La Boulangerie par Jean Luc Pelé

104 boulevard Sadi Carnot06110 Le Cannet, France • +33 4 93 45 36 32 • www.jeanlucpele.com/fr/

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Located on a tiny, pedestrian-only rue, sits this bakery/grab-and-go café with a few tables outside and pretty decent looking pre-prepared food. For example, the roasted veggie sandwich on a long narrow focaccia roll filled with peppers, mushrooms, zucchini and squash, dressed with a pesto spread looked mighty tasty from the other side of that glass case. But after taking a bite, I was quickly reminded that even in France, pre-prepared food that’s been sitting around in a case is seldom life-changing. So don’t be Francophooled.

Also, along with the sandwich, I tried a cup of their avocado gazpacho, which sounded and looked very intriguing. Sadly, the flavor of avocado was quite absent, or taste in general, for that matter. Perhaps the sweets are better.

All in all, it’s not terrible, but why settle when you can just head to Cocoon around the corner- it’s less than a two minute walk and easily two to three knives better. Plus the name is a lot shorter and easier to pronounce.

2 teeth

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Lugo Cucina

1 Penn Plz New York, NY 10119(212) 760-2700 lugocaffe.com

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I know it doesn’t seem possible, but there’s actually a pretty nice restaurant in Penn Station. Well, not IN, in, but definitely attached to the building and definitely not a secret, because it was pretty packed at lunch hour. Mostly with a business crowd, but it’s actually the staff who means business, pouncing on you like an over-caffeinated personal trainer trying to coax you through your dining experience faster than if you were on a lubed conveyor belt, dialed to eleven and hooked up to nitrous packs. So don’t go here to linger, because if you do, you’re liable to get stressed out or thrown out.

Our belligerent waiter aside, the focaccia they serve at the start is nice and moist, and the gnocci, while varied depending on the season was pretty solid. Word on the street is that their meatballs (pictured) are quite ridonkulous as well, but currently that is only hearsay. And lastly, they also sport a decent wine list both by bottle and by glass with a décor that’s surprisingly tasteful for the Madison Square Garden locale (which essentially means the absence of any Knicks or Rangers paraphernalia).

So get in. Mangia! And get out. You kinda don’t have a choice.

3 teeth

L’inizio

698 Saw Mill River Rd. Ardsley, NY 10502 • (914) 693-5400 •  liniziony.com

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After three different people recommended that I try this place, I knew it had to be at least a three knifer, but the true question was, is it four or five? Well, if parking were factored in, most certainly not, because it’s a major bitch. And you can forget all about that little lot over by the Thai House that’s always more jam-packed than a drug mule’s colon. So your best bet is across the street and down a touch, over by Star Bagel, since they’re closed for dinner and it’d be a shame to let all of that parking go to waste.

Speaking of space being at a premium, the restaurant itself is quite small as well, which wouldn’t normally be an issue for me, but it’s also pretty lacking in the personality department, making it a modicum nicer than the inside of a shoe box.

But the warmth that’s missing from the décor came from our server in spades, who was not only friendly, she was also spot on with the recommendations. Unfortunately, however, even as well intentioned as the staff was, the service itself is actually a bit spotty, getting both pepper and grated cheese in my wife’s water (so much so that it needed to be replaced) and forgetting to bring out our pasta course before the dessert menu.

In terms of the food, this is where L’inizio shined. Starting with a nice, moist focaccia and grassy olive oil to whet the palate. After that, we doubled down on bread opting for the ricotta with acacia honey, a simple, but wonderful Italian go-to that definitely hit the mark, but I have to say, the chef went a little stingy on the honey.

Next up came the charred endive salad with dates (or more accurately, date in singular form), which was excellent, but again, thin on the one ingredient that made it so interesting, the date.

The recommended octopus was also fantastic, sort of similar in preparation to the one at Charlie Bird in the city, only MUCH better, because there’s so much more going on. The heat from the peppers, the brightness and crunch from the celery. The creaminess of the humus. Even a slight note of sweetness. My only gripe being, you guessed it, a little too light on the octopus. A theme of the joint I suppose? Keep ‘em wanting more? Only I think the chef doesn’t truly get the intent of that saying.

