FIG

232 Meeting St. Charleston, SC 29401 (843) 805-5900eatatfig.com

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Ask anyone south of the Mason-Dixon Line what the best restaurants in Charleston are and you’re likely to hear about FIG, an acronym for Food Is Good. So with gauntlet thrown it was a moral imperative for me to suss out whether or not FIG was all hype, or all that.

Out of the gate, FIG seemed like yet another success story resting on its laurels, doling out bad service with a waitress who gave barely any recommendations to us “out-of-towners,” but then went on and on about half the menu with the local table next to us. But that’s minor compared to the fact that we had to ask to have our plates cleared and to see a dessert menu.

The other cause for concern was the bread. Never a good sign when the bread at a place is a pass. Appears they could learn a thing or two from Husk in terms of bread, service and décor.

But then FIG rallied with a dynamic duo of dishes. The first being the white shrimp appetizer with fennel, chili, raisins and pine nuts. Such a great, light app, yet packed with flavor and texture and nice dose of heat.

The other starter, however, was a bit on the heavier side, a lamb bolognese gnocci made with pillows of outstandingness only bested by Elan, Blue Hill and Bar LaGrassa in terms of flavor, but the dumplings themselves are incomparable.

Then, just when I thought I understood what all the hype was about, back down we went, with two dull-ass entrees. The tile fish with bone marrow and carrots was just too much of the same note and if it didn’t say bone marrow on the menu, I’d defy anyone to say they could actually taste it. And speaking of not tasting things, the suckling pig, while moist, was so bland that I couldn’t even tell where the pig ended and the rice or black-eyed peas began. And even though the dish was loaded with shishito peppers, sadly they did nothing to save the dish, because they were the most flavorless shishitos I’ve ever had, bringing not even an ounce of heat. Such a huge missed opportunity for some much needed heat.

Now deep into the woods of Two Knives-ville, it was looking grim for FIG. But from afar the sticky toffee cake with walnut ice cream (pictured) was lookin’ mighty fine on its way to virtually every table around us. So, when in Rome (or Charleston) go with the flow. And flow it did, right down my pie-hole, capping things off strong at 3 knives.

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The Ultimate Soufflé

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Blue Hill at Stone Barns – Pontico Hills, NY – The Ricotta Soufflé

Once upon a time, back when Blue Hill hadn’t jumped the shark yet, you could still order from a menu. And once upon a time on that menu lived a dessert the stuff of fairy tales. Like eating a cloud filled with dreams, whipped into a poof of fluffiness that would even make a Pomeranian jealous. I think it’s safe to say that this is the crowning achievement for eggs and chickens alike.

L’Affable – Cannes, FR – Grand Marnier Soufflé

As Grand Marnier soufflés go, they all could pretty much pass as Ultimates, because A, they’re soufflés. And B, because they have booze in them. But not just any booze, a light, citrusy booze with notes of spice in it that warm the cockles of your soul. Or maybe that’s just the residual heat from the oven still trapped in the ramekin. Well, whatever it is, this particular GM soufflé manages to just barely top the previous frontrunner, Capo in Santa Monica (formerly on the list). It’s just that indescribable X factor. That 1% more fluffiness. That sensational whipped crack they put on top and that drizzle to follow, like a one-two punch and game, set, match. Yes, I’m aware that I just mixed boxing and tennis, but you have to admit, that would make for a VERY interesting new hybrid sport.

Via Carota

51 Grove St. New York, NY 10014 •  viacarota.com

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Trying to get lightning to strike twice in the same spot isn’t an adage because it’s false, and while Jody Williams of Buvette fame, certainly has skillz, the proverbial lighting “missed it by that much” (to be read like Maxwell Smart).

The space, like Buvette, is quaint and endearing, with a little more size to its beautiful exposed brick dining room. But unlike Buvette, it is MUCH easier to get a table, especially if you go to dinner on the early-ish side (translation 6/6:30pm). I recommend this not just because it’s easier to get a table, but also because once the dining room fills up, it becomes noisy as all hell, with sound ricocheting off of those brick walls like a son of a bitch.

Speaking of profanity, the other thing that will have you cussing is the painfully slow kitchen. And when it’s that early, and the restaurant isn’t even that full yet, I can’t even begin to imagine how bad it must get once the place is packed. Fortunately they comp’d an extra glass of wine for wifey and I, so the cursing would abate.

The other gripe with service is that their recommendations deserved condemnation. The first of them being the chicken liver crostini, about which she gushed. It is so ho-hum that we left half of it stranded on the plate. For a truly memorable chicken liver dish, be sure to get the off-menu chicken liver pasta at Osteria in Philly. Not exactly down the street from Greenwich Village, but worth the drive nonetheless.

Her other adamant winner was also a bit oversold for my tastes, the homemade gnocci, sauce in a family recipe marinara. Now I don’t want to shit on anyone’s family, but I think running away from home might’ve served the chef wall, because then they might’ve come across some better recipes. For example I’ve got at least three other gnocci’s that blow this away. Try Bar Lagrassa in the Mini Apple and Blue Hill or Elan in the Big one.

