Vivo

Universal CityWalk® – Orlando 6000 Universal Blvd. Orlando, FL 32819 • (407) 224-3663 • https://www.universalorlando.com/web/en/us/things-to-do/dining/vivo-italian-kitchen/index.html?__source=ban.dfa.142900316;315030842;68637547

I know it’s ridiculous to expect much from a restaurant at Universal Studios, but with places like Flying Fish Café, The Brown Derby and Kouzzina over in Disney, I figured maybe the Yelpers were onto something. Well, more like “on something.”

And while the décor is quite stylish and the service is friendly, the food is exactly what one might expect. Overcooked short rib and pastas, so mushy it defeats the purpose that they apparently make it fresh every day.

It isn’t without it’s hits though. I found the fried calamari to be quite good. As was the bread pudding. But if you truly want great Italian, do yourself a solid and make a rezzy at Prato in Winter Park. Sure it’s a bit of a drive, but remember, you put this stuff in your body. Isn’t it worth it?

Oh! One last thing I almost forgot. If you should decide to eat here anyway, do NOT sit outside. There are speakers right next door that are so blaringly loud you can feel it in your ovaries. Even if you’re a man.

The Whelk

575 Riverside AveWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0902 • thewhelkwestport.com

Having been to Le Farm (RIP) many, many years ago and loving it, I was pleased to learn that The Whelk was actually the mother ship. Plus, I had heard from just about everyone who lives within 50 miles of Westport that this is the best place to eat in town, so expectations were as high as the studio producers who thought Office Christmas Party was a good script.

But The Whelk delivers, hype and all. With its casual Cape Cod charm and equally warm service, I was sucked into being a convert faster than Vin Diesel, strapped to Usain Bolt, glued to a cheetah, duct taped to a rocket booster, wired to nitrous oxide packs.

A great deal of that being due to our adorable server who made us feel welcome, special and taken care of. What more could you ask for? Well, good food, of course, and The Whelk answered that call without a moment to spare, starting with some heavenly deviled eggs topped with fried oysters (pictured). They were literally amazeballs- ball-shaped and amazing. Oh, and an Ultimate in two categories; deviled eggs and oyster dishes.

And just as we were descending back to earth, up we went again with the scallop crudo and another Ultimate, which is also amazeballs, but not literally this time. Blessed with heat and blood orange, this place definitely knows how to handle its mollusks, which shouldn’t come as a shock I suppose considering the name of the establishment is a mollusk.

Another brilliant starter is the crab toast. Bright and lemony with the perfect hit of spice on the finish. Simple, but perfection.

For entrees, I highly recommend hake if it’s still on the menu by the time you go. It’s cooked like a boss, with a beautiful preparation that I won’t taunt you with because it was already gone by the second time we went, replaced by a trout with collard greens that didn’t quite fill the void left by the wonderful hake.

What is always there, however, is one of the best burgers I’ve had in a very long time, so if you’re not feelin’ the fish, you will not go hungry my friend.

The only mortal dish for me that I have discovered thus far (apart from the trout, which technically I didn’t order) would be the salt and pepper squid. I mean it’s good, but no better than any halfway decent fried calamari you could get a bagillion other places.

Capping things off on high, we ended the night with the white chocolate and cherry bread pudding, which if you’ve been following me for any length of time you know is my weak spot. But weakness aside, The Whelk finished strong. And while the Banana Bavarian is also good, it’s not even worth comparing it to the bread pudding, therefore I won’t.

The place packs ‘em in almost every night, for good reason, so be sure to make a reservation, go on an off night or an off hour, or prepare to wait. Fortunately it’s worth it, because as those before me suggest, it truly is the best restaurant in Westport. Hell, I think it gives Pearl and L&W in NYC a run for their money!

Gaonurri

1250 Broadway – 39th Fl. New York, NY 10001 • (212) 971-9045gaonnurinyc.com

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As they say in Korea, “holy fucking shit is this place good.” Okay, so it’s a very loose translation, but the meaning is still the same. From setting to service to sumptuous this place is firing on all cylinders. And not only is it physically head and shoulders above the rest of Koreatown, it’s figuratively superior as well.

Oddly located atop an office building in Herald Square, you have to enter through the lobby and take the elevator to the 39th floor. And it is there that you will find yourself surrounded by stunning views of Manhattan and a décor that lives up to the view.

