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!

Isabelle et Vincent

1903 Post RdFairfield, CT 06824 • (203) 292-8022 • isabelleetvincent.com

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I’m not sure what people are smoking, handing out stars to this place like it’s the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Maybe it’s the baguettes? I mean they are good, but not sure they’re worth smoking. What I am sure of is that the rest of the stuff isn’t even worth eating. The croissants are doughy, not flaky. The chocolate isn’t even partially melted in the chocolate croissant and the marzipan in the almond croissant tastes like actual paste. Oh, and the pain raisin doesn’t even hold up to an Au Bon Pain.

Yes, I know the chef is French, but it’s not like being French automatically makes you a good baker anymore than being American makes you automatically shitty at electing presidents. So my advice, for much better croissants just up the road, I definitely recommend SONO Baking Company over this place. Their croissants aren’t amazing either, but they are far superior to Isabelle’s. That said, if you truly want to taste the croissant mastery of a French baker head to La Tulipe in Mt. Kisco where I used to live (wistful sigh). Their croissants are so good we almost didn’t move.

My mother always told me to try to find something nice in everything though, so I will say that there is a semi decent vanilla bean and chocolate pastry amongst the losers and shockingly enough, they do have some winners, their wide selection of baguettes, which I mentioned above. We tried the parmesan and thyme and it is money. Not sure I’d ever make a special trip just for that, but it’s the only thing I will ever buy there if I return.

2 teeth

Petit Poulet

52 W 33rd St. New York, NY 10001 • (212) 244-0440 petitpouletny.com

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The pickens are pretty slim when it comes to lunch in Herald Square. In fact, in Manhattan it’s kinda become the land that restaurateurs forgot, which puts ole Ferocious smack dab between a rock and hard to find a friggin’ place to eat place. And that’s not for a lack of trying.

My most recent attempt being this bistro-hopeful that seemed to start off on all the right feet with its classic décor, good service, reasonable rose and tres yummy charcuterie board complete with Roquefort, Camembert, cornichon, soppressata, mustard, jam, olives, grapes, fresh baguette, etc…

The other starter, the hummus and pita, was less obvious for bistro fare and wouldn’t have been my choice to order, but Morocco is a stone’s throw, so I let it slide. It’s just okay though, as to be expected. What wasn’t to be expected from my little chicken that could, was the palliard salad being as dry as Morocco. Far inferior to that of The Palm or The Standard Grill.

For dessert, the chicken choked, serving up a bizarre attempt at profiteroles that were more like ginormous balls of vanilla ice cream with teeny-weeny beanie caps of pastry on top and bottom. Flavor-wise they were still good, but as you can imagine, horribly off balance and tasting more like just a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Whereas the tart tatin was much more contained in size, but didn’t quite get there in flavor or texture, because the crust got very sogged down by the sugary innards of the tart and the choice of granny smith apples didn’t quite manifest in the contrast I think they were hoping for. And as a result, I actually found myself preferring the dysfunctional, obese profiteroles.

So for now I’m going with two knives, because the misses out-weighed the hits, but if I were grading on a curve based on the options in the area, I’d say it’s probably more like a three.

2 teeth

The Picnic Basket

 65 W 37th St. New York, NY10018 • (212) 382-262 • thepicnicbasketnyc.com
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The name is about the only thing charming about this place, so don’t be fooled. It’s nothing more than a galley lined with a few tables on each side that funnel you towards a counter flanked by refrigerator cases and menu boards. So not the place you want to come to for a sit down lunch if you as me. Grab ‘n go is the way to go.

To drink I had the green pear tea and lemonade because as we all know by now I dig on the AP (Arnold Palmer).

As for the sandwiches, I think I preferred the houlumi over the French Goat Cheese, mostly due to the bread. The houlumi being served on a warm, toasty, crunchy ciabatta. Whereas the goat is on a fresh baguette, which has its charms, but in a knife fight against ciabatta, it loses that battle nine times out of ten.

The ingredients on both sammies, however, fails to impress, especially when you have over-achievers like Untamed and No. 7 just blocks away. So, not sure why this place boasts the crowd or reviews that does, but I’m also baffled that Trump is going to be the Republican nominee, so what the hell do I know?

2 teeth

Foodlab

7253 Santa Monica Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90046(323) 851-7120foodlab-la.com

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Having only ordered from here, I think it’s safe to say that things are still in the clinical trial phase, because not much was nailed. The iced tea was bitter and basic. And the grilled cheese (pictured), while made with gruyere, tallegio and gorgonzola on 5 grain with glazed onions and grain mustard, proved to be a bit too much of one note. Granted it’s a good note, but not as interesting as one would hope after reading that epic list of lovable ingredients.

The best thing for me was the prosciutto and fig sandwich on a baguette with ricotta and honey, then drizzled with a balsamic reduction. However, do not be fooled by the menu description, because it is NOT served on raisin walnut bread. Also, do not be fooled into thinking this sandwich is SO good that I am recommending the Lab on the whole. All I’m saying is, if you’re going to have to eat here, this is my suggestion.

