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.

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Nico Osteria

1015 N Rush StChicago, IL 60611 • (312) 994-7100 • nicoosteria.com

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Nico is probably much better for lunch or dinner than it is for breakfast, so to be fair, please take this review with a huge grain of salt, after all, I had plenty to spare considering how insanely salty my eggs were. Between the prosciutto and capers I think my blood pressure rose a good 50 points on the spot, not to mention the salt they probably used in the dish itself. It was so strong I had to scrape off all of the mix-ins and just ate the eggs by themselves so that my arteries didn’t pop like water balloons.

On the plus side, the orange juice and the tea were both good and the décor is chic enough to hold up to the Thompson hotel it calls home. As for service, it was a touch non-attentive considering I was only one of two people in the restaurant.

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Bistro Bis

15 E St NW Washington, DC 20001(202) 661-2700bistrobis.com

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Located in George Hotel this is a great option for those who want convenience of location without sacrifice on awesome. The décor is very nicely done, as one might expect from the chain. Elegant and classic, yet somehow also modern.

As for the food, I kinda blame out waitress for getting us off on the wrong foot, claiming the steak tartar with quail egg and a porcini mushroom aioli, to be the best she’s ever had. Obviously she’s never been to Manzo in New York or Pastis in Cannes, because both of those destroy Bis’ very lame attempt at an Ultimate. As John Bender from the Breakfast Club would say, “Not even close, Bud!”

Now what she should’ve recommended was the seared foie gras over a hazelnut pain perdu with pickled rhubarb and spiced rhubarb gastrique. It was so friggin’ yum it almost restored my faith in Capital Hill… almost.

The other dish our waitress could’ve gone with was the octopus. My second fave of the night, perfectly charred and dolled up with chorizo, sweet peppers and spring onions placed over a bed of squid ink pasta and drizzled in a white bean emulsion. This is one of those dishes that sounds too complicated for its own good, but they somehow manage to pull it all together.

Another pleaser, not quite at the level of those other two starters was the frisee salad with applewood smoked bacon, duck confit and a poached egg dressed in an aged sherry vinaigrette. It won’t quite rock your world, but if it’s what you’re craving then you’ll definitely be happy.

For entrees, I tried both the sea scallops and the trout and I have to give it to the trout, no contest. Made in a classic prep with a twist they use capers, lemon, crisp ham and parsley brown butter and then accompany the fish with haricots verts and a pommes chateau. It was moist and flavorful and exactly what the doctor ordered. And yes, I have a doctorate in eating.

The sea scallops, however, failed to bring the zazz that one might expect from its preparation. Again, a twist on a common thai black rice dish, made with the additions of coriander roasted carrots, smoked shitake mushrooms and a ginger-port wine reduction.

I like what this chef is made of though, reaching for the stars and catching just enough to make me want dessert. But sadly I had to rush to catch the Acela home so I guess I’ll have to return for seconds, especially for the apple tart (pictured). Damn does that look good!

3 teeth

Russ & Daughters Cafe

127 Orchard St. New York, NY 10002(212) 475-4881russanddaughterscafe.com

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The kosher deli is like the tiger of restaurants, loved, but rapidly nearing extinction. As cited by the documentary Deli Man (an obscure Netflix gem), kosher delis in New York alone, have gone from over 1500 in number back in 1931, to today’s very depressing stat of just 21 establishments left. So, call it my Jewish guilt or moral obligation, but I felt the need to help turn the tides by turning my kids onto the glory that I lovingly call “Jew Food.” A cuisine unlike any other, that I have adored since childhood. But sadly, like many other bad Jews (apparently), I haven’t been back in years. Which is a shame, because there’s really no good reason. It’s not like going to Synagogue or anything. It’s actually quite enjoyable. And downright sinful.

Well, also turning the tides is a modern-day twist on the kosher deli, paying faithful homage to its diner roots, while also feeling contemporary somehow at the same time. That’s Russ and Daughters, a beacon of hope for the “chosen” cuisine.

Speaking of chosen things, our first choice was the Pastrami Russ, a small but crazy good sandwich made with their unique salmon pastrami, cucumber, coleslaw and deli mustard all on a cigar-sized pretzel roll, served next to a mountain of homemade waffle potato chips and a half sour pickle that also rocks. Mad mazels on this one.

But as good as the Pastrami Russ was, the Latkas stole the show. Easily the best I’ve ever had, done up at least a half inch thick with a hard, crusty outer layer and moist, fuffy innards. It’s Ultimate Latka perfection. Also, we had ‘em both ways, the new fangled crème fraiche and salmon roe way, as well as the ole tried and true apple sauce way. Both are good, but the kid in me still leans toward the classic A-sauce.

And while we’re on the topic of classics, the Classic Board with Nova, tomatoes, capers, red onions, cream cheese and an everything bagel was also very good. Not quite as inventive as some of the other twists, but as solid as you’ll find anywhere else in the city, Essa included. Granted the Nova is very lightly cured though, so nowhere near as salty as you might be used to.

