Cotton & Rye

1801 Habersham StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 777-6286 • cottonandrye.com
 

Billed as one of the top places to go according to Eater, Wifey and I hit this James Beard nominated, Vault wannabe (also a bank renovation), edge of town location, for their southern-with-a-twist (a la Husk) cuisine. Yes, a lot of sub-references on this one as it seems to be one of those places architected to be a success, right down to its ampersand.

Ampersand aside though, the meal began with a promising start marked by a pair of winners, the grilled Caesar salad and the Ultimate fried chicken wings sauced with honey, chili and sumac to help those babies soar like a mofo!

For entrees, Cotton & Rye stumbled a bit. The pork shoulder tagliatelle was a touch bland and in dire need of salt, pepper and parm. But the far greater disappointment came from the pork chop. Mostly because of the stratospheric recommendation from not one, but two different waiters, claiming unequivocally that this was hands-down the best pig chop in town (mainly predicated on the fact that it was sous vide). Which I suppose should’ve been my red flag, because more often than not it’s been my experience that sous vide is really code for “big disappointment,” chef’s always relying too much on the juices and not enough on the seasoning or accompaniments. Worse still, is that these waiters could not have been more wrong. A FAR superior chop exists less than a mile away at Elizabeth’s on 37th. I even asked the waiters if they had Lizzy’s chop before making such wild assertions, but neither of them had (yet, another red flag).

Dessert boded well though, with an apple crumble bread pudding. Two of my favorite things in one dessert. Kinda hard to fuck that one up.

So a little more work on the main event and I’d agree with Eater, but until then, head to The Grey if you truly want Savannah’s best.

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Lexington Square Cafe

510 Lexington Ave. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 244-3663lexingtonsquarecafe.com

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It’s taken me a while to work up the courage to eat here versus my other tried and true options in the burbs, but the other day a window of opportunity opened and my daughter and I decided to step inside. Which is much nicer than one might expect from the outside looking in. In fact, one might even go so far as to say it’s impressive, with its large dining room, high ceilings, and surprisingly hip bar. The only things bringing it down are the giant, round hotel-esque counter at the entrance and the large staircase cutting through the space.

Also, a word of advice as to where to sit in the expansive dining arena. Definitely avoid the booths, because if you do sit there, you will be out of sight and out of mind, literally having to stand and flail your arms like a castaway on a deserted island just to get a waiter’s attention.And attention you will need, because the food tends to need a lot of help to get the flavor going. For example, the pizza is more of a flatbread and the flatbread is more like the crap you throw together for your kid when you are just trying to scrape by with pasta sauce, sliced cheese and a random pocket of pita bread or naan. So should you order it as an adult, you will definitely want some red pepper flakes to help overcome the nothingness.

The chicken cutlet sandwich is also pretty bland, surprisingly so for something that’s supposed to be packing Sriracha mayonnaise. So be sure to order it with a side of Sriracha to give it the oomph it was born to have. With that caveat, I can proudly say the sammie wasn’t half bad.

And last but not least, something that wasn’t half good. The apple crumbly with ice cream and a caramel drizzle simply isn’t worth the time on the treadmill. And compared to places like Truck, Fortina, Beford 234 and Village Social the Lexington Diner simply isn’t worth the space in your stomach.

2 teeth

Justin Thyme

171 Grand St. Croton-On-Hudson, NY 10520(914) 271-0022dinejustinthyme.com

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I can’t decide if the name is charming or cheesy, but either way, it definitely starts with “ch.” I am less conflicted about the outdoor seating, however, which is perfect in the summer, set under a huge tree, away from the sidewalk, shaded and overlooking a small town street. Plus, at night, they have strung lights in the trees making it an idyllic oasis around the clock.

Service also helps to keep you charmed, although they aren’t very helpful with the recos. Everything’s great and popular and wonderful. Which is probably the Prozac talking, but to be fair, the food can be quite good, depending on what you order. Case in point, my modest sampling of two dishes produced both an “mmm” and a “meh.” So amidst this 50/50 hit ratio I would recommend the lobster roll, served faithful New England style with mayo and celery atop a brioche bun as opposed to a long roll and plank fries as opposed to shoestring. It was very solid. Holding its own against the likes of Ocean House. My only nit would be the side of coleslaw. A touch too far on the creamy side for my tastes. I prefer the mustardy side, it’s right before the dark side and just after the wild side.

