The Vault

2112 Bull StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 201-1950 • vaultkitchen.com

 

The name doesn’t scream Asian fare, but once you discover that it’s a stunning renovation of a former bank, it all makes total and complete cents. Get it? No seriously, whoever did this renovation deserves a ferocious high five, because they didn’t miss a trick, from the safe deposit box art on the walls, to the bar made up of the same. To the private dining room inside the safe, to teller cut windows and nickeled bathroom floors it is a smile everywhere you look.

Speaking of smiles, the service is delivered with big ones. Regrettably, however, the servers are bit off with the recos and even worse with clearing the plates, leaving us with more of a grimace.

The food, on the other hand, will have those corners spreading ear to ear. In fact, considering my expectations walking in, I couldn’t have left too much happier. My greatest joy coming in the form of an Ultimate Tuna Tartar (pictured) served over a bed of seaweed with a layer of avocado for creaminess, masago for saltiness, spicy mayo for heat, sesame seeds for texture, all topped with crispy crab for fucking awesomeness!

Also worth its weight in gold is the lemon coconut soup with shrimp, mussels, ginger, lemongrass and red curry. It’s perfect on a “cold” day (I use quotes because cold is obviously relative in Savannah) and just perfect in general. Might even be an Ultimate soup, still ruminating on that one.

The embarrassment of riches continued as Vault even served up one of the best stir-fry noodle dishes I’ve ever laid chopsticks on. The Nickel Noodles are a clinic on proportions and balance as the wide rice noodles hold up handsomely to the overloaded goodies within, like beef and shrimp, scallions and onions, bell peppers, egg and basil. Yummity Yum!

And making it rain in the Asian-Mex category were the FICO Fish tacos (see, it’s not just me with the money puns). Jazzed up with mango, cabbage, daikon, chipotle sauce and kimchi dressing.

But then, just like the market, things leveled off. The roasted duck dumplings, while very good, were decidedly more of this earth. As was the grilled calamari. And then, just like the market, things started sliding in the other direction, with a doughy miss, the steamed BBQ tofu buns. Which is crazy when you read what’s in them (spinach, shitakes, Szechuan glaze, Sriracha) – and yet all you taste is bun, bun, bun. Hard to believe the same restaurant made this.

Another pair of misses, per the aforementioned poor recos, are the desserts, which came highly recommended by the waiter compared to the lure of a trip to Leopold’s Ice Cream. Well, learn from our mistake and go to Leo’s. The key lime cake tasted like something you’d get on a plane and the pecan pie was way off balance with a meager dusting of pecans across the top and the rest all goop, whipped cream and crust.

Transgressions aside, The Vault is still a gem, albeit one knife shy of a diamond.

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The Spread

70 N Main StNorwalk, CT 06854 • (203) 939-1111 • thespreadsono.com
 

I wanted to like The Spread more than I did, but damn did they make it hard with misses so far off the mark it’d be like trying to bomb North Korea and hitting Australia.  For example, the Rose Sangria, which was so disturbingly floral that you’d swear you were guzzling a bottle of perfume. Equally bad is the steak tartar, which lacks any semblance of basic seasoning, coming off more like ground beef.

And while there were some hits, even those don’t live up to the hype. Like the crab stuffed avocado, which sounds more impressive than it is, especially because it’s billed as the second coming and they only make 12 a day, so you almost feel obliged to order it if they’re any left. Well don’t. It’s just okay. In fact, the buratta was every bit as good and sans pressure.

Making matters worse still, the music is akin to something they probably play to torture prisoners in Guantanamo Bay and the service is slow and inattentive, rounding out The Spread as a very weak two in my ferocious opinion. Spread the word.

Momofuku Nishi

gou232 8th Ave.  New York, NY 10011 • (646) 518-1919 • momofuku.com

David Chang is a master of the impossible, so it only makes sense that he would create a veggie burger that tastes imperceptibly close to its meaty alternative, hence the name Impossible Burger (pictured). It is deception on a bun. Edible hocus pocus. The patty made predominantly from soy bean, it somehow even takes on the texture of meat.

As for the burger itself, it’s only amazing that it’s vegetarian. But as a burger itself, it’s just okay, coming off more like your classic simple cheeseburger (granted the new version now has truffle mayo and gouda) that isn’t as good as other veggie burgers like the Gouchujong at Cinnamon Snail or meat burgers like the Shack Stack at Shake Shack, The Bash Burger at B&B or my personal fav, The Black Label Burger at Minetta Tavern.

Beyond the novelty of the burger, however, Nishi is very hit and miss. The kimchi is just okay as is the beet salad with avocado and a dusting of nuts.

The only other hit you can chew would be the pistachio bundt cake for dessert. It’s far from epic, but it’s a solid choice if you want to end things on a sweet note.

That said, if you really want a hit, do yourself a Gin & Julius to drink. It’s like an alcoholic creamsicle. It’s also like really friggin’ yum and after two or three you won’t have your mind on your money or your mind.

