Barcelona

971 Farmington AveWest Hartford, CT 06107 • (860) 218-2100 • barcelonawinebar.com

If the Bar Taco next door is anywhere near as good as the one in Westport, CT, then I’m not sure why you would go here unless, like the one in Westport, the wait for a table is just way too crazy long.

Okay, I lied. For brunch, there is one other reason I can think of, the DIY Bloody Mary table. Just pick your vodka (Tito’s), then choose your base mix. Sriracha, Horseradish, Chipotle or Black Pepper. Then load that baby up with virtually anything your heart desires. Bacon, cornichon, olives, celery, bell peppers, papadew peppers, marinated mushrooms, pearl onions, cauliflower, cheese, pickles… this could take a while. Seriously. The table is that bountiful.

But apart from the Bloody Mary’s and a couple other dishes, it’s a bit of a letdown. The sangria is so watery it doesn’t even pack the punch of grape juice. The meatballs owe an apology to the cow that died in vain.

Equally disappointing was the lamb chop with romesco and arugula. First they served it raw. Then they served it eh.

The pulpo (octopus) with smoked paprika is just okay, but if you know me and how much I like octopus, for me to be so tepid can only mean one thing, skip it.

Also located in the okay corral are the mixed greens with manchego & pistachios, the Brussels sprouts, the broccolini and much to my chagrin, the veggie paella loaded with eggplant, sprouts, peppers, asparagus and disappointment.

The winners, while sparse, could add up to a decent meal, though, if you played your cards (and ordered) right. For example I found the Mushrooms a la Plancha to be pretty darn tasty. Made with crimini, shitake and button. The Patatas Brava where also bravo, zazzed up with salsa brava and a garlic aioli. And since I’ve never met a charcuterie and cheese board I didn’t like, let’s throw that in too.

But if you’re like me and good isn’t good enough, your options dwindle further still, to only two dishes. The jamon and manchego croquettes and the chorizo with sweet and sour figs in a balsamic glaze. The latter being the best thing of the lot. And as you can see, we tried a LOT.

Rothbard Ale & Larder

90 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • 203) 557-9666 • rothbardct.com

Rothbart is not a bar. Nor is it a restaurant. It is an Eastern European godsend filled with beer that flows like happiness dipped in gold and dishes that will have you thinking you’re in Prague, not Westport.

The setting alone couldn’t be more perfect really, with it’s castle-esque, basement dining room off the corner of an alley (of the charming variety). Which proves to be a living testament to just how good this place is, because it’s plenty busy for a place that isn’t that easy to find. In fact, the only reason we went there was because the wait was ridic at Bar Taco. And I’m so glad it was!

Beyond having kickass tripel beer on tap and in bottle, the bartender Adam is the perfect blend of sarcasm and wry- yet Johnny on the spot with his service and the recos.

Of the starters, I think I’d give it to the cannibal toast by a nose. Essentially a deftly balanced beef tartar spread over toast and over and out. We horked it down so fast I’m lucky I still have all ten fingers.

After that, an extremely close second would be the mussels, cooked in a beer-based broth that rivals any white wine version I’ve ever had.

The pretzel is also a solid option, but not by comparison to its predecessors. And truth be told, if it’s pretzel you want, then save yourself for the bratwurst platter. It is everything right with this world all on one cutting board. A beautifully charred brat, bursting at the seams with flavor. A ramekin of tallegio, a pile of cornichon, a dollop of grain mustard and last but not least, a pretzel roll that is every bit as good as the solo act, only with this dish you can doll it up into a bratwurst sandwich worthy of the gods.

The other starter I would giddily recommend is the deviled egg appetizer. Not quite as impressive as the ones over at The Whelk, but that’s a mighty high bar to be fair. These are topped with pickled pearl onions and trout roe and are hot damn delicious.

The only real miss for me is the chicken schnitzel. It’s really quite bland and lacking the accouterments to make it interesting. Essentially, it’s like ordering one gigantic chicken finger that covers your entire plate.

But getting back to the wowzers, be sure to get the salted apple pie as your closer. It is deceptively simple, yet magnificent in every metric imaginable.

This is not the place for the faint of heart, however. So if you’re on a diet and looking for a light bite, you really shouldn’t come here unless you’re willing to fall off the wagon. Hard.

