Spoon and Stable

211 N 1st St. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 224-9850 •  spoonandstable.com

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The food scene in The Mini Apple has officially arrived. Not that there haven’t been gems here and there over years. But now the level of the game has risen so high, at so many restaurants, that I can safely say that Minneapolis can compete with almost any city I’ve ever been to.

Case in point, on a Monday friggin’ night, this place had an hour wait and not an empty seat at the bar. And for good reason. The chef, Gavin Kaysen, is James Beard winner and a former disciple of Daniel Boulud. But not only did he learn a thing or two from Danny Boy, judging from the décor, he picked up a few tricks from Jean-Georges as well, because this place is tres chic. On old horse stable from 1906 turned to gold with white brick walls, wrought iron details, a divided light wine cellar in the center of the dining room, and a long wood bar overlooking the kitchen as a unique twist on a chef’s table, which is where we sat.

Beyond having front row seats to an episode of Iron Chef, the other plus to sitting there is that you not only get recommendations from the waiter, but from the cooks as well. And to quote Quagmire “Giggity, giggity!” were they spot on with their suggestions.

The first reco being a dish we would’ve never thought to order in a million years, yet turned out to be the best of the night, the Autumn Vegetable salad. The centerpiece is an orgasmic disc of squash placed over a bed of spelt berries, pecans and figs that were marinated in red wine vinegar and cloves all pampered in a buttermilk dressing. Need to add this one to Ultimate Salad.

The other recommended starter was pretty damn great too. A bison tartar folded into a harissa aioli and topped with cilantro and radishes. Then served with socca chips as your utensil for piling on the remarkably seasoned meat.

For entrees I had to go with the lamb shank since wifey don’t play that, and while good, it was definitely the most mortal dish of the evening. Fall off the bone moist, and served with yellow eye beans, artichokes and an herb salad that was a bit junipery. The other entrée, however, was a marvel of pasta technological advancement. The Raviolo al Uovo is a single, softball-sized ravioli that contains a sunny side egg inside it! And its magnificence is only magnified by its preparation, with Swiss chard, Brussel sprouts, pecorino and brown butter.

Even the side dish was wow-worthy taking an old staple like creamed spinach and making it new again with the addition of a Midwestern guilty pleasure, fried cheese curds.

And finally, the pumpkin custard dessert was an awesome seasonal finish to a meal that won’t soon be forgotten. The custard itself being just okay, but when you had with the apple cider sherbet and the candied pepitas (pumpkin seeds)- look out!

Just eat here already would you! So I don’t have to keep going on and on about it. And I’m not just saying all of this because of the Willet bourbon and Amarone are making me all lovey-dovey. Although it is helping.

5 teeth

Gabriele’s Italian Steakhouse

35 Church St. Greenwich, CT 06830 • (203) 622-4223gabrielesofgreenwich.com

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I’m not exactly sure how I managed to have two children born at Greenwich Hospital and never hear of Gabriele’s Italian Steakhouse, just two short blocks away. Had I known, I could’ve easily run down the street and picked up some serious to-go food while we sat and waited in the delivery room for things to get exciting.

Well, woulda-coulda-shoulda’s aside, Gabriele’s is definitely worth running to… and from. Even during if possible. In fact, try to get in as much exercise as you can, because once the feast begins, you can easily down a shopping cart worth of chow. And so I did.

For starters I recommend kicking off the gluttony with the prosciutto and charred pears with truffle honey. It was perfection and such a nice variation from the usual melon accompaniment. The other starter I would strongly urge you to get would be the black truffle crusted scallops floating on a bed of bacon, parsnip puree. Boom!

In the middle of solid goodness I’d put the short rib stuffed arancini (which are massive by the way, almost the size of racket balls), they are a little on the mushy side due, in part, to the truffle cream and the short rib inside is a touch dry, but at the end of the day it’s still risotto and short rib, so what are we talking about? The meatballs and the raw oysters will also handily please your yum box.

On the other side of the table there was also lobster and crab, but those evaporated before I could even lift a fork, so I’ll go on trust and make the assumption that those are also good. As is the sausage stuffed bread that comes even before ordering, because why have bread without meat if you don’t have to?

The one to avoid is the buratta. Very un-buratta like. Not creamy at all. More like a normal, everyday, run of the mill mozz.

I’m actually not the hugest fan of the word ginormous, mainly because it’s one of those trendy, made up, combo words like amazeballs or frenemy. But for me to accurately describe the bone-in rib eye at Gabriele’s, I think I’m going to have to suck it up, because ginormous is the only accurate descriptor I can think of. Like something out of the Flintstones, the bone extends way beyond the beef, clearing a good 18 to 24 inches, hanging off the plate. We’re talking a full grown cow’s rib. I’ve never seen a presentation like it and it’s damn impressive. Fortunately so is the meat, cooked spot on medium rare, the only way to fly, with good char and a nice and simple seasoning of salt and pepper.

