Die Bank

Hohe Bleichen 17 – 20354 HamburgGermany • +49 40 2380030 • diebank-brasserie.de
 
Had the service not royally screwed the pooch, The Bank would’ve easily hauled in a strong 4 knives. But not only did the waitress completely mess up my appetizer order by bringing me Pear Ravioli instead of Dove Etouffe, when they raced the correct dish to the table, the moron handed it to me, burning me quite badly. A first in my life and an offense easily worth a knife and then some. Especially because no manager even bothered to come out and apologize or make up for it in any way. Perhaps they wanted me to “Die.”

Now, I’m well aware that these are clearly first-world problems, but I was pissed and in pain and as you probably know by now, the last thing I need is a reason to be even more scathing than I already am, and to be honest, I still really struggle to empathize with how a waiter in a restaurant of this caliber could ever mix up these two dishes as they don’t even sound remotely alike, even when you account for a multitude of umlauts.

But Scheiße  service aside, the décor is very nice, set in a refurbished bank, which seems to be the “in” thing these days. And, for the most part, the food was excellent, with only a few misses. The best thing by far being the duck for 2. It’s a tour de force. Crsipy and juicy in all the right places, with potatoes, beet slaw and jus on the side. So good.

Next best for me would be the foie gras crème brulee, clearly inspired by Jean-Georges and just about as good, although a completely different presentation.

Of the two pastas, the tagliatelle is the clear winner, made simple with tomato and olives. The blue cheese ravioli with pear was undercooked and lacking a bit in the bleu coming threu. Oh, the irony to be burnt by an undercooked dish!

Speaking of lacking, I was most disappointed in the Dove Etouffe with foie gras. First, because there was no foie gras to be found. Second, because there was no etouffe either. Zero spice. But not bland. It was quite nice actually, just nothing like its description and not at all what I was craving and prepared to eat.

The chocolate lava cake and my cappuccino for dessert were strong endings and just enough to keep The Bank from going bankrupt. So, I’m giving it three knives in total. Two for the food and one for décor. Minus one biggie for the service.

East

East Hotel Simon-von-Utrecht-Str. 31 – 20359 Hamburg, Germany • +49 40 309933 • east-hamburg.de

To sum this place up before I even begin, it’s Peruvian meets Asian meets Gaudi meets catacombs. An odd combination by most accounts with trendiness pouring out of every crease and crevasse, but somehow it all works. From the projection of tropical settings on the twisting white walls, to the deer antler wine racks and the polyp ornamented bar, you’d think you were back at Iridium near Lincoln Center in the 90’s.

But acid trip-inspired décor aside (pictured), the food impressed. Starting with a decent showing in the sushi department- but the clear winner of that course is the tuna tataki. This is a must-get. No seriously. If you don’t I will hunt you down and force-feed you.

Other top dishes were the red Thai curry boasting some kick-ass heat and moist-ass fish. The salmon poke was also the shiznit. Fresh and flavorful and smarter than your average bowl! Both are strong winners in the entrée round. The duck and the ribeye, however, were just okay.

For sides, ya gotta give it up for the truffle fries. And for dessert, I say skip the chewables and go for the liquid. The liquid tiramisu that is. Holy caffeinated hangover batman! Might just be an Ultimate in two categories at once- Cocktail and Tiramisu.

Buca

604 King Street WToronto, ON M5V 1M6 Canada • (416) 865-1600 • buca.ca/king.html
 

I hadn’t been to Toronto in over a decade, but I remember having some great meals there. In fact, if you ever read my review of Mercer Kitchen, then you will know that it was the sushi pizza from Toronto that is somewhat responsible for finding my wife. So, it probably goes without saying that I didn’t really need another reason to love the Toronto food scene more than I already do, but then Buca happened.

An epic love story all its own, spanning across eleven rapturous dishes. It was like a scene out of Gone With the Wind- me running into the arms of antipasti, secondi and dolci… and antipasti, secondi and dolci all running into my mouth.

To start, Buca is a massive, industrial space right across the street from another strong Italian option, Gusto 101. That said, Buca is a cut above by all measures, including price tag. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t worth every last loonie.

From the get go, Buca served up more wow’s than Sam and the Firefly, starting with their salmon crudo with goat yogurt, zucchini blossoms, capers, cipollini and dill. Quickly followed delectable, little, warm rosemary, garlic and olive oil bread knots and a strong charcuterie board loaded with assorted cheeses and salumi.

And then Buca stopped playing around and brought the heat. Showing off in the most unlikely of places like a salad of mustard greens filled with berries from a local farm, dressed with goat yogurt and an olive oil of the gods.

This was then chased by a simple, beautiful buratta pizza. But all of this matters not, because the bigoli, aka duck egg pasta with duck offal ragu, venetian spices and mascarpone came in like the second coming and stuck the landing like Mary Lou Retton, crossbred with a cat wearing spikes on its feet.

