Barcelona

971 Farmington AveWest Hartford, CT 06107 • (860) 218-2100 • barcelonawinebar.com

If the Bar Taco next door is anywhere near as good as the one in Westport, CT, then I’m not sure why you would go here unless, like the one in Westport, the wait for a table is just way too crazy long.

Okay, I lied. For brunch, there is one other reason I can think of, the DIY Bloody Mary table. Just pick your vodka (Tito’s), then choose your base mix. Sriracha, Horseradish, Chipotle or Black Pepper. Then load that baby up with virtually anything your heart desires. Bacon, cornichon, olives, celery, bell peppers, papadew peppers, marinated mushrooms, pearl onions, cauliflower, cheese, pickles… this could take a while. Seriously. The table is that bountiful.

But apart from the Bloody Mary’s and a couple other dishes, it’s a bit of a letdown. The sangria is so watery it doesn’t even pack the punch of grape juice. The meatballs owe an apology to the cow that died in vain.

Equally disappointing was the lamb chop with romesco and arugula. First they served it raw. Then they served it eh.

The pulpo (octopus) with smoked paprika is just okay, but if you know me and how much I like octopus, for me to be so tepid can only mean one thing, skip it.

Also located in the okay corral are the mixed greens with manchego & pistachios, the Brussels sprouts, the broccolini and much to my chagrin, the veggie paella loaded with eggplant, sprouts, peppers, asparagus and disappointment.

The winners, while sparse, could add up to a decent meal, though, if you played your cards (and ordered) right. For example I found the Mushrooms a la Plancha to be pretty darn tasty. Made with crimini, shitake and button. The Patatas Brava where also bravo, zazzed up with salsa brava and a garlic aioli. And since I’ve never met a charcuterie and cheese board I didn’t like, let’s throw that in too.

But if you’re like me and good isn’t good enough, your options dwindle further still, to only two dishes. The jamon and manchego croquettes and the chorizo with sweet and sour figs in a balsamic glaze. The latter being the best thing of the lot. And as you can see, we tried a LOT.

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Thunder Grill

Union Station • 50 Massachusetts Ave. Washington, DC 20002 • (202) 898-0051 • arkrestaurants.com

Located in a corner near the front of Union Station, Thunder Grill is the go-to bar before hopping on a train. And by “go-to” I don’t mean reliable, but rather your only option unless you want to go a few blocks away.

As for the drinks, the Bloody Mary is more like a contusion, but they do make up for it with a half-decent spicy margarita. Their Stella on tap is also solid, but it’s pretty hard to screw that one up.

In terms of food stuffs, the salmon burger is just okay, crab cakes taste like mush- turning that “b” upside down. In other words “crap” for those who are reading this before their morning coffee. In all fairness though, it is a restaurant in a train station so I have to give it a little slack I suppose. Granted Agren in New York is also in a train station, so perhaps I don’t.

For better food head to Shake Shack or Le Pain Quotedien, but keep in mind you’ll be sacrificing the hooch if you do.

Vine

851 Avenue Of The Americas New York, NY 10001(212) 201-4065 eventihotel.com

The Vine - Eventi Hotel in NYC 2015

One of the lesser-known gems in the area can be found in the back of the Eventi Hotel, which to be fair is one of the lesser-known hotels in the city. Yet deep within this vortex of obscurity lies an admirably appointed décor with cozy nooks for seating, warm, natural elements and huge windows that open up to a courtyard as opposed to the street (pictured), making for a relatively Zen dining experience.

The menu also got off on the right foot with a salmon entrée cooked perfectly, served over a bed of supped up cous cous and tzatziki sauce. It’s clean livin’ and tasty too. Wash that down with a slightly sweet Arnold Palmer and you could do a lot worse. Sure, it’s no Ilili if we’re comparing Middle Eastern/Mediterranean in the area, but it’s way easier to get a table and I find the décor much more inviting as opposed to the ironically more hotel-like vibe at Ilili.

On the guiltier side of things, the gelato is actually quite atrocious. So much so that I feel the need to outwardly shame our server for even recommending it, much less swooning about it as if it were the reincarnation of the Cup of Life.

But, on the alcoholier side, I have to give it up again to the Vine for going big on the spice and not going home in terms of their Bloody Mary. I love when places say fuck all and do what a Bloody Mary was meant to do, regardless of mass appeal. Because as the saying goes, the masses are asses, and greatness seldom lies at the feet of consensus. Okay, things are getting a bit preachy up in here for a food blog. Gonna dial it back and go out on a solid three.

