Emily

35 Downing StNew York, NY 10014 • (917) 935-6434 • pizzalovesemily.com
 

Having heard this name bouncing around the food scene for a while, amidst a symphony of oohs and ahhs, I felt it important to either validate or debunk the worthiness of such adulation. Located in former digs of the Blue Ribbon Bakery, Emily boasts a casual-cool décor, especially downstairs in the catacombs. Granted, if you like windows, the upstairs is nice well. But don’t think two floors of seating means you’ll be getting a table anytime soon. No, this place packs ‘em in. Fortunately, they keep a certain number of tables open for walk-ins though, and if you’re willing to sit at the bar, you can get to the grub even faster. Which is what we did.

Out of the gate, Emily impressed with an inventive sprout salad, made rich with buttermilk bleu cheese and made special with miso, cashews and pickled red onions. Best dish we had.

For pizza, we went with the namesake, the Emily, and while definitely good, it was in dire need of red pepper to give some heat to cut through the truffle, honey and cheese. Also, I found the crust to be tragically chewy and doughy. Definitely not a contender for Ultimate Pizza.

Same goes for the burger (pictured). I’ve had droves of people telling me this is the best in the city and I’m sorry you people, but you have no business making such wild claims if you aren’t a purest. Because in my book, no thin-patty burger EVER has any business being considered as  a “best burger,” any more than a deep dish pizza should ever be in the running as a “best pizza.” It’s about the MEAT man!!!  Jeez!!! Ranting aside, it’s actually pretty damn good, made with dry aged La Frieda beef, caramelized onions, American cheese and special sauce, all on a killer pretzel roll. But you still have to be smoking crack to call it the best in NYC, because even as good as it is, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Black Label.

Closing strong, Emily’s bread pudding sports a nice textural contrast, being both crispy and gooey at the same time, which equals yummy according to the Pythagorean Theorem. Or, at least that’s how I remember it. Granted I didn’t pay much attention back in high school.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the MOST impressive thing of the night, however- our neighbor at the bar. To say he was a large man is like calling Trump self-confident. Doesn’t quite capture the full depths of the situation. This man, eating alone, polished off an entire pizza- the same size that my wife and I, combined, didn’t even manage to finish and got a quarter of it to go. Then he downed the ENTIRE burger, which a slider it is not. And then, when he looked over and saw us enjoying the bread pudding, he ordered that too. One person. One sitting. One mighty show of human endurance.

Less mighty was Emily’s showing, because I found it to be a tad over-hyped. That said, it was still good, so I’m gonna give it a very strong three or barely a four. But since I’m ferocious about hype, you can probably guess where I leaned…

 

Advertisements

Cotton & Rye

1801 Habersham StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 777-6286 • cottonandrye.com
 

Billed as one of the top places to go according to Eater, Wifey and I hit this James Beard nominated, Vault wannabe (also a bank renovation), edge of town location, for their southern-with-a-twist (a la Husk) cuisine. Yes, a lot of sub-references on this one as it seems to be one of those places architected to be a success, right down to its ampersand.

Ampersand aside though, the meal began with a promising start marked by a pair of winners, the grilled Caesar salad and the Ultimate fried chicken wings sauced with honey, chili and sumac to help those babies soar like a mofo!

For entrees, Cotton & Rye stumbled a bit. The pork shoulder tagliatelle was a touch bland and in dire need of salt, pepper and parm. But the far greater disappointment came from the pork chop. Mostly because of the stratospheric recommendation from not one, but two different waiters, claiming unequivocally that this was hands-down the best pig chop in town (mainly predicated on the fact that it was sous vide). Which I suppose should’ve been my red flag, because more often than not it’s been my experience that sous vide is really code for “big disappointment,” chef’s always relying too much on the juices and not enough on the seasoning or accompaniments. Worse still, is that these waiters could not have been more wrong. A FAR superior chop exists less than a mile away at Elizabeth’s on 37th. I even asked the waiters if they had Lizzy’s chop before making such wild assertions, but neither of them had (yet, another red flag).

Dessert boded well though, with an apple crumble bread pudding. Two of my favorite things in one dessert. Kinda hard to fuck that one up.

