Oak & Almond

544 Main AveNorwalk, CT 06851 • (203) 846-4600 • oakandalmond.com
This might just very well be the best restaurant in the world… that is adjacent to a DMV. A dubious distinction by all accounts, but don’t let that sway you, because even if it weren’t right next door to the DMV, it would still be pretty damn good. So if you’re in the area, pounce. And if you’ve just spent an infuriating day at the DMV, double pounce.

The setting is surprisingly nice considering its locale, although it’s not a place I would propose or anything. That said, it’s set far enough away from the road and the DMV parking lot to make you feel like you are elsewhere.

But what really transports you is the food. From get go, you know they’re the real deal when they serve you their homemade, fresh-baked bread with a whipped butter-like cream thing that is dangerously habit-forming.

And the app-e-teasers proved strong as well. My favorite being the fungi flatbread (pictured). This pie is legit. Doing CT Pizza culture proud. A close second was the buratta, which was melt-in-your mouth creamy, drizzled with balsamic and served up with beefsteak tomatoes and perfectly thin, crisp crostini, just strong enough to provide textural contrast with the buratta, but thin enough so as not to overpower it and let it be the star. A close third for me would be the octopus, just missing the second slot because it was a touch overcooked. But the preparation was wonderful. A mix of fave beans, peas, dill yogurt, fennel, potatoes and chorizo, all drizzled with a kicking’ vinaigrette.

The only miss for me was the salmon tartar, significantly lacking in compared to its bunkmates.

For entrée, I went with the lamb burger. Not sure why, because I was already pretty damn full by this point, but perhaps it’s because I’m like a dog and would eat myself to death if you’d let me. Pressing on, I managed to hork about two thirds of it down. But like the octopus, I do have to say it was also over-cooked. That said, also like the octopus, the balance of flavors made up for a lot with the tzatziki and the olive aioli.

But as good as it is, I’m not suggesting you make a special trip just to go here. I mean it’s still right next to the DMV for Christ’s sake! But, if you happen to work nearby, or be in the area, you could do a lot worse. And if you just failed your driver’s license exam, it’s a nice place to lick your wounds.

Consider it a VERY strong three knifer, trending four when you adjust for DMV proximity.

Advertisements

Pastis

28 rue du Commandant André 06400 Cannes, France+33 4 92 98 95 40 pastis-cannes.com

caption

No, the one in New York City didn’t reopen, sorry to get your panties all in a bother. But the one in Cannes is still inexplicably going strong and as packed as ever. The reason for my puzzlement is that I never really liked the one in NYC either. Gasp!

Yes, I found it horribly overrated and the apple doesn’t fall far from the Big Apple. The other thing I found horrible is the service. First they made us wait 30 min for a table when we had a reservation. Then, once we sat down they had the gall to tell us that we couldn’t order appetizers because the kitchen was closing soon, which was utter and complete bullshit because they proceeded to serve everyone else in the entire restaurant appetizers throughout the duration of our meal.

So, after calling bullshit on his bullshit, our waiter caved and let us have two apps, and lucky for us, because they were the best things we had. Starting with the better of the two, the beef tartar. It is bright and lemony, with excellent seasoning and flavor. But, still he had to fuck us, docking us the caper berries that were served on top of everyone else’s in the entire place. Oh the French!

The other decent appetizer was the foie gras terrine served with a fig jam and crostini. It’s pretty typical in these parts though, so it’s hard to get to gushy, especially when it’s followed up by a pair of losers like the linguini with shrimp and the gnocci with black truffles. And while the gnocci was the better of the two, it was overly creamy to the point where you couldn’t even taste the truffles.

Adding insult to injury, the “not worth the wait” gnocci arrived 20 minutes after everyone else’s entrees, meaning he probably forgot to put in the order. But rather than fess up to it, he lied to me repeatedly that it was coming in two minutes. Well, either he was lying or he’s horrible at math.

Although, to be fair, it’s very possible that he’s gone deaf, because the music was so goddamn loud in there that they even made The Gypsy Kings and Michael Jackson grating, both of which I love.

2 teeth

Via Carota

51 Grove St. New York, NY 10014 •  viacarota.com

Screen Shot 2016-05-30 at 9.15.26 AM

Trying to get lightning to strike twice in the same spot isn’t an adage because it’s false, and while Jody Williams of Buvette fame, certainly has skillz, the proverbial lighting “missed it by that much” (to be read like Maxwell Smart).

The space, like Buvette, is quaint and endearing, with a little more size to its beautiful exposed brick dining room. But unlike Buvette, it is MUCH easier to get a table, especially if you go to dinner on the early-ish side (translation 6/6:30pm). I recommend this not just because it’s easier to get a table, but also because once the dining room fills up, it becomes noisy as all hell, with sound ricocheting off of those brick walls like a son of a bitch.

