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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Scarpetta

355 W 14th StNew York, NY 10014 • (212) 691-0555 • scarpettarestaurants.com
 

Making many a blog’s hottest new haunts in the ole NYC, Scarpetta delivers on the adulation serving up some mighty fine Italian in a simple, classy dining room that is so loud you can barely hear your own “mmm’s”

Fortunately, I could still hear our waiter, who was Johnny on the spot with his recos. Including a phenomenal, velvety Morgan Boujelais that complemented everything from the baby tuna crudo, which was pretty great to the soft polenta with mushrooms and black truffles, which was “I don’t want to share” ridiculicious.

And then the short rib and bone marrow agnolotti (pictured) happened and everything in the world slowed down like a Planet Earth documentary. The ecstasy of every chew as palpable as plastering your blissful puss on the jumbotron in Times Square.

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the black cod entrée served on a bed of caramelized fennel. It’s enough to make you want to fuck a fish.

Hell, this place even nails the basics, like their spaghetti with tomato and basil. So simple. So right.

Desert held strong as well, representing with a strong chocolate cake. In fact, the only miss (and a huge one at that) of the night came along its side in the form of one of the worst tart tatins I’ve ever laid teeth on.

But I forgive Scarpetta, because it handily restored my faith in the New York Italian restaurant scene. Again. #Blanca #Eataly #Carbone

La Casa di Nonna

41 rue Hoche 06400 CannesFrance • +33 4 97 06 33 51 • lacasadinonna.fr

Welcome to Grandma’s House, my newest Cannes crush. Yes, I suppose I have a thing for older women. Shhh! Don’t tell my wife. Actually, she has crush on Nonna too, because this place is just so damn charming. You just want to squeeze the bejesus out of its cheeks. From the servers to what they are serving, brace yourself for a healthy dose of amoré.

Whether it’s just a quick, afternoon snack over a frothy cappuccino and a wonderfully fresh-squeezed juice or a fully-fledged three-course dinner you are in for a treat, because they don’t miss. Particularly if you incorporate their chocolate ganache cake into whatever meal occasion it is. That alone is like a panacea for all of life’s troubles. Ultimate alert!

The other thing they nail eight ways ‘til Sunday is parma. I don’t know where they get it from, but oh lordy is it pigilicious! We had the melon and prosciutto starter and I think it might just be the best I’ve ever had. The melon was perfectly ripe and sweet. And that ham! I’m not even sure how to describe it, and I’ve even had the acorn-fed, quattro-legged stuff before and this is better.

The other dish the shined on the shoulders of this porky perfection was the carbonara, an Ultimate and only bested by the one at Blanca in Brooklyn, NY, mainly because of it’s superior pepperiness. But Nonna knows her shit, keeping the eggy coating just light enough to allow the pig and basil pop from the dish. And while I know basil is no-no to you purists out there, I say Nonna beats a no-no and you should try it before you deny it.

On the mortal side, I found the artichoke salad, the gnocci with tomato sauce and the spaghetti to all be, well, mortal. But nothing is bad and with THREE Ultimates, I’d put this tops on your list for your next visit to the Cote ‘d Azur. Plus, as I said before, if you end with that ganache cake, you’ll be crooning like old Dino… “When you walk down the street and you have this to eat, that’s amore!”

Blackbird

619 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60661(312) 715-0708blackbirdrestaurant.com

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The first thing that struck me when I entered Blackbird was that the décor is very white without a morsel of black to be found anywhere, ironically. The other thing I noticed is that while the service is very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, they are also unbelievably slow, to the point of distraction, taking 40 minutes just to take our order and that was only because I flagged him down. Not even bread or drinks came in this time. And once they did, our waiter dripped the wine all over the table and down the sides of the glass EVERY time he poured it. It was so bad I think I’ve seen less dribbling in the United Center!

Fortunately the wine was good (what was left of it after he dripped most of it on the table) and the Port of Call cocktail is just awesome and it comes with significantly less dripping, unless it’s self-inflicted. Also, I do want to mention that the wine list has some solid, affordable options and the bread was warm and yummy, served with a curried butter.

