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

The Blanchard

1935 N Lincoln Park W. Chicago, IL 60614(872) 829-3971theblanchardchicago.com

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The chef comes from very good pedigree having worked at some of New York’s finest such as The Four Season (RIP), Le Bernadin and the Gotham Bar & Grill. But now he’s making a name for himself in Chi-town, serving up French cuisine with a twist. And some truffles. And foie gras. And sweetbreads.

Starting with the foie gras, this guy obvious loves it (either that or he hates geese), serving so many dishes with it he ran out of names for them and just starting using numbers. For example “Seared Foie Gras #1” and “Seared Foie Gras #2,” of which I had the latter, crusted with black truffles, candied lavender and in a Madiera sauce. And while it sounds transcendent, it was really nothing memorable, especially when compared to the much less sexy sounding foie gras hot dog, which is doggone delectable. Topped with foie gras mustard, coz why not? Onion confit and served on a brioche roll.

Of the rest of the starters the only other one I would recommend would be the scallops, so don’t fall for your waiter’s swooning praise of the Oueff Outhier. The presentation is certainly nice, basically scrambled eggs put back in the shell with vodka infused crème fraiche and caviar on top. It’s good, but the scrambled eggs at Gato in New York and Bar LaGrassa in Minneapolis both trounce the shell out of this dish.

But the most disappointing of all the starters was the sweetbreads with chicken mousse, artichoke puree and bacon fat. Surprisingly bland for something so artery clogging.

The entrée course faired much better with all three being good. Granted I found the filet of sole to be insanely overpriced. It’s sole people. Not soul. But the dish worthy of the most adoration was the rack of lamb, served with a ratatouille tatin, roasted tomato and eggplant caviar all nestled in a natural reduction. So good Shaun the Sheep would wolf it down.

But as the evening went on, things just kept getting better and better, either that or I was getting drunker and drunker. Or perhaps it was something in between. Well, whatever the reason, dessert was the icing on the cake, delivering three winners in the form of a pineapple galette with passion fruit pastry cream, frangipane (almond paste) and a crème fraiche gelato. This was followed by a crepe gateau with Grand Marnier cream and hot fudge. And the cherry on top was an Ultimate crème brulee, of which I am normally not even a huge fan. But I scarfed that thing down like it was the only thing I had eaten in weeks.

Service is very good, other then the oversell on the eggs. And the décor is very nice. Striking that balance between warm and contemporary quite skillfully. And thus rounding things out for a fantastic four.

4 teeth

La Mirabelle

24 rue St Antoine 06400 Cannes, France • +33 4 93 38 72 75

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Located on the main drag in Old Cannes, I had actually eaten here many years ago and while I vaguely remember what I had to eat, I do recall that I drank a  wonderful bottle of Chateau Margaux. And funny enough, I also remember sitting downstairs in “the cave.”

This time we sat upstairs, however, in the cozy little dining room right by the bar in front of the kitchen where you get to witness all sorts of interesting theater play out before you. For example, just watching the waiters try and squeeze their way out through the spring door with trays full of food, whilst also navigating their footing on a tight spiral staircase leading down from the kitchen upstairs is almost as nail-biting as watching Danny MacAskill ride his bike on the precarious railing of a skyscraper.

The other thing that makes this a front row seat worth getting is that you will see all of the dishes on the menu before you order them, like the cote de boeuf, which looks like it is off the charts and only slightly smaller than the slab of cow Rocky Balboa used to train on. And then there’s the dorade, which we had and I must admit was very good. But a word of caution, both of those dishes are humongous and require sharing. So if you prefer an entrée all to your self, I definitely recommend the burger, served on a brioche bun, smothered in mushrooms, duck jus and black truffles. And while I found the burger meat to be somewhat mediocre and a little on the overcooked side for my tastes, the flavors were insane. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever had better black truffles anywhere. So good, that I want to go and high-five the pig who sniffed them out.

The appetizers, conversely, were more like unappetizers and unfortunately so was the less than wonderful bottle of red this go around. I found the bread to be stale and the fried zucchini flower salad a bit tasteless. Even the caprese was nowhere near as good as the one I had earlier in the same day aboard a yacht. And while I don’t review yachts as of yet, should you ever be so lucky as to find yourself aboard the Grenedines III, ask for the caprese. It’s ridic. Oh, and yes, I am a complete and total douche for just name-dropping a friggin’ yacht. But as Ferris Bueller once said, “if you have the means, it is so choice.”