So a little more work on the main event and I’d agree with Eater, but until then, head to The Grey if you truly want Savannah’s best.

Brick + Wood

1275 Post RdFairfield, CT 06824 • (203) 939-1400 • lovelifeandpizza.com

Mama Mia! I have to admit I was already pretty happy with the pies at Tarry Lodge in Westport, but after Brick & Wood I am a changed man. Granted Tarry is a lot easier to get into, because sadly Brick & Wood is no secret, which stands to reason once you sink your teeth into a slice of za (that’s pizza for all you non-Scrabble lovers out there). The sauce! The crust! So fresh and balanced and perfect. From plain to pepp and all the way up to fancy, like the GUMBA, billed in all-caps because it’s worth shouting about. Topped with a gorgonzola buratta (you read that correctly), that is so skillfully balanced so that the creaminess and stank live in harmony without either one overpowering the pie. A level of difficulty not to be taken for granted. Then they top it with spicy soppressata and cherry peppers to give some heat. Pair that up with a glass of their Troublemaker and you are indeed in trouble- or at least your waistline is.

Speaking of gut-busting good, the Kit Kat bread pudding is worth breaking your diet for. Hmm, perhaps that’s what they really mean with their “Gimmie a Break” jingle?

The only mortal dish of the lot, was the arugula salad with pecans and shaved parm. Which was still good, but a bit overdressed.

Also worth noting, service is very friendly and surprisingly on their game even amidst the rush. Which reminds me, they don’t take reservations so a word of advice if you don’t want to wait too long for a table, either go at an off hour or go as a couple and sit at the bar. Otherwise the wait will make you earn the meal. Fortunately, it’s very worth the wait.

Vivo

Universal CityWalk® – Orlando 6000 Universal Blvd. Orlando, FL 32819 • (407) 224-3663 • https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/things-to-do/dining/vivo-italian-kitchen/index.html?__source=ban.dfa.142900316;315030842;68637547

I know it’s ridiculous to expect much from a restaurant at Universal Studios, but with places like Flying Fish Café, The Brown Derby and Kouzzina over in Disney, I figured maybe the Yelpers were onto something. Well, more like “on something.”

And while the décor is quite stylish and the service is friendly, the food is exactly what one might expect. Overcooked short rib and pastas, so mushy it defeats the purpose that they apparently make it fresh every day.

It isn’t without it’s hits though. I found the fried calamari to be quite good. As was the bread pudding. But if you truly want great Italian, do yourself a solid and make a rezzy at Prato in Winter Park. Sure it’s a bit of a drive, but remember, you put this stuff in your body. Isn’t it worth it?

Oh! One last thing I almost forgot. If you should decide to eat here anyway, do NOT sit outside. There are speakers right next door that are so blaringly loud you can feel it in your ovaries. Even if you’re a man.

The Cottage

256 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-3701 • thecottagewestport.com

Oh dear my! This place is so friggin’ good it has me talking like an old lady from a Merchant Ivory flick. And I know it sounds crazy skeptical for such a snooty foodie to be dropping yet another 5 knifer in a small suburban town like Westport, but you’ve gotta taste it to believe it. Because it’s not me or my standards that have changed, it’s the game that has changed, and for whatever reason this tiny community of 26,000 has game out the wazoo, hence why I moved here.

Starting with good juju, The Cottage takes the place of another fantabulous restaurant, Le Farm (RIP). But as much as I would like to get all misty-eyed over its passing, The Cottage not only stepped in and carried that torch, they did it with the precision of a gold-medal-winning baton exchange. And then they threw a bucket of lighter fluid on the thing, because hot damn does this place burn bright!

Inside, it doesn’t look like they changed much in terms of the former digs. It’s still quaint and a touch rustic. In fact, many of the tables are so uneven I’d place your wine glass with caution or it’s likely to wind up on the floor.

Speaking of wine, they have a small, but decent selection. We went with the Tensley Syrah and it was perfect with our equally perfect meal. That said, if you’re fancying a cocktail instead, Cottage has skills there too.

Amongst the perfection, the Kushi oysters are my favorite way to start. They are light, sweet, refreshing and palate-cleansing. Not to mention friggin’ delicious with that ginger-yuzo mignonette! Plus, the town of Westport has a seafood vibe about it and this dish honors that swimmingly. Pun intended.

