The Vault

2112 Bull StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 201-1950 • vaultkitchen.com

 

The name doesn’t scream Asian fare, but once you discover that it’s a stunning renovation of a former bank, it all makes total and complete cents. Get it? No seriously, whoever did this renovation deserves a ferocious high five, because they didn’t miss a trick, from the safe deposit box art on the walls, to the bar made up of the same. To the private dining room inside the safe, to teller cut windows and nickeled bathroom floors it is a smile everywhere you look.

Speaking of smiles, the service is delivered with big ones. Regrettably, however, the servers are bit off with the recos and even worse with clearing the plates, leaving us with more of a grimace.

The food, on the other hand, will have those corners spreading ear to ear. In fact, considering my expectations walking in, I couldn’t have left too much happier. My greatest joy coming in the form of an Ultimate Tuna Tartar (pictured) served over a bed of seaweed with a layer of avocado for creaminess, masago for saltiness, spicy mayo for heat, sesame seeds for texture, all topped with crispy crab for fucking awesomeness!

Also worth its weight in gold is the lemon coconut soup with shrimp, mussels, ginger, lemongrass and red curry. It’s perfect on a “cold” day (I use quotes because cold is obviously relative in Savannah) and just perfect in general. Might even be an Ultimate soup, still ruminating on that one.

The embarrassment of riches continued as Vault even served up one of the best stir-fry noodle dishes I’ve ever laid chopsticks on. The Nickel Noodles are a clinic on proportions and balance as the wide rice noodles hold up handsomely to the overloaded goodies within, like beef and shrimp, scallions and onions, bell peppers, egg and basil. Yummity Yum!

And making it rain in the Asian-Mex category were the FICO Fish tacos (see, it’s not just me with the money puns). Jazzed up with mango, cabbage, daikon, chipotle sauce and kimchi dressing.

But then, just like the market, things leveled off. The roasted duck dumplings, while very good, were decidedly more of this earth. As was the grilled calamari. And then, just like the market, things started sliding in the other direction, with a doughy miss, the steamed BBQ tofu buns. Which is crazy when you read what’s in them (spinach, shitakes, Szechuan glaze, Sriracha) – and yet all you taste is bun, bun, bun. Hard to believe the same restaurant made this.

Another pair of misses, per the aforementioned poor recos, are the desserts, which came highly recommended by the waiter compared to the lure of a trip to Leopold’s Ice Cream. Well, learn from our mistake and go to Leo’s. The key lime cake tasted like something you’d get on a plane and the pecan pie was way off balance with a meager dusting of pecans across the top and the rest all goop, whipped cream and crust.

Transgressions aside, The Vault is still a gem, albeit one knife shy of a diamond.

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

The Black Ant

60 2nd Ave. New York, NY 10003 • (212) 598-0300blackantnyc.com

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I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for restaurants named after colorful animals. The Purple Pig in Chicago, Yellow Dog Eats in Orlando, The Golden Goat in Eze, France… And there are many more where those came from- Well, now you add yet another to the list, The Black Ant, and while black is technically not a “color,” (it’s a value) if you can find it in a box of Crayolas, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a color.

The place is very cozy and charming inside, playing to its name with a gigantic ant mural and ant wallpaper. And the service is rather jubilant (note the clever use of an adjective containing the word “ant” within it- two points for me!), a noteworthy plus to the dining experience, because it becomes infectious and it’s almost impossible to have a bad time here because of it. Well, because of that or the margaritas. And actually just the smoky jalapeno margarita, which was spicy and smoky as one might expect. The blood orange variety is actually a bit of a miss if you ask me. Much better ones to be had at ABC Cocina in the city or Truck in Bedford, NY.

As for the guac, however, you’d be hard-pressed to find better, or as interesting, made so by loading it with goodies like chipotle, black ant salt, quesillo and garbanzos done in a way that is very reminiscent of corn nuts, all waging a textural tango on your tongue, between creamy and crunchy.

The fries are also done with a cultural flair, foregoing the potatoes in lieu of cactus. Now I can’t exactly say I’ve had a plethora of cactus fries in my life to compare these with, but I feel pretty comfortable in saying that this is probably the most joy a cactus has ever given someone since peyote.

