John Doe

253 5th Ave. New York, NY 10001 • (646) 882-4007johndoenyc.com

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To start, I’d like to begin by stating that John kicks Lulu’s ass. Located in the former space as Lulu & Me (RIP-ish), John Doe has come to take its place with a somewhat similar offering… on paper, that is. In terms of flavor, however, I am happy to report that the 2.0 update comes with a host of new features such as better service, better décor and better food.

As for that all-important last update, let’s start with the popcorn shrimp, which was one of the better ones I’ve ever had, primarily because you can actually taste the shrimp. Normally I feel like the shrimp-to-breading ratio is always so far off that all you are eating is a fried wad of batter, but not these. They’re plump, tasty and shrimpy. Served with a spicy cayenne remoulade that make these shrimp a huge hit. Down it with a refreshing John Doe Ale and you’ll be halfway to happy.

For my entrée I went with the Jane Doe, which is the veggie burger version of the meat-based John Doe burger. Jane is made with brown rice, yellow bell peppers and beets, giving her patty a slightly red hue, topped with avocado, aged cheddar and red pepper aioli then served on a pretzel roll. It’s no Gochujang Burger from Cinnamon Snail, but it held its own. Especially with the addition of Dijon. Also, I think I might have been a bit spoiled having just come off of that insanely good duck and foie gras burger at Élan. So how could a veggie burger even hope to compare?

Don’t judge, because when I mention what we ordered for dessert I fear that some of you might find issue with it, particularly the wife. In my defense, though, there is only one option for dessert and we did split it four ways. Okay, I’ll dispense with the stalling… We had the deep fried Oreos with vanilla ice cream. Yes, a deep fried cookie with ice cream on top, because a regular cookie is just WAY too healthy. Now obviously it wasn’t bad, cuz duh, it’s a deep fried Oreo cookie with ice cream. But to be fair, it wasn’t exactly worth it either. I mean going in the expectations are SO incredibly high (as is the guilt) that there is a lot to compensate for and sadly the Oreos fall short, netting out a touch soggy and nowhere near worth the year they probably just took off my life. John Doe, however, is well-worth the trip. It’s not quite up there with some of the 4 and 5 knifers in the hood, but three is pretty respectable in my book.

3 teeth

Sweet Hollow Diner

100 Broadhollow Rd. Melville, NY 11747 • (631) 549-0768

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Ya know those pathetic diners in movies where the criminals are on the run and they stop to get bite? Or the place bad buys meet up to talk over a plan? Or the place where undercover cops meet with informants so as not to draw any attention to either of them? That’s this place. No, you won’t even find Guy Fieri caught dead at this joint, because it’s even below his standards, appealing to the absolute lowest common denominator possible. Granted I’ve eaten there twice, so what does that say about me? Although the pickens are pretty slim in Melville and I was outvoted the second time.

In terms of what to get, I recommend getting as far from here as possible. But if you’re like me and find yourself stuck here by reasons beyond your control, than I’ll tell you what not to get, the only two things I’ve ever had here, which are a grilled chicken sandwich and a Greek salad, both of which were like eating a nightmare. Chicken so dry you could use it as chalk to write “Help!” on the menu board, served with your typical, soggy diner plank fries. Or you can opt for the over ripe fruit salad, depending on your mood. And should you go for salad-salad, like the Greek, you can look forward to limp lettuce, bitter grape leaves, canned olives and a dressing that almost makes matters worse.

If you respect yourself, I urge you to learn from my mistakes and avoid this place at all costs. Even jump out of a moving car if you have to and head to the Starbucks down the street. You’ll thank me for it. After the abrasions heal.

1 tooth

Cock & Bull

23 W 45th St. New York, NY 10036(212) 819-1900 • cockandbullnyc.com
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Before I jump right into this review, let’s take a moment to really appreciate the name. I mean really take it in. Cause the way I see it, we’re talking truckloads of confidence (or money… or both) it must’ve taken to name this place what is essentially synonymous with bullshit. A name most people wouldn’t exactly flock to as a draw. But, on the other hand, a brilliant play toward lower expectations, because if you wind up having a shitty meal or terrible service, well what did you expect? It says bullshit right on the door!

Name aside, Bullshit fashions itself quite faithfully after your typical British Pub with its dark wood walls, Guinness on draft, a healthy selection of scotch and rugby on the telly. And contrary to my theory above, the service is pretty attentive and on the ball.

