Bacaro

136 Division StNew York, NY 10002 • (212) 941-5060 • bacaronyc.com

Bacaro is like Don Juan in restaurant form, dripping with romance and charm (pictured). But sadly, this quaint veneer is all built around one dish, the gnocceti. And if you stick with that and a glass of wine, you will think this place is the cat’s pajamas. But should venture beyond it, you will soon find that the emperor has no clothes.

All three starters were non-starters for me. The asparagus with egg and grana was relatively bland. The caprese was served with mealy tomatoes. And the spicy meatballs, while the best of the trio, weren’t all that spicy- or meaty, for that matter.

The other two entrées I tried were equal parts letdown, the duck ragu was dry and lacking complexity and the pork shank over soft polenta also left me wanting more depth of flavor.

Hell, even the wine was disappointing as was the service, asking us to leave after only 2 hours at our table. Blasphemy!

Flirting with disaster, Bacaro raised the Titanic with a strong Tiramisu to just barely eke out a second knife.

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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.

Holborn Dining Room

 

Rosewood Hotel • 252 High Holborn London WC1V 7EN United Kingdom • +44 20 3747 8633 • holborndiningroom.com

Behold! The answer to the age-old question. You heard it here first folks. The world’s first definitive proof that the egg came before the chicken. Well, at least as it pertains to the chronology of my meal.

For my starter I had an amazing scotch egg of Ultimate proportions. Served over a bed of mushroom risotto to sweeten the deal, and by that I mean savory. The only dish of its equal for me would be The Rumpus Room in Milwaukee.

To follow, I ordered the chicken (obviously) pot pie with mushrooms served over a bed of English peas. Sadly, the presentation outshined the flavor, but it was still a solid good. Just an awfully steep step down from the egg that preceded it.

For dessert, the chocolate volcano with ginger ice cream is a really strong get, made with really strong ginger, like sushi grade. Not that sweetened cutesy stuff. It’s real McCoy and it makes the dish shine.

The other thing that shines is the exceedingly cool and expansive industrial décor. Every bit as tasteful as the food- after all, it is a Rosewood hotel… in London. Regrettably the service lacks the energy of the crowd, at least in terms of speed of service.

*** In a follow up visit, the fish and chips also proved damn skippy. That’s Yankee for good.

Neat

6 Wilton Rd. Westport, CT 06880(203) 557-8955 neatwestport.com

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Breakfast all day? All right! Damn, I love Westport. And as if I needed yet another reason to want to move there, they go ahead and open yet another great restaurant. Cute to the core and serving up the best chai latte I’ve ever had. More foamy than Cujo’s mouth, yet still piping hot and spiced to the brim with cinnamon, fennel, star anise, peppercorn, nutmeg and cloves. So good. As is their fresh squeezed OJ, enough so to make even a Florida boy like me happy.

Of the breakfast fare my favorite thing on the menu was the ciabatta BLT, which is also a nice go-to if you should want a more lunch-y option. The other dish I was digging was the trio of Egg soufflés, granted I would just go with three of the sundried tomato and burrata. Trust me. Skip the plain. And while the bacon would seem like it would be worth it, it’s not. If you want bacon then get the BLT.

The waffles are also solid if you’re craving something sweet. And if “kosher” is your thang, then the pretzel bagel with pastrami salmon has you covered. That said, I did find it to be a wannabe Pastrami Russ from Russ & Daughters, and while it’s definitely good, it falls very short of its mentor. Mostly because the bagel is pretty sub par. What is on par is the net, net. Worthy of a strong four.

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BCD Tofu House

5W 32nd St. New York, NY 10001 • (212) 967-1900 bcdtofu.com

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I have no idea what the BCD stands for, maybe it’s Bargain Cuisine Delectables? Probably not, but whatever it is, ya still gotta love Koreatown for its bountiful spreads of food at a fraction of the price you’d pay anywhere else in Manhattan. It’s almost as if they don’t realize that there are sandwich shops all around them that are charging more for a tuna on rye- no chips, no drink- than the three course bento-paloozas the Koreans are doling out. So shhhh! Let’s keep it that way.

