Emily

35 Downing StNew York, NY 10014 • (917) 935-6434 • pizzalovesemily.com
 

Having heard this name bouncing around the food scene for a while, amidst a symphony of oohs and ahhs, I felt it important to either validate or debunk the worthiness of such adulation. Located in former digs of the Blue Ribbon Bakery, Emily boasts a casual-cool décor, especially downstairs in the catacombs. Granted, if you like windows, the upstairs is nice well. But don’t think two floors of seating means you’ll be getting a table anytime soon. No, this place packs ‘em in. Fortunately, they keep a certain number of tables open for walk-ins though, and if you’re willing to sit at the bar, you can get to the grub even faster. Which is what we did.

Out of the gate, Emily impressed with an inventive sprout salad, made rich with buttermilk bleu cheese and made special with miso, cashews and pickled red onions. Best dish we had.

For pizza, we went with the namesake, the Emily, and while definitely good, it was in dire need of red pepper to give some heat to cut through the truffle, honey and cheese. Also, I found the crust to be tragically chewy and doughy. Definitely not a contender for Ultimate Pizza.

Same goes for the burger (pictured). I’ve had droves of people telling me this is the best in the city and I’m sorry you people, but you have no business making such wild claims if you aren’t a purest. Because in my book, no thin-patty burger EVER has any business being considered as  a “best burger,” any more than a deep dish pizza should ever be in the running as a “best pizza.” It’s about the MEAT man!!!  Jeez!!! Ranting aside, it’s actually pretty damn good, made with dry aged La Frieda beef, caramelized onions, American cheese and special sauce, all on a killer pretzel roll. But you still have to be smoking crack to call it the best in NYC, because even as good as it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Black Label.

Closing strong, Emily’s bread pudding sports a nice textural contrast, being both crispy and gooey at the same time, which equals yummy according to the Pythagorean Theorem. Or, at least that’s how I remember it. Granted I didn’t pay much attention back in high school.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the MOST impressive thing of the night, however- our neighbor at the bar. To say he was a large man is like calling Trump self-confident. Doesn’t quite capture the full depths of the situation. This man, eating alone, polished off an entire pizza- the same size that my wife and I, combined, didn’t even manage to finish and got a quarter of it to go. Then he downed the ENTIRE burger, which a slider it is not. And then, when he looked over and saw us enjoying the bread pudding, he ordered that too. One person. One sitting. One mighty show of human endurance.

Less mighty was Emily’s showing, because I found it to be a tad over-hyped. That said, it was still good, so I’m gonna give it a very strong three or barely a four. But since I’m ferocious about hype, you can probably guess where I leaned…

 

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.

Salvation Burger

230 E 51st StNew York, NY 10022 • (646) 277-2900 • salvationburger.com

If you’ve been following me for any length of time then you probably already know that I’m not a big fan of the burger at Spotted Pig. Which probably has you scratching your head as to why I would ever come here, well-knowing that this is the same chef.

To which I respond, “fair.” But isn’t our country built on second chances? From Robert Downy Jr. to John Travolta to Anthony Weiner- okay well almost on that last one.

So how’d it go? Just okay. The Salvation Burger is definitely the headliner here for a reason, and while it’s not the best burger I’ve had in the city, it might just eke its way into the top ten. I do recommend getting it with the Holy Cow beer that is brewed specifically to go with the burger, and while it does indeed live up to the mission, it’s not all that drinkable on its own.

The Classic Burger is also good, but because of its thinner patties the meat gets overwhelmed by all the other things going on and winds up tasting a lot like a more refined Big Mac.

Fries are good. Pickles are good. Apple pie is just okay (done like the Classic Burger, a fancy version of a McDonald’s staple)  and service is a train wreck. Also, the food is insanely overpriced for what it is. Don’t think I’d ever go back, because if I’m gonna drop that kinda coin on a burger that will supposedly “save me” I’d rather get the Black Label at Minetta or the Duck Burger at Elan. Now those are some soul-saving burgers right there!

The Ultimate Duck

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Cask & Larder – Orlando, FL

There is nothing quite like a Christmas ham, or should I say, there used to be nothing quite like a Christmas ham until Cask & Larder created their Christmas Miracle, the Duck Ham. Yes, naughty never tasted so nice. Faithfully emulating the pig that inspired it, the duck version, like any good apprentice, surpasses the master. Guess you could say it is the ultimate “Angry Birds” revenge. Served over a bed of nutty faro, the contrast between sweet and savory and earthy is like getting everything your mouth had on its wish list.