The only other entrée I tried was the linguini with clams and it was down there with the buratta. Very flavorless and in dire need of crushed red pepper to give it the something it so desperately needed.

For sides, we chose quite well, between the superb charred broccoli, the wonderfully creamy mascarpone mashed potatoes and the truffle button mushrooms (they obviously have a thing for truffles here, which I fully support).

Last but not least, skip the whole breakfast for dinner movement- Gabriele’s goes one better and offers up a killer breakfast for dessert in the from of a Nutella stuffed French Toast. So god-damned gooey great you either gotta plan ahead for this one, or plan on loosening the belt to make room.

Service was excellent with the recommends (the rib eye, the French toast and a killer Amarone) and all things servicey, but it was Trivia Tony, the maitre’d, who stole the show with his custom catered questions about everything from sports to pop culture.

Décor is a miss for me on the whole with a very large, very underwhelming dining room, jam-packed with about twenty too many tables, not to mention decibels. That said, there is solace to be had, if you should be so lucky as to be offered the option, go for the “wine cellar.” It’s not a cellar by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a wine room. Set apart from the main dining room, it is quieter and much more intimate, with a décor all its own. The walls, as one would expect from the name, are entirely made of in-use wine racks, the tables are massive slabs of polished alabaster and the vibe is old world cozy. The fact that we had this room was a major player in the knife count I’m about to drop, which is much higher than I ever expected walking in.

4 teeth

Lincoln

Lincoln Center 142 W 65th St. New York, NY 10023(212) 359-6500 •  lincolnristorante.com

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Apparently someone resurrected Frank Lloyd Wright and made him design a restaurant in Lincoln Center. The lines in the place are truly THAT stunning (as you can see from the photo above).

And the food doesn’t disappoint either. First, the wine list. A solid array of Italian. And one of the larger and fairer priced Amarone selections I’ve seen. Usually restaurants like these jack them up over two hundy to start.

Next, the bread. LOVE the wonderfully salty focaccia, but be careful. You’ll want to save room. I know, I sound like your mother…

For apps, the burrata starter is just killer. So creamy you’ll almost want to order another portion on the spot.

The Parpadelle with truffles, however, was a bit of let down I have to say. Mostly because the portion is SO small and SO expensive. And while good, it’s not as incredible as the price tag. The veal app is also a bit on the blah side. So I recommend sticking with the burrata. Or, upon my second visit I discovered a foie gras terrine that brings its own creamy game to the party.

As for entrees, there is a spicy pasta that I stole a taste of, which was very good, but unfortunately I can’t recall the name because I was too enraptured by my own main, the lamb shank. The lamb is fall off the bone moist, served over creamy polenta- need I say more? Plus, with the wine = cielo (heaven).

Also, as a side, we shared the eggplant parm– and as good as some of the other things were, this might have been the best thing of the night. Masterfully prepared on every level. A contrast of textures from the soft, gooey middle to the crispy caramelized skin. So thin. So good. So you better get it.

And yes, we still had room for dessert. And also yes, I could stand to show a little more self restraint. But the way I see it, if you’re gonna eat at a place like this, go big or go home.

So, back to dessert… the clear winner (we tried 3) was the pear tarte. Trust me, it’s all you need to know. It’s the perfecting ending to a great meal.

Oh, and last but not least, a shout out to the cocktails. Love the giant bowling ball of ice that came with my Michters. A class act top to bottom, Lincoln is. But what else would you expect from Lincoln Center than a show-stopping performance?

4 teeth

Oenotri

1425 1st St. Napa, CA 94559 • (707) 252-1022 • oenotri.com

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Not sure if you saw it, but there was a recent article in Food & Wine Magazine about Thomas Keller’s favorite restaurants in Napa, apart from his own, of course. And on said list just happened to be the one and only Oenotri.

And as foodie recommendations go, it’s pretty hard to beat Thomas Keller so we went guns blazing, ordering every single antipasta, every single pasta pasta. Two of the three pizzas. A salami plate. A side of potatoes (of course). And every single dessert. Obnoxious? Undoubtably. But there were six of us, so it’s slightly less obnoxious than it sounds, because it basically broke down to one dish per person, per course.

Now, prepare for a ride on the Bipolar Express… The first thing to hit the table was the salami plate which was a solid good. And one particular salami was quite special, made yellowish by the saffron within it.

Then an Ultimate arrived on the scene. The best funghi pizza I’ve ever had. Even the other pie (meatball) was pretty awesome, with a terrific crust and buttery cheese that worked harmoniously together like edible Olympic synchronized swimmers.

But alas the perfection was not to last. On the antipasta course Oenotri went an abysmal 1 for 5. The only one rising above an “eh” would be the wax beans with meatballs and quail egg. So right about then I started to question ole Tommy. That is until the short rib pappardelle came around. So good I wish we would’ve gotten six of them. Not that the others were bad, but the only other pasta dish worthy of a shout out would be the paccheri ragu.

