Oak & Almond

544 Main AveNorwalk, CT 06851 • (203) 846-4600 • oakandalmond.com
This might just very well be the best restaurant in the world… that is adjacent to a DMV. A dubious distinction by all accounts, but don’t let that sway you, because even if it weren’t right next door to the DMV, it would still be pretty damn good. So if you’re in the area, pounce. And if you’ve just spent an infuriating day at the DMV, double pounce.

The setting is surprisingly nice considering its locale, although it’s not a place I would propose or anything. That said, it’s set far enough away from the road and the DMV parking lot to make you feel like you are elsewhere.

But what really transports you is the food. From get go, you know they’re the real deal when they serve you their homemade, fresh-baked bread with a whipped butter-like cream thing that is dangerously habit-forming.

And the app-e-teasers proved strong as well. My favorite being the fungi flatbread (pictured). This pie is legit. Doing CT Pizza culture proud. A close second was the buratta, which was melt-in-your mouth creamy, drizzled with balsamic and served up with beefsteak tomatoes and perfectly thin, crisp crostini, just strong enough to provide textural contrast with the buratta, but thin enough so as not to overpower it and let it be the star. A close third for me would be the octopus, just missing the second slot because it was a touch overcooked. But the preparation was wonderful. A mix of fave beans, peas, dill yogurt, fennel, potatoes and chorizo, all drizzled with a kicking’ vinaigrette.

The only miss for me was the salmon tartar, significantly lacking in compared to its bunkmates.

For entrée, I went with the lamb burger. Not sure why, because I was already pretty damn full by this point, but perhaps it’s because I’m like a dog and would eat myself to death if you’d let me. Pressing on, I managed to hork about two thirds of it down. But like the octopus, I do have to say it was also over-cooked. That said, also like the octopus, the balance of flavors made up for a lot with the tzatziki and the olive aioli.

But as good as it is, I’m not suggesting you make a special trip just to go here. I mean it’s still right next to the DMV for Christ’s sake! But, if you happen to work nearby, or be in the area, you could do a lot worse. And if you just failed your driver’s license exam, it’s a nice place to lick your wounds.

Consider it a VERY strong three knifer, trending four when you adjust for DMV proximity.

Advertisements

Black Barn

19 E 26th St. New York, NY 10010(212) 265-5959 blackbarnrestaurant.com

black-barn

A unequivocal upgrade from SD26 (RIP), Black Barn slaps you in the face with energy the moment you enter, with its lively bar up front, adorned with sleek décor elements done in such a way that honors both the country and city, making the Osmonds proud. Especially in the main dining room in the back, where they really embrace the mix of design elements, complete with a framed out “barn” looming overhead. The only thing taking away from the vibe in a pretty big way is the tablet-style cocktail and wine list. It just cheapens the experience right as you sit down, making you feel like you’re in one of those iPad airport restaurants.

In terms of service, it was a bit spotty, proving to be noticeably lethargic on the bookends with both the cocktails and desserts taking an eternity. Then there’s the matter of our waiter forgetting all about delivering us a bread basket, probably because he was too busy delivering his table-side theatrically, obnoxious Shakespearean presentation of “The Menu.” This guy was so over the top we felt like we were being waited on by Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments.

Fortunately for Charlton the cocktails were very good. The winner of the two I tried was The Bad Seed, made with Buttered Corn American Whiskey and cayenne pepper dust. It was spicy and buttery in all the right places. Yes, it’s good to be bad. The other cocktail was the refreshing Cider House Cup, served in a copper mug, which seems to be all the rage as of late. Made with Apple Jack, fruit and lime juice. It’s a nice yin to the yang of The Bad Seed.

For starters the Beau Soleil oysters were oysters. Fresh, but nothing spectacular. Served with all the usual suspects from lemon to vinegar to cocktail sauce. The seared foie gras with green apples was also just okay, missing the broad side of a, well, barn, with a dish that should’ve easily been a layup had they just given it that hit of sweetness that is normally so germane to the dish. But weakest of all was probably the pumpkin salad, which was so unimpressionable that it might as well have never even been served to us and I doubt anyone would’ve ever noticed.