Ending strong, Mirabelle delivered with a tart lemon tart, topped with meringue florets and fresh strawberries which might be every bit as good as the one at Astoux and Brun. And the chocolate fondant is no slouch either, giving the one at Sushi Roku a run for its money.

3 teeth

Pastis

28 rue du Commandant André 06400 Cannes, France+33 4 92 98 95 40 pastis-cannes.com

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No, the one in New York City didn’t reopen, sorry to get your panties all in a bother. But the one in Cannes is still inexplicably going strong and as packed as ever. The reason for my puzzlement is that I never really liked the one in NYC either. Gasp!

Yes, I found it horribly overrated and the apple doesn’t fall far from the Big Apple. The other thing I found horrible is the service. First they made us wait 30 min for a table when we had a reservation. Then, once we sat down they had the gall to tell us that we couldn’t order appetizers because the kitchen was closing soon, which was utter and complete bullshit because they proceeded to serve everyone else in the entire restaurant appetizers throughout the duration of our meal.

So, after calling bullshit on his bullshit, our waiter caved and let us have two apps, and lucky for us, because they were the best things we had. Starting with the better of the two, the beef tartar. It is bright and lemony, with excellent seasoning and flavor. But, still he had to fuck us, docking us the caper berries that were served on top of everyone else’s in the entire place. Oh the French!

The other decent appetizer was the foie gras terrine served with a fig jam and crostini. It’s pretty typical in these parts though, so it’s hard to get to gushy, especially when it’s followed up by a pair of losers like the linguini with shrimp and the gnocci with black truffles. And while the gnocci was the better of the two, it was overly creamy to the point where you couldn’t even taste the truffles.

Adding insult to injury, the “not worth the wait” gnocci arrived 20 minutes after everyone else’s entrees, meaning he probably forgot to put in the order. But rather than fess up to it, he lied to me repeatedly that it was coming in two minutes. Well, either he was lying or he’s horrible at math.

Although, to be fair, it’s very possible that he’s gone deaf, because the music was so goddamn loud in there that they even made The Gypsy Kings and Michael Jackson grating, both of which I love.

2 teeth

Kiwami

11920 Ventura Blvd. Studio City, CA 91604(818) 763-3910 • katsu-yagroup.com

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I definitely enjoyed Kiwami, after all, we are talking about a Katsu-Ya restaurant here people, one of the godfathers of modern sushi, but at the same time 4 and 5 stars seemed a tad steep when the only thing I had worthy of that much hype was the seared yellowtail with black truffles. Very expensive, but very generous on the truffles. Making it very worth taking out a second mortgage on your house.

Unfortunately nothing else reached the same bar though, falling somewhere between solid good and been there, done that. Not even the hanabe (spicy tuna on crispy rice) which he invented! It was a big snooze by comparison to the copy cats at Sushi Roku or Koi, which may not have been the originators of the dish, but have since created the Mercedes of hanabe to Kiwami’s Ford.

And speaking of Roku and Koi, both of them crush it on decor, service and saki selection. Whereas Kiwami seems like it is still stuck in the past, coasting on a glory far past it’s expiration date. But, to be fair, for Studio City sushi, it’s still a solid bet, no bones about it.

3 teeth

All’onda

22 E 13th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 231-2236 allondanyc.com

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Hype strikes again! Damn YOU HYPE!!!!

I swear this place must’ve made it onto at least half a dozen top lists in NYC, from Thrillist to New York Magazine. Well, unless you’re caught up in some cockamamie Brewster’s Millions scheme where you’re trying to squander your hard-earned coin, I’d say skip it, because it’s almost all’unda whelming.

From the moment the first starter hit the table things were off. The arancini with black truffles were so lacking they should be blacklisted. Not even the faintest hint of earthiness from the truffles, which most likely didn’t come from France. And no butteriness or creamy cheese to make the risotto shine from within.

The polenta crisps had their issues as well, served with a baccalà montecato dip (cod salad) that was so incredibly salty no one was able to endure more than a single bite.

The best of the lot was easily the duck crostini, but that was in large part due to the lack of competition. Almost like a foie gras terrine, the duck was silky smooth, spreading over the toast like a blanket of richness, sweetened with pickled Asian pear and contrasted with a little hazelnuttiness.

