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

Morandi

211 Waverly Pl. New York, NY 10014 • (212) 627-7575  •  morandiny.com

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If star sightings are your thang or you simply melt over the thought of witnessing barrages of obnoxious air kisses over the shoulders of the maitre’d, you have come to the right place. It’s basically Pastis (RIP), resurrected and turned Italian.

Starting off on the wrong foot, they had us wait for 40 minutes even though we had a reservation, assumingly because they gave our table away to Cameron Diaz who just waltzed in and batted her alien eyes and viola! Miraculously a table just happened to be open in the midst of the dinner rush for the same size table as ours.

Once seated, at the a crap table thrown together with one copper two top and a wooden four top, crammed between the wait station and the hostess stand, they finally got around to serving us up a bottle of tepid rosé (it got better after chilling in the moat).

For appetizers, I actually can’t complain, although trust me, I want too so badly I can taste it. But I’ll be the bigger man and give Morandi the only props they earned that evening. The meatballs are a must. Moist and full of flavor. I’m guessing a ménage of meat (veal, pork & beef). I also enjoyed the buratta, but that’s not saying much, since it’s pretty rare that I don’t. The grilled artichokes were also nice. Simple, but nice. The octopus with celery was just okay, however. So much better pus to be had in the city. And the loser of the lot was the prosciutto and melon. The melon was under ripe and the prosciutto is nothing you can’t buy at any specialty market in the city.

Then the wait came. A full hour between the time they cleared our appetizers until they arrived with our entrees. And this is after making us wait 40 minutes to even be seated at a shitty table. I swear if I wasn’t with friends who I hadn’t seen in a while I would’ve walked out and told the place to take the bill and shove it up their affogato!

But I will exact my revenge toot sweet, because the pastas blew. The carbonara was a tried, overcooked bowl of mush and the hard rolled spaghetti with lemon was only a minute notch above that, clawing its way toward bland.

Suffice it to say we didn’t stay for dessert, otherwise I might’ve had to stab Cameron in the throat with a fork to ensure we got it before sunrise. You can also probably deduce at this point that this review is going south of the mid-line.

2 teeth

Justin Thyme

171 Grand St. Croton-On-Hudson, NY 10520(914) 271-0022dinejustinthyme.com

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I can’t decide if the name is charming or cheesy, but either way, it definitely starts with “ch.” I am less conflicted about the outdoor seating, however, which is perfect in the summer, set under a huge tree, away from the sidewalk, shaded and overlooking a small town street. Plus, at night, they have strung lights in the trees making it an idyllic oasis around the clock.

Service also helps to keep you charmed, although they aren’t very helpful with the recos. Everything’s great and popular and wonderful. Which is probably the Prozac talking, but to be fair, the food can be quite good, depending on what you order. Case in point, my modest sampling of two dishes produced both an “mmm” and a “meh.” So amidst this 50/50 hit ratio I would recommend the lobster roll, served faithful New England style with mayo and celery atop a brioche bun as opposed to a long roll and plank fries as opposed to shoestring. It was very solid. Holding its own against the likes of Ocean House. My only nit would be the side of coleslaw. A touch too far on the creamy side for my tastes. I prefer the mustardy side, it’s right before the dark side and just after the wild side.

Speaking of sides, on the miss side, the apple crumble a la mode undid all of the good will the lobster roll had secured. It was soggy and the only thing crumbling about it was my impression of Justin. And the mode didn’t help much either as the ice cream tasted like Breyer’s.

So I’m torn between 2 and 3 knives, but it’s a pretty extensive menu, so I’ll have to give it another whirl and see if they can improve their batting average. In the meantime, if you leave nearby, I say do it. What’ve you got to lose? It’s not like Umami Café is flawless either. If you don’t live nearby, then I wouldn’t make a special trip. But if you’re on a day trip to Croton Beach, this is the perfect place to come for a late lunch/early dinner.

3 teeth

 

Marta

29 E 29th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 689-1900martamanhattan.com

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So, while Danny Meyer is busy reconstructing Madison Square Park to accommodate a bigger and badder Shake Shack, apparently he decided to take up thin crust pizza as a hobby in lieu of burgers.

Located in the Martha Washington Hotel lobby, hence the origin of the name, the restaurant feels a little homeless, not being its own thing. Granted it takes up about 95% of the lobby, so perhaps it’s the lobby that’s truly homeless? All of that aside, they do a nice job with décor. Open and contemporary with a sizeable amount of seating. But don’t let that fool you. You practically have to sell a kidney to get a table for dinner. Fortunately for my internal organs, lunch reservations come much easier.

A quick bite, however, it most certainly is not. The service runs at an escargot pace, so if you’re doing a business lunch, I recommend blocking a good two hours, because two Diet Cokes took over 30 minutes to hit our table. Lucky for me I went with a glass of Brunello, which only took about a third of that.

The pies also take quite a while, nearly 45 minutes, but I’m happy to report that most of them were worth the wait. Especially the Testa made with pig face and celery. It’s so inventive and just as scrumptious. A close second was the carbonara. Just as the name implies, it’s topped with bacon and egg and fontina. And it’s damn fine.

The least impressive of the three was also the least inventive, the funghi, made with hen of the woods mushrooms. It’s certainly good if you have your heart set on shrooms, but compared to the likes of the funghi at Oenotri in Napa, this tastes like something you can get in the freezer section at Whole Foods. And I mean that with all due respect.

Now, assuming you’ve cleared your calendar and venture on towards dessert, here’s what you should know- it’s nowhere near as great as other reviewers claim. The affagato was easily the better of the two, but be warned, it’s very untraditional, made with honey and kumquats as opposed to espresso. The ice cream is incredible, however, and truly makes the dish shine. On the other hand, the chocolate and pistachio ice cream sandwich with mascarpone ice cream was significantly less radiant. About as basic as it gets, tasting like something you could get at TGI Fridays… back in the 80’s.

All in all Marta is certainly good for lunch, I cannot tell a lie. But definitely don’t sell off any vital organs to get in. There are droves of better pies all over the city.

3 teeth

Bacino’s

75 E Wacker Dr. Chicago, IL 60601(312) 263-2350bacinos.com

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In Chicago there are two epicurean musts, deep-dish pizza and Chicago-style hot dogs. Now I’m not exactly sure why, but for whatever reasons, Chicago is the only place in the world that seems to eat these two mainstream dishes differently than everybody else, and they are hell-bent on keeping it that way. Sort of like how the United States is the only hold out to adopt the metric system.

So, when in Rome (technically Sicily)… or Chicago, if you want to do as the locals, I recommend choosing Bacino’s for your authentic deep-dish experience versus the more touristy Giordano’s. It’s probably a good two inches thick, loaded with cheese and whatever other ingredients you fancy. For me, when I lived there, the go-to was the veggie with hot giardiniera, yet another very Chicago-centric concoction. It’s basically a spicy chopped up, marinated mixture of jalapeños, carrots, celery, onions, red peppers and cauliflower. It packs just enough heat to keep things interesting amidst all of that cheese sticking to your ribs. Which is a plus in terms of wintertime insulation if you think about it. But my suggestion is that you not think too much about it and just enjoy… unless you’re lactose intolerant, in which case you might want to at least think about taking a pill first.

3 teeth