Elan – New York, NY

As if it weren’t bad enough that the duck muscled in on pork’s turf with the Duck Ham (above), now the bird is going after the cow. Perhaps this is retribution for the long-running Chick Fil A campaign? Well, whatever the reason, Elan’s duck & foie gras burger puts about 98% of your cow burgers in the city to shame, save the Black Label and the Bash. Admittedly it’s more of a hoity-toity burger, but if hoity-toity tastes like this, who gives a cow’s ass? Also, if you’re really into self loathing or simply find that you’ve been too healthy lately and want to swing the pendulum in the other direction, I highly recommend getting it with the Bearnaise sauce and a fried egg, coz you’re gonna die anyway, might as well do it with a smile on your face, because as the famous Long Island philosopher Billy Joel once said, “Only the Good Die Young!”

Mizuna – Denver, CO

There is an old saying, “Fuck a Duck.” And albeit crass, I finally understand its true meaning, because if ever there were a duck I would consider for such a bestial act, it would probably be this one. Granted it’s also dead so I suppose I’d be committing necrophilia at the same time. Oh my, has this review gone off the rails. I started with Christmas and now I’ve devolved into doubling down on sexual deviance. Well, getting back to it (assuming I haven’t already lost you), this duck, served with with foie gras dirty rice, is a Cajun masterpiece like no other, with the two poultry-born indulgences teaming up to make a buttery counterbalance to the spicy grains. It might just be the best thing a duck has achieved since Daffy.

 

 

 

Keens Steakhouse

72 W 36th St. New York, NY 10018 (212) 947-3636keens.com

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Keens is an old school New York City steakhouse with a capital “O” and an “e” at the end, that’s how old it is. Dating back to 1885, it boasts the largest collection of churchwarden pipes in the world. Granted I’m not exactly sure there’s a lot of competition toward this distinction, but it does make the ceiling very cool (pictured), littered with over 50,000 pipes that once belonged to historic legends such as Babe Ruth, Teddy Roosevelt, Albert Einstein, General MacArthur and Buffalo Bill. Damn, I love New York for shit like this!

Apparently the pipes were too fragile to carry around, so they would check them in and out of Keens when they fancied a visit and some mutton chops, which is the other thing Keens is famous for.

As for myself, I forewent the mutton and opted for the burger, having heard quite the recommendation from a friend. And while I don’t think it’s in the same league as Minetta Tavern’s Black Label Burger, it holds its own quite handsomely for such a simple patty. It’s just seasoned to perfection and cooked with tactical precision. Oh, and be sure to get the sharp cheddar on top, it’s friggin’ badass! So sharp you could cut glass with it.

The fries on the side are decent, but nothing you wouldn’t find at a myriad of other pubs. And sadly, the key lime pie is rather lame, even though the waiter practically squealed with enthusiasm over how good it was. Well it’s not. It’s way too sweet. So put that in your pipe and smoke it. Sorry. Couldn’t resist. I am a child.

The dessert that is worth getting is the affagato. It’s not the best I’ve ever had, but the ice cream is rich and creamy and the espresso they pour over it is very nice indeed.

3 teeth

The Spotted Pig

314 W 11th St. New York, NY 10014(212) 620-0393 thespottedpig.com

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I have to applaud Yelp for not buying into the hype hook, line and sinker just because James Beard and Michelin apparently have. That said, I still find Yelp’s 3.5 stars to be a bit overstated as well.

Let me explain by starting with the “spotted” service. Not only do they make it painfully annoying to get a table as a result of not taking reservations, they get so crowded that the wait can grow as steep as an hour and 45 minutes by 6:30pm! So right off the bat, you’re basically going into the experience with a this-better-be-fucking-worth-it mindset, which is never good for anyone. I mean, by that point the only way a restaurant is ever going to fair well is if every bite on the menu is on physiological par with an orgasm. But on the plus side, as ridiculous as the wait is, the hosts handle it well. No attitude and they text you when your table is ready so you can go off and drink at another bar until your table is ready. Which also doesn’t bode well for them, because now you’re an angry drunk waiting far longer than is reasonable, only to be seated in an overcrowded dinning room that is so warm you’d swear you were going through menopause, all for food that simply isn’t worth it (more on that later).