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

Petit Poulet

52 W 33rd St. New York, NY 10001 • (212) 244-0440 petitpouletny.com

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The pickens are pretty slim when it comes to lunch in Herald Square. In fact, in Manhattan it’s kinda become the land that restaurateurs forgot, which puts ole Ferocious smack dab between a rock and hard to find a friggin’ place to eat place. And that’s not for a lack of trying.

My most recent attempt being this bistro-hopeful that seemed to start off on all the right feet with its classic décor, good service, reasonable rose and tres yummy charcuterie board complete with Roquefort, Camembert, cornichon, soppressata, mustard, jam, olives, grapes, fresh baguette, etc…

The other starter, the hummus and pita, was less obvious for bistro fare and wouldn’t have been my choice to order, but Morocco is a stone’s throw, so I let it slide. It’s just okay though, as to be expected. What wasn’t to be expected from my little chicken that could, was the palliard salad being as dry as Morocco. Far inferior to that of The Palm or The Standard Grill.

For dessert, the chicken choked, serving up a bizarre attempt at profiteroles that were more like ginormous balls of vanilla ice cream with teeny-weeny beanie caps of pastry on top and bottom. Flavor-wise they were still good, but as you can imagine, horribly off balance and tasting more like just a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Whereas the tart tatin was much more contained in size, but didn’t quite get there in flavor or texture, because the crust got very sogged down by the sugary innards of the tart and the choice of granny smith apples didn’t quite manifest in the contrast I think they were hoping for. And as a result, I actually found myself preferring the dysfunctional, obese profiteroles.

So for now I’m going with two knives, because the misses out-weighed the hits, but if I were grading on a curve based on the options in the area, I’d say it’s probably more like a three.

2 teeth

Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer

360 Park Ave S. New York, NY 10010(212) 951-7111parkavenyc.com

2008_1201ParkAveCafe0047

For everything…turn, turn, turn… There is a season… turn, turn, turn… And now a restaurant, apparently. Hence the name Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer, located on the grave site of Hurricane Club (RIP), but carrying the baton quite nicely I have to say, with an inventive concept that ups the game of a seasonal menu, because they don’t stop there.

Not only does the menu change based on the season, but so does the décor and the name of the restaurant itself! So, when I went, it was just called “Winter,” not that behemoth of slashes above. And the décor du month, was quite nice, adorned with winter branches, with white walls and soothing lights, to make it feel like you are dining in a snowy, wintery forest.

Good service also appears to be in season, as they are not only friendly and accommodating, they are also very spot on with the recommendations, nailing it on the My Essential Cabernet blend from just outside the Santa Barbra, CA area. It was just the right amount of bold, yet smooth enough to pair with anything.

The edible portion of the evening started off with warm, parker house style rolls, which were very good, but in terms of bread-like things, the steak tartar toast with foie gras and black truffles stole the show. Granted how could it not with that trio of ingredients? Unfortunately the other toast, with kobach squash, sheep’s milk ricotta, burnt honey and pancetta, should be ashamed of itself for being on the same menu.

For entrees, I found the halibut with black truffles and a brioche crusted egg to be the winter winner, besting both the pork schnitzel with pear mustard, dates and cornichon, as well as the branzino over spaghetti squash, which was the laggard of the lot.

The sides also proved a little hit and miss- the hugest of hits being the Brussel sprouts with bacon. So good they might just give Ilili a run for their money. The latkas, on the other hand, were lame. Way too small and thin, to the point where they were more like potato chips than latkas. Especially when compared to the thick, fluffy latkas I just had the other day at Russ and Daughters. Legend.

For dessert, again it was a mixed bag, but on the tastier side of the satchel was the sticky toffee pudding over fried bananas. So good it was almost as if they knew I was coming and made it just for me. My second favorite would be the hazelnut pot du crème, which was very good and much better than most pots I’m had. It was also clearly superior to the chocolate cube and the popcorn sundae, which seems to be stolen from ABC Kitchen down the street, and I’m not even sure why, because I didn’t like it there either.

So as mixed as the above is, I can’t really go great guns in either direction on the knife count. And while the concept alone is worth an extra knife, I feel reluctant to let myself be so swayed that I give this place 4 knives when their misses were equal in number to the hits.

