Pondicheri

15 W 27th StNew York, NY 10001 • (646) 878-4375 • PondicheriCafe.com

Yes, it’s yet another fast casual, meat in a bowl format restaurant. Is it just me, or are we slowly devolving into eating like our pets? I mean take away the fork and knife (or chopsticks) and lower the bowl about 30 inches and voila! You’re a dog.

The degradation of humanity aside, Inday is actually pretty cool inside, clearly taking the bowl concept up a notch to posh pet. The food, however, is not so posh. Quite hit and miss actually with the emphasis on the misses.

For example, the raita was a bit yellow. Yes, I’m sure it was raita I ordered and not mayonnaise. No, I’m not 100% certain they didn’t pee in it. Although it did taste weird. Perhaps it was saffron?

Another big miss for me was the lamb dish. The meat was terribly overcooked and completely lacking flavor. Even the rice was bland as sand. And adding insult to injury was the price of the dish. So not worthy. In fact, it was so unworthy even they realized it and subsequently removed it from the menu. Good call.

The things that are worthy are the garlic naan, the chocolate chip and mint cookie and best of all, the chai cake. It’s the stuff of which dreams are made… and chai lattes. Essentially that’s exactly what it is, a chai latte in pie form. Think of a pumpkin pie and a chai latte having sex and there you have it. It’s a lot to wrap your head around, but oh-so perfect for wrapping your lips around. Between that and the cookie this place clearly knows its sweets. Now they just need to get the rest of the menu up to snuff and I’d up this place a knife or two in a heartbeat.

Terrain Garden Cafe

561 Post Rd E. Westport, CT 06880 • (203) 226-2732 • shopterrain.com

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As a store this place is lovely. Easily 5 knives. I mean just look at that picture! The setting will charm the pants off of you, so be sure to wear clean underwear. And if you’re decorating your house, your deck or your garden this is essentially Nirvana for Druids.  It’s also Anthropologie’s finest achievement to date, although & Co is opening soon, so TBD on that one. But I don’t do stores, so who gives a squat, right? I review restaurants and as far as this one goes, it could stand for some improvement, to put it mildly. Perhaps the people running the shop should take over the kitchen?

From the café, I thought the chai latte was good enough, but the croissants are crapsants. Chewy and doughy. And dinner doesn’t fare much better, the short ribs were overcooked and the burger and fries were just okay even though it had all the right stuff, from caramelized onions and sticky mushrooms to Swiss and the prerequisite brioche bun. Yet with all that, it somehow still didn’t hit the wow bar. Little Barn down the street has much better burgers if you ask moi.

The burger wasn’t alone though, because even the pear cobbler a la mode was equally lacking in flavor. Fortunately the wine was good and the service friendly, but if you ask me, your money is better spent on rustic pots, topiaries and terrariums.

2 teeth

Neat

6 Wilton Rd. Westport, CT 06880(203) 557-8955 neatwestport.com

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Breakfast all day? All right! Damn, I love Westport. And as if I needed yet another reason to want to move there, they go ahead and open yet another great restaurant. Cute to the core and serving up the best chai latte I’ve ever had. More foamy than Cujo’s mouth, yet still piping hot and spiced to the brim with cinnamon, fennel, star anise, peppercorn, nutmeg and cloves. So good. As is their fresh squeezed OJ, enough so to make even a Florida boy like me happy.

Of the breakfast fare my favorite thing on the menu was the ciabatta BLT, which is also a nice go-to if you should want a more lunch-y option. The other dish I was digging was the trio of Egg soufflés, granted I would just go with three of the sundried tomato and burrata. Trust me. Skip the plain. And while the bacon would seem like it would be worth it, it’s not. If you want bacon then get the BLT.

The waffles are also solid if you’re craving something sweet. And if “kosher” is your thang, then the pretzel bagel with pastrami salmon has you covered. That said, I did find it to be a wannabe Pastrami Russ from Russ & Daughters, and while it’s definitely good, it falls very short of its mentor. Mostly because the bagel is pretty sub par. What is on par is the net, net. Worthy of a strong four.

4 teeth

 

Walton’s Fancy & Staple

609 W 6th St. Austin, TX 78701(512) 542-3380 waltonsfancyandstaple.com

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I’m not really sure where the fancy is, because it’s definitely not in the décor. Not that it’s a shithole or anything, but fancy it ain’t. It’s your run of the mill counter service café with some prepared foods and several made-to-order options listed on huge boards overhead. Maybe they were going for irony?

As for the staple side of the equation, I think I get it. All of the dishes are your basic staples from sandwiches to French toast to shrimp and grits (a southern staple). But each of them has a little twist, which I suppose could be construed as “fancy,” but I still think that’s being generous with the term. Very caught up on this fancy thing as you can see. Lost a lot of sleep.