Similarly, the desserts fared about the same. The almond panna cotta was the winner and easily the best panna cotta I’ve ever had, even thought I’m normally not a panna cotta person. Also, an honorable mention goes to the sour cherry tart.

Service was very good. The Amarone wine went wonderfully with everything. And apart from the antipastas, the only other big miss is that the setting is a bit tragic, especially if you sit outside, locsted in the courtyard of a strip mall. But Keller never was big on décor, so I guess it didn’t bother him as much as me.

Oh, almost forgot the all important side of potatoes! They were actually excellent. Packing some nice heat. I would’ve eaten more of them had my stomach not lit up the “no vacancy” sign.

So, all in all, in terms of knives, I am very conflicted. I mean on the one hand when a restaurant has two Ultimates in the same meal, it’s pretty hard to go below 4 knives. But on the other hand, when a restaurant serves up over 10 misses it’s hard to justify going over the 3 knives. Now obviously half knives would solve this kerfuffle quite handily, but that’s a cop out. So, being that I am a “ferocious” foodie, I am going to have to go with harsher sentence.

3 teeth

 

Strip House

15 W 44th St. New York, NY 10036(212) 336-5454 • striphouse.com

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Apparently the one in Union Square has better décor, but the charm of the one in midtown is its old school, dated, meat-joint-of-yore vibe. The other thing the décor has going for it is its play on words. The “Strip” house also happens to be decorated with hundreds of black and white photographs of strippers from back in the day when it was still sexy to get naked for a living, not tragic.

For service, we were taken care of very well by a gigantic Romanian gentlemen I’ll refer to us Lurch. Now, I’m not just saying that the service was good because I’m worried about him crushing my skull like the Spaniard in Game of Thrones the other night. He was actually quite good. And good-natured, because trust me, we’re not an easy bunch (no news there). And after a bottle or two of Amarone? Dare I say assholes?

Now…. Let the gluttony BEGIN! First, the onion bread alone is worth a bow, far outshining its pretzel bread cousin. But even the onion bread wouldn’t hold the spotlight long as the sweet corn chowder amuse bouche took center stage and let’s just say my bouche was very amused.

After that, things trickled back towards Earth as the shrimp cocktail, the bacon and the spicy tuna tartar all fell squarely in the land of “good but not great.”

But the rollercoaster was far from over as we surged upward for one of the best bone-in rib-eye’s I’ve had. And a bone in filet that wasn’t half bad either. But the true star of the table was the creamed spinach. Only one or two others have ever dared to compare.

On the downturn, the mac and cheese is a big pass. And the goose fat potatoes, while saliva-inducing in name are just “eh” in execution.

In the solid good realm, I would put the creamed corn and garlic string beans.

And for dessert, skip the red velvet (it’s dry) and the cheesecake (it’s no Junior’s). But very much do the shit out of the chocolate brownie. It’s hella-good. Especially when you down it with some 40-year Quinta port.

So now comes the 20 million dollar question, how’d I feel after all of that food? Well, I think this will answer it best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXH_12QWWg8

3 teeth

The Cookery

39 Chestnut St. Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522(914) 305-2336thecookeryrestaurant.com

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You should just take your socks off before the eating here, because they’re about to get blown off.

Apart from the best Osso Bucco I’ve ever had, they also make an amazing pasta with the very same pork, a killer quince salad, great octopus and two desserts that are out of this world, the chocolate polenta and the budino, which is done more like a bread pudding- no argument here.

And best of all, you can down every last bite with a stellar bottle of Amarone for only 60 bucks! And it’s in Westchester! Pinch me (just not on the tush, I’m a married man).

Seriously, this place honestly rivals every Italian restaurant I’ve eaten at in the city, which includes L’Artusi, Mailiano, Babbo, Del Posto, Lupa, Ciano, Carbone, Torrisi  and so on… The only thing we ever had that was a let down was the lasagna, too creamy and one note.

Also, one other small nit. Some people find the noise level a bit loud. For me, I let it slide, granted it does make it harder for you to hear yourself mmm-ing.

As for decor it seems like a bit of a missed opportunity to be fair, but with food this good, your eyes are usually closed most of the time anyways, savoring every last bite.

5 teeth

The Ultimate Osso Bucco

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The Cookery – Dobbs Ferry, NY

When you go to an Italian restaurant the first thing on most people’s minds is pasta. Maybe pizza. Maybe a caprese salad. But very seldom is an osso bucco top of mind. Well, if you ever should happen to find yourself near Dobbs Ferry, NY (Hometown of Mark Zuckerberg), then I strongly suggest you make a stop inside The Cookery for some, you guessed it, osso bucco.

This thing is fall off the bone pork perfection. And yes, I tend to drop alliteration when I get excited. It is so moist and full of flavor, it’s enough to make brisket and short ribs jealous.

And best of all, you pair this baby up with a bottle of Amarone for only $60 (which is unheard of in a restaurant), and it’s game over.