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

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Beauty & Essex

3708 S Las Vegas Blvd. Las Vegas, NV 89109 • (702) 737-0707 • beautyandessexlv.com

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Okay, so it’s not the real deal and merely a fabricated replica of the one in New York, but it is Vegas, which means pretty much everything is a fabricated replica of something else with the exception of sand. So put aside any delusions of authenticity and you will very likely find yourself as pleased as punch (let’s make that rum punch, after all, it is Vegas).

Located in the chic Cosmopolitan Hotel on the third floor (as opposed to Essex St. in Manhattan), you will find a pawnshop by the same name, which doubles as a speakeasy entrance through a nondescript turquoise door to the left of the counter. Upon entering you will find yourself swept into a time vortex landing you smack dab in the roaring twenties, complete with a brocade decor and twin, blond, 6-foot bombshell- flappers who cavort around the restaurant and bar along with a parade of burlesque hotties.

Surprisingly, this isn’t to distract you form the food, because almost everything was excellent. That said, it might be distracting to the servers, because I found the service to be a bit sloppy.

The excellent menu of which I speak is made up of shareable small plates, along with a decent list of cocktails and wine. And while most everything was good, there were a few dishes I would steer around such as the lobster roll, which was the only bad thing of the night, served on a warm bun, but filled with canned or even fake lobster meat. Not cool.

The other two dishes I would skip are not what I would call bad, but they don’t exactly pass mustard for me either. For example much better yellowtail sashimi in ponzu sauce with chili peppers can be found at Blue Ribbon Sushi in the very same hotel or at Sushi Roku down the strip. And the French Onion Soup Dumplings are nowhere near as good as the ones at Stanton Social in NYC, nor are they comparable to some of the other stars of the night.

But enough of the Debbie Downers and on to the stars, like both tartars- the steak and the tomato tartars are so good I don’t know which one I liked better and obviously very different from one another so it’s kind of hard to even compare them even though they are both “tartars.” They are also served differently, the steak is done more like a tartine and the tomato more like an hors d’oeuvres. Both, however, are worth doubling down on.

The bone marrow is also superb and only bested by one other dish for me, the Spicy Lamb Bolognese. Made with penne and some serious Italian game this pasta just might’ve been the best thing of the night- no, the best thing I had all week in Vegas. Not too shabby for twin, amazon, blond, bombshell, flappers. Can you tell they left an impression?

4 teeth

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.

3 teeth

Cosme

35 E 21st St. New York, NY 10010(212) 913-9659 cosmenyc.com

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Zagat’s? You don’t need no stinking Zagat’s. Cause I got the skinny right here. And while it’s true, the hype definitely runs high on this place, Cosme still manages to put the “can” in gourmand-worthy Mexican cuisine.

The setting is more trendy than dressy, but tastefully done in a timeless way. My only gripe is that the barstools are so high you practically have to do a Fosbury Flop to get on top of them. Service was pretty darn bueno as well, although you can tell they have a tinge of New York tude at the host stand. Granted after one or two El Ninjas, their gin and mezcal cocktail, you hardly notice and are mostly worried about falling from the dizzying heights of your barstool.

At the table, things are more or less tapas-style with a twist, the first of which was the uni tostada with bone marrow. And yes it’s as good as it sounds. In fact, if God was a tostada, he would probably be this one.

Another excellent starter is the crispy octopus served over a bed of hazelnut mole and accented with pickled potatoes and watercress. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but just about as close as you can get.

Our vegetarian option of the night, the mushroom and squash barbacoa, was also good, but not quite at the same level as everything else, tasting more or less like a solid market veggie taco when all was said and done.

And as the main event, we had to go with the storied Duck Carnitas (pictured), which as the name implies is done like a giant pork roast with moisty goodness seeping out of every corner. Then, they top it with onions and radishes and serve it up with soft tacos and salsa verde. Sadly, as good as it was, I’m not sure it’s quite worth its steep price tag, though. And while I can appreciate the inventive twist of treating duck like pork, I’ve actually seen it a lot lately and done even better at places like Cask & Larder in Orlando. Whereas this one was in dire need of the hot sauce before giving it my stamp of approval.

For dessert we forwent the other “must get” meringue and opted for the manchego cheesecake served crumbled up in a bowl over a pineapple drizzle, topped with popcorn. Not the exclamation point I was hoping for, I gotta say. And that’s true about Cosme on the whole. As hard as this place is to get into, and as hyped as it has been, I have to concur with Yelp on this one and say that 3.5 stars is pretty spot on. But since I don’t do halves, as we know, it comes down to which way am I rounding… up or down? Well, they don’t call me ferocious for the nothin’…

3 teeth

Casa Mono

52 Irving Pl. New York, NY 10003(212) 253-2773 • casamononyc.com
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This little corner tapas charmer is located right in the heart of Irving Place, flanked on two sides by huge divided light windows, which fills the tiny dining room with sun. Feels like something you’d expect in The Village or Europe.

