Blackbird

619 W Randolph St. Chicago, IL 60661(312) 715-0708blackbirdrestaurant.com

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The first thing that struck me when I entered Blackbird was that the décor is very white without a morsel of black to be found anywhere, ironically. The other thing I noticed is that while the service is very friendly and knowledgeable about the menu, they are also unbelievably slow, to the point of distraction, taking 40 minutes just to take our order and that was only because I flagged him down. Not even bread or drinks came in this time. And once they did, our waiter dripped the wine all over the table and down the sides of the glass EVERY time he poured it. It was so bad I think I’ve seen less dribbling in the United Center!

Fortunately the wine was good (what was left of it after he dripped most of it on the table) and the Port of Call cocktail is just awesome and it comes with significantly less dripping, unless it’s self-inflicted. Also, I do want to mention that the wine list has some solid, affordable options and the bread was warm and yummy, served with a curried butter.

It was from that point on that Blackbird soared, from a tasty amuse bouche to a trio of incredible appetizers that resoundingly affirmed that this chef de cuisine got game!

The most creative of the three would be the panzanella salad made with sweetbreads and sweet bread. A fun play on words and ingredients, using Hawaiian bread as a sweet counterweight to the savory glands. As was the raspberry vinaigrette. But as good as it was, it was actually the weakest of the three, best by the turnip and foie gras soup. So creamy and rich you should have to pay luxury tax on every spoonful. And my favorite of the three, the endive salad, believe it or not. Served in a stunning bird’s nest (pictured) with a poached egg, crispy potato, basil, pancetta and dijon. Relatively simple, but positively brilliant.

Both entrees I tried were exceptional as well. Completely apples and oranges, but each superb in their own right. The halibut is perfectly cooked and artfully accompanied by peekytoe crab and gooseberries. It was also somehow both decadent (duck fat) and light at the same time. Whereas the beef striploin was a full on savory-palooza, cooked to perfection and surrounded by a wonderful chanterelle moat with additions of quince, horseradish and crispy polenta planks. Masterful!

The only miss of the night was the carrot cake, and by miss I actually mean that it was good, but in comparison to the complimentary eclair and the white chocolate bar I would skip it, because that complimentary duo beats the cream cheese out of that cake 10 times out of 10, and I’ve a HUGE carrot cake fan, so this is saying a lot.

What’s also saying a lot is that not since the Purple Pig have I had a meal this good in Chicago. Granted I haven’t been to Alinea yet, so stay tuned.

4 teeth

Chez VIncent et Nicolas

92 rue Meynadier 06400 Cannes, France+33 4 93 68 35 39 chezvincentetnicolas.fr

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Just before the bottom of the hill on the main drag in Old Cannes, there is a little alley to the left or right depending on which direction you’re heading, and within that alley you will find three more restaurants tucked away from view. Now I can’t speak about the other two, but Chez Vincent was a nice find indeed.

The night started off with a great bottle of Syrah and very friendly service, and as for the meal, it started off with a gooey, baked Camembert served with sliced green apples and toast. Unfortunately the apples were sliced razor thin and didn’t hold up to the cheese at all. Also, the toast was actually a bit stale. Fortunately, the baguette in the breadbasket was incredibly fresh, so we used that to sop up the cheese instead and it was nummy, nummy.

We also did the scallops wrapped in bacon, which is an oldy but a goody. And finally another classic starter, a whole artichoke served with Dijon for dipping. Both were also very good, but nothing game-changing.

For entrees it was a mixed bag. My mushroom and chicken risotto being extraordinary, the elbow pasta being interesting and the salmon tartar being a touch bland as the fish itself was overpowered by the dill and onion within. And while the French fries served with it were quite soggy, they were actually the best thing about the tartar. That said, if you want the fries without the salmon, I’d suggest going with the burger. It looked crazy good. As did the moules frites (pictured).