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Le Fumoir

Serdar-ı Ekrem Cd. Galata, Istanbul, TK • (0212) 244 2423 • http://www.georges.com/french-restaurant-istanbul-le-fumoir/
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Located on the roof of the very hip George Hotel in the Galata district of Istanbul, this place enjoys a very impressive view of Sultanahmet (an incredibly scenic and historic peninsula in Istanbul loaded with wonderful sights to see like The Blue Mosque, Aya Sophia, Topkapi Palace and The Grand Bazaar). But far more impressive than all of that is Le Fumoir’s Bloody Mary.

Really? In Turkey? Bloody yes! Up there with as good as I’ve ever had. First, they make it with fresh made tomato juice, no canned shit. Then they add roasted red peppers and if you tell them you like it “aci” (spicy), they will deliver in spades. But the heat alone isn’t what makes this cocktail shine, it’s the quality of the ingredients. So simple, yet so fresh, which even makes all the difference when it comes to hooch.

On the other side of the table, wifey enjoyed a gin-based variation on a mojito, made extra refreshing with the addition of cucumber. While also good, it was no Bloody Mary. Both, however were good enough that we felt very conflicted about leaving to go to our dinner reservation elsewhere. I mean, if they can do this with booze, I have to believe the food is something to behold. Note to self for my next visit to Istanbul.

So please read the knife count with an elephant-sized asterisk, because I am only judging it based on setting and drinks. If you eat here and hate it, I am absolving myself of all legal ramifications.

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Anthony’s

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – Central Terminal • 17801 International Blvd. Seattle, WA 98158 •  (206) 431-3000anthonys.com

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If you need a bite to eat in the Seattle Airport look no further than Anthony’s. Not that you could look any further, because the facade of this place is so massive it’s almost impossible to see around it. But as sprawling as this restaurant is, this juggernaut still manages to pack ‘em in. Not an empty seat in the palatial dining room. But fear not, because this place turns over its wait list like a famine is coming. And yet somehow the service doesn’t suffer either, well, at least not in terms of speed. You’ll have to take a rain check on the warm and fuzzies though, because this waitstaff is all business. And so is the kitchen, spitting out plate after plate like a well-oiled fish taco machine.

And those tacos (pictured) are actually pretty darn good. We split the grilled Mahi and the blackened halibut and both were solid. Two tacos per order (on a corn or flour tortilla depending on which you fancy) with sizable slabs of fish in them. No skimping here. I also recommend adding avocado and salsa, not to mention Tabasco sauce. They’re not viscerally wow inducing, but for an airport, you’d have to be a heartless bastard not to be impressed.

Our waitress was strong with the upsell as well, convincing me to bite on the lure of a New England clam chowder cup (because let’s be serious for a second, Manhattan style isn’t even an option). The soup was surprisingly good. The clam really popped through the cream, as did the other seasonings, making it one of the better cups I’ve had, especially being that I was so far from the homeland.

Upselling me again (either she was really good, or I’m really easy), I also bit on their old fashioned strawberry shortcake, which proved to be excellent. The shortcake struck that perfect balance between crunchy and moist, and the local Washington strawberries were bursting with fresh-picked flavor. Even the cream was spot on. Clearly homemade and not overly sweet. It might just be the best strawberry shortcake I’ve ever had. I know, I’m conflicted about it too.

And last but not least, the prawn Bloody Mary was tall, spicy, Ketel One-y and prawny. Just the way I like it. The spicy tomato concoction almost acting as cocktail sauce for the prawn garnish.

An all-around impressive, airport food showing Anthony. Bravo sir. Bravo. Consider the below a very strong three.

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The Ultimate Cocktail

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Maysville – New York, NY

Being that I’m a heat-seeker it should come as no surprise that I even like my drinks spicy. And what makes the alchemy of the Bourbon Bonnet such a triumph isn’t just the spice. It’s the refreshing contrast of elements, like the sweetness of the pineapple juice against the jalapeno infused bourbon. And while the spiciness is worth a warning for some, the bigger caution is that they are WAY too easy to drink. So much so that you’ll easily be three or four in before you even realize you left your underwear in the bathroom.

Minetta Tavern – New York, NY

While you’re sitting there stuck at the bar waiting for a table, do yourself a solid and turn lemons into a warm and fuzzy buzzy. Three sheets to the wind later you’ll care less about the fact that you just waited two hours for a burger. The drink is comprised of Tito’s Vodka, cucumber, agave nectar, rhubarb bitters, lime and something that apparently makes you fall in love with the notion of ordering a second round of Rhubarb Sophies.

