Allium

Four Seasons Hotel 120 E Delaware Pl. Chicago, IL 60611 •  (312) 799-4900 •  alliumchicago.com

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I suppose it should come as no shock that the restaurant in the Four Seasons is excellent, because after having now eaten at five of them (New York, Toronto, Atlanta, Istanbul & Chicago), the only shock would be if it wasn’t superb. After all, that’s just how they roll- four knives or better, or four get it. And unFOURgettable it was (okay, I’m done with the “four” puns). A farm to table tour de FOURce (I lied) that would make the Department of Agriculture proud.

Feeling a bit chunky, however, I didn’t go all in, deciding to keep it lite with choices like the white asparagus gazpacho accented with marcona almonds, grapes and smoked trout roe. It was one of the best cold soups I’ve ever had and everything I was hoping it would be. Full of flavor, not calories. And as fresh as The Prince of Bel Air.

The other half of my soup and salad duo was a roasted carrot salad comprised of marinated wheat berries, lime yogurt, bitter greens, pistachio and some mysterious form of heat. I’m gonna go with chile. It was like Bugs Bunny’s wet dream on a plate. Ew… I think I might’ve even grossed myself out on that one. But assuming I didn’t just ruin it for you, this is a must get. Trust me. You need this.

Then, wash it all down with an excellent sav blanc from South Africa and you will be happier than Pharrell on Zoloft.

4 teeth

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Heartland

289 East 5th St. Saint Paul, MN 55101(651) 699-3536heartlandrestaurant.com

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I know a lot of people swear by this farm-to-table paragon of the Midwest, including James Beard, but I gotta say, just because you source your grub from a farm doesn’t give you an automatic pass to the promised land. That’s only the first step. That’d be like invading a country in the Middle East and claiming “mission accomplished” before ever establishing any semblance of security or control over the region. And it’s steps 2 through 10 that Heartland can’t seem to figure out. So many misses abound at this place, starting with the crowd at the bar as you enter. So casual, you’d think you were at a pub, but round the corner and you’re in an atmosphere clearly intended to be seen as an upscale dining experience. And I don’t want to break Heartland’s heart, but they don’t do either end of the spectrum well.

My escabeche appetizer was crazy fishy, over salty and borderline inedible, the rosemary dessert wasn’t even worth the calories and the only thing that was even remotely worth chewing was my entrée, some fish with bacon in the preparation- but having to pull the ole bacon trump card just to get a nod isn’t exactly my idea of culinary mastery. That said, if you want to know what is, head to Spoon & Stable. It’s worth the drive… Even from Chicago.

2 teeth

Harper’s

92 Main St. Dobbs Ferry, NY 10522 • (914) 693-2306 • Harpersonmain.com

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I think, like, the term “farm-to-table” is, like, getting to be more overused than the word “like.” Pretty soon McDonald’s is going to come out with a farm-to-table offering at this rate. This is not to dispute the fact that Harper’s might very well source its ingredients from a nearby farm in the tri state area, but I sincerely doubt that they are solely affiliated with that farm to the point where the entirety of its harvest winds up on your plate. I’m also pretty skeptical that ALL of Harper’s ingredients come from farms period. Sure, I would imagine some does, maybe even the majority, but isn’t that technically true of most places. I mean it’s not like the other places are using suppliers who are growing tomatoes right on their trucks. Or cultivating carrots in test tubes. They ALL come from farms at some point. And there’s zero regulation on the whole farm-to-table claim to begin with. So what does it even mean, really, unless you’re like Blue Hill at Stone Barns?

But shelving that gripe for now, I really do like Harper’s a lot. It has a great vibe about it with it’s cool, dark, yet extensive dining rooms (big enough that you can forgo the rezzy and pull a walk-in), each with its own rustic contemporary pub-like personality. And speaking of personality, the servers were all very warm and friendly and most importantly for a Sunday family brunch, good with the kids. They even have an outdoor seating area in the garden at the back of the restaurant which was frozen over when we went, but judging by the taste level of the interior, I’d be willing to bet it’s nicely done as well.

Switching over to the food, the bread is excellent, as is the butter, which is such a rarity in this country, mainly because it actually tastes like butter! Okay, so maybe the butter came from a farm…

For my entree I had the chocolate chip bread pudding French toast, which just sounded killer as I read it on the menu. Almost as if they knew the shortcut to my heart. And while it was definitely good, they screwed it up a hair by serving it up on the burnt side. Thus, Wifey had me bested with her baked eggs and proscuitto, which was so well balanced the way the salt of the meat brought out the flavor of the egg- and together with that bread? – I was such a wonderful thing I was bouncing around like Tigger. I also wound up trying my son’s scrambled eggs, which were pretty damn good too, considering how basic they were, which leads me to believe that perhaps the eggs also came from a farm. Okay, so that’s two things, but I will eat shards of glass if you prove to me that the chocolate chips in the French toast came from a friggin’ farm. I mean c’mon!

