Clouds

Reeperbahn 1  Hamburg, Germany 20359 • +49 40 30993280 • clouds-hamburg.de
 

As the name would imply, this place is set atop a skyscraper “in the clouds,” overlooking the entire city with amazing views, particularly from the men’s room. Hands down the best urinal view ever. And speaking of penises, the building is right at the entrance to the Reeperbahn, which is the famous red-light district of Hamburg. But don’t let that scare you. These days the Reeperbahn is more for partying than for sexual escapades. Although there is an area within it so hardcore they don’t allow women. Rumor has it this is not out of sexism though, more to protect the customers from getting busted by their wives. It’s just bad for business.

But I digress, so getting back to MY business, let’s talk about the restaurant. Starting with the décor, which is definitely cool but clearly trying very hard to be trendy. The food also made a few worthy attempts, particularly amongst the starters, as both the duck fat fries and the asparagus were killer. As for the chateaubriand, I found it a touch on the chewy side, but decent. The sauce options, however, were very hit and miss. The red wine sauce being too watery, the Béarnaise lacking flavor and the peppercorn being the Goldilocks- just right!

Ending on a down note the desserts were all a miss for me and the so where the drinks. Their signature cocktail, the Green Goblin is like drinking a dayglow green, alcoholic sherbet you’d get at a Fat Tuesdays circa 1991, and our bottle of wine was also somewhat bland, not holding up to the meaty feast before us.

Teetering between two and three knives, I think I’m going to round up to a soft three. After all, that urinal view really is something to behold.

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The Cottage

256 Post Rd EWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-3701 • thecottagewestport.com

Oh dear my! This place is so friggin’ good it has me talking like an old lady from a Merchant Ivory flick. And I know it sounds crazy skeptical for such a snooty foodie to be dropping yet another 5 knifer in a small suburban town like Westport, but you’ve gotta taste it to believe it. Because it’s not me or my standards that have changed, it’s the game that has changed, and for whatever reason this tiny community of 26,000 has game out the wazoo, hence why I moved here.

Starting with good juju, The Cottage takes the place of another fantabulous restaurant, Le Farm (RIP). But as much as I would like to get all misty-eyed over its passing, The Cottage not only stepped in and carried that torch, they did it with the precision of a gold-medal-winning baton exchange. And then they threw a bucket of lighter fluid on the thing, because hot damn does this place burn bright!

Inside, it doesn’t look like they changed much in terms of the former digs. It’s still quaint and a touch rustic. In fact, many of the tables are so uneven I’d place your wine glass with caution or it’s likely to wind up on the floor.

Speaking of wine, they have a small, but decent selection. We went with the Tensley Syrah and it was perfect with our equally perfect meal. That said, if you’re fancying a cocktail instead, Cottage has skills there too.

Amongst the perfection, the Kushi oysters are my favorite way to start. They are light, sweet, refreshing and palate-cleansing. Not to mention friggin’ delicious with that ginger-yuzo mignonette! Plus, the town of Westport has a seafood vibe about it and this dish honors that swimmingly. Pun intended.

But to be fair, I’ve never had a Kushi I didn’t like. So, for appetizers that are more illustrative of the chef’s prowess, I’d say the crab toast is about as good as it gets, besting the already exemplary version at The Whelk and landing itself a firm Ultimate.

Even as good as the crab toast is, the scallion pancake, AKA “Okonomiyakia,” is every bit its equal. Made with pork belly and black garlic molasses.

And I’m not even remotely done yet with my swooning, because the seared foie gras with pineapple, crispy prosciutto, smoked macadamia nuts and butter toast blows them all away. In fact, it was so life-changingly good that my wife overcame her long-standing principles and said, “Ya know what? Fuck those geese,” as she sopped it up with that crack-tastic toast!

Another starter on the more decadent end of the spectrum would be the build-your-own wagyu beef buns. They are redonkulous! Served with a sriracha aioli, kimchi and thick-ass duck fat potato fries. Hells yeah!

The only mortal starter that I’ve found there is the fluke sashimi. It’s simply not worth your time compared to all of the other gems on the menu. And sure, they try to doll it up with habanero oil, pickled avocado, carrot and ginger ponzu, but the result is still the same. Pass.

Sadly, I am less experienced with their entrees, because I keep filling up on all of their damn, tempting-ass starters. But the one I did try was fantabulous. The duck fried rice is a thing of beauty, dressed with bok choy, maitake mushrooms and a sunny quail egg that mixes into the rice, complementing the savory duck meat like salt to caramel.

Speaking of sweets, The Cottage doesn’t let up there either. The Pavlova lives up to its name, making you drool like the dog you are and the bread pudding, as well as the dark chocolate pie, are like edible exclamation points at the end of a flawlessly written story.

Ai Fiori

400 5th Ave. New York, NY 10018 • (212) 613-8660 aifiorinyc.com

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One flight up from the lobby in the Langham Hotel you will find a sizeable, fancy pants dining room that goes straight for the jugular (and by that I mean wallet), letting you know right off the bat that you are about to drop some serious cabbage for the privilege of eating at one of New York’s top rated restaurants. But with dozens like it, the décor kinda feels like it came out of the very same mold as Le Bernadin, Asiate and Per Se. Granted as molds go, you could definitely do a lot worse. But unique, it is not.

In an attempt to live up to the top-notch tenor, the service tries very hard to be perfect and comes but doesn’t quite get there, dropping things, hovering when you don’t want them and then disappearing when you do.

