Le Club 55

Plage de Pampelonne 83350 RamatuelleFR • +33 4 94 55 55 55 • club55.fr

There is an old French saying that roughly translates to mean, “may this misery never leave us,” which is as sarcastic as it is perfect for describing what it was like to sail to Saint Tropez for the day and dine on the beach at Le Club 55. Yes, I live an extremely charmed life and I work very hard to keep that in perspective. So I tell you this not as a “look at me,” but rather as strong nudge to YOU, because if you should ever find yourself in the South of France, you owe this to yourself. Yes, it’s a bit of commitment (two hours from Cannes each way), but sacre bleu is it worth it!

Strung together like a bunch of Gilligan’s Island-esque straw huts, this place continues to grow and sprawl across the sand like the Zabar’s of the Cote d’Azur. And also like Zabar’s, it is as far from fancy as it is from Cannes. This is toes in the sand and swim suit on butt couture.

But don’t let the casual façade fool you, because getting a table is serious business, and so is the food. For example, their crudité bests some of the finest restaurants in the world, including Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Bohemian in NYC. Served on a bountiful wooden board (pictured) and loaded with farm-grown fireworks in the form of vegetables. The tomatoes speak for themselves, needing no salt, nor sauce. The radishes bite back. And the red pepper tastes like a conversation you simply can’t get enough of. Oui, it is an Ultimate of ultimate proportions.

Two other stellar dishes are the beef tartar served with crack-tastic chips and the bone-simple, equally magnificent, perfectly cooked whole fish. And that seems to be the name of the game here. Keep it simple, because when they strayed and tried to get a little too fancy they missed.

For example their salad with shaved parmesan and black truffles didn’t hold up to the rest. I’m guessing because the truffles weren’t real. Blasphemy to say, but they were virtually flavorless next to the crudité, which makes zero sense. And the other concoction getting trickier still, would be the odd variation on a caprese salad, made with tomatoes, goat cheese, hollandaise and mint. It wasn’t awful, but after having seen the tomato as a solo act, this seemed like a crime to drown it with such an odd combination of flavors.

On the simpler side of things I did also find a miss, ruined with a very simple error. The langoustines were very (and sadly) overcooked. But misses aside, Le Club 55 is a triumph, as if anybody needed another reason to love the beach.

Pink Sumo

4 Church Ln. Westport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8080 • pinksumoct.com

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I’ve heard great things about Pink Sumo so I wanted to kick the tires on some of their more inventive dishes. Sadly, I found a lot of flats.

For starts, the “Special Lobster Roll” is very pricey and not very special, so put that money back in your IRA. The other dish that sounded great but proved lackluster was the Fiery Madal. It was neither fiery, nor madaly? It is, however made of lots of great stuff like red seabream cucumber, micro cilantro, black truffle oil and Sriracha, but for whatever reasons, none of that seamed to matter to my mouth.

After that, things got mildly better with the always reliable staple, the yellowtail sashimi with slices of jalapeno and yuzu sauce. The unagi was also a solid good, but I can’t honestly say I found the fish quality to be exemplary on either.

The only thing that I would go so far as to decree a Trumpian “great” would be the big league pepper tuna hand roll. I’m not sure if it was truly great though, or just great by association, but if I ever try Sumo again, this and the unagi will be my only repeats.

***Okay, so I went again, only this time I went omakase and Pink Sumo proved much better than round one. For $50 you get a ton of food and could probably split one between two people. The dishes are also very inventive along the way, ending on a boat of sashimi. And while this was a much better showing versus the last time, I still stand by what I said. The fish quality isn’t that impressive compared to places like Azuma and Koku over in Westchester. Also, the best thing from both rounds remains the black pepper tuna hand roll.

