Mercer Kitchen

99 Prince St. New York, NY 10012 • (212) 966-5454 themercerkitchen.com

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I feel compelled to give Mercer five knives simply on the basis that I found my wife because of this place. Well, technically I found her at work, but this was where we had our first date almost 15 years ago, and for a VERY specific reason,  they have something called “sushi pizza” (pictured). You see, until I met my wife, the only place I had ever even seen this dish was in Toronto at The Sushi Inn (horrible name, I know). It was prepared more like a round hanabe as opposed to the way Mercer does it, but damn was it good. And I hated the fact that the only place I could find it was in the Great White North. So one day, while being my typical Ferocious self, complaining about the sushi pizza inadequacies of Manhattan, this pretty little thing waltzed up and dropped a bomb on me, “New York has sushi pizza!” And just like that, I was smitten. Granted she has many other redeeming qualities, so please don’t think that I actually chose to marry someone solely on the basis of a food recommendation. Not that I’m incapable of it.

So now that I’ve thoroughly over-hyped this dish into the stratosphere, let me explain how it’s made. It starts with a terrific crust, which is then covered in a wasabi spread, in place of tomato sauce. Then, they layer thinly shaved carpaccio-like pieces of sushi grade tuna. And finally, they top it all off with crisp Asian straw vegetables. And not only is it worth saying vows over, it’s actually even better than the one in Toronto.

But Mercer has a much deeper bench than just one dish, should sushi pizza not be your bag. In fact, it’s pretty hard to go wrong. It is, after all, a Jean-Georges restaurant and one of his oldest and most successful to boot. From pastas to prime meats and all the way back to another killer pizza, the fontina with black truffles, you will be golden.

That is, however, only in terms of food. As for service, prepare to be treated more like lead. In fact, not once have I ever dined here when they didn’t screw something up. The last time, being so royally, that we haven’t been back since. After making us wait nearly an hour to be seated at our reserved table, they then had the audacity to ask us to hurry up our meal so that they could seat the reservation after us. Quite the set of balls on that maitre’d. Surprised he was able to wear pants. But that’s just how some trendy places roll in the city. And how one knife also rolled right off of this review.

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Umami Café

325 S Riverside Ave. Croton-On-Hudson, NY 10520 • (914) 271-5555umamicafe.com

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If there’s one cuisine the burbs can’t seem to nail, it’s Asian. Now I hate using that term, because what exactly is Asian anyways? India is in Asia, so doesn’t that count? No. Apparently not. That’s Indian. What about Thai? Nope. Chinese? Sort of. Sushi? Not technically, although Japanese is definitely in the mix. Middle Eastern? While officially on the continent of Asia I think most people liken it to Mediterranean before Asian.

So now that I have no fucking clue what I even mean now, what is good Asian? Pearl & Ash and Momofuku Ko in New York. That’s great Asian. Taking all of the disparate cultural influences and fusing them into the cuisine to create dishes that pay homage to the classics, without necessarily being the classics.

This territory is squarely where Umami stakes its claim (not to be confused with Umami Burger in the City), and in doing so, manages to top the list of attempts I’ve tried thus far. Although, tucked away on an unfortunate corner overlooking an auto repair shop this half in/half out pseudo strip mall eater most certainly doesn’t get by on its looks. That’s where the Peking duck quesadilla comes in. Decorated with hoisin, crème fraiche and kudos. Best of the three dishes I had, and all three were good. The other two are in descending order of likeage- the Ahi tuna won ton tacos, followed by the truffled mac and cheese (pictured) with gruyere, fontina and panko crust. This last one was way more interesting than it sounds, let’s not kid our selves, it’s mac and cheese.

The only miss was actually right out of the get with their sangria. It had a little too much bite, almost as if it were going bad, but not quite. In ned of a little more sweetness and missing that refreshing characteristic that makes sangria so magical on a hot summer day. Granted it was probably a stupid order on my part, because who gets sangria with Asian food? Apparently I do. But I was hoping for a little sake Asian twist. Alas it was not to be. But duly noted upon my return. I will order my beverage with eyes wide open, duck quesadillas (of course), and maybe some noodles or one of those wagyu burgers. Boom!

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The Ultimate Grilled Cheese

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Greens – San Francisco, CA

As vegetarian places go, Greens is way up there for me. And a huge part of the reason behind that is this sandwich alone. It is so damn good we bought the cookbook right there on the spot, just so we could replicate it at home. It’s fontina with marinated cremini mushrooms and harissa on a bread that knows how to be the man behind the man.