2 teeth

Grit & Grace

535 Liberty Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15222 • (412) 281-4748gritandgracepgh.com

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This was the best meal I had in Pittsburgh, not that my time there has been of any impressive duration that you should ever misconstrue my minute sampling as extensive. But in those four short days I managed to pack in a few highs and lows, with Grit and Grace taking pole position.

The winning performance of which I speak takes place in a narrow, subway car-shaped dining room decorated with a minimal contemporary touches so as not to distract you from the small plate army about to descend on your table. From dim sum to sandwiches and then sum, Grit & Grace fills your plate with anything goes. But that’s what makes this place a blast, especially for larger parties so you get to try a little of everything. And per the list below, you will soon see, I truly mean everything.

So, listing them in hierarchical fashion, here we go…

The Brisket Sandwich: It’s all you could ever hope for in a sandwich. Moist. Beefy. Contrasting textures and brightness from the kohlrabi slaw and pickled red onions. A little kick from the horseradish cream and thousand island sabayon. All on a wonderfully fresh baguette that would make any Frenchy proud.

The Mortadella Bun: No. Not a sandwich. A bun. As in dim sum. As in get some. Because this is definitely the best Mortadella sand- er, “bun” I’ve ever had. Loaded with the additions of chicken thigh meat, kimchi and bread & butter pickles, then sauced with coriander mustard and chili aioli. It’s definitely not your usual suspect, but hot damn does the road less travelled taste good!

Pot du crème: I’m normally not a huge fan of the Pot, but then again, I had never eaten at Grit & Grace before. And now I’m a changed man. Probably an Ultimate in the category since the competition is all but non-existent in my eyes. And note to Crème brulée, eat your crème out, ‘cause you’ve got nothing on this.

Lettuce Wraps: Okay, not exactly the sexiest of names, nor is it much of a looker to be honest, but look deeper… and open wide, because the duck confit piled on top of these leaves is loaded with flavor, along with even more kohlrabi (of the fermented persuasion), peanuts and cilantro.

Pork belly bites: Anything that starts with the words “pork belly” is already halfway to the promised land by default. Which can be both a blessing and a curse, because it’s that much harder to stand out in land where the bar is pre-set to high. Nonetheless, these “bites” had a favorable showing, glazed with orange, chili, garlic and a nice kiss of ginger.

Roasted octopus and mussels: This was the most conflicted dish of the night, being both good and bad at the same time. The octopus itself being the good, done nice and tender, as are the potatoes, which soak up the lemongrass broth like a champ. On the flip side, the mussels are the Bad. Tiny and overcooked, tasting like shriveled up wads of mollusk.

Carrot salad: In the midst of such culinary wizardry, it’s a bit hard for salads to make a lasting impression, but I do have to say that this one has a nice Asian kick to it.

Tomato salad: Conversely to the Carrot Salad, this one takes a decidedly Mexican approach to its flavors, which, while good, didn’t fare quite as well with the overall theme of cuisine.

Kimchi: It’s fine, but to present it as its own dish is a bit remiss. It’s a gloried condiment to be fair and that’s all you should use it for, to add some nice kick to the other dishes you find lacking.

Meatballs: I’m not sure if these were the ones normally served with ramen, but perhaps they should’ve been, because by themselves they were a tad underwhelming.

Pastrami sandwich: I wanted to love this one so much more than I did, but compared to the Mortadella bun or the Brisket Sandwich it’s an ugly stepsister. But not for a lack of trying, with accouterments like broccoli rabe, roasted garlic aioli and provolone cheese whiz you’d think it was Philly’s second coming. Sadly though, it’s just a false alarm.

Short ribs: Like the pork belly, this is another one of those dishes that usually has me at “hello.” And when you place it on a biscuit smothered with friggin’ béchamel, you’re definitely going for broke. But that’s what happened. It broke. They pushed this little dish so far, it overshot decadent and landed right splat on the face of “I wish I hadn’t done this.”

Soba noodles with crab: Remember that kimchi I mentioned? Save it for this dish. It’s crazy bland and in dire need of some kimchi lovin’, which is the worst name ever for a Korean porno.

Peach cake: Speaking of worsts, this was the most unfortunate of recommendations from our server and easily the lowest point of the meal. Dry, bland and unworthy of the term “dessert,” bringing no joy and only caloric guilt in its wake.

Other than that final transgression, the service really was excellent and the wine choices by the glass, while minimal, were fantastic. I had one white and one red and both were much better than your average bear.

So now that you’re done reading my novel about Grit & Grace (I told you we tried everything) you can certainly see that there are some land mines to be avoided. But with so many highs and two Ultimates, I find it hard to dole out anything lower than a quad.

4 teeth

Bonfire

Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport • 4300 Glumack Dr. Saint Paul, MN 55111 • (612) 726-5360 • http://bonfirewoodfirecooking.com/blog/location/msp-airport/

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I have eaten here a ton over the years due to a plethora of business trips that invariably had me loitering about the Minneapolis airport in search of something to stave off any hunger pangs that might occur mid-flight, causing me to have to buy one of those boxed “meals” that taste only marginally better than some of the luggage on board.