3 teeth

Cask Republic

99 Washington StNorwalk, CT 06854 • (203) 354-0163 • caskrepublic.com

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Located on the hip, main drag in SONO where you have no shortage of cool places to eat, you will find Cask Republic, which I’m not too sure I would ever label as “cool” based on its décor. But compensating for the ambiance Cask pushes the pendulum handily in the other direction when it comes to the consumables.

Kicking things off, the Christmas in Kentucky cocktail is a must get, made with Eagle Rare Bourbon, Luxardo Plum Triple Sec, Fernet (an Italian form of bitters), mulling syrup and even more bitters, of the black walnut variety. Now I’ve never actually spent Xmas in Kentucky, but if this is how they roll, book me a ticket!

For starters wifey and I shared the Bavarian pretzel with cave-aged Amish cheddar and grain mustard ale sauce. It’s not exactly light, but it’s pretty darn good. As are the roasted brussel sprouts with pancetta, carmelized onions and maple glaze.

Also labeled a “small plate” for some bizarre reason, unless you are Gulliver and all this time I’ve been blindly ignorant to the fact that I’m a Lilliputian, the beer braised beef short ribs with grilled bread and an egg yolk on top are a massive triumph. Best thing we had (pictured).

The IPA marinated freebird chicken also held its own, but head to head with the short ribs, it’s no match. Not for a lack of trying though, sexed up with a black truffle risotto and a foie gras demi glaze.

Closing arguments were strong as well, delivering the second best thing we had, two scoops of Big Dipper Ice Cream Factory’s finest. Never heard of it before in my life, and now I’ll never forget it. It was out of this world… and cue the pun groans.

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Black Iron Burger

333 7th Ave. New York, NY 10001(646) 666-0071 • blackironburger.com

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If there’s one thing the Herald Square vicinity isn’t short on, it’s Korean and Pub food. But judging from the name, you can probably already surmise that I’ll be referring to the latter in this case.

Yes, our beer mug runneth over in these parts, with jalapeno poppers, potato skins, French fries and burgers. So much so that it almost becomes off-putting on days other than Saint Patrick’s. But amid the morass of mediocre bar grub lives a pleasant surprise disguised as just another burger joint. Yes, Black Iron’s Mushroom Truffle Burger (pictured) is all that and a side of fries. Great flavor. Good balance. Not too gut-busting ginormous. And just the perfect amount of messy. Topped with mushrooms duxelles (aka minced) and sliced black truffles (duh), but also with Swiss cheese, bacon bits, caramelized onions and truffle mayo.

The fries also do the trick, but I’ve never met a fry I didn’t like, so it’s not exactly worth taking that to the bank. What is worthwhile, however, is another trip for that truffle burger. As for the rest of the burgers there, the jury is still out. Stay tuned.

3 teeth

Estadio

1520 14th St NW Washington, DC 20005 • (202) 319-1404 • estadio-dc.com
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Hey Estadio, the Spanish Inquisition called. They want their décor back. I kid Estadio because I actually like the place, but the décor really is a bit much with its giant throne seating and iron studded everything. I’m guessing Medieval Times must’ve had a yard sale or something. Boom!

Okay, I’m getting snarky, but to be fair, I did say “like” and not “love,” which means there is plenty of room for improvement in this mixed bag. For starters, the sangria was just okay, as was roughly half the menu. The jamon crostini, the pork croquettes, the grilled octopus and the short rib over horseradish mashed potatoes all falling into the land of not.

A notch above the ho-hum were the sizzling shrimp floating in a garlic olive oil that was bread-dipping good. Not great mind you.

But with so much meh, how could I still manage to like it, you ask? Because three dishes soared. The salmon crostini was fantastic, making the jamon look like the pig that it was and the foie gras scrambled eggs with black truffle butter served over toast was also a top two boxer, miraculously done in such a way that kept the flavors on the lighter side, so it was nowhere near as heavy as it sounds. Not that I’d recommend going jogging afterward, but it’s not a gut-bomb either. Just the bomb.

