Pink Sumo

4 Church Ln. Westport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-8080 • pinksumoct.com

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I’ve heard great things about Pink Sumo so I wanted to kick the tires on some of their more inventive dishes. Sadly, I found a lot of flats.

For starts, the “Special Lobster Roll” is very pricey and not very special, so put that money back in your IRA. The other dish that sounded great but proved lackluster was the Fiery Madal. It was neither fiery, nor madaly? It is, however made of lots of great stuff like red seabream cucumber, micro cilantro, black truffle oil and Sriracha, but for whatever reasons, none of that seamed to matter to my mouth.

After that, things got mildly better with the always reliable staple, the yellowtail sashimi with slices of jalapeno and yuzu sauce. The unagi was also a solid good, but I can’t honestly say I found the fish quality to be exemplary on either.

The only thing that I would go so far as to decree a Trumpian “great” would be the big league pepper tuna hand roll. I’m not sure if it was truly great though, or just great by association, but if I ever try Sumo again, this and the unagi will be my only repeats.

***Okay, so I went again, only this time I went omakase and Pink Sumo proved much better than round one. For $50 you get a ton of food and could probably split one between two people. The dishes are also very inventive along the way, ending on a boat of sashimi. And while this was a much better showing versus the last time, I still stand by what I said. The fish quality isn’t that impressive compared to places like Azuma and Koku over in Westchester. Also, the best thing from both rounds remains the black pepper tuna hand roll.

3 teeth

Girl & the Goat

809 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60607(312) 492-6262girlandthegoat.com

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As you may have guessed, I love the name. It’s got a critter in it and alliteration. What more could you want? Good service? Check. Hip décor? Check squared. Great cocktails? Check-a-palooza. Great food? Well, depends on what you get, and I tried a lot.

It’s all small plates, so it’s a bit hard to distinguish between the appetizers and the entrees, but whatever you want to call them, be sure to get the warm marinated olives. They are tops. Never had better. Not even in Europe.

Another kickass dish are the green beans in fish sauce vinaigrette with cashews. It stole the show away from the cauliflower dish that so many others rave about. Sure it has pickled peppers (assumingly picked by Peter Piper), pine nuts and mint, but if you’ve ever eaten the cauliflower at Ilili or Tamarind in NYC, or Cleo in LA, this cauliflower is a mere apprentice in the shadow of their mastery. Whereas those green beans are Ultimate worthy. Trust me.

After that I’d go with the sweet corn pierogies with green goddess and rhubarb chimichurri (pictured). Or the pig face served with a sunny side egg, tamarind, cilantro, red wine, maple and potato stix. So good and definitely the better way to go versus the goat shank.

But buyer beware, because not everything is worth your hard-earning coin. I say skip the shishito peppers. If you’ve had one, you’ve had them all, and there are so many other original dishes to be had.

The grilled baby octopus is decent with its guanciale (cured pork), fava beans, pea tips, pistachios and lemon vinaigrette, but not at the level of those winners I mention above. Same goes for the broccoli with smoky bleu cheese, the roasted beets with avocado crème fraiche and the kohlrabi slaw with fennel, toasted almonds and blueberries.

And finally, for dessert, the tres leche was the best of the bunch for me, with rhubarb, pink peppercorn and strawberry sorbet. It’s not so great that I would recommend force feeding it down your gullet if you’re already stuffed with everything else, but if you’ve still got room for jello, then go for it!

3 teeth

Blanca

261 Moore St. Brooklyn, NY 11206(347) 799-2807blancanyc.com

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Had I never been to Momofuku Ko prior to my visit to Blanca, I’d probably be swooning even more than I’m about to, but unfortunately the concept does come off a bit as a copy cat (without the affordability hook). A high-end, chef’s tasting only offered to a dozen stools overlooking the kitchen amidst a purposefully pompless dining room.

What’s different is that it’s Italian and if you’ve ever been to Roberta’s for pizza, than you’re probably already drooling, because you kinda know what this chef is capable of. Then again, you also kinda don’t, because Carlo Mirachi is about to open a can of culinary whoop-ass on you that you’d likely never come to expect from a pie slinger, slinging around Ultimates instead, as if they were going out of style.