On the plus side, the mushroom toast with tallegio was good. Not what I would call it incredible, but amidst the losers it was served with, it was a beacon of hope. And speaking of hope, we finally held out long enough for that forgotten breadbasket I mentioned earlier. But once it arrived, it quickly became apparent as to why they had forgotten. Because it’s pretty forgettable. Although I will hand them the award for the most conflicted spread ever served with bread. A pat of butter topped with balsamic vinegar, sitting in a pool of olive oil, surrounded by roasted garlic cloves. Yes, all of that and yet it still failed to wow.

Sadly, the entrees didn’t fare much better. The scallops were just okay, only made mildly better by the potatoes they are served over. But compared to the amazing scallop dish at The Clocktower across the park, I wouldn’t wipe my ass with these. Not that you should ever wipe your ass with mollusks, that’s just gross, not even sure why you brought it up?

The rib eye with chimichurri was also just okay. The meat itself was nothing special at all, so it was in dire need of something to submerge it in, hence why they serve it with the chimichurri, I suppose. But even that wasn’t enough to mask the inadequacies of the dish. Nor was the cayenne popover, which was a nice touch, props for that one, but it’s obviously a borrowed concept from BLT and not quite at the same level, nor size. Still, I appreciated the effort.

And just when the barn was about to be set fire, the best entrée of the night came in to save the day, the sweet potato ravioli with bacon. Not only was it good, it was crazy good. Then, they followed that up with two killer desserts, the rum soaked bread pudding, which was my favorite, as you can imagine, and the other were the salted caramel ice cream sandwiches which were pretty dope as well, to use a horribly dated expression that I’m hoping to bring back into style. The weakest of the three desserts were the warm chocolate brownies. They’re not exactly bad per se, but when you can get a better brownie at Pret, it kinda makes it seem ridiculous to pay over 10 bucks for something inferior.

Such a shame. I had higher hopes for Black Barn. Sure, it had its spots of brilliance, but they were lost in a sea of too much darkness. Or should I say “blackness?” Yet I still stand by what I said at the beginning. It’s definitely an upgrade from the previous tenant, even if the misses outnumber the hits.

2 teeth

Delicatessen

Kısıklı, Mim Kemal Öke Cad. No:19 Istanbul, TK(0212) 225 0604 • http://www.delicatessenistanbul.com/
Delicatessen

Set amidst the Fifth Avenue shopping scene of Istanbul you will find a number of interesting looking places to spend you money on something other than high fashion. One such place being Delicatessen. A contemporary take on the name with its glass cases filled with goodies both savory and sweet, made hipster by its industrial steel and brick décor.

Within those cases, unfortunately lie offerings that are a bit hit and miss, at least by human standards. The army of street cats that will descend upon your table at the first sight of food will beg to differ. But assuming you’re human, because as I understand it most cats don’t read, here is the breakdown of do’s and don’ts:

For starters I highly recommend the inventive twist on the Turkish classic, sigara boregi (warm cigar-shaped, feta-stuffed pastries), only Delicatessen jazzes them up with the addition of marinated porcini mushrooms, making them more interesting and better than most I’ve had. On the flip side, their attempt at an Italian staple, prosciutto and pear with gorgonzola and balsamic was less successful. The pear wasn’t ripe enough and cut too thick, so it overpowered everything else in the dish.

But far worse than the prosciutto was the filet and mashed potatoes. The meat was incredibly thin and yet they STILL managed to under cook it. Which might not have been so bad had the quality of the meat been up to snuff, but it was sinewy and not worthy of human consumption. So, I fed the uncooked portion to one of the street cats.