But cheap is only one reason to love the Tofu House. Good is the other. Especially in the winter with a bevy of fiery soups that manage to stay hot longer than Madonna. Offered in a range of spiciness from mild to medium to hot and finally very hot. I went with just “hot” and I found it to be perfect. Plenty of kick, but just up to that threshold where flavor ends and pain begins, without crossing it. Very hot would’ve probably rendered all of the goodies in the soup imperceptible to taste.

As for the goodies of which I speak, I opted for the dumpling soup, which as one might guess is loaded with dumplings. But also bulgogi, veggies, tofu (after all, the place is called Tofu House), and if you so desire, a raw egg, rice, peppers and kimchi. Plus a fried smelt on the side.

And speaking of dumplings, another worthy get as an appetizer are the fried veggie pot stickers.

Service is very friendly and attentive and the décor is rather basic. Not the point of this place though really. The soup here is the focus. So if you’re cold and looking for a bowl to warm you up, this should do the trick, even if you’re a White Walker.

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Buvette

42 Grove St. New York, NY 10014 (212) 255-3590 • newyork.ilovebuvette.com

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Having heard many a foodie swoon over the brunch at Buvette, it was starting to become a blight on my second career that I hadn’t been yet. So, this Mother’s Day I loaded the clan in the car and off we went to remedy the situation- oh, and to celebrate Mother’s Day. Love you Honey Bunny, if you’re reading this! (I don’t actually call my wife Honey Bunny. That was for comedic effect. However, the selfish part about me roping her into brunch at a place that I wanted to go for her Mother’s Day? Sadly that part is true.)

Adding insult to injury, we soon discovered that this is not the place to go for four tops, making our wait roughly six times longer than it would’ve been had we just gone as a twosome.

So one hour later, with two cranky-ass kids on the brink of mutiny, melting down in the back of our car, we finally heard our name called out. And I honestly don’t think I have ever loved the sound of my own name more than I did at that precise moment.

Inside this little charmer, you find that seating is at a premium, which explains the wait. But despite how small it is, they manage to pack an awful lot of character into it, not to mention some pretty damn fine chow (lucky for me).

From the moment our butts hit the seats and our drinks hit the table we forgot all about the torture it took to get there, sipping on cups of ecstasy in both cappuccino and OJ form. In fact, the orange juice was so wonderfully fresh that it had me reminiscing about my days as a child in Florida, where the OJ flows like wine.

Speaking of children, my son had the waffle sandwich with gruyere, bacon and a sunny side egg, all topped with maple syrup and it was so insanely good that if you could institutionalize a mouth, mine would be happily chasing imaginary fireflies in a padded cell somewhere. My only nit being that the yolk was well done. Tisk, tisk. Regardless it was still the best thing we had and a genius solve to the age old savory or sweet brunch dilemma- just have ‘em both!

As for Honey Bunny, she had the steamed scrambled eggs with sun dried tomatoes, proscuitto and it was very, very good, but I think my scrambled eggs were a touch better, being topped with an artfully cured smoked salmon, crème fraiche and caper berries all on a bed of toast (pictured). If you should get it, I recommend chasing every bite with a nibble of the caper berry. Sort of like biting a lime and licking the salt after a tequila shot. Trust me, this is important. Take notes.

As for the eggs themselves, they are so divine, they deserve their own paragraph, because I was instantly smitten by how creamy they were. Like pillowy curds of silky, eggy grandeur, transformed into fluffy clouds stolen right out of heaven. My guess is the steaming has a lot to do with it.

Hell, even their side dish, the fresh fruit salad, was F to the Frizzo. Served in a mason jar piled high with berries, melon, apples and pineapple. It’s no waffle sandwich, but it’s fresh and flavorful and it helps you feel better about all of the other gluttony on the table.