As for pastas, the cavatelli was a bit of a snore compared to the much more flavorful parpadelle with lamb ragu, pine nuts and raisins. The anomaly of the night, because it was shockingly generous with the lamb.

We ended the evening with another great reco, the date cake with sweet mascarpone (pictured), sitting in a pool of caramel sweetness. It was divine. Which is a bit of a hoity-toity phrase for me, I gotta be honest. Almost feels like I should be typing it with a New England lockjaw. But it really was kickass. There. That’s better.

It’s no Cookery and there are many kinks still to work out, but there is not even a shadow of a doubt that this chef knows what he’s doing, even if he cheaps out a bit on the goodies. So my advice to you, go. My advice to the chef, let it go…LET IT GO! Let your yummy ingredients flow! (to be sung like Elsa from Frozen). Do that, and I’ll up you to four knives, because it’s holding you back from true greatness.

3 teeth

Charlie Bird

5 King St. New York, NY 10012(212) 235-7133charliebirdnyc.com

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It’s tough to get a reservation at Charlie Bird. Too tough if you ask me, because it simply isn’t worth the aggravation. Hell, even if it were easy to get a table here I still don’t think I could honestly say it’s worth the money or your time, falling into that ever-growing pile of over-hyped Italian restaurants in New York.

The décor is an intimate sliver on the Soho fringe with exposed brick and a floor to ceiling windowed wall, which tends to make the place quite noisy and thus less intimate because you constantly have to break the flow of conversation at your table by saying, “Wha?” The service was good though. Friendly, unaffected and most importantly attentive.

But Charlie choked where it counts, serving up a ho-hum string of dishes seven deep, made up of three starters and all four pastas. The only bright spots being the focaccia they serve as their bread and the painfully simple, yet surprisingly delicious faro salad (pictured).

So starting positive, let’s talk focaccia, which once served you might ask, hey, where’s the olive oil for dipping? But take just one single bite and you will soon learn that ample amounts of oil are already in the bread. It’s very good, but let’s just say you’re napkin is going to look like you had a run-in with one of those Turkish wrestlers and lost.

Apart from the focaccia, the only other thing that managed to impress was the faro salad I mentioned above, made with a colorful array of roasted cherry tomatoes, pistachios, mint and Parmesan. And while it’s very good, why bend over backwards to get a reservation at 6:30pm for a dish you could easily make at home?

So now that the backhanded compliments are out of the way, it’s time to get nasty… The grilled octopus saltimbocca with Tuscan beans and prosciutto is okay, if not a touch dry. Also, after hearing that it was the best in the world, I feel it is my moral duty to bring those hypers back down to Earth, and correct this injustice by setting the record straight. This pus wouldn’t even crack my top five in New York City alone! Pearl & Ash, Gato and Pasha all handily trouncing this lame attempt at an Ultimate.

Far more disappointing than the octopus, however, was the burrata, served up with baby romaine and pickle accompaniments that did absolutely nothing for the dish. In fact, this dish was so boring it makes watching golf on TV seem riveting by comparison. Yet even as boring as the burrata was, I think the cauliflower with hazelnuts might actually be able to out-bore it in a bore-off.

Then came the pastas, and all four tasted like the chef had developed an acute case of flavor-a-phobia. The best two were the corn parapdelle with leek fondue and the linguini with uni, bortarga and lemon. But saying they were the best is like claiming bragging rights after winning a foot race versus a corpse. The corpses being the gnocci, (Élan’s is WAY better, not to mention Frenchier), and the Chitarra Nero with crab and chili, which was just flat out too salty to be enjoyable. And so was the entire experience for that matter. Especially when there are scads of other places out there that are easier to get into and are infinitely tastier. Sorry Charlie (couldn’t resist a little old school Starkist ad humor).

2 teeth

Rintintin

14 Spring St. New York, NY 10012(646) 666-0114rintintinnyc.com

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While the name is likely to evoke imagery of a German Shepherd, there is nothing German, nor Shepard-like about the restaurant. And being that I was a fan of Bon Marche, I was sad to see that it had been replaced. Well, I was sad until I tried the food, which is even better than its predecessor.  I’m guessing the space must’ve left some good juju for this newbie, because the good vibes were abundant from top to bottom.