As for the “fancy” twists of which I speak, the shrimp and grits was actually the best I’ve ever had, fancied up with blackened shrimp placed over a bed of jalapeno, cheddar grits. It is a savory, spicy masterpiece.

The other fancied up dish was the crème brulee battered French toast, which was good, but not great. It’s just too damn big for its own good. It’s a fatal mistake I see time and time again. Restaurants all trying to get tricky with different batters, coatings, breads and portion sizes, when the only thing that really matters at the end of the day is to soak the bread through and through for fuck sake! How hard is it? Just do that and I could care less about the brioche, challah, raisin walnut, caramelized, bread pudding, burnt brown butter, cinnamon dusted, macerated apple topping.

Back on the plus side, their chai latte is pretty damn skippy.

3 teeth

 

Bel Cafe

801 W Georgia St. Vancouver, BC V6C 1P7 Canada(604) 673-7000belcafe.com

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Just off the corner of the Rosewood Hotel there is a café of cool, because apparently that’s just how the Rosewood rolls. Average don’t play in these walls. Granted the Bel isn’t quite as refined as the hotel it calls home, but what it lacks in posh, it makes up for in vibe, with young, hip, attractive shoppers huddled around the lattes and noshes.

Of the lattes, I tried the chocolate chai latte and sadly it was a far cry from the one at Bread and Cocoa in San Francisco, but to be fair, that’s the best latte I’ve ever had in my life. On the upside, the blueberry scone was mighty good. Fresh and not too dry, which is the bane of scone existence.

Can’t say much beyond that though, but from my limited sample of eyesdropping (eavesdropping with the eyes), I noticed quite a few lookers on the plates of my fellow patrons, not to mention in the glass case (pictured). Enough to feel comfortable with giving this place an assumptive three knives.

3 teeth

 

Espresso House

Vasagatan 22, Gothenburg, Sweden • espressohouse.se
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I believe this is a Swedish chain, or perhaps a Nordic chain or maybe even a European chain, but having seen more than one location, I know it’s definitely a chain. Basically a Starbucks with local flavor.

I had a chai latte which was milkier than most, but still managed to do the trick. Guessing a 60/40 chai to milk ratio is a part of that “local flavor” I spoke of.

The other thing I tried was a bagel and lox sandwich. Risky I know, but if there’s anything the Swedes know how to do, it’s smoke fish. Now obviously it was a Swedish version of the New York City staple, accented with the nice addition of mache on top. And truth be told, it held up, bagel and all.

That said, I’m not saying you should trip over people trying to get to an Espresso House, but if it’s convenient and you need a fix, consider this your Starbucks away from home.

3 teeth

Gryphon Tea Room

337 Bull St. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 525-5880 • scad.edu/experience/gryphon

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Savannah is no stranger to stunning, historic architecture, but when you combine that with the skilled eyes of the interior designers as SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design) you wind up with something truly special. And so, this apothecary from the early 1900’s has gone through an extraordinary transformation to become a lunch destination not to be missed. From the leather bound library encircling the dining room, to the rich, ornate, hand-carved wood moldings, to the original stained glass windows you can’t help but fall in love with the setting.

But what makes the Gryphon truly worthy is that it doesn’t rest on its traffic-stopping decor, although it easily could. No, just like its overachieving owner, the Gryphon delivers in spades. My onion, apple and leek quiche was excellent, upstaging a rather good goat cheese salad which I ordered to accompany it. And equally impressive was the smoked salmon club sandwich. Fresh and perfectly balanced, I honestly don’t know which I liked better. Plus, the cucumber salad as a side was a great choice next to the salmon.

Our lattes of both coffee and chai lineage were also delicious, but I suppose that should be expected from a place entitled a “tea room.”

Dessert was the only thing we had that wasn’t a “wow face.” The apple and pear crumble with spiced ginger ice cream, while good, lacked the strong contrast of texture and flavor that makes for truly memorable crumbles. But then, as a nice holiday surprise, one of the waiters brought us their own, homemade holiday ginger cookies along with the check, and have to say, those cookies were as good as any I’ve ever had.

So I’m going with a rock solid 4 knives, standing tall… If only they were also opened for dinner too… sigh.

4 teeth

Sherry B Dessert Studio

65 King St. Chappaqua, NY 10514(914) 238-8300 sherryb.com

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Apart from their ridiculously inconvenient hours, this place is perfection. From coffee to chai lattes to brownies so good you’d swear they were laced, like the dulce de leche.

Even the decor is incredibly well done- something you’d expect to see in Manhattan. Sleek, with interesting touches like using muffin pans as a decorative element. Sounds weird, but looks great. And the staff, as well as Sherry, are always very friendly and equally skilled.

The only miss for me is the ice cream. It’s just okay. Wish it lived up to the rest, but that’s a pretty high bar.

5 teeth