Speaking of profanity, the other thing that will have you cussing is the painfully slow kitchen. And when it’s that early, and the restaurant isn’t even that full yet, I can’t even begin to imagine how bad it must get once the place is packed. Fortunately they comp’d an extra glass of wine for wifey and I, so the cursing would abate.

The other gripe with service is that their recommendations deserved condemnation. The first of them being the chicken liver crostini, about which she gushed. It is so ho-hum that we left half of it stranded on the plate. For a truly memorable chicken liver dish, be sure to get the off-menu chicken liver pasta at Osteria in Philly. Not exactly down the street from Greenwich Village, but worth the drive nonetheless.

Her other adamant winner was also a bit oversold for my tastes, the homemade gnocci, sauce in a family recipe marinara. Now I don’t want to shit on anyone’s family, but I think running away from home might’ve served the chef wall, because then they might’ve come across some better recipes. For example I’ve got at least three other gnocci’s that blow this away. Try Bar Lagrassa in the Mini Apple and Blue Hill or Elan in the Big one.

Sadly, I can’t only blame the waitress, however, after all, we went rouge on a few choices, like the underwhelming raw artichoke salad. From eyes-dropping on other tables I think the grilled variety would’ve been the better way to go, but I think deep down we were hoping for a dish reminiscent of the one we had at Osteria San Marco in Venice. Not so much. But like any good story, now comes the twist.

Just when all hope was lost, like phoenix from the ashes Via Carote rose, delivering two flavor-packed entrees. The first being the spicy grilled tuna with carona beans, perfectly cooked and far more balanced than any of the previous dishes. The other was a pork braciole, which was touch over cooked, but was such a unique preparation that I forgave it for the overcookage. Rather than a tomato based sauce, they used cream and greens and herbs. Sliced and folded through and through. It’s a hearty portion, so if you’re not famished, I recommend skipping it or skipping the starters.

What you shouldn’t skip however, is the chocolate, hazelnut mousse parfait with roasted hazelnuts, fresh whipped cream and biscotti. This threepeat of winners was such a winning combination it actually managed to raise the Titanic for me.

3 teeth

Estadio

1520 14th St NW Washington, DC 20005 • (202) 319-1404 • estadio-dc.com
p

Hey Estadio, the Spanish Inquisition called. They want their décor back. I kid Estadio because I actually like the place, but the décor really is a bit much with its giant throne seating and iron studded everything. I’m guessing Medieval Times must’ve had a yard sale or something. Boom!

Okay, I’m getting snarky, but to be fair, I did say “like” and not “love,” which means there is plenty of room for improvement in this mixed bag. For starters, the sangria was just okay, as was roughly half the menu. The jamon crostini, the pork croquettes, the grilled octopus and the short rib over horseradish mashed potatoes all falling into the land of not.

A notch above the ho-hum were the sizzling shrimp floating in a garlic olive oil that was bread-dipping good. Not great mind you.

But with so much meh, how could I still manage to like it, you ask? Because three dishes soared. The salmon crostini was fantastic, making the jamon look like the pig that it was and the foie gras scrambled eggs with black truffle butter served over toast was also a top two boxer, miraculously done in such a way that kept the flavors on the lighter side, so it was nowhere near as heavy as it sounds. Not that I’d recommend going jogging afterward, but it’s not a gut-bomb either. Just the bomb.

But the front-runner of the night was the crispy Brussels sprouts dish with pine nuts and bacon. They were so damn good they were damn near an Ultimate, tasting a lot like the prep you’ll find at All’onda in New York. In fact, they were so indisputable, that they’re probably about the only thing in DC that you could get a Democrat and a Republican to agree on.

3 teeth

J. Alexander’s

4077 Lake Cook Rd. Northbrook, IL 60062(847) 564-3093redlandsgrill.com

020910  (Taylor Jones / The Palm Beach Post). PALM BEACH GARDENS. Restaurant Review of J. Alexander's Restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens.

I’m not gonna lie, my fangs were bared and I was full-on ready to pounce all over this place. Shitting on it like something out of a relentless Family Guy sketch. I mean, c’mon, it’s in a Deerfield, IL office park for Pete sake! Your expectations get about as low as a snake in a wagon trail. Not sure where that Ross Perot-ian metaphor just came from, but you catch my drift.

Plus, the moment you walk in, the décor just screams casual dining chain (which it is), the likes of Bennigan’s and Applebee’s. So there I was at the table, seething at how foolish I was for taking the word of the girl at the front desk over at the Hyatt, when suddenly, BAM! BA-BAM! No, not gun shots. That’s the sound my ego makes when I’m wrong.

