Buca

604 King Street WToronto, ON M5V 1M6 Canada • (416) 865-1600 • buca.ca/king.html
 

I hadn’t been to Toronto in over a decade, but I remember having some great meals there. In fact, if you ever read my review of Mercer Kitchen, then you will know that it was the sushi pizza from Toronto that is somewhat responsible for finding my wife. So, it probably goes without saying that I didn’t really need another reason to love the Toronto food scene more than I already do, but then Buca happened.

An epic love story all its own, spanning across eleven rapturous dishes. It was like a scene out of Gone With the Wind- me running into the arms of antipasti, secondi and dolci… and antipasti, secondi and dolci all running into my mouth.

To start, Buca is a massive, industrial space right across the street from another strong Italian option, Gusto 101. That said, Buca is a cut above by all measures, including price tag. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t worth every last loonie.

From the get go, Buca served up more wow’s than Sam and the Firefly, starting with their salmon crudo with goat yogurt, zucchini blossoms, capers, cipollini and dill. Quickly followed delectable, little, warm rosemary, garlic and olive oil bread knots and a strong charcuterie board loaded with assorted cheeses and salumi.

And then Buca stopped playing around and brought the heat. Showing off in the most unlikely of places like a salad of mustard greens filled with berries from a local farm, dressed with goat yogurt and an olive oil of the gods.

This was then chased by a simple, beautiful buratta pizza. But all of this matters not, because the bigoli, aka duck egg pasta with duck offal ragu, venetian spices and mascarpone came in like the second coming and stuck the landing like Mary Lou Retton, crossbred with a cat wearing spikes on its feet.

The prime rib might’ve been the most mortal of the dishes we had or perhaps it was more a dimension of comparison, because it was served back to back with the branzino which stole the show.

For the final act, the dolci, Buca reimagined a Tiramisu with espresso soaked tapioca biscuits, mascarpone and chocolate mousse all layered deep in glass I wish was a yard in hindsight. And while the gelato was no slouch either, after that Tiramisu I could’ve just curled up in a ball and died happy.

Easily among the best Italian restaurants in the world, including Italy.

Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer

360 Park Ave S. New York, NY 10010(212) 951-7111parkavenyc.com

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For everything…turn, turn, turn… There is a season… turn, turn, turn… And now a restaurant, apparently. Hence the name Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer, located on the grave site of Hurricane Club (RIP), but carrying the baton quite nicely I have to say, with an inventive concept that ups the game of a seasonal menu, because they don’t stop there.

Not only does the menu change based on the season, but so does the décor and the name of the restaurant itself! So, when I went, it was just called “Winter,” not that behemoth of slashes above. And the décor du month, was quite nice, adorned with winter branches, with white walls and soothing lights, to make it feel like you are dining in a snowy, wintery forest.

Good service also appears to be in season, as they are not only friendly and accommodating, they are also very spot on with the recommendations, nailing it on the My Essential Cabernet blend from just outside the Santa Barbra, CA area. It was just the right amount of bold, yet smooth enough to pair with anything.

The edible portion of the evening started off with warm, parker house style rolls, which were very good, but in terms of bread-like things, the steak tartar toast with foie gras and black truffles stole the show. Granted how could it not with that trio of ingredients? Unfortunately the other toast, with kobach squash, sheep’s milk ricotta, burnt honey and pancetta, should be ashamed of itself for being on the same menu.

For entrees, I found the halibut with black truffles and a brioche crusted egg to be the winter winner, besting both the pork schnitzel with pear mustard, dates and cornichon, as well as the branzino over spaghetti squash, which was the laggard of the lot.

The sides also proved a little hit and miss- the hugest of hits being the Brussel sprouts with bacon. So good they might just give Ilili a run for their money. The latkas, on the other hand, were lame. Way too small and thin, to the point where they were more like potato chips than latkas. Especially when compared to the thick, fluffy latkas I just had the other day at Russ and Daughters. Legend.

For dessert, again it was a mixed bag, but on the tastier side of the satchel was the sticky toffee pudding over fried bananas. So good it was almost as if they knew I was coming and made it just for me. My second favorite would be the hazelnut pot du crème, which was very good and much better than most pots I’m had. It was also clearly superior to the chocolate cube and the popcorn sundae, which seems to be stolen from ABC Kitchen down the street, and I’m not even sure why, because I didn’t like it there either.