But to be fair, I’ve never had a Kushi I didn’t like. So, for appetizers that are more illustrative of the chef’s prowess, I’d say the crab toast is about as good as it gets, besting the already exemplary version at The Whelk and landing itself a firm Ultimate.

Even as good as the crab toast is, the scallion pancake, AKA “Okonomiyakia,” is every bit its equal. Made with pork belly and black garlic molasses.

And I’m not even remotely done yet with my swooning, because the seared foie gras with pineapple, crispy prosciutto, smoked macadamia nuts and butter toast blows them all away. In fact, it was so life-changingly good that my wife overcame her long-standing principles and said, “Ya know what? Fuck those geese,” as she sopped it up with that crack-tastic toast!

Another starter on the more decadent end of the spectrum would be the build-your-own wagyu beef buns. They are redonkulous! Served with a sriracha aioli, kimchi and thick-ass duck fat potato fries. Hells yeah!

The only mortal starter that I’ve found there is the fluke sashimi. It’s simply not worth your time compared to all of the other gems on the menu. And sure, they try to doll it up with habanero oil, pickled avocado, carrot and ginger ponzu, but the result is still the same. Pass.

Sadly, I am less experienced with their entrees, because I keep filling up on all of their damn, tempting-ass starters. But the one I did try was fantabulous. The duck fried rice is a thing of beauty, dressed with bok choy, maitake mushrooms and a sunny quail egg that mixes into the rice, complementing the savory duck meat like salt to caramel.

Speaking of sweets, The Cottage doesn’t let up there either. The Pavlova lives up to its name, making you drool like the dog you are and the bread pudding, as well as the dark chocolate pie, are like edible exclamation points at the end of a flawlessly written story.

The Whelk

575 Riverside AveWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0902 • thewhelkwestport.com

Having been to Le Farm (RIP) many, many years ago and loving it, I was pleased to learn that The Whelk was actually the mother ship. Plus, I had heard from just about everyone who lives within 50 miles of Westport that this is the best place to eat in town, so expectations were as high as the studio producers who thought Office Christmas Party was a good script.

But The Whelk delivers, hype and all. With its casual Cape Cod charm and equally warm service, I was sucked into being a convert faster than Vin Diesel, strapped to Usain Bolt, glued to a cheetah, duct taped to a rocket booster, wired to nitrous oxide packs.

A great deal of that being due to our adorable server who made us feel welcome, special and taken care of. What more could you ask for? Well, good food, of course, and The Whelk answered that call without a moment to spare, starting with some heavenly deviled eggs topped with fried oysters (pictured). They were literally amazeballs- ball-shaped and amazing. Oh, and an Ultimate in two categories; deviled eggs and oyster dishes.

And just as we were descending back to earth, up we went again with the scallop crudo and another Ultimate, which is also amazeballs, but not literally this time. Blessed with heat and blood orange, this place definitely knows how to handle its mollusks, which shouldn’t come as a shock I suppose considering the name of the establishment is a mollusk.

Another brilliant starter is the crab toast. Bright and lemony with the perfect hit of spice on the finish. Simple, but perfection.

For entrees, I highly recommend hake if it’s still on the menu by the time you go. It’s cooked like a boss, with a beautiful preparation that I won’t taunt you with because it was already gone by the second time we went, replaced by a trout with collard greens that didn’t quite fill the void left by the wonderful hake.

What is always there, however, is one of the best burgers I’ve had in a very long time, so if you’re not feelin’ the fish, you will not go hungry my friend.

The only mortal dish for me that I have discovered thus far (apart from the trout, which technically I didn’t order) would be the salt and pepper squid. I mean it’s good, but no better than any halfway decent fried calamari you could get a bagillion other places.

Capping things off on high, we ended the night with the white chocolate and cherry bread pudding, which if you’ve been following me for any length of time you know is my weak spot. But weakness aside, The Whelk finished strong. And while the Banana Bavarian is also good, it’s not even worth comparing it to the bread pudding, therefore I won’t.