3 teeth

Dirty French

Ludlow Hotel • 180 Ludlow St. New York, NY 10002(212) 254-3000dirtyfrench.com

Dirty French

It is with great pleasure and relief that I submit to you a review of the restaurant Dirty French, who actually lives up equally to both its name and its hype (which is written in some shockingly eloquent Yelp reviews). And while Carbone and Torrisi can do no wrong in my eyes, I was still a little worried going in with such high expectations.

So, overcoming healthy doses of skepticism from Wifey and I, we arrived for our annoyingly early reservation of 6:00 pm, because nothing else was “available.” I use air quotes because the place was 90% empty when we arrived, leading me to believe that they save the normal times for people with connections, either that or they just hold out on decent times to build the allure of dining there.

But as annoyed as we were, the tides turned quickly when our host managed to accommodate us sitting in the back garden even though it is technically reserved for hotel guests and VIPs, of which we were neither. Not that there is anything wrong with the main dining room. It’s pretty traditional bistro décor, done well. But the garden is much more charming with its exposed brick walls, greenhouse ceiling and an eclectic array of pendants dangling overhead. Granted it’s much quieter and not as lively, so if you’re looking to see and be seen, I recommend staying up front.

The other tide-turning surprise was our server, Kenny, from Croatia. Such an infectiously positive spirit, born with hospitality coursing through his veins. We couldn’t help but smile at his enthusiasm about each dish. He was quick to offer tastes of different wines by the glass or even cocktails. Spot on with recommendations and just as deft with conversation.

Speaking of cocktails I went with the Pigalle, a bourbon based drink with nice balance to it, artfully blending elements of heat (chili) and refreshing citrus (orange and lemon) with just a touch of spice, between the bitters and cinnamon stick. Wifey had the Ludlow Gimlet which I can only assume was good since she finished it and didn’t even offer me a sip, hording it all for herself. But I forgive her. After all, it was her birthday.

And a happy one it was with stunning dishes like the lamb carpaccio (pictured), spread across the plate like an edible Chagall. It is handily an Ultimate across two categories, Lamb and Carpaccio. Seasoned generously with herbs, spicy chili oil, medallions of marinated eggplant and tiny dollops of yogurt. This is then accompanied by several slices of grilled bread upon which you are to spread your carpaccio like paint across a canvas, paying homage to the work of art it truly is.

Another mighty impressive dish in the raw camp is the tuna tartar, dressed in the same spicy chili oil as the lamb, also seasoned with plentiful herbs, including a healthy dose of Thai basil, which truthfully makes the dish- all sidled up next to something they call a crepe indochine.

Not even close to done showing off, the chef keeps the wows coming with a Foie gras terrine wrapped in a crispy phyllo brick, filled with jam and placed over a burnt lemon cream, which all coalesce in your mouth with such dexterity that you could swear you had a tiny, little conductor in there, waving his baton around so that the lemon knew just when to come in and brighten things up.

For our entrée, we split the hanger steak au poivre, which was once again a “dirty,” a.k.a. “unfaithful,” take on the classic French dish, made unique with an Asian twist on the sauce, more Thai basil (apparently the farmer’s market was having a sale) and lime cornichon. And as for the steak itself, it was cooked a perfect medium rare, allowing the meat to melt into the sauce like a dream.

In tandem with the steak, we also ordered a highly unnecessary side of pommes frites, which went perfectly with the steak. Sliced thin almost potato chip style with just enough fluffiness inside to contrast the crispiness. And in lieu of ketchup or mustard, they serve it up with a creamy remoulade that makes them hard to resist, even though you are about to pop like a child’s balloon being filled by a fire hose.

So obviously we skipped dessert, right? No way. Are you crazy? That’d be like a pitcher walking off the mound in the 8th inning of a no-hitter. You gotta see it through. So wifey and I hunkered down and toughed it out with an order of the beignets to see if this meal could truly end flawlessly. Well, landing stuck like Kerri Strug. These fritters were ankle-breaking good, and I don’t even know what that means. What I do know is that they are definitely an Ultimate with their clever hint of chicory, adding a light, floweriness to the otherwise heavy dough dipped in caramel.

