Donut Crazy

1 Ferry Ln – Saugatuck Train Station Westport, CT 06880 • (203) 293-4655 • donutcrazyct.com

One need only walk through the door to understand what makes this place so “crazy,” because directly across from you there are two cases filled with fried rings of dough that look like something Willy Wonka might create if he were really, REALLY stoned (pictured). Sporting more colors of the rainbow than Skittles, these things are topped with the type of stuff that keeps dentists up at night. Things like Cookie Monster, a blue donut topped with actual crumbles of chocolate chip cookies. Candy Crush, topped with gummy worms. Maple Bacon, topped with bacon, of course. That said, I think the best two by far are simplest ones. The Red Velvet (available year-round) and the Pumpkin (only available in Autumn, sadly). Others are decent, but on a textural basis in a head-to-head, flavor-to-flavor throw down with Coffee An’ Donut Shop, they would lose. But that’s only in a fair fight and Donut Crazy don’t fight fair, after all… it’s crazy!

And speaking of CRAZY good, you have to try their Cruffins. Easily the bestest thing they make. Think Cronut, but in muffin form. This is their haymaker and it packs a wallop! Down goes Coffee An’!!!

Other things worthy of note are the muffins and croissants, which are better than any other bakery in the area. My personal favs being the carrot and bran muffins. Yes, another hit from the people at Match going in the books. Not perfect mind you, but well played nonetheless.

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Oko Kitchen

6 Wilton RdWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8404 • okokitchen.com

If you love The Cottage than you will, um, really struggle to like this place as much. As The Whelk is to Kawa Ni, they are sister restaurants, linked by the same chef, who, definitely upped the sushi game in Westport without a doubt. But if you’re going in with expectations that it is The Cottage in Japanese form, you will be disappointed.

Appropriately starting with the starters, I found the attempt at inventive edamame to be noble, yet messy and nowhere near as good as the ones at Koku in Armonk. Jazzed up with garlic, soy butter, gomashio (sesame salt) and shio kombu (a form of dashi). But net, net it’s a lot of pomp and circumstance without a lot of flavor.

Same goes for the shishito peppers, although the slightly better of the two, made novel with chickpea miso, guanciale and shoyu-koji (soy sauce).

For small plates, Oko didn’t wow much either. The deviled eggs with pork belly being the least wowiest and a far cry from two other versions in Westport alone- both Rothbard and The Whelk making far superior versions.

The sticky ribs fared much better, sauced with smoked maple, gochujang and sesame crunch. But the real winner of the smalls is the miso black cod, or as they call it “Torched Black Cod.” It’s cedar grilled and done in a madieira shoyu glaze with shitake and scallion and it…is…killer! As good as the one at Matsuisha in LA, the place that invented the dish.

But what about the friggin’ sushi? Okay, I get it. After all, it is a sushi joint, right? So, long story longer, it’s very good. The fish is fresh and the preparations are inventive without being gimmicky, for the most part- the one exception being the foie gras, which shockingly I would forego and just follow the omakase. Oh, and great news, this is more like it is in fine sushi restaurants in Japan, where you don’t even use or need soy sauce or wasabi, because the preparation is so wonderful on its own.

Speaking of wonderful, come dessert, you have to try the- okay, bare with me on this one… The soft serve. I know! What am I, like five years old?! But I’m not joking here. They take Dairy Queen’s invention to another level. Especially with the friggin’ Oko crunch!!! I mean, other than the miso cod it might’ve been the best thing we had. And that’s not just the killer gin cocktail talking (yes, they also have a killer gin cocktail).

It’s no Cottage, but Oko is definitely a strong three knives and the best Japanese in town. Give it a few more weeks to iron out the kinks and I’d imagine it will be a four or five.

Emily

35 Downing StNew York, NY 10014 • (917) 935-6434 • pizzalovesemily.com
 

Having heard this name bouncing around the food scene for a while, amidst a symphony of oohs and ahhs, I felt it important to either validate or debunk the worthiness of such adulation. Located in former digs of the Blue Ribbon Bakery, Emily boasts a casual-cool décor, especially downstairs in the catacombs. Granted, if you like windows, the upstairs is nice well. But don’t think two floors of seating means you’ll be getting a table anytime soon. No, this place packs ‘em in. Fortunately, they keep a certain number of tables open for walk-ins though, and if you’re willing to sit at the bar, you can get to the grub even faster. Which is what we did.