Sadly, I can’t only blame the waitress, however, after all, we went rouge on a few choices, like the underwhelming raw artichoke salad. From eyes-dropping on other tables I think the grilled variety would’ve been the better way to go, but I think deep down we were hoping for a dish reminiscent of the one we had at Osteria San Marco in Venice. Not so much. But like any good story, now comes the twist.

Just when all hope was lost, like phoenix from the ashes Via Carote rose, delivering two flavor-packed entrees. The first being the spicy grilled tuna with carona beans, perfectly cooked and far more balanced than any of the previous dishes. The other was a pork braciole, which was touch over cooked, but was such a unique preparation that I forgave it for the overcookage. Rather than a tomato based sauce, they used cream and greens and herbs. Sliced and folded through and through. It’s a hearty portion, so if you’re not famished, I recommend skipping it or skipping the starters.

What you shouldn’t skip however, is the chocolate, hazelnut mousse parfait with roasted hazelnuts, fresh whipped cream and biscotti. This threepeat of winners was such a winning combination it actually managed to raise the Titanic for me.

3 teeth

Harper’s

92 Main St. Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522 • (914) 693-2306 • Harpersonmain.com

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I think, like, the term “farm-to-table” is, like, getting to be more overused than the word “like.” Pretty soon McDonald’s is going to come out with a farm-to-table offering at this rate. This is not to dispute the fact that Harper’s might very well source its ingredients from a nearby farm in the tri state area, but I sincerely doubt that they are solely affiliated with that farm to the point where the entirety of its harvest winds up on your plate. I’m also pretty skeptical that ALL of Harper’s ingredients come from farms period. Sure, I would imagine some does, maybe even the majority, but isn’t that technically true of most places. I mean it’s not like the other places are using suppliers who are growing tomatoes right on their trucks. Or cultivating carrots in test tubes. They ALL come from farms at some point. And there’s zero regulation on the whole farm-to-table claim to begin with. So what does it even mean, really, unless you’re like Blue Hill at Stone Barns?

But shelving that gripe for now, I really do like Harper’s a lot. It has a great vibe about it with it’s cool, dark, yet extensive dining rooms (big enough that you can forgo the rezzy and pull a walk-in), each with its own rustic contemporary pub-like personality. And speaking of personality, the servers were all very warm and friendly and most importantly for a Sunday family brunch, good with the kids. They even have an outdoor seating area in the garden at the back of the restaurant which was frozen over when we went, but judging by the taste level of the interior, I’d be willing to bet it’s nicely done as well.

Switching over to the food, the bread is excellent, as is the butter, which is such a rarity in this country, mainly because it actually tastes like butter! Okay, so maybe the butter came from a farm…

For my entree I had the chocolate chip bread pudding French toast, which just sounded killer as I read it on the menu. Almost as if they knew the shortcut to my heart. And while it was definitely good, they screwed it up a hair by serving it up on the burnt side. Thus, Wifey had me bested with her baked eggs and proscuitto, which was so well balanced the way the salt of the meat brought out the flavor of the egg- and together with that bread? – I was such a wonderful thing I was bouncing around like Tigger. I also wound up trying my son’s scrambled eggs, which were pretty damn good too, considering how basic they were, which leads me to believe that perhaps the eggs also came from a farm. Okay, so that’s two things, but I will eat shards of glass if you prove to me that the chocolate chips in the French toast came from a friggin’ farm. I mean c’mon!

3 teeth

The Ultimate Foie Gras (Seared)

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For me, foie gras in the seared form is almost categorically an Ultimate. So fucking good it actually requires profanity. And so much better than terrine I’m not even sure why the pate version exists. It’s like watching an SD channel on your HDTV when you know full well that you have an HD version of the same exact station! Why? Yes, these are the things that keep me up at night.

But as remarkable as seared foie gras is, that blessing is also a curse, because it means chefs have to go above and beyond to stand out from the entry level awesome. Here are two brilliant examples of exactly that.

Animal – West Hollywood, CA

If you are as into foie gras as I am, you’ve probably realized that pairing it with an element of sweetness is a common go to among chefs, so much so that it has become table stakes. So, Animal decided to go one better, forgoing the jams and reductions in favor of a down home Southern preparation, placing the foie gras on a buttermilk biscuit with maple syrup gravy drizzle over the top. It sounds insane, I know. And it is… Insanely good. In fact, it’s so fan-friggin-tastic I think it single handedly overturned California’s ban on foie gras. Sorry geese, but sometimes you have to take one for the team. Oh come on, don’t be offended. Geese are nasty creatures and you know it. They had it coming. (I probably I just lost a follower or two, didn’t I?).

Blue Hill – New York, NY

This is the one and only time I have ever seen foie gras in the form of soup and I can’t speak highly enough about the unrivaled, unbridled joy it elicited. Forget Coke, I’d like to buy the world a foie gras consommé.

Made in a broth of the liver itself, filled with chunks of seared foie gras and earthy mushrooms. Such a treat in the winter and also worthy of an Ultimate Hot Soup distinction.

