The Eating House

804 Ponce de Leon Blvd. Coral Gables, FL 33134(305) 448-6524 eatinghousemiami.com

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After seeing this chef, Giorgio Rapicavoli, kick some serious assticosha on Chopped, I have been wanting to go to one of his restaurants so bad I could taste it. And now, I am happy to say that I finally got the chance to actually taste it.

Inside, the space is very casual and cozy, and by cozy I mean small, so it fills up fast. But the lunch crowd is much more manageable making it ideal for walk-ins, so if you can’t seem to squeeze in for dinner, do the day.

What isn’t small here are the portion sizes. Everything serves four. Not by description, but by reality in no uncertain terms. Which I found rather odd for such a tiny place to be serving up such massive mounds of grub.

Of said grub, we kicked things off with a plantain and pork belly soup, served with grilled challah. Now, I ain’t no challah back girl, but let me just say that this soup was so ridiculous, that I would gladly head back for another bowl, even if that required airfare. Two of my favorite things on earth in one bowl?! Are you kidding?! This is an Ultimate among Ultimates!

But to sustain such great heights would’ve been nearly impossible, and so it was. Sadly. Trickling down the steps to heaven you will find a very good side of Brussels sprouts, but even as delicious as they are, I have to say I’m starting to get BS fatigue, because they’re now on every friggin’ menu these days and after having just had better at both Estadio in DC and Bruno’s Pizza in NYC, I’d have to give this the slightest of yawns.

Also falling in the good-but-not-great column would be the pork belly sliders. Especially after that brilliant use of pork belly in the soup, the bar was so incredibly sky high that there was virtually no winning. Also, they only serve two sliders amidst a mountain of mediocre waffle fries which has me scratching my head as to the lack of judgment with a presentation that you’d come to expect from an Applebee’s, not a chef du cuisine.

And then there was the ceviche. Served in a lime and coconut milk marinade with sliced avocado, corn nuts and grapes. Perhaps the most interesting of the also-rans, but again, the sum just wasn’t as impressive as the uniqueness of its parts.

And finally, for dessert, we chickened out of the much touted “Flower Pot.” Apparently it’s like a layered parfait topped with crumbled chocolate to look like dirt, piled into a flower pot and topped with a sprig of mint (pictured). Instead, we opted in favor of the only slightly smaller dessert, the apple bread pudding. It was probably the best thing since the soup, and if you’re a bread pudding fan like me, than you’ll be happy. That said, I do kinda wish we had gone with the Flower Pot for novelty sake.  Oh well, that’s what next time is for.

3 teeth

Positivo

100 Dorado Beach Dr. Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646(787) 278-7217 • http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/dorado-beach/dining/positivo-sand-bar

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I am positively in love with Positivo. A jack of all trades and a bit of a chameleon, changing from more American fare by day, to Pan-Asian by night and somehow sticking the landing on both. Not that it’s without its misses, but I don’t want to get all negativo, because for resort food, even the misses are pretty impressive.

The setting is relatively standard for a resort of this caliber, situated completely outside with several tables right on the sand. Granted they are the furthest from your servers so should you opt for the better view, just know that attention will suffer a touch.

Of the droves of tasty looking lunch options we split an enormous kale salad that I can’t even imagine eating solo without blowing out your colon from ruffage overload. I liked it very much as it was loaded with goodies to keep it interesting, including corn nuts of all things.

We also had the chips and guacamole, which is the biggest miss of our stay, made surprisingly bland considering the locale. And while there were admirable attempts to make it interesting, they didn’t come through in execution. Nor did the Obsession cocktail, about which I was not very obsessed. It basically tastes like alcoholic coconut water with a spicy rim.

On the flip side, the brisket sandwich with chipotle aioli on ciabatta was pretty awesome. A touch too fatty to be fabby, but the flavors were dynamite!

For dinner the crispy snapper is a must, prepared almost like crispy orange beef, but with fish, obviously. So good. The ceviches are also decent, made very fresh as a ceviche should be, but the octopus was the more flavorful of the two because the halibut needed more lime to give it that all-important acidity.

But stop the presses come dessert, because we have an Ultimato. The grilled mochi is a stroke of brilliance. Caramelized on the top, it almost comes off as a roasted marshmallow wrapped around creamy red bean ice cream. It’s so good it almost makes up for all of the insanity caused by the Puerto Rican Parade in New York City. Almost.