Out of the gate, Emily impressed with an inventive sprout salad, made rich with buttermilk bleu cheese and made special with miso, cashews and pickled red onions. Best dish we had.

For pizza, we went with the namesake, the Emily, and while definitely good, it was in dire need of red pepper to give some heat to cut through the truffle, honey and cheese. Also, I found the crust to be tragically chewy and doughy. Definitely not a contender for Ultimate Pizza.

Same goes for the burger (pictured). I’ve had droves of people telling me this is the best in the city and I’m sorry you people, but you have no business making such wild claims if you aren’t a purest. Because in my book, no thin-patty burger EVER has any business being considered as  a “best burger,” any more than a deep dish pizza should ever be in the running as a “best pizza.” It’s about the MEAT man!!!  Jeez!!! Ranting aside, it’s actually pretty damn good, made with dry aged La Frieda beef, caramelized onions, American cheese and special sauce, all on a killer pretzel roll. But you still have to be smoking crack to call it the best in NYC, because even as good as it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Black Label.

Closing strong, Emily’s bread pudding sports a nice textural contrast, being both crispy and gooey at the same time, which equals yummy according to the Pythagorean Theorem. Or, at least that’s how I remember it. Granted I didn’t pay much attention back in high school.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the MOST impressive thing of the night, however- our neighbor at the bar. To say he was a large man is like calling Trump self-confident. Doesn’t quite capture the full depths of the situation. This man, eating alone, polished off an entire pizza- the same size that my wife and I, combined, didn’t even manage to finish and got a quarter of it to go. Then he downed the ENTIRE burger, which a slider it is not. And then, when he looked over and saw us enjoying the bread pudding, he ordered that too. One person. One sitting. One mighty show of human endurance.

Less mighty was Emily’s showing, because I found it to be a tad over-hyped. That said, it was still good, so I’m gonna give it a very strong three or barely a four. But since I’m ferocious about hype, you can probably guess where I leaned…

 

Die Bank

Hohe Bleichen 17 – 20354 HamburgGermany • +49 40 2380030 • diebank-brasserie.de
 
Had the service not royally screwed the pooch, The Bank would’ve easily hauled in a strong 4 knives. But not only did the waitress completely mess up my appetizer order by bringing me Pear Ravioli instead of Dove Etouffe, when they raced the correct dish to the table, the moron handed it to me, burning me quite badly. A first in my life and an offense easily worth a knife and then some. Especially because no manager even bothered to come out and apologize or make up for it in any way. Perhaps they wanted me to “Die.”

Now, I’m well aware that these are clearly first-world problems, but I was pissed and in pain and as you probably know by now, the last thing I need is a reason to be even more scathing than I already am, and to be honest, I still really struggle to empathize with how a waiter in a restaurant of this caliber could ever mix up these two dishes as they don’t even sound remotely alike, even when you account for a multitude of umlauts.

But Scheiße  service aside, the décor is very nice, set in a refurbished bank, which seems to be the “in” thing these days. And, for the most part, the food was excellent, with only a few misses. The best thing by far being the duck for 2. It’s a tour de force. Crsipy and juicy in all the right places, with potatoes, beet slaw and jus on the side. So good.

Next best for me would be the foie gras crème brulee, clearly inspired by Jean-Georges and just about as good, although a completely different presentation.

Of the two pastas, the tagliatelle is the clear winner, made simple with tomato and olives. The blue cheese ravioli with pear was undercooked and lacking a bit in the bleu coming threu. Oh, the irony to be burnt by an undercooked dish!

Speaking of lacking, I was most disappointed in the Dove Etouffe with foie gras. First, because there was no foie gras to be found. Second, because there was no etouffe either. Zero spice. But not bland. It was quite nice actually, just nothing like its description and not at all what I was craving and prepared to eat.

The chocolate lava cake and my cappuccino for dessert were strong endings and just enough to keep The Bank from going bankrupt. So, I’m giving it three knives in total. Two for the food and one for décor. Minus one biggie for the service.

