Salvation Burger

230 E 51st StNew York, NY 10022 • (646) 277-2900 • salvationburger.com

If you’ve been following me for any length of time then you probably already know that I’m not a big fan of the burger at Spotted Pig. Which probably has you scratching your head as to why I would ever come here, well-knowing that this is the same chef.

To which I respond, “fair.” But isn’t our country built on second chances? From Robert Downy Jr. to John Travolta to Anthony Weiner- okay well almost on that last one.

So how’d it go? Just okay. The Salvation Burger is definitely the headliner here for a reason, and while it’s not the best burger I’ve had in the city, it might just eke its way into the top ten. I do recommend getting it with the Holy Cow beer that is brewed specifically to go with the burger, and while it does indeed live up to the mission, it’s not all that drinkable on its own.

The Classic Burger is also good, but because of its thinner patties the meat gets overwhelmed by all the other things going on and winds up tasting a lot like a more refined Big Mac.

Fries are good. Pickles are good. Apple pie is just okay (done like the Classic Burger, a fancy version of a McDonald’s staple)  and service is a train wreck. Also, the food is insanely overpriced for what it is. Don’t think I’d ever go back, because if I’m gonna drop that kinda coin on a burger that will supposedly “save me” I’d rather get the Black Label at Minetta or the Duck Burger at Elan. Now those are some soul-saving burgers right there!

The Spotted Pig

314 W 11th St. New York, NY 10014(212) 620-0393 thespottedpig.com

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I have to applaud Yelp for not buying into the hype hook, line and sinker just because James Beard and Michelin apparently have. That said, I still find Yelp’s 3.5 stars to be a bit overstated as well.

Let me explain by starting with the “spotted” service. Not only do they make it painfully annoying to get a table as a result of not taking reservations, they get so crowded that the wait can grow as steep as an hour and 45 minutes by 6:30pm! So right off the bat, you’re basically going into the experience with a this-better-be-fucking-worth-it mindset, which is never good for anyone. I mean, by that point the only way a restaurant is ever going to fair well is if every bite on the menu is on physiological par with an orgasm. But on the plus side, as ridiculous as the wait is, the hosts handle it well. No attitude and they text you when your table is ready so you can go off and drink at another bar until your table is ready. Which also doesn’t bode well for them, because now you’re an angry drunk waiting far longer than is reasonable, only to be seated in an overcrowded dinning room that is so warm you’d swear you were going through menopause, all for food that simply isn’t worth it (more on that later).

As for the actual waiters, they are slow in both senses of the term, getting us the deviled eggs instead of the devils on horseback and then trying to charge us twice for the devils on horseback. But what was especially annoying was the lack of attention to speed of service. After all, wouldn’t one think, “hey, these people just waited nearly two hours for their table, perhaps I should try to make them wait as little as possible from here on out.” But nooooo, not here. It was the longest burger and beer experience of my life, lasting nearly four hours.

Now for the “spotted menu,” which proved to be so disappointing, starting off with the Spotted Pig Bitter, made with bubbles so infinitesimally small that it comes off as flat. But at least it had good flavor to it. Just pales in comparison to Blue Bird Bitter if you’ve ever had it.

As for the infamous Devils on Horseback, they are definitely good, but a bit too moist through and through, if you ask me. I much prefer the contrasty version, where the crisp bacon gives way to the moist, gooey date, like at Boqueria.

The runaway surprise hit of the night was the Apple Salad. It’s just awesome, but bone simple, hence we made a dead ringer of it at home the very next day without even having to look up a recipe online. It’s comprised of Pink Lady apples cut in large chunks, fresh parsley, a bit of arugula, sharp (aged) cheddar or manchego and a dressing made with apple cider vinegar, red chili infused olive oil, Dijon, honey and red pepper flakes to taste.

The most over-hyped dish of the night was easily the burger (pictured). Hidden beneath a tower of shoestring fries in hopes of masking its inadequacies. Sure, the patty is good, but it was so boring without ketchup and mustard, relying way too heavily on the roquefort cheese to carry it to greatness, toward which it falls miserably short. Instead, I highly suggest you head to Minetta Tavern for the Black Label Burger, which actually lives up to its legend. Or the Bash burger at B&B Wine Pub, which has won the best burger in the city five years running. Or even Élan’s Duck Burger, which few know about, but blows the spots off of this pig.

And finally, there’s the Skirt Steak, which not only skirted around our order of medium rare, but came in horrendously chewy, filled with sinew to the point of almost making it off-putting had it not been for the mushrooms and kale on the plate with it.

Unless you have a bizarre foodie fetish and like the masochistic notion of waiting forever for food that isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, I vote that you skip the Pig and just make that apple salad at home. It really is quite something.

2 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

Élan

43 E 20th St. New York, NY 10003 • (646) 682-7105elannyc.com

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When you enter Élan it doesn’t exactly exude much élan with its small bar up front funneling into a narrow hall decorated with a pop art step and repeat mural, which opens up to a somewhat secluded, mid-sized dining area in the back. And while everything is done with a tasteful, modern flair, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the awkwardness of its layout.

The other thing I found distracting was the spotty service. Each course taking way too long just to order, from drinks to starters to mains and dessert, the pacing felt like we were in a car with someone learning to drive a stick shift, bucking back and forth between stop and go. But then the truly bizarre happened… Before pouring our third bottle of wine that I had ordered, the waiter informed me that he had “already tasted it and it was fine” therefore no need to have me taste it. At first I thought he was joking, but when I looked back at him, there was no wink or smile, just the weight of creepiness now hanging in the air.

