Dundu

http://www.dundukitchen.com • 914-930-7470

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African cuisine is pretty thin on my blog, but to be fair, it’s kinda thin in the United States in general. In fact, even in a city as culturally diverse as New York, there’s no Little Africa like there is a Little Italy, Chinatown, Little India and Koreatown. But the thing is, African cuisine can be so many things sort of like “American.” For example, food in Morocco or Egypt might be considered more Middle Eastern, where as Ethiopian is almost a thing unto itself. And then there’s the contemporary cuisine of a country like South Africa and the exotic game of places everywhere in between. And finally there’s the almost Jamaican-like fare of West Africa, which is where Dundu comes in.

The dish I went with was the pepper chicken with rice and plantains, served with a cornmeal cake and coleslaw. Now, with the exception of the coleslaw, if I had said this place was in Montego Bay you probably wouldn’t even question it, which poses a very interesting question, why do Jamaica and West Africa have such similar cuisines? Well, you can thank England, because back in the mid-1600’s the British took Jamaica from the Spaniards turning the island into sugar plantations, which were run on slave labor sourced from, you guessed it, Western Africa.

But enough with the history lesson, albeit the most interesting part of this review, and let’s get to the food. The chicken is dry and not all that “peppery.” The rice is dry as well and the plantains aren’t very sweet. Even the cornmeal cake was dry. In fact, the only thing that wasn’t dry was the coleslaw. Giving them the benefit of the doubt, however, I only ate from their stand in Herald Square. Not giving them the benefit of the doubt, there is no restaurant. So it’s either a stand or catering, which means my sampling was at least 50% accurate and enough to know not to use them for catering should I ever decide to go back and get a Bar Mitzvah.

1 tooth

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Exit 4

153 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 241-1200exit4foodhall.com

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The concept of this place is interesting to say the least. Sort of like a mini food court that’s not located in a mall and not made up of your usual chains like Panda Express and Sbarro’s. It’s actually all locally sourced, serving up a jack-of-all-trades menu from all over the map (or more specifically all over Northern Westchseter), yet somehow they manage to let you put it all on one bill (that you kinda have to carry around with you from pavilion to pavilion- it’s complicated).

It’s also a dynamic than can easily become a recipe for disaster should you arrive and not know what you want. Especially with young kids who will quickly become more overwhelmed with the choices than Robin Williams in Moscow on the Hudson.

On the upside, most everything is surprisingly good, so it’s kinda hard to go too, too wrong, unless you have wildly high expectations. When I say “surprising,” however, I want to temper that by stating that I mean it only in the context of lowered expectations. Nothing will have you swinging from a star, but if you’d rather eat a pig, a fish or a mule, they pretty much have you covered (that was for all you Sinatra fans).

So here’s how I recommend playing it:

Step 1: Grab a table. Put your stuff down and have a member of your party stand guard. The last thing you want to do is get caught with seven trays of grub and nowhere to sit.

Step 2: Order the stuff that takes longer to make first. This would be your pastas, your pizzas, your burger and your bahn mi that are all cooked to order. Whereas the tacos, and barbecue offerings are much more prepped and take about two minutes or less to hit your table. So, assuming you like your family or friends, and want to actually eat “together,” then I recommend doing these options near the end of the batting order.

Step 3: Order stuff that doesn’t need to be ice cold or nice and hot dead last. This would be your sushi and glasses of red wine.

Step 4: Bon apetit!

So now that you’ve circumnavigated one of the more complex dining matrixes in the tri-state, here are my thoughts on the offerings themselves.

First up, let’s start with the sushi, sourced from Mt. Kisco Seafood down the street, so you know it’s pretty darn fresh. But more than just fresh, the sashimi bowls and the maki are really quite inventive and a step up from a lot of other places in the immediate vicinity. Yes, that goes for you Hito and Spoon.

Next up, let’s go Italian. Or more specifically the pizza, because the only pasta I’ve had there was my daughter’s kidsy butter and shells. So not really fair to judge them on that. My daughter, on the other hand, has a ways to go in terms of expanding the ole horizons. As for the pies, I liked both the fig, prosciutto and caramelized onion pie and the one with Brussels sprouts, smoked pancetta and gruyere. Neither compare to the likes of The Parlor in Dobbs or Zero Otto Nove in Armonk, but they hold their own handily against Old Stone and Village Social, which I actually think has one of the best pies in town. Nonetheless, the pizza is good enough to make you forget all about the fact that this place used to be Belizzi (RIP).