The prime rib might’ve been the most mortal of the dishes we had or perhaps it was more a dimension of comparison, because it was served back to back with the branzino which stole the show.

For the final act, the dolci, Buca reimagined a Tiramisu with espresso soaked tapioca biscuits, mascarpone and chocolate mousse all layered deep in glass I wish was a yard in hindsight. And while the gelato was no slouch either, after that Tiramisu I could’ve just curled up in a ball and died happy.

Easily among the best Italian restaurants in the world, including Italy.

The Vault

2112 Bull StSavannah, GA 31401 • (912) 201-1950 • vaultkitchen.com

 

The name doesn’t scream Asian fare, but once you discover that it’s a stunning renovation of a former bank, it all makes total and complete cents. Get it? No seriously, whoever did this renovation deserves a ferocious high five, because they didn’t miss a trick, from the safe deposit box art on the walls, to the bar made up of the same. To the private dining room inside the safe, to teller cut windows and nickeled bathroom floors it is a smile everywhere you look.

Speaking of smiles, the service is delivered with big ones. Regrettably, however, the servers are bit off with the recos and even worse with clearing the plates, leaving us with more of a grimace.

The food, on the other hand, will have those corners spreading ear to ear. In fact, considering my expectations walking in, I couldn’t have left too much happier. My greatest joy coming in the form of an Ultimate Tuna Tartar (pictured) served over a bed of seaweed with a layer of avocado for creaminess, masago for saltiness, spicy mayo for heat, sesame seeds for texture, all topped with crispy crab for fucking awesomeness!

Also worth its weight in gold is the lemon coconut soup with shrimp, mussels, ginger, lemongrass and red curry. It’s perfect on a “cold” day (I use quotes because cold is obviously relative in Savannah) and just perfect in general. Might even be an Ultimate soup, still ruminating on that one.

The embarrassment of riches continued as Vault even served up one of the best stir-fry noodle dishes I’ve ever laid chopsticks on. The Nickel Noodles are a clinic on proportions and balance as the wide rice noodles hold up handsomely to the overloaded goodies within, like beef and shrimp, scallions and onions, bell peppers, egg and basil. Yummity Yum!

And making it rain in the Asian-Mex category were the FICO Fish tacos (see, it’s not just me with the money puns). Jazzed up with mango, cabbage, daikon, chipotle sauce and kimchi dressing.

But then, just like the market, things leveled off. The roasted duck dumplings, while very good, were decidedly more of this earth. As was the grilled calamari. And then, just like the market, things started sliding in the other direction, with a doughy miss, the steamed BBQ tofu buns. Which is crazy when you read what’s in them (spinach, shitakes, Szechuan glaze, Sriracha) – and yet all you taste is bun, bun, bun. Hard to believe the same restaurant made this.

Another pair of misses, per the aforementioned poor recos, are the desserts, which came highly recommended by the waiter compared to the lure of a trip to Leopold’s Ice Cream. Well, learn from our mistake and go to Leo’s. The key lime cake tasted like something you’d get on a plane and the pecan pie was way off balance with a meager dusting of pecans across the top and the rest all goop, whipped cream and crust.

Transgressions aside, The Vault is still a gem, albeit one knife shy of a diamond.

Maison Premiere

298 Bedford AveBrooklyn, NY 11249 • (347) 335-0446 • maisonpremiere.com

 

More like Maison Meh. And to think this place was actually considered for a James Beard! It’s not even worthy of a James Buchanan. Sure, the setting is nice in the back garden and the oysters are money, especially with that marvelous mignonette, but just because the serve absinthe doesn’t make them 4 stars (unless you got really drunk on the absinthe and meant to actually click 2 stars). This over inflation of culinary prowess makes Brooklynites look desperate, trying to keep claiming that all the really good restaurants are now in Brooklyn and not Manhattan. They aren’t. I’m sorry to break it to you. Okay, so you’ve got Vinegar Hill House, Blanca, Red Hook Lobster Pound, Peter Pan Donuts, Peter Luger– Okay, fuck it. So you have a lot of good restaurants. That still doesn’t change the fact that Maison isn’t one of them.

The crudos are crapo. The cod brandade is blandade. The sardines and olive starters are passable at best. And even the octopus is a rubbery mess. And I wish I could say things got better but apart from the Atlantic Cod served over Tarbais beans and the pork porterhouse with mashed potatoes and shrooms, they got so much worse. The lobster roll would be considered a crime in the state of Maine. And the duck au poivre is so inedible it could almost start a war again with France.

But the atrocities against our mouths weren’t quite done yet as the monster rose back up from the dead for one final blow, in the form of empty calories. Both the cheesecake and the absinthe pana cotta were bunk, sealing the fate of MP with a firm two knives.

La Table du Chef

5 Rue Jean Daumas 06400 CannesFrance • +33 4 93 68 27 40

 

An acquaintance of mine who used to live in Cannes turned me on to this place, and if you are sick of the Cannes scene, Table du Chef is pretty perfect for you, because not many people know about it and there are only about 8 tables in the entire joint, so the odds of you running into anyone you’ll have to schmooze are slimmer than Christian Bale in The Machinist.

