La Sirena

Maritime Hotel 88 9th Ave. New York, NY 10011(212) 977-6096 lasirena-nyc.com

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Had I not been staying in the Maritime Hotel, I don’t think I would’ve ever given this restaurant the time of day. But now that I’ve eaten here, I will be counting the days until my return.

The setting itself is somewhat odd, two pod-like dining rooms at opposite ends of a massive, oven bar area that feels like the lido deck aboard a cruise liner, but with trendy booze and cocktail tables as opposed to a swimming pool and corpulent sunbathers. But within the pods both left and right, The Siren is serving up Italian that sings like a choir of angels achieving multiple orgasms.

Bursting out of the gate like Sea Biscuit (the horse, not the atrocious movie), they serve up a fresh-baked loaf of piping hot Italian bread that is so good it will vanish quicker than Lindsay Lohan’s career. But be sure to order a second one, because there’s sopping up you’ll be wanting to do ahead.

For an appetizer, I seldom swoon over salad, but I gotsta hand it to the frisee with poached egg, spicy pepperoni and warm potatoes. It is excellent, made so by the skillful balance of all its ingredients, but I think a special shout-out is in order to the pepperoni. Cut thick and packing so much heat you’d think it was a soppressata.

With 80% of their pastas being homemade, go figure that I would pick one of the only two that wasn’t. But for whatever reason, regardless of the waiter’s caution, I pressed on, because I had pus on the brain. That came out completely wrong, but the pus I’m referring two has eight legs, not two. A beautifully prepared al dente bucatini, loaded with tender, thin slices of spicy octopus, roasted peppers and onions all tossed in a delightfully fresh red sauce. Again, so surprisingly good I started questioning myself and everything around me. Was it the fault of food critics for not giving La Sirena the rightful kudos it deserves? Or was I just coming down with a sudden case of the easy-to-pleasies?

Ending with the pine nut tart for dessert, I was hoping for a strong miss to help make sense of the world again, but sadly things will have to remain a mystery. Drizzled with a red wine caramel and topped with an olive oil gelato, the tart walks a razors edge between savory and sweet making it unique and curiously pleasing in unexpected ways.

I would easily go five knives on this one, but I didn’t hear a lot of oohs and ahhs from the others at my table so I’m guessing the chicken and the clams with linguini aren’t at the same level as the bucatini, which might help explain the surprisingly mortal star count on Yelp.

4 teeth

 

Hinoki and the Bird

10 W Century Dr. Los Angeles, CA 90067(310) 552-1200hinokiandthebird.com

Hinoki And The Bird, 10 Century Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90067

Frequented by the agents at CA, this extremely trendy haunt rose up from demand, managing to fill that mid-city void between the beach and West Hollywood. Set downstairs in a building just behind Century City, the décor is clean and modern with high ceilings, a huge windowed outdoor space, and a dining room walled with earthy materials and flanked by a trendy open kitchen on one side, and an equally hip bar on the other, sporting a handsome list of cocktails, wine and sake (including the sparking variety).

Because of our large party we “ordered the menu,” which is my second favorite way to dine… Other than with the wife, of course. So please don’t think that I had each of this dishes in full at one sitting. If I did, I’d be dead by now.

So, kicking things off, let’s start with the starters. And the Ultimate within, the crab toast. A dish I normally find to be a bid of a whatevs, but this crustacean is on fleek. Not too mayonnaisey, a little heaty with it’s chili, coriander and spicy cucumber and a lotta goody. Another dish I’d call tops is the unique prep of the okra, served roasted in a simple, yet artful row, dusted with cumin and superb to the taste.

Also impressive were the roasted Brussels sprouts, which were refreshingly unfancied up, compared to those at Cleo, Ilili or All’onda. Another veggie side sure to please are the yams done as a slightly contemporary twist on the classic, using Asian (purple) yams with a sour cream/crème fraiche drizzle.