All three starters were really impressive. My favorite of the three being the deviled eggs with candy bacon and pickled slaw. But so was the smoked salmon salad with crostinis. And, of course, just to spite me, so was the Hyatt recommended fried calamari, which was shockingly tender, with a nice kick in the sauce to boot.

For my entrée I went with the coffee rubbed rib eye, served with a sizable mound of mashed potatoes. And while both were good, this was decidedly the weakest dish of the night. Fortunately, the Prisoner zinfandel I ordered by the glass to go with it was sensational. Making it the third best “Prisoner” I’ve ever experience. The first being sung by the band Squeeze. The second being the movie starring Hugh Jackman, which is technically plural.

For dessert, J. Alexander closed strong with two desserts so massive that after the five of us each took at least two bites apiece, there was still enough left on the plates to be considered a reasonable serving size. But please don’t take the stranded portions as a sign of mediocrity, because both the Key Lime Pie and the Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream (pictured) were very on point. We were all just stuffed to the gills by that point.

Sure, it’s a casual dining chain, but in the land of lowered expectations this place stands proud and tall, with the service to match. Take note all of you other chains out there, because this place has cracked the code like Benedict Cumberbatch in The Immitation Game.

4 teeth

 

Dish

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

ls

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

Tavern 29

47 East 29th St. New York, NY 10016 • (212) 685-4422tavern29.com

tavern-29

This place is three stories of bad. And while it has a nice rooftop bar wedged between two mid-rises (pictured), you can almost feel the impending doom looming over you, because there is virtually no plausible reason why this place should remain in business come 2016, save the house pilsner, which is actually pretty decent. Beyond that it is crapapalooza in terms of food. We’re talking so shockingly bad that I am shocked to see that it raked in four stars on Yelp (higher than Dirty French!). I take that back. I would’ve been shocked had I not already realized that Yelp reviews are absolutely worthless.

And speaking of worthless, don’t waste the energy in your jaw muscles to chew on this stuff. I’ve honestly had better in school cafeterias. From the salsa & chips to the ziti to the dry chicken, to the beef with onions and mushrooms to the veggie spring rolls to the crostinis to an atrocious shrimp cocktail, Tavern 29 managed to string together more misses than a blind man trying to thread a needle with his feet.

But as mother tried to raise me, if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all, so I will try to counter-balance all of my vitriol with a compliment (even if it’s of the backhanded variety), their dinner rolls are actually pretty decent, but I believe they are pre-packaged, tasting like a dead-ringer for King’s Hawaiian.

And dead is the operative word here folks. As in what this place should be to anyone with a self-respecting digestive system.

1 tooth

Lucca

Bebek, Cevdet Paşa Cd. No:51, 34342, Turkey • +90 212 257 1255 • luccastyle.com

thumb_600

I’m not exactly sure what this place is trying to be, other than a place to be seen, because the menu is all over the map, covering everything from Japanese and Chinese to Mexican and even French cuisine. And while one could easily argue that this is the trend of most restaurants these days, siphoning influences from one cultural dish to inject into another, it is usually done with the focus of a through line. A theme, if you will. But here, that theme has zero to do with the food and everything to do with the fact that everyone around you is drop dead gorgeous, wearing as little clothes as is considered legal by the government- Sorry Erdogan, no burkas here. There are, however Mcalren’s and BMW i8’s- in fact the latter is the first I have ever seen on the road, and the former is only the second. So, to see both back to back in a matter of minutes is quite rare.

Sadly, the only other thing worth noting is the gin-based sangria (very refreshing and unique), but that’s to be expected from a “scene” I suppose, because most people are more concerned with looking dead sexy with a cocktail and a ciggy in their hand than actually eating anything. And it shows. The fish taco was begging for salsa to not only give it moisture, but heat, yet even if it did, the taco shell tasted like a pestemal (Turkish towel). Also in Mexicoland, the crab and avocado toast wasn’t much better, mainly because there was zero crab in it. Perhaps it was a typo and they meant “carb?”

Moving to Asialand, the crispy ponzu beef was nothing of the sort. It’s just crispy beef. The ponzu influence is either imperceptible or it crawled away with the crab. That said, crispy beef is probably not all that common in Turkey, so if you’re jonesing for some, it’ll do.

Italyland was also passable with a very basic rocket salad, done with artichokes and asparagus. Most likely the dish of choice between the cocktail and cigarette I mentioned earlier, after all, abs and buns of steel don’t grow on trees.