3 teeth

Herringbone

1755 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 971-4460herringboneeats.com

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I struggle a bit to understand this one. The wait to get in is almost as big as the dinning room, which is so cavernous it’s almost to the point of making it feel like a Rain Forest Café, but for seafood. And while it is done far more tastefully (not saying much), with touches like the puffer fish tree at the foyer or the various nautical elements at every starboard turn, it can’t help escape the vibe that it’s a chain. Yet within chain-dom, there are obviously good chains and bad chains and Herringbone definitely falls in the better camp of the two. But to be fair, a chain is still a chain at the end of the day, so leave your expectations at the door, after all, it will have to wait for a table like everyone else.

To start, I opted for the Grow a Pear cocktail made with jalapeno, gin and cucumber. It was refreshing and light enough to go with anything on the menu. And I put that theory to the test, trying it with a host of starters, my favorite being the heirloom tomato salad, which I found to be the best thing of the night (not good for a “seafood” restaurant). Made with perfectly ripened orbs of red, sprinkled with herbs, drizzled with olive oil and complemented by fresh, creamy chunks of mozzarella, caprese style.

The whole fish ceviche (pictured) was also nice, but mostly as a result of its novel prep, in whole fish form. The flavor of it, however was a little par for the course and nothing exceedingly fresh either.

Working our way from good to meh, the Buffalo octopus was just okay for me. Decent Buffalo flavor, but the pus itself was overcooked. Also could’ve been a bit spicier if you ask me.

But the worst by far was the Baja crab, or should I say Baja crap. Don’t let your waiter try a peddle this loser dish on you. It tastes like overcooked rice speckled with shreds of canned crab and a few squirts of Tabasco.

For my entrée, the scallops were passable, but not very well balanced because after three scallops in, I found that I had finished all of the surrounding goodies, leaving me with one scallop abandon on the plate.

Just as the ship appeared to be sinking, however, somehow Herringbone managed to raise the Titanic with their wonderful lemon poppy begniets. Kept light by the lemon. Kept awesome by the contrast of hot and cold with the addition of ice cream. But as great as the bookends were, the laggards in the middle cost this place dearly.

2 teeth

Sushi Samba

87 7th Ave S. New York, NY 10014 • (212) 691-7885 • sushisamba.com

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I hadn’t been to this place in a while, but I used to go a lot back in the day and I really loved it for its inventive blend of Latin meets Japanese. I know, isn’t the whole fusion thing already over? And it is, but this place was born back in the heart of the fusion-explosion, when fusion dishes weren’t on every menu from Boston to Bangkok. In those days (Christ, I sound like my grandfather talking about the days when you could buy a cart full of groceries for under five bucks) you had to go to a fusion restaurant if you wanted to experience a unique blend of cultural tastes.

And unique it was, with things like foie gras atop pieces of tuna sushi, garnished with flakes of gold (pictured), live mini crabs that crawled across your plate, until you ate them, of course. And ceviches that knocked your taste buds on their collective asses. But that was then. Unfortunately, the last time I went, things had slid a little, especially in comparative context when you take into account that fusion is now a given and the game has been raised everywhere else. But that was a bit ago, so perhaps they got their groove back. If they did, it’s well worth the visit. Hell, if they did, someone please tell me ASAP, because I would head back in an instant. After all, once upon a time they were the ones who gave a much needed shot in the arm to the sushi norm.

3 teeth

El Parador Café

325 E 34th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 679-6812elparadorcafe.com

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I have a warm and fuzzy place in my heart for El Parador. Not just because it’s the oldest Mexican restaurant in the city. Nor because I had my engagement party here. And not just because my best friend had their rehearsal dinner there either. Not even  because they have some seriously kick-ass margaritas- but mostly because of that last one. These are not just your boring old citrus based margaritas, however, we’re talkin’ frozen tamarind margaritas. And the crazy thing is, I’m not even a frozen margarita kinda guy. I’m rocks/salt all the way! Well, not all the way, I suppose, since I dig on these, but you get my point, they’re good enough to make you a convert.

The other thing I love about this place is the service. It’s always extremely warm and friendly and the owner is almost always there, making sure you’re happy and taken care of, which is key. But at the end of the day, we all know these are “nice-to-haves” and that the only thing that truly matters are the foodstuffs. Well, The Inn (English translation for El Parador) has no problema in that department either. But I don’t recommend going here for your typical cheap Mexican fix. First, because Parador is anything but cheap. And second, because Parador is a bit more of a class act, serving up a mean mole, a succulent ceviche and a plentiful paella. In fact, most everything falls somewhere between good and excellent and the misses are scarce.

Due to its age, it is a touch old-school to be fair, but old-school in an authentic, charming way. Granted some might find the cuisine to be a touch dated compared to the likes of more inventive places such as The Black Ant, ABC Cocina and Cosme, but there’s also something to be said for respecting tradition. Tradition! Tradition! (To be sung like Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof).