IMARA

Eppendorfer Weg 186 – 20253 HamburgGermany • +49 40 42918080 • restaurant-imara.de
 

I found Imara to be surprisingly empty for a Friday night, because the Aladdin-esque vibe is actually kinda cool and the food, for the most part, is very good. It’s also a great place for large parties, particularly on short notice, primarily because few people know about it, I suppose?

On the flipside, I’m guessing the reason it’s so empty is the service- painfully slow on the drinks, yet painfully fast when it comes to the tapas- like eat or die fast! So, don’t be fooled by the size of the ginormous tables, because they disappear beneath an army of plates faster than you can say dankeshen.

The best things IMNSHO are the spicy shrimp (so good we ordered seconds… and thirds… and fourths… and I’m not exaggerating). Other crowd pleasers were the bacon wrapped dates and plum, the spinach rolls and the lamb rolls with yogurt sauce. I also dug the mini lamb tagines, forgiving the fact they weren’t served covered.

Misses for me were the horribly dry lamb kebabs and the lame bread with tapenade.

Lastly, I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention the bizarre urinal situation. And trust me, it’s not lost on me that this is the second time I’ve brought up urinals in my reviews of Hamburg restaurants alone, but bare with, because it’s worth it. You see, regardless of the fact that there are three urinals, you basically have to go one at a time unless you like touching strangers while you pee, because they are tightly nestled into a corner, so closely together that you’d have to be thinner than Trump’s alibi with Stormy Daniels to not be rubbing shoulder to shoulder with the dude next to you. Now THIS must be the real reason why the place is so empty!

Clouds

Reeperbahn 1  Hamburg, Germany 20359 • +49 40 30993280 • clouds-hamburg.de
 

As the name would imply, this place is set atop a skyscraper “in the clouds,” overlooking the entire city with amazing views, particularly from the men’s room. Hands down the best urinal view ever. And speaking of penises, the building is right at the entrance to the Reeperbahn, which is the famous red-light district of Hamburg. But don’t let that scare you. These days the Reeperbahn is more for partying than for sexual escapades. Although there is an area within it so hardcore they don’t allow women. Rumor has it this is not out of sexism though, more to protect the customers from getting busted by their wives. It’s just bad for business.

But I digress, so getting back to MY business, let’s talk about the restaurant. Starting with the décor, which is definitely cool but clearly trying very hard to be trendy. The food also made a few worthy attempts, particularly amongst the starters, as both the duck fat fries and the asparagus were killer. As for the chateaubriand, I found it a touch on the chewy side, but decent. The sauce options, however, were very hit and miss. The red wine sauce being too watery, the Béarnaise lacking flavor and the peppercorn being the Goldilocks- just right!

Ending on a down note the desserts were all a miss for me and the so where the drinks. Their signature cocktail, the Green Goblin is like drinking a dayglow green, alcoholic sherbet you’d get at a Fat Tuesdays circa 1991, and our bottle of wine was also somewhat bland, not holding up to the meaty feast before us.

Teetering between two and three knives, I think I’m going to round up to a soft three. After all, that urinal view really is something to behold.

Café Paris

Rathausstr. 4 – 20095 HamburgGermany • +49 40 32527777 • cafeparis.net
 
 If it weren’t for the weather, Hamburg would easily be the Paris (or Venice) of Germany. It’s absolutely stunning with its lakes and canals and bridges everywhere. The architecture and the steeples strewn across its skyline. And clinching the deal are charming little haunts such as this, stolen virtually right off the streets of Paris and plopped squarely in the heart of town.

 

The ceiling alone will make you smile (pictured) and the vibe lives up to the name quite faithfully. As do the baguette and croissants. The cappuccino and oj are solid too. But should you veer too far from the French fare, the wheels quickly start coming off.

 

The English Breakfast is made with relatively bland eggs, bacon and beans and is just okay. Worse still is the American, which is a chewy pancake served with syrup and peanut butter. It’s inedible. But it stands to reason, since Parisians probably think this is what most Americans actually eat. Well shame on you Pierre, because it just cost you a knife. And not because I’m exacting revenge as a petty American. It’s because I’m exacting revenge for punitive damages on my mouth.

 

Also shame on me, I suppose, because when in Paris, one should order like a Parisian. Do so and you’ll do magnifique!

