Red Rooster

310 Lenox AveNew York, NY 10027 • (212) 792-9001 • redroosterharlem.com
 

While I applaud and appreciate Marcus Samuelson’s mission to make world-class cuisine more accessible, I wasn’t quite blown away. Especially in light of the fact that that others out there are also doing it and doing it better. Such as Danny Meyer with Shake Shack or David Chang with Momofuku Ko to name just a few. Also, having been to Aquavit back in the day, when Marcus was there, this is nothing by comparison. Granted it’s a bit like comparing apples to cured fish, but even quality to quality for what it’s supposed to be, things weren’t even in the same league. Aquavit was an experience. This was a meal.

Now for the deets. Starting with the vibe when you walk in, which is absolutely electric. Probably my single favorite thing about the place. Everything is jumping. From the people to the sounds and smells. Even the walls have a life of their own. In fact, the most docile things in the joint are the flavors.

For starters, I found the cornbread to be a big whatevs. Sure, it’s cut that they’re shaped like mandolins, but they a bland and worthless without a slathering of the honey butter and/or the tomato jam. But at that point you have to ask, what wouldn’t taste good with butter and jam on top?

The chopped salad was also pretty basic by all modern-day standards. And not even executed that well as the roasted pears were not very roasted. The spiced walnuts were not all that spiced. The ricotta salata was either not creamy enough or balanced enough in the dish to have any effect. Leaving the apples, Swiss chard and frisee to fend for itself.

The crab fritters and the meatballs were the only starters I would ever reconsider getting. The meatballs being the better of the two, made thrice as nice with a trio of veal, beef and pork. The fritters are also good, though, made with a blue crab base, which is then twisted by some “bird funk” (I’m guessing either chicken fat or fried chicken batter or both) and fermented lime aioli. It was unique but not amazing.

For my main I had to go with the Hot Honey Yardbird, having heard all about his incredible fried chicken, and while it is by all accounts delicious, it is nowhere near the best I have ever had. In fact, from Florida to New York I’ve had better at Highball & Harvest and ABC Kitchen. That said, the collard greens beneath the chicken were beneath nothing else I have ever had. Absolutely delectable and the show-stealers of that dish by a country mile.

For sides, Marcus had another duo of smash hits, but ironically neither of them were the smashed potatoes. Instead, I much preferred the brussels sprouts and the signature mac and greens. The former has almost become a given these days now that everyone but Panera is now serving killer sprouts, but latter is quite interesting because I’ve read a few polarizing dings on Yelp about the mac and I have to blatantly disagree. Okay, so not entirely. I do have to admit they are mega-loaded with calories and cream. But the value prop is still very much in check if you ask me, because arteries be damned is it good!

Come dessert I was pretty certain this was a strong three knives and I was really hoping for Marcus to pull out all the stops and show me some of that Ethiopian-Scandinavian-French Culinary Institute-Chopped jury magic, but alas I found both the chocolate mousse and the sweet potato donuts to be more filler than fabulous. I’d rather have another bit of that mac.

So, Marcus, let’s look in the basket and see what I have for you today. Three knives, lots of hype, a great vibe and a bushel of hit and miss.

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Plage Belles Rives

32 Boulevard Edouard Baudouin 06160 Juan les Pins, France+33 4 93 61 02 79 • bellesrives.com

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According to legend, the Hotel Belles Rives is where F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote Tender is the Night back in 1925 and while that may very well be true, it has little to do with the food at their restaurant, which at the end of the day is all I really care about. Sorry Scotty.

Funny coincidence, though, this place seems to be attracting famous writers ever since, because I actually dined with Thomas Friedman and Maureen Dowd of the New York Times. Two writers I infinitely admire and while that alone should be worth 5 knives, the restaurant was not, even with its unprecedented writer juju.

The other thing Belles Rives has going for it is the view, but if you’re going to head all the way over to Antibes from Cannes, then I’m not exactly sure why you would stop here as opposed to Eden Rock, which is far more stunning on every metric imaginable.

But since this is where I was, and not at Eden Rock, I partook in a feast of average, starting with an octopus salad, tossed over potatoes, tomatoes and onion. This was chased by an unmemorable sea bream with potato puree, roasted tomato and passion fruit.

The unexceptional performance persisted through dessert with an inventive sounding sea urchin lemon meringue. And while you are probably wondering what kind of Chopped basket brought upon this insane combo of sea urchin in dessert form, please don’t spend too much time trying to figure it out, because the dish is nothing of the kind. It’s just a lemon tart in dome form, with meringue spines poking out all over the place to make it sort of loosely resemble the shape of a sea urchin. Sort of how the restaurant sort of resembles a place you might actually think was worth the money, but it isn’t.