First off, the decor is much more open. The space is still small and charming, with nice touches like giant palm leaf arrangements and cymbals as lighting fixtures. And the service, while being a one man show from bartender to host, and waiter in between, managed to outdo many who only have a third of the task.

For drinks we did the cucumber gimlet made with arak (anis arabic booze), which was very refreshing almost like the cucumber water you would get in a spa, only with alcohol in it. And the other cocktail was the spicy cucumber margarita. It was also good, but not as impressive as one would hope, granted I’m part dragon when it comes to my tolerance for heat.

For an appetizer we split a burrata special served with a colorful spectrum of heirloom tomatoes, garlic roasted eggplant and proscuitto. If you should be so lucky as to see it offered when you go, I highly recommend. The garlicky eggplant and the salty dried ham make the dish something special. Ask for extra bread as well. It’s a thin focaccia perfect for sopping up the oil and balsamic remnants. But try to show some restraint, because there is much ahead worth saving room for.

The best of which is the burger. An eclectic mix of flavors from its pita bread bun and harissa topping to a queso fresco option (which I recommend), cayenne aioli and ketchup. It was crazy messy and just as crazy good. As were the crinkled potatoes they serve them with.

Another winner was the quinoa salad with avocado and lemon. It’s light and refreshing, but nothing you can’t find at a Le Pain Quotidien.

The only miss we had was the chicken cilantro soup. It was woefully bland both in terms of salt and spice. Even after adding copious amounts of both it was still only just okay.

And now for the closer… The churros are churrmendous! Both in size and execution. Crispy on the outside, soft and nummy, nummy on the inside. Served with a caramel dipping sauce and vanilla ice cream, both of which need to be used in tandem in order to achieve the maximum effect. And by maximum effect I mean on your belt holes, because by the time you leave here you will be on the very last one.

4 teeth

Restaurant North

386 Main St. Armonk, NY 10504 • (914) 273-8686restaurantnorth.com

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Having never been THAT impressed with this chef’s former stomping ground Union Square Café, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that I find North to also be considerably over-hyped.

And after having been there twice now, I’ve come to the conclusion that my biggest issue is that they would be much better suited as a bakery or as a casual haunt. But when held to the standards of fine dining, they simply don’t measure up. Blue Hill at Stone Barns and The Inn at Pound Ridge are both much, MUCH better. And for Italian it’s bested by both Fortina (just two blocks away) and The Cookery in Dobbs Ferry.

For me, the misses start the moment you enter the door. First with a decor that is notch or two past minimalist, trending toward unfinished. This is then followed up with a hostess who tried to seat us at the shittiest table by the bar, even though about 75% of the tables in the restaurant were empty. And this is with us having had a reservation for weeks mind you. The excuse, because one of the tables on the other half of the dining room was being reserved for a friend of the chef’s. But what about the other six open tables?!?!

After that, things improved, but never so much that they fell in line with the sterling reputation this place seems to enjoy.  This is not to say that what lies ahead was all bad, by any means, but if your are going to be a top restaurant in one of the wealthiest suburbs on the planet, you’d better be more than just “not bad.”

Not bad, however, was the story from top to bottom. Not one course the first time we went reached what I would call “excellent,” and we each had three. Yet each course lacked that little extra something that takes a dish from good to memorable. And with 6 different dishes and two proprietary cocktails, I’d say they had ample ways to impress, but failed at every one.

The only two dishes from that outing to rise above just a solid good were a pasta dish and the soft shell crabs. Both teetering on great. But sadly, not actually great.

Fortunately, while definitely ferocious, I also try to be fairocious, so I gave them a second chance before writing this review and upon revisiting it, this somewhat only served to solidified my opinions from the first experience.

That said, there were a few shining moments once again, and this time they were shining much brighter. For example, the focaccia they serve as the bread with your meal is phenomenal. It’s also an Ultimate.

Another thing worthy of note is the muffin they give you after the meal to take home. Moist, heavily seeded for a nice contrast in textures, and heavily awesome. So, it would appear that they bookend you well, between incredibly delicious baked goods, but if you just look past the bready smoke and mirrors, mediocrity was once again abound.