Not too shabby for a “taproom,” which is what buvette actually means. So hats off to chef Jody Williams. You go girl! Looking very forward to tapping Buvette again, but just with the wife, next time. And possibly for dinner too, because I liked it much more than the sister restaurant, Via Carote, down the street.

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Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer

360 Park Ave S. New York, NY 10010(212) 951-7111parkavenyc.com

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For everything…turn, turn, turn… There is a season… turn, turn, turn… And now a restaurant, apparently. Hence the name Autumn/Winter/Spring/Summer, located on the grave site of Hurricane Club (RIP), but carrying the baton quite nicely I have to say, with an inventive concept that ups the game of a seasonal menu, because they don’t stop there.

Not only does the menu change based on the season, but so does the décor and the name of the restaurant itself! So, when I went, it was just called “Winter,” not that behemoth of slashes above. And the décor du month, was quite nice, adorned with winter branches, with white walls and soothing lights, to make it feel like you are dining in a snowy, wintery forest.

Good service also appears to be in season, as they are not only friendly and accommodating, they are also very spot on with the recommendations, nailing it on the My Essential Cabernet blend from just outside the Santa Barbra, CA area. It was just the right amount of bold, yet smooth enough to pair with anything.

The edible portion of the evening started off with warm, parker house style rolls, which were very good, but in terms of bread-like things, the steak tartar toast with foie gras and black truffles stole the show. Granted how could it not with that trio of ingredients? Unfortunately the other toast, with kobach squash, sheep’s milk ricotta, burnt honey and pancetta, should be ashamed of itself for being on the same menu.

For entrees, I found the halibut with black truffles and a brioche crusted egg to be the winter winner, besting both the pork schnitzel with pear mustard, dates and cornichon, as well as the branzino over spaghetti squash, which was the laggard of the lot.

The sides also proved a little hit and miss- the hugest of hits being the Brussel sprouts with bacon. So good they might just give Ilili a run for their money. The latkas, on the other hand, were lame. Way too small and thin, to the point where they were more like potato chips than latkas. Especially when compared to the thick, fluffy latkas I just had the other day at Russ and Daughters. Legend.

For dessert, again it was a mixed bag, but on the tastier side of the satchel was the sticky toffee pudding over fried bananas. So good it was almost as if they knew I was coming and made it just for me. My second favorite would be the hazelnut pot du crème, which was very good and much better than most pots I’m had. It was also clearly superior to the chocolate cube and the popcorn sundae, which seems to be stolen from ABC Kitchen down the street, and I’m not even sure why, because I didn’t like it there either.

So as mixed as the above is, I can’t really go great guns in either direction on the knife count. And while the concept alone is worth an extra knife, I feel reluctant to let myself be so swayed that I give this place 4 knives when their misses were equal in number to the hits.

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The Grey

109 Martin Luther King Jr Blvd. Savannah, GA 31401 • (912) 662-5999thegreyrestaurant.com

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No. Not the movie with Liam Neeson. And not the two-time Global Advertising Agency of the year. The James Beard nominated restaurant in Savannah built in an old, refurbished Greyhound bus terminal. A spectacular renovation loaded with reclaimed elements that really bring old and new together with masterful skill. My money says the interior designer most likely came from SCAD.

But not to be out-shined by the gleaming art deco fixtures, the service glows just as bright with a waitstaff full of personality, a touch of hipster and a genuine love for the menu as they come armed with great recommendations and some of the most poetic preparation descriptions I’ve ever heard about a dish. And this isn’t just our waitress I’m referring to. I eavesdropped on our neighbor’s waiter and he was every bit as deft. So was the maitre’d who spoke just as lovingly about the restoration.

The cuisine doesn’t disappoint either, although we did get off to a rocky start with a rather thin cocktail menu that managed to strikeout on the one gin cocktail we chose. The wine by the glass fared much better.

The other slacker of the night was the pickled oyster appetizer, which was mostly our fault, because we didn’t listen to the recommendations of our server. They weren’t bad by any stretch, but they were definitely in need of a brighter, citrus element and the crisp they are served with gets soggy fast, which throws the whole intent of textural contrast out the window. So if you order them, pounce or pay.