Matzahbrei

(917) 215-1616 • http://www.matzahbrei.com

Yes, an entire restaurant devoted to Matzah brei. It’s almost hard to wrap your head around, because the concept alone sounds about as flawed as the screenplay for Sharknado, but I stand before you in awe as I write this. A dish normally reserved for Passover time is making a strong case for year-long presence, because I gotta say, it’s pretty friggin’ good. Well, depending on which one you get.

For example, the Monica, is awesome. And no, I’m not talking about Monica Geller from Friends. I was always a Rachel kinda guy anyway. No, the Monica of which I speak is made with sautéed mushrooms, spinach, fresh sliced mozzarella and honey Dijon.

Or there’s the Jasmine with eggplant, herbs and tahini, which I also liked. Whereas the Xavier (pictured) with avocado, mango salsa and cheddar jack is actually just eh, even though it looks and sounds like it’d be the best of the three.

But no matter which sammy is your pleasure, definitely do yourself a solid and pair it up with a side of their Sunshine Salad, made with sweet potato, chickpea and tomato, tossed in a date dressing. It’s enough to make the Trix rabbit swear off of cereal in favor of salad, because it really is magically delicious.

P.S. One caveat. If you go to their site you will notice that they don’t open a brick and mortar location until the fall. But until then, if you keep your eye out at food stands like Broadway Bites and Madison Eats, maybe you’ll get lucky.

Via Sforza

243 Post Rd WWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 454-4423 • viasforza.com

Okay. I’ll admit that the décor in this place is so cheesy it’s almost a non-starter. I mean it does absolutely nothing for ones confidence when you enter, looking more like something you would find in Epcot or Vegas with its fake fresco walls and amusement park aesthetic.

But what they lack in taste they make up for in flavor, because the food is shockingly good. Just order yourself up a plate of their wonderfully fresh, well-balanced avocado salad and you will see, and taste, for yourself a skillfully balanced display of favors and textures like cucumber, radish, dried cranberries and pecans.

After that, I recommend chasing it with a kickass Cavatelli that doesn’t go bashful on the garlic. Loaded with freshly shaved ricotta salata, garden tomatoes, peppery arugula and perfectly al dente swirls of pastacularness.

Even my wine by the glass was great. The only miss for me was actually the bread that comes with the table. But when the food is this good, I’d rather not fill up on the bread anyway.

Harvest Wine Bar & Restaurant

36 Railroad PlWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 221-0810 • harvestwinebar.com

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Located across the street from the train station, Harvest makes for a great place to eat either right before a train or right after, at the end of a long workday when no one at home wants to cook and you’re not sure what you want to eat (guilty as charged), Harvest offers a jack of all trades menu with a few hits, a few misses and a lot of creativity.

Starting with the wines by the glass, you will find Conundrums in both red and white. So right there you have two solid reasons to visit. The vibe is also pretty cool, although the crowd both times I ate here was a bit sparse.

In round one, I enjoyed the veal chop, prepared with a red wine truffle glaze, creamy spinach, baby carrots and parmesan. But the real winners were salmon tartar with jalapenos, baby arugula, lemon zest and potato chips for salty scooping. So yum.

The surprise winner for me was the crispy artichoke starter. It just sounds and looks like it’ll be heavy, but somehow they are magically light and wonderful. So much so that this was my favorite thing.

Come round two I found the pear and endive salad to be decent but the octopus start is a big miss. Only because of its chewy consistency. The preparation is actually quite good. Basic, but good. Mainly avocados, tomato and red peppers. And funny enough, the exact same prep was used on my favorite dish of round two, the crispy crab cakes.

Now I just need to return and get the artichokes and the crab cakes and I’ll have the perfect meal.

3 teeth

La Boulangerie par Jean Luc Pelé

104 boulevard Sadi Carnot06110 Le Cannet, France • +33 4 93 45 36 32 • www.jeanlucpele.com/fr/

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Located on a tiny, pedestrian-only rue, sits this bakery/grab-and-go café with a few tables outside and pretty decent looking pre-prepared food. For example, the roasted veggie sandwich on a long narrow focaccia roll filled with peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and squash, dressed with a pesto spread looked mighty tasty from the other side of that glass case. But after taking a bite, I was quickly reminded that even in France, pre-prepared food that’s been sitting around in a case is seldom life-changing. So don’t be Francophooled.

Also, along with the sandwich, I tried a cup of their avocado gazpacho, which sounded and looked very intriguing. Sadly, the flavor of avocado was quite absent, or taste in general, for that matter. Perhaps the sweets are better.

All in all, it’s not terrible, but why settle when you can just head to Cocoon around the corner- it’s less than a two minute walk and easily two to three knives better. Plus the name is a lot shorter and easier to pronounce.

2 teeth

Il Porcellino

59 W Hubbard Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 595-0800ilporcellinochicago.com

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Doing Al Capone proud, Il Porcellino (which means “Little Pig” in Italian- no idea why) feels like good, ole, authentic Chicago Italian, with lots of little back rooms tucked away in brick catacombs turned dining areas with private bars and back doors for easy escape… to smoke. Yes, Capone would’ve love this place, granted as slow as the service was, I think he might’ve whacked a few waiters until things improved.