The concept is French Omakase. Four courses of whatever the chef wants to make you. Or in other words, whatever looked good at the market that day.

Our meal began with a yummy, garlicky gazpacho that cancelled out any chance for kissing later that evening. On the heels, we had surprisingly thin tuna steak served over white beans that was decent, but because the fish was so thin it was a bit overpowered by the totality of the dish.

Three is a magic number, and not just at School House Rock, because third in the line up was a killer duck entrée that somehow tasted like foie gras. I have no idea how he pulled it off. Perhaps he cooked is sous vide in foie gras juice? As I said, I have no idea and I have never tasted duck like this before, but I would definitely like to sign up for more!

For dessert, they served an artful tower of apple, cream and crisp and while it was certainly very good, it somehow didn’t wow. Similar to 3 out of the 4 courses, making Table a solid 3 knives, but just shy of greatness.

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.

Tredwell’s

4A Upper Stret Martin’s Lane London WC2H 9NY United Kingdom Covent Garden • +44 20 3764 0840 • tredwells.com

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I so love the vibe here. The moment you walk in you’re hit with the palpable energy of a live pianist striking the ivories beneath a huge clock made out of knives, hanging two stories up on an exposed brick wall. Apparently Marcus Wareing knows how to make an entrance!

He also knows how to make a mean steak, the hangar easily being the best thing we had, cooked like a pro and made even bestier by the braised shallots and a crack-like peppercorn sauce.

The other dish worthy of adulation is the duck. An off-menu prep that sings like a choir boy on Ecstasy, trying out for The Voice while getting simultaneous purple nurples on both pecs. In other words, it was good.

Beyond that though, I found most of the other dishes to be a bit of a let down, from the buratta with romesco and pardon peppers to the pumkin ravioli in hazelnut sauce to the truffled mac and cheese. Okay, so that last one was pretty decent, but nothing you wouldn’t expect to find at a dozen million other places far less schamncy than this. So no points there.

No points for the chocolate cake or the lemon square either. But hells yeah! on the salted caramel soft serve parfait thingy. I just about got my face stuck in the glass.

3 teeth

Kaya

Broadway Bites • Herald Sq. Food Stand

kaya

It pains me to write this, because the name is very near and dear to my heart, but sadly, the restaurant couldn’t be further. A booth found at Broadway bites, Kaya offers an unflattering attempt at Taiwanese.

I feel emboldened to levy such harsh criticism because once upon a time I worked at a Taiwanese restaurant. The owner’s were like family and I would often eat meals with them. So I know the real, real, and this ain’t it. Trust me.

My feeble order consisted of a bun trio- pork belly, duck and cow. Everything was dry, miniscule and flavorless. In fact, the only thing that even registered on my tongue as edible was the can of apple soda, which they don’t make. For shame!

1 tooth

The Ultimate Duck

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Cask & Larder – Orlando, FL

There is nothing quite like a Christmas ham, or should I say, there used to be nothing quite like a Christmas ham until Cask & Larder created their Christmas Miracle, the Duck Ham. Yes, naughty never tasted so nice. Faithfully emulating the pig that inspired it, the duck version, like any good apprentice, surpasses the master. Guess you could say it is the ultimate “Angry Birds” revenge. Served over a bed of nutty faro, the contrast between sweet and savory and earthy is like getting everything your mouth had on its wish list.

Elan – New York, NY

As if it weren’t bad enough that the duck muscled in on pork’s turf with the Duck Ham (above), now the bird is going after the cow. Perhaps this is retribution for the long-running Chick Fil A campaign? Well, whatever the reason, Elan’s duck & foie gras burger puts about 98% of your cow burgers in the city to shame, save the Black Label and the Bash. Admittedly it’s more of a hoity-toity burger, but if hoity-toity tastes like this, who gives a cow’s ass? Also, if you’re really into self loathing or simply find that you’ve been too healthy lately and want to swing the pendulum in the other direction, I highly recommend getting it with the Bearnaise sauce and a fried egg, coz you’re gonna die anyway, might as well do it with a smile on your face, because as the famous Long Island philosopher Billy Joel once said, “Only the Good Die Young!”

Mizuna – Denver, CO

There is an old saying, “Fuck a Duck.” And albeit crass, I finally understand its true meaning, because if ever there were a duck I would consider for such a bestial act, it would probably be this one. Granted it’s also dead so I suppose I’d be committing necrophilia at the same time. Oh my, has this review gone off the rails. I started with Christmas and now I’ve devolved into doubling down on sexual deviance. Well, getting back to it (assuming I haven’t already lost you), this duck, served with with foie gras dirty rice, is a Cajun masterpiece like no other, with the two poultry-born indulgences teaming up to make a buttery counterbalance to the spicy grains. It might just be the best thing a duck has achieved since Daffy.