But the front-runner of the night was the crispy Brussels sprouts dish with pine nuts and bacon. They were so damn good they were damn near an Ultimate, tasting a lot like the prep you’ll find at All’onda in New York. In fact, they were so indisputable, that they’re probably about the only thing in DC that you could get a Democrat and a Republican to agree on.

3 teeth

Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer

360 Park Ave S. New York, NY 10010(212) 951-7111parkavenyc.com

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For everything…turn, turn, turn… There is a season… turn, turn, turn… And now a restaurant, apparently. Hence the name Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer, located on the grave site of Hurricane Club (RIP), but carrying the baton quite nicely I have to say, with an inventive concept that ups the game of a seasonal menu, because they don’t stop there.

Not only does the menu change based on the season, but so does the décor and the name of the restaurant itself! So, when I went, it was just called “Winter,” not that behemoth of slashes above. And the décor du month, was quite nice, adorned with winter branches, with white walls and soothing lights, to make it feel like you are dining in a snowy, wintery forest.

Good service also appears to be in season, as they are not only friendly and accommodating, they are also very spot on with the recommendations, nailing it on the My Essential Cabernet blend from just outside the Santa Barbra, CA area. It was just the right amount of bold, yet smooth enough to pair with anything.

The edible portion of the evening started off with warm, parker house style rolls, which were very good, but in terms of bread-like things, the steak tartar toast with foie gras and black truffles stole the show. Granted how could it not with that trio of ingredients? Unfortunately the other toast, with kobach squash, sheep’s milk ricotta, burnt honey and pancetta, should be ashamed of itself for being on the same menu.

For entrees, I found the halibut with black truffles and a brioche crusted egg to be the winter winner, besting both the pork schnitzel with pear mustard, dates and cornichon, as well as the branzino over spaghetti squash, which was the laggard of the lot.

The sides also proved a little hit and miss- the hugest of hits being the Brussel sprouts with bacon. So good they might just give Ilili a run for their money. The latkas, on the other hand, were lame. Way too small and thin, to the point where they were more like potato chips than latkas. Especially when compared to the thick, fluffy latkas I just had the other day at Russ and Daughters. Legend.

For dessert, again it was a mixed bag, but on the tastier side of the satchel was the sticky toffee pudding over fried bananas. So good it was almost as if they knew I was coming and made it just for me. My second favorite would be the hazelnut pot du crème, which was very good and much better than most pots I’m had. It was also clearly superior to the chocolate cube and the popcorn sundae, which seems to be stolen from ABC Kitchen down the street, and I’m not even sure why, because I didn’t like it there either.

So as mixed as the above is, I can’t really go great guns in either direction on the knife count. And while the concept alone is worth an extra knife, I feel reluctant to let myself be so swayed that I give this place 4 knives when their misses were equal in number to the hits.

3 teeth

Mercer Kitchen

99 Prince St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 966-5454 themercerkitchen.com

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I feel compelled to give Mercer five knives simply on the basis that I found my wife because of this place. Well, technically I found her at work, but this was where we had our first date almost 15 years ago, and for a VERY specific reason,  they have something called “sushi pizza” (pictured). You see, until I met my wife, the only place I had ever even seen this dish was in Toronto at The Sushi Inn (horrible name, I know). It was prepared more like a round hanabe as opposed to the way Mercer does it, but damn was it good. And I hated the fact that the only place I could find it was in the Great White North. So one day, while being my typical Ferocious self, complaining about the sushi pizza inadequacies of Manhattan, this pretty little thing waltzed up and dropped a bomb on me, “New York has sushi pizza!” And just like that, I was smitten. Granted she has many other redeeming qualities, so please don’t think that I actually chose to marry someone solely on the basis of a food recommendation. Not that I’m incapable of it.