The third side, the mushrooms, were the only bore of the trio, marinated in nothing out of the ordinary and served in an equally pedestrian way. But if you dig on the fungi, they are far from bad. Unfortunately they are just as far from memorable.

Another starter sure to put a smile on your face is the lobster roll, which looks remarkably like a cigar, due to it’s narrow stature and its black bun. It’s only about two bites big, but by mixing green curry and Thai basil into the mayo, they are a flavor-packed couple of chews.

Another solid starter is the crispy suckling pig with apple jam and chili, albeit that one is somewhat of a lay up by description alone. Whereas the fried chicken is much more of a surprise with its perfect contrast from crispy crust to moisty bird. But both were outdone by the black cod (pictured), which might be the best I’ve had since Matsuisha invented the dish decades before.

As for the last of the starters, the fluke flunked. Just your standard sashimi with nothing unique to write about, and nothing so fresh to even swoon about.

But things starting with “fl” seem to cause Hinoki big trouble in little China, because the flank steak was also flucked up. So chewy, my jaw gave out after about three bites. Thankfully my friend with the kurobuta pork chop was kind enough for sharesies and while the chop wasn’t exactly divine swine, it was much better than chew toy on my plate.

And the downward spiral of entrees only kept spiraling through dessert as I found myself wanting to flick Hinoki the bird for wasting my caloric intake with buzz killers like the doughnuts with caramel dip and the ice cream sandwiches.

As a result, should you wish to follow suit, I think you would be much better served by ordering meze style here, with lots of starters and sides, as opposed to the traditional three course app, entrée, dessert. I know it almost doesn’t seem worth it to go now, but I give you my ferocious guarantee that if you stick to the top of the menu, you will be so happy with your order you won’t even think twice about what you’re missing, which isn’t much.

3 teeth

Red O

1541 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 458-1600 redorestaurant.com

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I know Rick Bayless is a name in the industry, but after that performance his name should be Please Cookless, because nada was bueno. Well, in terms of the food, anyway. The décor and energy (code for noisy) of the place is actually great. And they sport a nice range of tequilas should you want to go that way. They also have a pretty long list of cocktails as well, which I can only assume is designed to get you all liquored up so you’re awareness is impaired about the mediocrity you are about to eat.

Unfortunately the booze wasn’t enough to distract me from the piss poor service. Friendly for sure, but sloppy and slow. She completely forgot our guacamole order and missed on every recommendation, granted the fact that there’s nothing truly great on the menu makes it awfully hard to win in that scenario.

Amid the sea of asi asi (translation: so so) are the goat cheese tamales, which are okay on taste, but very mushy on texture. The duck taquitos, which were dry and tasteless, needing the addition of one of the salsas from the chips to give it moisture and make it worth half its salt. Oh, which reminds me… it needed more salt.

For the entrees, the shrimp and rice was “pretty standard” (to be read like Dr. Evil), the fennel lobster tails were a big ho hum and the NY strip with chimichurri, while the best of the three, is certainly no reason to come here.

Hell, they even managed to fuck up the churros, which are a foodie lay up, if you ask me. Way too hard and dry. And the chocolate and caramel dip wasn’t even close to being rich or flavorful enough to save them. But perhaps I’m to blame for not heeding the warning on the door. After all, “Zero” is right in the name. And that’s what this place is, a flaming red zero.

1 tooth

L’inizio

698 Saw Mill River Rd. Ardsley, NY 10502 • (914) 693-5400 •  liniziony.com

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After three different people recommended that I try this place, I knew it had to be at least a three knifer, but the true question was, is it four or five? Well, if parking were factored in, most certainly not, because it’s a major bitch. And you can forget all about that little lot over by the Thai House that’s always more jam-packed than a drug mule’s colon. So your best bet is across the street and down a touch, over by Star Bagel, since they’re closed for dinner and it’d be a shame to let all of that parking go to waste.

Speaking of space being at a premium, the restaurant itself is quite small as well, which wouldn’t normally be an issue for me, but it’s also pretty lacking in the personality department, making it a modicum nicer than the inside of a shoe box.