Then, last but not least, Kenny, our Croatian master of ceremonies, surprised us with an assortment of birthday gelato on the house. One strawberry, one watermelon and one was coconut. The coconut being the best of the three, but compared to those beignets, I wasn’t about to blow out an internal organ over them, so if you’re deciding between the two yourself, there’s really no contest. Beignets all the ways.

Now, going back to the beautifully written Yelp reviews I mentioned earlier, it pains me that they still averaged out to be a mere 3.5 stars, which is ridiculously inaccurate. GOD, I HATE YELP! It’s so bad that it goes beyond subjectivity and lands squarely on the face of uselessness. When you have people sandbagging things with one star because a server was bad or 3 stars because they wouldn’t know their ass from their elbow pasta it waters down any value the site has to offer. It’s 5 stars people! FIVE!!! Or knives, as the case may be on this site. Okay, I need to go take a Xanax.

5 teeth

Maison Kayser

921 Broadway New York, NY 10010(212) 979-1600 maisonkayserusa.com

Maison-Kayser

I’m not sure what it is about this chain, but I really want to like it more than I do. And I’ve tried. I really have. I’ve eaten there for breakfast once, lunch twice, even from their prepared foods and bakery. But everything falls just short for me.

Worse still is that it’s sort of like a lesser version of it’s fellow Parisian transplant next door neighbor, Le Pain Quotidien, only with white tiles instead of wood, waiters dressed like mimes (without the face paint) and no communal tables, which I’ll file under the plus column. So how they’ve managed to expand as they have is beyond me.

Of all the things I’ve had there, there are only two worth ordering. The nicoise salad holds its own pretty nicely and the pre-prepared Iberico sandwich with manchego, Iberico ham, mission figs and mustard is pretty solid as far as pre-made sammies go. MUCH better than the tragically recommended saucisson (Le Rosette). Not sure what the peeps over at Thrillist were smoking when they wrote up that one, but I can assure it was potent and laced. It’s basically cured sausage and cornichon on a baguette with a little butter. Nothing more. And I mean nothing. It’s almost like something you would throw together in a post-apocalyptic fallout shelter because these ingredients were all you had standing between you and starvation. And the pre-made Israeli couscous and wheat berry salads aren’t much better, lacking more flavor than melba toast. The plain kind. Without anything on it.

In the middle of the road, their truffled egg and asparagus tartine for breaky/brunch is neither here nor there nor anything I would ever order again… and neither is the fig, honey and goat cheese tartine on the lunch menu, because not only was it a big snore, it’s also no longer on the menu. Guess I wasn’t the only one. And that’s my issue with MK as a whole, serving up food you would never even think twice about again in your life, unless you had a cantankerous food blog where you reviewed restaurants and wanted to write a warning to people that the food sounds much better than it is. Wow, that was meta.

2 teeth

Yardbird

1600 Lenox Ave. Miami Beach, FL 33139 • (305) 538-5220 runchickenrun.com

Yardbird_Miami_Brunch_main

This place makes me happy. Just one toe through the front door and I knew we were dancing. Great contemporary, rustic Southern décor. Awesome music, like Aretha Franklin’s “The Weight,” pumping out of the speakers. And when it came to service, textbook Southern hospitality.

Every slurp, sip, gulp and bite was a crowd-pleaser and judging from the menu, there’s more where that came from. Fortunately I live over 1000 miles away or I’d be getting my arteries bilged about every other week.

Served in mason jars, the cocktails are as potent and flavorful as they are irresistibly charming. I recommend both the Blackberry Bourbon Lemonade, if you want something more refreshing, or the Bloody Mary, if want something spicy… and packed with goodies (like okra, a pickled green bean, a cornichon stuffed olive and a crispy strip of bacon, because how could you not?).

As a starter we shared the fried green tomato BLT with pork belly (pictured), tomato jam and a homemade pimento cheese. It’s got a little something for everyone. The refreshing acidity of the tomatoes. The savory decadence of the pork. The spice of the jam and cheese. I highly recommend next to the kale salad.

The kale salad being my wife’s idea to be fair. It’s made with cheddar, apple, golden raisins, red onion and cornbread croutons. Definitely one to add to the Ultimate Salad list, I mean c’mon- corn bread croutons!

And I had the eggs benny. Two poached eggs served in a skillet, casserole style, along with a buttermilk biscuit crumble, cured bacon, and cheese grits I believe – just awesome!