Speaking of sides, on the miss side, the apple crumble a la mode undid all of the good will the lobster roll had secured. It was soggy and the only thing crumbling about it was my impression of Justin. And the mode didn’t help much either as the ice cream tasted like Breyer’s.

So I’m torn between 2 and 3 knives, but it’s a pretty extensive menu, so I’ll have to give it another whirl and see if they can improve their batting average. In the meantime, if you leave nearby, I say do it. What’ve you got to lose? It’s not like Umami Café is flawless either. If you don’t live nearby, then I wouldn’t make a special trip. But if you’re on a day trip to Croton Beach, this is the perfect place to come for a late lunch/early dinner.

3 teeth

 

Peter Pan Donut & Pastry Shop

727 Manhattan Ave. Brooklyn, NY 11222(718) 389-3676 • peterpan-donuts.com

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Unless you are in the know, or you’ve been tipped off by someone who is, you would walk right past this unassuming place. In fact, that’s exactly what my friend did even though we were on a mission, heading directly there.

Once you find it, step inside and you will soon discover that the bakery is very old school. In fact, the only renovation in sight was probably the upgrade from rotary to push button phone. Even the prices seem to be stuck in the past (no complaints) with a dozen setting you back a mere 10 bucks, which is robbery… of THEM. Just one bite of the Blueberry Buttermilk and you would gladly pay the same amount for just that one doughnut alone.

And while you’re likely to hear many others rave about the Old Fashioned, the Red Velvet, Honey Dipped and Sour cream I say skip all of them, because they are snores by comparison to the Maple. In fact, the Maple is so damn irresistible, when we cut it up for sharing we actually found a hair baked into it, but still kept eating. Yes, it’s so good it’s worth getting Hep B. And this was actually my second favorite! Which should speak volumes about how incredible the Blueberry Buttermilk must be. Obviously and Ultimate.

In third place I’d go with the apple crumble (pictured), which is pretty much what it sounds like, the cross pollination of an apple crumble and a doughnut. And in fourth, the chocolate coconut. A bit less inventive than the others, but nice and dense with the cake, which is how I prefer my doughnuts. Sure, fluff and airy has its merits, but I prefer that in my croissants. When it comes to doughnuts, I want the thing to weigh in like a 10 pound plate at the gym, not that I would know since I haven’t worked out in ages… unless you count digesting as exercise?

My only gripe holding them back from 5 knives, other than the string of “ehs” noted above, would be the way the clerk guilted me into buying a 13th doughnut. After ringing me up and tying up the box, she bothers to ask if this was my first time. I naturally replied, “yes,” hence why I bought the friggin’ store out so I could try everything. So THEN she tells me I have to get the Sour Cream because it’s the best one. Now, I appreciate the tip, but A) I would’ve preferred the tip at the onset of donut-palooza, before the transaction was settled and the dozen chosen. And B) if you are going to ask me to pull my wallet back out and go for a 13th, you better be fucking right! But as you can probably surmise from my tone, the sour cream was, well… a sour note. So unworthy of the recommendation that it cost Peter Pan a knife. Fortunately for them, I doubt it will hurt their business one iota.

4 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

Josie’s

300 Amsterdam Ave. New York, NY 10023(212) 769-1212josiesnyc.com

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I have eaten at Josie’s at least 50 times so it’s pretty safe to say I know this place like the back of my tongue. So I guess you could say I’m a fan. That’s not to say that I don’t see Josie’s for what it is, which is good, not great, organic with style. But back when Josie’s first opened, she was the only game in town. Paving the way for the likes of Pure Food & Wine, etc… Therefore I feel the need to give added props to Josie’s for changing the game.

So, after over a decade of faithful patronage here are some of my suggestions:

Always, always, always order one of their beverages. They are all excellent. Their Sangria is better than most Tapas bars. Their lemonades, spiked and non are both fantastic. They have twists on Mimosas, you name it. Just don’t miss out, because this is one of the best parts of dining at Josie’s.

For appetizers I love the Nori rolls (sushi without the raw fish) and the spicy black bean dumplings. For salad, try the Mykonos. It’s a delicious take on a Greek, as the name suggests, but ask them to throw some grilled shrimp on top for a few bucks more. It’s worth it. And the macadamia crusted chicken is another dish I’ve eaten more times than I have fingers.