Of the small plates, we shared five and unfortunately Mono only hit on dos. The first being the bone marrow (pictured), which was done with capers and olives, giving it a nice, salty flavor, along with a little texture, to help cut through the buttery marrow. One of the more interesting bone marrow dishes I’ve had.

The other gem was a roasted rabbit with habanero sauce and yogurt, so delish I’d have to go back to Playboy or Bugs to find a bunny I enjoyed more. Playing with the elements between the heat and the cool creaminess of the yogurt, it really made every bite somethin’ somethin’.

For the misses, I would take a firm pass on the buratta with snap peas and bacon. It’s a watery mess that tastes more like cream soup than buratta. And considering how low the degree of difficulty is with buratta, I’m gonna have to say this was pretty damn god awful. Like trying to actually shoot fish in a barrel and blowing your foot off in the process.

And the other miss was the Polpo (octopus) with fennel and grapefruit. It wasn’t a shit show like the buratta, but it was definitely a calamity of proportions. So heavy on the fennel and a little too light on the puss. As a result, one might say the octopus was drowning in a sea of fennel. Oh, the irony (note to Alanis Morissette, this is actual irony, not coincidence or tragedy like everything in your song “Ironic,” which tragically helped to successfully misguide an entire generation as to the definition of the word. Okay, I’m done venting)!

Lastly, we went for an attempt at redemption, with my favorite dessert, bread pudding. Because I really wanted to give this place three knives (in my heart of hearts I did like it), but currently it was teetering on the edge of two after burratamaggeddon. Sadly, Mono’s chef screwed the pooch once again serving up a confused dessert that seemed like it was caught between wanting to be a peach crumble and bread pudding and didn’t really stick the landing on either.

So two knives it is, I’m sorry to say. And while Mono may be capable of spots of greatness, there are too many spots of a different color, to the point where one has to question whether or not the chef is just calling it in, or even worse, does the chef at Mono… have mono?

2 teeth

Moderne Barn

430 Bedford Rd. Armonk, NY 10504(914) 730-0001 modernebarn.com

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In truth, I would actually give it 2.5 knives, but Ferocious Foodie don’t play that, so alas, I feel the need to round down out of sheer ferociousness, well, that and because it’s very overpriced for what it is. And what exactly is that? Mediocre, inconsistent execution of seemingly interesting preparations served up in a nice, but noisy dining room that’s perhaps a bit too large for its own good.

So, with the food being all over the map, consider this your culinary Garmin. In terms of liquid starters, I had the Pear Tree Martini, which goes down easier than you can say “I’m sorry occifer. I didn’t realize the stop sign was green.” But as for the more chewable starters, I’ve had the octopus, which is a solid good, although I can’t say it lives up to the rave reviews, especially when you can get better tentacles just right down the street at Fortina.  The broiled Bluepoint oysters with blackberry barbeque sauce, bacon and maytag blue cheese (see what I mean about the preparations sounding good?) are terrible. And whatever my wife’s,  salad was, don’t get that either. It came horribly over-dressed.

As for entrees, I’ve had the short ribs, which are just okay, better when you combine them with the bone marrow mashed potatoes- like biting into a meaty cloud with a smoky finish. The burger also hits the spot with the help of gruyere, caramelized onions and rosemary sea salt fries. But unfortunately, once again, wifey missed with the fig & prosciutto pizza which was a not so distant cousin to cardboard.

Yes, with so many hits and misses you’re bound to feel like Indiana Jones trying not to step on the wrong tile, but fortunately the light at the end of the tunnel arrives at dessert, which is where the Barn shines brightest. Both the Chocolate Hazelnut tart and the Ginger Peach Crumble were excellent! So good they almost make you want to forgive them for all of the other duds… almost.

My advice? Drinks and dessert, and you are golden!

2 teeth

Recette

328 W 12th St. New York, NY 10014(212) 414-3000recettenyc.com

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I have been wanting to try this place for a while now, but after hearing that it is the sister restaurant to The Gander, my eagerness waned. Perhaps a blessing in disguise though, because low expectations are always easier to hurdle, and Recette most certainly sailed over them.

The space is intimate, which is sort of the restaurant version of “cozy” in NYC apartment listings, meaning “small.” But it’s walled with beautiful divided light windows, so it feels more open. As for the décor itself, apart from the windows it’s not very memorable.

