Prova Pizzabar

Grand Central Terminal • 89 E 42nd St. New York, NY 10017 (212) 972-0385provapizzabar.com

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First of all, Pizzabar isn’t even a word. Granted neither is bigly, but that apparently didn’t stop 60 million people from voting for Trump, so go figure. But putting aside frivolous things like the the English language, let’s get down to brass tax (which will also be lower under a Trump presidency- sorry, just can’t help myself).

Tucked away in a corner of Grand Central’s lower level you will find a new pizza place on the site where Two Boots used to reside (RIP). So sad too, because this place is nowhere near as good. Granted Two Boots lost a shoe over the years, particularly after they retired the Night Tripper, which was my favorite. Followed by the Bayou Beast. I’m getting all emotional just thinking about it.

As for Prova, it proved to be quite a step down from its predecessor, starting with the most important ding of all, it’s thick crust. WTF?! This isn’t Chicago people! As a result, the dough overwhelms the toppings, particularly on the veggie pie which was virtually tasteless, even with copious sprinklings of red pepper flakes. Slightly better is the namesake pie, the Prova, topped with truffled burrata, cherry tomatoes, arugula and proscuitto. But not even the truffled burrata was good enough to ever bring me back.

2 teeth

Quality Italian

57 W 57th St. New York, NY 10019 • (212) 390-1111 •  qualityitalian.com

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The name of this restaurant, and its sibling Quality Meats, might be the least alluring names in the restaurant industry other than maybe Fatburger. It reeks of defensiveness. “Ohhh, so you have to say that you’re high ‘quality,’ which obviously means you’re not.

Well, doubters be silenced, because the name is not defensive. It’s accurate. And it’s also quite nice. Again, nothing you would ever glean from a name that evokes images of neon yellow starbursts, but the décor really is well done. Cool and industrial with its exposed cement ceiling (which does make it a bit noisy) and iron beams, mixed with beautiful lighting fixtures, glass walls of wine and rich mahogany.

And speaking of wine, they have a terrific sommelier who buys exceptional wines in such large quantities that they can offer them at incredible prices. For example, we enjoyed a 2009 Brunello at two-thirds the price of what it should’ve been.

Our server, a poor man’s Galifanakis, was also very good, sporting a touch of that New York bite, while still managing to be very attentive and good with the suggestions.

Delving into the menu, which almost reads like part steakhouse, part Italian, I went with the most hyped up dishes I could, while stealing bites off of other plates at my table.

Of those hyped dishes the one I was the most skeptical about was the sausage and pepper toast. It didn’t even sound all that great on paper, like going to see a movie with a boring trailer. Always scary. Scary delicious that is. Sort of a take on a Chicago style hotdog or bratwurst, loaded with onions and hot peppers. Hard to go wrong there.

Unfortunately it was easier to go wrong elsewhere. Two of the other three starters at the table were sub par. The breaded oysters were disappointingly bland for something so loaded up with caloric goodies.

And the shrimp crudo was also a bit of a snore. Granted it tried to be something more, with the use of an herb infused marinade, but it just didn’t impress. On the plus side, the kale salad did.

The next hyped dish to arrive was the dry aged porterhouse agnolotti, and while it is most certainly good, it was the weakest of the three hyped dishes. Cooked al dente and loaded with wonderful flavors from the meat, it was undercut but dryness. And when I compare it to the likes of Manzo’s meat filled agnolotti, it is merely an apprentice in the presence of a master.

As for the non-hyped dishes, the bucatini with clams is very good and I highly recommend. Also served perfectly al dente, but done in a nice red sauce with some kick. The other was a filet cooked perfectly medium rare with a nice char on it, sidled next to a crispy bone marrow presentation that definitely made every bite of the meat sing.

But ohhh the sides. To even call them “sides” is actually a slight, because they are anything but supporting roles, they are Ultimates. And nobody puts baby in a corner, so move them away from the edges of the table- both the corn créme brulée and the Tuscan fries belong center stage. The corn, just as the name implies, is the love child between cream of corn and créme brulée, playing it faithful right down to the hard caramel top. So good you’ll want to shoot it into your veins. And as for the fries, they’re thick cut, with a nice dusting of herbs, salt and pepper. Crispy on the outside and warm and fluffy everywhere else.

Ending strong, our waiter braved the potential comparison to Marc Forgione recommending the s’mores dessert, and while Marc’s still reigns supreme, Quality Italian does a quality job. Served two ways, first as a chocolate tart with graham cracker crust and marshmallow topping, and second as an ice cream. Both are good, but I recommend eating them as separates, not together.

Not without its misses. Not without its hits. But the hits won the day, even in the face of surmounting hype, which brings us to the finally tally of…

4 teeth

 

Hot Diggity Dogs

947 W Wellington Ave. Chicago, IL 60657 • (773) 472-5446

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Being strapped with the dubious moniker of “Second City,” there has always been an unhealthy degree of competitiveness between Chicago and New York, at least from Chicago’s perspective. Not sure anyone in New York sees it as much of a contest.

But to be fair, Chicago does win its battles here and there. For example in terms of professional basketball teams I would say The Bulls have the Knicks beat quite badly in historical terms.

The other arena in which Chicago trounces New York would be the hot dog. For all the reasons that New York pizza bests Chicago, it is almost the complete inverse of logic when it comes to dogs. On the pizza front, less is actually more. When you pile too much crap on top you lose two of three greatest components of a pie- the sauce and the crust. I mean sure the cheese is the headliner, but when you pile on five cubic tons of it, you no longer taste anything else and it becomes too much of one note. And therein lies the genius of the Chicago dog, complexity.

Go to Papaya King or any other lauded New York hot dog icon and you will quickly see that once again, New York tries to keep it simple. But the thing is, hot dogs aren’t exactly what one would call complex or interesting (this is excluding bratwurst, Italian sausages, etc.). They are nothing more than blended up animal parts in log form. And I’m sorry, but French’s, Heinz and a little kraut aren’t about to turn the gourmet tides.

Enter the Chicago style dog. Like at Hot Diggity, a little stand that used to be a stone’s throw off of the Magnificent mile serving something equally magnificent. A dog piled high with hot peppers and onions and pickles and squash and zucchini. I mean just one look at this bun of gloriousness and it will change you on the spot. Making New York dogs look more like a severed finger in a bun by comparison. And just wait until you taste it. Your mouth has no idea what it’s about to learn about itself.

4 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