The Ultimate Duck

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Cask & Larder – Orlando, FL

There is nothing quite like a Christmas ham, or should I say, there used to be nothing quite like a Christmas ham until Cask & Larder created their Christmas Miracle, the Duck Ham. Yes, naughty never tasted so nice. Faithfully emulating the pig that inspired it, the duck version, like any good apprentice, surpasses the master. Guess you could say it is the ultimate “Angry Birds” revenge. Served over a bed of nutty faro, the contrast between sweet and savory and earthy is like getting everything your mouth had on its wish list.

Elan – New York, NY

As if it weren’t bad enough that the duck muscled in on pork’s turf with the Duck Ham (above), now the bird is going after the cow. Perhaps this is retribution for the long-running Chick Fil A campaign? Well, whatever the reason, Elan’s duck & foie gras burger puts about 98% of your cow burgers in the city to shame, save the Black Label and the Bash. Admittedly it’s more of a hoity-toity burger, but if hoity-toity tastes like this, who gives a cow’s ass? Also, if you’re really into self loathing or simply find that you’ve been too healthy lately and want to swing the pendulum in the other direction, I highly recommend getting it with the Bearnaise sauce and a fried egg, coz you’re gonna die anyway, might as well do it with a smile on your face, because as the famous Long Island philosopher Billy Joel once said, “Only the Good Die Young!”

Mizuna – Denver, CO

There is an old saying, “Fuck a Duck.” And albeit crass, I finally understand its true meaning, because if ever there were a duck I would consider for such a bestial act, it would probably be this one. Granted it’s also dead so I suppose I’d be committing necrophilia at the same time. Oh my, has this review gone off the rails. I started with Christmas and now I’ve devolved into doubling down on sexual deviance. Well, getting back to it (assuming I haven’t already lost you), this duck, served with with foie gras dirty rice, is a Cajun masterpiece like no other, with the two poultry-born indulgences teaming up to make a buttery counterbalance to the spicy grains. It might just be the best thing a duck has achieved since Daffy.

 

 

 

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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.

4 teeth

Canuck

Vancouver Airport • 3211 Grant McConachie Way Richmond, BC, Canada V7B 1M8

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There is a surprisingly thin selection of places to sit and grab a bite to eat in the morning at the Vancouver airport. So, unless you want to try your luck at Tim Horton’s or Burger King, I’m afraid your mouth just got backed into a corner. A corner that serves supermarket orange juice and French Canadian toast that tastes like empty calories and a poor interpretation of the breakfast classic, even with the addition of the Great White North’s bounty, maple syrup.

The breakfast sandwich, however, is much better, made on a brioche roll with a runny egg, marinated mushrooms, bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomato and mayonnaise. It’ll do the trick, but it’s not exactly something you would ever swoon over unless you’re nursing a hangover.

Décor is non-existent, assuming you don’t count giant flat screen TV’s playing hockey games as decor, service is friendly and there’s nothing else to really say about this place apart from the convenience of being near your gate.

2 teeth

Élan

43 E 20th St. New York, NY 10003 • (646) 682-7105elannyc.com

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When you enter Élan it doesn’t exactly exude much élan with its small bar up front funneling into a narrow hall decorated with a pop art step and repeat mural, which opens up to a somewhat secluded, mid-sized dining area in the back. And while everything is done with a tasteful, modern flair, I couldn’t help but be distracted by the awkwardness of its layout.

The other thing I found distracting was the spotty service. Each course taking way too long just to order, from drinks to starters to mains and dessert, the pacing felt like we were in a car with someone learning to drive a stick shift, bucking back and forth between stop and go. But then the truly bizarre happened… Before pouring our third bottle of wine that I had ordered, the waiter informed me that he had “already tasted it and it was fine” therefore no need to have me taste it. At first I thought he was joking, but when I looked back at him, there was no wink or smile, just the weight of creepiness now hanging in the air.

But don’t count Elan out just yet, because David Waltuck, former chef of Chanterelle (RIP), seems to have carried his gift of gourmet over to Elan. And he doesn’t take much time warming up either, channeling that warmth and infusing it into his seductively, warm pretzel rolls served with Bavarian mustard butter. They are so addictive I could’ve just done two plates of those and a couple of beers and called it a win. But should you manage to muster up the restraint and not fill up on the bread, bully for you, because fortune awaits!

Such treasures being the mushroom, truffle croquettes, which are so wonderfully warm and gooey inside, it’s like an edible womb. It’s also like an Ultimate, because for me, most croquettes aren’t even worthy of mention, usually tasting more like their fried breading than anything else. But mention these I shall, at the tippy top of my lungs.

Also worth shouting about is the crispy ricotta gnocci so skillfully prepared it’s almost unfair that it’s only a starter, because I would’ve happily ordered it as a main. Well, that would’ve been true had I not heard about the off-menu duck burger with foie gras (pictured), which is so devilishly good you owe it to yourself to order one. But be sure to get it “done up,” as if the foie gras and caramelized onions weren’t enough. Yes, “done up” means it’s also topped with a fried egg and bernaise sauce. Sure, your diet is going to hell, but look on the bright side, your mouth is going to heaven. It really is a must. If I recommended it any higher I’d get altitude sickness. In fact, the only burger in the city to best it is Minetta’s Black Label Burger, and that’s some seriously high praise right there people.

Other dishes shined as well, but perhaps not as bright, for example the much hyped sea urchin guacamole was certainly good, but according to the Yelp consensus it was supposed to be “the best thing on the menu” which it surely wasn’t, coming in a distant third even just amongst the starters alone.