But the warmth that’s missing from the décor came from our server in spades, who was not only friendly, she was also spot on with the recommendations. Unfortunately, however, even as well intentioned as the staff was, the service itself is actually a bit spotty, getting both pepper and grated cheese in my wife’s water (so much so that it needed to be replaced) and forgetting to bring out our pasta course before the dessert menu.

In terms of the food, this is where L’inizio shined. Starting with a nice, moist focaccia and grassy olive oil to whet the palate. After that, we doubled down on bread opting for the ricotta with acacia honey, a simple, but wonderful Italian go-to that definitely hit the mark, but I have to say, the chef went a little stingy on the honey.

Next up came the charred endive salad with dates (or more accurately, date in singular form), which was excellent, but again, thin on the one ingredient that made it so interesting, the date.

The recommended octopus was also fantastic, sort of similar in preparation to the one at Charlie Bird in the city, only MUCH better, because there’s so much more going on. The heat from the peppers, the brightness and crunch from the celery. The creaminess of the humus. Even a slight note of sweetness. My only gripe being, you guessed it, a little too light on the octopus. A theme of the joint I suppose? Keep ‘em wanting more? Only I think the chef doesn’t truly get the intent of that saying.

As for pastas, the cavatelli was a bit of a snore compared to the much more flavorful parpadelle with lamb ragu, pine nuts and raisins. The anomaly of the night, because it was shockingly generous with the lamb.

We ended the evening with another great reco, the date cake with sweet mascarpone (pictured), sitting in a pool of caramel sweetness. It was divine. Which is a bit of a hoity-toity phrase for me, I gotta be honest. Almost feels like I should be typing it with a New England lockjaw. But it really was kickass. There. That’s better.

It’s no Cookery and there are many kinks still to work out, but there is not even a shadow of a doubt that this chef knows what he’s doing, even if he cheaps out a bit on the goodies. So my advice to you, go. My advice to the chef, let it go…LET IT GO! Let your yummy ingredients flow! (to be sung like Elsa from Frozen). Do that, and I’ll up you to four knives, because it’s holding you back from true greatness.

3 teeth

Lexington Square Cafe

510 Lexington Ave. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 244-3663lexingtonsquarecafe.com

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It’s taken me a while to work up the courage to eat here versus my other tried and true options in the burbs, but the other day a window of opportunity opened and my daughter and I decided to step inside. Which is much nicer than one might expect from the outside looking in. In fact, one might even go so far as to say it’s impressive, with its large dining room, high ceilings, and surprisingly hip bar. The only things bringing it down are the giant, round hotel-esque counter at the entrance and the large staircase cutting through the space.

Also, a word of advice as to where to sit in the expansive dining arena. Definitely avoid the booths, because if you do sit there, you will be out of sight and out of mind, literally having to stand and flail your arms like a castaway on a deserted island just to get a waiter’s attention.And attention you will need, because the food tends to need a lot of help to get the flavor going. For example, the pizza is more of a flatbread and the flatbread is more like the crap you throw together for your kid when you are just trying to scrape by with pasta sauce, sliced cheese and a random pocket of pita bread or naan. So should you order it as an adult, you will definitely want some red pepper flakes to help overcome the nothingness.

The chicken cutlet sandwich is also pretty bland, surprisingly so for something that’s supposed to be packing Sriracha mayonnaise. So be sure to order it with a side of Sriracha to give it the oomph it was born to have. With that caveat, I can proudly say the sammie wasn’t half bad.

And last but not least, something that wasn’t half good. The apple crumbly with ice cream and a caramel drizzle simply isn’t worth the time on the treadmill. And compared to places like Truck, Fortina, Beford 234 and Village Social the Lexington Diner simply isn’t worth the space in your stomach.