And now let’s take things down a notch. As in down South. As in TexMex and barbecue. Starting at the top, I’d go with the brisket sammy. It’s quite solid, topped with a bourbon sauce, slaw and cornichon. After that I’d go with the pulled pork. The sauce has a nice kick to it and it also comes with slaw on it as well. It’s not what I would call a runaway smash hit, but unless you’re willing to roll your bones all the way over to Portchester for Q, then it’ll do the trick. That said, little known secret- Dinosaur BBQ is available via Fresh direct. As is some seriously spicy slaw and brioche sliders. So if you don’t feel like venturing out for your barb-e-fix, then call in the reinforcements. Oh, and skip the tacos if you ask me. Truck and Hacienda are both miles better.

And most importantly… the booze. They have a nice selection of beer and wine by the glass so no complaints there either. Nor do I have many complaints on the whole. Exit 4 is a nice addition to the hood and the only other “something-for-everyone” deal in town apart from Village Social. So, if you’re like me and you’re saddled with two kids who don’t agree on anything when if comes to food, this “good enough” fare quickly becomes good on ya!

3 teeth

Micklethwait Craft Meats

1309 Rosewood Ave. Austin, TX 78702 • (512) 791-5961 craftmeatsaustin.com

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There are several pockets of food truck restaurants throughout Austin, but some, like Michlethwait, are not your average bear. Meaning there is no brick and mortar location as back up. It’s just the truck. But even that isn’t entirely accurate either, because the truck is a permanent fixture on a pretty sizeable plot of land surrounded by picnic tables with an equally sizeable parking lot and a smokehouse with a trellis for shade overhead and a port-o-potty should nature call. So fancy it ain’t, but these are the kinds of places I love. No pomp and circumstance, locals only and off the beaten path.

So off, that it’s a bit out of the way, so if you don’t have a car, be sure to Lyft your way to and from. That, or maybe ride a bike to help burn off the gluttony. But however you choose to get here, it’s definitely worth the trek, especially if you’re in no mood to stand in line for eleven hours at Franklin’s for your BBQ. That’s not to say that there’s no line here, but it’s much more manageable, particularly before 1:00pm when things get more crowded.

For recommendations, I say go full on brisket. It is by far the most tender, moist brisket I have ever had, without having to rely on fattiness to get there. In fact, it’s so damn tender I think I might’ve teared up a little. So good, I would even forgo the bread and pickles and just go it alone with a drip or two of their crack sauce.

On the flip side, I found their pulled pork to be quite disappointing. Very dry and lacking flavor. I’ve had better at Salt Lick in the airport and Q in Westchester, NY. Yes, in Yankee Country! Them’s fightin’ words for sure, but I call it like I taste it.

The baked beans and lemon poppy coleslaw fell somewhere in the middle for me. Both definitely good, but I’ve also had better. For better beans try Daisy Mae’s in NYC or Sandfly in Savannah, GA. And for better slaw, I could go on for quite a while, but for shock effect, let me drop some knowledge on you about Fresh Direct’s spicy slaw. It’s killer with the Que.

For dessert, Mickle came back strong with one of the best pecan pies I’ve had since my best friend’s mother used to make it down in Florida (RIP). That and her spice cake were the stuff of gods. But now I’m starting to depress myself, so let’s get to the knife count…

3 teeth

R+D Kitchen

1323 Montana Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90403 • (310) 395-3314 • http://rd-kitchen.com/locations/santamonica

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Don’t hold this against RnD, but it’s actually the sister restaurant to Houston’s. I know. I know. But hear me out, because she’s one hot sis and an awesome plan B should you not be able to get a reservation at you’re A. So awesome, in fact, that this might just become your new plan A, if only they took reservations.

The décor is pretty standard, like a contemporary version of a Bennigan’s, with lots of booth seating, wood paneled walls and an open kitchen. And the wait staff runs a tag team method of service, which actually proves very nice, because there’s always someone around to take care of you, so no need to flag any one down like you’re a castaway on Gilligan’s Island.