To get here, there are few things you need to know. First, make a reservation fast, because as I mentioned above, there aren’t many seats and there are only two seatings a night. Second, be willing to eat when you normally wouldn’t. The first seating is at 6pm and the second is at 8:30pm. I recommend the earlier one so you have time to digest. I also recommend booking during Passover when you weed out about half of the competition to get a table. Third, be prepared to drop some coin, because you HAVE to get the “wine” pairings. I use quotes because many of the pairings are not actually wine (more on that later). And finally, to get to the dining room itself, you must first check in at the front desk in Roberta’s, where they will then escort you to the back corner of the ever-expanding Roberta’s compound, to a nondescript building set apart from the rest of the hullaballoo.

Kicking things off, they get you in the mood with a pallet-cleansing sip of Evil Twin “Blanca Biere de Table” yes, beer of all things. But nice touch on the “blanca.” Well played.

First on the food docket comes a little taste of glass shrimp with sprinkling of kohlrabi and black sesame, paired with a crisp Hugues Godme Extra Brut Champagne. It’s a nice, light start to set the mood, artfully balanced and just understated enough to give them something to build to.

Unfortunately, the second course kinda dropped the baton. A house-cured pancetta that was as white as ghost, both looking and tasting like a pure ribbon of fat. It was easily the worst course of the night and so off-putting that I honestly recommend skipping it entirely and saving more room for the brilliance to come.

And Johnny come quickly, with an early Ultimate, served in the form of a cold soup, made with garbanzo beans and autumn olives, which that alone is impressive, because let’s be honest, it’s not like garbanzo beans are a treasure trove of flavor, so to get that much pizzazz out of it is easily worthy of a golf clap.

Chasing that was a bit of a wasted bullet with a ginger-soaked apple and macadamia shavings. Nothing to write home about, and not much to blog about either. And sadly, neither were the next two courses, the sweet potato with buttermilk and the peas with ramps. All paired with a Rose and not a one worth remembering.

But just when my faith was failing, BOOM another Ultimate. The lamb carbonara is balls out jaw dropping. Sporting a healthy, peppery kick this carbonara kicks some serious ass. And adding to the ass-kickage is the pairing with a vermouth from Hammer & Tongs that is so inventive that it is only bested by its complementary perfection with the pasta.

Then, right on the heels of such pasta brilliance, they do it again with an agnolotti filled with a smoky lapsang souchong (Chinese tea). And while I would love to wax poetic about it, the next pasta course managed to blow them all away. A spicy blood orange nduja (pork sausage) ravioli that is so fucking good that it will make you angry that they only give you one of them. But perhaps the most shockingly amazing thing about this pasta is that the pairing deserves an Ultimate unto itself. A stout beer with the most badass name in history, Siberian Black Magic Panther Imperial Stout. I don’t even know what it means, but what I do know it that it goes hella good with spicy blood orange nduja ravioli.

Sadly the rollercoaster returned, however, as the stracciatella with beef lardo and the king crab with bottarga brought me back to Earth. But barely did my feet even touch the ground before being swept into the stratosphere once again by the “bread and butter,” also known as pizza crust and homemade salted butter. I know it sounds so simple that it teeters on lame, but if lame tastes this friggin’ good, then sign me up for a lame-a-palooza.

Back to blah was the loin of wagyu beef and the pork with grapefruit, proving out a theme, if you ask me, that the meat dishes, across the board, proved to be the biggest misses of the night.

Fortunately the hits were so strong that it made up for it in spades, coming in every shape and form, including even a palate cleanser, such as the pineapple, cilantro sorbet.

Then, capping the night, we were met with a finale of desserts set to the theme of a late harvest Riesling from the Finger Lakes in New York. The first of the lot being sourdough gelato with yuzu crème. So inventive. So good. You really have to try it to understand.

After that, the sunchoke with cardamom, the cashew coconut cake and the chocolate peanut butter cookie were much more in the mortal realm, but after such heights I think it was probably prudent to ease you back into the real world.

4 teeth

Spoon and Stable

211 N 1st St. Minneapolis, MN 55401(612) 224-9850 •  spoonandstable.com

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The food scene in The Mini Apple has officially arrived. Not that there haven’t been gems here and there over years. But now the level of the game has risen so high, at so many restaurants, that I can safely say that Minneapolis can compete with almost any city I’ve ever been to.