In terms of food, one must first calibrate themselves in reality, after all, it is bar food, and worse still, British food. A culture known for such culinary contributions to the world as shepherd’s pie, pot pie and fish & chips. So, now going in fully calibrated I would like to start with a major shout out to the fish sliders, done “fish & chips style” with batter-fried cod on little buns with slaw and nicely seasoned wedge fries- er, I mean chips on the side. In fact, they were so good I much preferred them over the regular fries which you can also order by the basket or with a burger.

The only misses for me were the deviled eggs. As in the devil himself was missing. No heat. No spice. No seasoning. No bloody anything other than mayonnaise as far as I could tell, making them way too creamy and not all that tasty. Oh and in case you’re wondering what in the hell that dish is in the picture above, that’s bacon wrapped meatloaf ladies and gentleman. Talk about devilish.

Come drinks, the Guinness was good, poured like it should (look, I’m a poet), nice and smooth. And while the bourbon selection is a little light, the Bulleit Rye is always a crowd pleaser, so box checked on hooch.

In general a solid choice for a drink and a bite with friends before hoping on a train at Grand Central and slipping into a food coma.

3 teeth

Rocky’s

235 Saw Mill River Rd. Millwood, NY 10546 • (914) 941-2165rockysdeli.net

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Word on the street is that Rocky’s just hauled in a nod from the folks at Best of Westchester (that street being Rt.133), so it goes without saying that I needed to scoot my opinionated bones on over there to order up some sammies.

The place looks like any one of a thousand just like it in the city, long counter on one side, stuffed to the gills with rolls, wedges & ciabattas, backed by a task force of sandwich soldiers armed with cooktop skillets the size of sofas and bins upon bins of prepped ingredients. And on the other side you’ll find a wall of fridges loaded with every imaginable beverage one could ever hope to wash down a hoagie with.

Unfortunately, this faithful homage to city sandwich shops is so faithful that the sandwiches are nothing special. I guess people are just wistfully lining up out of sentimentality for the days when they used to live in the city. So therein lies the good news, you no longer have to drive an hour into the city to get your fix. But a reality check is definitely in order, because the sandwiches are far from the “best” in Westchester.

To get all specific on your ass, almost every sandwich requires that you add something to it, because they are too bland as is. For example The Untouchable desperately needed to touch some tomatoes or coleslaw or roasted red peppers- anything to give it moisture! Plus, the chicken cutlet is so thin it tastes like nothing more than its breading. Then there’s the actual bread. And together they overpower the grilled prosciutto, mozz and balsamic.

The Whaler, while better than The Untouchable, was also just okay, mainly due, once again, to a meek portion of fish so thin you could floss with it (not exactly what I would call “whale-like”), breaded and fried, along with hash browns and tripling down on the theme, a fried egg. There’s also American cheese, but what it needed most was ketchup or hot sauce to make it interesting enough to finish both halves.

The Chip Chip was easily the best of the three, with chipotle chicken, chipotle mayo, smoked gouda, bacon and avocado all on ciabatta. It had some nice kick, but if spicy sandwiches are your thang, then you owe it to yourself to head on over to Armonk and get The Heat at Melts. It beats the Chip Chip out of Rocky’s.

2 teeth

Live Bait

14 E 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 353-2400livebaitnyc.com

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Dressed to look like something born on the bayou, Live Bait is actually the originator of the Flatiron’s recent love affair with Southern cooking, marked by followers such as Blue Smoke, Hill Country, Maysville and Bo’s, all just steps away in a variety of directions. And that’s not even counting the failed attempts such as Gravy (RIP) and J. Gumbo’s (RIP).

That said, while Live Bait most certainly earns the rightful claim to first dibs, I much prefer all four of the previously mentioned. All have better food and better decor. But to be fair, Live Bait is also a bit of a breed all its own, because Bo’s and Maysville are both much nicer. And Hill Country and and Blue Smoke are clearly barbecue. So in truth, Live Bait actually manages to fill a culinary void in the hood, which is down and dirty Cajun. Emphasis on the word “dirty” because that’s kind of the theme here, from the rice to the vibe.

Service is somewhat friendly with a hit of New York bite and the bar is well appointed for benders well into the wee hours. In terms of food, depending on what you order and how tired and/or drunk you are, it can hit the spot quite nicely with a bevy of pleasers (most of them fried) like hush puppies, fried pickles, shrimp and grits, collards and catfish. They also have blackened things and even a pulled pork sandwich, but if you’re going that way I’d strongly urge that you check out Blue Smoke or Hill Country instead.