The food also lives up to the hype starting with the spicy fried calamari salad tossed in a honey gochujang sauce and served over mixed greens with a light pear dressing. It’s fantastic, but even better is the Japchae with mushrooms. It’s made with stir fried glass noodles and mushrooms, of course. But these aren’t your garden variety shrooms. Well, technically I guess they are, but there is something about the sauce they’re cooked in that makes them taste almost like velvety, silky, beefy medallions. Best thing of the night and the most enjoyment you can get from mushrooms without them being of the psychedelic variety. An Ultimate fo sho!

Both the braised black cod and the braised short rib are also wicked good, served with a bowl of rice along with an assortment of kimchi and things.

And finally, for dessert, we split the deconstructed Snickers bar because we weren’t going anywhere for a while- get it? It’s advertising humor. Okay, never mind. Jokes aside it was very inventive, airy and fun to eat, because depending on how you reconstructed it you could make it taste like seven different candy bars. But with just the right ratios of each, bingo! Snickers baby!

Mad props to Gaonurri for living up to the hype and exceeding it with the best Korean food I’ve ever had by far.

5 teeth

J. Alexander’s

4077 Lake Cook Rd. Northbrook, IL 60062(847) 564-3093redlandsgrill.com

020910  (Taylor Jones / The Palm Beach Post). PALM BEACH GARDENS. Restaurant Review of J. Alexander's Restaurant in Palm Beach Gardens.

I’m not gonna lie, my fangs were bared and I was full-on ready to pounce all over this place. Shitting on it like something out of a relentless Family Guy sketch. I mean, c’mon, it’s in a Deerfield, IL office park for Pete sake! Your expectations get about as low as a snake in a wagon trail. Not sure where that Ross Perot-ian metaphor just came from, but you catch my drift.

Plus, the moment you walk in, the décor just screams casual dining chain (which it is), the likes of Bennigan’s and Applebee’s. So there I was at the table, seething at how foolish I was for taking the word of the girl at the front desk over at the Hyatt, when suddenly, BAM! BA-BAM! No, not gun shots. That’s the sound my ego makes when I’m wrong.

All three starters were really impressive. My favorite of the three being the deviled eggs with candy bacon and pickled slaw. But so was the smoked salmon salad with crostinis. And, of course, just to spite me, so was the Hyatt recommended fried calamari, which was shockingly tender, with a nice kick in the sauce to boot.

For my entrée I went with the coffee rubbed rib eye, served with a sizable mound of mashed potatoes. And while both were good, this was decidedly the weakest dish of the night. Fortunately, the Prisoner zinfandel I ordered by the glass to go with it was sensational. Making it the third best “Prisoner” I’ve ever experience. The first being sung by the band Squeeze. The second being the movie starring Hugh Jackman, which is technically plural.

For dessert, J. Alexander closed strong with two desserts so massive that after the five of us each took at least two bites apiece, there was still enough left on the plates to be considered a reasonable serving size. But please don’t take the stranded portions as a sign of mediocrity, because both the Key Lime Pie and the Chocolate Cake with vanilla ice cream (pictured) were very on point. We were all just stuffed to the gills by that point.

Sure, it’s a casual dining chain, but in the land of lowered expectations this place stands proud and tall, with the service to match. Take note all of you other chains out there, because this place has cracked the code like Benedict Cumberbatch in The Immitation Game.

4 teeth

 

Midyeci Sehmus Usta

Şehit Uğur Öztop Cad. Gündoğan, TK 48965 • +90 535 9492313sehmususta.com

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This is not just a restaurant, this is a movie in the making about a kid who comes from nothing and manages to build an empire… out of stuffing mussels with rice. Okay, so maybe it wouldn’t be a great movie, but it is truly inspiring to see what this man, Sehmus, has managed to achieve since 1981, when he first started selling midye dolma (stuffed mussels) out of a street cart. A head-scratching concept to say the least, because shellfish from a barrel on wheels sounds like the recipe for E.coli if ever I heard one. In fact, back when my wife and I first visited Bodrum together nearly 15 years ago, she tried to get me to try the mussels from one of the street carts and I looked at her like she had seven heads. Granted they were all very pretty heads, but seven nonetheless. That said, after trying a small sampling of three, I immediately ordered another dozen. And every year the number has grown exponentially to 24, 30, 40- even 50 pieces in a single order. Praise be Sehmus! I have seen the light!