Now after the steak one might assume that I cut my losses and avoided any further transgressions on the dessert course, but making an ass of you and especially me, I went for the blackberry cobbler in the dessert case because admittedly it did look pretty good. And pretty good it was, served warm and a la mode. Just not good enough to save this place from the meek knife count.

2 teeth

Rocky’s

235 Saw Mill River Rd. Millwood, NY 10546 • (914) 941-2165rockysdeli.net

TJN-0829-sandwiches-Swan-Deli

Word on the street is that Rocky’s just hauled in a nod from the folks at Best of Westchester (that street being Rt.133), so it goes without saying that I needed to scoot my opinionated bones on over there to order up some sammies.

The place looks like any one of a thousand just like it in the city, long counter on one side, stuffed to the gills with rolls, wedges & ciabattas, backed by a task force of sandwich soldiers armed with cooktop skillets the size of sofas and bins upon bins of prepped ingredients. And on the other side you’ll find a wall of fridges loaded with every imaginable beverage one could ever hope to wash down a hoagie with.

Unfortunately, this faithful homage to city sandwich shops is so faithful that the sandwiches are nothing special. I guess people are just wistfully lining up out of sentimentality for the days when they used to live in the city. So therein lies the good news, you no longer have to drive an hour into the city to get your fix. But a reality check is definitely in order, because the sandwiches are far from the “best” in Westchester.

To get all specific on your ass, almost every sandwich requires that you add something to it, because they are too bland as is. For example The Untouchable desperately needed to touch some tomatoes or coleslaw or roasted red peppers- anything to give it moisture! Plus, the chicken cutlet is so thin it tastes like nothing more than its breading. Then there’s the actual bread. And together they overpower the grilled prosciutto, mozz and balsamic.

The Whaler, while better than The Untouchable, was also just okay, mainly due, once again, to a meek portion of fish so thin you could floss with it (not exactly what I would call “whale-like”), breaded and fried, along with hash browns and tripling down on the theme, a fried egg. There’s also American cheese, but what it needed most was ketchup or hot sauce to make it interesting enough to finish both halves.

The Chip Chip was easily the best of the three, with chipotle chicken, chipotle mayo, smoked gouda, bacon and avocado all on ciabatta. It had some nice kick, but if spicy sandwiches are your thang, then you owe it to yourself to head on over to Armonk and get The Heat at Melts. It beats the Chip Chip out of Rocky’s.

2 teeth

Rintintin

14 Spring St. New York, NY 10012(646) 666-0114rintintinnyc.com

best-middle-eastern-restaurants

While the name is likely to evoke imagery of a German Shepherd, there is nothing German, nor Shepard-like about the restaurant. And being that I was a fan of Bon Marche, I was sad to see that it had been replaced. Well, I was sad until I tried the food, which is even better than its predecessor.  I’m guessing the space must’ve left some good juju for this newbie, because the good vibes were abundant from top to bottom.

First off, the decor is much more open. The space is still small and charming, with nice touches like giant palm leaf arrangements and cymbals as lighting fixtures. And the service, while being a one man show from bartender to host, and waiter in between, managed to outdo many who only have a third of the task.

For drinks we did the cucumber gimlet made with arak (anis arabic booze), which was very refreshing almost like the cucumber water you would get in a spa, only with alcohol in it. And the other cocktail was the spicy cucumber margarita. It was also good, but not as impressive as one would hope, granted I’m part dragon when it comes to my tolerance for heat.

For an appetizer we split a burrata special served with a colorful spectrum of heirloom tomatoes, garlic roasted eggplant and proscuitto. If you should be so lucky as to see it offered when you go, I highly recommend. The garlicky eggplant and the salty dried ham make the dish something special. Ask for extra bread as well. It’s a thin focaccia perfect for sopping up the oil and balsamic remnants. But try to show some restraint, because there is much ahead worth saving room for.

The best of which is the burger. An eclectic mix of flavors from its pita bread bun and harissa topping to a queso fresco option (which I recommend), cayenne aioli and ketchup. It was crazy messy and just as crazy good. As were the crinkled potatoes they serve them with.