3 teeth

Mas Farmhouse

39 Downing St. New York, NY 10014(212) 255-1790masfarmhouse.com

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Mas is the new Blue Hill. Granted it’s not so new anymore, but by comparison it’s new-ish. But what I mean by the comparison is that it is farm to table done flawlessly. The decor is cozy, yet stylish and contemporary. The two dining areas are both small and quaint – in a way that makes you feel special. As does the service, which can only be compared to the likes of a Thomas Keller restaurant, yet warmer and more human.  Plus, they are incredibly accommodating without even a whiff of pretense.

As for the food, well, I gave it five knives didn’t I? It’s fantastic. I can tell you all about it, but unfortunately all that would do is make you jealous since the Chef’s tasting menu is in constant flux on a day to day basis, depending on what looked good at the market that morning.

I highly recommend it though. Just put yourself in the hands of the chef and let him work his magic. Naturally they will ask if you have any allergies or things you flat out don’t like – or love, as the case may be- and they will do the rest.

Also, a shout out to the sommelier. I got the wine pairing along with the tasting, and it was truly a work of art. Every sip in perfect harmony with the dish – like culinary soul mates.

Verdict: Top 10 in the city.

5 teeth

Çiftlik Garden

Yaliciftlik Mevkii No:42, Yaliciftlik 48400 , Turkey • +90 252 368 9232

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Located on the South side of the Bodrum Peninsula, just outside of the city there is an area called Yali that boasts a Kempinski hotel a Club Med and a seemingly charming little family-owned pide restaurant. I say seemingly because while the setting is quite beautiful with the grape barber over your head and the sunflower field next to your table, once the pide arrives, so does a swarm of bees. And we’re not talking about a few little nuisances with wings. We’re talking http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ac20YWRjvrQ

But apart from nearly being stung to death, the pide was just okay. Made fresh with ingredients presumably right from the farm as the name suggests, but the net, net was nothing better than I’ve had in Turkbuku or Bodrum, making the long drive unworthy. That said, their homemade crushed red pepper definitely deserves a shout out. It has much more flavor than usual and a sweetness to it that makes you want to go crazy with the stuff. And so we did, putting mounds of it on everything.

The place also has a nice play area for kids to blow off some steam (or escape from bees as the case may be) and the service, while a touch rough around the edges being that our server was a 12 year old boy, was helpful and friendly, bringing us smoldering coffee grinds to help ward off the attack. And while it certainly helped thwart about 60% of the bees, it wasn’t enough to make sticking around for dessert worth while.

That said, a visit would be much more worth while during the off season when the bees aren’t looking for dinner themselves.

2 teeth

Bedford Post

954 Old Post Rd. Bedford, NY 10506(914) 234-7800 • bedfordpostinn.com

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Chances are if you are thinking of heading here you already know the whole Richard Gere thing. And about the farm to table spin. So, let me just cut to the chase- The food is VERY good. If I was just rating the food and decor (which is fantastic- modern meets country barn) than I would have probably gone so far as four knives, because everything we had tasted SO incredibly fresh. Simple dishes, but the ingredients are always impeccable. We ate lunch at the Barn and ordered from the Market Fresh Menu, which consisted of a grain salad, a mussels in broth entree and an apple pie for dessert. The apple pie was the only thing that was just so-so.

Now for the rub. The service is horrendous and slow. Granted everyone is extremely nice, which is pleasant- but when they constantly have to be asked repeatedly for things and leave dirty plates in front of you for 30 minutes, being nice only goes so far.

Additionally, I have also eaten dinner at the higher end Farmhouse. And again, the food was excellent for the most part. And again, the service was spotty. So it seems to be their MO.

The short ribs, the ravioli filled with creme fraiche and the brussel sprouts were among the show-stoppers. The fact that no bread came to our table for an HOUR and that the wine didn’t arrive until the last bite of our appetizers- that was the fourth knife stopper. It really leaves me scratching my head why they can’t they seem to get the service thing down. In either restaurant! Seems like such an easy one to nail, but it is SO bad that it truly detracts from the rest of the experience, otherwise this would be an easy 4 knives.