The service and meal however, left quite the impression. Our waiter managing to strike that perfect balance between attentive, professional and down to earth.

Unfortunately the wine list was quite the opposite of down to earth, priced in a much higher stratosphere with only a very small handful of options below a C-note. Luckily the one I chose was not too crazy and not too shabby, a 2006 Barolo priced right on the threshold.

Things began with the bone marrow toast, complemented by trout roe to give it a nice burst of saltiness amidst the richiness. And while it was good, it also felt reminiscent of so many dishes at The Gander. Good, but not quite great.

But as regret started to seep in, that’s when the tide turned, and my use of an oceanic term was purposeful, because the next two dishes not only came from the sea, they are both Ultimates. The first being the best sashimi I’ve ever had. Incredibly fresh red snapper adorned with oyster crisps and chili peppers packing more heat than Keanu Reeves in The Matrix. The other Ultimate came in the form of the most ridiculously creamy langoustines I’ve ever had. So buttery soft, they were practically worth starting a new religion over. And you really didn’t need any of the surrounding elements, like the pork croquette and the flan. They were life-changing-awesome all by themselves.

After that, came the spaghetti with sweet shrimp and sea urchin, which was also good, but was doomed from the get-go. First because it’s been touted as one of the best pasta dishes in the city, and it’s not. And second, because after the previous two dishes, it was an impossible act to follow.

And closing out the “small plates” was the pork belly. Now, I’m not sure if they were going after irony here, but this was easily the biggest portion of pork belly I’ve ever been served in my life. It was the size of a brick and could handily serve four ravenous wolves. And while that may sound awesome, truth be told it was a bit too massive making the harissa to belly ratio a bit anemic. Fortunately the maple glaze carried it, but nailed it was not.

Sadly, things continued on the downward spiral through dessert. The highly recommended s’more, while good, fell a chasm short of the ones at Marc Forgione and Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen. And the apple upside down cake should remain that way, face down in shame. Had two bites and done. The best of the lot was actually the free dessert that came with the check, a devil’s food cookie with a hint of chili. My advice, forgo the desserts and put that money into the wine.

So a very accurate Yelp rating for once, 3.5 stars. But since I don’t do halves, I’m going 4 knives. After all, they did have two Ultimates.

4 teeth

 

Ink

8360 Melrose Ave. Los Angeles, CA 90069(323) 651-5866mvink.com

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A fellow foodie recommended this place to me, which is always a risky proposition because, well it might surprise you to know it, but I’m kinda hard to please. And I was pleased as punch. Never understood that expression, but it seems fitting now. From start to finish it was one inventive concoction of yumosity after another.

To kick things off we had the scallops, which they serve raw, along with pickled papaya and chili kicker to give it some nice heat. And the textures were tremendous. The scallops being soft and tender and the papaya being dense.

After that came one of the best beet dishes I’ve ever had. I hate to double down on the “dense” word, but the beets were so meaty they almost gave the sensation of steak. Just bodacious.

And speaking of steak sensations, the wagyu beef cheeks were sensational. Tied for my favorite thing of the night. So buttery soft it melted in your mouth.

Also, the perfect side to go along with the wagyu would’ve been the potato polenta with bone marrow. It’s incredibly creamy and equally delicious, but because it came before wagyu it felt like a supporting role without a main act, unable to truly stand on its own.

Right on the heels of that came the weakest dish of the night, the sea bass with chicken skin. Its description impresses far more than its flavors, but it was cooked well and offered a nice textural playfulness between the flaky, buttery fish and the crispy, salty chicken skin. Hmm, I’m making it sound so good I almost tricked myself into ordering it again.

But just when Ink started to show signs of mortality, the dessert chef closed things out like Mariano Rivera. The yam dessert being the best thing yams have ever accomplished since the dark ages. Served in an inventive array of dollops that I can’t recall because I was too busy horking it down. All I know is that there were flavors of cinnamon and toffee and it was off the charts.

And while the second dessert might’ve been more “chartable,” it was still extraordinary. A chocolate pudding unlike any I’ve ever had. Served almost like slices of cake set amidst ice cream and dried coconut.

Easily a five-knifer had the service not fouled it up. First, by trying to seat us at the shittiest table in the place, right at the front between the bar and the host station. And this was with the place 60% empty, which it remained from the start of our meal to the end.

The other nit, which is a big pet peeve of mine, is when you ask a server for recommendations and they give you the ole non-committal cop out, “everything’s good.” Which he was mostly right about, everything was good, except the service.

4 teeth

Boulton & Watt

5 Ave A New York, NY 10009(646) 490-6004boultonandwattnyc.com

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I heard about Boulton & Watt thanks to Thrillist, which is a great blog for foodies. They always seem to be listing the best new restaurant openings. Best brunches, etc… And while I don’t always agree, I still love the tips.

