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.

Walrus & Carpenter

2895 Fairfield AveBridgeport, CT 06605 • (203) 333-2733 • walruscarpenterct.com

This is going to sound like a bad porno plot, but after having done Rothbard in Westport, I couldn’t wait do the sister. I mean this in the most culinary sense, of course. After all, this is family blog. Okay, so maybe a highly profane, very disturbed family with kids in need of therapy, but a family nonetheless.

So back to Walrus & Carpenter. I mean, the name alone had me. It just sounded cool. And to know that this was the older sis just had me all the more intrigued.  Unfortunately, in the restaurant there are no walruses or carpenters to speak of, although the predominant wood paneling does suggest that at least at one time there were in fact carpenters on the premises.

Like her sister, Walrus is also a gastropub, but unlike her younger sibling, she is much more hit and miss. For example, I found the heirloom tomato salad with fennel, arugula and almonds to be quite good. Whereas the fried oysters with lemon-shallot aioli, while tasty, was so over breaded that you could taste nothing of the mollusk, essentially netting out as fried balls of batter dipped in sauce.

Speaking of fried and battered things, the chicken is quite good. Cooked moist-ilicious and jazzed up with a spicy-sweet combination that makes it better than your average bird.

The gnocci and the pulled pork sandwich, however, were both the epitome of average. Bland as balsa wood, not that I’ve eaten a lot of balsa before, but I’d imagine it’s even worse than melba toast. For a better pulled pork sammy I’d head to Q in Portchester.

But just when I was about to get all down on Walrus they showed that they are more than just whiskers and tusks, bouncing back with some strong baby back ribs.

We were too full by that point to get dessert though, but thanks to the rally I think we’ll be back to check out their sweets game.

Micklethwait Craft Meats

1309 Rosewood Ave. Austin, TX 78702 • (512) 791-5961 craftmeatsaustin.com

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There are several pockets of food truck restaurants throughout Austin, but some, like Michlethwait, are not your average bear. Meaning there is no brick and mortar location as back up. It’s just the truck. But even that isn’t entirely accurate either, because the truck is a permanent fixture on a pretty sizeable plot of land surrounded by picnic tables with an equally sizeable parking lot and a smokehouse with a trellis for shade overhead and a port-o-potty should nature call. So fancy it ain’t, but these are the kinds of places I love. No pomp and circumstance, locals only and off the beaten path.

So off, that it’s a bit out of the way, so if you don’t have a car, be sure to Lyft your way to and from. That, or maybe ride a bike to help burn off the gluttony. But however you choose to get here, it’s definitely worth the trek, especially if you’re in no mood to stand in line for eleven hours at Franklin’s for your BBQ. That’s not to say that there’s no line here, but it’s much more manageable, particularly before 1:00pm when things get more crowded.

For recommendations, I say go full on brisket. It is by far the most tender, moist brisket I have ever had, without having to rely on fattiness to get there. In fact, it’s so damn tender I think I might’ve teared up a little. So good, I would even forgo the bread and pickles and just go it alone with a drip or two of their crack sauce.

On the flip side, I found their pulled pork to be quite disappointing. Very dry and lacking flavor. I’ve had better at Salt Lick in the airport and Q in Westchester, NY. Yes, in Yankee Country! Them’s fightin’ words for sure, but I call it like I taste it.

The baked beans and lemon poppy coleslaw fell somewhere in the middle for me. Both definitely good, but I’ve also had better. For better beans try Daisy Mae’s in NYC or Sandfly in Savannah, GA. And for better slaw, I could go on for quite a while, but for shock effect, let me drop some knowledge on you about Fresh Direct’s spicy slaw. It’s killer with the Que.

For dessert, Mickle came back strong with one of the best pecan pies I’ve had since my best friend’s mother used to make it down in Florida (RIP). That and her spice cake were the stuff of gods. But now I’m starting to depress myself, so let’s get to the knife count…

3 teeth

Virgil’s

152 W 44th St. New York, NY 10036 • (212) 921-9494virgilsbbq.com

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Located smack dab in the epicenter of touristy hell, there exists a beacon of authenticity. That beacon is Virgil’s, shining bright through the fog of over-stimulation (a.k.a. Times Square) with pleasers like their killer pulled pork sandwich (pictured) piled high with pig parts so moist and delicious they probably don’t even need to top it with their coleslaw, but they do anyways, and I’m okay with that. The crunch of the cabbage against the tenderness of the meat- the cool refreshing milkiness of the slaw against the warm, slightly spiced pork- I’m more than okay with it. I’m in love with it.

But as good as their pulled pork sandwich is, the true headliner is their mac and cheese. Best in the city. Wifey and I honestly dream about it. Sure, we should probably be dreaming about each other, but let’s leave that for couple’s therapy. It’s got a nice hit of pepperiness, a perfect blend of basic, none-too-fancy cheeses like cheddar and American I’m assuming. All topped with an evangelical halo of crunchy, ever-so-slightly burnt cheese. Trust me, you want this bad.

I also dig their jalapeño cornbread. It’s cheesy, a little sweet, and of course spicy. Which reminds me, they also have a healthy selection of hot sauces worth trying if their barbecue sauce isn’t doing enough for you.

As for the ribs, brisket, chicken, etc… There are better to be had in the city. Daisy May’s is my numero uno when it comes to ribs, Hill Country and Blue Smoke for brisket- jury is still out on BBQ chicken. But getting back to Virgil’s, it’s still damn good. Especially when you take into account it’s location.

4 teeth

Blue Smoke

116 E 27th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 447-7733 • bluesmoke.com/blue
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Having grown up in the psuedo-South (Flordia), I know that BBQ is a subject not to be taken lightly. So, in all seriousness, while Blue Smoke is great at some things they are so-so at many others. Basically what you might expect from a St. Louis boy like Danny Meyer. who seems to have never spent more time training in Italy and France than he has below the Mason-Dixon Line.

To help you navigate though the hits and misses, here are my thoughts:

The shrimp po’ boy is a solid good. Has some really nice kick to it and actually manages to best the pulled pork shoulder, which should easily be tops, but tends to be on the arid side, begging for sauce, which is always a cop out in the land of BBQ. Sure, the sauce needs to be great, but it shouldn’t be a moisture crutch.

Back on the plus side, the brisket is pretty damn skippy. I know a lot of people swear by Hill Country, which is also very good, but if you ask for the more marbled meat, you’re in for a fatty face filthin’ feast.

Another HUGE hit, which they sadly removed form the menu, are the sweet potato fries. Served in gigantic wedges the size of canoes and drizzled with a creme fraiche/sour cream that’s worth barging into the kitchen and demanding they whip you up a batch.

And last but not least, some clarity on pricing. Don’t listen to the Yelping consensus who seem to complain an awful lot about how expensive it is, but then categorize it as only $$. Make up your mind. This is why I left Yelp. Too many people with opinions that don’t agree with mine 🙂 Anyways, it’s no more expensive than you’d expect in the Flatiron. So, if you’re craving BBQ and this is closer than Hill Country, I say game on.

3 teeth