The Rickhouse – San Francisco, CA

There’s something about this place that just makes you want to drink whiskey. And there’s something about the La Bonne Vie that makes you lose track of that whiskey. I would imagine the smooth bourbon is partly to blame. And the refreshing lemon and grapefruit juice doesn’t hurt either. Keeping it far from sweet. As does the fresh basil, which brightens the whole thing up. And bitters to bring an old school complexity and depth to the whole thing.

Balaboosta – New York, NY

There is a lot right about Balaboosta, but none righter than the thirst-quenching, buzz-inducing Hana. Made with Fifty Pounds Gin, triple sec, lime and arak, it’s a crazy mash up of cultures in a high ball. But apart from just being a kickass cocktail, the Hana pairs so unbelievably well with the food due to the arak.

Brushstroke – New York, NY

Apparently the Japanese Cucumber with Almond has been on New York Magazine’s top ten cocktail list 2 years running. I know this because our rather braggadocios waiter informed us of such. But as cocky as he was, he was also well within his right, because it really is quite something. Made with gin, lime, cucumber (obviously), and coarse ground roasted almonds used to dust the rim as a variation on the sugar and salt that you normally come across on most other cocktails.

Mata Chica – Ambergris Caye, BZ

It’s been a while since I was there, but that’s how enduring my love is for the rum punch at Mata Chica (of Temptation Island fame). Made by a charismatic young man named Winston, the balance of sweetness to refreshing to inebriating was dangerously perfect. Luckily you are in the middle of nowhere, with not a car in sight for miles, so drinking and driving isn’t even an option. Drinking and drowning, however…

ABC Cocina – New York, NY

You could give Tom Cruise a week and unlimited tosses and twirls with bottles and cocktail shakers, but I sincerely doubt he could ever make a cocktail as staggeringly good as the blood orange margarita at ABC. Not that there’s too much more to describe as the name of the drink itself is rather self explanatory, that said, the euphoric sensation you get when it hits your lips is beyond explanation.

Truck – Bedford, NY

I find it hard to go with just one drink here because the Power Wagon margarita is more than just a drink, it’s a franchise. A brand unto itself, spinning out seasonal versions like a game on the App Store. For example, here are some of the “updates:” grapefruit, blood orange, cranberry, pumpkin, jalapeno and of course the formidable classic. And everyone one of them is awesome. And everyone one of them is as strong as all get out, so go easy or go with a designated driver.

Burger & Barrel – New York, NY

Most Bloody Mary purists are about to scoff, so I’ll wait while you preemptively get those scoffs out of the way…. Done? Good. So, while I do indeed love the classic and have had my fair share of some delicious ones, this inventive twist on the tried and true had me at jalapenos. Made with tequila instead of vodka, the Bloody Maria puts the Mary through a Mexican lens and out comes a hybrid that could give the Prius a run for its money.

Yardbird

1600 Lenox Ave. Miami Beach, FL 33139 • (305) 538-5220 runchickenrun.com

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This place makes me happy. Just one toe through the front door and I knew we were dancing. Great contemporary, rustic Southern décor. Awesome music, like Aretha Franklin’s “The Weight,” pumping out of the speakers. And when it came to service, textbook Southern hospitality.

Every slurp, sip, gulp and bite was a crowd-pleaser and judging from the menu, there’s more where that came from. Fortunately I live over 1000 miles away or I’d be getting my arteries bilged about every other week.

Served in mason jars, the cocktails are as potent and flavorful as they are irresistibly charming. I recommend both the Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade, if you want something more refreshing, or the Bloody Mary, if want something spicy… and packed with goodies (like okra, a pickled green bean, a cornichon stuffed olive and a crispy strip of bacon, because how could you not?).

As a starter we shared the fried green tomato BLT with pork belly (pictured), tomato jam and a homemade pimento cheese. It’s got a little something for everyone. The refreshing acidity of the tomatoes. The savory decadence of the pork. The spice of the jam and cheese. I highly recommend next to the kale salad.

The kale salad being my wife’s idea to be fair. It’s made with cheddar, apple, golden raisins, red onion and cornbread croutons. Definitely one to add to the Ultimate Salad list, I mean c’mon- corn bread croutons!

And I had the eggs benny. Two poached eggs served in a skillet, casserole style, along with a buttermilk biscuit crumble, cured bacon, and cheese grits I believe – just awesome!

Thankfully we were too full to take the waiter up on his suggestion for a maple glazed bacon donut, otherwise I think we’d still be trying to crawl out from under the table.

I’ll tell you what though, next time I’m in Miami, this place is at the top of my list. And that donut is going down… into my belly (to be read in a thick Scottish, Fat Bastard accent).