So head on over to El Parador and pay your respects to a culinary trailblazer. You owe to yourself. And, should you need a great place to throw a party, I do highly recommend the private room downstairs.

4 teeth

Black Bottle

919 Bellevue Way NE Bellevue, WA 98004(425) 223-5143blackbottlebellevue.com

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Having never been to this suburb of Seattle before (unfortunately sharing the same name as a mental institution), I imagine this place does quite well for itself considering the options around it aren’t exactly aplenty. And with its massive industrial loft décor, small plates and vino selection it would most likely be a standout in most suburbs. Granted, as I understand it, there’s also one downtown, the original, off which I’m guessing it drafts its cool.

Other coolness to be had would include the crispy garlic shrimp, the blasted broccoli and the beets smothered in melted cheese (tastes less weird than it sounds or looks), which we didn’t even order, but I’m always in favor of tasty mistakes. Right up there with happy accidents.

The cool started to thaw, however with the pulled pork tacos, which were just okay, as were the shishito peppers, which are never bad, but are also very guilty at this point of a “tried one, you’ve tried ‘em all.” Seriously, I’ve had this dish at over a dozen restaurants and I’ve yet to find a place that can screw it up.

On that note, there were a couple of screw-ups. The pear and gorgonzola flatbread (pictured) is garbage, with its horrendously overpowering crust. You can get better flatbreads out of the freezer case at Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. But worse still was the spicy coconut lemon ginger ceviche. It wasn’t spicy. It wasn’t lemony. Not even coconutty or gingery. It was however crappy and unworthy and the blandest ceviche I’ve ever had.

Now I don’t want to blacklist Black Bottle just because the wheels came off toward the end, because there truly is potential in them thar hills, but I also don’t want to oversell this place either. It’s good if your in the hood. If you’re not, don’t step over anyone chasing after a 4 star experience that isn’t there. #yelphype.

2 teeth

Makoto

9700 Collins Ave. Bal Harbour, FL 33154 • (305) 864-8600 makoto-restaurant.com

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It’s rare for mall food to surprise and delight, but then again, it’s pretty rare for a mall to have the flagship restaurant of Morimoto’s former sous chef. Also, to be fair, we aren’t exactly talking about your Gap, Banana and J. Crew kind of mall. It’s more like Bottega Veneta, Moncler and Chanel. Which makes for some nice opulent people-watching.

But don’t get scared off by the price tag just yet, because Makoto is probably the most affordable thing in the place. And while the cost of the food is reasonable, the restaurant itself is priceless. Easily among the top three Japanese meals I’ve ever had.

Here’s why. Every single dish was presented and tasted like a work of art. The kobe carpaccio with jicama melted in your mouth. The ceviche with watermelon ice and wasabi peas was the most inventive ceviche I’ve ever laid lips on. Even the Japanzanella salad was the most interesting panzanella salad I’ve ever had, made with flash fried cubes of rice as the croutons.

And while it’s hard to say any one dish was my favorite, because everything was so tremendous, the short rib noodles were my favorite. Served with a healthy dose of raw red cabbage on top to give it crunch, the contrast of flavors and textures with the buttery soft meat and noodles was simply a stroke of genius. And speaking of strokes, if I keep eating this way I’m probably going to have one, so stay tuned for a few healthy reviews in the near future.

As for now, however, let’s talk about volcano cakes. Not necessarily an ultimate per se, but a damn fine showing. Filled with a layer of crème anglaise, because why not? And placed next to a dome of vanilla ice cream topped with wafer cookies sprinkles because regular sprinkles are obviously for philistines.

5 teeth

Santiago’s Bodega

 802 Virginia Dr. Orlando, FL 32803 • (407) 286-2903santiagosbodega.com

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While the location is a bit of a snore, as you enter you feel immediately transported by its thematic décor is nice. And while it is a touch on the Spanish theme-y side, at least it’s done well. And speaking of things done well, the food is no slouch, starting with the Port sangria, which much richer than its vino cousins, yet still refreshing.

Unfortunately that was quickly followed by the first miss. The pear and avocado salad was no bueno. The pears were unripe and hard. And the creamy dressing overpowered the other ingredients in the dish.

Fortunately, the hits would far outnumber the misses as the scallop special arrived. Perfectly cooked and prepared with a pear puree, then sprinkled with bacon, because why not? A bit rich, but a lot good.

Next came the Spanish plate and French plate and together I highly recommend them as a great way for two people to try a little of everything. The best of the batch was the Spanish plate’s spice rubbed pork with a raisin, mango chutney and the French plate’s tarragon chicken. France & Spain tied 1-1.

