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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Salsamenteria di Parma

86 Rue Meynadier, 06400 Cannes, France • +33 4 93 99 66 67 • salsamenteriadiparma.com
 

At the bottom of the hill just before you officially enter “Old Cannes” there is wonderful new Italian restaurant that specializes in transcendent charcuterie (pictured). In fact, that’s kind of their big thing. In fact, there’s not much else on the menu with the exception of salads and bruschetta. And cheeses, of course.

But in its simplicity lies its genius. To quote the great four-legged philosopher Baloo, “Look for the bare necessities. The simple bare necessities. Forget about your worries and your strife. I mean the bare necessities. Old Mother Nature’s recipes. That brings the bare necessities of life.” That there is some sage wisdom from a bear, because their parma bruschetta with honey is a thing of beauty. The tomato and pesto bruschetta is also quite nice, but challenging to keep those little grape tomato slices on the bread and not in your lap.

The charcuterie was also quite impressive, so I’m guessing they know how to source their hog. Which shouldn’t come as a shock, I suppose, considering a bifurcated pig is their logo and themed décor.

Salads, however, do not appear to be their thing, serving it undressed and underwhelming. Luckily they made up for it handsomely with a crazy chocolate sausage dessert. What?! Yes. Chocolate sausage. For desert. It is stupid good. Almost like a cookie, but with the consistency of helva. It’s kinda hard to describe, but trust me, it’s VERY easy to wolf down.

Not sure I would ever choose this place for a full-up dinner, but for lunch or a snack or a light dinner with a bottle of wine and lots of goodies- it’s hard to beat it.

Murray’s Cheese Bar

264 Bleecker StNew York, NY 10014 • (646) 476-8882 • murrayscheesebar.com

Murray’s has been a New York icon for more years than the aged cheddar in their cheese cases. But more recently they decided to take that expertise and run with it, opening up a restaurant just a few doors down where the cheese flows like wine, or rather in tandem with it.

Our story begins with a robust, spicy blend of Grenache and Syrah by the glass. It was perfect for the cheesy tour de force that lied ahead, starting with the grilled artichokes, which wasn’t all that cheesy to be honest, but holy cow was it good, drizzled with an alici aioli (alici is an Italian fish sauce made from anchovies, in case you were thinking of googling it like I just did).

Equally impressive, and much cheesier, were the stuffed zucchini blossoms filled with spiced cream cheese, roasted corn and placed over a light yogurt sauce. Just killer.

But speaking of deadly, the Mac & Cheese was the real showstopper, making my Ultimate list with flying colors… and cheeses. My daughter technically ordered it, but I got all Daniel Day Lewis (circa There Will be Blood) on her and I “drank her milkshake.”

The sliders were also a solid yum, leading me to believe that the burgers are most likely awesome as well. And speaking of the A-word, the charcuterie and cheese plate is all that and then some. Obviously a lot rides on which meats and cheeses you choose, but you can never go wrong with the sweet San Daniele or the milky double cream. Also adding to the awesome are the inspired accouterments like the maple shavings. A stroke of delicousness!

Another worthy get is the grilled cheese, although I must admit I found the sandwich itself to be shockingly boring. What makes up for it in spades, however, is the kickass, sharp-ass tomato soup. Just dip the mediocre sammy in that red fountain of youth and your taste buds will feel like they’re twenty-one again, unless you’re younger than 21, in which case I’m not sure what the math would be?

Lastly, for dessert, while I appreciate the attempt to recreate iconic dishes with cheese, the Ch-mores fall miserably short and lack the contrast of flavors and textures that make S’mores so wonderful. Instead, the Ch’mores wind both looking and tasting like a cheesy blob. It was the biggest miss of the night and the primary reason I am docking a knife. Apart from that, I’d say it is a perfect stop amidst a Bleeker shopping spree, or for an early dinner with kids that doesn’t compromise for the adults.

Loews Hotel Restaurant & Lounge

This is a review of the bar, not the hotel or the restaurant, although I did have some snacks that probably bridge the gap between menus.

The bar itself (pictured) is much nicer than the one in the Loews, Santa Monica, which isn’t hard to beat, but unto itself, the New York location has a nicely done, deco vibe. Service is warm and friendly as well. Not the liveliest of crowds, however, so if you’re looking for a scene, this ain’t it.

As for cocktails, I found the Manhattan a little too sweet for my tastes and so I quickly switched to my ole goto Blanton’s on the rocks.

Apps were money. My favs being the mini reubens and the French fries, which were surprisingly good, served up with two dipping options; a homemade ketchup marinana and a mayo mustard. The reason I say “surprising” is because I’m normally not a fan of homemade ketchups. They almost always suck. For me, it’s either Heinz or Annie’s or it’s mustard please. Don’t even get me started on Hunts. Also decent are the hummus with fried chickpeas, the charcuterie and the cheese plate.