Now it might surprise you to know that the Minneapolis airport actually has a few good dining options amidst the food court riffraff, and right at the top of those options I would put Axel’s Bonfire. Well, I would’ve put them at the top until I just went back recently and they seem to have lost a step… not to mention a knife. But even having lost a knife, for airport nutrients Bonfire is on fire with their excellent chicken tortilla soup and their blackened walleye salad (pictured). The salad used to be served with a wonderful, fresh baked roll, which they seem to have replaced with boring old sliced baguette.

As for dessert, I’ve never actually had it there. I always head over to the DQ in the C terminal and grab a Blizzard. After all, I am human.

3 teeth

Maison Kayser

921 Broadway New York, NY 10010(212) 979-1600 maisonkayserusa.com

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I’m not sure what it is about this chain, but I really want to like it more than I do. And I’ve tried. I really have. I’ve eaten there for breakfast once, lunch twice, even from their prepared foods and bakery. But everything falls just short for me.

Worse still is that it’s sort of like a lesser version of it’s fellow Parisian transplant next door neighbor, Le Pain Quotidien, only with white tiles instead of wood, waiters dressed like mimes (without the face paint) and no communal tables, which I’ll file under the plus column. So how they’ve managed to expand as they have is beyond me.

Of all the things I’ve had there, there are only two worth ordering. The nicoise salad holds its own pretty nicely and the pre-prepared Iberico sandwich with manchego, Iberico ham, mission figs and mustard is pretty solid as far as pre-made sammies go. MUCH better than the tragically recommended saucisson (Le Rosette). Not sure what the peeps over at Thrillist were smoking when they wrote up that one, but I can assure it was potent and laced. It’s basically cured sausage and cornichon on a baguette with a little butter. Nothing more. And I mean nothing. It’s almost like something you would throw together in a post-apocalyptic fallout shelter because these ingredients were all you had standing between you and starvation. And the pre-made Israeli couscous and wheat berry salads aren’t much better, lacking more flavor than melba toast. The plain kind. Without anything on it.

In the middle of the road, their truffled egg and asparagus tartine for breaky/brunch is neither here nor there nor anything I would ever order again… and neither is the fig, honey and goat cheese tartine on the lunch menu, because not only was it a big snore, it’s also no longer on the menu. Guess I wasn’t the only one. And that’s my issue with MK as a whole, serving up food you would never even think twice about again in your life, unless you had a cantankerous food blog where you reviewed restaurants and wanted to write a warning to people that the food sounds much better than it is. Wow, that was meta.

2 teeth

L’Ondine

La Croisette, 06400 Cannes, FR • 0493942315 • ondineplage.com
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When mussel season hits, this place is a must. Located right on the beach with the gold and white awnings, just down from the Carlton. There are several other things here that are good as well, such as the caprese and artichoke salads. But one word of caution, the portions are humungous. I’m guessing they have Americanized them for all the tourists. Or Italianized them for family style? Well, whatever they did, they awesomized the Moules Frites. The best I’ve ever had. Each mollusk carrying with it a faint memory of the sea, along with a white wine broth so good you’ll want to sop it up with a bushel of baguettes.

3 teeth

La Tulipe Desserts

455 Lexington Ave. Mount Kisco, NY 10549(914) 242-4555latulipedesserts.com

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I find it shocking that people can give this place 1 star on Yelp based on a myopic sampling of macaroons (hence why I left Yelp). I defy anyone to find any bakery on the planet that does EVERYTHING with perfection.

That said, La Tulipe does a lot VERY well. So let’s start with what rocks… First, they have the best almond croissant I’ve ever had in my life. And yes, I’ve been to Paris. Even their plain croissant is in my top 3. The chocolate croissant ain’t too shabby either. In fact, let’s just say they’ve got the entire croissant family covered.

But croissants are just the tip of this delicious iceberg. Most of their cakes are excellent too. For example, their chocolate bomb cake IS the bomb. Beautiful inside and out. Probably the best I’ve ever had as well.

Their gelato is excellent- I recommend pistachio and chocolate and skipping every other game in town if you want truly serious ice cream.

Most of their muffins are VERY good.

And as for their macaroons, I’ve had about 6 different flavors from them and I have to say only about 2 were great. The rest just “eh.” But 1 star? Seriously? I mean it’s not like Bouchon is batting 100o either. But as long as we are pointing out the nits, there are a couple of others. Skip the carrot cake- granted they don’t usually make it, but if you commission one for a party, think twice. It will look pretty, but the taste is just okay. Also, the staff is a bit hit and miss. Not particularly warm and not particularly good at remembering your order, unfortunately. Although, the chef himself is very nice.

So, to set the record straight, let’s just recalibrate La Tulipe in terms of their competition… They blow Lulu’s in Scarsdale out of the water and the only other bakery in Westchester that has anything as transcendent as their croissants would be Sherri B’s in Chappaqua, with brownies so good you’d swear they were laced with something other than butter.

5 teeth