As for the actual waiters, they are slow in both senses of the term, getting us the deviled eggs instead of the devils on horseback and then trying to charge us twice for the devils on horseback. But what was especially annoying was the lack of attention to speed of service. After all, wouldn’t one think, “hey, these people just waited nearly two hours for their table, perhaps I should try to make them wait as little as possible from here on out.” But nooooo, not here. It was the longest burger and beer experience of my life, lasting nearly four hours.

Now for the “spotted menu,” which proved to be so disappointing, starting off with the Spotted Pig Bitter, made with bubbles so infinitesimally small that it comes off as flat. But at least it had good flavor to it. Just pales in comparison to Blue Bird Bitter if you’ve ever had it.

As for the infamous Devils on Horseback, they are definitely good, but a bit too moist through and through, if you ask me. I much prefer the contrasty version, where the crisp bacon gives way to the moist, gooey date, like at Boqueria.

The runaway surprise hit of the night was the Apple Salad. It’s just awesome, but bone simple, hence we made a dead ringer of it at home the very next day without even having to look up a recipe online. It’s comprised of Pink Lady apples cut in large chunks, fresh parsley, a bit of arugula, sharp (aged) cheddar or manchego and a dressing made with apple cider vinegar, red chili infused olive oil, Dijon, honey and red pepper flakes to taste.

The most over-hyped dish of the night was easily the burger (pictured). Hidden beneath a tower of shoestring fries in hopes of masking its inadequacies. Sure, the patty is good, but it was so boring without ketchup and mustard, relying way too heavily on the roquefort cheese to carry it to greatness, toward which it falls miserably short. Instead, I highly suggest you head to Minetta Tavern for the Black Label Burger, which actually lives up to its legend. Or the Bash burger at B&B Wine Pub, which has won the best burger in the city five years running. Or even Élan’s Duck Burger, which few know about, but blows the spots off of this pig.

And finally, there’s the Skirt Steak, which not only skirted around our order of medium rare, but came in horrendously chewy, filled with sinew to the point of almost making it off-putting had it not been for the mushrooms and kale on the plate with it.

Unless you have a bizarre foodie fetish and like the masochistic notion of waiting forever for food that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I vote that you skip the Pig and just make that apple salad at home. It really is quite something.

2 teeth

Élan

43 E 20th St. New York, NY 10003 • (646) 682-7105elannyc.com

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When you enter Élan it doesn’t exactly exude much élan with its small bar up front funneling into a narrow hall decorated with a pop art step and repeat mural, which opens up to a somewhat secluded, mid-sized dining area in the back. And while everything is done with a tasteful, modern flair, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the awkwardness of its layout.

The other thing I found distracting was the spotty service. Each course taking way too long just to order, from drinks to starters to mains and dessert, the pacing felt like we were in a car with someone learning to drive a stick shift, bucking back and forth between stop and go. But then the truly bizarre happened… Before pouring our third bottle of wine that I had ordered, the waiter informed me that he had “already tasted it and it was fine” therefore no need to have me taste it. At first I thought he was joking, but when I looked back at him, there was no wink or smile, just the weight of creepiness now hanging in the air.

But don’t count Elan out just yet, because David Waltuck, former chef of Chanterelle (RIP), seems to have carried his gift of gourmet over to Elan. And he doesn’t take much time warming up either, channeling that warmth and infusing it into his seductively, warm pretzel rolls served with Bavarian mustard butter. They are so addictive I could’ve just done two plates of those and a couple of beers and called it a win. But should you manage to muster up the restraint and not fill up on the bread, bully for you, because fortune awaits!

Such treasures being the mushroom, truffle croquettes, which are so wonderfully warm and gooey inside, it’s like an edible womb. It’s also like an Ultimate, because for me, most croquettes aren’t even worthy of mention, usually tasting more like their fried breading than anything else. But mention these I shall, at the tippy top of my lungs.

