Rothbard Ale & Larder

90 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • 203) 557-9666 • rothbardct.com

Rothbart is not a bar. Nor is it a restaurant. It is an Eastern European godsend filled with beer that flows like happiness dipped in gold and dishes that will have you thinking you’re in Prague, not Westport.

The setting alone couldn’t be more perfect really, with it’s castle-esque, basement dining room off the corner of an alley (of the charming variety). Which proves to be a living testament to just how good this place is, because it’s plenty busy for a place that isn’t that easy to find. In fact, the only reason we went there was because the wait was ridic at Bar Taco. And I’m so glad it was!

Beyond having kickass tripel beer on tap and in bottle, the bartender Adam is the perfect blend of sarcasm and wry- yet Johnny on the spot with his service and the recos.

Of the starters, I think I’d give it to the cannibal toast by a nose. Essentially a deftly balanced beef tartar spread over toast and over and out. We horked it down so fast I’m lucky I still have all ten fingers.

After that, an extremely close second would be the mussels, cooked in a beer-based broth that rivals any white wine version I’ve ever had.

The pretzel is also a solid option, but not by comparison to its predecessors. And truth be told, if it’s pretzel you want, then save yourself for the bratwurst platter. It is everything right with this world all on one cutting board. A beautifully charred brat, bursting at the seams with flavor. A ramekin of tallegio, a pile of cornichon, a dollop of grain mustard and last but not least, a pretzel roll that is every bit as good as the solo act, only with this dish you can doll it up into a bratwurst sandwich worthy of the gods.

The other starter I would giddily recommend is the deviled egg appetizer. Not quite as impressive as the ones over at The Whelk, but that’s a mighty high bar to be fair. These are topped with pickled pearl onions and trout roe and are hot damn delicious.

The only real miss for me is the chicken schnitzel. It’s really quite bland and lacking the accouterments to make it interesting. Essentially, it’s like ordering one gigantic chicken finger that covers your entire plate.

But getting back to the wowzers, be sure to get the salted apple pie as your closer. It is deceptively simple, yet magnificent in every metric imaginable.

This is not the place for the faint of heart, however. So if you’re on a diet and looking for a light bite, you really shouldn’t come here unless you’re willing to fall off the wagon. Hard.

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Quality Italian

57 W 57th St. New York, NY 10019 • (212) 390-1111 •  qualityitalian.com

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The name of this restaurant, and its sibling Quality Meats, might be the least alluring names in the restaurant industry other than maybe Fatburger. It reeks of defensiveness. “Ohhh, so you have to say that you’re high ‘quality,’ which obviously means you’re not.

Well, doubters be silenced, because the name is not defensive. It’s accurate. And it’s also quite nice. Again, nothing you would ever glean from a name that evokes images of neon yellow starbursts, but the décor really is well done. Cool and industrial with its exposed cement ceiling (which does make it a bit noisy) and iron beams, mixed with beautiful lighting fixtures, glass walls of wine and rich mahogany.

And speaking of wine, they have a terrific sommelier who buys exceptional wines in such large quantities that they can offer them at incredible prices. For example, we enjoyed a 2009 Brunello at two-thirds the price of what it should’ve been.

Our server, a poor man’s Galifanakis, was also very good, sporting a touch of that New York bite, while still managing to be very attentive and good with the suggestions.

Delving into the menu, which almost reads like part steakhouse, part Italian, I went with the most hyped up dishes I could, while stealing bites off of other plates at my table.

Of those hyped dishes the one I was the most skeptical about was the sausage and pepper toast. It didn’t even sound all that great on paper, like going to see a movie with a boring trailer. Always scary. Scary delicious that is. Sort of a take on a Chicago style hotdog or bratwurst, loaded with onions and hot peppers. Hard to go wrong there.

Unfortunately it was easier to go wrong elsewhere. Two of the other three starters at the table were sub par. The breaded oysters were disappointingly bland for something so loaded up with caloric goodies.

And the shrimp crudo was also a bit of a snore. Granted it tried to be something more, with the use of an herb infused marinade, but it just didn’t impress. On the plus side, the kale salad did.