The Jack Rabbit was our cocktail of choice for the evening, a tequila and grapefruit combo that was good, but not exactly memorable, hence why I had to ask my friend what the hell the name was again.

For a starter, with resounding praise, I recommend their deviled eggs (pictured) with a heavenly hit of horseradish. But as sinfully good as they were, even better is the Ding’s Crispy Chicken Sandwich, dubbed their best seller and for good reason. It’s an Ultimate, right up there with the one at Son of a Gun, if you ask me, which I assume you are since this is my blog. But beyond the fried chicken, what makes the Ding sing is the wonderfully soft, fresh-baked bread from Bandera, the generous amounts of slaw and the contrast that’s created between all of the crunchy elements and the pillowy goodness of that bun.

The other entrée we tried, the salmon, was also good, but not quite at the same level as the Ding. Served up with a sizable mountain of mashed potatoes and sauteed greens.

Sadly we were so full at this point that we didn’t order dessert. But happily that didn’t matter, because our server wouldn’t hear of it, tapping into her inner Jewish grandmother by bringing us their warm, chocolate chip, oatmeal cookies on the house. Which were hard to resist, because A. they were warm and B. they were free. So that helped a lot. Enough to have me debating between three and four knives. But I lean four because it’s a chain. And for a chain, that’s worth a golf clap right there.

4 teeth

 

Bar Symon

1000 Airport Blvd. Coraopolis, PA 15108 • (412) 472-5067unitedconcessionsgroup.com

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I know many of you probably feel like airport food should either be removed entirely from my blog or receive some type of special dispensation, but I have had enough good airport meals in my day to respectfully disagree. Sure it’s the exception to the rule, but the purpose of my blog isn’t to review the top restaurants of the now, it’s to help you, my readers, know which places are all that, or all hype. Especially when you’re a captive audience like at an airport.

So, should you find yourself with time to kill and hunger to satiate, upstairs in the Delta Terminal in Pittsburgh you will find Bar Symon, which looks more like a burger and shake joint from the 50’s than a bar if you ask me, but I cared little about such things since I was gunning for a burger and a shake.

On the menu you will find loads of options, mostly in the way of burgers, two of which apparently won awards at the SOBE Food & Wine Festival. So, naturally I went straight into the eye of the storm, ordering up one of the two, the Fat Doug Burger (pictured), topped with pastrami, Swiss, coleslaw and stadium mustard, all on a challah bun. And while it sounds hillacious, it is more SOSO, if you ask moi. However, I got a little tip for ya… On your table is a bottle of their homemade coffee barbecue sauce and if you put that on your burger, look out! Hell, if you accidentally get some on your finger look out, because you’re liable to gnaw the thing off. Easily one of the best BBQ sauces I’ve ever laid buds on. Goes on everything. Even the rosemary fries, which are good, but in the BBQ sauce- amazing.

But Symon says don’t stop there. They also make a crazy good homemade ketchup with some serious heat to it. Another worthy addition to both the burgers and the fries, but not quite at the same level of wowness as the coffee sauce.

And while we’re on the subject of coffee, the other thing I had was their espresso chocolate shake mixed with a little vanilla because that’s how I roll. The good news is that it’s served up insanely think. So much so that they need to use a straw so big it’s like wrapping your lips around a PVC pipe. Sadly though, both the creaminess and sweetness are a bit lacking, making it surprisingly bland, which is not something you want in a shake. After all, if you’re gonna be putting your waistline out there, you want it to be worth the ride.

So I am quite torn here. Without sauce this is undoubtedly a two knifer. But with the sauce it’s easily a three. Decisions…decisions…  Am I feeling generous today? Or ferocious?

2 teeth

 

Mama Shelter Restaurant

 Hüseyin Ağa Mah., İstiklal Cad. No:50 D:54, Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey • +90 212 252 0200 • www.mamashelter.com/en/istanbul/restaurants/rooftop

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Right off the main drag a.k.a. Istiklal, there is a hotel by the name of Mama Shelter, created by the master himself, Philippe Starck. And while this isn’t what I would call his crowning achievement compared to the likes of the Delano, the Royalton and the Mondrian, it most certainly checks the cool box, drawing heavy influences from the same bag of tricks he used to design the Modrian in LA. The lobby is very white on white and the rooftop bar and dining area is complete with the same kind of sprawling city view, as well as beds and giant, over-sized planters. Granted he goes a great deal more colorful at Mama Shelter.