It was from that point on that Blackbird soared, from a tasty amuse bouche to a trio of incredible appetizers that resoundingly affirmed that this chef de cuisine got game!

The most creative of the three would be the panzanella salad made with sweetbreads and sweet bread. A fun play on words and ingredients, using Hawaiian bread as a sweet counterweight to the savory glands. As was the raspberry vinaigrette. But as good as it was, it was actually the weakest of the three, best by the turnip and foie gras soup. So creamy and rich you should have to pay luxury tax on every spoonful. And my favorite of the three, the endive salad, believe it or not. Served in a stunning bird’s nest (pictured) with a poached egg, crispy potato, basil, pancetta and dijon. Relatively simple, but positively brilliant.

Both entrees I tried were exceptional as well. Completely apples and oranges, but each superb in their own right. The halibut is perfectly cooked and artfully accompanied by peekytoe crab and gooseberries. It was also somehow both decadent (duck fat) and light at the same time. Whereas the beef striploin was a full on savory-palooza, cooked to perfection and surrounded by a wonderful chanterelle moat with additions of quince, horseradish and crispy polenta planks. Masterful!

The only miss of the night was the carrot cake, and by miss I actually mean that it was good, but in comparison to the complimentary eclair and the white chocolate bar I would skip it, because that complimentary duo beats the cream cheese out of that cake 10 times out of 10, and I’ve a HUGE carrot cake fan, so this is saying a lot.

What’s also saying a lot is that not since the Purple Pig have I had a meal this good in Chicago. Granted I haven’t been to Alinea yet, so stay tuned.

4 teeth

Gabriel Kreuther

41 W 42nd St. New York, NY 10036(212) 257-5826gknyc.com

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“Whoa Nellie!” as sports commentator Keith Jackson used to say. That’s about the only way I can describe what just took place in my mouth. And that sentence didn’t quite come out as intended. But that’s to be expected because this place is so good words will fail you.

From the very second you set foot inside the expansive, artful dinning room you feel as if you are in a forest designed by Phillipe Starck. Service is also impressive, but not quite as art directed.

The platings, on the other hand, are stunning, kicking things off with an Ultimate Gazpacho made from yellow tomatoes and loaded with little goodies set in an amphitheater of deliciousness, ranging from confit sungolds to parmesan tuile, which is French for “happy-inducing, bite-size cookie things.”

The second course was also sensational, a seared foie gras with spring onions, basil and pickled strawberries. I would say it was divine, but I fear you would think less of me for it. And even if you wouldn’t, I’d probably think less of myself.

The Dorade Royale entrée was equally spectacular. Worthy of scene in Pulp Fiction just to discuss the Royale-ness of the dish, because it was almost as if the fish had mated with a cloud and became as light and smooth as vapor itself. Yet packed with so much depth of flavor that that you almost need a submarine to appreciate it, like fennel and coriander and green tomato marmalade.

The only mortal dish of the evening was the Fleur de Temps, a white chocolate mousse with lemon marmalade and raspberry sorbet. And although I’ve already undersold it, even that was pretty awesome when you had it with the raspberry sorbet, which was the true star of the plate. Oh, and speaking of stars, the chocolates at the end of the meal, served in a cocoa bean box was the stickage of the landing. Especially when you take into account all of the terrific bread courses along the way, not to mention the refreshing Reisling.

This place is firing on all cylinders and then some. From décor to presentation to the food and even the service, which while not flawless, managed to kill it on the recommendations. Granted nothing we had was bad, so I’m guessing recos come easy here.

5 teeth

Pizzeria C’e

Türkbükü Mah. Gaffur Kaynar Cad.88 Sok. No: 11/A 48400 Bodrum, TK • +90 252 3776066pizzeriace.com

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Never more does one have to trek all the way from Turkbuku into Bodrum for a decent slice. And while I’m not exactly sure they are as good as Vespa, they are a hell of a lot more convenient. That’s assuming you can get a table, of course, because it’s cok kucuk (Turkish for “very small”). Granted that’s also part of its charm. And the good news is that if you can’t get a table, you can always do take out.