Thankfully we were too full to take the waiter up on his suggestion for a maple glazed bacon donut, otherwise I think we’d still be trying to crawl out from under the table.

I’ll tell you what though, next time I’m in Miami, this place is at the top of my list. And that donut is going down… into my belly (to be read in a thick Scottish, Fat Bastard accent).

5 teeth

The Purple Pig

500 N Michigan Ave. Chicago, IL 60611(312) 464-1744thepurplepigchicago.com

Fried Devil's Egg

Apparently pigs can indeed fly, because this place easily soared over my expectations. From the moment I set foot in the lively space I was taken by its energy and fun, welcoming décor. This is code for noisy, in case you’re not into that sorta thing, but in a good way.

This energy could even be sensed in the service, which started off a touch coercive and overbearing as we tried to figure out what we were going to drink (sangria). But upon reflection I think they just wanted to be attentive, which they were. Also pretty good with the recommendations I must say.

And speaking of things I must say, AMAZEBALLS! It’s an expression I actually loathe, but it somehow came to mind when describing the food because everything was so fantastic.

To start, the burrata with grapes and pickled fennel was so bright and creamy it fell into the soft, warm crostini like a cozy spa treatment for the tongue.

At the same time were also served the cauliflower because I wanted to make sure we had a vegetable. Well, I’m not too certain it was all that healthy, but delicious mos def. Sautéed with a little honey and cornichon. Once again nailing that balance of sweetness with hits of bright vinegar.

After that came the deviled egg (pictured), and while I would like to complain that it is actually a Scotch egg, I am too busy reminiscing how good it was. Breaded on the outside, gooey and creamy in the middle. And served over a peppery bed of arugula and sliced green olives. So, definitely not deviled, but even I don’t care anymore what I saying… Just get it.

Next up, the suckling pig, How could we not? Served in duo I was partial to the belly side of the plate, balanced wonderfully on a dais of wilted spinach. Whereas the other was more of a pressed pork over cranberry chutney. Also good, but up against belly, belly always wins.

The only let down for me was the turbot, mostly because the waiter said it was the best thing on the menu and it wasn’t. Trust me. It was the least inventive thing of the entire meal. And while I’d like to be more upset it about it, the waiter quickly redeemed himself with a strong recommendation on dessert…

The Greek honey cheesecake with chopped walnuts and filo dough was like baklava and cheesecake had a love child… And then we ate that child. Without remorse. In fact, if they were twins I would’ve gladly eaten its sibling as well. And yes, it’s an Ultimate in case you were wondering.

A truly magnificent meal on the Magnificent Mile.

5 teeth

Bistro Rollin

142 Fifth Ave. Pelham, NY 10803 • (914) 633-0780bistrorollin.com

bistro-rollin

After butchering the pronunciation of this place for the last five years, we finally decided to pay it a visit, and I am so glad we did, because I had heard mixed reviews and that it was overrated. But we went with expectations in check and it did not disappoint.

For starters we had the Oysters Rollin, which were quite good, and the stuffed zucchini flowers, which were excellent. Each dressed with a subtle hit of flavor from its accouterments . The oysters, with their refreshing citrus jus. And the flowers with their nice pop of heat.

We also did the pork pate, which was also pretty nice. Served with cornichon, stone ground mustard and crostinis.

After that, we each had our entrees, and I personally went with the waiter’s reco, the duck. And it was terrific. Perfectly cooked. Served over a bed of soft polenta and caramelized baby onions for sweetness.

My friend had the moulles frites- but opted for the curry version- also quite stellar.

My wife had the filet, which was the only thing that was just “eh.”

Then came dessert. We ordered two for the table. The tart tatin and the profiteroles. Both were good, but the hero was the ice cream served atop the apple tart. So creamy  the cow must’ve been an overachiever . As for the desserts themselves, they both could’ve stood to be a little flakier. But good nonetheless.

Paul also recommended a wonderful wine to drink it all down with. Which we did. And service in general was not only good, but very friendly.

Glad I finally went. It’s the only other French Bistro in Westchester- the other being Red Hat, that I’ve liked. And while Red Hat might win on décor/setting, I think Rollin has the edge on the food.

4 teeth