Case in point, on a Monday friggin’ night, this place had an hour wait and not an empty seat at the bar. And for good reason. The chef, Gavin Kaysen, is James Beard winner and a former disciple of Daniel Boulud. But not only did he learn a thing or two from Danny Boy, judging from the décor, he picked up a few tricks from Jean-Georges as well, because this place is tres chic. On old horse stable from 1906 turned to gold with white brick walls, wrought iron details, a divided light wine cellar in the center of the dining room, and a long wood bar overlooking the kitchen as a unique twist on a chef’s table, which is where we sat.

Beyond having front row seats to an episode of Iron Chef, the other plus to sitting there is that you not only get recommendations from the waiter, but from the cooks as well. And to quote Quagmire “Giggity, giggity!” were they spot on with their suggestions.

The first reco being a dish we would’ve never thought to order in a million years, yet turned out to be the best of the night, the Autumn Vegetable salad. The centerpiece is an orgasmic disc of squash placed over a bed of spelt berries, pecans and figs that were marinated in red wine vinegar and cloves all pampered in a buttermilk dressing. Need to add this one to Ultimate Salad.

The other recommended starter was pretty damn great too. A bison tartar folded into a harissa aioli and topped with cilantro and radishes. Then served with socca chips as your utensil for piling on the remarkably seasoned meat.

For entrees I had to go with the lamb shank since wifey don’t play that, and while good, it was definitely the most mortal dish of the evening. Fall off the bone moist, and served with yellow eye beans, artichokes and an herb salad that was a bit junipery. The other entrée, however, was a marvel of pasta technological advancement. The Raviolo al Uovo is a single, softball-sized ravioli that contains a sunny side egg inside it! And its magnificence is only magnified by its preparation, with Swiss chard, Brussel sprouts, pecorino and brown butter.

Even the side dish was wow-worthy taking an old staple like creamed spinach and making it new again with the addition of a Midwestern guilty pleasure, fried cheese curds.

And finally, the pumpkin custard dessert was an awesome seasonal finish to a meal that won’t soon be forgotten. The custard itself being just okay, but when you had with the apple cider sherbet and the candied pepitas (pumpkin seeds)- look out!

Just eat here already would you! So I don’t have to keep going on and on about it. And I’m not just saying all of this because of the Willet bourbon and Amarone are making me all lovey-dovey. Although it is helping.

5 teeth

Grit & Grace

535 Liberty Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15222 • (412) 281-4748gritandgracepgh.com

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This was the best meal I had in Pittsburgh, not that my time there has been of any impressive duration that you should ever misconstrue my minute sampling as extensive. But in those four short days I managed to pack in a few highs and lows, with Grit and Grace taking pole position.

The winning performance of which I speak takes place in a narrow, subway car-shaped dining room decorated with a minimal contemporary touches so as not to distract you from the small plate army about to descend on your table. From dim sum to sandwiches and then sum, Grit & Grace fills your plate with anything goes. But that’s what makes this place a blast, especially for larger parties so you get to try a little of everything. And per the list below, you will soon see, I truly mean everything.

So, listing them in hierarchical fashion, here we go…

The Brisket Sandwich: It’s all you could ever hope for in a sandwich. Moist. Beefy. Contrasting textures and brightness from the kohlrabi slaw and pickled red onions. A little kick from the horseradish cream and thousand island sabayon. All on a wonderfully fresh baguette that would make any Frenchy proud.

The Mortadella Bun: No. Not a sandwich. A bun. As in dim sum. As in get some. Because this is definitely the best Mortadella sand- er, “bun” I’ve ever had. Loaded with the additions of chicken thigh meat, kimchi and bread & butter pickles, then sauced with coriander mustard and chili aioli. It’s definitely not your usual suspect, but hot damn does the road less travelled taste good!

Pot du crème: I’m normally not a huge fan of the Pot, but then again, I had never eaten at Grit & Grace before. And now I’m a changed man. Probably an Ultimate in the category since the competition is all but non-existent in my eyes. And note to Crème brulée, eat your crème out, ‘cause you’ve got nothing on this.