And speaking of crazy good, the tart tatin for dessert is another must get, nearly equal to the risotto and between the two enough to have me flirting with the thought of 4 knives. Unfortunately the dessert medley was not-so fantastic, keeping things firmly supplanted at three.

3 teeth

John Doe

253 5th Ave. New York, NY 10001 • (646) 882-4007johndoenyc.com

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To start, I’d like to begin by stating that John kicks Lulu’s ass. Located in the former space as Lulu & Me (RIP-ish), John Doe has come to take its place with a somewhat similar offering… on paper, that is. In terms of flavor, however, I am happy to report that the 2.0 update comes with a host of new features such as better service, better décor and better food.

As for that all-important last update, let’s start with the popcorn shrimp, which was one of the better ones I’ve ever had, primarily because you can actually taste the shrimp. Normally I feel like the shrimp-to-breading ratio is always so far off that all you are eating is a fried wad of batter, but not these. They’re plump, tasty and shrimpy. Served with a spicy cayenne remoulade that make these shrimp a huge hit. Down it with a refreshing John Doe Ale and you’ll be halfway to happy.

For my entrée I went with the Jane Doe, which is the veggie burger version of the meat-based John Doe burger. Jane is made with brown rice, yellow bell peppers and beets, giving her patty a slightly red hue, topped with avocado, aged cheddar and red pepper aioli then served on a pretzel roll. It’s no Gochujang Burger from Cinnamon Snail, but it held its own. Especially with the addition of Dijon. Also, I think I might have been a bit spoiled having just come off of that insanely good duck and foie gras burger at Élan. So how could a veggie burger even hope to compare?

Don’t judge, because when I mention what we ordered for dessert I fear that some of you might find issue with it, particularly the wife. In my defense, though, there is only one option for dessert and we did split it four ways. Okay, I’ll dispense with the stalling… We had the deep fried Oreos with vanilla ice cream. Yes, a deep fried cookie with ice cream on top, because a regular cookie is just WAY too healthy. Now obviously it wasn’t bad, cuz duh, it’s a deep fried Oreo cookie with ice cream. But to be fair, it wasn’t exactly worth it either. I mean going in the expectations are SO incredibly high (as is the guilt) that there is a lot to compensate for and sadly the Oreos fall short, netting out a touch soggy and nowhere near worth the year they probably just took off my life. John Doe, however, is well-worth the trip. It’s not quite up there with some of the 4 and 5 knifers in the hood, but three is pretty respectable in my book.

3 teeth

Untamed Sandwiches

43 W 39th St. New York, NY 10018(646) 669-9397 untamedsandwiches.com

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Move over No.7 Sub, there’s a new game in town, just 10 blocks North, packing some serious skill between two slices of bread. But like No. 7, the ingredients list reads like a basket in an episode of Chopped, sourcing and mixing with reckless abandon. This place is undoubtedly destined for franchise greatness, so get in on the ground floor before it goes wide.

The bread alone is simply magnificent, a mini rustic Italian hero with great crunch on the outside, and just the right amount of air on the inside so as not to overpower the mastery of the innards.

As for the masterful innards of which I speak, let’s begin with the most masterful of them all, the Sheemakers Bounty, made with charred broccoli, fried almond butter, pickled raisin jelly and cress. Yes, a surprise vegetarian underdog takes the pole position. But don’t be thrown by the notion of broccoli in sandwich form, because the only thing crazy about it is how crazy good it is.

A close second for me would be the Nettle Neck. Once again, a road less travelled, like the Sheemaker, but I assure you these are the shiznit, contrary to the popular vote. The Nettle is made with braised lamb neck, walnut nettle pesto, gruyere and both pickled and charred onions. The tenderness of the neck meat assimilates with the other ingredients on the sandwich so well, it’s like utopia on a hoagie.