And I’m not the only one. Somehow this mussel man (see what I did there?) managed to assemble a family owned and operated network of street carts stretching from Izmir all the way to Bodrum and everything in between. A veritable army of street vendors all carrying a product so consistently great they could give Penn Tennis Balls a run for their money. Too obtuse? Penn used to have a long running ad campaign about how “amazingly consistent” they were. But I digress.

Which brings me to today. Finally, the man, the myth, the legend, has decided to settle down, planting roots with his first brick and mortar restaurant, located in Gundogan, serving up mussels in every way shape and form. In fact, the menu almost reads like that scene in Forrest Gump where he goes on and on about all the ways you can cook shrimp.

But fret not, because the dolma are still the best on Earth. And if you’re not close to Gundogan, that’s okay too, because the army of street vendors is still on the march.

One caveat, however. The rest of the menu doesn’t quite hold up to the dolma. The midye casserole is just okay- be sure to ask for it aci (spicy) and without cheese (one of those rare dishes that’s better sans). Another zag from expectations is that I much preferred the fried calamari over the grilled variety, which is rare for me. And last but not least, the seafood with rice was also a big snoozer. But hot damn are those dolma good! So go for those, some raki or Efes, and eat so many you turn yourself into a dolma. Sage advice if ever it existed.

3 teeth

Chappaqua Tavern

76 King Street, Chappaqua, NY 10514 • (914) 861-2744 • chappaquatavern.com

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I know it’s a bit unfair to review a brand new place before it has a chance to get into its groove, but A) I am not the “fair” foodie. And B) apparently my waiting benefited no one, because the groove they seem to have found is one of slow service and edible mediocrity from what I hear. Yes, once again the curse of 76 King Street is back with a vengeance! Not one restaurant has managed to last more than two years there and this one will likely be no different. Perhaps it’s built on Indian burial ground?

For some cases in point as to why it won’t last, let’s start with the atrocious service. So slow I’ve seen decrepit 90-somethings travel the hallways of retirement homes with more urgency. But not only were the servers ridiculously slow at everything from taking our order, to bringing drinks to delivering the food and check, when they finally did bring things they kept dropping the silverware onto the table, the floor, and my child’s lap, which would’ve been funny if it were Mister Bean, but sadly it was only just annoying. As was the fact that after taking forever to ask for our order, they still managed to screw it up!

Of the correct things they brought to the table, they did better than one might expect, the burger was actually pretty good and so was the fried calamari with the spicy-sweet combo of honey and jalapenos, granted they went a little stingy on the jalapenos. But stinginess aside, you can find far worse at other places in the burbs that enjoy unworthy raves. That said, you’d be hard-pressed to find worse arancini, I must say. They were so dry and tasteless they were arantragic. I’ve accidentally swallowed dust bunnies with more flavor.

As for dessert, naturally we skipped it. After all, we didn’t want our children to grow old there.

But as critical as I’ve been on this place, do hurry down if you want to try it, because I’d be willing to bet my Ferocious reputation it won’t be around much longer.

2 teeth

Mary’s Fish Camp

64 Charles St. New York, NY 10014(646) 486-2185 •  marysfishcamp.com
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I have been eating at Pearl Oyster Bar so far back, Mary was still there. So, when I heard that she had parted ways and opened her own restaurant I was psyched, especially with the growing popularity of Pearl and its equally growing wait times. The bad news, is that when I did, I was very underwhelmed. WAY too mayonnaisey as you can see from the picture above. Her lobster roll isn’t even second best in the city. Or third. Or fifth. Which begs the question who is second? Red Hook Lobster Pound. But for more on lobster rolls see my Ultimate Lobster Roll list (coming soon).

The calamari was also just so-so. And it kills me to say this because I sincerely wish Mary’s was a good back up, but unfortunately, there’s nothing like the original. So stick with Pearl if you ask me.

2 teeth

MP Taverna

One Bridge St. Irvington, NY 10533 • (914) 231-7854

TJN 0701 NOTDS MP Taverna

Out of the 4 different restaurants that have been in this space over the last 8 years, I would place MP in a tie for second place. ONE (RIP) takes first quite handily, and coincidentally, the decor is actually the most similar to ONE compared to Solera & Day Boat (the other half of the tie).