For example, the swordfish entree while perfectly cooked was woefully blah. Their hazelnut encrusted variation of a Scotch egg was equally lacking in flavor, begging for some salt to bring out the flavor of the egg. And the “Super Awesome” chocolate chip cookie is “super overrated.” It’s the same typical half baked cookie in a skillet you’d expect to find at Applebee’s with a very mediocre scoop of vanilla on top. You want a truly “super awesome” chocolate chip cookie, head to Sherry B’s in Chappaqua and get the one with walnuts (even if you’re allergic, it’s worth it). Or if you’re in the city, there’s none better than the one at City Bakery.

Another inflated dish is the burger. And while it’s definitely more impressive than the aforementioned dishes, with its creamed kale topper, it also falls WAY short of places like Minetta Tavern, Father’s Office and Burger & Barrel, to which I’ve heard it compared. Blasphemy!

Back on the upside, because I like to end things on a positive note (not really, but I will), the mushroom flatbread was surprisingly good, well balanced between the heartiness of the mushrooms, the creaminess of the goat cheese and the fresh pepperiness of the greens.

And finally, the suckling pig. Definitely not the looker of the bunch. In fact, once shredded amongst the bed of spaetzle it looked more like a cat got a hold of a stuffed animal and ripped it to bits. But the taste was excellent. Accented with a nice touch of heat.

But even with the stronger showing my second time around, it’s still WAY too hit and miss to be playing at the level they claim to be. Especially when they pull shit like pawning us off on the busboy to take our dessert order. Classy North. Very classy.

2 teeth

 

Condeco

Fredsgatan 14, Gothenburg 411 07, Sweden • 031-711 28 68 • http://condeco.com
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There is a very charming vibe when you enter this café. Very bohemian with it’s colorful patchwork and eclectic mix of furniture set across from a bountiful case of goodies. Unfortunately, however, that’s just the front. If you venture toward the back, it quickly shifts from bohemian to Starbucks, which is a bit of downer. Not sure why they broke theme. Guess they ran out of money I suppose? Two owners couldn’t agree? One owner with a split personality disorder?

But I digress. Just sit up front and you’ll be happy. Oh, and the food aims to please as well. The blueberry muffin was moist and fresh and not the size of a Chihuahua, which tends to be the standard unit of measurement for muffins in the States.

Also very solid are the sammies. I had the prosciutto and cheese on focaccia which held its own amongst any I have had.

Definitely a worthy go to if you need a quick, affordable bite amidst your shopping binge.

3 teeth

 

Westchester Burger Co.

106 Westchester Ave. White Plains, NY 10601 •  (914) 358-9398westchesterburger.com
353 N Bedford Rd. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 •  (914) 218-3200

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Please don’t take these three knives lightly. I mean these guys custom season every burger to match its accoutrements. And as a result, there are burgers on the menu that easily make their way into the four knife realm. The problem, is that there are a lot of two knife burgers as well. And the sweet potato fries that everybody raves about are just “eh.” If you really want sweet potato fries to rock your world, go to Blue Smoke in Manhattan. Also, the shakes, while good, get by more on the guilty add-ins as opposed to the ice cream base.

But back to some of those four knife burgers… Numero uno would be the Napa Burger- WOW! Almost every time I don’t get this, I regret it. Fortunately it’s too big for my wife to finish, so I usually get a few bites anyways. So what makes this burger so good it guaranteed a return visit all on its own? Well, first, they marinate the patty in a Zinfandel sauce and top it with goat cheese and watercress- all aboard a sweet brioche bun. It’s somethin’ special.

Another high would be the Ba Da Bing, made with spicy Italian sausage, as opposed to ground beef, broccoli rabe, provolone, balsamic glaze all atop a focaccia bun. It’s quite inventive and quite good.

And coming in third for me would be the lamb burger served with squash and zucchini, a yogurt sauce and once again, focaccia. They can go a little crazy with the sauce on this one, so I’d recommend asking them to go light or to put it on the side.

In the middle of the road would be their namesake, the TWC – their classic with a twist, or as I like to call it, a high end Whopper. Good, but nothing I would ever order again.