For a taco, I definitely recommend the enchapulinados (fried shrimp). But again, Black Ant doesn’t seem to do anything the easy way, so instead of coconut or panko these shrimp are crusted with grasshoppers. No, not the cocktail. The insect. Accompanied with habanero, garlic aioli and cabbage slaw, all lovingly dolloped on a homemade tortilla. It’s not quite an Ultimate, but it is quite good.

As for my entrée, this was the biggest let down of the night, other than the blood orange margarita. I followed the recommendation of the waitress who suggested the buñuelos de pato, which are essentially fried wontons filled with duck, smothered in mole and cotija cheese, served up with a kumquat salad. It’s not bad I suppose, but after her two previous fried recommendations I started to get a little fried on fried things. And I’m not exactly sure why she didn’t recommend that short rib looker above or the stunning fish dish you’ll find on their website. I can only assume she just has a thing for fried foods, but I’m also not ruling out the possibility that she was trying to kill me.

Well, I would’ve thought that had she not followed it up with the best recommendation of the night, the Piña Loca for dessert. It’s a warm cake and ice cream served over a caramelized pineapple pancake and all I can say is muy bien!

Definitely a worthwhile visit and I look forward to returning with wifey. But when I do, I’m skipping the duck.

3 teeth

Bedford 234

635 Old Post Rd. Bedford, NY 10506 • (914) 234-5656 • bedford234.com

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Brimming with potential, Bedford 234 still has quite a few kinks to work out, mostly in the service department. Well, to be fair, it’s more of an issue with the kitchen than the servers, because the waiters were keeping up. It was the kitchen that failed them. Not in terms of food, however. It was a matter of speed, or lack thereof. They simply can’t handle their own success, having to hold off on seating tables because the kitchen is so behind. A nice problem to have if you’re the restaurateur, but as a customer, not so much. That said, a word of advice to the restaurateur, to help solve this problem moving forward, perhaps you should consider taking reservations? That way you can manage the kitchen’s workload accordingly. Shocking concept, right?

Hopefully they figure it out soon, because everything suffers because of it. Patrons get annoyed, packed in like sardines trying to get a drink at the teeny-tiny bar as they wait for a table. Diners get annoyed by the noise level spilling over from the bar into the dining room. Bread baskets get forgotten and entrees get overcooked.

So now that I’ve told you what’s wrong with 234, here’s what’s right. For starters, the décor is very cool. Rustic cool, with an artistic vibe about it. Lots of energy too. Feels like something you’d expect to see in the city. And the outdoor seating is equally impressive with its brick arches and strung lights. A good place to sit with a drink if you need to wait for your table, which you will if it’s a Friday or Saturday night between 7:00-8:30pm.

In terms of drinks, the rosemary and cucumber margarita with Sriracha salt is very potent, which helps you forget about the wait. But sadly, all of those interesting ingredients don’t really come through and it ends up tasting like a normal, everyday margarita, which isn’t the worst thing I suppose.

For our appetizers, we shared the lobster knuckle escargot (pictured) and the warm mushroom crostini and both were very good. The former is pretty much what it sounds like, roughly half a dozen yummy chunks of lobster served in an escargot dish, each chunk nestled in a cup of buttery, garlicky paradise. The latter is comprised of warm, marinated hen of the woods and enoki mushrooms, along with melted leeks, all smothered in red beard cheese and placed over their house made bread, which is pretty tasty just with the olive oil, so you can imagine how fungalicious it is with this stuff stacked to the gills.

For entrees, the quinoa and rice bowl is surprisingly good, loaded with grilled veggies, avocado, kale, red spinach and spicy lemongrass yogurt all tossed in a citrus, chipotle vinaigrette. The dish is primary made by the freshness of its ingredients, but that little touch of heat is truly what keeps it interesting. Also, I recommend adding king salmon to it for a few bucks more. It really completes the dish. Unfortunately it was a touch overcooked though, but even so, I still found myself enjoying it.

