Oak & Almond

544 Main AveNorwalk, CT 06851 • (203) 846-4600 • oakandalmond.com
This might just very well be the best restaurant in the world… that is adjacent to a DMV. A dubious distinction by all accounts, but don’t let that sway you, because even if it weren’t right next door to the DMV, it would still be pretty damn good. So if you’re in the area, pounce. And if you’ve just spent an infuriating day at the DMV, double pounce.

The setting is surprisingly nice considering its locale, although it’s not a place I would propose or anything. That said, it’s set far enough away from the road and the DMV parking lot to make you feel like you are elsewhere.

But what really transports you is the food. From get go, you know they’re the real deal when they serve you their homemade, fresh-baked bread with a whipped butter-like cream thing that is dangerously habit-forming.

And the app-e-teasers proved strong as well. My favorite being the fungi flatbread (pictured). This pie is legit. Doing CT Pizza culture proud. A close second was the buratta, which was melt-in-your mouth creamy, drizzled with balsamic and served up with beefsteak tomatoes and perfectly thin, crisp crostini, just strong enough to provide textural contrast with the buratta, but thin enough so as not to overpower it and let it be the star. A close third for me would be the octopus, just missing the second slot because it was a touch overcooked. But the preparation was wonderful. A mix of fave beans, peas, dill yogurt, fennel, potatoes and chorizo, all drizzled with a kicking’ vinaigrette.

The only miss for me was the salmon tartar, significantly lacking in compared to its bunkmates.

For entrée, I went with the lamb burger. Not sure why, because I was already pretty damn full by this point, but perhaps it’s because I’m like a dog and would eat myself to death if you’d let me. Pressing on, I managed to hork about two thirds of it down. But like the octopus, I do have to say it was also over-cooked. That said, also like the octopus, the balance of flavors made up for a lot with the tzatziki and the olive aioli.

But as good as it is, I’m not suggesting you make a special trip just to go here. I mean it’s still right next to the DMV for Christ’s sake! But, if you happen to work nearby, or be in the area, you could do a lot worse. And if you just failed your driver’s license exam, it’s a nice place to lick your wounds.

Consider it a VERY strong three knifer, trending four when you adjust for DMV proximity.

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Eden Roc Grill – Hotel du Cap

Boulevard John Fitzgerald Kennedy 06160 Antibes, FR • r+33 4 93 61 56 63 •  https://www.oetkercollection.com/destinations/hotel-du-cap-eden-roc/restaurants-bars/

Built in 1869 as sanctuary for writers in seek of inspiration, Eden Roc suffices. I say this with heavy doses of understatement because by all accounts Du Cap is a stunner. Like a mini version of Versai, nestled on the shores of a majestic Mediterranean cove. And while the hotel is a veritable feast for the eyes, the restaurant is regrettably not a feast for the mouth.

But I suppose that’s not why people flock here. They do so to feel special, for the view and the lavish opulence. But this is food blog and I’m sorry to say that you can get the exact same experience at Chateu de la Chevre D’or in Eze without having to compromise on the food. Whereas, if you ask me, Eden Roc is basically a nicer version of the Hotel Belle Rives down the rue.

In terms of food, the risotto with leeks was passable, but slightly flavorless. Granted, that was much more forgivable than the sea bass, which was overcooked and dry. And to be fair, even the bread and olive oil they served at the start of the meal was a big whatevs.

Thus, if it is a gastronomic feat you are looking for, keep heading East on A8 until you reach Eze. But if you’d rather gorge on architecture and affluence, you could do a lot worse.

Mercato

352 W 39th StNew York, NY 10018 • (212) 643-2000 • mercatonyc.com

Mercato is located in a very weird area by all accounts, so there’s virtually no reason to go there. And after reading this review, there’s even one less reason than that.

Sure, the décor is cute, but the service is not. In fact, it’s kinda frustrating, because they disappear on you, they don’t listen and they are terrible with the recommendations. Plus, they are arrogant, acting as if they are serving up the second coming. Well, I have news for them, only one out of seven dishes was even just okay, making it the worst hit ratio I’ve seen in New York in a very long time. How Yelper’s gave this four stars is everything wrong with Yelp and why I left to start this blog in the first place.

As for the okay dish, it’s the rigatoni, but only if you blanket the thing with black pepper, crushed red pepper and parmesan. I’d go into more detail and list some of the other dishes not to get, but that would be pretty much all of them. From the stale bread on the table to the bland wine to the olives to the starters and entrees, it was lineup filled with more misses than the Three Blind Mice playing tag. Spare yourself the disappointment unless slimy octopus and airplane quality food are your thing, because Mercato is a resounding one knifer.

IMARA

Eppendorfer Weg 186 – 20253 HamburgGermany • +49 40 42918080 • restaurant-imara.de
 

I found Imara to be surprisingly empty for a Friday night, because the Aladdin-esque vibe is actually kinda cool and the food, for the most part, is very good. It’s also a great place for large parties, particularly on short notice, primarily because few people know about it, I suppose?