The place packs ‘em in almost every night, for good reason, so be sure to make a reservation, go on an off night or an off hour, or prepare to wait. Fortunately it’s worth it, because as those before me suggest, it truly is the best restaurant in Westport. Hell, I think it gives Pearl and L&W in NYC a run for their money!

The Eating House

804 Ponce de Leon Blvd. Coral Gables, FL 33134(305) 448-6524 eatinghousemiami.com

Eating-House-Dirt-Cup

After seeing this chef, Giorgio Rapicavoli, kick some serious assticosha on Chopped, I have been wanting to go to one of his restaurants so bad I could taste it. And now, I am happy to say that I finally got the chance to actually taste it.

Inside, the space is very casual and cozy, and by cozy I mean small, so it fills up fast. But the lunch crowd is much more manageable making it ideal for walk-ins, so if you can’t seem to squeeze in for dinner, do the day.

What isn’t small here are the portion sizes. Everything serves four. Not by description, but by reality in no uncertain terms. Which I found rather odd for such a tiny place to be serving up such massive mounds of grub.

Of said grub, we kicked things off with a plantain and pork belly soup, served with grilled challah. Now, I ain’t no challah back girl, but let me just say that this soup was so ridiculous, that I would gladly head back for another bowl, even if that required airfare. Two of my favorite things on earth in one bowl?! Are you kidding?! This is an Ultimate among Ultimates!

But to sustain such great heights would’ve been nearly impossible, and so it was. Sadly. Trickling down the steps to heaven you will find a very good side of Brussels sprouts, but even as delicious as they are, I have to say I’m starting to get BS fatigue, because they’re now on every friggin’ menu these days and after having just had better at both Estadio in DC and Bruno’s Pizza in NYC, I’d have to give this the slightest of yawns.

Also falling in the good-but-not-great column would be the pork belly sliders. Especially after that brilliant use of pork belly in the soup, the bar was so incredibly sky high that there was virtually no winning. Also, they only serve two sliders amidst a mountain of mediocre waffle fries which has me scratching my head as to the lack of judgment with a presentation that you’d come to expect from an Applebee’s, not a chef du cuisine.

And then there was the ceviche. Served in a lime and coconut milk marinade with sliced avocado, corn nuts and grapes. Perhaps the most interesting of the also-rans, but again, the sum just wasn’t as impressive as the uniqueness of its parts.

And finally, for dessert, we chickened out of the much touted “Flower Pot.” Apparently it’s like a layered parfait topped with crumbled chocolate to look like dirt, piled into a flower pot and topped with a sprig of mint (pictured). Instead, we opted in favor of the only slightly smaller dessert, the apple bread pudding. It was probably the best thing since the soup, and if you’re a bread pudding fan like me, than you’ll be happy. That said, I do kinda wish we had gone with the Flower Pot for novelty sake.  Oh well, that’s what next time is for.

3 teeth

Walton’s Fancy & Staple

609 W 6th St. Austin, TX 78701(512) 542-3380 waltonsfancyandstaple.com

honey-bee-cake-delicious

I’m not really sure where the fancy is, because it’s definitely not in the décor. Not that it’s a shithole or anything, but fancy it ain’t. It’s your run of the mill counter service café with some prepared foods and several made-to-order options listed on huge boards overhead. Maybe they were going for irony?

As for the staple side of the equation, I think I get it. All of the dishes are your basic staples from sandwiches to French toast to shrimp and grits (a southern staple). But each of them has a little twist, which I suppose could be construed as “fancy,” but I still think that’s being generous with the term. Very caught up on this fancy thing as you can see. Lost a lot of sleep.

As for the “fancy” twists of which I speak, the shrimp and grits was actually the best I’ve ever had, fancied up with blackened shrimp placed over a bed of jalapeno, cheddar grits. It is a savory, spicy masterpiece.

The other fancied up dish was the crème brulee battered French toast, which was good, but not great. It’s just too damn big for its own good. It’s a fatal mistake I see time and time again. Restaurants all trying to get tricky with different batters, coatings, breads and portion sizes, when the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is to soak the bread through and through for fuck sake! How hard is it? Just do that and I could care less about the brioche, challah, raisin walnut, caramelized, bread pudding, burnt brown butter, cinnamon dusted, macerated apple topping.

