Thunder Grill

Union Station • 50 Massachusetts Ave. Washington, DC 20002 • (202) 898-0051 • arkrestaurants.com

Located in a corner near the front of Union Station, Thunder Grill is the go-to bar before hopping on a train. And by “go-to” I don’t mean reliable, but rather your only option unless you want to go a few blocks away.

As for the drinks, the Bloody Mary is more like a contusion, but they do make up for it with a half-decent spicy margarita. Their Stella on tap is also solid, but it’s pretty hard to screw that one up.

In terms of food stuffs, the salmon burger is just okay, crab cakes taste like mush- turning that “b” upside down. In other words “crap” for those who are reading this before their morning coffee. In all fairness though, it is a restaurant in a train station so I have to give it a little slack I suppose. Granted Agren in New York is also in a train station, so perhaps I don’t.

For better food head to Shake Shack or Le Pain Quotedien, but keep in mind you’ll be sacrificing the hooch if you do.

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Harvest Wine Bar & Restaurant

36 Railroad PlWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 221-0810 • harvestwinebar.com

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Located across the street from the train station, Harvest makes for a great place to eat either right before a train or right after, at the end of a long workday when no one at home wants to cook and you’re not sure what you want to eat (guilty as charged), Harvest offers a jack of all trades menu with a few hits, a few misses and a lot of creativity.

Starting with the wines by the glass, you will find Conundrums in both red and white. So right there you have two solid reasons to visit. The vibe is also pretty cool, although the crowd both times I ate here was a bit sparse.

In round one, I enjoyed the veal chop, prepared with a red wine truffle glaze, creamy spinach, baby carrots and parmesan. But the real winners were salmon tartar with jalapenos, baby arugula, lemon zest and potato chips for salty scooping. So yum.

The surprise winner for me was the crispy artichoke starter. It just sounds and looks like it’ll be heavy, but somehow they are magically light and wonderful. So much so that this was my favorite thing.

Come round two I found the pear and endive salad to be decent but the octopus start is a big miss. Only because of its chewy consistency. The preparation is actually quite good. Basic, but good. Mainly avocados, tomato and red peppers. And funny enough, the exact same prep was used on my favorite dish of round two, the crispy crab cakes.

Now I just need to return and get the artichokes and the crab cakes and I’ll have the perfect meal.

3 teeth

Tommy Bahama Restaurant

9101 International Dr. Ste 1200 Orlando, FL 32819 (321) 281-5888tommybahama.com

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I know. I know. Ferocious, what in the hell are you doing eating in a clothing store? And a fairly cheesy one, no less! Well, it might surprise you to know that what their clothing lacks in taste, they make up for with food. Stop laughing. I’m trying to be serious here (for once). The food is actually pretty impressive and all hand made to order.

At the start, I found their bread to be just okay on its own, but the butter they serve it with makes it a worthwhile event. It’s made with cinnamon, nutmeg and honey.

The best thing of the meal for me was the coconut crab cake with thai chili. I know everyone on Yelp swoons about the coconut shrimp, but let’s be honest, how hard is it to nail as a dish? Have you ever had a bad one? Crab cakes on the other hand, are more of a skill test, especially this far from Baltimore. But consider this test aced, because it was friggin awesome. Spicy and sweet. Crunchy and tender. And much lighter than one might think.

On the heavier side, but also very good where the Chicken “Lollipops” rolled in hazelnuts with a jerk remoulade. I’m not exactly sure how you can call a drumstick a lollipop, but I’ll forgive them because they were also pretty damn-tastic.

Down from there, I stole a bite of the crab and avocado salad and found it to be decent, but not quite as nummy as the mentions above.

And the only miss for me was the ahi tuna taco appetizer, served on fried wonton shells with spicy mayo drizzle that was more drizzle than spice. That said, if you ask for a side of that thai dipping sauce from the crab cake and dip the tacos in them, then you’re talkin’.

Being that we were quite full at this point we opted for a half portion of the key lime pie to share and while it is also pretty good, it does fall a touch shy of great, because it lacks the necessary tartness that true key lime pies should have. Luckily it doesn’t go too sweet though either.

So skip the Hawaiian shirts and the tuna tacos and you are poised to have yourself a Bahelluva good meal.

3 teeth

David Burke Fabrick

Archer Hotel 47 W 38th St. New York, NY 10018 (212) 302-3838 • davidburkefabrick.com

Chocolate-hazelnut Burke-n' Bag at the David Burke fabrick restaurant in New York, June 11, 2014. (Samira Bouaou/Epoch Times)

While there’s definitely some truth in the old saying “the clothes make the man,” sadly it doesn’t work that way for restaurants. If it did, I believe I would be giving Fabrick much higher marks for their trendy, conceptual twist playing off of its Garment District locale with desserts like their chocolate purse thingy (pictured) all the way down to the smallest details such as a fabric swatch cocktail menu.