And speaking of not agreeing, sadly Boulton & Watt would fall into that column. Which is unfortunate, because I was practically drooling when I read their amazing menu, loaded with temptations. Unfortunately, I always seem to forget that menus are just words, and in this case, only a few dishes lived up to the expectations those words set in motion.

The first being the pickle jar we ordered, jicama with chili and lime. Such a simple, fun concept. They have tons of pickled options. Each very inventive and from our sample of one, very good.

We also really like the fried green tomato caprese. Great merger of two iconic dishes.

But perhaps the best thing of the night was the banana bread pudding in a chocolate whiskey sauce that was goo-riffic! Warm, oozing everywhere. And even though I was full, I powered through it. After all, no pain, no gain as the saying goes. Albeit that’s probably not the original intent of the colloquialism, but you have to admit, it fits quite well, unlike my jeans the next morning.

And now for the shortcomings. And by “short” I mean the short rib and bone marrow toast. I mean how do you screw this up people?! It’s a layup! Like missing the culinary broadside of a barn. Tasting like mediocre sloppy joe with the consistency of Alpo.

The curried mussel pot proved to be just eh, especially by comparison to the Belgian Beer Café in the Flatiron, which handily bests it.

And the duck carbonara was flavorless. In dire need of some heat. Either cracked black pepper, red pepper flakes, arugula- anything to give it some pepperiness. Of course I added copious amounts to make it worthy of my mouth, but to serve it in such a state is just careless.

Definitely a mixed review for certain, teetering on skip it. However, while I wouldn’t go out of my way to return, I might give it another shot if I were shopping in Nolita. It’s got a great industrial décor reminiscent of All Saints and lots of energy, a.k.a. noisy as all hell, so if you don’t like yellversation or you have a bad case of laryngitis, I’d strongly urge you to take a pass. If, on the other hand, you want a cool bar for good drinks and don’t care too much about the food, you could do a lot worse.

2 teeth

The Ultimate Pizza

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I have been dreading this post for a while because there are SO many great pizza places out there it’s hard for me to narrow down. I mean the list of honorable mentions is easily in the double digits. The other reason I was dreading it is because everyone thinks they know the best pizza place and are extremely passionate about it. So I can only imagine I will get comments to the contrary below. But, I say bring it on! I’m always happy to try new places and revise a post.

La Pizza Fresca – New York, NY

Believe it or not, this is the ONLY pizza joint in the United States that is recognized by the Official Commission of Pizza in Italy. And believe it or not, I’m not making that up. The reason for their approval is that apparently La Pizza Fresca is the only place in the country that makes pizza according to the authentic Italian tradition. Now, if you’re normal, you probably don’t even care about this. All that matters is how the pies taste. Well, Mama Mia! The primavera is easily the best veggie pie I’ve ever had and the Quattro Frommagi is easily the best cheese pie. The veggies are fire roasted and so fresh they pop off the pie and dance in your mouth. And the Quattro? For the first time ever, I could literally taste each individual cheese shining through like a quartet of cheesy complexity. The only rub is the wait. Not that the place is ever really that packed, strangely enough. But I suppose it’s because the “authentic traditional” method is painfully slow.

Roberta’s Pizza – Brooklyn, NY

Consider me stung, because I loves me the Bee Sting. Granted I’m an easy target for a spicy and sweet combo, but this pie is on point all around. Get it? Pizzas are round. While you’re busy groaning, let me explain what makes it such. First, it’s the spicy soppressata, with its slight crispy char. Then, they drizzle honey over the top and that’s when the magic happens, blending with the sauce and the cheese and the oils of the meat. All sitting on their killer dough. It’s morta bene.

Grimaldi’s – Brooklyn, NY

There’s nothing fancy going on here. This is just straight up New York pie at its absolute best. Don’t get too cute with too many toppings. Just stick to your basics like pepperoni and mushroom and be prepared to bow like Wayne’s World at the knees of a pizza god.

Oenotri – Napa, CA

I’m a borderline mushroom groupie. Seriously. If there were AA for mushroom-eating I might be sitting in a 12 step somewhere right now, “Hi, my name is Ferocious Foodie and I’m a mushroom-a-holic.” So, it was probably a foregone conclusion that a mushroom pizza would be on this list. But not just any mushroom pie, this is gourmet all the way. From the impeccable choice of fresh cremini mushrooms to their almost bone marrow-like saute, making for a wonderfully creamy, tender top, aboard a perfectly contrasted crunchy crust. No wonder Thomas Keller loves this place.