The next hyped dish to arrive was the dry aged porterhouse agnolotti, and while it is most certainly good, it was the weakest of the three hyped dishes. Cooked al dente and loaded with wonderful flavors from the meat, it was undercut but dryness. And when I compare it to the likes of Manzo’s meat filled agnolotti, it is merely an apprentice in the presence of a master.

As for the non-hyped dishes, the bucatini with clams is very good and I highly recommend. Also served perfectly al dente, but done in a nice red sauce with some kick. The other was a filet cooked perfectly medium rare with a nice char on it, sidled next to a crispy bone marrow presentation that definitely made every bite of the meat sing.

But ohhh the sides. To even call them “sides” is actually a slight, because they are anything but supporting roles, they are Ultimates. And nobody puts baby in a corner, so move them away from the edges of the table- both the corn créme brulée and the Tuscan fries belong center stage. The corn, just as the name implies, is the love child between cream of corn and créme brulée, playing it faithful right down to the hard caramel top. So good you’ll want to shoot it into your veins. And as for the fries, they’re thick cut, with a nice dusting of herbs, salt and pepper. Crispy on the outside and warm and fluffy everywhere else.

Ending strong, our waiter braved the potential comparison to Marc Forgione recommending the s’mores dessert, and while Marc’s still reigns supreme, Quality Italian does a quality job. Served two ways, first as a chocolate tart with graham cracker crust and marshmallow topping, and second as an ice cream. Both are good, but I recommend eating them as separates, not together.

Not without its misses. Not without its hits. But the hits won the day, even in the face of surmounting hype, which brings us to the finally tally of…

4 teeth

 

Hot Diggity Dogs

947 W Wellington Ave. Chicago, IL 60657 • (773) 472-5446

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Being strapped with the dubious moniker of “Second City,” there has always been an unhealthy degree of competitiveness between Chicago and New York, at least from Chicago’s perspective. Not sure anyone in New York sees it as much of a contest.

But to be fair, Chicago does win its battles here and there. For example in terms of professional basketball teams I would say The Bulls have the Knicks beat quite badly in historical terms.

The other arena in which Chicago trounces New York would be the hot dog. For all the reasons that New York pizza bests Chicago, it is almost the complete inverse of logic when it comes to dogs. On the pizza front, less is actually more. When you pile too much crap on top you lose two of three greatest components of a pie- the sauce and the crust. I mean sure the cheese is the headliner, but when you pile on five cubic tons of it, you no longer taste anything else and it becomes too much of one note. And therein lies the genius of the Chicago dog, complexity.

Go to Papaya King or any other lauded New York hot dog icon and you will quickly see that once again, New York tries to keep it simple. But the thing is, hot dogs aren’t exactly what one would call complex or interesting (this is excluding bratwurst, Italian sausages, etc.). They are nothing more than blended up animal parts in log form. And I’m sorry, but French’s, Heinz and a little kraut aren’t about to turn the gourmet tides.

Enter the Chicago style dog. Like at Hot Diggity, a little stand that used to be a stone’s throw off of the Magnificent mile serving something equally magnificent. A dog piled high with hot peppers and onions and pickles and squash and zucchini. I mean just one look at this bun of gloriousness and it will change you on the spot. Making New York dogs look more like a severed finger in a bun by comparison. And just wait until you taste it. Your mouth has no idea what it’s about to learn about itself.

4 teeth

NOPA

560 Divisadero St. San Francisco, CA 94117 • (415) 864-8643nopasf.com

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Great space and vibe. Contemporary, airy and open. Lots of energy. Even at 2am. And just about the only place open after midnight in SF to get a bite to eat. But not just a bite- a pretty damn good bite. The flat bread starter was awesome and the pork chop was stellar. Perfectly seasoned and perfectly cooked. Solid beer and wine list. The only miss was the bratwurst, but what can you expect so far from Wisconsin?

Service was also friendly and attentive, to which I give added kudos, after all, at 2am I would imagine that not only are you tired, but you are also tired of dealing with inebriated customers. So, to be as pleasant as she was is admirable. Well, that or I was just too drunk to notice.

4 teeth