So now that I’ve thoroughly over-hyped this dish into the stratosphere, let me explain how it’s made. It starts with a terrific crust, which is then covered in a wasabi spread, in place of tomato sauce. Then, they layer thinly shaved carpaccio-like pieces of sushi grade tuna. And finally, they top it all off with crisp Asian straw vegetables. And not only is it worth saying vows over, it’s actually even better than the one in Toronto.

But Mercer has a much deeper bench than just one dish, should sushi pizza not be your bag. In fact, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. It is, after all, a Jean-Georges restaurant and one of his oldest and most successful to boot. From pastas to prime meats and all the way back to another killer pizza, the fontina with black truffles, you will be golden.

That is, however, only in terms of food. As for service, prepare to be treated more like lead. In fact, not once have I ever dined here when they didn’t screw something up. The last time, being so royally, that we haven’t been back since. After making us wait nearly an hour to be seated at our reserved table, they then had the audacity to ask us to hurry up our meal so that they could seat the reservation after us. Quite the set of balls on that maitre’d. Surprised he was able to wear pants. But that’s just how some trendy places roll in the city. And how one knife also rolled right off of this review.

4 teeth

Gabriele’s Italian Steakhouse

35 Church St. Greenwich, CT 06830 • (203) 622-4223gabrielesofgreenwich.com

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I’m not exactly sure how I managed to have two children born at Greenwich Hospital and never hear of Gabriele’s Italian Steakhouse, just two short blocks away. Had I known, I could’ve easily run down the street and picked up some serious to-go food while we sat and waited in the delivery room for things to get exciting.

Well, woulda-coulda-shoulda’s aside, Gabriele’s is definitely worth running to… and from. Even during if possible. In fact, try to get in as much exercise as you can, because once the feast begins, you can easily down a shopping cart worth of chow. And so I did.

For starters I recommend kicking off the gluttony with the prosciutto and charred pears with truffle honey. It was perfection and such a nice variation from the usual melon accompaniment. The other starter I would strongly urge you to get would be the black truffle crusted scallops floating on a bed of bacon, parsnip puree. Boom!

In the middle of solid goodness I’d put the short rib stuffed arancini (which are massive by the way, almost the size of racket balls), they are a little on the mushy side due, in part, to the truffle cream and the short rib inside is a touch dry, but at the end of the day it’s still risotto and short rib, so what are we talking about? The meatballs and the raw oysters will also handily please your yum box.

On the other side of the table there was also lobster and crab, but those evaporated before I could even lift a fork, so I’ll go on trust and make the assumption that those are also good. As is the sausage stuffed bread that comes even before ordering, because why have bread without meat if you don’t have to?

The one to avoid is the buratta. Very un-buratta like. Not creamy at all. More like a normal, everyday, run of the mill mozz.

I’m actually not the hugest fan of the word ginormous, mainly because it’s one of those trendy, made up, combo words like amazeballs or frenemy. But for me to accurately describe the bone-in rib eye at Gabriele’s, I think I’m going to have to suck it up, because ginormous is the only accurate descriptor I can think of. Like something out of the Flintstones, the bone extends way beyond the beef, clearing a good 18 to 24 inches, hanging off the plate. We’re talking a full grown cow’s rib. I’ve never seen a presentation like it and it’s damn impressive. Fortunately so is the meat, cooked spot on medium rare, the only way to fly, with good char and a nice and simple seasoning of salt and pepper.

The only other entrée I tried was the linguini with clams and it was down there with the buratta. Very flavorless and in dire need of crushed red pepper to give it the something it so desperately needed.

For sides, we chose quite well, between the superb charred broccoli, the wonderfully creamy mascarpone mashed potatoes and the truffle button mushrooms (they obviously have a thing for truffles here, which I fully support).

Last but not least, skip the whole breakfast for dinner movement- Gabriele’s goes one better and offers up a killer breakfast for dessert in the from of a Nutella stuffed French Toast. So god-damned gooey great you either gotta plan ahead for this one, or plan on loosening the belt to make room.