Back on the plus side, their chai latte is pretty damn skippy.

3 teeth

 

Black Barn

19 E 26th St. New York, NY 10010(212) 265-5959 blackbarnrestaurant.com

black-barn

A unequivocal upgrade from SD26 (RIP), Black Barn slaps you in the face with energy the moment you enter, with its lively bar up front, adorned with sleek décor elements done in such a way that honors both the country and city, making the Osmonds proud. Especially in the main dining room in the back, where they really embrace the mix of design elements, complete with a framed out “barn” looming overhead. The only thing taking away from the vibe in a pretty big way is the tablet-style cocktail and wine list. It just cheapens the experience right as you sit down, making you feel like you’re in one of those iPad airport restaurants.

In terms of service, it was a bit spotty, proving to be noticeably lethargic on the bookends with both the cocktails and desserts taking an eternity. Then there’s the matter of our waiter forgetting all about delivering us a bread basket, probably because he was too busy delivering his table-side theatrically, obnoxious Shakespearean presentation of “The Menu.” This guy was so over the top we felt like we were being waited on by Charlton Heston in the Ten Commandments.

Fortunately for Charlton the cocktails were very good. The winner of the two I tried was The Bad Seed, made with Buttered Corn American Whiskey and cayenne pepper dust. It was spicy and buttery in all the right places. Yes, it’s good to be bad. The other cocktail was the refreshing Cider House Cup, served in a copper mug, which seems to be all the rage as of late. Made with Apple Jack, fruit and lime juice. It’s a nice yin to the yang of The Bad Seed.

For starters the Beau Soleil oysters were oysters. Fresh, but nothing spectacular. Served with all the usual suspects from lemon to vinegar to cocktail sauce. The seared foie gras with green apples was also just okay, missing the broad side of a, well, barn, with a dish that should’ve easily been a layup had they just given it that hit of sweetness that is normally so germane to the dish. But weakest of all was probably the pumpkin salad, which was so unimpressionable that it might as well have never even been served to us and I doubt anyone would’ve ever noticed.

On the plus side, the mushroom toast with tallegio was good. Not what I would call it incredible, but amidst the losers it was served with, it was a beacon of hope. And speaking of hope, we finally held out long enough for that forgotten breadbasket I mentioned earlier. But once it arrived, it quickly became apparent as to why they had forgotten. Because it’s pretty forgettable. Although I will hand them the award for the most conflicted spread ever served with bread. A pat of butter topped with balsamic vinegar, sitting in a pool of olive oil, surrounded by roasted garlic cloves. Yes, all of that and yet it still failed to wow.

Sadly, the entrees didn’t fare much better. The scallops were just okay, only made mildly better by the potatoes they are served over. But compared to the amazing scallop dish at The Clocktower across the park, I wouldn’t wipe my ass with these. Not that you should ever wipe your ass with mollusks, that’s just gross, not even sure why you brought it up?

The rib eye with chimichurri was also just okay. The meat itself was nothing special at all, so it was in dire need of something to submerge it in, hence why they serve it with the chimichurri, I suppose. But even that wasn’t enough to mask the inadequacies of the dish. Nor was the cayenne popover, which was a nice touch, props for that one, but it’s obviously a borrowed concept from BLT and not quite at the same level, nor size. Still, I appreciated the effort.

And just when the barn was about to be set fire, the best entrée of the night came in to save the day, the sweet potato ravioli with bacon. Not only was it good, it was crazy good. Then, they followed that up with two killer desserts, the rum soaked bread pudding, which was my favorite, as you can imagine, and the other were the salted caramel ice cream sandwiches which were pretty dope as well, to use a horribly dated expression that I’m hoping to bring back into style. The weakest of the three desserts were the warm chocolate brownies. They’re not exactly bad per se, but when you can get a better brownie at Pret, it kinda makes it seem ridiculous to pay over 10 bucks for something inferior.

Such a shame. I had higher hopes for Black Barn. Sure, it had its spots of brilliance, but they were lost in a sea of too much darkness. Or should I say “blackness?” Yet I still stand by what I said at the beginning. It’s definitely an upgrade from the previous tenant, even if the misses outnumber the hits.

2 teeth

Harper’s

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

thumb_275

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