I shared the short rib risotto for two (pictured) with a friend, and fortunately she didn’t disown me after talking her into it, because it was a huge mistake. Both in physical and conceptual terms. Starting with the physical, let’s just say that I think they misprinted the menu and it was supposed to be for 20. That, or Fred Flintstone was in the kitchen and no one ever bother to discuss portion control with him. Also, it’s not a risotto dish. It’s the friggin’ side of a cow on a plate next to a drizzle of tomato mostrada and a tiny bowl of Arborio rice, so don’t be fooled by the misleading description. Also, just don’t order it, because it’s too expensive for what it is and how it’s served, “sous-vide” as they like to call it. Or “raw,” would be another way to describe it. The server tried to convince us that the color was a result of the sous-vide process, but I can assure you that the texture didn’t lie.

The garganelli was much, much better, prepared with peekytoe crab, citrus and tarragon. But somehow it still didn’t reach the level of expectations. If you want a truly special crab pasta try NoMad or Frankies 457.

Then, just when all hope seemed lost, All’onda rallied with an Ultimate. The Brussels sprouts are as good as the reigning champ Ilili. But this is no copycat. All’onda goes its own way, using candied pancetta and bottarga (dried mullet roe) to harness greatness. It was so incredibly good, the Japanese eggplant turned green with envy.

Another surprise came from the dessert course and while I usually don’t recommend olive oil cake, this was the best I’ve ever had. But considering it’s still just olive oil cake, it’s hard for me to get so excited that I can declare it an Ultimate. I suppose it is though, trouncing the likes of Maialino and The Inn at Pound Ridge.

The apples were also good, basically a deconstructed crumble. And the sorbets were delicious as well, the best being the kiwi.

And last but not least, a shout out to the cocktails. The basil gimlet was nice and refreshing and the La Serenissima was nice and spicy. But while it had its moments, it had its misses. Too many, if you ask me, to ever call it one of the top new spots in the city.

2 teeth

Finalmente Trattoria

31 Beekman Ave. Sleepy Hollow, NY 10591 • (914) 909-4787

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It certainly helps to come here with a healthy dose of skepticism, because 4/4.5 stars it ain’t. In fact, less than a handful of restaurants in all of Westchester are worthy of that kind of praise.

That said, Finalmente did give a solid showing. The dining room is cozy and tastefully done. And the menu is loaded with some very unique preparations.

For apps I had the suckling pig stuffed mushrooms with black truffles and chickpeas, which was a solid yum. The other app we had was a pseudo salad served with giant balls of breadcrumb-dusted cheese and a chianti jelly, which I also quite liked.

Next came the pastas. Both were perfectly al dente. I had the wild boar ragu and wifey had the straw pasta with peas, pancetta, and… I forget. Both were good, but I think mine was a tad more interesting.

And for dessert, we did the ole standby, gelato. The chocolate is AMAZING! Not sure if they make it or just buy it, but WOW! Actually, if they do buy it and you know from where, please do tell?

Unfortunately, the chocolate gelato was the only “wow” thing of the meal. But everything else was a very respectable “good,” and nothing was bad.

Service, however, was a tad off. Pleasant for sure, but pulled a few cardinal sins. The biggest one being that he came and took the bill while we were still seated at the table. A huge no, no if you are trying to play in the leagues of 4 and 5 stars.

The other nit would be no bread/olive oil. Pretty rare at an Italian joint to leave you without a single nosh until your apps arrive. Heck, even the Olive Garden gives you unlimited salad & bread sticks. What’s with the no hospitaliano.

So, as I said before, 4.5 stars (or in my case knives) is a bit of a stretch, but for 3.5 it’s pretty perfecto!

3 teeth

Marc Forgione

 134 Reade St. New York, NY 10013 • (212) 941-9401 • marcforgione.com

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Umm… I’m gonna go with WOW! That pretty much sums it up. I loved just about every last drop of this restaurant and ate most of those drops as well.

To start, the décor is great. Just teetering on the edge of casual and beautiful. With an energy about it that hits you the moment you enter. Some may find it a bit loud, which it is, but that’s part of the fun- having you yell at each other about how good your food is.

As for service, our waitress was tremendous. Not in size, but in personality and attentiveness, without ego or plastic undertones. But not flawless either. For example, our cocktails came quite a bit late to the table, mid-way through our starters, but this was do to the bar losing the ticket. Now, normally you’d think this would be cause for docking a knife, and normally it would be. But is it the rarity of flawlessness that matters or is it how they handle the occasional hiccup? In this case, both the waitress and bartender came over to personally apologize for the mix up and delivered the drinks within a minute after. And yes, they were worth the wait. Especially the Summer Sangria with a richness almost as if there was Bourbon in there as opposed to wine.