Like the service, the food also came up short of expectations, starting with the butternut squash soup with foie gras, which arrives at the table like a work of art, which they then cover in orange silkiness. But as texturally pleasing as the dish is, I found the foie gras virtually imperceptible to the taste. So then what’s the point? I mean if I’m gonna torture a goose, at least let me taste the pain.

The crab spaghetti fared much better, sporting a healthy kick to it, but even as much as I liked it, it falls way short of the one at Nomad just a few blocks south. And although I didn’t actually try the burger, which apparently won best in New York in 2014 according to our waiter, it looked pretty amazing and if the duck fat potato balls that come with it are any indication (which I did try), good gracious Ignacious!

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

Twisted Oak

61 Main St. Tarrytown, NY 10591 • (914) 332-1992 •  thetwistedoakny.com

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What in the hell is happening to Tarrytown?! You go away for a year and boom! About 80% of the restaurants are new. Which, as a Ferocious Foodie, naturally excites me with a plethora of new options now lying before me. So for starters, let’s tackle the Twisted Oak, the artist formerly known as Isabella’s (RIP).

Having heard good things from a fellow foodie, we decided to roll the dice, skeptical as we were, especially as we set foot in the dining room, which looks like it underwent very minimal renovations before reopening. It’s certainly nicer, but we’re talking maybe 10-15%, something about it still screaming old-school burbs eatery. Perhaps it’s in part due to the basket of CVS dental floss in the bathroom? I mean what place does that in this day and age? And it’s so unfortunate too, because you can tell they are truly reaching for a culinary experience, just look at the menu. Either the chef has no gift for décor or he and the owner are on vastly different pages.

On the upside, the page the chef is on is a very, very good one. For starters I highly recommend the charcuterie, served with grilled bread, cured ham, delicious little pickled beets and a buratta-like mozzarella spread with garlic and butter. You smear that on the bread and top it with a little prosciutto and yowser! It’s almost a toss up between that and just waiting for the normal bread to come, which is the same, sans grilling, but served with a wonderful baked spread of its own, comprised of parmesan, ricotta and garlic.

Another huge hit was the short rib with steel cut oat risotto and ramps. I don’t want to wax on about it too long, because the menu is always changing, but it was fall-off-the-bone-bodacious. Rich with flavor and killer with a Cabernet. Speaking of killer, as in, should you wish to put yourself on the fast train to killing yourself, the duck fat potatoes are all kinds of phat! To give you an idea of just how phenomenal they are, my son doesn’t even like potatoes unless they are in the form of French fries. Well, he wolfed down a good half of them. I ate the other half. Wifely had a cube or two, I think. Hard to say, I was too busy cramming duck fat potatoes in my face.

But Twisted Oak wavered a pit on the pastas if you ask me. The duck ravioli with fennel and citrus, while good, was also a bit too subtle for my tastes. I kept expecting the fennel and the acid to shine through more than they did. And the biggest loser of the bunch was the ricotta gnudi. Skip it. Just a bunch of big balls of blah.

But the Oak didn’t let me walk away upset, oh no. She ended strong with an awesome, and unlikely dessert reco, the white chocolate soup. Not something I would’ve ever gone for, but like The Monkey’s sing, now I’m a believer. We’re talking rich, creamy chocolate ice cream surrounded by hazelnuts, all doused in a healthy downpour of white chocolate. This dish is everything right with the world stuck in a bowl and served with a spoon.

Thank you for the pleasant surprise Twisted Oak. Your food far surpasses your decor, but at the end of the day, I’d rather have it that way than the other way around.

4 teeth

Strip House

15 W 44th St. New York, NY 10036(212) 336-5454 • striphouse.com

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Apparently the one in Union Square has better décor, but the charm of the one in midtown is its old school, dated, meat-joint-of-yore vibe. The other thing the décor has going for it is its play on words. The “Strip” house also happens to be decorated with hundreds of black and white photographs of strippers from back in the day when it was still sexy to get naked for a living, not tragic.

For service, we were taken care of very well by a gigantic Romanian gentlemen I’ll refer to us Lurch. Now, I’m not just saying that the service was good because I’m worried about him crushing my skull like the Spaniard in Game of Thrones the other night. He was actually quite good. And good-natured, because trust me, we’re not an easy bunch (no news there). And after a bottle or two of Amarone? Dare I say assholes?

Now…. Let the gluttony BEGIN! First, the onion bread alone is worth a bow, far outshining its pretzel bread cousin. But even the onion bread wouldn’t hold the spotlight long as the sweet corn chowder amuse bouche took center stage and let’s just say my bouche was very amused.

After that, things trickled back towards Earth as the shrimp cocktail, the bacon and the spicy tuna tartar all fell squarely in the land of “good but not great.”

But the rollercoaster was far from over as we surged upward for one of the best bone-in rib-eye’s I’ve had. And a bone in filet that wasn’t half bad either. But the true star of the table was the creamed spinach. Only one or two others have ever dared to compare.

On the downturn, the mac and cheese is a big pass. And the goose fat potatoes, while saliva-inducing in name are just “eh” in execution.

In the solid good realm, I would put the creamed corn and garlic string beans.

And for dessert, skip the red velvet (it’s dry) and the cheesecake (it’s no Junior’s). But very much do the shit out of the chocolate brownie. It’s hella-good. Especially when you down it with some 40-year Quinta port.

So now comes the 20 million dollar question, how’d I feel after all of that food? Well, I think this will answer it best: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rXH_12QWWg8

3 teeth