And for sweets, it’s really only between two for me. Either the Lemon Ribbon Pie or the Apple Crumble. Both are surprisingly good for a “healthy” (wink, wink) dessert.

4 teeth

i Trulli

122 E 27th St. New York, NY 10016 • (212) 481-7372itrulli.com

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I have no idea how many Italian restaurants there are in New York City, but by my count there are about 500 too many. Too many places coasting by on the New York Italian reputation. Getting by with pasta and sauce on a plate and calling it authentic because they serve it up with an Italian accent. But last I checked, speaking Italian and cooking Italian are not the same thing.

And it’s places like these- places like I Trulli that really piss me off. I mean why does this restaurant continue to survive while a MUCH better spot like Ciano (RIP), closes down just a few blocks away? It’s criminal! And it’s our fault. All of us. For giving them business. For perpetuating the lie and buying into the expectations of what we think we are about to eat as opposed to the actual food we are chewing in our mouths.

Just start by ordering their mini calzones and you’ll see what I mean. In a blind taste test I guarantee you’d be hard pressed to tell them apart from the frozen supermarket variety.

The fawned over short rib on Yelp also fell short. And I can only explain the hype by referencing another critter with four legs, sheep. People who hear short rib and then assume that it automatically must be incredible. Well it’s not. It’s overcooked and underwhelming. The caprese salad, while not bad, was not exactly memorable either. And the octopus was so blah I nearly forgot to mention it (went back and just added it).

Even the best dish of the night, the duck ragu was nothing even close to the epic swooning that you’ll read online. It’s certainly good, but the only reason it stands out is because everything else is so mediocre around it.

The surprise of the night (primarily because of lowered expectations) was actually the lasagna of all things. Good sauce. Good balance. Nice contrast of textures with the ever-so slight char on top, the way mama used to make. Well, not my mama, but if I had an Italian mother, this is the way I’d imagine she’d make it.

And of the various desserts we tried, the highly recommend beignets were highly unworthy. Instead, go for the apple crumble. Not very Italian, but it was easily the best thing on the dessert menu.

So now you know what to get if you go. But please, please, please don’t go. I don’t care if it’s too hard to get into the truly great Italian spots. That’s because they’re worth it. Pick another genre of cuisine and try back another night. But let’s bring some Darwinism up in this bitch and truly weed out the weak ones. Sure accessibility and affordability are nice things to have… in Wichita. In New York we live and eat by a higher standard. But if we continue to compromise, we will turn this city into a giant outdoor mall filled with Starbucks and Gap on every corner… Oh no! It’s already starting to happen!!!

2 teeth

Smithfield

138 W 25th St. New York, NY 10001(212) 929-9677smithfieldnyc.com

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To quote Forrest Gump, “Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re going to get.” Fortunately this is where I step in and tell you, because while the looks of this place scream typical sports bar, there is a gastronomic star lurking beneath its flat screen televisions.

Let’s start with the most noteworthy of details, for example Pilsner Urquell on tap, served in bulbous glass steins of awesomeness. So right off the bat you’re ahead of the curve, but sit tight, because Smithfield is about to drop an Ultimate or two.

The first being the shrimp buns, so nice we ordered them twice. And not only are they an Ultimate, but they could teach the dim sum in Chinatown a trick or two. A perfect contrast in textures and flavors. I practically wanted to curl up in the bun and spoon the shrimp I loved it so much.

The other borderline Ultimate was the mac ‘n cheese. Served in a cast iron skillet with just the perfect amount of crunch to gooiness. And the blend of cheeses was up there with the best of them. So well balanced it’s enough to make Chicago tightrope walker Nik Wallenda green with envy.

After that, things slid a touch toward expected, like the pulled pork sliders, which were good, but not great, and ideally needed a little slaw.

The Jameson wings were also good, but compared to the rave reviews fell miserably short, mainly because they are FAR from spicy, so false advertising there.

And bringing up the rear were the flatbread/pizza and fries. Both sounded much better than they are- damn your wisdom Gump!

Dessert, however, rallied back to greatness with a very strong apple crumble and an okay-by-comparison chocolate torte.

But as hit and miss as this sounds, for a sports bar, I have to tip my hat, because the hits where as big as anything on Sportscenter.