So as mixed as the above is, I can’t really go great guns in either direction on the knife count. And while the concept alone is worth an extra knife, I feel reluctant to let myself be so swayed that I give this place 4 knives when their misses were equal in number to the hits.

3 teeth

Periyali

35 W 20th St. New York, NY 10011(212) 463-7890periyali.com

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Having just been to Greece last summer I was entering with a healthy dose of “food tude.” Hey, I kinda like that. Ferocious Foodie TM!

And while décor and service failed to impress, the food rose above expectation. Not that the menu is anything inventive. Truth be told it’s all of the usual suspects from octopus to mousaka and souvlaki to baklava.

Our meal started off with an amuse bouche of sorts, a Greek bruschetta is about the only way I can describe it. Crostini topped with feta tomatoes, cucumbers and red onion. I’m not exactly sure why they offer it though. It’s not inventive, nor amazing. And if it’s simply to give you a little taste of something before your meal arrives, it would seem that the olives and bread would handily suffice. Instead, it only serves as a failed attempt to reach for a class of dining they simply aren’t.

After that we split a Greek salad that passed as ruffage and an octopus, which did everything it was supposed to, clean and simple and perfectly tender, yet somehow it just didn’t reach tentacle supremacy.

Oddly enough though, the whole branzino, while not too unlike the octopus, with its classic Mediterranean prep, proved to be spectacular! So flavorful and buttery. I haven’t loved a fish this much since Dory in Finding Nemo and I’ve had more than my fair share of whole fish, being that it’s practically the official meal of Turkey and I fancy myself to be an honorary Turk by association.

Bringing up the rear was the walnut cake and ice cream, which nosed out the baklava as our choice for dessert. In hindsight, I think I’d go baklava next time, because the walnut cake was a bit of a let down after experiencing the one at Gato. This one was a little on the dry side and desperately needed the ice cream to give it the moisture it was lacking.

On the boozy end of things, there are several tasty, affordable wine options and some on the pricier side well. We went with the Burnello, more on the pricier end, and it was excellent. Additionally, they complemented our dessert course with a complimentary dessert wine, which I also enjoyed.

All in all, I liked Periyali, but not enough to rush back. There are droves of better Mediterranean restaurants in the city and two right in the Flatiron alone, Almayass and Ilili, granted both of those are more middle eastern then Mediterranean, but the lines are so blurred between the two that it’s hard to tell where the tzatziki ends and the cacik begins.

3 teeth

Astoux and Brun

27 Rue Félix Faure, 06400 Cannes, France • +33 4 93 39 98 94 • astouxbrun.com
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There are two or three Astoux and Brun’s. One is farther up the hill. One is more to the East (with black signage). And one is awesome. The one with the green signage right on the corner at the bottom of the hill near Old Cannes. Skip the other two. Trust me. Green means go.

Scratch that. Green means go CRAZY! Eat seafood like you are trying to deplete the ocean. It’s all so good. The shrimp, the oysters, the snails, the lobster, the branzino. You can’t miss.

And the energy of the place is a lot of fun. Go with a good group, order lots of rosé and then prepare to get finger lickin’ messy.

4 teeth

Bohemian

57 Great Jones St. New York, NY 10012 •  playearth.jp

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Similar to RAO’s, Bohemian enjoys a frustrating, yet cool exclusivity. You can’t just make a reservation. First you need to have already been here. But how is that possible? It’s like the chicken and egg quandary.

Simply put, you have to be invited by someone who was once invited themselves. So, now the big question is whether or not it’s worth all of the cavorting to get in.

Maybe. If you get off on feeling special and in the know, Bohemian easily checks that box as you walk down its long, nondescript hallway, past the butcher shop that faces the street, only to arrive upon a frosted glass door with a buzzer on it. You ring it and wait. Then, someone answers and asks if you have a reservation, and only after confirming the name will they buzz you in. It’s like the restaurant version of an underground sex dungeon. Not that I would know anything about that, but now I’m probably going to have quite the time convincing the wife of that.