But sadly the cool décor goes straight to the heads of the wait staff who seem busier perfecting their aloof struts back and forth across the rooftop as opposed to taking care of customers. That said, should you manage to flag one down, brace yourself, because there’s more bad news, the menu is a bit hit and miss.

My first gripe being the iced tea. Not only is it not fresh brewed, it’s Lipton. Served in a can. Which I suppose should earn them a few marks for transparency. On the cloudier side of things, however, would be the preparation of the salmon cakes which are more like deep-fried fritters served with a slaw that is actually peanut based as opposed to vinegar or mustard, giving the dish a decidedly Thai net, net. And the net of that net was gross. Okay, that’s a bit of an overstatement even for me, because it wasn’t vomitous, but it really wasn’t good either.

And just when all hope was lost, Mama showed us her moxie with a delightful quinoa salad, made refreshing with chunks of watermelon and made complex and flavorful with bits of smoked circassian cheese. It was simple yet inventive and single handedly saved the life of our server who I was about to throw off the roof.

Perhaps Mama just needs to spend more time with her kids and get the house back in order?

2 teeth

Justin Thyme

171 Grand St. Croton-On-Hudson, NY 10520(914) 271-0022dinejustinthyme.com

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I can’t decide if the name is charming or cheesy, but either way, it definitely starts with “ch.” I am less conflicted about the outdoor seating, however, which is perfect in the summer, set under a huge tree, away from the sidewalk, shaded and overlooking a small town street. Plus, at night, they have strung lights in the trees making it an idyllic oasis around the clock.

Service also helps to keep you charmed, although they aren’t very helpful with the recos. Everything’s great and popular and wonderful. Which is probably the Prozac talking, but to be fair, the food can be quite good, depending on what you order. Case in point, my modest sampling of two dishes produced both an “mmm” and a “meh.” So amidst this 50/50 hit ratio I would recommend the lobster roll, served faithful New England style with mayo and celery atop a brioche bun as opposed to a long roll and plank fries as opposed to shoestring. It was very solid. Holding its own against the likes of Ocean House. My only nit would be the side of coleslaw. A touch too far on the creamy side for my tastes. I prefer the mustardy side, it’s right before the dark side and just after the wild side.

Speaking of sides, on the miss side, the apple crumble a la mode undid all of the good will the lobster roll had secured. It was soggy and the only thing crumbling about it was my impression of Justin. And the mode didn’t help much either as the ice cream tasted like Breyer’s.

So I’m torn between 2 and 3 knives, but it’s a pretty extensive menu, so I’ll have to give it another whirl and see if they can improve their batting average. In the meantime, if you leave nearby, I say do it. What’ve you got to lose? It’s not like Umami Café is flawless either. If you don’t live nearby, then I wouldn’t make a special trip. But if you’re on a day trip to Croton Beach, this is the perfect place to come for a late lunch/early dinner.

3 teeth

 

Rocky’s

235 Saw Mill River Rd. Millwood, NY 10546 • (914) 941-2165rockysdeli.net

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Word on the street is that Rocky’s just hauled in a nod from the folks at Best of Westchester (that street being Rt.133), so it goes without saying that I needed to scoot my opinionated bones on over there to order up some sammies.

The place looks like any one of a thousand just like it in the city, long counter on one side, stuffed to the gills with rolls, wedges & ciabattas, backed by a task force of sandwich soldiers armed with cooktop skillets the size of sofas and bins upon bins of prepped ingredients. And on the other side you’ll find a wall of fridges loaded with every imaginable beverage one could ever hope to wash down a hoagie with.

Unfortunately, this faithful homage to city sandwich shops is so faithful that the sandwiches are nothing special. I guess people are just wistfully lining up out of sentimentality for the days when they used to live in the city. So therein lies the good news, you no longer have to drive an hour into the city to get your fix. But a reality check is definitely in order, because the sandwiches are far from the “best” in Westchester.