Mas Farmhouse

39 Downing St. New York, NY 10014(212) 255-1790masfarmhouse.com

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Mas is the new Blue Hill. Granted it’s not so new anymore, but by comparison it’s new-ish. But what I mean by the comparison is that it is farm to table done flawlessly. The decor is cozy, yet stylish and contemporary. The two dining areas are both small and quaint – in a way that makes you feel special. As does the service, which can only be compared to the likes of a Thomas Keller restaurant, yet warmer and more human.  Plus, they are incredibly accommodating without even a whiff of pretense.

As for the food, well, I gave it five knives didn’t I? It’s fantastic. I can tell you all about it, but unfortunately all that would do is make you jealous since the Chef’s tasting menu is in constant flux on a day to day basis, depending on what looked good at the market that morning.

I highly recommend it though. Just put yourself in the hands of the chef and let him work his magic. Naturally they will ask if you have any allergies or things you flat out don’t like – or love, as the case may be- and they will do the rest.

Also, a shout out to the sommelier. I got the wine pairing along with the tasting, and it was truly a work of art. Every sip in perfect harmony with the dish – like culinary soul mates.

Verdict: Top 10 in the city.

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The Ultimate Setting

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While you can’t eat necessarily eat your surroundings, with the exception of that room in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, a true foodie must admit that it can be quite integral to a dining experience. So, this Ultimate is an ode to the clothes that make the man.

Chevre d’or – Eze, France

Set atop the picturesque castle town of Eze in Provence, this restaurant makes you feel as though you are attending a royal feast, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea from your medieval perch. Think Game of Thrones meets Michelin Stars.

Surrounded by such absolutely stunning views, it’s hard to imagine that anything else could possibly compete, until the food arrives, with presentations that are equally mesmerizing in their own right.

Even the parking lot is jaw-dropping, loaded with Ferrari’s, Lamborghini’s and Aston Martins.

 

Blue Hill at Stone Barns – Pocantico Hills, NY

It’s tough to compete with the South of France, but a 1000 acre Rockerfeller farm estate isn’t exactly something to sneeze at. And by farm I mean the poster child for farm to table. Quite literally the ingredients come from the farm just outside your spectacular dining room window.

But what makes the dining room so extraordinary isn’t just the view of the farm. It’s the beautiful marriage of old and new. On the outside, the stone barn building feels like it did centuries ago, having been lovingly preserved all of these years just for foodie-kind. But on the inside, oh on the inside it’s even more beautiful if that’s even possible. A minimalist, modern twist on farmhouse décor, with gracefully bowing iron beams that arch their backs over you head. Soothing earth tones and wood meet soft white walls adorned with art. And then come the platings. A masterful clinic on presentation like you’ve never seen. Custom made trellis arches show off their bountiful garden. Planks of wood boast an arsenal of spears, each skewering a different treat. I could go on and on and on, so it’s probably just a good idea for you to just make a reservation at this point.

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

630 Bedford Rd. Pocantico Hills, NY 10591 • (914) 366-9600bluehillfarm.com

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This is without a doubt the best restaurant in Westchester. Top notch from food to service to a decor that simply cannot be matched. But let’s not limit it to the suburb of Westchester. This place is world class.

First, the decor is beyond compare, situated in an old stone barn located on a 1000 acre working farm and former Rockefeller estate. As a result, it is also one of the purest farm-to-table experiences you will ever encounter, because said farm is literally right outside your dining room window.

And speaking of the dining room, it so beautifully done you can’t help but notice the modernity paying homage to the building’s purpose in a former life.

But this looker is also one of substance, because head to toe, they don’t miss a trick. Phenomenal service every time I’ve been, which is at least six to ten times, stellar food and a sense of presentation that has grown over the years to what can only be described as a culinary journey.

It starts with a custom-made mini trellis placed before each guest, decorated with fresh weeds from the garden. Yes, weeds. These are to be dragged through herbal spreads, also created with ingredients from the garden. Is this course delicious you ask? Well, it’s not bad. But the novelty of eating weeds and actually finding that you enjoy it makes it worth the price of admission. But the journey is only in its opening credits, so don’t get worried just yet.

Some stand-outs worthy of note in their very seasonally-oriented, ever-changing menu (should your visit happen to coincide) would be their ricotta souffle- so incredibly light it was like biting into a cloud. Another memorable dish was the foie gras consumé – just perfection in a bowl. Even a frequent amuse bouche of theirs makes my all time favorite list – it’s a roasted mini beet burger – so good we usually ask for seconds… and get them. Did I mention I love the waiters here.

Two other honorable mentions in meals past, the pumpkin gnocci – sounds heavy, but was much lighter than you’d expect and mouth bronzing good. And last but not least, a staple there, and perhaps the one dish they always seem to have, their salad with the farm fresh egg on top. The egg is so fresh it’s like you’re eating it right out of the hen’s ass. Okay, that doesn’t very appetizing, but I promise you’ll love it.

In fact the only thing not to love about Blue Hill is that you can’t eat there every day for the rest of your life. You can, however, eat at the Blue Hill in the city, which is also one of favorite restaurants on Earth.

5 teeth