3 teeth

River Market

127 W Main St. Tarrytown, NY 10591(914) 631-3100rivermarketbarandkitchen.com

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When I saw where it was located I have to admit that my skepticism grew exponentially. In a housing complex is usually never a good sign. But when we opened the door, I have to admit I was pleasantly surprised by the décor. Contemporary lines. Earthy materials such as wood and brick. It’s very well done.

As for the food, the menu as a bit all things to all people with the intent of being farm-to-table. And while this would normally be a red flag for me, I kept my hopes up, because it is the sister restaurant of Crabtree, which I like very much. That said, it’s no Crabtree. And they wasted no time establishing that as the first major miss came with the first course.

The roasted oysters are a culinary crime against mollusk-kind. And at 18 bucks a crime against your wallet as well. Served tepid and tasteless.

Fortunately the other starter made up some ground. The seared foie gras with blackberries and caramelized apples was a solid good. Granted I’m not sure if I’ve ever met a foie gras I didn’t like, so please take that with a grain of salt.

As for “solid good” that was pretty much the theme from there on. The swordfish entrée and the spicy lobster linguini as well as the lemon tart were all just that- good. Nothing rose to excellent or sank to ridicule.

Not a must-try place. But if you’re in the area and aren’t sure what you want, chances are they’ve got you covered for a nice meal. Also, if you have kids, it’s a nice spot for an early dinner. Sort of like Village Social in Mount Kisco.

3 teeth

Le Farm

256 Post Rd E. Westport, CT 06880(203) 557-3701 • lefarmwestport.com

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First of all, I love the town of Westport. In fact, we have even considered moving there. And a big part of it are the great shops and fantastic restaurants like this one.

Le Farm, like it’s former neighbor across street, The Dressing Room (R.I.P.), prides itself on being farm to table. And let me tell you, the pride shows.

It’s located in a shopping strip, the only downside,, and pretty small, a.k.a. “quaint.” Probably less than 20 tables. But when you step in, you feel transported, because it is so charming and well done. Right down to the way your silverware is displayed as a centerpiece.

Service was great and the food- awesome. The foie gras appetizer was the highlight of the meal, but the chili was also quite good, as was my wife’s sandwich, although I can’t recall what was in it. But believe me, it was good and would be pointless for me to tell you anyways since the menu is always changing.

Can’t wait to go back. Or move there. Whichever comes first.

4 teeth

Blue Hill at Stone Barns

630 Bedford Rd. Pocantico Hills, NY 10591 • (914) 366-9600bluehillfarm.com

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This is without a doubt the best restaurant in Westchester. Top notch from food to service to a decor that simply cannot be matched. But let’s not limit it to the suburb of Westchester. This place is world class.

First, the decor is beyond compare, situated in an old stone barn located on a 1000 acre working farm and former Rockefeller estate. As a result, it is also one of the purest farm-to-table experiences you will ever encounter, because said farm is literally right outside your dining room window.

And speaking of the dining room, it so beautifully done you can’t help but notice the modernity paying homage to the building’s purpose in a former life.

But this looker is also one of substance, because head to toe, they don’t miss a trick. Phenomenal service every time I’ve been, which is at least six to ten times, stellar food and a sense of presentation that has grown over the years to what can only be described as a culinary journey.

It starts with a custom-made mini trellis placed before each guest, decorated with fresh weeds from the garden. Yes, weeds. These are to be dragged through herbal spreads, also created with ingredients from the garden. Is this course delicious you ask? Well, it’s not bad. But the novelty of eating weeds and actually finding that you enjoy it makes it worth the price of admission. But the journey is only in its opening credits, so don’t get worried just yet.

Some stand-outs worthy of note in their very seasonally-oriented, ever-changing menu (should your visit happen to coincide) would be their ricotta souffle- so incredibly light it was like biting into a cloud. Another memorable dish was the foie gras consumé – just perfection in a bowl. Even a frequent amuse bouche of theirs makes my all time favorite list – it’s a roasted mini beet burger – so good we usually ask for seconds… and get them. Did I mention I love the waiters here.

Two other honorable mentions in meals past, the pumpkin gnocci – sounds heavy, but was much lighter than you’d expect and mouth bronzing good. And last but not least, a staple there, and perhaps the one dish they always seem to have, their salad with the farm fresh egg on top. The egg is so fresh it’s like you’re eating it right out of the hen’s ass. Okay, that doesn’t very appetizing, but I promise you’ll love it.

In fact the only thing not to love about Blue Hill is that you can’t eat there every day for the rest of your life. You can, however, eat at the Blue Hill in the city, which is also one of favorite restaurants on Earth.

5 teeth