Part of what makes the pies as good as they are is that the husband and wife who own the place took a trip to Italy specifically to learn how to make kick ass pizza! And I can’t think of a better reason to go to Italy, so props on the mission accomplished.

Of the three pizzas we tried, the sausage with chili peppers was the clear winner, getting a hefty boost from the heat delivered by those home grown chili’s. Look out though, because it’s WAY hotter than the typical red pepper flakes you get at your other pie places.

In second I would score the margherita. You really taste the freshness of all the ingredients from the crust to the sauce to the cheese and even the garden basil leafs on top. It’s not anything that would ever rival New York, but it has some game.

In last for me would be the pear and gorganzola white pie. The miss really coming from the lack of sweetness in the pears, which is supposed to cut the stank savoriness of the cheese. But it faintly shows up and leaves you with a clump of blue cheese on a crust, more or less.

Other things worth mention are the arugula salad with dried cranberries and walnuts and manchego. It was good, but more so as an accompaniment. Would never suggest it as a main event.

Also the bottle of cabernet we shared was quite good and decently priced, granted at three lira to the dollar, virtually every restaurant in Turkey is a bargain these days. I guess while military coups aren’t great for tourism and the economy, they do bode well for foodies. #silverlining

3 teeth

Uncle Boons

7 Spring St. New York, NY 10012 (646) 370-6650 uncleboons.com

Mieng Kung, betel leaf wrap with ginger, lime, toasted coconut, dried shrimp, chilies and peanuts at Uncle Boons, a newly opened Thai restaurant and bar in SoHo.â€(R)CREDIT: Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journalâ€(R)SLUG: HH.UncleBoons Published Credit: Agaton Strom for The Wall Street Journal

Having waited a stupid amount of time to get into the extraordinarily disappointing Spotted Pig, you’d think I’d’ve learned my lesson with these overrated, no-reservation-taking, wastes of time. But apparently not, because one again I found myself standing there like a puppy dog, panting before the hostess in the hopes of getting a table. But had I been more self aware, perhaps I would’ve noticed déjà vu staring me in the face.

Nonetheless, my stubbornness persevered and on we marched to the back room through a tiki-style décor that did little to put a smile on my face, only to then begin a meal that would have a lot of splainin’ to do (to be read like Desi Arnaz).

Out of the gate, the gripes began with the Frozen Basil Vodka which was very good, but I think they majorly skimped on the portion, serving it in a half-filled glass. Never seen that before and I’m guessing it was because they ran out of the cocktail by 8pm on a Friday night. Something else I’d never seen before and I’m not sure which is the more inexcusable part of the story. To run out of booze by 8pm on a Friday night? Or to charge full price for a half-full glass of it?!

But at least it tasted good, the other drink our server recommended, the Bolan, was so god awful that we sent it back after one sip, opting for the Baa Baa Bo Bo which was a nice, spicy-sweet twist on a margarita.

Getting back to our server, however, she was so miserable that she ruined the experience for us (not that the food wouldn’t have done if for her), giving not one recommendation and lying through her blatantly apathetic teeth, saying everything is amazing. It’s not. Far from it. So, between her piss pour attitude and trying to charge us for that drink that she pawned off on us when they ran out of the one we liked, Uncle Boons was starting to look like that creepy uncle we all try to avoid at obligatory family outings.

Toxic service aside, now for the over-hyped menu, starting with the spicy chicken, which while spicy, was also just okay- oh, and it’s completely mislabeled as a small plate. Unless you’re Andre the Giant.

The mango salad is slightly better, but nothing worthy of the wait we endured and neither is the Thai blood sausage, for that matter, tasting a slight notch above Alpo.

And while I would love nothing more than to go on and on shitting all over this place, my integrity is going to get the better of me as I must give props where props are do, even though it pains me to do so.

The first prop going to the dorade. It is so phenomenal that it just might be the best whole fish I’ve ever had. Charcoal roasted and served with charred leeks and a Nam Prik dipping sauce that is pinch-yourself ah-maze-ing!