And while Live Bait definitely has its place, depending on your food mood, budget, or blood-alcohol level, there’s also nothing great about it other than the fact that they are nothing like the other Southern options nearby, kind of in a bad way. But for southern bar food-meets-fish-joint fare, it checks the box. Albeit a very hyper-specific, inebriated box.

2 teeth

Bar La Grassa

800 Washington Ave N. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 333-3837 • barlagrassa.com

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There is an old saying in the restaurant biz, Holy Fuckoly! I mean I knew it was going to be good, considering it’s the sister restaurant of 112 Eatery, my former favorite in Minneapolis, but I had no idea how good. I mean like world class good. Like Ultimate Italian Restaurant good. Like I-need-to-quote-Bill-Paxton-in-Aliens-2-good- “Stop your grinnin’ and drop your linen.” I never understood what that actually meant until now.

To explain, the linen droppin’ starts in tandem with the eye poppin’ as you pass through the lively dining room on your way to your table, craning your neck at the dishes on other people’s tables like an over-sexed teenage boy walking through Bryant Park during Fashion Week. The piles of jumbo grilled shrimp. The heaping bowls of gnocci. The monumental lobster and egg burschetta. It’s so overwhelming, by the time you get the menu in your paws, you honestly don’t know whether to shit or go blind. So we did what anyone would do in that situation, we deferred to our waiter.

The waiter of which I speak is a half Seminole, half Italian joyful man named Alex, with the longest braided ponytail I’ve seen since Crystal Gayle. But don’t let that throw you. He was ponytailed perfection, nailing it with almost every single recommendation. He was attentive and friendly and masterful at striking that balance between overbearing and MIA.

And now, a dinner so beauteous I actually learned something about myself that night. That I am capable of multiple foodgasms. It started with the best balls of arancini one could ever hope for. Made ridiculously moist with the aid of duck confit, then served over a shallow taleggio pond. But equally life-changing was the soft egg and lobster bruschetta with white truffle oil. An Ultimate on two fronts; scrambled eggs and bruschetta. You simply must get this. You need this. It will single handedly make up for every bad thing that has ever happened to you in your life.

For entrees we were in a pasta kind of mood, so we passed on the secondi and doubled down on the primi. One from column A (dry pasta) and one from column B (fresh pasta). Both were stunningly good and equally inventive. The dry pasta being a spicy calamarata with sushi grade raw tuna that melted in your mouth (pictured), cooling the flames. Such a wonderful, textural experience- like the oral equivalent of running through a sprinkler on a hot Summer day.

But as amazing as the tuna pasta was, the gnocci with cauliflower and orange was the stuff of kings. The pillows of potato so unsurpassed I can only recall one equal, the pumpkin gnocci from Blue Hill at Stone Barns. And the flavors within it were reminiscent of the brilliance at Piccolo in Venice, CA. Perhaps due to its use of cinnamon and spice. But this was no copy cat. No, this cat was a horse of a different color. Which is even starting to confuse me with the mention of all of these animals. But net, net, just order the friggin’ thing. You will love me for it. And speaking of, you’ll also love me for this tip, there’s a gorgeous $44 dollar bottle of Sangiovese that drinks like champ with all of the above.

The only miss, and by miss I mean mortal, was the crespelle (Italian crepe) with salted caramel gelato. It was certainly good, but after its predecessors, it was condemned to a plight of soaring expectations. I mean anything short of making my face fall off was destined to be a failure. The salted dark chocolate cookie that came with the check, however? Let’s just say I’m scheduled for face replacement surgery in the coming weeks.

***Having been back twice since, I can add a few more dishes in my continued love affair with this restaurant. The first being the Berkshire pork tenderloin with salsa de peperone. It’s pretty incredible, making it a VERY tough choice between this and the pastas above. The chicken is also quite good, breaded and squashed a bit, but juicy as all get out. And while very good, not sure it’s worth passing on some of the other stars I’ve suggested. For smaller plates the shishito peppers were good, but pretty standard (to be read like Dr. Evil). And having now tried two of their other bruschettas, I strongly urge that you stick with the lobster, because the drop off is steeper than Mt. Everest. And last but not least, dessert continues to be where BLG struggles the most. The Pot du Creme was just okay and the ice cream, while the clear winner of the three desserts I’ve tried, is not exactly a tour de force.

5 teeth

The Billy Goat Tavern

430 N Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60611(312) 222-1525billygoattavern.com

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The best thing about this place by far is the SNL skit with John Belushi long ago. Now it’s just a bar clinging to its 15 minutes of fame way past the expiration date.

