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…

 

Die Bank

Hohe Bleichen 17 – 20354 HamburgGermany • +49 40 2380030 • diebank-brasserie.de
 
Had the service not royally screwed the pooch, The Bank would’ve easily hauled in a strong 4 knives. But not only did the waitress completely mess up my appetizer order by bringing me Pear Ravioli instead of Dove Etouffe, when they raced the correct dish to the table, the moron handed it to me, burning me quite badly. A first in my life and an offense easily worth a knife and then some. Especially because no manager even bothered to come out and apologize or make up for it in any way. Perhaps they wanted me to “Die.”

Now, I’m well aware that these are clearly first-world problems, but I was pissed and in pain and as you probably know by now, the last thing I need is a reason to be even more scathing than I already am, and to be honest, I still really struggle to empathize with how a waiter in a restaurant of this caliber could ever mix up these two dishes as they don’t even sound remotely alike, even when you account for a multitude of umlauts.

But Scheiße  service aside, the décor is very nice, set in a refurbished bank, which seems to be the “in” thing these days. And, for the most part, the food was excellent, with only a few misses. The best thing by far being the duck for 2. It’s a tour de force. Crsipy and juicy in all the right places, with potatoes, beet slaw and jus on the side. So good.

Next best for me would be the foie gras crème brulee, clearly inspired by Jean-Georges and just about as good, although a completely different presentation.

Of the two pastas, the tagliatelle is the clear winner, made simple with tomato and olives. The blue cheese ravioli with pear was undercooked and lacking a bit in the bleu coming threu. Oh, the irony to be burnt by an undercooked dish!

Speaking of lacking, I was most disappointed in the Dove Etouffe with foie gras. First, because there was no foie gras to be found. Second, because there was no etouffe either. Zero spice. But not bland. It was quite nice actually, just nothing like its description and not at all what I was craving and prepared to eat.

The chocolate lava cake and my cappuccino for dessert were strong endings and just enough to keep The Bank from going bankrupt. So, I’m giving it three knives in total. Two for the food and one for décor. Minus one biggie for the service.

Girl & the Goat

809 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60607(312) 492-6262girlandthegoat.com

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As you may have guessed, I love the name. It’s got a critter in it and alliteration. What more could you want? Good service? Check. Hip décor? Check squared. Great cocktails? Check-a-palooza. Great food? Well, depends on what you get, and I tried a lot.

It’s all small plates, so it’s a bit hard to distinguish between the appetizers and the entrees, but whatever you want to call them, be sure to get the warm marinated olives. They are tops. Never had better. Not even in Europe.

Another kickass dish are the green beans in fish sauce vinaigrette with cashews. It stole the show away from the cauliflower dish that so many others rave about. Sure it has pickled peppers (assumingly picked by Peter Piper), pine nuts and mint, but if you’ve ever eaten the cauliflower at Ilili or Tamarind in NYC, or Cleo in LA, this cauliflower is a mere apprentice in the shadow of their mastery. Whereas those green beans are Ultimate worthy. Trust me.

After that I’d go with the sweet corn pierogies with green goddess and rhubarb chimichurri (pictured). Or the pig face served with a sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine, maple and potato stix. So good and definitely the better way to go versus the goat shank.

But buyer beware, because not everything is worth your hard-earning coin. I say skip the shishito peppers. If you’ve had one, you’ve had them all, and there are so many other original dishes to be had.

The grilled baby octopus is decent with its guanciale (cured pork), fava beans, pea tips, pistachios and lemon vinaigrette, but not at the level of those winners I mention above. Same goes for the broccoli with smoky bleu cheese, the roasted beets with avocado crème fraiche and the kohlrabi slaw with fennel, toasted almonds and blueberries.

And finally, for dessert, the tres leche was the best of the bunch for me, with rhubarb, pink peppercorn and strawberry sorbet. It’s not so great that I would recommend force feeding it down your gullet if you’re already stuffed with everything else, but if you’ve still got room for jello, then go for it!

3 teeth

The Grey

109 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 662-5999thegreyrestaurant.com

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No. Not the movie with Liam Neeson. And not the two-time Global Advertising Agency of the year. The James Beard nominated restaurant in Savannah built in an old, refurbished Greyhound bus terminal. A spectacular renovation loaded with reclaimed elements that really bring old and new together with masterful skill. My money says the interior designer most likely came from SCAD.

But not to be out-shined by the gleaming art deco fixtures, the service glows just as bright with a waitstaff full of personality, a touch of hipster and a genuine love for the menu as they come armed with great recommendations and some of the most poetic preparation descriptions I’ve ever heard about a dish. And this isn’t just our waitress I’m referring to. I eavesdropped on our neighbor’s waiter and he was every bit as deft. So was the maitre’d who spoke just as lovingly about the restoration.

The cuisine doesn’t disappoint either, although we did get off to a rocky start with a rather thin cocktail menu that managed to strikeout on the one gin cocktail we chose. The wine by the glass fared much better.