On the flipside, I’m guessing the reason it’s so empty is the service- painfully slow on the drinks, yet painfully fast when it comes to the tapas- like eat or die fast! So, don’t be fooled by the size of the ginormous tables, because they disappear beneath an army of plates faster than you can say dankeshen.

The best things IMNSHO are the spicy shrimp (so good we ordered seconds… and thirds… and fourths… and I’m not exaggerating). Other crowd pleasers were the bacon wrapped dates and plum, the spinach rolls and the lamb rolls with yogurt sauce. I also dug the mini lamb tagines, forgiving the fact they weren’t served covered.

Misses for me were the horribly dry lamb kebabs and the lame bread with tapenade.

Lastly, I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention the bizarre urinal situation. And trust me, it’s not lost on me that this is the second time I’ve brought up urinals in my reviews of Hamburg restaurants alone, but bare with, because it’s worth it. You see, regardless of the fact that there are three urinals, you basically have to go one at a time unless you like touching strangers while you pee, because they are tightly nestled into a corner, so closely together that you’d have to be thinner than Trump’s alibi with Stormy Daniels to not be rubbing shoulder to shoulder with the dude next to you. Now THIS must be the real reason why the place is so empty!

Le Turtle

177 Chrystie StNew York, NY 10002 • (646) 918-7189 • leturtle.fr

I am shell-shocked. Get it? But seriously, I was not expecting this place to be anywhere near as fantabulous as it was. Charming the pants off me from the moment I stepped through the door with its small, casual meets quaint dining room, down to Earth service and killer grub. Almost reminds me of Pearl & Ash (RIP), one of my top 5 favorites in the city.

So how did I love thee? Let me count the ways. One, the bread. I know it’s six friggin bucks, which is absolutely absurd, made only worse once you see what that six dollars actually buys you- a small hunk of bread with some weird, green spread next to it. But trust me, once you take a bite with that killer wasabi spread, your bitching and moaning will turn into patting yourself on the back and ordering seconds.

Another simple starter that will blow your socks off is the charred broccoli salad. So much depth of flavor and yet as basic as it gets. And speaking of basics, the classic Cacio e Pepe (cheese and pepper) is nailed like Bob the Builder on meth with a twin-barrel nail gun and something to prove.

Better still was the oxtail risotto which was so rich it will probably benefit from Trump’s new tax cuts. Even the Whole Sasso Chicken (pictured) was quite impressive from flaming presentation to palate. Far more of a crowd-pleaser than Le Coq Rico, and half the price.

But as good as everything was, the best two things of the night were the scallops and the dorado. Both flawlessly cooked and magically prepared in a way that celebrated the flavors of the fish, while also showcasing the chef’s creativity and command of ingredients.

As we sailed toward the glorious promised land of five knives, sadly twas not to be as Le Turtle stumbled. The foie gras, while decent, comes with a stark warning – our waitress told us it was seared and it was actually terrine. Major issue for me and she should’ve comped the dish because I wouldn’t have ordered it had I known.

More egregious still, were the lame desserts of which they only offered two and neither were good. For shame! If you’re going to have such a small dessert menu at least make sure one of them is worth it! But hey, not even Lebron hits every shot, so I will not only forgive Le Turtle, I will return. As fast as a hare.

Gusto 101

101 Portland St. Toronto, ON M5V 2N3 • (416) 504-9669 • gusto101.com
 

I’ve never taken a course in gusto before, but had I known the lessons were so delicious I would’ve majored in it. That’s Gusto 101. A crash-course on solid restauranteuring. From it’s open loft, hipster vibe to its tantalizing bread wall that dares you not to order it, I was sucked in like a ball of lint into a vacuum cleaner.

And damn is it good. So be sure not to heed the advice of your parents and do indeed fill up on the bread. It’s very worthy. That said, you might want to leave room for the grilled octopus because it is as remarkable in the belly as it is on the eyes (pictured). The presentation is bar none, like a painting on a wood cutting board canvas with earthy roasted potatoes and vibrant dollops abound of every sort of puree one can imagine. It is truly exceptional.

Whereas the kale salad is much more on the pedestrian side. It’s good mind you, but compared to the other things I had, you can tell this place is capable of so much more. In fact, the only reason I’m staying cautious with 3 knives is due to my limited sampling. Need to go back. Soon. Please.

Underwest Donuts

2 Pennsylvania Plz New York, NY 10121 • (347) 952-0079 • underwestdonuts.com

 

Brace yourselves Underwest fans, because things are about to go South. I know it’s bad form to bitch about a donut, after all, it’s sugary bread, what’s to bitch about? Well, hype for one. I mean, I haven’t fallen this far from the hype tree in a while. What am I missing? Is it because it has West in the name that somehow people think there’s an affiliation with Westworld and therefore must be brilliant?

Regrettably, about the only thing these donuts have in common with the hit HBO series is that when you’re done, it’s not quite as satisfying as you would’ve hoped.

I tried several different flavors too, strawberry, helva and brown butter, but it pains me to say that they were imperceptibly different from one another, each tasting like a bag of sugar with food coloring. I honestly think Dunkin’, Krispy Kreme and even Entenmann’s are better options. And cheaper.

