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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The Grey

109 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 662-5999thegreyrestaurant.com

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No. Not the movie with Liam Neeson. And not the two-time Global Advertising Agency of the year. The James Beard nominated restaurant in Savannah built in an old, refurbished Greyhound bus terminal. A spectacular renovation loaded with reclaimed elements that really bring old and new together with masterful skill. My money says the interior designer most likely came from SCAD.

But not to be out-shined by the gleaming art deco fixtures, the service glows just as bright with a waitstaff full of personality, a touch of hipster and a genuine love for the menu as they come armed with great recommendations and some of the most poetic preparation descriptions I’ve ever heard about a dish. And this isn’t just our waitress I’m referring to. I eavesdropped on our neighbor’s waiter and he was every bit as deft. So was the maitre’d who spoke just as lovingly about the restoration.

The cuisine doesn’t disappoint either, although we did get off to a rocky start with a rather thin cocktail menu that managed to strikeout on the one gin cocktail we chose. The wine by the glass fared much better.

The other slacker of the night was the pickled oyster appetizer, which was mostly our fault, because we didn’t listen to the recommendations of our server. They weren’t bad by any stretch, but they were definitely in need of a brighter, citrus element and the crisp they are served with gets soggy fast, which throws the whole intent of textural contrast out the window. So if you order them, pounce or pay.

After that, however, The Grey was pure gold, the first winner being our other starter/middle, the sizzling smoky pig. It’s essentially a cast iron dish filled with pulled pork, then topped with a sunny side egg and spicy-sweet red pepper jam. And the moment you cut into the egg, it oozes all over the pork, mixing with the jam and yowzer is this thing smokin’ indeed. Spicy, sweet and savory all over the place. Which bodes well for you, because they also give you these potato bread hot buns that are like little pillows of pleasure, perfect for sopping up the piggy goodness.

For mains, it was battle for moist supremacy. Both the swordfish tagine and the pork shank (pictured) were as succulent as I’ve ever had. The Moroccan spices of the tagine could’ve stood to be a bit bigger if you ask me, but as we know, I’m hard to please when it comes to the spice. And while the pork shank was fall-off-the-bone moist and the mess o’ greens brought a nice, leafy bitterness to the dish, the Johnny cake was big miss that added zero to the party. But the party definitely needed a starch and my guess is that the former supporting act, the cornbread, was a much better companion.

But speaking of True Companions, to quote one of my favorite Marc Cohn songs, I highly recommend getting a side of the grilled endives with bleu cheese and pecans. It was my favorite thing of the night and an ultimate for all endive kind. It’s plenty amazing on its own, but it went very nicely with the shank, lucky for me.

Ending strong, we chose the Rum Baba for dessert, which is essentially a rum soaked brioche drizzled with simple syrup atop a lily pad of spiced whipped cream and accented with exploding cranberries and chunks of dry brittle chocolate almost of the Mexican variety. And all I can say is, whoa daddy! So damn good. Spicy and sweet, with a wonderfully bright burst of tartness from the cranberries. Such a great ending to a great meal.

4 teeth

Dish

1100 O St. Lincoln, NE 68508 • (402) 475-9475 • dishdowntown.com

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Just blocks from the Cornhuskers’ campus, which basically makes up 25% of Lincoln, you will find a surprisingly sophisticated restaurant. Granted the bar out here is about as low as city’s skyline. And although Dish boasts a horribly dated 80’s décor (sadly not due to theme or sardonic intent) I found myself liking the place.

The largest contribution to the likeage of which I speak came very early on in the form of an Ultimate Cornbread. I guess that’s to be expected in corn country. Served up as crispy cubes of sweet corn and jalapeno, topped with candy bacon. It might just be the greatest thing Lincoln has ever done, including winning the National Title. So wonderfully crusty on the outside and moist on the inside, with spicy and sweet contrasts, I could’ve just done two plates of these and called it a day.