To get all specific on your ass, almost every sandwich requires that you add something to it, because they are too bland as is. For example The Untouchable desperately needed to touch some tomatoes or coleslaw or roasted red peppers- anything to give it moisture! Plus, the chicken cutlet is so thin it tastes like nothing more than its breading. Then there’s the actual bread. And together they overpower the grilled prosciutto, mozz and balsamic.

The Whaler, while better than The Untouchable, was also just okay, mainly due, once again, to a meek portion of fish so thin you could floss with it (not exactly what I would call “whale-like”), breaded and fried, along with hash browns and tripling down on the theme, a fried egg. There’s also American cheese, but what it needed most was ketchup or hot sauce to make it interesting enough to finish both halves.

The Chip Chip was easily the best of the three, with chipotle chicken, chipotle mayo, smoked gouda, bacon and avocado all on ciabatta. It had some nice kick, but if spicy sandwiches are your thang, then you owe it to yourself to head on over to Armonk and get The Heat at Melts. It beats the Chip Chip out of Rocky’s.

2 teeth

Virgil’s

152 W 44th St. New York, NY 10036 • (212) 921-9494virgilsbbq.com

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Located smack dab in the epicenter of touristy hell, there exists a beacon of authenticity. That beacon is Virgil’s, shining bright through the fog of over-stimulation (a.k.a. Times Square) with pleasers like their killer pulled pork sandwich (pictured) piled high with pig parts so moist and delicious they probably don’t even need to top it with their coleslaw, but they do anyways, and I’m okay with that. The crunch of the cabbage against the tenderness of the meat- the cool refreshing milkiness of the slaw against the warm, slightly spiced pork- I’m more than okay with it. I’m in love with it.

But as good as their pulled pork sandwich is, the true headliner is their mac and cheese. Best in the city. Wifey and I honestly dream about it. Sure, we should probably be dreaming about each other, but let’s leave that for couple’s therapy. It’s got a nice hit of pepperiness, a perfect blend of basic, none-too-fancy cheeses like cheddar and American I’m assuming. All topped with an evangelical halo of crunchy, ever-so-slightly burnt cheese. Trust me, you want this bad.

I also dig their jalapeño cornbread. It’s cheesy, a little sweet, and of course spicy. Which reminds me, they also have a healthy selection of hot sauces worth trying if their barbecue sauce isn’t doing enough for you.

As for the ribs, brisket, chicken, etc… There are better to be had in the city. Daisy May’s is my numero uno when it comes to ribs, Hill Country and Blue Smoke for brisket- jury is still out on BBQ chicken. But getting back to Virgil’s, it’s still damn good. Especially when you take into account it’s location.

4 teeth

Q

112 N Main St. Port Chester, NY 10573(914) 933-7427qrestaurantandbar.com

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There’s nothing better than good barbeque and there’s nothing worse than fake, poser barbeque. Except maybe calling a pass play on the half yard-line in the final seconds of the Superbowl and having it intercepted. But apart from that…

So, it with much relief that I hereby decree Q is the real McCoy. And having just been to Sandfly BBQ in Georgia I can attest with some modicum of cred that Q holds its own quite convincingly. Holding on like Luke Perry in “8 Seconds.” What? Was I the only person who saw the movie?

Well, bad similes aside, the pulled pork is on point. All kinds of moist, with great depths of smoke in every bite. Served with a passable slaw on top and placed in a soft potato roll. Add a little of their homemade sauce and you’ll be doing a hoedown that you don’t have to head into the city anymore to get your fix.

And speaking of getting a fix, their baked beans are so friggin’ good you’ll wanna open a vein. A touch too far on the sweet spectrum, but they make up for it with generous chunks of pork belly mixed in.

Also too sweet was the iced tea, but applause for the mason jar serving vessel. And while you have your hands together, give it up for the collard greens. You’d be hard pressed to find better in the South.

Regretfully though, Q did serve up a few F’s. The mac and cheese is so low rent it’s worse than the crap they serve in school cafeterias, made with pasta shells and what appears to be Velveeta, poorly hidden by the meager dusting of dry herbs on top.

The other fail was the cornbread. No sweetness. No cheesiness. Not even jalapeñoness. Just one crumbly brick of blah. Such a shame too, because great cornbread is almost like an art form.

So no landside victory to be had here, but if you heed my misses and heavy up on the hits, you’ll walk away thinking Q is a B+.

3 teeth