But if it’s fancy dough you crave, try Peter Pan in Brooklyn or The Doughnut Plant in multiple Manhattan locations. Both are amazeballs and make Underwest seem underwhelming by comparison.

Salsamenteria di Parma

86 Rue Meynadier, 06400 Cannes, France • +33 4 93 99 66 67 • salsamenteriadiparma.com
 

At the bottom of the hill just before you officially enter “Old Cannes” there is wonderful new Italian restaurant that specializes in transcendent charcuterie (pictured). In fact, that’s kind of their big thing. In fact, there’s not much else on the menu with the exception of salads and bruschetta. And cheeses, of course.

But in its simplicity lies its genius. To quote the great four-legged philosopher Baloo, “Look for the bare necessities. The simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife. I mean the bare necessities. Old Mother Nature’s recipes. That brings the bare necessities of life.” That there is some sage wisdom from a bear, because their parma bruschetta with honey is a thing of beauty. The tomato and pesto bruschetta is also quite nice, but challenging to keep those little grape tomato slices on the bread and not in your lap.

The charcuterie was also quite impressive, so I’m guessing they know how to source their hog. Which shouldn’t come as a shock, I suppose, considering a bifurcated pig is their logo and themed décor.

Salads, however, do not appear to be their thing, serving it undressed and underwhelming. Luckily they made up for it handsomely with a crazy chocolate sausage dessert. What?! Yes. Chocolate sausage. For desert. It is stupid good. Almost like a cookie, but with the consistency of helva. It’s kinda hard to describe, but trust me, it’s VERY easy to wolf down.

Not sure I would ever choose this place for a full-up dinner, but for lunch or a snack or a light dinner with a bottle of wine and lots of goodies- it’s hard to beat it.

Pearl at Longshore Restaurant & Bar

260 Compo Rd SWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-6260 • pearlatlongshore.com

Four!!!! That’s the knife count I’m giving, because it is very seldom that country club food is ever this good. Not even remotely. But once again, Westport manages to buck suburban expectations to show the world that you can have your crab cake and eat it too.

Like most country clubs the setting is a stunner, after all, you’re usually sitting amidst an immaculately landscaped golf course. But very few clubs are on the ocean, overlooking the water. Which decidedly takes things up a notch as you sit on the outdoor patio, overlooking a sailing class as they practice in the channel between there and Saugatuck Island. Also, a little know secret, Westport is apparently where Great Gatsby was inspired, looking across the Long Island Sound to the houses on the other shore. And while I sat there having my brunch, I must admit, I felt pretty great.

Things did start off a little rocky, however, with poor service and the Nutella cinnamon buns that tasted a lot like Pillsbury. Not that I have anything against the Dough Boy, but when I go out to a restaurant I expect them to up the game over things my kids could make.

But after that, Pearl went on a tear. The warm, fresh-baked bread and olive oil was so good you could tell it was the start of something special. Then came the Maine lobster benny which was absolutely superb! The eggs, runny, the potatoes spicy and the lobster…lobster-y?

The egg white frittata was also delish, although a bit inconsistent. My wife’s was loaded with all sorts of goodies and full of flavor. Whereas my mother’s was anemic with ingredients and the lesser of the two. So if you get gipped, I’d send it back for a do-over.

The French toast is also really good, soaked like a baller, dusted with confection and berries and hard to resist wolfing it down before anyone asks for a bite.

The only miss for me was the Belgian Waffle. It’s pretty pedestrian compared to the other options.

As for dinner, I haven’t actually been yet. Only for drinks, but watching some of the dishes go by, I have very high hopes.

La Perla

Old Mutual Building, Beach Rd, Sea Point, Cape Town, 8005, South Africa • +27 21 439 9538 • laperla.co.za

If you should ever find yourself in Cape Town and you are staying at the Belmond Mount Nelson Hotel, affectionately known as “The Nelly” and realistically known as “an old folks home,” do NOT ask them for restaurant recommendations because they will send you to places like this.

La Perla is a tourist trap located near the water, offering little more than friendly service that knows how to cater to visitors like myself and a view of the water. But friendly service in Cape Town is fairly common and sadly they didn’t have the food to back them up.

It starts off promising, however, with a decent bread basket and a capable beef carpaccio that will lull you into thinking you are in for a treat. But then the flavorless caprese salad comes and you realize you’re not in Kansas anymore.

And then everything turns South with a seafood platter that is impressive in size only. To give you an idea of just how big this thing is, it could handily feed 10 people without any other course accompanying it. So don’t let them oversell you on it, because it is a waste of food and money. Not to mention it depletes the ocean’s crustacean population.

Also be wary of anyone who tells you that he linguini with clams is the way to go. Unless you are going to spit out, I suppose. I’ve had a Lean Cuisine version that rivals it.

Shockingly, as a closer, the chocolate cake was actually killer good. Less shocking, however, is that the pineapple coconut dessert was par for the course.