Also worthy of mention is that we were a large party, and why I think this is of significance in this review is because very often that means that the food will be nowhere near as good as it would be during a typical dining experience. So fedora’s off to the piglet, because if this is a notch down, then it must be something special when you eat there like a normal person.

For starters the green chopped salad with kale, avocado, parmesan, pistachios and pepperoncini was good, as was the charcuterie, aka prosciutto trio (parma, cotto & speck). But if you want your world rocked, go with the guilty pleasure of the Tuscan Cheese Bread. I know it sounds like typical Americanified Italian crap, but damn is really friggin’ awesome Americanified Italian crap. Made even more kickalicious with some seriously spicy marinara for dippage.

Both pastas were also crowd pleasers. The rigatoni in vodka sauce with peas and red pepper flakes was a classic done right. And the orecchiette gigante with Italian sausage and broccolini, was right up there with it. Not even sure which was better.

What I am sure about was that the Steak Grigliata was terribliata. I’m guessing grigliatta is Italian for grisly because it was so undercooked and chewy it was inedible. In fact, I had to get up and go to the bathroom just to spit out my bite. And while I’m beating this dead horse, I would say it was so bad that it cost them a knive on this dish alone. That said, the parmesan-garlic fries were pretty darn good.

Ending on a high note, both desserts were great. The gelato is creamy and rich and the tiramisu cups are pretty spectacular.

3 teeth

Tommy Bahama Restaurant

9101 International Dr. Ste 1200 Orlando, FL 32819 (321) 281-5888tommybahama.com

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I know. I know. Ferocious, what in the hell are you doing eating in a clothing store? And a fairly cheesy one, no less! Well, it might surprise you to know that what their clothing lacks in taste, they make up for with food. Stop laughing. I’m trying to be serious here (for once). The food is actually pretty impressive and all hand made to order.

At the start, I found their bread to be just okay on its own, but the butter they serve it with makes it a worthwhile event. It’s made with cinnamon, nutmeg and honey.

The best thing of the meal for me was the coconut crab cake with thai chili. I know everyone on Yelp swoons about the coconut shrimp, but let’s be honest, how hard is it to nail as a dish? Have you ever had a bad one? Crab cakes on the other hand, are more of a skill test, especially this far from Baltimore. But consider this test aced, because it was friggin awesome. Spicy and sweet. Crunchy and tender. And much lighter than one might think.

On the heavier side, but also very good where the Chicken “Lollipops” rolled in hazelnuts with a jerk remoulade. I’m not exactly sure how you can call a drumstick a lollipop, but I’ll forgive them because they were also pretty damn-tastic.

Down from there, I stole a bite of the crab and avocado salad and found it to be decent, but not quite as nummy as the mentions above.

And the only miss for me was the ahi tuna taco appetizer, served on fried wonton shells with spicy mayo drizzle that was more drizzle than spice. That said, if you ask for a side of that thai dipping sauce from the crab cake and dip the tacos in them, then you’re talkin’.

Being that we were quite full at this point we opted for a half portion of the key lime pie to share and while it is also pretty good, it does fall a touch shy of great, because it lacks the necessary tartness that true key lime pies should have. Luckily it doesn’t go too sweet though either.

So skip the Hawaiian shirts and the tuna tacos and you are poised to have yourself a Bahelluva good meal.

3 teeth

Girl & the Goat

809 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60607(312) 492-6262girlandthegoat.com

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As you may have guessed, I love the name. It’s got a critter in it and alliteration. What more could you want? Good service? Check. Hip décor? Check squared. Great cocktails? Check-a-palooza. Great food? Well, depends on what you get, and I tried a lot.

It’s all small plates, so it’s a bit hard to distinguish between the appetizers and the entrees, but whatever you want to call them, be sure to get the warm marinated olives. They are tops. Never had better. Not even in Europe.

Another kickass dish are the green beans in fish sauce vinaigrette with cashews. It stole the show away from the cauliflower dish that so many others rave about. Sure it has pickled peppers (assumingly picked by Peter Piper), pine nuts and mint, but if you’ve ever eaten the cauliflower at Ilili or Tamarind in NYC, or Cleo in LA, this cauliflower is a mere apprentice in the shadow of their mastery. Whereas those green beans are Ultimate worthy. Trust me.

After that I’d go with the sweet corn pierogies with green goddess and rhubarb chimichurri (pictured). Or the pig face served with a sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine, maple and potato stix. So good and definitely the better way to go versus the goat shank.

But buyer beware, because not everything is worth your hard-earning coin. I say skip the shishito peppers. If you’ve had one, you’ve had them all, and there are so many other original dishes to be had.

The grilled baby octopus is decent with its guanciale (cured pork), fava beans, pea tips, pistachios and lemon vinaigrette, but not at the level of those winners I mention above. Same goes for the broccoli with smoky bleu cheese, the roasted beets with avocado crème fraiche and the kohlrabi slaw with fennel, toasted almonds and blueberries.

And finally, for dessert, the tres leche was the best of the bunch for me, with rhubarb, pink peppercorn and strawberry sorbet. It’s not so great that I would recommend force feeding it down your gullet if you’re already stuffed with everything else, but if you’ve still got room for jello, then go for it!

3 teeth