Speaking of which, I highly recommend the Honey Badger. No, not the badass scavenger on YouTube that doesn’t give a shit. The spring 44 honey infused vodka cocktail that goes down so easy you’ll down two or three without giving a shit either. Made all the tastier with lemon, cinnamon agave and black pepper.

But sadly I only had one, so I did actually care about the food and it saddens me to say that the inventiveness of the preparations doesn’t come through on the palate, for example the burrata small plate with fig, prosciutto, mache and concord grape vinegar all disappears in a sea of blah aboard a plank of country toast.

Equally disappointing in light of its promise was the crab cake BLT, served on challah with candied bacon and a chipotle aioli. It was slightly more flavorful than the burrata, but nothing to get yourself all worked up over. However, if you’re staying in the Archer Hotel and just want to grab a drink and/or a quick bite, I’d say go for it. But if you were planning on making this a destination unto itself, I’d set a course for a different destiny.

2 teeth

Manny’s Steakhouse

825 Marquette Ave. Minneapolis, MN 55402(612) 339-9900 mannyssteakhouse.com

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So, apparently the Morton’s Steakhouse in Minneapolis closed down, and that’s not even the bad news. The really bad news is that Manny’s is the consolation prize. A poor man’s Morton’s if ever there were one, not that Morton’s is the end all be all of steakness either, but it’s still better than Manny’s.

Manny’s isn’t exactly bad, however, there’s just nothing amazing about it. It’s your run-of-the-mill steakhouse food you’ve eaten at least a hundred times over, with nothing impressionable enough to make a memory. You’ve got your Caesar salad, crab cakes, shrimp cocktail and seafood towers. Your New York Strip, Rib Eye, Porterhouse and Filets. The same old sides like mac and cheese, creamed spinach and baked potato.

But, if an old school steakhouse is what you’re craving in the twin cities, then I recommend The Strip Club in St. Paul. If that’s still not an option for you, however, then best of luck with Manny’s. It’s nothing spectacular and nothing terrible, just smack dab in the middle of steakhouse mediocrity. Good for large parties and testing out the elasticity of your stomach’s lining.

2 teeth

Manolo Tapas

4165 Broadway New York, NY 10033(212) 923-9100 • manolotapas.net
 
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I ate here right before going to an Adele concert across the street, and maybe it was the fact that I ate there right before going to an Adele concert that made everything seemingly taste better, but the food really did seem quite good.

We had a wide variety of tapas and just about everything was worth ordering again. The sangria, the serrano ham & manchego plate as well as the crab cake were all fantastic. The olives, potatoes and octopus were also solid. In fact, the only miss were the lamb stuffed piquillos, which was unfortunate because I had high hopes after all of the other successes, but the lamb was a little too mushy, more like sloppy joe, which cheapened the takeaway of the dish.

Service, decor and price were all great as well, adding to the draw. So, should you ever be in the same hood for a concert at the United Palace Theater, I would definitely recommend Manolo as part of your pregame, it’s a strong three knives.

3 teeth

Half Moon

1 High St. Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522(914) 693-4130 • halfmoonhudson.com

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I’ve took me a while to muster up the cojones to try this place. Sure, the location is obviously amazing being that it’s right on the Mighty Hudson (pictured), but after reading the reviews and having a very lack-luster experience at Harvest on Hudson (which seemed to be cut from a similar cloth), I was in no hurry.

But now that I’ve gone, I’m happy to say that I’m glad I finally went. Not that the place is stellar by any stretch, but it’s nice for a drink or a casual lunch, especially when it’s warm enough to sit outside. And the food, while hit and miss, proved to be a hit on the lobster roll as far as I’m concerned. Much, much better than the majority you’ll find in Westchester. And while it looks like it’s going to be mayonnaise heavy, it’s actually quite lemony, which keeps it light. The crab cakes are okay and the salad- well, let’s just say this isn’t the place to get salad. I did, after all, say it was hit and miss.

Also, the chocolate volcano was a bit lame as well. Not atrocious per se, but not a true volcano either. Like I said, go for the view and a casual lunch or drinks, but leave the high expectations for places like The Cookery.

3 teeth

Noho Star

330 Lafayette St. New York, NY 10012(212) 925-0070nohostar.com

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I haven’t actually been there. Only ordered delivery. But of the three things I had, two were a solid good, and one was flimsy miss.

First, the good. I enjoyed the Santa Fe crab cakes, although they didn’t have much crab in them. Mostly filler. But flavorful filler, fortunately. Guess they know their filler down in Santa Fe.

The other good thing I had was the 14 ingredient chopped salad. Similar to many a beet and walnut based salad, but chopped to all hell, not unlike something you’d get at a Chop’t, only a touch nicer.