2 teeth

Dirty French

Ludlow Hotel • 180 Ludlow St. New York, NY 10002(212) 254-3000dirtyfrench.com

Dirty French

It is with great pleasure and relief that I submit to you a review of the restaurant Dirty French, who actually lives up equally to both its name and its hype (which is written in some shockingly eloquent Yelp reviews). And while Carbone and Torrisi can do no wrong in my eyes, I was still a little worried going in with such high expectations.

So, overcoming healthy doses of skepticism from Wifey and I, we arrived for our annoyingly early reservation of 6:00 pm, because nothing else was “available.” I use air quotes because the place was 90% empty when we arrived, leading me to believe that they save the normal times for people with connections, either that or they just hold out on decent times to build the allure of dining there.

But as annoyed as we were, the tides turned quickly when our host managed to accommodate us sitting in the back garden even though it is technically reserved for hotel guests and VIPs, of which we were neither. Not that there is anything wrong with the main dining room. It’s pretty traditional bistro décor, done well. But the garden is much more charming with its exposed brick walls, greenhouse ceiling and an eclectic array of pendants dangling overhead. Granted it’s much quieter and not as lively, so if you’re looking to see and be seen, I recommend staying up front.

The other tide-turning surprise was our server, Kenny, from Croatia. Such an infectiously positive spirit, born with hospitality coursing through his veins. We couldn’t help but smile at his enthusiasm about each dish. He was quick to offer tastes of different wines by the glass or even cocktails. Spot on with recommendations and just as deft with conversation.

Speaking of cocktails I went with the Pigalle, a bourbon based drink with nice balance to it, artfully blending elements of heat (chili) and refreshing citrus (orange and lemon) with just a touch of spice, between the bitters and cinnamon stick. Wifey had the Ludlow Gimlet which I can only assume was good since she finished it and didn’t even offer me a sip, hording it all for herself. But I forgive her. After all, it was her birthday.

And a happy one it was with stunning dishes like the lamb carpaccio (pictured), spread across the plate like an edible Chagall. It is handily an Ultimate across two categories, Lamb and Carpaccio. Seasoned generously with herbs, spicy chili oil, medallions of marinated eggplant and tiny dollops of yogurt. This is then accompanied by several slices of grilled bread upon which you are to spread your carpaccio like paint across a canvas, paying homage to the work of art it truly is.

Another mighty impressive dish in the raw camp is the tuna tartar, dressed in the same spicy chili oil as the lamb, also seasoned with plentiful herbs, including a healthy dose of Thai basil, which truthfully makes the dish- all sidled up next to something they call a crepe indochine.

Not even close to done showing off, the chef keeps the wows coming with a Foie gras terrine wrapped in a crispy phyllo brick, filled with jam and placed over a burnt lemon cream, which all coalesce in your mouth with such dexterity that you could swear you had a tiny, little conductor in there, waving his baton around so that the lemon knew just when to come in and brighten things up.

For our entrée, we split the hanger steak au poivre, which was once again a “dirty,” a.k.a. “unfaithful,” take on the classic French dish, made unique with an Asian twist on the sauce, more Thai basil (apparently the farmer’s market was having a sale) and lime cornichon. And as for the steak itself, it was cooked a perfect medium rare, allowing the meat to melt into the sauce like a dream.

In tandem with the steak, we also ordered a highly unnecessary side of pommes frites, which went perfectly with the steak. Sliced thin almost potato chip style with just enough fluffiness inside to contrast the crispiness. And in lieu of ketchup or mustard, they serve it up with a creamy remoulade that makes them hard to resist, even though you are about to pop like a child’s balloon being filled by a fire hose.

So obviously we skipped dessert, right? No way. Are you crazy? That’d be like a pitcher walking off the mound in the 8th inning of a no-hitter. You gotta see it through. So wifey and I hunkered down and toughed it out with an order of the beignets to see if this meal could truly end flawlessly. Well, landing stuck like Kerri Strug. These fritters were ankle-breaking good, and I don’t even know what that means. What I do know is that they are definitely an Ultimate with their clever hint of chicory, adding a light, floweriness to the otherwise heavy dough dipped in caramel.