After that I’d go with The Butt (insert joke here), garnering its name from the headliner ingredient, cider braised pork butt. The pork is then accompanied by broccoli rabe, pepper jelly, sharp cheddar and Dijon. And while the thought of sinking your teeth into the backside of Wilber might be off-putting to some, for me it was kickass. No ifs ands or butts. Sorry… I had to.

In fourth, the Carla Bruni was almost as delicious as its namesake is beautiful. Loaded up with Ciambotta style (Southern Italian stew) braised vegetables, goat cheese, olive spread and basil. Again, a solid showing from the vegetable contingent, but compared to the Sheemaker, the Carla Bruni is more like Carla Hall.

After that, the sandwiches become a little more mortal, but not just because they are more mainstream and not for a lack of trying. For example, the General Zapata offers nice heat from its pickled jalapenos, but the chicken tinga, queso fresco, pickled onions, etc… all blend a little too much into the bread, making for an unimpressive takeaway. But even less impressive was the highly touted Hot Goldie, after all, we’re talkin’ short ribs here, backed by a sweet and sour cabbage saw and black pepper aioli. But pound for pound, it is the least flavorful sandwich of the lot.

And while the sandwiches are definitely more hit than miss, sadly I can’t say the same about the sides. Skip every last one of them. The jalapeno cheddar grits were neither spicy nor cheesy. The “spicy” broccoli rabe was also suffering from absent heat. The collards with bacon were bitter and bland. And the roasted carrots, while easily the best of the bunch, were nothing more than you might expect to find at a Dig Inn.

Yet with all of the transgressions on the sides, if I hold them to their true intent, to make sandwiches that think outside of the bun, the box is hella checked. After all, their name isn’t Untamed Sides. That said, someone really does need to crack a whip on whoever was making them, because they cost this place five knives.

4 teeth

Restaurant Michael Schwartz & Coffee Bar

1775 Collins Ave. Miami Beach, FL 33139 • (305) 534-6300 raleighhotel.com

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The Raleigh Hotel is such a find in the heart of the deco district. Not as pricey as its neighbors and more low key, but sporting one of the best pools on Collins Avenue.

And while the restaurant may not be a destination unto itself like the headliners at so many other hotels, including its SBE Hotel siblings the SLS (The Bazaar) and The Redbury (Cleo), it still manages to serve up some pleasers.

Going by day part, they do quite well for breakfast. Either at the sit down tables outside by the pool or even at the grab and go Coffee Bar near the front. So if you’re aiming for a quick bite I definitely recommend the honey bran muffin and a glass of the freshly blended Rejuvenator. It’s carrot, ginger and apple and orange I believe. It’s also quite rejuvenating. After three of them I’m now in my twenties.

And as for the muffin, it has that perfect balance of sweetness and earthiness, a little on the sticky side, but moist as can be, speckled with juicy, plump raisins. On the downside, do not take the bait on the apple muffin. It is the Danny DeVito to the honey bran’s Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s a Twins reference, in case my pop culture illustration is going completely lost on you.

As for sit down options, the Greek yogurt and honey with granola is surprisingly good. Having recently been in Greece I can attest with some modicum of experience that this yogurt is the closest thing I’ve had in the states to the way it is in mother Greece.

The other breakfast pleaser was the brioche French toast with caramelized bananas. It’s a very tough dish to screw up in all fairness, but if there was one surefire way to do it, it’s not soaking the bread through and through. Well, I’m happy to report that there is no infraction here. Dish nailed.

As for lunch, I found the food to be a little weaker. The grilled fish tacos are simple and fresh, which is enough to make them worthy of ordering, but there was nothing inventive or memorable about them. I would say the same about the tuna sandwich, although it did need a little Dijon as a kick in the ass. The only out and out miss was the swordfish sandwich. A bit too dry and a lotta bit too blah. But all in all, solid pool food if you happen to be staying in the hotel, which is nice, not having to make a special trip just for lunch.

Never had dinner there, but considering how friggin’ awesome that octopus looks, maybe that’ll be an amendment to this post the next time I visit Miami.

3 teeth