The other appetizer on the table, the scallop bruschetta, was also pretty good, but after tasting that cornbread I decided to focus my efforts elsewhere. That said, it’s much less interesting than it sounds. Basically a thinly sliced disk of scallop placed over a crostini.

Come entrée time, I kinda had my sights missile-locked on something beef related. After all, it’s also cattle county. But strangely enough, the majority of the menu is actually seafood, which is bold for a land-locked state. Regardless, I stayed on target and went with the one meat dish, the filet, which was definitely good, but a bit heavy on the garlic. Granted, when you cut it with the jalapeno drizzle on plate, the result was quite tasty.

The only true misses for me, apart from décor, came during dessert where Dish went a dismal 1 for 4. The flourless chocolate cake with mint ice cream tasted no better than something you might expect to be served in a small town diner guilty of overreaching its capabilities. And the grilled peach trifle wasn’t much better. The truffle trio, however, was a step in the right direction, but that was probably more a dimension of comparative goodness, tasting like a notch above a Whitman’s Sampler.

But the best of the four came as a bit of a shock to be honest. The ginger gelato was creamy and refreshing and palate cleansing, which was much appreciated after three sub par desserts that I only wish I could have also cleansed from my waistline.

3 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

 

The City Bakery

3 W 18th St. New York, NY 10011(212) 366-1414 • thecitybakery.com
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My love for this place runs very deep, so if I seem irrationally effusive compared to its present day offerings, please forgive the reminiscent halo effect. And while this opening might sound puzzling to those who think City Bakery is still awesome to this day, I assure you that it is only half as awesome as it once was. Which is a testament to just how off the charts it was, because I’m still giving it five knives even with the menu flying at half-mast.

So, first let’s start in present day since this is the stuff you can actually still get. Three Ultimates back to back to back are the pretzel croissant (pictured), the chocolate chip cookie and the molten chocolate cookie. All three of them are so fantastically joy-inducing amazing they could give the likes of Prozac a run for its money.

Down any one of them along side a mug of their homemade hot chocolate (with an equally homemade marshmallow) and you will be so deep in a euphoric, diabetic bliss that the song “Revolution No. 9” by the Beatles actually makes sense.

And now for what you can only dream about, because they no longer make them. You see, once upon a time City Bakery also used to offer table service and upon that menu was a caramelized French toast the stuff of which fairytales are made. But sadly she is no more. And along with her has gone the fried green tomato grilled cheese on cornbread. The sandwich lasted a little longer than the French Toast as there was also a prepared foods/buffet period as well. A period that put the likes of Dishes. Essen and Mangia to shame.

Sadly the latter offerings are nothing but a memory. Happily, the former are still around in all of their diet-thwarting glory.

5 teeth

J. Gumbo’s

61 W 23rd St. New York, NY 10010(212) 206-8501 •  jgumbos.com

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Finally! Good, quick Cajun in the city. It’s one of my favorite cuisines and it kills me that there’s such a drought of places to get it. I assume it must not be as marketable to the Northern palate, but if we can have Ethiopian restaurants up in this bitch, I think we can do Cajun. Can I get an amen?

So, having fully tipped my hand, you can imagine that I liked it. And while it isn’t flawless, it is WAY better than Indikitch a few steps down the block, which seems to be doing business like gangbusters. But, if you like spicy, and you don’t need to have Indian per se, do like Johnnie Walker and keep walking.

I tried several different dishes, because they let you sample, and the Drunken Chicken won the Battle Royale. Granted the Jambalaya was pretty good as well, but me likey the spicy and it’s a little light on the heat. As was the Etouffée, which was the biggest disappointment of the three. Way too mild to carry the name, which means “choke” as in so hot it causes you to. It also happens to be one of my favorite dishes, so perhaps I’m a bit more critical than most. That said, their hot sauce is pretty impressive, so next time I might just order the Etouffée and get all Emeril on its ass and “kick it up a notch.”