Lox, eggs and onions were good, but not great. Partly due to the less salty lox, which is what makes this dish normally shine, ya know, cuz salt and eggs and all. That said, the rye bread that comes with it is another Ultimate. So flavorful and packed with texture. In fact, we loved it so much we walked up the street after breakfast to the Russ & Daughters store on Houston to buy a loaf. And my god is that thing dense. One loaf probably ways as much as a Mini Cooper.

We ended the meal on a duo of dishes from the “Sweet” column, the first being the Chocolate Babka French toast. Yes Challah, you just got trumped. Topped with fresh strawberries and sidled up next to a ramekin of sweet cream- no need for syrup on this thing. It’s richer than Daddy Warbucks.

Yet as wonderific as the Babka French Toast was, the kosher purist in me still found the Noodle Kugel to be the shiznet. It’s like muscle memory for your taste buds, bringing you back to that sweet noodle lovin’ fro your childhood that you just can’t deny. And wow did that sound way more child molesty than intended.

All in, Russ is tops in my book. Even if Gweneth Paltrow likes it too. From the incredibly fresh squeezed orange and grapefruit juices to both Ultimates I mentioned above to their caviar cream cheese that needs to make its way from store to café (hint-hint Russ).

4 teeth

Good Food

1205 Pleasantville Rd. Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510 • (914) 432-7981

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With a name like this they are just begging for some asshole like me to come swooping in and shit all over their life’s endeavors, but as tempting as that might’ve been, I was actually pleasantly surprised. Not by the décor, however, it’s virtually nonexistent. But then again, the place isn’t called Good Décor. The staff, on the other hand, is very small-town warm and friendly, charming my pants off as they coerced me into ordering dessert when I was already full. Loveable bastards!

But before we leap all the way to the end, let’s go back to the beginning. Torn between a delicious sounding lineup of sandwiches and savory crepes I ultimately erred on the side of novelty and went with the caramelized onions, olives, basil, capers and goat cheese crepe, served with a side of couscous salad and damn was it good… food. No false advertising here. It was WAY better than the Little Crepe Street in Kisco and good enough that I will most certainly be returning in order to cover the rest of those chalkboards (check back for potential knife uppage).

So what did I do for dessert? A scoop of their Coconut Almond Joy ice cream. It was also good, obviously. But next time I will be sure to go with one of their Nutella crepes, which have my Ferocious name written all over them.

3 teeth

Casa Mono

52 Irving Pl. New York, NY 10003(212) 253-2773 • casamononyc.com
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This little corner tapas charmer is located right in the heart of Irving Place, flanked on two sides by huge divided light windows, which fills the tiny dining room with sun. Feels like something you’d expect in The Village or Europe.

Of the small plates, we shared five and unfortunately Mono only hit on dos. The first being the bone marrow (pictured), which was done with capers and olives, giving it a nice, salty flavor, along with a little texture, to help cut through the buttery marrow. One of the more interesting bone marrow dishes I’ve had.

The other gem was a roasted rabbit with habanero sauce and yogurt, so delish I’d have to go back to Playboy or Bugs to find a bunny I enjoyed more. Playing with the elements between the heat and the cool creaminess of the yogurt, it really made every bite somethin’ somethin’.

For the misses, I would take a firm pass on the buratta with snap peas and bacon. It’s a watery mess that tastes more like cream soup than buratta. And considering how low the degree of difficulty is with buratta, I’m gonna have to say this was pretty damn god awful. Like trying to actually shoot fish in a barrel and blowing your foot off in the process.

And the other miss was the Polpo (octopus) with fennel and grapefruit. It wasn’t a shit show like the buratta, but it was definitely a calamity of proportions. So heavy on the fennel and a little too light on the puss. As a result, one might say the octopus was drowning in a sea of fennel. Oh, the irony (note to Alanis Morissette, this is actual irony, not coincidence or tragedy like everything in your song “Ironic,” which tragically helped to successfully misguide an entire generation as to the definition of the word. Okay, I’m done venting)!

Lastly, we went for an attempt at redemption, with my favorite dessert, bread pudding. Because I really wanted to give this place three knives (in my heart of hearts I did like it), but currently it was teetering on the edge of two after burratamaggeddon. Sadly, Mono’s chef screwed the pooch once again serving up a confused dessert that seemed like it was caught between wanting to be a peach crumble and bread pudding and didn’t really stick the landing on either.

So two knives it is, I’m sorry to say. And while Mono may be capable of spots of greatness, there are too many spots of a different color, to the point where one has to question whether or not the chef is just calling it in, or even worse, does the chef at Mono… have mono?

2 teeth

Napa Farms Market

San Francisco International Airport, Terminal 2 780 S Airport Blvd. San Francisco, CA 94128 • (650) 821-9312 • http://www.tastesonthefly.com/airports/sfo

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I have to say, SFO knows how to stock an airport filled with options that feel more like an upscale shopping mall as opposed to a dying strip mall in the backwoods of Alabama.

Case in point, Napa Farms Market. Loaded with organic, all natural options, the place is like a treasure trove of traveling treats. And what I had was good. Just a bagel with lox, cream cheese, capers and cucumbers. Simple, I know, but outside of New York it’s a dish that has gone wrong more times than I can count.

Beyond that there’s a bakery and juices and wine and cheeses. I would happily go to this place even if it wasn’t in an airport. But because it is, and the competition is virtually non-existent, I gotta go four.

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