4 teeth

Kona Island Sushi Bar

Polynesian Dr. Bay Lake, FL 32836

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This is everything you fear when you think about Disney hotel restaurants. A cheap touristy vibe surrounds you from the walls to the people to the plates. Almost as if the Hawaiian Punch dude from long ago got sick and died, but just before passing away, he vomited up this place.

Sure, there are a few things that were good, like the pot stickers and the duck entrée. But apart from those, everything else fell somewhere between mediocre and pretty darn bad.

From blah to worse were the Chinese noodles, the crab cakes, the pork and the apple crumble. The dessert was even a recommendation by our server, but was so bad we literally only had three bites between three people.

On the plus side, the signature cocktail comes with a glowing cube inside that is programmable to different colors. I highly recommend for the kids. We got two and they were in heaven playing at the table as if they were light sabers.

1 tooth

The Ultimate Granola (packaged)

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I don’t know about you, but I friggin’ love cereal in the morning. Granted I love all breakfast food- Okay so I love all food. Whatever. The point is this. Cereal is the only thing I can eat more than twice a week. So, considering I’ve lived roughly four and a half decades, you can do the math and assume that I’ve basically downed an assload of cereal in that time. And within those hordes of bowls, you can image I’ve tried my share of granolas, cereal at its best. So, here are my top 5 in descending order of greatness:

5. “House Blend” by Baked.

This granola is nuts. No seriously. It’s basically a bag of all sorts of nuts from hazel to almond with a sprig of granola and dried fruit thrown in. So, you’d think that I’d ding it for this, but somehow they pull it off. Granted I don’t know if I could hork down an entire bowl of this alone, but when mixed with other cereals (Kashi Blueberry Clusters & Trader Joe’s Frosted Maple Squares) it sings.

4. “Apple Crumble” by Love Crunch

Not sure I need to say much more than the name. I mean, who doesn’t love an apple crumble? Assholes. That’s who. So, assuming you are not an asshole and loves you some crumble, it’s a safe bet that you’re gonna love it just as much in a bowl with milk.

3. “Maple Pancake” by Paleonola

Okay, don’t get the wrong idea. I’m not the kind of guy who loves flavored cereals. For example, Cinnamon Toast Crunch is probably the most vile thing I’ve ever had in a bowl, and yes, that’s including dog food, but, this really is quite a treat. Like two breakfasts in one. Granted I’m not sure I could down an entire bowl of this stuff all by itself, but it definitely makes whatever else is in the bowl that much more delicious.

2 “Chocolate Cherry” by Food Emporium Trading Company

All right, I know it’s crazy. I know there are a TON of other chocolate granolas out there. I even know that they probably use better ingredients. But what they all lack is balance. They all take the chocolate thing too far and it starts to taste more like dessert than cereal. Granted I’m okay with that for the Apple Crumble for a very good reason. I’m human. So I’m allowed to contradict myself as much as the next schmuck. So where was I? Oh yes. The balance it perfect. The cherries aren’t sweetened, so they bring a touch of bitterness. The almonds add nuttiness. And the chocolate is just enough to let you know its there, but not enough to make you feel guilty.

2. “Fruit, Nut & Fiber Museli” by Dorset Cereals

Here is the zag. The copout. Not only could I not stick to 5 granolas by playing the “tied for second” card, but to make matters worse, it’s a museli! Sorry. But as far as I’m concerned they’re the same friggin’ thing. One’s a less crunchy version of the other, because it’s not mixed with some sort of congealing agent like honey or molasses. But it’s time the two came together as one and we broke down the Berlin wall of breakfast. But enough defensiveness. I stand by my nomination. This cereal has it all. Loaded with all sorts of ingredients that all seem to pop off your spoon. I can only assume it’s due to the quality of ingredients. Unfortunately, however, they make you pay handsomely for those mixings. And ever since they shrank the box by nearly 40% and kept the price the same, it’s a bit ridiculous. But I do still love it.

1. “Granola” by Le Pain Quotidien

While it’s not exactly the first place that comes to mind when you think granola, it should be. Sure they have great salads and pastries and tartines and coffee, but none of that is important. What is important is that this granola, like the museli above, has everything you could ever want. And all of it booms with flavor. For example the coconut shavings alone make this puppy sing. But I think the true secret behind its greatness lies in the honey. I’m guessing they use something pretty special to bond those beautiful clusters together. Whatever it is, I’m buying. Regardless of the absurd price.