Another winner was the quinoa salad with avocado and lemon. It’s light and refreshing, but nothing you can’t find at a Le Pain Quotidien.

The only miss we had was the chicken cilantro soup. It was woefully bland both in terms of salt and spice. Even after adding copious amounts of both it was still only just okay.

And now for the closer… The churros are churrmendous! Both in size and execution. Crispy on the outside, soft and nummy, nummy on the inside. Served with a caramel dipping sauce and vanilla ice cream, both of which need to be used in tandem in order to achieve the maximum effect. And by maximum effect I mean on your belt holes, because by the time you leave here you will be on the very last one.

4 teeth

Iron Horse

20 Wheeler Ave. Pleasantville, NY10570 • (914) 741-0717ironhorsepleasantville.com

348s

It would appear that for a nice lunch on a Monday in Westchester, the options are quite thin. 40% of the places are closed because it’s a Monday. Another 40% are closed because they don’t open for lunch. And another 10% full into the chain/fast/not-so “nice” bucket. So with our pickings being slim, we went to one of the only places that was open, Iron Horse. Fortunately I had been wanting to try it for a while, so things worked out swimmingly.

That said, upon entering the restaurant it quickly became apparent why our options were so meek, we were the only table in the joint. From the time we entered to the time we left not a single other patron so much as set foot inside for consideration. So, for financial reasons alone, I can understand why most restaurants choose to forego the lunch offering.

Suffice it to say, however, that the service was excellent, we were treated like we were the only customers there…because, well, we were. And while the dining room is a touch dated, that’s also kind of its charm.

As for food, we shared the burrata caprese starter which was very good. Served with a heaping dollop of creamy goodness placed over a bed of peppery greens, drizzled with a balsamic, basil dressing and flanked with a rainbow of heirloom tomatoes. Very strong start and a well chosen recommendation by our server.

Her other two recos weren’t quite as stellar, unfortunately. The crab cakes were good, made with a ton of crab and very little filler, which I like, but I missed the heat. Nothing came from the remoulade and nothing in the cake itself.

And the burger, apart from being over-cooked, was much better sounding on paper. The caramelized onions are really the only things that break through, netting it out to be a very average burger experience. The fries, however proved very strong.

Then, finally for dessert, which we initially tried to pass up because we were stuffed , we were served a medley of cookies with the check. Chocolate, ginger, shortbread and almond. All were good, mainly because they were free cookies, but the latter two were my favs.

As for the knife count I’m afraid this is a rare one where I’m going to have to agree with the Yelping consensus… Three knives. But a very solid three.

3 teeth

Babbo

110 Waverly Pl. New York, NY 10011(212) 777-0303babbonyc.com

20080617-babbo-primi

I know I’m going to start losing people soon if I keep dropping deuces (double entendre intended) on icons like Eleven Madison Park, Union Square Cafe, Gramercy Tavern and now Babbo, but the fact remains, these places are so inflated by a reputation long gone by, coasting so hard they aren’t just resting on their laurels, they’ve fallen asleep there. And I’m not just saying this based on a myopic sampling of one-offs visits either.  I’ve been to Babbo three times. Once it was good and the other two times were just “eh” at best. In fact, I had one dish, a ravioli in balsamic sauce (pictured), that was so inedible it made me wince and cough my way through it. Not the normal reaction you’re going for in the fine dining category.

I am truly baffled on this one Mario. I fail to see, or taste, what is so great about this place. It is far from your best restaurant. I would put Tarry Lodge in Port Chester or Pizzeria Mozza in LA way above this place. Or any one of the seven restaurants in Eataly. Or Lupa. Okay, the horse is officially tenderized, so I’ll drop it. But just one last dig before I part, Babbo’s coat check also  lost my cashmere scarf. The only place to have done so in my entire life. Granted they reimbursed me for it, but only after a healthy dose of bitching and moaning.

2 teeth