Then, last but not least, Kenny, our Croatian master of ceremonies, surprised us with an assortment of birthday gelato on the house. One strawberry, one watermelon and one was coconut. The coconut being the best of the three, but compared to those beignets, I wasn’t about to blow out an internal organ over them, so if you’re deciding between the two yourself, there’s really no contest. Beignets all the ways.

Now, going back to the beautifully written Yelp reviews I mentioned earlier, it pains me that they still averaged out to be a mere 3.5 stars, which is ridiculously inaccurate. GOD, I HATE YELP! It’s so bad that it goes beyond subjectivity and lands squarely on the face of uselessness. When you have people sandbagging things with one star because a server was bad or 3 stars because they wouldn’t know their ass from their elbow pasta it waters down any value the site has to offer. It’s 5 stars people! FIVE!!! Or knives, as the case may be on this site. Okay, I need to go take a Xanax.

5 teeth

Chocolat by Adam Turoni

323 W Broughton St. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 335-2914 •  chocolatat.com

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If only one could actually eat with their eyes, then perhaps Turoni would be worthy of its price tag, not to mention its colossally inflated rating on Yelp. But unfortunately the best part of the experience ends the moment you exit the shop. And it is an experience, I’ll given ’em that.

Tall, gorgeous glass cases filled with these delectable looking jewels (pictured) flank you as you enter. Each grouping of chocolates accompanied by a card that describes the complexity within. Then, armed with a steel tray and tongs, you are sent out to collect your own box of goodies throughout the shop. It really is terrific concept.

But here’s the rub… Only about two of the ten we purchased were worth the calories, as the overwhelming majority fell way short of their promise. The flavors just lacked the impact one hopes for when you bite into a morsel of chocolate. The habanero wasn’t spicy enough. The caramels weren’t gooey enough. And the chocolates weren’t rich enough. I don’t know about you, but subtlety has no place in the land of desserts as far as I’m concerned. Go big or go home. Now I’m not saying that all desserts have to be heavy or rich, but I AM saying that if I’m going to put my health at risk to try your dessert, the least you could do is send my endorphins on the ride of their life!

So personally I would say skip Adam Turoni and walk a few more blocks over to Leopold’s Ice Cream, a dessert that will easily be worth every last calorie. Plus, the exercise will help compensate for the added poundage.

If you do stay, go for the one with musical notes on it. It’s half white chocolate, half dark, with hazelnuts in the middle. And proceeds from its sale go to the local philharmonic. A distant second was the one made with Brazilian coffee. Beyond those, it’s amateur hour. So load up on those two, or be warned.

2 teeth

 

The Ultimate Bread Pudding

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Perhaps it’s one of the more polarizing desserts out there. Some people just absolutely LOVE bread pudding, while others wouldn’t even give it a second glance. Now I’m sure you can guess which end of the spectrum I fall. So let’s just dive right in:

The Dutch – Soho, New York City

I’m not sure I need to say anything other than “Mexican Hot Chocolate Bread Pudding.” This things is so damn good I almost wanted to puke it back up so I could eat it again. What? Too far? Anyhoo. The spicy-sweet combination is a thing of beauty, balanced with ample doses of creamy and gooey. Just perfection.

Hundred Acres – Soho, New York City

Beyond the décor, the only other stand out at this place is the bread pudding. And WOW does it stand, tall and proud. Soaked to the bone in sweet caramel goodness, this thing is like a thick, moist bread pudding steak.

La Petite – Breckenridge, CO

This is your basic bread pudding. No creative spin. Just pure awesomeness. As pure as the driven snow outside the restaurant. With the most kickass crème anglaise you’ve ever laid your taste buds on.

Nola – New Orleans, LA

If sex were a dessert it’d be this. Bananas Foster Bread Pudding with Drunken Monkey Ice Cream (which would also make my Ultimates list for Ice Cream). This thing was so damn good I could swear I saw God, and I’m an atheist, so that’s saying a lot.