And believe it or not, we also stayed for dessert, regardless of the abysmal hit ratio thus far, primarily out of spite for having made us wait so long for the table, so I suppose we felt like holding onto the damn thing as long as we could. A philosophy that paid its dividends quite quickly in the form of a rich, creamy, texture-filled coconut ice cream, topped with fresh-made whipped cream, more coconut shavings on top, as well charred nuts, which kinda steal the show.

But even with the strong ending, Uncle Boons was climbing out of a hole so deep it came out the other side of the world in Thailand.

2 teeth

Chappaqua Station

1 Station Plaza Chappaqua, NY 10514 • 914-861-8001 • chappaquastation.com

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I’ll give the place an A for effort, but sadly the exchange rate of A’s to knives isn’t a favorable one. But before leaping all the way to the end, let’s discuss how we got there.

Located in the Chappaqua train station, as the uninventive name suggests, it seems to be taking a page out of like-minded restaurants (Via Vanti & Iron Horse) both one stop up and down on the Harlem line. That said, CTS is more of a bar with small plates. The wine selection is rather thin, however, whereas the cocktails go much deeper, which is strange for a place that sports a menu predominantly made up of charcuterie and cheese.

Also strange is the décor, if you can call it that. Basically all they did was stick a big bar (pictured) in the middle of the room and tables around it (albeit the space was already nice as is, I suppose). Then, they converted the café next to the main room into the kitchen, if you can call it that as well. More of a prep area if you ask me. And considering you’re on my blog it would appear you are asking. Oh, and one more thing. The seemingly intimate back right corner by the velvet red curtain is anything but. DO NOT SIT THERE. On the other side of the curtain is wait station where they will come and go repeatedly carrying dirty vats of water and other undesirable cargo.

Service is a variation on the Bar Taco method, using a check box menu, but somehow less fun and a touch cheap, because CTS uses laminated cards and red Sharpie’s. Also not helping the cheap vibe is the use of paper plates.

Among the small plates, the best things by far were the wine and cheese/charcuterie, but that’s not to say that even that was good. More passable than anything. The cheeses out shining the meat, even with such hopefuls as salami with pistachios and lemon zest, or the even more underwhelming salami with coriander and chili. On the cheese side, we went camembert, Vermont cheddar and bleu, and all three were solid. And while they surround the board with goodies such as jam, mustard, candied nuts and grapes, it does little to mask the failings of flavor.

Speaking of fails, the di parma, basil, tomato and mozzarella flatbread is not even on par with Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza! Not that I’ve had it in nearly three decades, but I ate a shit-ton as a kid. But saving the flatbread from the dubious distinction of the low point, dessert swooped in with an apple pie so bad we didn’t have more than a bite or two. Instead we focused our efforts on the Sherry B’s vanilla ice cream on top.

So not a great showing, but not entirely a train-wreck either. I look forward to them upping their game. And hopefully the MTA does the same.

2 teeth

Redfarm

529 Hudson St. New York, NY 10014(212) 792-9700redfarmnyc.com

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I think there should be a law mandating that places take reservations. I mean how absurd is it that by 6:30 pm you could already have a 90-minute wait? Oh sorry, that was Spotted Pig around the corner, which we gave up on and walked right in to Redfarm, who also doesn’t take reservations mind you, but at 6:30 pm it’s nowhere near as bad as The Pig. By 7:30, however, you’re fucked, so still try to get there early if you hate waiting, which you will if you try to do it at their minuscule bar that’s smaller than most powder rooms.

As for the dining room itself, it’s also pretty small, yet they manage to pack a lot of farm-like fun into it, with wooded beams and pipes overhead adorned with hangers carrying everything from chopsticks to plants to menu highlights. And while there are a few smaller, more intimate tables along the sides, most of the seating is taken up by large communal tables in the middle, so not the best place to discuss your brilliant start-up idea that’s gonna make millions.

Fighting the vibe of the décor, unfortunately, is the very rigid staff, who demands you order everything at once, which zags greatly from the dim sum norm. And my other big gripe with service is that there is zero thought put into the chronology and flow of your meal. Meaning, they bring you the dishes without any semblance of rhyme or reason. Some starters came after dim sum. Some of the dim sum came after our entrée. Heavy dishes came before lighter ones. And it definitely effects how you enjoy each dish.

