen then you’ve seen how great Jean-Georges is with décor. And I’m guessing he found it so nice he used it twice, Cocina is a dead ringer.

And speaking of the dead, the irony of Cocina is that it’s sitting atop the gravesite of another great tapas restaurant, Pipa. Not sure why it didn’t last, but my remorse dissipated after one bite of their guac with grapefruit salsa. Such a simple, brilliant twist to refresh a classic.

Another great spin on a tried and true was the beet salad with “smoky” goat. It gave layers of depth to the dish that made it seem as if I was trying it again for the first time.

But the dish that stole my corazón was the huevos rancheros. Easily the best I’ve ever had. Served in a skillet, sitting on a crisp tortilla bed. Nothing too inventive about it truthfully, so I’m guessing it was just a matter of quality ingredients and proportions.

The ham and cheese fritters are also worthy of your attention, described as “ooey-gooey,” as in “Oooo-weee are those friggin’ good!”

And while I didn’t actually try it, the fish sandwich got tons of praise form the other side of the table. That said, upon my return for dinner, I did try the the crispy fish tacos and holy contrasts Batman! The use of pickled cabbage is a beacon of brightness that balances out the fried fish, keeping it from feeling heavy. Just genius. And the habanero sauce they dress it with was so on point I didn’t need to add a drop extra, which is rare for me. Definitely adding this one to my Ultimates.

But Cocina is not perfecto. The much raved about short rib taco fell way short of the fishy glory that preceded it. And speaking of fish, the fluke ceviche was chewy and bland. Probably the worst dish we ordered and worst ceviche I’ve ever had. As for the octopus, it made my taste buds scoff, especially after having just had some killer pus at Mermaid Inn a few nights before. So the comparison did not bode well for Cocina.

Service was also a touch spotty during lunch. Not knowing when to clear dishes. Hostess tried to seat us inches from the front door with nothing between us and the frigid cold outside but a velvet curtain, even though we had a reservation. But for dinner we sat at the bar and our server/bartender couldn’t have been better. Partly due to his wonderful recommendation of that fish taco and also due to his suggestion of the blood orange margarita– deadly!

In the middle of the road, I would put the Red Hibiscus sangria, which was certainly good, packed with refreshing fruit, but unfortunately not quite as packed with awesome as the margarita.

And all four desserts also fell somewhere in the mids… The tres leche was solid, but I’ve most certainly had better. The flan was also pretty good, but it’s hard for me to get too excited about flan. I’m not the biggest fan. The vanilla fritters with Mexican chocolate was done well, but the flavors just didn’t wow. The best of the quatro being the rice pudding. It’s nothing incredible, but if you like rice pudding (which I do), it is done very well.

And well done is the main takeaway at Cocina. The hits definitely outweigh the misses enough that I feel obliged to round up to four knives.

4 teeth

The City Bakery

3 W 18th St. New York, NY 10011(212) 366-1414 • thecitybakery.com
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My love for this place runs very deep, so if I seem irrationally effusive compared to its present day offerings, please forgive the reminiscent halo effect. And while this opening might sound puzzling to those who think City Bakery is still awesome to this day, I assure you that it is only half as awesome as it once was. Which is a testament to just how off the charts it was, because I’m still giving it five knives even with the menu flying at half-mast.

So, first let’s start in present day since this is the stuff you can actually still get. Three Ultimates back to back to back are the pretzel croissant (pictured), the chocolate chip cookie and the molten chocolate cookie. All three of them are so fantastically joy-inducing amazing they could give the likes of Prozac a run for its money.

Down any one of them along side a mug of their homemade hot chocolate (with an equally homemade marshmallow) and you will be so deep in a euphoric, diabetic bliss that the song “Revolution No. 9” by the Beatles actually makes sense.

And now for what you can only dream about, because they no longer make them. You see, once upon a time City Bakery also used to offer table service and upon that menu was a caramelized French toast the stuff of which fairytales are made. But sadly she is no more. And along with her has gone the fried green tomato grilled cheese on cornbread. The sandwich lasted a little longer than the French Toast as there was also a prepared foods/buffet period as well. A period that put the likes of Dishes. Essen and Mangia to shame.

Sadly the latter offerings are nothing but a memory. Happily, the former are still around in all of their diet-thwarting glory.

5 teeth