The Ultimate Duck

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Cask & Larder – Orlando, FL

There is nothing quite like a Christmas ham, or should I say, there used to be nothing quite like a Christmas ham until Cask & Larder created their Christmas Miracle, the Duck Ham. Yes, naughty never tasted so nice. Faithfully emulating the pig that inspired it, the duck version, like any good apprentice, surpasses the master. Guess you could say it is the ultimate “Angry Birds” revenge. Served over a bed of nutty faro, the contrast between sweet and savory and earthy is like getting everything your mouth had on its wish list.

Elan – New York, NY

As if it weren’t bad enough that the duck muscled in on pork’s turf with the Duck Ham (above), now the bird is going after the cow. Perhaps this is retribution for the long-running Chick Fil A campaign? Well, whatever the reason, Elan’s duck & foie gras burger puts about 98% of your cow burgers in the city to shame, save the Black Label and the Bash. Admittedly it’s more of a hoity-toity burger, but if hoity-toity tastes like this, who gives a cow’s ass? Also, if you’re really into self loathing or simply find that you’ve been too healthy lately and want to swing the pendulum in the other direction, I highly recommend getting it with the Bearnaise sauce and a fried egg, coz you’re gonna die anyway, might as well do it with a smile on your face, because as the famous Long Island philosopher Billy Joel once said, “Only the Good Die Young!”

Mizuna – Denver, CO

There is an old saying, “Fuck a Duck.” And albeit crass, I finally understand its true meaning, because if ever there were a duck I would consider for such a bestial act, it would probably be this one. Granted it’s also dead so I suppose I’d be committing necrophilia at the same time. Oh my, has this review gone off the rails. I started with Christmas and now I’ve devolved into doubling down on sexual deviance. Well, getting back to it (assuming I haven’t already lost you), this duck, served with with foie gras dirty rice, is a Cajun masterpiece like no other, with the two poultry-born indulgences teaming up to make a buttery counterbalance to the spicy grains. It might just be the best thing a duck has achieved since Daffy.

 

 

 

NOLA

24 Market Sq. Pittsburgh, PA 15222(412) 471-9100nolaonthesquare.com

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No, not the one actually in NOLA. The one in Pittsburgh. And sadly there’s no relation. Emeril has nada to do with this one. That said, strangely enough, this one held its own for a place not exactly born on the Bayou.

Inside, the décor is heavily influenced by that Memphis-meets-garish 80’s style with bright blues and purples mixed with vibrant triangular details that seem to make no sense other than to scream “Rules? We don’t need no stinkin’ rules!” Of which I beg to differ. But cutting them some slack, I get the theme. I mean, after all, it’s not like Mardi Gras is laced with subtleties. But apart from the walls and the dated ambiance, the service is friendly and lightning quick having us, a party of five (without the parental tragedy), in and out in under 30 minutes during the height of the lunchtime rush.

And in those 30 minutes they managed to pack in a few head-turners like the kale salad with chunks of cantaloupe, Cajun sunflower seeds and ricotta salata all dressed in a grilled watermelon vinaigrette.

Or better still, the turkey Cubano, piled high with warm roasted turkey breast, home brined pickles, Jarlsberg, sweet pepper jam and creole mustard. I’m not too sure how Cajun a Cubano is, but I’m pretty damn certain it was fabano. And so were the generously seasoned fries served with it, but be sure to ask for their honey mustard to dip them in. It’s homemade and homazing.

But then NOLA pulled a NO-NO when it came to the highly recommended blackened catfish, a dish I normally love the whiskers out of. But this one lacked the true kick any self-respecting blackened dish should have. And while it might’ve been deemed spicy by local standards, it is a true bottom-feeder amongst dishes by the same name.

All in though, I have to give NOLA props. Not necessarily on its Cajun cuisine per se, but for the little creole influences that yielded dishes way better than I ever expected from Steel City.

3 teeth

Momofuku Ko

163 1st Ave. New York, NY 10003 (212) 500-0831momofuku.com

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If I could give it 6 knives I would (which I suppose I can, it’s my blog after all, but that would require I go back into photoshop, add more categories- it’s a process). And I would give it this rating mostly because the level of difficulty was so high, having to live up to such massive hype and ballooned expectations. So, for it to not disappoint is a feat in itself.

This is not to say that Ko is flawless by any stretch, but it’s faults are simply overshadowed by its screaming successes. For example one nit would be the décor, or the lack thereof. It is as basic as basic gets. A lot like Pearl Oyster bar back in the day, before they expanded. Primarily a wood bar with twelve uncomfortable stools. But to be fair, it’s also part of its theme, and charm. It’s the lack of expensive real estate and lavish decor that allows them to offer a world-class meal at $100 per person.

The other nit, was the service. While they are extremely friendly and helpful, the first time I went they were a touch too aggressive with plate removal and a bit overwhelming at times with the delivery of courses. Sometimes placing  4 and 5 at a time in front of you. Which, if you become aware of it, and I was, detracts from the experience. Fortunately upon my second visit they must’ve gotten the message from my Yelp review (kidding!) and were significantly better about it.

But with nits aside, it is definitely an experience worth every last penny. And one I will HAPPILY return for (and did), regardless of their minor transgressions.

Now for the things that rocked my world. Of the dozen or so courses between both outings, these are the ones that reached god-like status (many of which are Ultimates):

  1. The Cajun inspired crawfish soup with orange and brioche
  2. The soft boiled egg with caviar served along side fresh baked sourdough and radish butter (also Ultimate bread & butter)
  3. The agnolotti with tofu and sweet corn (Ultimate tofu dish)
  4. The honeydew melon cold soup with avocado and macadamia nuts (Ultimate cold soup)
  5. The shitake mushroom soup amuse bouche
  6. The Halibut with ??? – sorry, I was tad inebriated on sparkling Saki by this point

So, that’s it. Stop reading and start clicking away online to get a reservation. It’s a pain in the ass trying, but your mouth will kiss you for it.

5 teeth