But by now you’re probably getting pissed because I haven’t gotten to the food yet, so let’s get to it.

First up would be the amuse bouche, which is comprised of two dishes. A basic ceviche that is nothing to write home about, and a wonderfully explosive cream cheese puff pastry, that is worth flying home about.

Next came the buttery brioche-like bread which was so buttery and delcious, the fact that it came with butter was like gilding the lily. But as good as the bread is, I strongly recommend that you skip it in favor of the Texas Toast that comes with the Spicy Lobster which was so incredible it was as if my taste buds had died and gone to taste bud heaven. The lobster meat and bread in that sauce- OMFWow!

But not to be outdone, the tortellini is also very impressive, packing it’s own heat and a complexity to its sauce that unfolds in your mouth like a story.

Wait, I probably should’ve saved that description for the Halibut entrée, because that sauce was also quite the tour de force, minus the heat. But so rich and layered it was more like a meat dish.

Now here comes my one nit. And I blame myself for it. I had gone there fully prepared to get the highly acclaimed chicken, but our served talked me out of it and I went with a lamb special instead. Now, the lamb was far from bad, but at 48 bucks a plate, not bad IS bad. At that price I should’ve lept out of my chair and danced a jig after every bite.

The dancing, however, was not far behind, because the S’more dessert had me giddier than Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Just the presentation alone- well, of everything really, but with the “charred” marshmallow on a stick and the salted “chocolate bar”- if my tongue had hands it would applaud.

The other dessert was no slouch either. A deconstructed key lime, which had it been the only dessert on the table would be receiving all the adulation right now.

Such a treat. Finally an Iron Chef restaurant that lives up to its metal. A tribute to the fact that he is still the one actually in the kitchen. Saw him with my own eyes the last time I went.

Which brings me to another evening of incredibleness. The amuse bouche this second time was a touch less impressive. An homage to the NYC bagel and smoked fish. Good, but not grand. The graganelli with short ribs and black truffles, however, was mood-altering-good.

Also, this time I had the heavily revered under brick chicken and I have to say, while good for a roasted chicken, it’s still just a roasted chicken. I’ve had MANY a chicken dish that bests it. From One in Irvington, NY (RIP) to ABC Kitchen to Son of a Gun in LA. Don’t get wooed by the hype. There are so many better options on the menu.

And once again, come dessert, Marc knocked it out of the park. The best “pumpkin pie” I’ve ever had. Made in souffle form, served with a very complex and equally delicious sorbet made from bourbon, squash and three other things I can’t remember. If an afterlife exists, and they serve food, this must be what it tastes like.

5 teeth

Mantel

22 Rue St Antoine, 06400 Cannes, France • Phone: +33 4 93 39 13 10

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Mantel has high marks on Tripadvisor, but apart from the beef entrée, I can’t say it lived up to the stars. Décor is nice. Service was good by French standards- but the food, on a whole, just never seemed to cross that line from okay to great.

The zucchini flower appetizer was a prime example of this, fried and flavorless. Which is rare. Normally there is a filling with zucchini flowers, because they don’t have a ton of flavor on their own. Unless, they are incredibly fresh, but then you wouldn’t want to deep fry them.

Another miss was a special fish for six people that they down in a white cream sauce that didn’t quite taste decadent enough to make it worth spoiling the healthiness of the fish. Perhaps the fish wasn’t fresh and they were masking it? Whatever the reason, it wound up tasting somewhat bland.

The next two things were so close to great, but just fell short. First would be the burrata caprese. The presentation is stunning. But the burrata should be creamier (which is kinda the point with burrata) and the dish lacked the salt it needed to make the tomatoes pop. Granted you can always add that yourself, but at a restaurant claiming to be at a certain caliber, you would expect things to come ready to eat as the chef intended- which ideally he intended to be flavorful.

The other near hit was the risotto with black truffles. This might’ve gotten higher marks from me, but earlier in the week we ate at L’Affable and they are a master of risotto. So by comparison, this one paled. A touch over cooked- and the truffles really didn’t have that strong of a flavor.

And last but not least, dessert. And I had several. The chocolate mousse cake with walnuts was the best. A solid good. Skip everything else. The raspberry tart, for example, was once again flavorless and not worth the calories. Plus, there is a MUCH better one just down the hill in Old Cannes at Astoux and Brun.

Sorry Mantel. You need to up your game.

2 teeth