On the value side of things, the portions are generous and come with cornbread, dessert and a drink. The cornbread is passable, but the drink options are unfortunately just the usual suspects courtesy of Coke and Pepsi.

But the biggest miss was the peach cobbler for dessert. Shoulda gone with Dave’s Cookies. The cobbler is soggy and made with canned peaches. Fortunately it’s also made with lots of butter and sugar, so the taste is okay, but consistency is a big uneasy.

Service is friendly and décor is pretty standard with the minor exception of the art on the walls. But none of that matters because what’s truly important is that we got ourselves some bona fide Cajun my friends. I guarantee.

3 teeth

Maysville

17 W 26th St. New York, NY 10010(646) 490-8240maysvillenyc.com

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I would say it’s the best kept secret in the Flatiron, but considering it’s always full , I guess it’s not that much of a secret. Granted no one I work with has even heard of the place. Well, that changed as soon as I returned from lunch as I ran through the office like a culinary Paul Revere, shouting the news to the world, “Maysville Rocks!”

First, the Bourbon Bonnet– a cocktail made from habanero infused bourbon, pineapple, cherry and something else that I was too buzzed to remember. Maybe cucumber, as it was actually light and refreshing, while also being spicy at the same time. Incredible drink. Too incredible.

Did I say incredible, perhaps I should’ve reserved that for the two starters. Both were… um… (I hate this word, but since incredible is already taken) AMAZEBALLS! I highly recommend the crunchy grits. Flash fried into cubes to create a crunchy outer shell, as the name implies, while remaining deliciously moist and cheesy inside. This is then topped with country ham, and the whole thing sits atop a drizzle of bourbon aioli. Very healthy. But so good even your arteries will agree. Oh, and if you are starting to wonder what’s with all the bourbon, whiskey is kinda the theme here. But don’t think that means it looks like a pub or anything. The décor is actually quite nice. Modern meets rustic.

Okay, back to the food. The other starter is the roasted oysters. Not quite as decadent as the grits, but equally strong in its own right. And also packing heat.

Next came the sandwiches which we split. One was the fish, the other a pulled pork sandwich. Both were very, very good. Maybe half a notch below the awesome apps. And the only pulled pork sandwich I like better would be at The Dutch.

So, after such a crazy good run, I had to push it. I had to see if they could pull off the trifecta, so we ordered dessert. A bourbon (shocker) soaked bread pudding. It came highly recommended by our server as the way to end the meal- granted the lemon bar also sounded pretty great, but we went on trust. Now, it wasn’t bad mind you, it was good. But good is a failure compared to everything that proceeded it, so unfortunately I can’t go a full five knives.

Also, the service was a tad on the slow side, I have to say. But when all was said and done, I think this place earns every last one of its four stars in spades. Especially when there are so many other bloated 4 star restaurants on Yelp that shouldn’t be over 2 stars. Thank you Maysville for being the real deal. Can’t wait to return.

***Okay, so I returned for dinner with Wifey and I stand by my word and my knives. I also stand by three other amazing dishes. First, the charred flatbread with a fried egg on top, pickled red onion, mesclun, pork belly and of course, cheese. So good. Another was the soft shell crab served over a bed of black-eyed peas in a vinegar sauce that lighted the dish up and made it one of the best soft shell crab dishes I’ve ever had. And last but not least, the strawberry shortcake with basil ice cream for dessert. Light, refreshing and the use of basil is just a stoke of simple genius.

On the miss side of things, the ramp and asparagus pasta was just okay. A bit too precious with its faint hint of lemon. And the other dish that I can shout from the rooftops about would be the beef tartar with quail egg. It’s good. But just two blocks away resides the best beef tartar the world has ever known at Manzo in Eataly, so it was hard for me not to compare.

Also, one last thing I forgot to mention the last time, the cornbread is always money. Moist and rich with the flavor of actual corn, as opposed to so many other cornbreads that slink by using crutches like jalapenos and cheese.

4 teeth