The other slacker of the night was the pickled oyster appetizer, which was mostly our fault, because we didn’t listen to the recommendations of our server. They weren’t bad by any stretch, but they were definitely in need of a brighter, citrus element and the crisp they are served with gets soggy fast, which throws the whole intent of textural contrast out the window. So if you order them, pounce or pay.

After that, however, The Grey was pure gold, the first winner being our other starter/middle, the sizzling smoky pig. It’s essentially a cast iron dish filled with pulled pork, then topped with a sunny side egg and spicy-sweet red pepper jam. And the moment you cut into the egg, it oozes all over the pork, mixing with the jam and yowzer is this thing smokin’ indeed. Spicy, sweet and savory all over the place. Which bodes well for you, because they also give you these potato bread hot buns that are like little pillows of pleasure, perfect for sopping up the piggy goodness.

For mains, it was battle for moist supremacy. Both the swordfish tagine and the pork shank (pictured) were as succulent as I’ve ever had. The Moroccan spices of the tagine could’ve stood to be a bit bigger if you ask me, but as we know, I’m hard to please when it comes to the spice. And while the pork shank was fall-off-the-bone moist and the mess o’ greens brought a nice, leafy bitterness to the dish, the Johnny cake was big miss that added zero to the party. But the party definitely needed a starch and my guess is that the former supporting act, the cornbread, was a much better companion.

But speaking of True Companions, to quote one of my favorite Marc Cohn songs, I highly recommend getting a side of the grilled endives with bleu cheese and pecans. It was my favorite thing of the night and an ultimate for all endive kind. It’s plenty amazing on its own, but it went very nicely with the shank, lucky for me.

Ending strong, we chose the Rum Baba for dessert, which is essentially a rum soaked brioche drizzled with simple syrup atop a lily pad of spiced whipped cream and accented with exploding cranberries and chunks of dry brittle chocolate almost of the Mexican variety. And all I can say is, whoa daddy! So damn good. Spicy and sweet, with a wonderfully bright burst of tartness from the cranberries. Such a great ending to a great meal.

4 teeth

Chappaqua Station

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

5-2

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

Schnippers

23 E 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 233-1025 schnippers.com
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While it’s no Shake Shack, the food isn’t half bad and the line is MUCH shorter. Plus, let’s be honest, Shake Shake isn’t what it once was and I’m not just saying that because it’s currently a construction site.

But enough about the Shack, let’s talk about Schnippers, because apart from the name, which sounds like a slang term for a woman’s sexy bits, it’s actually surprisingly good, depending on what you get.

Oh, and the décor does look a lot like a giant fast food warehouse, akin to the ones you find along interstate rest stops. But apart from that…

Among the stars are the salads, believe it or not. The fig & bleu in particular is pretty damn good. Caramelized figs, apples, walnuts, bleu cheese, croutons and vinegarette. Better than most places that specialize in Just Salad.

Another shout out goes to the onion rings. Nice and crispy on the outside, soft on the inside. The way the lord intended. And yes, if the lord can care about football, then the way I see it, he can care about onion rings too.

The sweet potato fries are also pretty on point. Especially with the maple dipping sauce, which I found to be a better compliment that many of its peers.

The sloppy joe is a nice, cheap novelty as well, taking me back to my teenage years, which is probably the last time I had one. But muscle memory (the tongue is a muscle after all) didn’t forget, picking up right were my last rendezvous of sloppiness left off.

On the lesser side of impressive would be the turkey burger, which I found to be just okay. As were the regular fries, which lived up to their regular name.

So my advice, look past the décor and the name people. She’s got it going on. Not like Stacy’s mom or anything, but if you’re craving a burger joint and you don’t feel like waiting in a 2-hour line, than you could do a lot worse.

3 teeth

 

Aureole

Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino • 3950 S Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas, NV 89119(702) 632-7401charliepalmer.com

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About 10 years ago the wife and I ate at the original in New York and while it was good, I still recall that it didn’t live up to the hype. Well, 2000 miles away and 3650 days later, it still doesn’t.

Sure, it has its moments- well, two really. The first being the wine. No, not the gigantic 40 foot wine tower in the center of the restaurant, complete with wine angels soaring into the sky on ropes to fetch your bottle- because in Vegas, why simply just step into a wine cellar to fetch it? But that’s not what I was getting at. We were an extremely large party and the Cabernet they served us was excellent. So kudos for not giving us the crap stuff, which so often happens at large functions.

The other major win was the French Onion Soup. Made with foie gras, truffles and gruyere. I mean, if a restaurant can’t stick the landing with that line up, it might as well close its doors. You want this. Trust me.

The filet mignon with bleu cheese, however was just okay. Slightly over medium rare and a bit salty. Yet, somehow still better than the salmon entrée, which, while cooked perfectly was very lacking in wow.

To finish, Aureole really let things slide on the molten chocolate cake which was far from molten. Basically just chocolate cake. They should hop a flight to LA and eat at Sushi Roku to learn how it’s done.

The other dessert, however, was pretty good for what it was, a piña colada brulee. Which is a nice way of saying pudding. Made with pineapple and shaved, dried coconut. A solid good, but apart from bread pudding, I’m not the biggest pudding guy. Apologies to Bill Cosby.

3 teeth