Nonetheless, it will still be a meal I will never forget, because how often is it that you get to hang with geniuses the likes of Thomas Friedman and Maureen friggin’ Dowd?!

2 teeth

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

The Breslin

Ace Hotel • 20 W 29th St. New York, NY10001(212) 679-1939thebreslin.com

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Because it’s located in the Ace Hotel I have to give it instant points for cool, but the decor of the restaurant itself is truly nothing extraordinary, falling somewhere between an old world pub and a Bennigan’s. Yet somehow it also feels just right for what the place offers, nose-to-tail done gastro pub style (not to be confused with Gangnam Style).  So to that end, I ordered myself a pint of Guinness and the highly acclaimed lamb burger with thrice cooked potatoes (pictured).

Well, apparently someone forgot to serve me the cool aid with it, because while I definitely found the burger to be good, it most certainly wasn’t great. And the fact that I ate it at 12:30am without having ever had dinner (except for the liquid kind), you’d think I would’ve been an extremely easy target. After all, everything tastes incredible when you’re starving and drunk. But to honest, I’ve made better lamb burgers at home, and I’m far from a chef the likes of April Bloomfield. In fact, if I were ever on Chopped, I’m pretty sure I would curl up in the fetal position on the kitchen floor. But giving props where props be due, the fries were actually pretty wonderful.

I’ve also been back a few times since, for work functions and what not, but I can’t say anything else on the menu wowed me either, especially when I compare it to places like Animal, which is my favorite nose to tail in existence. Or Minetta Tavern which is truly a gastro pub for the books. But if you’re staying in the hotel and it’s raining or freezing outside, you could do a lot, lot worse for hotel food.

3 teeth

Untamed Sandwiches

43 W 39th St. New York, NY 10018(646) 669-9397 untamedsandwiches.com

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Move over No.7 Sub, there’s a new game in town, just 10 blocks North, packing some serious skill between two slices of bread. But like No. 7, the ingredients list reads like a basket in an episode of Chopped, sourcing and mixing with reckless abandon. This place is undoubtedly destined for franchise greatness, so get in on the ground floor before it goes wide.

The bread alone is simply magnificent, a mini rustic Italian hero with great crunch on the outside, and just the right amount of air on the inside so as not to overpower the mastery of the innards.

As for the masterful innards of which I speak, let’s begin with the most masterful of them all, the Sheemakers Bounty, made with charred broccoli, fried almond butter, pickled raisin jelly and cress. Yes, a surprise vegetarian underdog takes the pole position. But don’t be thrown by the notion of broccoli in sandwich form, because the only thing crazy about it is how crazy good it is.

A close second for me would be the Nettle Neck. Once again, a road less travelled, like the Sheemaker, but I assure you these are the shiznit, contrary to the popular vote. The Nettle is made with braised lamb neck, walnut nettle pesto, gruyere and both pickled and charred onions. The tenderness of the neck meat assimilates with the other ingredients on the sandwich so well, it’s like utopia on a hoagie.

After that I’d go with The Butt (insert joke here), garnering its name from the headliner ingredient, cider braised pork butt. The pork is then accompanied by broccoli rabe, pepper jelly, sharp cheddar and Dijon. And while the thought of sinking your teeth into the backside of Wilber might be off-putting to some, for me it was kickass. No ifs ands or butts. Sorry… I had to.

In fourth, the Carla Bruni was almost as delicious as its namesake is beautiful. Loaded up with Ciambotta style (Southern Italian stew) braised vegetables, goat cheese, olive spread and basil. Again, a solid showing from the vegetable contingent, but compared to the Sheemaker, the Carla Bruni is more like Carla Hall.

After that, the sandwiches become a little more mortal, but not just because they are more mainstream and not for a lack of trying. For example, the General Zapata offers nice heat from its pickled jalapenos, but the chicken tinga, queso fresco, pickled onions, etc… all blend a little too much into the bread, making for an unimpressive takeaway. But even less impressive was the highly touted Hot Goldie, after all, we’re talkin’ short ribs here, backed by a sweet and sour cabbage saw and black pepper aioli. But pound for pound, it is the least flavorful sandwich of the lot.

And while the sandwiches are definitely more hit than miss, sadly I can’t say the same about the sides. Skip every last one of them. The jalapeno cheddar grits were neither spicy nor cheesy. The “spicy” broccoli rabe was also suffering from absent heat. The collards with bacon were bitter and bland. And the roasted carrots, while easily the best of the bunch, were nothing more than you might expect to find at a Dig Inn.

Yet with all of the transgressions on the sides, if I hold them to their true intent, to make sandwiches that think outside of the bun, the box is hella checked. After all, their name isn’t Untamed Sides. That said, someone really does need to crack a whip on whoever was making them, because they cost this place five knives.

4 teeth