Ultimately, I am happy I came to Loews (movie theater humor- though technically a different, unrelated Loews). Definitely not a destination unto itself, but if you’re staying in the hotel or meeting someone there you could do a lot worse. Particularly on the Upper East.

3 teeth

BOHO

Merkez, Plaj Cd. No:7, 48990 Yalıkavak/Bodrum/Muğla, Turkey • +90 252 385 25 45 • boho.com.tr/boho/food-drink
80508484

The name sounds like an homage to a rodeo clown or something, but it is actually short for Bauhaus, and the way this new hotel is decorated it does that philosophy of design proud. The location doesn’t hurt either, situated on the water in Yalikavak along a charming pedestrian-only street that stretches for several blocks paralleling the shore.

Seated on the deck, overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, the cocktails somehow tasted exquisite, but to be fair, my judgment may have been askew due to the parched state I was in after waiting over 30 minutes for our drinks. So speed of service would not be listed in the plus column.

The food, however, is very much a plus, all small plates, packing big flavor (I’d show a better picture, but they are oddly cagey about such things). My favorites being the spicy octopus, which packs some serious kick and the pasta, which packs some serious Italian cred.

I also enjoyed the charcuterie and cheese as well as the olives, but those were a little more standard in the scheme of things.

If it weren’t for the service I’d probably consider 4 knives, but the only other thing I will say is that there wasn’t much of a crowd their either, unless you take into consideration the stray cats looming over you, waiting for you to finish.

3 teeth

 

Petit Poulet

52 W 33rd St. New York, NY 10001 • (212) 244-0440 petitpouletny.com

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The pickens are pretty slim when it comes to lunch in Herald Square. In fact, in Manhattan it’s kinda become the land that restaurateurs forgot, which puts ole Ferocious smack dab between a rock and hard to find a friggin’ place to eat place. And that’s not for a lack of trying.

My most recent attempt being this bistro-hopeful that seemed to start off on all the right feet with its classic décor, good service, reasonable rose and tres yummy charcuterie board complete with Roquefort, Camembert, cornichon, soppressata, mustard, jam, olives, grapes, fresh baguette, etc…

The other starter, the hummus and pita, was less obvious for bistro fare and wouldn’t have been my choice to order, but Morocco is a stone’s throw, so I let it slide. It’s just okay though, as to be expected. What wasn’t to be expected from my little chicken that could, was the palliard salad being as dry as Morocco. Far inferior to that of The Palm or The Standard Grill.

For dessert, the chicken choked, serving up a bizarre attempt at profiteroles that were more like ginormous balls of vanilla ice cream with teeny-weeny beanie caps of pastry on top and bottom. Flavor-wise they were still good, but as you can imagine, horribly off balance and tasting more like just a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Whereas the tart tatin was much more contained in size, but didn’t quite get there in flavor or texture, because the crust got very sogged down by the sugary innards of the tart and the choice of granny smith apples didn’t quite manifest in the contrast I think they were hoping for. And as a result, I actually found myself preferring the dysfunctional, obese profiteroles.

So for now I’m going with two knives, because the misses out-weighed the hits, but if I were grading on a curve based on the options in the area, I’d say it’s probably more like a three.

2 teeth

Mi Casa

100 Dorado Beach Dr. Dorado, Puerto Rico 00646(787) 278-7217 • http://www.ritzcarlton.com/en/hotels/puerto-rico/dorado-beach/dining/mi-casa-by-jose-andres

Food by Chef Jose Andres for Mi Casa in Puerto Rico

I don’t mean to come off douchey, because no one needs a Douchey Foodie in their lives and let’s face it, a Ferocious one is already bad enough as is, but if you have the means, I highly recommend a vacation at the Ritz Carlton Dorado Beach Reserve. It is stunning on so many levels you won’t know whether to shit or go blind or just lie on the beach and gorge yourself full of deliciousness, like some wannabe Julius Caesar reincarnate. In fact, I could easily drop a thousand words waxing on about the spa alone, a four-acre, outdoor compound the likes of which you’ve never seen. But that’s for a different blog. So getting back on track, the thing that impressed me the most about Dorado (other than the spa) was the quality of the food at the restaurants, normally a challenge for even the ritziest of island retreats (pun intended).

Enlisting the help of famed chef, Jose Andres as their focal point in the dining scene, Dorado manages to stick the landing like Mary Lou Retton with rock climbing spike boots strapped to her feet, to use a self-dating sub-reference. And I don’t say this lightly, because truth be told, I’m actually not a huge fan of Jose. I typically find his cuisine too tricky for its own good, but Mi Casa is a home run (again, intended) way better than The Bazaar in LA.