It’s located under Michigan Avenue. Yes, under and it reeks of the tourist trap that it is, complete with employees bellowing out “Cheezborger! Cheezborger!” in thick Greek accents every time someone orders a cheeseburger. Which is fun for the first five seconds and after that becomes the verbal equivalent of water droplets in a Chinese torture chamber.

On the plus side, having these burgers at your beckon call while you drink is sort of like having a White Castle that serves booze, so kudos there. Beyond that, there isn’t much else to it apart from the historic novelty of the infamous “Curse.”

As the legend goes, back in 1945 during Game 4 of the World Series, the owner of the Billy Goat Tavern went to attend the game at Wrigley Field with his actual pet goat. Shockingly, and by that I mean “not shocking, “ the owners of Wrigley Field turned him away due to the smell of said goat. Insulted, the Billy Goat Owner placed a Greek curse on the Chicago Cubs, barring them from ever returning to the World Series again. And while this may sound like a bunch of malarkey, 70 years later the curse appears to still be standing strong, whereas the Cubs, not so much.

2 teeth

The Stanton Social

99 Stanton St. New York, NY 10002 • (212) 995-0099thestantonsocial.com

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Stanton Social is indeed a scene, so if scenes aren’t your scene, beware. Also beware of the fact that they will likely make you wait over 30 minutes for your table when you have a reservation. Fortunately they have some pretty good cocktails at the bar upstairs. Unfortunately, the upstairs doubles as a second dining room and becomes horribly crowded and unpleasant with all of the overspill from delayed reservations. Oh, and speaking of unpleasant, the hostess up there is ironically very “anti-social” sporting quite the tude on her. Doesn’t seem to understand the restaurant business is a service industry.

Fortunately, once we got to our table the meal was good. Not great mind you. But a very solid showing indeed. My recommendations being the french onion soup dumplings (pictured), which makes me only about the billionth person to praise them, the perogies (also not a shocker, considering droves before me have already blessed them), and last but not least, the Kobe sliders with truffle cheese fondue. Crazy good, and I believe a road less traveled, so check ’em out.

Also noteworthy was the Foie Gras, but not to the degree of the dishes above.

Things to skip IMO; the crab cakes, the bruschetta and the meatballs. Trust me, your mouth deserves better.

Prices are reasonable by NYC standards. The anemic number of bathrooms however, isn’t so reasonable.

3 teeth

 

La Mela

167 Mulberry Street New York, NY 10013(212) 431-9493 • lamelarestaurant.com

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There are scores of “authentic” Italian restaurants in New York, but most of them require labor intensive decisions on your part, like ordering. Well, at La Mela, which is Italian for “The Apple,” they don’t bother you with such pesky details.

Our server arrived at our table of eight and simply asked “Red or white?” People fell on both sides of the question and so- Boom! BOOM!!! Two magnums of house wine, one red, one white, landed on our table.

Next up, antipasti? Yes or no? We opted for yes and in about 10 minutes or so an assortment of antipasti dishes were spread out before us. Giving everyone a taste of everything. Sort of like in picture above, plates were subdivided at times to make sure we didn’t miss a thing. And it was right about then that I got it. This must be what it’s like to eat at someone’s house in Italy who loves to cook and force feed their guests. I say “force” with love, mind you, because nothing about it felt forced and I truly enjoyed about 90% of what they brought.

For entrees it was- Chicken? Fish or Meat? Or any two? Or all three? We went all three and once again they returned a bit later with a number of dishes each made with the respective protein. And again, they were all pretty good I have to say.

And while one might assume that what came next was dessert, yes or no? Well you would only be half right. Before that, the entire place broke into song, complete with mandolin in hand, as this authentic Italian family danced around the restaurant serenading us while making “interesting” gestures with what can only be described as a giant dildo made of gourdes and Christmas lights. It sounds more offensive than it is. It’s actually quite amusing. And just one of the many things that makes La Mela a memorable, one of a kind experience.

4 teeth

NOPA

560 Divisadero St. San Francisco, CA 94117 • (415) 864-8643nopasf.com

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Great space and vibe. Contemporary, airy and open. Lots of energy. Even at 2am. And just about the only place open after midnight in SF to get a bite to eat. But not just a bite- a pretty damn good bite. The flat bread starter was awesome and the pork chop was stellar. Perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. Solid beer and wine list. The only miss was the bratwurst, but what can you expect so far from Wisconsin?

Service was also friendly and attentive, to which I give added kudos, after all, at 2am I would imagine that not only are you tired, but you are also tired of dealing with inebriated customers. So, to be as pleasant as she was is admirable. Well, that or I was just too drunk to notice.

4 teeth