And last but not least, the one that I had the highest hopes for, the tuna sashimi served on a potato pancake with wasabi crème fraiche. Sounds awesome, right? Sort of like a variation on hanabi. Well, one of the main problems is that they don’t know what sashimi means. They give you a chunk of tuna as thick as a ream of paper. It should be much, much thinner, because as a result, it’s too chewy and overwhelms the dish.  The other big issue, is the crème fraiche comes off tasting a lot more like mayo. Maybe because they put too much on. And while they heavied up on the créme, they skimped on the wasabi. Could barely even taste it. Plus, they also put seaweed salad in between the concoction, which only made the dish soggier still.

Nothing “amazeballs” as a friend of mine would say. But a nice big menu that delivers in the area should you need it. That said, so does Five Points right around the corner, so I’d go there first.

2 teeth

Highball & Harvest

4012 Central Florida Pkwy. Orlando, FL32837 • (407) 393-4422highballandharvest.com

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The JW Marriott and the Ritz Carlton are both so massive on their own that when you connect them it creates a structural morass the likes of an MC Escher drawing. And while you might wish you had Google maps to find your way through the Shining-like halls of this behemoth, there’s gold in them, thar hills! The treasure I speak of is Highball & Harvest a contemporary Southern restaurant located somewhere in the belly of the Ritz.

The décor is a little all over the place, but ultimately passes as nice and the service is suspiciously friendly, perhaps I think that because I’m from New York City where most people that jolly are heavily medicated.

But our waiter’s chipper demeanor aside, he was also spot on with the recommendations, the first of which being the Parker House rolls . They are so good I actually recommend NOT ordering them, because the temptation to fill up on bread will be immense. Which means you’ll need to dig deep, mustering up some serious willpower so that you can enjoy the things to come. Things like the crab cakes with fried green tomatoes and remoulade. An ultimate worthy dish to the second power, proving tops in both the crab cake category as well as the fried green tomato.

Another dish I highly recommend is the blackened grouper. Cooked perfectly and placed over a bed of hominy ragu, adouille sausage and pickled okra.

On the mortal end of the spectrum I would place the kale salad the sticky toffee pudding and the donuts. None of them were bad or even mediocre, but they just didn’t wow like their predecessors.

I do, however, feel the need to expound upon the donuts as I applaud the presentation. Dusted cinnamon sugar donut bites served warm in a paper bag next to a tube of Nutella which you use to inject the donuts full of chocolaty wonder. It’s definitely good, but just shy of great.

But I don’t want to end things on a blah note, because I really did love this place. So, I have saved one of my favorite things for last, the cocktail. Called the Doc Holiday it comes in a copper mug filled to the brim with Tito’s vodka (not something I believe was around during Doc’s existence, but I’ll let it slide), ginger beer, grapefruit and blueberry jam. Plus hand-cut ice. Now I’m not exactly sure how hand-cut ice actually influences the flavor of the drink, but they seem to be very proud of it at H&H. And while I kid the things I love, I can’t say enough about this drink. In fact, it’s not just a drink, it’s an experience. As is Highball & Harvest in its entirely. Run. Don’t walk. Assuming you can actually find it.

4 teeth

The Ravenous Pig

1234 N Orange Ave. Winter Park, FL 32789 • (407) 628-2333 • theravenouspig.com
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I’m not sure if the term gastropub has worn out its welcome yet, but this is a very good one should you happen to be a fan of the genre like I am. And a fan I was, from the very first bite of my soft pretzel dipped in their taleggio-porter fondue. Just genius. I mean I’m a huge fan of grain mustard with pretzels, which was the other dipping option, but next to that fondue, it went virtually untouched.

The pretzels were quickly followed by an order of densely packed crab cakes with a nice, crispy crust. They were a solid good, served with mache, almonds and a cilantro aioli.

And for our mains, we split two sandwiches, the king salmon and the brisket. Now normally I would say that brisket is going to when this battle 9 times out of 10, especially at a place called The Ravenous Pig, but that’s the great thing about life…and food… They both never cease to amaze. The salmon was the clear winner. So clear even if you had an oil tanker full of Windex you couldn’t make it any clearer. Just spot on, with its nice slab of perfectly cooked fish, crisp bacon, gribiche sauce and a brioche bun.

Whereas the brisket shat the bed. A touch on the dry side with the meat overpowering the accouterments so much so that not even the chimichurri could break through. Fortunately we has a bunch of left over mustard from the pretzels which helped to save it, otherwise I’m not sure I would’ve eaten more than a bite.

And finally, the banana bread dessert with toffee ice cream was a strong finish. Served warm with a crunchy top and soft, fluffy innards. Then mixed with the cool toffee cream. So good, even though I was full, I pushed through it like a… ravenous pig.

Service and décor were also good, granted the server pulled one of my biggest pet peeves, dropping the ball on a recommendation with, “everything’s good.” But he was very nice and accommodating so I’ll let him live.

4 teeth