Unfortunately, if you are going for the food, it doesn’t quite live up to expectations. Especially when you compare it to other elusive Asian-American fusion hotspots like Momofuku Ko or Pearl & Ash.

We started with the array of garden vegetables and fondue, served in a purposefully rustic bucket of ice next to a flaming ramekin of fondue. It seemed reminiscent of the way a meal starts at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, only Blue Hill actually manages to pull it off. These veggies were nothing of the sort. Quite tasteless actually. Thankfully the fondue resuscitated them as they were in desperate need of the due.

The oysters were good, but raw oysters are more a dimension of sourcing than they are culinary cred.

The “mini” burgers (pictured), while not all that mini were perfectly cooked and among the highs. But not anywhere near an Ultimate.

Another strong player was the bacon served with a gigantic honey, raisin crostini, which was key. Because once you put that salty bacon on that sweet crostini you know happiness is the truth.

And last but not least, the branzino. Probably the best thing of the night, but specifically VERY familiar to me as it is prepared in an extremely similar manner as a Jamie Oliver recipe that we make at home all the time, which I love. It’s baked with a medley of vegetables and in Bohemian’s case, with roasted garlic as well. It’s very good, but because I have it all the time at home, it was hard for me to get too excited about it.

I wish I had more jubilant praise to report, but when you are pulling in 4.5 knives on Yelp and closing your door to the masses, I think you have to be held to a higher standard. And currently, that standard is too high for Bohemian.

3 teeth

BLT Steak

106 E 57th St. New York, NY 10022(212) 752-7470bltsteak.com

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I’ve easily been to over a dozen steakhouses in the city and my clear favorite is BLT. Very hip décor. Good waiters- hostesses, not so much. You’d think they were hostessing the Playboy Mansion the way they cop a tude. But petty nits aside, BLT stands for Beef Lover’s Dream as far as I’m concerned. And no, I’m not concerned that I just used a “D” instead of a “T” because they rhyme and that’s not really the point anyway, now is it?

The point is that the food is just awesome. Lunch or dinner, you won’t be disappointed.  Right out of the gate, even the “bread” is somethin’ special- a parmesan popover. So friggin’ good I could make a meal of those alone! But not to be outdone, every cut of every steak I’ve had here is cooked to perfection, crisp on the outside, tender and juicy all over the place on the inside, served with an assortment of delicious sauces to enhance things even further – the red wine sauce is sinful- not that it needs it- sans sauce is just fine too, but if you’re go with one, that’s my reco.

I’ve even had their branzino, which is mighty impressive for a steakhouse. And their kobe steak sandwich for lunch was unbelievable. But you’ll have to take my word for it on that one, because they pulled it off the menu. Cue tears…

And while even the desserts are superb, choose to get nothing and you’ll still end things on a high note with their little, fresh-baked chocolate cookies. Better than most things you’ll find on other steakhouse dessert menus.

Oh, and let’s not forget the wine. A choice selection indeed. Discovered one of my favorite Pinots there, Seque. So good I bought a case from the vineyard when I got home.

5 teeth

Garo’s

Menemene Mh., 83. Sk, Göltürkbükü • (0252) 377 6171

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While Garo’s got the short end of the stick in terms of location in Turkbuku, they make up for it in mezes (Turkish small plates). Some of the best in town. The best of the bunch easily being the grilled octopus. They also do a nice zucchini blossom dolma and the levrek in mustard sauce (basically a branzino ceviche brined in mustard as opposed to citrus).

Others that make nice complements, but aren’t exactly the belles of the ball would be the mash with yogurt, the fresh feta and kovun (honeydew melon), the seaweed with garlic and the spicy red pepper and eggplant thing.

And then there’s the grilled whole fish, which you can choose right from the case. Usually we do as the locals and stick with levrek, but another solid choice is the laos. Skip the swordfish kebab. Although it’s perfectly cooked, it’s woefully shy on seasoning. But the net, net is that these guys know their fish, so whichever looks better and is size appropriate to your party, you really can’t miss here. It’s always fresh and always cooked to perfection.

While you’re busy getting your Turkish on, you might as well go all in and get yourself some raki (anise booze) to go with the meal. Most places serve Yeni or Tekirdag. But if you want to really pamper yourself, ask for Ala. It’s a very smooth, higher end, higher priced raki and it’s worth it. So smooth you can almost hear Sade singing with every sip. Well, that or you’re getting drunk because it goes down too damn easy.