Now it doesn’t hurt that we were sitting out on the balcony overlooking the Caribbean waves as they crashed into the rocks whilst a symphony of whistling tree frogs serenaded us, but the inside is nice as well. Just hard to compare to the alternative.

Starting with drinks, the Silver Lightning cocktail is quite nice and refreshing, although I don’t quite recall everything that was in it. Cucumber and a silver rum is about the best I can do. Apologies. I was on vacation, so hopefully you’ll find it your heart to forgive me. The wine selections by bottle and by glass are also impressive and service is pretty impeccable throughout 90% of the resort or more, and at Mi Casa it is no different. Waiters were attentive, elaborate with descriptions and knowledge of the menu and best of all, very forthcoming with the recommendations.

Of the recommends, we went with jamon sourced from black-footed pigs which are apparently only fed acorns. It gives the meat a nice underpinning of nuttiness, and the meat itself is very buttery, silky and delicious. On the downside, the tomato bread they serve it with doesn’t do the meat justice. Would love to see this paired with something more worthy, that actually compliments the flavors of the charcuterie more so.

The other reco we pounced on was the sauteed shrimp with arbol chili (similar to cayenne), poblano peppers, shallots and aged black garlic. It was phenomenal. So complex and layered with rich flavors that it might just be one of the best shrimp dishes I’ve ever had. Granted I’m usually just as happy with a good old shrimp cocktail and some kicking sauce, but that should take nothing away from this remarkable dish.

Our only zag from the recos were the Brussels sprouts, lightly sautéed and served up with dried apricots and a medley of other goodies. Unfortunately, this was the biggest miss of the night though, shame on us. Not that it was bad, but the sprouts were decidedly overpowered by the cots in a pretty big way.

For our entrée, wifey and I split the halibut, which was prepared flawlessly, served over a creamy leek purée that danced with the fish like a ballet in your mouth. The perfect light compromise should you want to save room for dessert, which you do. Trust me. Because it steals the show.

First let’s discuss the casa-shaped chocolate ganache, drizzled with flecks of salt and served up with spiced, candied hazelnuts and a heavenly praline ice cream. It is the richest house I’ve seen since the Breaker’s Mansion in Newport, RI. But as good as it was, the deconstructed key lime pie swooped in and bested it. So inventive with the pie on the bottom, a crumbled, crispy crust through the middle and a burnt meringue on top. So inventive. So magically delicious. But is it an Ultimate? Whoa, mamacita yes it is!

So bringing it home like a champ, Mi Casa is also bringing home 4 knives along with it.

4 teeth

The Writing Room

1703 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10128(212) 335-0075 • thewritingroomnyc.com

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If you happen to live on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, let me apologize in advance, but what the fuck is wrong with you guys?! You’re bringing the rest of the city down. I mean hell, Brooklyn is killing you! The Lower East Side too! Even your Upper West Sibling across the park has their act together (Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!) In fact, I’m gonna go ahead and say it. From the 70’s on up, you are the shopping mall food court of New York City cuisine.

Let’s take The Writing Room as a recent an example. From the décor, it’s seemingly not so bad, right? Especially that warm and cozy back room with the fireplace and the old school typewriters (pictured). Makes you feel all Hemingway inside. But the whole right hemisphere of the restaurant is a boisterous, yuppie cesspool, filled with the right-out-of-college crowd, making you cringe at every “OMG!” and “DUDE!” that wafts over your table.

And then there’s the food. Starting with an attempt at parker house rolls that didn’t even best some of the school cafeterias I’ve eaten in, fear was on the march, goose-stepping across my tongue with a reign of tyranny in the form of a blasé cod brandade. I’m shocked that the waiter even recommended it, because the dish is so lacking that I honestly found the air I was breathing had more flavor in it.

Equally unimpressive was the kale salad, with roasted sweet potatoes and granny smith apples served with a cream-based bleu dressing that not only defeated the purpose of a kale salad, but was so bland that it also defeated the purpose of being a cream-based dressing!

The charcuterie board might’ve been only slightly better than the previous zeros, but it was the smoked chicken over a barley risotto with spinach and bacon that finally registered a pulse on the taste-o-meter. Sadly, however, it was too little to late, because by that point, we had already written off The Writing Room, a story that ideally should’ve never been published.

1 tooth

Chappaqua Station

1 Station Plaza Chappaqua, NY 10514 • 914-861-8001 • chappaquastation.com

5-2

I’ll give the place an A for effort, but sadly the exchange rate of A’s to knives isn’t a favorable one. But before leaping all the way to the end, let’s discuss how we got there.

Located in the Chappaqua train station, as the uninventive name suggests, it seems to be taking a page out of like-minded restaurants (Via Vanti & Iron Horse) both one stop up and down on the Harlem line. That said, CTS is more of a bar with small plates. The wine selection is rather thin, however, whereas the cocktails go much deeper, which is strange for a place that sports a menu predominantly made up of charcuterie and cheese.