But don’t count Elan out just yet, because David Waltuck, former chef of Chanterelle (RIP), seems to have carried his gift of gourmet over to Elan. And he doesn’t take much time warming up either, channeling that warmth and infusing it into his seductively, warm pretzel rolls served with Bavarian mustard butter. They are so addictive I could’ve just done two plates of those and a couple of beers and called it a win. But should you manage to muster up the restraint and not fill up on the bread, bully for you, because fortune awaits!

Such treasures being the mushroom, truffle croquettes, which are so wonderfully warm and gooey inside, it’s like an edible womb. It’s also like an Ultimate, because for me, most croquettes aren’t even worthy of mention, usually tasting more like their fried breading than anything else. But mention these I shall, at the tippy top of my lungs.

Also worth shouting about is the crispy ricotta gnocci so skillfully prepared it’s almost unfair that it’s only a starter, because I would’ve happily ordered it as a main. Well, that would’ve been true had I not heard about the off-menu duck burger with foie gras (pictured), which is so devilishly good you owe it to yourself to order one. But be sure to get it “done up,” as if the foie gras and caramelized onions weren’t enough. Yes, “done up” means it’s also topped with a fried egg and bernaise sauce. Sure, your diet is going to hell, but look on the bright side, your mouth is going to heaven. It really is a must. If I recommended it any higher I’d get altitude sickness. In fact, the only burger in the city to best it is Minetta’s Black Label Burger, and that’s some seriously high praise right there people.

Other dishes shined as well, but perhaps not as bright, for example the much hyped sea urchin guacamole was certainly good, but according to the Yelp consensus it was supposed to be “the best thing on the menu” which it surely wasn’t, coming in a distant third even just amongst the starters alone.

Another almost great dish was the raw oysters with an Asian marinade packing a nice ginger kick. The preparation was very good and unique, but fell just shy of greatness due to the mothershucker who left so many shell fragments in the second one I ate that I’m lucky I didn’t crack a tooth.

And of the side dishes, I also found myself really enjoying the Japanese eggplant with honey. They’re not quite up there with the ones at All’onda, but after that duck burger you’re gonna need a veggie or two to stem the guilt and the pea shoots don’t quite cut it on flavor.

In addition to the pea shoots, another side worth passing up (especially if you’re getting the duck burger) would be the duck fat hash browns. I know duck fat is all the rage in potato land these days, but I’ve had way better at Twisted Oak in Tarrytown, NY. Besides, the squashed potatoes that come with the duck burger blow the hash browns away.

Also living in miss-o-potamia would be the foie gras roulades with fig, which proved to be very blah amongst the deep bench of winners, as did the swordfish made with eggplant and a black bean salsa. This dish was the resounding loser of the night. So lackluster it almost makes you question the judgment to keep it on the menu.

As for the desserts, nothing had me doing bell kicks around the dining room, but the clear winner was the berry ice cream sundae, surprisingly enough. The chocolate cheesecake, pumpkin cake and butterscotch pudding all registering a tepid reception from the table.

Let’s not end on a down note, however, because Elan is nothing short of a smashing success, serving up a whopping four Ultimates. Earning it just as many knives as a result.

4 teeth

Cindy’s Backstreet Kitchen

1327 Railroad Ave. St. Helena, CA 94574(707) 963-1200cindysbackstreetkitchen.com

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Hearing that this place was the sister restaurant of Mustards, expectations were immediately high. And those expectations only increased by our extremely effusive waiter who hyped up the menu so high, you’d think he was high.

For example, his gushing recommendation of the oysters bingo, which tasted like something you’d expect to be served at a Bat Mitzvah on Long Island. Same goes for the octopus, which was so flavorless it should almost be illegal to serve in a foodie mecca like Napa. In fact, of all the appetizers we had, and we had all of the appetizers, only one managed to rise above ho-hum, the shellfish pot with jalapenos. The polenta fries would’ve been good too, but they serve them dry and they desperately need something to dip them in. So, if you do order them, please ask for the honey mustard that comes with the burgers, it’s got a nice kick to and makes the fries worthy.

And speaking of the burgers, the duck burger was one of only four highs within the meal, served with a shitake mushroom ketchup, it made for a very unique, Asian take on an American classic. The other entrée that was good was the pork shoulder, but it paled in comparison to our waiter’s presell. What worked about it was the moist, savory pork mixed with the sweet caramelized peaches. What didn’t work was that only about 20% of the peaches were cooked. The raw ones were hard and chewy and tasteless. Apart from those, every other entrée at the table was a big whatevs.

Unfortunately the hit/miss ratio didn’t improve on desserts either. Only one is worth getting if you should still choose to dine here. The Campfire Pie tastes like a s’more right out of the sleep-away camp textbook. So A+ good it made the inadequacies of all of the other desserts on the table that much more severe. But if you must get two, go with the fig tart. It’s no campfire, but at least it’s not a complete waste of calories.

Sorry Cindy, but this is literally the worst dinner I’ve had in Napa. But thank you Mister Sommelier, your recommendation of the Hope & Grace Pinot Noir was wonderful. I just wish the rest of the meal lived up to it.

2 teeth