Wifey, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well with the chimichurri grass fed bavette steak, which was delivered three temps over the request of medium rare! I mean, c’mon! I get the occasional medium fuck up, because the kitchen is busy, yada yada yada. But to try and send out a well done cut of meat and pass it off as an attempt at medium rare is borderline unforgivable. Shit, you could probably strap a flamethrower to a jackhammer and set it off in a room next to a piece of meat and get it closer to medium rare. So naturally she sent it back, leaving me to eat alone (Don’t worry, I’m okay). Then, some 15 minutes later, they rushed a second steak to the table, but because they didn’t give it time to rest, the thing bled out all over the plate, ruining the fries served with it.

We asked to speak to a manager about this, but apparently there wasn’t one that night (shocker). That said, the hostess did the right thing and comped wifey’s glass of wine. Not to mention dessert. Now normally you’d think they should’ve comped the steak in this situation, but once I tell you about dessert I think you’ll agree it was a win.

This winning dessert is the best damn coconut cake I’ve ever had. Served as a behemoth under glass, this towering mountain of Ultimateness was so irresistible we managed to put away a good three quarters of the slice. Now I realize that doesn’t sound all that impressive, but keep in mind that the slice started out the size of an adolescent Jack Russell Terrier. Also, waste not, want not was in full effect come the next day, when that final quarter made for a rather tasty stroll down memory lane, post lunch.

My advice, go there on less crowded days or at less crowded times and I would imagine you will be thoroughly pleased as punch.

3 teeth

Oxido

18 W 23rd St. New York, NY10010(212) 256-1072 • oxido.nyc

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I struggle to love this place simply because I don’t understand why you would copy Chipotle only to deliver slightly under that bar. I mean at least with Tres Carnes they upped the game. Or with Indikitch they went Indian instead of Mexican.

Oxido is not bad, mind you. And, it’s closer to my office than Chipotle or Tres Carnes, which is a nice convenience after the epically shitty winter we just had. But once, or rather IF the ice ever thaws, I think Oxido will struggle to keep their doors open through the warmer months.

Reason being that their menu reads better than your palate can discern. Things like poblano chicken, sweet corn relish, cilantro guac, smoked jalapeno salsa, queso blanca and salsa fresca all sound like a who’s who of Mexican magnificence, but once they wrap it all up in that tortilla it all blends together like a Mex-o-matic with virtually no separation in flavors.

Lastly, the décor is nothing special and a bit of a subway car in shape, located on the gravesite of Energy Kitchen (RIP), which I affectionately used to refer to as “Cardboard Kitchen,” so at least this is a step above its predecessor. Unfortunately, that isn’t saying much.

2 teeth

Calexico

153 Rivington St. New York, NY 10002 • (646) 590-4172 calexico.net
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Seeing the lines, I had such high hopes for this place, but I gotta say, I have no idea what people are talking about. The burritos are FAR from “huge.” Go to Chipotle, Benny’s, Blockheads… Those are huge. These are more… what’s the word? Diminutive. So much so that when I brought it back to the office, a guy I work with commented on how surprisingly small it was- so it’s not just me bitching.

And as for flavor- “crack sauce?” Implying something is so good it’s as addictive as crack? Sorry, but they must’ve forgotten to put it on mine, because it was flavorless. I wound up drowning the thing in hot sauce just to make it worth eating. If you want a truly addictive burrito experience try Tres Carnes.

But whatever you do, please don’t waste your time standing on line, only to then wait around another 15 minutes for your mediocre order to be made. There’s a Chipotle just down the street and it’s bigger, faster and better.

1 tooth

Westchester Burger Co.

106 Westchester Ave. White Plains, NY 10601 •  (914) 358-9398westchesterburger.com
353 N Bedford Rd. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 218-3200

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Please don’t take these three knives lightly. I mean these guys custom season every burger to match its accoutrements. And as a result, there are burgers on the menu that easily make their way into the four knife realm. The problem, is that there are a lot of two knife burgers as well. And the sweet potato fries that everybody raves about are just “eh.” If you really want sweet potato fries to rock your world, go to Blue Smoke in Manhattan. Also, the shakes, while good, get by more on the guilty add-ins as opposed to the ice cream base.

But back to some of those four knife burgers… Numero uno would be the Napa Burger- WOW! Almost every time I don’t get this, I regret it. Fortunately it’s too big for my wife to finish, so I usually get a few bites anyways. So what makes this burger so good it guaranteed a return visit all on its own? Well, first, they marinate the patty in a Zinfandel sauce and top it with goat cheese and watercress- all aboard a sweet brioche bun. It’s somethin’ special.