Last but not least, dessert. Whatever you do, do NOT get the “homemade” baklava. It is embarrassingly bad. I’ve had better at airport restaurants and food courts. “Homemade” is apparently the dead giveaway, meaning AKA not made with filo dough. Meaning bok (shit). Better to stick with the pumpkin dessert when in season. It’s not amazing either, but it’s a solid good.

As for service, while friendly, it has trended a tad toward the snootier and snootier side as Turkbuku becomes more and more posh over the years. But compared to New York, they still have a long way to go.

3 teeth

MP Taverna

One Bridge St. Irvington, NY 10533 • (914) 231-7854

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Out of the 4 different restaurants that have been in this space over the last 8 years, I would place MP in a tie for second place. ONE (RIP) takes first quite handily, and coincidentally, the decor is actually the most similar to ONE compared to Solera & Day Boat (the other half of the tie).

The service was great. Quick, but never pushy. With some good recommendations.

But as for the food, I found it a bit hit and miss and meh. For example, the fried calamari was quite bland. The octopus, while good, was nothing all that special. The sliders were also a solid good, but again, nothing off the charts. And the dip assortment was also just okay, with the exception of the humus-type dip, which was my first bite to reach OMG status.

As for entrees, I found the lamb shank to also be quite bland. As was the simple branzino. But I did enjoy the Greek Paella, made with orzo and lamb sausage. A nice inventive twist on a Spanish stronghold.

Then, came dessert and yet another miss. The baklava is definitely a pass, and a bit of a crime for a higher end Greek restaurant. But fortunately, we also ordered the chocolate halva. WOW was that good. The nuttiness with the chocolate and ice cream- whoever made this should be promoted to executive chef and take the reigns on everything else.

Oh, and last but not least, the sangria- also, you guessed it, good- not great.

Sorry MP, I had much higher hopes for you, considering how busy you’ve been. But I just couldn’t help wishing ONE was still around.

2 teeth

Kouzzina

The Boardwalk • 2101 Epcot Resort Blvd. Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830(407) 939-5100 • disneyworld.disney.go.com/reservations

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Oddly enough, the second best restaurant at Disney just happens to be right next door to the first (Flying Fish Café). Yes, Kouzzina actually lives up to the hype. And I have to give it extra props, because as far as celeb chef restaurants go, most of them fall horrendously short of expectations. For example Bobby Flay’s Americain and Mario Batali’s Babbo. But Cat Cora finally manages to convert her celebrity into something worthy.

Right out of the gate you can tell you are in for a treat with the stuffed grape leaves and grilled shrimp to the creamy hummus and fresh pita. Even the Greek olive oil, with it’s peppery finish. All of the above are all great. But the true stars came next…

All three entrees were phenomenal. The shortribs with a glass of Russian River Pinot Noir. The Branzino with the chili oil- such a great blend of Mediterranean and Thai influences. And the pork- which I didn’t actually try, but my mother wolfed it down amidst a symphony of “oohs” and “mmms.”

But could Cat stick the landing? Would dessert live up to its predecessors? Indeed. The chocolate “lava” cake was incredible. Skip the raspberry ice cream is comes with though. It cheapens the dish, which is plenty good all by itself. The other dessert, the baklava, was also good, but very non-traditional. Done more like a spring roll (again, mixing Asian influences). This one, however, is just okay by itself, so I do recommend having it with the cinnamon ice cream to get it over the hump of just “eh.”

So, after such a glowing review I’m sure you are wondering why only 4 stars and not 5- and that is because the rest of the experience was lack luster. The service was absolutely atrocious. She was nice and well-meaning, but a terrible fit for such a good restaurant. She should be a server at Chili’s or Applebee’s. Not here.

And the other big miss is décor. Fortunately we forced our way to a table outside, so if you make a rezzy, be sure to request outside, because inside feels like a dining hall, woefully lacking anything that resembles what some might call “décor.”

So, the good news is, if you eat outside and you get a better server than we did, you are quite likely to have yourself a five star meal. At Disney, no less!

4 teeth