After that, however, The Grey was pure gold, the first winner being our other starter/middle, the sizzling smoky pig. It’s essentially a cast iron dish filled with pulled pork, then topped with a sunny side egg and spicy-sweet red pepper jam. And the moment you cut into the egg, it oozes all over the pork, mixing with the jam and yowzer is this thing smokin’ indeed. Spicy, sweet and savory all over the place. Which bodes well for you, because they also give you these potato bread hot buns that are like little pillows of pleasure, perfect for sopping up the piggy goodness.

For mains, it was battle for moist supremacy. Both the swordfish tagine and the pork shank (pictured) were as succulent as I’ve ever had. The Moroccan spices of the tagine could’ve stood to be a bit bigger if you ask me, but as we know, I’m hard to please when it comes to the spice. And while the pork shank was fall-off-the-bone moist and the mess o’ greens brought a nice, leafy bitterness to the dish, the Johnny cake was big miss that added zero to the party. But the party definitely needed a starch and my guess is that the former supporting act, the cornbread, was a much better companion.

But speaking of True Companions, to quote one of my favorite Marc Cohn songs, I highly recommend getting a side of the grilled endives with bleu cheese and pecans. It was my favorite thing of the night and an ultimate for all endive kind. It’s plenty amazing on its own, but it went very nicely with the shank, lucky for me.

Ending strong, we chose the Rum Baba for dessert, which is essentially a rum soaked brioche drizzled with simple syrup atop a lily pad of spiced whipped cream and accented with exploding cranberries and chunks of dry brittle chocolate almost of the Mexican variety. And all I can say is, whoa daddy! So damn good. Spicy and sweet, with a wonderfully bright burst of tartness from the cranberries. Such a great ending to a great meal.

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Friedman’s

132 W 31st St. New York, NY 10001(212) 971-9400 friedmanslunch.com

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Hark! There is a ray of sunshine in the land of the lost. Yes, in case you didn’t know, Friedman’s has opened another location right by Penn Station, which I resoundingly applaud. Too many restaurants always do the same old tired thing, Upper East, Upper West and something south of 23rd Street. And while that business model certainly must have its merits, so does the notion of spreading the love. And spread it they do, all over Herald Square and all over your plate. Which doesn’t sound as appetizing as I was hoping, but if you’ve ever dined at one of the other locations than you need very little convincing. If not, let me elaborate…

The décor is very inviting and casual with a rustic contemporary flair, which comes from the use of lots of wood, mixed in with stainless steel, wrought iron, a bright tile wall, a high table near the front for walk-ins and a half open kitchen.

The service is friendly and on top of their game, although I do find them to be a touch aggressive when it comes to squeezing by you in the alley by the kitchen. In other words, get the fuck out of their way or you’ll find yourself bent over a nearby table or in another patrons lap.

The food is excellent as always, from the wonderfully fresh squeezed juices in both orange and grapefruit variety (I usually get the two mixed, half and half. I like cutting the sweetness of the orange back a bit with the tartness of the latter. It’s my thing) to the amazing pastrami, caramelized onion and mustard omelet served along side some solid hash browns and a couple of slices of toast. The eggs are always money here though, so no surprise there. In fact, everything is always good here. The only surprise is that upon expansion, Friedman’s still hasn’t lost a step. Oh, there was one other surprise- a nit actually. The bread was served sans jam and with an anemic portion of butter, which would’ve been fine had the bread been so special it didn’t need it, but that was definitely not the case. This bread needed something on top of it more than a nymphomaniac taking Spanish fly.

But that one nit aside, if you’re in need of morning grub and you’re near Penn Station, your ship, bus and train just came in.

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Redfarm

529 Hudson St. New York, NY 10014(212) 792-9700redfarmnyc.com

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I think there should be a law mandating that places take reservations. I mean how absurd is it that by 6:30 pm you could already have a 90-minute wait? Oh sorry, that was Spotted Pig around the corner, which we gave up on and walked right in to Redfarm, who also doesn’t take reservations mind you, but at 6:30 pm it’s nowhere near as bad as The Pig. By 7:30, however, you’re fucked, so still try to get there early if you hate waiting, which you will if you try to do it at their minuscule bar that’s smaller than most powder rooms.