Service was excellent with the recommends (the rib eye, the French toast and a killer Amarone) and all things servicey, but it was Trivia Tony, the maitre’d, who stole the show with his custom catered questions about everything from sports to pop culture.

Décor is a miss for me on the whole with a very large, very underwhelming dining room, jam-packed with about twenty too many tables, not to mention decibels. That said, there is solace to be had, if you should be so lucky as to be offered the option, go for the “wine cellar.” It’s not a cellar by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a wine room. Set apart from the main dining room, it is quieter and much more intimate, with a décor all its own. The walls, as one would expect from the name, are entirely made of in-use wine racks, the tables are massive slabs of polished alabaster and the vibe is old world cozy. The fact that we had this room was a major player in the knife count I’m about to drop, which is much higher than I ever expected walking in.

4 teeth

Fortina

17 Maple Ave. Armonk, NY 10504 • (914) 273-0900fortinapizza.com

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Fortina has a great vibe about it, especially in the Summer with its large outdoor seating area. And even the inside is so open that it’s basically like sitting outside as well. Unfortunately you aren’t overlooking much, unless parking lots and strip malls do it for you.

On the inside, it has some nice touches as well, including a well stocked bar. And service was very friendly and attentive, which is good when you have two small children in tow. They were a little slow the second time around, but compensated generously by comping both our glasses of wine as well as two desserts. Class act.

To start we’ve had the arugula salad with toasted pistachios and parmesan, which was good, but nothing you can’t make at home. As is the bibb lettuce with avocado.

The farfalle pasta with peas and mint was very good. Bright with lemon and perfectly al dente. In fact, the second time we went we had a different pasta and it too was impeccably prepared. These guys nail there pasta as well as anywhere I’ve eaten.

The only miss for me, and the entire reason we went, was the pizza. So many pies on the menu sounded great that we ultimately asked for a reco from our waitress, going with the second most popular, the funghi with bone marrow and black truffles. Like I said, sounds awesome, right? Well, I actually found it quite bland. Granted once you put red pepper flakes on it, and eat it with the salad, it helps bring it back from the dead, but I most certainly won’t get it when I return. And I will definitely return, because the crust is solid and everything else we had showed has some serious chops. But to those who call it the best pizza in Weschester, I would ask that they try The Parlor in Dobbs Ferry, Polpettina in Eastchester or Frankie & Fanucci’s in Mamaroneck and then let’s talk.

*Okay, crow eating time. I may be ferocious, but I’m big enough to admit when I’m wrong. Well, not that I was wrong about the funghi per se, just wrong to judge the place by one pie. Upon returning, both the Margherita pizza and the Tenderoni were excellent. The former simply being a dimension of incredibly fresh tomatoes and basil. The latter being the result, most likely, of emulating one of my favorite pies on Earth, Roberta’s Bee Sting. Spicy soppressata, honey and chili oil.

But let’s get back to those serious chops. Especially when it comes to dessert. We shared two the first time; the ciocolata with amaretto cookies and the affagato with espresso poured over it. Both were delish. But I don’t think you can fully appreciate how monumental it is for me to say such a thing until you’ve had a little deeper insight into the Ferocious Foodie. I actually hate the taste of coffee. It is in fact the ONLY thing in the world of food I don’t consume. And it’s pretty categorical. I don’t like it as ice cream, in desserts like tiramisu, as sweet drinks like Cappuccino. With a fox in a box. You name it. That is until now. Yes, after 44 years of hating everything I’ve ever tried that has to do with coffee, an espresso smothered dessert finally showed me the light. So praised be Fortina! I can see!

P.S. Their bread pudding is damn tasty too!

P.P.S. Having been back now over a dozen times a few other shout outs worthy of note would be the Bisteca (rib eye), the Totes Ma Goats pizza and the sweet corn polenta. Three of my favorite things on the menu and the rib eye is probably the best steak I’ve had since the French Laundry, and that’s some insanely high praise right there.

4 teeth