Also worth shouting about is the crispy ricotta gnocci so skillfully prepared it’s almost unfair that it’s only a starter, because I would’ve happily ordered it as a main. Well, that would’ve been true had I not heard about the off-menu duck burger with foie gras (pictured), which is so devilishly good you owe it to yourself to order one. But be sure to get it “done up,” as if the foie gras and caramelized onions weren’t enough. Yes, “done up” means it’s also topped with a fried egg and bernaise sauce. Sure, your diet is going to hell, but look on the bright side, your mouth is going to heaven. It really is a must. If I recommended it any higher I’d get altitude sickness. In fact, the only burger in the city to best it is Minetta’s Black Label Burger, and that’s some seriously high praise right there people.

Other dishes shined as well, but perhaps not as bright, for example the much hyped sea urchin guacamole was certainly good, but according to the Yelp consensus it was supposed to be “the best thing on the menu” which it surely wasn’t, coming in a distant third even just amongst the starters alone.

Another almost great dish was the raw oysters with an Asian marinade packing a nice ginger kick. The preparation was very good and unique, but fell just shy of greatness due to the mothershucker who left so many shell fragments in the second one I ate that I’m lucky I didn’t crack a tooth.

And of the side dishes, I also found myself really enjoying the Japanese eggplant with honey. They’re not quite up there with the ones at All’onda, but after that duck burger you’re gonna need a veggie or two to stem the guilt and the pea shoots don’t quite cut it on flavor.

In addition to the pea shoots, another side worth passing up (especially if you’re getting the duck burger) would be the duck fat hash browns. I know duck fat is all the rage in potato land these days, but I’ve had way better at Twisted Oak in Tarrytown, NY. Besides, the squashed potatoes that come with the duck burger blow the hash browns away.

Also living in miss-o-potamia would be the foie gras roulades with fig, which proved to be very blah amongst the deep bench of winners, as did the swordfish made with eggplant and a black bean salsa. This dish was the resounding loser of the night. So lackluster it almost makes you question the judgment to keep it on the menu.

As for the desserts, nothing had me doing bell kicks around the dining room, but the clear winner was the berry ice cream sundae, surprisingly enough. The chocolate cheesecake, pumpkin cake and butterscotch pudding all registering a tepid reception from the table.

Let’s not end on a down note, however, because Elan is nothing short of a smashing success, serving up a whopping four Ultimates. Earning it just as many knives as a result.

4 teeth

Minetta Tavern

113 Macdougal St. New York, NY 10012(212) 475-3850minettatavernny.com

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If it weren’t for the reputation, most people would walk right past this place. Even upon entering, there is honestly nothing worth mentioning that you might not find at 100 other places that look and feel just like it in the city. It’s a gastro pub.

Also, not a fan of the reservation process. First of all, they block out 6pm to 9pm for people who have VIP status. So, unless you know someone, which I fortunately did, you can’t get a table at a reasonable time. That said, you can always walk in and eat at the bar. But even that can be a 30-45 min wait, and the bar area is my  definition of cramped hell. Not a place I would ever want to eat, with people leaning over you to get the bartender’s attention, placing their dirty glasses next to your plate, etc…

On the plus, the bar has some great cocktails. We each had the Rhubarb Sophie and it was VERY good. DUI good. If I wasn’t driving I probably would’ve had two more.

Another plus is the service. I know a lot of people have said that they are NY rude, but I guess I didn’t notice it. From hostess to bartender to waiter, every one was good.

Now for the main event, the food. Getting off to a bumpy start, I found the bread to be very disappointing. As was the special pork belly appetizer.

But then, the entrees came and holy burger heaven- the Black Label is everything they say it is. The meat is so moist and flavorful it’s as if they ground up baby angels to make it. The marinated onions and the bun- so good. Didn’t put a thing on it. No ketchup or mustard. Used them for the fries, which are just eh. If you want the best fries in the city (if not the country), try Ilili’s Phoenician Fries. But anyway- back to the burger. Patty for patty, probably the best burger meat I’ve ever had.

The Za Za pasta was also a solid good. Basically a slight variation on a carbonara. Compared to the burger though, you’d have to be crazy to order it- so I suppose I just insulted the wife. #doghouse

And last but not least, dessert. We went with the Grand Marnier souffle. Probably the best one I’ve ever had. Spot on perfect. And they don’t go light on the hooch.

So, between the burger and dessert it’s hard not to go 4 knives. But with the decor and opening misses, it’s also far from perfect.

4 teeth