Lettuce Wraps: Okay, not exactly the sexiest of names, nor is it much of a looker to be honest, but look deeper… and open wide, because the duck confit piled on top of these leaves is loaded with flavor, along with even more kohlrabi (of the fermented persuasion), peanuts and cilantro.

Pork belly bites: Anything that starts with the words “pork belly” is already halfway to the promised land by default. Which can be both a blessing and a curse, because it’s that much harder to stand out in land where the bar is pre-set to high. Nonetheless, these “bites” had a favorable showing, glazed with orange, chili, garlic and a nice kiss of ginger.

Roasted octopus and mussels: This was the most conflicted dish of the night, being both good and bad at the same time. The octopus itself being the good, done nice and tender, as are the potatoes, which soak up the lemongrass broth like a champ. On the flip side, the mussels are the Bad. Tiny and overcooked, tasting like shriveled up wads of mollusk.

Carrot salad: In the midst of such culinary wizardry, it’s a bit hard for salads to make a lasting impression, but I do have to say that this one has a nice Asian kick to it.

Tomato salad: Conversely to the Carrot Salad, this one takes a decidedly Mexican approach to its flavors, which, while good, didn’t fare quite as well with the overall theme of cuisine.

Kimchi: It’s fine, but to present it as its own dish is a bit remiss. It’s a gloried condiment to be fair and that’s all you should use it for, to add some nice kick to the other dishes you find lacking.

Meatballs: I’m not sure if these were the ones normally served with ramen, but perhaps they should’ve been, because by themselves they were a tad underwhelming.

Pastrami sandwich: I wanted to love this one so much more than I did, but compared to the Mortadella bun or the Brisket Sandwich it’s an ugly stepsister. But not for a lack of trying, with accouterments like broccoli rabe, roasted garlic aioli and provolone cheese whiz you’d think it was Philly’s second coming. Sadly though, it’s just a false alarm.

Short ribs: Like the pork belly, this is another one of those dishes that usually has me at “hello.” And when you place it on a biscuit smothered with friggin’ béchamel, you’re definitely going for broke. But that’s what happened. It broke. They pushed this little dish so far, it overshot decadent and landed right splat on the face of “I wish I hadn’t done this.”

Soba noodles with crab: Remember that kimchi I mentioned? Save it for this dish. It’s crazy bland and in dire need of some kimchi lovin’, which is the worst name ever for a Korean porno.

Peach cake: Speaking of worsts, this was the most unfortunate of recommendations from our server and easily the lowest point of the meal. Dry, bland and unworthy of the term “dessert,” bringing no joy and only caloric guilt in its wake.

Other than that final transgression, the service really was excellent and the wine choices by the glass, while minimal, were fantastic. I had one white and one red and both were much better than your average bear.

So now that you’re done reading my novel about Grit & Grace (I told you we tried everything) you can certainly see that there are some land mines to be avoided. But with so many highs and two Ultimates, I find it hard to dole out anything lower than a quad.

4 teeth

The Shakespeare

24 E 39th St. New York, NY 10016(646) 837-6779theshakespearenyc.com

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I actually wanted to eat upstairs at The Peacock, but I’m sad to report that luck was not on my side that day, it was closed for a private party. So, what to do? What to do? Well, there’s always the old-world, pubby vibe downstairs at The Shakespeare. Not exactly an even trade, but I had heard good things and decided to roll the proverbial dice, grabbing myself a seat in the wooden, low ceiling, extremely cold dining room.

As I sat there, I couldn’t help but feel like I should’ve been donning a pilgrim’s hat, talking old English and gnawing on a turkey leg. I also couldn’t help feeling cold. I’m guessing it’s to encourage alcohol consumption?

On the upside, they warmed the cockles of my heart with one of the best salmon burgers I’ve ever laid teeth on. Made substantial inherently by the fish itself, being one of the “fattier” fish burger meats, but also by its bun and creative toppings like Chancellor’s sauce (whatever the hall that is), red pepper relish, avocado and cilantro.

This burger alone was good enough to quell my disappointment for having missed out on The Peacock… for now, anyway. But I will most certainly return… to both. So stay tuned, because I have a feeling there’s some knife uppage in their future.

3 teeth