The Granola Bar

275 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 349-5202
 

This place is too small for its own good, especially in light of the passing of Fliesher’s Kitchen and Neat (RIP). Now there’s no really great go-to breakfast option in the ‘Port. But if you’re willing to settle for good, look no further than yours truly, okay and Terrain, but mostly for the setting, let’s be honest.

Luckily granola bar is way more than granola. Especially since I think their granola is just eh. You can get far better at Le Pain Quotidien and even at the supermarket with Baked’s House Blend.

Where GB shines, however is in other places like the breakfast burrito, the bi bim bap, the burger and my personal fav, the blackened salmon wrap.

Regrettably, the very berry smoothie was also a bit of a letdown. But with the draught of b-fast options upon us, I’m willing to overlook the long wait, strip mall locale and the fact that they were out of the spicy Mexican hot chocolate. Tisk, tisk.

Artisan

275 Old Post RdSouthport, CT 06890 • (203) 307-4222 • artisansouthport.com
 

Artisan is probably the nicest restaurant in Fairfield County. Not necessarily the best, although very good, but certainly the nicest and dressiest. Which may or not be your thing, but if you’re looking for something that feels a little more special than The Cottage and The Whelk, Artisan is the ticket.

Located in the charming Devon Hotel, Artisan is broken into two hemispheres- three if you count the outside area, but that’s closed in the winter for obvious reasons. The outside and the front bar area are a bit more casual, whereas the back dining room is much more romantic, tastefully appointed bird’s nest light fixtures and warm wood everywhere. Kinda reminds me of a better version of Crabtree Kittlehouse over in Chappaqua.

All of this was unfortunately undercut by the crowd, although I’m guessing we might’ve hit an off night. When we first arrived we were seated next to an elderly couple who was SO old that when the man went to stand up to leave, an army of waiters swarmed around him, rearranging the furniture so that he could make the transition to his walker. And while that that alone might be disruptive enough amidst a romantic outing with wifey, the man repeatedly screamed at the top of his lungs as if a thorny catheter was being shoved up his backside. Now, on the one hand, I clearly felt bad for the poor man as his back or knees or both must surely be killing him. But then shouldn’t he be in a wheelchair? For his sake. Not to mention those around him? Ferocious minds wanna know.

Fortunately, they left inside of the first 15 minutes. Unfortunately that was only the tip of the iceberg, because, in general, the crowd was VERY boisterous for such a setting, and worse still, the couple that came to replace the elderly duo was infinitely worse, fighting the entire time we were there, dropping more F-bombs than Al Pacino in Scarface. Spoiler alert, I think they’re gonna get a divorce.

Oh,  the food? You wanna talk about that? Well, for starters, things started off slowly. The tuna crudo was light and refreshing but not amazing and the octopus was a richer yang and satisfying, but also not incredible.

The entrees saved the day, and our evening from bust, with a rock star butternut squash ravioli and a flawless steak au poivre, with perfect marbleization- perfectly cooked- And that SAUCE! Makes you wanna open a vein. Or just order more of it on the side, which we did.

For dessert though, still amidst the fire and fury from the couple next to us, the apple quince tart closed with a meh. So, clearly the bookends need work here, but the middle is quite something.

As is the wine list, offering Turley for under 100 bucks. Always a major fucking plus. Sorry, The I’m still shell-shocked from the profanity at the table next to us.

El Chile Cafe Y Cantina

1809 Manor RdAustin, TX 78722 • (512) 457-9900 • elchilecafe.com
There is a bit of a Floridian vibe going on here if you ask me, with its pastel, aqua green walls and the sizeable patio out front. But the menu is full on TEX-MEX from the puffy tacos to the margaritas, which make a long day all worth it.Speaking of puffy tacos, if you’ve never had them, they are essentially fried taco shells that puff up around varying ingredients. Of the three we had though, I only found the veggie to be great, made with portobellos as the star. So skip the chicken and the pork.

The guac is also good, but the salsa is just friggin’ weird. It’s NOT salsa. I don’t care what local custom this is supposed to be, but that is the poorest excuse for salsa I have ever had.

I also didn’t love the habanero carrot sauce, mostly because it’s extremely lacking in heat considering that it’s supposedly made with habaneros.

For dessert, I thought the tres leche was pretty good, but it is simply outmatched by the chocolate pecan pie, which just might be one of the best I’ve ever had. So dense and rich with dark chocolate that you will contemplate ordering a second slice to take home.