The service was great. Quick, but never pushy. With some good recommendations.

But as for the food, I found it a bit hit and miss and meh. For example, the fried calamari was quite bland. The octopus, while good, was nothing all that special. The sliders were also a solid good, but again, nothing off the charts. And the dip assortment was also just okay, with the exception of the humus-type dip, which was my first bite to reach OMG status.

As for entrees, I found the lamb shank to also be quite bland. As was the simple branzino. But I did enjoy the Greek Paella, made with orzo and lamb sausage. A nice inventive twist on a Spanish stronghold.

Then, came dessert and yet another miss. The baklava is definitely a pass, and a bit of a crime for a higher end Greek restaurant. But fortunately, we also ordered the chocolate halva. WOW was that good. The nuttiness with the chocolate and ice cream- whoever made this should be promoted to executive chef and take the reigns on everything else.

Oh, and last but not least, the sangria- also, you guessed it, good- not great.

Sorry MP, I had much higher hopes for you, considering how busy you’ve been. But I just couldn’t help wishing ONE was still around.

2 teeth

The Ultimate Fried Calamari

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Normally I’m not a huge fan of this dish as it often resembles a bunch of deep fried, battered rubber bands in most restaurants. I mean let’s be honest, it’s the bottom of the bar food barrel. Down there with mozzarella sticks and potato skins and jalapeno poppers. Well, with the exception of these two, of course.

 Pera – New York, NY

Naturally I didn’t even want to order them, but my wife insisted. And as usual, she was right. Yes, it still hurts to say it. But what made this calamari shine wasn’t the squid or the batter. It was everything else, you see, these tentacles come fully loaded. Mixed with sucuk (spicy Turkish sausage) red peppers, hot peppers and scallions. And the sum of the parts is Octonuts!

Encounter – Los Angeles, CA

Most people never even think twice about this place, mainly because it’s in the top of the old traffic control tower located in the middle of LAX, but it’s actually pretty good. And among the goodness just happens to be the only other calamari ever to tickle my fancy. So what makes these so special. Well, here it actually is the batter. And the sauce. First, the batter is richer than most. Spiced and herbed, with a presence unto itself, even without the sauce. That said, with the sauce it’s even better, because it too has kick, and as I always say, two kicks are always better than one.

Pera

303 Madison Ave. New York, NY 10017(212) 878-6301peranyc.com

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The stars are primarily for the food. The service is actually hit and miss. First time we went it was pretty slow. And by slow, I mean if we didn’t ask for things to be sped along, we’d still probably be there. But the second time we went it was as though they remembered us and redeemed themselves in spades. Hard to say until I go a third time for the tie-breaker.

As for the decor, it’s nice. Simple and elegant, but nothing too lavish either. And the crowd seems to be more business than pleasure. But VERY packed regardless. Not an open table in the place at 6:30pm on a Tuesday.

But forget about all of that, because the moment the bread hits the table, Pera shines. What I mean by that is the bread is like nothing you’ve ever had. Akin to a souffle, it is light and airy and served with crumbled feta that literally melts into the steam of the bread.

The dolma (stuffed grape leaves) are also solid. Made turkish style with currants, the way I like them.

And the dates wrapped in pastirma (Turkish sopressata) were also pretty awesome.

But then, the dark horse rode in. The fried calamari. A dish I’m seldom a fan of, so much so, that when my wife wanted to order it, I rolled my eyes. Well, I wound up eating a lot of crow on this one. And a ton of calamari along with it. It was easily the best I’ve ever had. By a wide margin. Served with hot peppers, chives and sucuk (spicy sausage).

Then for entrees, I had the Lamb Adana, which was solid. But nothing better than it is at other Turkish haunts in the city. That said if you’re craving lamb, I would skip it and go for the lamb “tacos.” HIGHLY recommend. Can’t decide which is more amazing, those or the fried calamari.

Also worthy of note, the salmon entree was excellent, especially considering it’s not a Turkish fish.

Now for the only two misses: I found the okra entree to be a touch bland. And for dessert, the chocolate volcano was just okay- shoulda gone with the Baklava. And I will… Next time.

4 teeth