Also strange is the décor, if you can call it that. Basically all they did was stick a big bar (pictured) in the middle of the room and tables around it (albeit the space was already nice as is, I suppose). Then, they converted the café next to the main room into the kitchen, if you can call it that as well. More of a prep area if you ask me. And considering you’re on my blog it would appear you are asking. Oh, and one more thing. The seemingly intimate back right corner by the velvet red curtain is anything but. DO NOT SIT THERE. On the other side of the curtain is wait station where they will come and go repeatedly carrying dirty vats of water and other undesirable cargo.

Service is a variation on the Bar Taco method, using a check box menu, but somehow less fun and a touch cheap, because CTS uses laminated cards and red Sharpie’s. Also not helping the cheap vibe is the use of paper plates.

Among the small plates, the best things by far were the wine and cheese/charcuterie, but that’s not to say that even that was good. More passable than anything. The cheeses out shining the meat, even with such hopefuls as salami with pistachios and lemon zest, or the even more underwhelming salami with coriander and chili. On the cheese side, we went camembert, Vermont cheddar and bleu, and all three were solid. And while they surround the board with goodies such as jam, mustard, candied nuts and grapes, it does little to mask the failings of flavor.

Speaking of fails, the di parma, basil, tomato and mozzarella flatbread is not even on par with Stouffer’s French Bread Pizza! Not that I’ve had it in nearly three decades, but I ate a shit-ton as a kid. But saving the flatbread from the dubious distinction of the low point, dessert swooped in with an apple pie so bad we didn’t have more than a bite or two. Instead we focused our efforts on the Sherry B’s vanilla ice cream on top.

So not a great showing, but not entirely a train-wreck either. I look forward to them upping their game. And hopefully the MTA does the same.

2 teeth

Twisted Oak

61 Main St. Tarrytown, NY 10591 • (914) 332-1992 •  thetwistedoakny.com

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What in the hell is happening to Tarrytown?! You go away for a year and boom! About 80% of the restaurants are new. Which, as a Ferocious Foodie, naturally excites me with a plethora of new options now lying before me. So for starters, let’s tackle the Twisted Oak, the artist formerly known as Isabella’s (RIP).

Having heard good things from a fellow foodie, we decided to roll the dice, skeptical as we were, especially as we set foot in the dining room, which looks like it underwent very minimal renovations before reopening. It’s certainly nicer, but we’re talking maybe 10-15%, something about it still screaming old-school burbs eatery. Perhaps it’s in part due to the basket of CVS dental floss in the bathroom? I mean what place does that in this day and age? And it’s so unfortunate too, because you can tell they are truly reaching for a culinary experience, just look at the menu. Either the chef has no gift for décor or he and the owner are on vastly different pages.

On the upside, the page the chef is on is a very, very good one. For starters I highly recommend the charcuterie, served with grilled bread, cured ham, delicious little pickled beets and a buratta-like mozzarella spread with garlic and butter. You smear that on the bread and top it with a little prosciutto and yowser! It’s almost a toss up between that and just waiting for the normal bread to come, which is the same, sans grilling, but served with a wonderful baked spread of its own, comprised of parmesan, ricotta and garlic.

Another huge hit was the short rib with steel cut oat risotto and ramps. I don’t want to wax on about it too long, because the menu is always changing, but it was fall-off-the-bone-bodacious. Rich with flavor and killer with a Cabernet. Speaking of killer, as in, should you wish to put yourself on the fast train to killing yourself, the duck fat potatoes are all kinds of phat! To give you an idea of just how phenomenal they are, my son doesn’t even like potatoes unless they are in the form of French fries. Well, he wolfed down a good half of them. I ate the other half. Wifely had a cube or two, I think. Hard to say, I was too busy cramming duck fat potatoes in my face.

But Twisted Oak wavered a pit on the pastas if you ask me. The duck ravioli with fennel and citrus, while good, was also a bit too subtle for my tastes. I kept expecting the fennel and the acid to shine through more than they did. And the biggest loser of the bunch was the ricotta gnudi. Skip it. Just a bunch of big balls of blah.

But the Oak didn’t let me walk away upset, oh no. She ended strong with an awesome, and unlikely dessert reco, the white chocolate soup. Not something I would’ve ever gone for, but like The Monkey’s sing, now I’m a believer. We’re talking rich, creamy chocolate ice cream surrounded by hazelnuts, all doused in a healthy downpour of white chocolate. This dish is everything right with the world stuck in a bowl and served with a spoon.

Thank you for the pleasant surprise Twisted Oak. Your food far surpasses your decor, but at the end of the day, I’d rather have it that way than the other way around.

4 teeth