Another high would be the Ba Da Bing, made with spicy Italian sausage, as opposed to ground beef, broccoli rabe, provolone, balsamic glaze all atop a focaccia bun. It’s quite inventive and quite good.

And coming in third for me would be the lamb burger served with squash and zucchini, a yogurt sauce and once again, focaccia. They can go a little crazy with the sauce on this one, so I’d recommend asking them to go light or to put it on the side.

In the middle of the road would be their namesake, the TWC – their classic with a twist, or as I like to call it, a high end Whopper. Good, but nothing I would ever order again.

Same goes for the Graziella, The Balboa and The Firehouse. Just nothing about any of them makes a big enough impression to make it worth ordering again. Especially the Firehouse. I mean with a name like that, you’re expecting some heat. C’mon, break out the habaneros or jalapenos or chili peppers- hell, break out something other than just chili.

Service was friendly and fast and they are always great with the kids. Decor is nothing THAT special, however. Not sure why so many people rave about how cool it is. Guess they don’t spend much time in the city… or at Chipotle. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s pretty normal by my standards. Like a Chipotle.

3 teeth

Choza Taqueria

66 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10016(212) 213-0708 chozataqueria.com

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I have nada idea why this place had a line in front. I had three different anemicly filled tacos ranging from good to blah to blech!

The carnitas was the “good.” The chicken was “bad” and the veggie “ugly.” The latter two being dry, overcooked and underwhelming. And while the pork was okay, I’d happily take Chipotle over this place any day of the week.

I find it shocking that it’s still open after all these years of serving what are essentially tiny turds. That said, I am giving it one knife because at least they have Grapefruit Jarritos.

1 tooth

Tres Carnes

688 6th Ave. New York, NY 10010 • (212) 989-8737trescarnes.com

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During the week the line is around the block so I had never tried it before. But during the weekends it’s apparently much easier to get in and get out. So, I took advantage. And now I know why there’s a line around the block all the time.

First, the smell alone when you walk in is so damn good I’d swear I was Pavlov’s dog in another life. And once I saw brisket on the menu- fuggetaboutit!

And by that I mean, it’s UN-forgettable. Easily the best burrito I’ve ever had. And I was a bit worried, because I was like a kid in candy store, putting virtually every ingredient they had into this thing- the street-cart corn, the smoky guac and the chipotle squash. But the preparations of everything are so complex and masterfully layered with depths of flavor that I can’t even begin to describe, other than to say it was like burrito poetry in my mouth.

The pork shoulder is also money. Skip the chicken. But no matter what you choose, it still puts that other fast burrito place to shame. Chipotle you are officially on notice. If you want to keep up with Tres Carnes I suggest you actually go back to the start.

5 teeth

Indikitch

25 W 23rd St. New York, NY 10010646) 590-7152 • indikitch.com

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From the decor to the menu it’s basically Chipotle for Indian food. So much so that Chipotle could probably sue for copyright infringement.

That said, because nobody knows Indian food as well as Mexican, EVERYTHING has to be explained to EVERYONE. So it literally takes forever to order- basically rendering the fast-service concept moot. This is SO bad in fact, that I literally left the first time I went because one person in front of me took over 10 minutes just to place her order. And she still wasn’t finished when I left! For all I knew, she could’ve still been there when I returned days later- but lucky for me, I went at an off time and went right to the front of the line. I highly recommend doing this if you still choose to go after reading the rest of my entry.

So, now for the food. It’s eh at best. The raves of this place are a shocking commentary on how woefully easy to please most people are when it comes to food. The nan was dry. The vindaloo FAR from spicy- and I even asked for the extra spicy version. Sorry, but vindaloo is supposed to be doubly spicy as is. So if you ask for extra spicy it should be like lava. This was like curry flavored water.

As for the sides, the rice was over cooked and the cucumber salad was bland.

The only thing that was worthy of note was the blood orange lemonade. Far superior to Num Pang’s.

But in terms of Indian, if you really want to taste something worthy of 5 stars, just head a few blocks Southeast to Tamarind. It’s my favorite Indian in the city and it makes this place look like exactly what it is… a gimmick.

2 teeth