Same goes for the Graziella, The Balboa and The Firehouse. Just nothing about any of them makes a big enough impression to make it worth ordering again. Especially the Firehouse. I mean with a name like that, you’re expecting some heat. C’mon, break out the habaneros or jalapenos or chili peppers- hell, break out something other than just chili.

Service was friendly and fast and they are always great with the kids. Decor is nothing THAT special, however. Not sure why so many people rave about how cool it is. Guess they don’t spend much time in the city… or at Chipotle. It’s not bad, don’t get me wrong, but it’s pretty normal by my standards. Like a Chipotle.

3 teeth

Lincoln

Lincoln Center 142 W 65th St. New York, NY 10023(212) 359-6500 •  lincolnristorante.com

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Apparently someone resurrected Frank Lloyd Wright and made him design a restaurant in Lincoln Center. The lines in the place are truly THAT stunning (as you can see from the photo above).

And the food doesn’t disappoint either. First, the wine list. A solid array of Italian. And one of the larger and fairer priced Amarone selections I’ve seen. Usually restaurants like these jack them up over two hundy to start.

Next, the bread. LOVE the wonderfully salty focaccia, but be careful. You’ll want to save room. I know, I sound like your mother…

For apps, the burrata starter is just killer. So creamy you’ll almost want to order another portion on the spot.

The Parpadelle with truffles, however, was a bit of let down I have to say. Mostly because the portion is SO small and SO expensive. And while good, it’s not as incredible as the price tag. The veal app is also a bit on the blah side. So I recommend sticking with the burrata. Or, upon my second visit I discovered a foie gras terrine that brings its own creamy game to the party.

As for entrees, there is a spicy pasta that I stole a taste of, which was very good, but unfortunately I can’t recall the name because I was too enraptured by my own main, the lamb shank. The lamb is fall off the bone moist, served over creamy polenta- need I say more? Plus, with the wine = cielo (heaven).

Also, as a side, we shared the eggplant parm– and as good as some of the other things were, this might have been the best thing of the night. Masterfully prepared on every level. A contrast of textures from the soft, gooey middle to the crispy caramelized skin. So thin. So good. So you better get it.

And yes, we still had room for dessert. And also yes, I could stand to show a little more self restraint. But the way I see it, if you’re gonna eat at a place like this, go big or go home.

So, back to dessert… the clear winner (we tried 3) was the pear tarte. Trust me, it’s all you need to know. It’s the perfecting ending to a great meal.

Oh, and last but not least, a shout out to the cocktails. Love the giant bowling ball of ice that came with my Michters. A class act top to bottom, Lincoln is. But what else would you expect from Lincoln Center than a show-stopping performance?

4 teeth

Sapori Italian Restaurant

324 Central Ave. White Plains, NY 10606

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And now for a dose of reality…

It is PAINFULLY clear after eating here that the Yelpers who reviewed this place must not have been what one would call “foodies.” That said, at least they picked up on the poor service. But here’s everything else they missed, from someone who actually has discerning tastes:

First, the bread. Right out of the gate, we knew we were in trouble with stale breadsticks and dry, crumbly focaccia . Served with an olive oil that was probably Berio. And to think people actually touted this!

Then there’s the wine list, which may have some nice bottles on it, but to be out of not one, but two different choices on it is absurd. This was especially bad because they let us order the bottles both times, disappearing to fetch them, before eventually telling us that they were out of them, killing the first hour without anything to drink and our orders yet to be taken.

And then there’s the highly praised burrata. You people obviously know squat about food, because the tomatoes were served ice cold. What chef refrigerates tomatoes?!?! As a result, they were mealy and tasteless.

Then the entrees came and while mine, the osso bucco, was passable- meaning edible, my wife’s fish was as bland as balsa wood and not even served according to the preparation that was described.

And for dessert, the ice cream tasted more like redi-whip and the molten chocolate was very lacking in the molten department.

But at least the service- oh wait, that sucked royally too.

But at least the decor- nope. Nothing to speak of there either. It’s just okay.

Sad to say, but I struggle to find anything nice to say about this place other than the fact that it was good to spend time with friends- oh, and that the valet didn’t lose my car.

1 tooth