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Rocks on the Roof

102 W Bay St. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 721-3800bohemianhotelsavannah.com

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Ahh, the magic of photography. I mean just one look at this picture and you’re probably in your car heading to the Bohemian Hotel right now. But I assure you that it looks absolutely NOTHING like this in person. Maybe for a scant 15 minutes at golden hour when you’re really, really drunk. For the other 23 hours and 45 minutes a day it looks like a black expanse over the Savannah River filled with swampy brush, industrial warehouses and an ugly rooftop Hyatt courtyard to the right. On the plus side there is a nice fire pit on the right to help distract you.

Back on the downside, the decor inside feels like it was decorated in the 80’s and the crowd is not exactly what one would call inspiring. Sure, there was an occasional promising couple here or there, but for the most part you felt like you were in Compton sipping Gin and Juice. If only the drinks were as tasty as that, though. And I took special offense to their “Ultimate Bloody Mary,” using a term, MY TERM, to modify something so unworthy it only served to dilute the meaning of the word itself, feeding into consumer skepticism. making my own “Ultimates” section less credible by osmosis. But I assure you, my Ultimate Bloody Mary will not disappoint (coming soon; see Burger and Barrel).

And as piss-poor as the Bloody Mary was, their bellini was a pea in piss-poor pod. Flavorless and unfinishable. In fact, we left both drinks stranded, half full.

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The Black Cat Tavern

165 Ocean St. Hyannis, MA 02601(508) 778-1233blackcattavern.com

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So, this Father’s Day I decided to treat my Ferocious Father for a nice brunch with the family. But from the moment we walked in I knew we were in trouble. The place literally looks a boathouse inside. And not the quaint, charming updated kind. The kind you’d actually store a boat in. So, immediately we asked for a table outside, after all, we did have a reservation. Well, no dice. Outside was packed, and rightly so, because I have no idea why anyone would want to sit inside.

There we sat in uncomfortably large booths that made the dark dining room even darker as they tower over us, blocking out what little you could see of the gorgeous day outside.

Fortunately our server was very friendly so no complaints there. The food, however, was tragic. Which is a bit shocking considering it’s the same owner as The Roadhouse. Well, this place is more like Roadkill. Everything tasted like cheap motel food. The lobster asparagus omelet was overcooked and came with soggy store-bought toast, rubbery lobster and asparagus that tasted like green cylinders of nothing.

The crab cake benny wasn’t much better. Fortunately the eggs were perfectly poached, but the cakes were way too mushy to hold up against the H sauce and egg yolk. So, as a result, it turned into a pile of mush, desperately in need of some contrasting texture, like the crunch of a well toasted English muffin or country bread.

The winner of the day, and by winner I mean best of the worst, came from my kids. The Nutella French Toast. Not that it was anything special. Still made with store-bought bread, not even soaked through. But when you’ve got Nutella smothered over the top of virtually anything, plus maple syrup and strawberries, you’ve pretty much guaranteed yourself a smile.

And last but not least, the spicy Bloody Mary. It was just okay. But at least it had vodka in it to help calm my frustration at the missed opportunity to take my Dad somewhere nice

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Burger and Barrel

25 W Houston St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 334-7320 • burgerandbarrel.com

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If you poked your head in this place knowing nothing about it, you’d probably think twice or just walk right past it, because from the outside looking in, it looks like any other pub in the country. But looks are hella deceiving because housed within its four walls lies sheer, unadulterated awesomeness.

First, let’s start with what made them famous, the Bash Burger. Perfectly sized so as not to be a gut bomb, then topped with bacon jam, caramelized onions, pickles, American cheese and some sort of special sauce all worthy of Food and Wine Magazine’s best burger some 4 or 5 times now since 2009.

But burgers are not the only note this minstrel can play. Because before handing me what would easily be in my top 5 burgers in NYC, they handed be the best damn Bloody Mary I’ve ever laid lips on. The Bloody Maria is not your normal bloody lass, however. She’s made with jalapenos as opposed to horseradish, and let me just say, “Dios mio!” That’s one spicy bitch!

The other star worthy of an amen would be the French toast sticks. The good news is that they are literally perfect for the kids. The bad news is that they are so good you’ll probably wolf them down yourself, leaving your kids crying and in tears. No? Just me? Well, that’s because you haven’t tried them yet. Once you get a taste of those crispy, soaked through sticks, topped with that incredible berry compote, you’ll be shunned as a father just like me.

And speaking of shunned, there were two misses, sad to say. The first being the B&B Bubbly. A Proseco drink with fruit that didn’t quite manage to taste as inventive as its description. The other miss being the baked eggs, guilty of a similar crime. I’d skip both and try something else. Word on the street is that the fried chicken is pretty ridonkulous as well. Guess I’ll find out when I return, which can’t be soon enough.

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