As for the dining room itself, it’s also pretty small, yet they manage to pack a lot of farm-like fun into it, with wooded beams and pipes overhead adorned with hangers carrying everything from chopsticks to plants to menu highlights. And while there are a few smaller, more intimate tables along the sides, most of the seating is taken up by large communal tables in the middle, so not the best place to discuss your brilliant start-up idea that’s gonna make millions.

Fighting the vibe of the décor, unfortunately, is the very rigid staff, who demands you order everything at once, which zags greatly from the dim sum norm. And my other big gripe with service is that there is zero thought put into the chronology and flow of your meal. Meaning, they bring you the dishes without any semblance of rhyme or reason. Some starters came after dim sum. Some of the dim sum came after our entrée. Heavy dishes came before lighter ones. And it definitely effects how you enjoy each dish.

So to help you forget about such annoying things, I recommend one of two cocktails, either the Le Club Hot with jalapeno infused tequila, smoked sea salt and cucumber- It’s spicy, smoky and goody. Or the refreshing Shiso Cucumber, which is a bit more typical with the whole gin and cucumber combo that you now find at every restaurant under the sun except McDonald’s, although it’s probably coming soon considering Taco Bell just started serving booze. Granted they do zazz it up a bit with shiso leaves, agave and lemon. The one drink to avoid, however, is the Bee’s Teas. It ain’t the knees. It’s disgusting. Made with chamomile infused bourbon, fig and basil. And while it may sound pretty good to you, it tastes like one of those herbal tonics you get from your acupuncturist, which are more painful to drink than falling off of the table and landing needle-side down.

Among the edible winners of the night, the best thing we had was a starter that actually came fourth, and should’ve been first or second, the kumamoto oysters with yuzu and meyer lemon ice. They were phenomenal! I could’ve downed a dozen of those without batting an eye.

My second favorite thing of the night might’ve been an Ultimate the more I reflect on it. The crab and eggplant bruschetta was just awesome. A twist on the typically boring crab toast, this one is served slightly warm and very complex with its nuanced blend of flavors and textures coming from things like kohlrabi slaw.

The waiter’s resounding recommendation, however, was the weakest dish we had, the spicy crispy beef (pictured). A total miss for me. And while it checked two out of three boxes, spicy and crispy, it left out the all-too-important third box, beefy! I felt like the little old lady from the Wendy’s commercials long ago. Where’s the beef? Because all I tasted were fried clusters of batter in Szechuan sauce. Tisk! Tisk!

Another dish I loved was the egg roll stuffed with Katz’s Deli pastrami, served with a spicy Asian mustard. Granted it’s probably the inner Jew in me talking, but oy was it good!

One of the most interesting dishes was the shitake, corn, jicama and roasted red pepper dumplings served with a chive shooter that when used as a chaser made each and every bite explode with contrast, not only of texture and flavor, but even temperature.

For our entrée, Wifey and I split the sautéed lobster, egg and chopped pork, which is easily enough for two people, and that’s about the only thing easy about it. Eating it is not. It’s messy as all hell and there are droves of chipped shell pieces in almost every bite, make it a bit hard to enjoy without looking like a Neanderthal. That said, the favors in the dish are very good, especially when you combine the egg, pork and lobster all in one bite, which is also easier said than done.

Come dessert we decided to lighten things up a bit (while also still getting dessert, because I’m a very weak man), opting for the key lime pie with key lime sorbet, which is good, but not great. The pie itself is a little too sweet for a key lime, so lucky for them, the sorbet is tart and refreshing enough to balance things out. The key (get it?) is to combine both so that it tastes like a key lime pie actually should. Or, if that’s too much work for you, then I recommend heading to The Dutch in Soho, instead, for what I would say is the epitome of Key lime pie perfection.

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