Beecher’s – New York, NY

Figs, honey and cheese are like the Three Musketeers of deliciousness. And Beecher’s puts them together in proportionate perfection on a raisin walnut bread that only adds to the party. I know it sounds so stupidly simple that you could even make it home, but as I have said more times than you would probably care to hear, simplicity is the root of greatness.

Melts – Armonk, NY

Similar to Beecher’s, this place is a treasure trove of grilled cheese greatness. But once you sift through all of the treasure you will come upon the Hope Diamond of grilled cheeses, The Heat. Made with home pickled jalapenos to get that perfect level of spiciness, cherry peppers, Sriracha and muenster. It will melt your heart, along with your tongue.

Greens

Fort Mason Bldg. A San Francisco, CA 94123(415) 771-6222greensrestaurant.com

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It’s not the easiest place to find in the world, but seldom do the best things in life come easy, and Greens is easily one of the best vegetarian eateries on God’s green Earth. So, now that I’ve fully conjugated the word “easy” and slid a blasphemous pun in there for good measure, let me top things off with a twist on a dated phrase – Yes, Greens is all that and a bucket of chicken, without the chicken. From the earth-sourced decor with tables that look more like trees to the stunning view of the bay and Golden Gate beyond, you can see that this place takes the whole au naturale thing pretty serious, not that you have to dine in the nude or anything, although an intriguing restaurant concept for certain.

Speaking of intrigue, it is astounding how quickly this place will make you forget all about meat. Just one bite of their grilled cheese sammy with cremini mushrooms, harissa and fontina and you will understand why the Earth is worth saving, apart from the obvious reasons like living here and mankind ceasing to exist.

The side of couscous salad with peppers and raisins had the spicy-sweet thing going on and only served to make things even more irresistible. Their other salads are fantastic as well. In fact, we were so impressed by Greens we purchased their cookbook on the spot. Not something we often do, which should speak volumes about this place. But please don’t go based on the food mentioned above. The menu is always changing, but in such capable hands, I doubt you’ll go wrong. And if you do, it’s probably your fault.

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Marta

29 E 29th St. New York, NY 10016(212) 689-1900martamanhattan.com

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So, while Danny Meyer is busy reconstructing Madison Square Park to accommodate a bigger and badder Shake Shack, apparently he decided to take up thin crust pizza as a hobby in lieu of burgers.

Located in the Martha Washington Hotel lobby, hence the origin of the name, the restaurant feels a little homeless, not being its own thing. Granted it takes up about 95% of the lobby, so perhaps it’s the lobby that’s truly homeless? All of that aside, they do a nice job with décor. Open and contemporary with a sizeable amount of seating. But don’t let that fool you. You practically have to sell a kidney to get a table for dinner. Fortunately for my internal organs, lunch reservations come much easier.

A quick bite, however, it most certainly is not. The service runs at an escargot pace, so if you’re doing a business lunch, I recommend blocking a good two hours, because two Diet Cokes took over 30 minutes to hit our table. Lucky for me I went with a glass of Brunello, which only took about a third of that.

The pies also take quite a while, nearly 45 minutes, but I’m happy to report that most of them were worth the wait. Especially the Testa made with pig face and celery. It’s so inventive and just as scrumptious. A close second was the carbonara. Just as the name implies, it’s topped with bacon and egg and fontina. And it’s damn fine.

The least impressive of the three was also the least inventive, the funghi, made with hen of the woods mushrooms. It’s certainly good if you have your heart set on shrooms, but compared to the likes of the funghi at Oenotri in Napa, this tastes like something you can get in the freezer section at Whole Foods. And I mean that with all due respect.

Now, assuming you’ve cleared your calendar and venture on towards dessert, here’s what you should know- it’s nowhere near as great as other reviewers claim. The affagato was easily the better of the two, but be warned, it’s very untraditional, made with honey and kumquats as opposed to espresso. The ice cream is incredible, however, and truly makes the dish shine. On the other hand, the chocolate and pistachio ice cream sandwich with mascarpone ice cream was significantly less radiant. About as basic as it gets, tasting like something you could get at TGI Fridays… back in the 80’s.

All in all Marta is certainly good for lunch, I cannot tell a lie. But definitely don’t sell off any vital organs to get in. There are droves of better pies all over the city.

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