So to help you forget about such annoying things, I recommend one of two cocktails, either the Le Club Hot with jalapeno infused tequila, smoked sea salt and cucumber- It’s spicy, smoky and goody. Or the refreshing Shiso Cucumber, which is a bit more typical with the whole gin and cucumber combo that you now find at every restaurant under the sun except McDonald’s, although it’s probably coming soon considering Taco Bell just started serving booze. Granted they do zazz it up a bit with shiso leaves, agave and lemon. The one drink to avoid, however, is the Bee’s Teas. It ain’t the knees. It’s disgusting. Made with chamomile infused bourbon, fig and basil. And while it may sound pretty good to you, it tastes like one of those herbal tonics you get from your acupuncturist, which are more painful to drink than falling off of the table and landing needle-side down.

Among the edible winners of the night, the best thing we had was a starter that actually came fourth, and should’ve been first or second, the kumamoto oysters with yuzu and meyer lemon ice. They were phenomenal! I could’ve downed a dozen of those without batting an eye.

My second favorite thing of the night might’ve been an Ultimate the more I reflect on it. The crab and eggplant bruschetta was just awesome. A twist on the typically boring crab toast, this one is served slightly warm and very complex with its nuanced blend of flavors and textures coming from things like kohlrabi slaw.

The waiter’s resounding recommendation, however, was the weakest dish we had, the spicy crispy beef (pictured). A total miss for me. And while it checked two out of three boxes, spicy and crispy, it left out the all-too-important third box, beefy! I felt like the little old lady from the Wendy’s commercials long ago. Where’s the beef? Because all I tasted were fried clusters of batter in Szechuan sauce. Tisk! Tisk!

Another dish I loved was the egg roll stuffed with Katz’s Deli pastrami, served with a spicy Asian mustard. Granted it’s probably the inner Jew in me talking, but oy was it good!

One of the most interesting dishes was the shitake, corn, jicama and roasted red pepper dumplings served with a chive shooter that when used as a chaser made each and every bite explode with contrast, not only of texture and flavor, but even temperature.

For our entrée, Wifey and I split the sautéed lobster, egg and chopped pork, which is easily enough for two people, and that’s about the only thing easy about it. Eating it is not. It’s messy as all hell and there are droves of chipped shell pieces in almost every bite, make it a bit hard to enjoy without looking like a Neanderthal. That said, the favors in the dish are very good, especially when you combine the egg, pork and lobster all in one bite, which is also easier said than done.

Come dessert we decided to lighten things up a bit (while also still getting dessert, because I’m a very weak man), opting for the key lime pie with key lime sorbet, which is good, but not great. The pie itself is a little too sweet for a key lime, so lucky for them, the sorbet is tart and refreshing enough to balance things out. The key (get it?) is to combine both so that it tastes like a key lime pie actually should. Or, if that’s too much work for you, then I recommend heading to The Dutch in Soho, instead, for what I would say is the epitome of Key lime pie perfection.

3 teeth

Good Food

1205 Pleasantville Rd. Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510 • (914) 432-7981

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With a name like this they are just begging for some asshole like me to come swooping in and shit all over their life’s endeavors, but as tempting as that might’ve been, I was actually pleasantly surprised. Not by the décor, however, it’s virtually nonexistent. But then again, the place isn’t called Good Décor. The staff, on the other hand, is very small-town warm and friendly, charming my pants off as they coerced me into ordering dessert when I was already full. Loveable bastards!

But before we leap all the way to the end, let’s go back to the beginning. Torn between a delicious sounding lineup of sandwiches and savory crepes I ultimately erred on the side of novelty and went with the caramelized onions, olives, basil, capers and goat cheese crepe, served with a side of couscous salad and damn was it good… food. No false advertising here. It was WAY better than the Little Crepe Street in Kisco and good enough that I will most certainly be returning in order to cover the rest of those chalkboards (check back for potential knife uppage).

So what did I do for dessert? A scoop of their Coconut Almond Joy ice cream. It was also good, obviously. But next time I will be sure to go with one of their Nutella crepes, which have my Ferocious name written all over them.

3 teeth