And finally Franceland, which may have been the worst showing of any nation, with a seared foie gras crostini lacking the sweet and savory contrast so iconic for the dish. As a result, it proved to be one of the blandest attempts at foie gras I have ever had. Which is sad. Mostly for the goose, whose torture went in vain.

Back on the plus side, the service was surprisingly good for such an affected place. Perhaps I should take this as a compliment, because not only were we treated well, we were seated at a choice table right at the front for all passersby to see. Then again, I’ll chalk that one up to wifey, because I sincerely doubt it was me who was supposed to be the eye candy.

2 teeth

Bedford 234

635 Old Post Rd. Bedford, NY 10506 • (914) 234-5656 • bedford234.com

9df0ccac28fc03baad5a0d74b1bdaaa3

Brimming with potential, Bedford 234 still has quite a few kinks to work out, mostly in the service department. Well, to be fair, it’s more of an issue with the kitchen than the servers, because the waiters were keeping up. It was the kitchen that failed them. Not in terms of food, however. It was a matter of speed, or lack thereof. They simply can’t handle their own success, having to hold off on seating tables because the kitchen is so behind. A nice problem to have if you’re the restaurateur, but as a customer, not so much. That said, a word of advice to the restaurateur, to help solve this problem moving forward, perhaps you should consider taking reservations? That way you can manage the kitchen’s workload accordingly. Shocking concept, right?

Hopefully they figure it out soon, because everything suffers because of it. Patrons get annoyed, packed in like sardines trying to get a drink at the teeny-tiny bar as they wait for a table. Diners get annoyed by the noise level spilling over from the bar into the dining room. Bread baskets get forgotten and entrees get overcooked.

So now that I’ve told you what’s wrong with 234, here’s what’s right. For starters, the décor is very cool. Rustic cool, with an artistic vibe about it. Lots of energy too. Feels like something you’d expect to see in the city. And the outdoor seating is equally impressive with its brick arches and strung lights. A good place to sit with a drink if you need to wait for your table, which you will if it’s a Friday or Saturday night between 7:00-8:30pm.

In terms of drinks, the rosemary and cucumber margarita with Sriracha salt is very potent, which helps you forget about the wait. But sadly, all of those interesting ingredients don’t really come through and it ends up tasting like a normal, everyday margarita, which isn’t the worst thing I suppose.

For our appetizers, we shared the lobster knuckle escargot (pictured) and the warm mushroom crostini and both were very good. The former is pretty much what it sounds like, roughly half a dozen yummy chunks of lobster served in an escargot dish, each chunk nestled in a cup of buttery, garlicky paradise. The latter is comprised of warm, marinated hen of the woods and enoki mushrooms, along with melted leeks, all smothered in red beard cheese and placed over their house made bread, which is pretty tasty just with the olive oil, so you can imagine how fungalicious it is with this stuff stacked to the gills.

For entrees, the quinoa and rice bowl is surprisingly good, loaded with grilled veggies, avocado, kale, red spinach and spicy lemongrass yogurt all tossed in a citrus, chipotle vinaigrette. The dish is primary made by the freshness of its ingredients, but that little touch of heat is truly what keeps it interesting. Also, I recommend adding king salmon to it for a few bucks more. It really completes the dish. Unfortunately it was a touch overcooked though, but even so, I still found myself enjoying it.

Wifey, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well with the chimichurri grass fed bavette steak, which was delivered three temps over the request of medium rare! I mean, c’mon! I get the occasional medium fuck up, because the kitchen is busy, yada yada yada. But to try and send out a well done cut of meat and pass it off as an attempt at medium rare is borderline unforgivable. Shit, you could probably strap a flamethrower to a jackhammer and set it off in a room next to a piece of meat and get it closer to medium rare. So naturally she sent it back, leaving me to eat alone (Don’t worry, I’m okay). Then, some 15 minutes later, they rushed a second steak to the table, but because they didn’t give it time to rest, the thing bled out all over the plate, ruining the fries served with it.

We asked to speak to a manager about this, but apparently there wasn’t one that night (shocker). That said, the hostess did the right thing and comped wifey’s glass of wine. Not to mention dessert. Now normally you’d think they should’ve comped the steak in this situation, but once I tell you about dessert I think you’ll agree it was a win.

This winning dessert is the best damn coconut cake I’ve ever had. Served as a behemoth under glass, this towering mountain of Ultimateness was so irresistible we managed to put away a good three quarters of the slice. Now I realize that doesn’t sound all that impressive, but keep in mind that the slice started out the size of an adolescent Jack Russell Terrier. Also, waste not, want not was in full effect come the next day, when that final quarter made for a rather tasty stroll down memory lane, post lunch.

My advice, go there on less crowded days or at less crowded times and I would imagine you will be thoroughly pleased as punch.

3 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