The spicy potatoes with capers and olives and peppers would be my next favorite. Obviously from the Spanish plate making it 1-2 in favor of Spain. Then after that I would go with the ceviche (1-3).

Rounding out the French plate was the asparagus with prosciutto and cheese- simple, yet delicious. And the only miss of the two plates came from the French, being the pastry. Sort of a mush of flavors wrapped in filo dough. Not terrible. Just nothing in it was discernable.

But Santiago ended very strong, bringing down a little NYC for dessert with a cronut on the menu. How could I resist? After all, I’m not about to wait 2 hours outside, Dominique Ansel Bakery. So, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to pop my cronut cherry. Or should I say berry as it was served with a compote of such (which was actually more like a drizzle if you ask me) and a phenomenal homemade bourbon whipped cream. And when that cream hit the berry drizzle with the sugary, dusted, warm, doughnuty center, my tongue did a flamenco in my mouth.

3 teeth

Marc Forgione

 134 Reade St. New York, NY 10013 • (212) 941-9401 • marcforgione.com

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Umm… I’m gonna go with WOW! That pretty much sums it up. I loved just about every last drop of this restaurant and ate most of those drops as well.

To start, the décor is great. Just teetering on the edge of casual and beautiful. With an energy about it that hits you the moment you enter. Some may find it a bit loud, which it is, but that’s part of the fun- having you yell at each other about how good your food is.

As for service, our waitress was tremendous. Not in size, but in personality and attentiveness, without ego or plastic undertones. But not flawless either. For example, our cocktails came quite a bit late to the table, mid-way through our starters, but this was do to the bar losing the ticket. Now, normally you’d think this would be cause for docking a knife, and normally it would be. But is it the rarity of flawlessness that matters or is it how they handle the occasional hiccup? In this case, both the waitress and bartender came over to personally apologize for the mix up and delivered the drinks within a minute after. And yes, they were worth the wait. Especially the Summer Sangria with a richness almost as if there was Bourbon in there as opposed to wine.

But by now you’re probably getting pissed because I haven’t gotten to the food yet, so let’s get to it.

First up would be the amuse bouche, which is comprised of two dishes. A basic ceviche that is nothing to write home about, and a wonderfully explosive cream cheese puff pastry, that is worth flying home about.

Next came the buttery brioche-like bread which was so buttery and delcious, the fact that it came with butter was like gilding the lily. But as good as the bread is, I strongly recommend that you skip it in favor of the Texas Toast that comes with the Spicy Lobster which was so incredible it was as if my taste buds had died and gone to taste bud heaven. The lobster meat and bread in that sauce- OMFWow!

But not to be outdone, the tortellini is also very impressive, packing it’s own heat and a complexity to its sauce that unfolds in your mouth like a story.

Wait, I probably should’ve saved that description for the Halibut entrée, because that sauce was also quite the tour de force, minus the heat. But so rich and layered it was more like a meat dish.

Now here comes my one nit. And I blame myself for it. I had gone there fully prepared to get the highly acclaimed chicken, but our served talked me out of it and I went with a lamb special instead. Now, the lamb was far from bad, but at 48 bucks a plate, not bad IS bad. At that price I should’ve lept out of my chair and danced a jig after every bite.

The dancing, however, was not far behind, because the S’more dessert had me giddier than Kevin Bacon in Footloose. Just the presentation alone- well, of everything really, but with the “charred” marshmallow on a stick and the salted “chocolate bar”- if my tongue had hands it would applaud.

The other dessert was no slouch either. A deconstructed key lime, which had it been the only dessert on the table would be receiving all the adulation right now.

Such a treat. Finally an Iron Chef restaurant that lives up to its metal. A tribute to the fact that he is still the one actually in the kitchen. Saw him with my own eyes the last time I went.

Which brings me to another evening of incredibleness. The amuse bouche this second time was a touch less impressive. An homage to the NYC bagel and smoked fish. Good, but not grand. The graganelli with short ribs and black truffles, however, was mood-altering-good.

Also, this time I had the heavily revered under brick chicken and I have to say, while good for a roasted chicken, it’s still just a roasted chicken. I’ve had MANY a chicken dish that bests it. From One in Irvington, NY (RIP) to ABC Kitchen to Son of a Gun in LA. Don’t get wooed by the hype. There are so many better options on the menu.

And once again, come dessert, Marc knocked it out of the park. The best “pumpkin pie” I’ve ever had. Made in souffle form, served with a very complex and equally delicious sorbet made from bourbon, squash and three other things I can’t remember. If an afterlife exists, and they serve food, this must be what it tastes like.

5 teeth