Another almost great dish was the raw oysters with an Asian marinade packing a nice ginger kick. The preparation was very good and unique, but fell just shy of greatness due to the mothershucker who left so many shell fragments in the second one I ate that I’m lucky I didn’t crack a tooth.

And of the side dishes, I also found myself really enjoying the Japanese eggplant with honey. They’re not quite up there with the ones at All’onda, but after that duck burger you’re gonna need a veggie or two to stem the guilt and the pea shoots don’t quite cut it on flavor.

In addition to the pea shoots, another side worth passing up (especially if you’re getting the duck burger) would be the duck fat hash browns. I know duck fat is all the rage in potato land these days, but I’ve had way better at Twisted Oak in Tarrytown, NY. Besides, the squashed potatoes that come with the duck burger blow the hash browns away.

Also living in miss-o-potamia would be the foie gras roulades with fig, which proved to be very blah amongst the deep bench of winners, as did the swordfish made with eggplant and a black bean salsa. This dish was the resounding loser of the night. So lackluster it almost makes you question the judgment to keep it on the menu.

As for the desserts, nothing had me doing bell kicks around the dining room, but the clear winner was the berry ice cream sundae, surprisingly enough. The chocolate cheesecake, pumpkin cake and butterscotch pudding all registering a tepid reception from the table.

Let’s not end on a down note, however, because Elan is nothing short of a smashing success, serving up a whopping four Ultimates. Earning it just as many knives as a result.

4 teeth

Rocky’s

235 Saw Mill River Rd. Millwood, NY 10546 • (914) 941-2165rockysdeli.net

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Word on the street is that Rocky’s just hauled in a nod from the folks at Best of Westchester (that street being Rt.133), so it goes without saying that I needed to scoot my opinionated bones on over there to order up some sammies.

The place looks like any one of a thousand just like it in the city, long counter on one side, stuffed to the gills with rolls, wedges & ciabattas, backed by a task force of sandwich soldiers armed with cooktop skillets the size of sofas and bins upon bins of prepped ingredients. And on the other side you’ll find a wall of fridges loaded with every imaginable beverage one could ever hope to wash down a hoagie with.

Unfortunately, this faithful homage to city sandwich shops is so faithful that the sandwiches are nothing special. I guess people are just wistfully lining up out of sentimentality for the days when they used to live in the city. So therein lies the good news, you no longer have to drive an hour into the city to get your fix. But a reality check is definitely in order, because the sandwiches are far from the “best” in Westchester.

To get all specific on your ass, almost every sandwich requires that you add something to it, because they are too bland as is. For example The Untouchable desperately needed to touch some tomatoes or coleslaw or roasted red peppers- anything to give it moisture! Plus, the chicken cutlet is so thin it tastes like nothing more than its breading. Then there’s the actual bread. And together they overpower the grilled prosciutto, mozz and balsamic.

The Whaler, while better than The Untouchable, was also just okay, mainly due, once again, to a meek portion of fish so thin you could floss with it (not exactly what I would call “whale-like”), breaded and fried, along with hash browns and tripling down on the theme, a fried egg. There’s also American cheese, but what it needed most was ketchup or hot sauce to make it interesting enough to finish both halves.

The Chip Chip was easily the best of the three, with chipotle chicken, chipotle mayo, smoked gouda, bacon and avocado all on ciabatta. It had some nice kick, but if spicy sandwiches are your thang, then you owe it to yourself to head on over to Armonk and get The Heat at Melts. It beats the Chip Chip out of Rocky’s.

2 teeth

Bar Suzette

Chelsea Market 425 W 15th St. New York, NY 10011, Chelsea(917) 727-2169

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I know this place is technically a creperie, but having admired this burger from afar for several years, I finally bit the bullet (and the burger, obviously), going all in on Suzette’s crown jewel of overloaded meat. But did I stop there? Oh no. I went truffle fries too! Oh yes. And so close to bikini season too! Because I live on the edge people. You want Timid Foodie, you go elsewhere.

As a name, the Park Royal (pictured) just sounds amazing, right? In fact, the moment I laid eyes on that chalkboard menu I was in. Topped with caramelized onions, bacon, cheese and a fried egg, all stacked on a brioche bun, the Royal isn’t exactly breaking the mold in terms of inventiveness, but they stick the landing on proportions, so the flavor nets out pretty bang-on. It’s messy as all get out though, so move over 5 Napkin, I easily burnt through twice that on this puppy.

And speaking of burning through things, I normally don’t finish my fries because I’m either too full or feeling too guilty to do so, but these were so good I dug deep and closed the deal. Good thing “dad bod” is en vogue, otherwise I’d be Park Royally screwed.

3 teeth*And a half

Wolfert’s Roost

100 Main St. Irvington, NY 10533 • (914) 231-7576WolfertsRoostIRV.com

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If I gave out knives for effort, the Roost would earn a resounding five, because I really do appreciate the inventiveness in almost every dish. I also dig the understated vibe, which feels a little reminiscent of The Cookery in neighboring Dobbs Ferry, especially with its kitchen utensil chandeliers and abysmal acoustics. But sadly Wolfert is no Cookery when it comes to culinary greatness. I’m getting ahead of myself though, so let’s go “back to the start” as Chris Martin would say.

Upon entering we came prepared, BYOBing a nice bottle of Caymus Conundrum and a French Bordeaux. What we weren’t prepared for was having to send up a flare to get our waitress’ attention. But once we caught her eye, we ordered about a third of the menu, partly out of fear that we may never see her again. Well, fortunately she returned with three very impressive starters. The best of the trio, and of the entire meal, would be the wild mushroom bruschetta. As seen on Yelp (and above), this dish deserves every last ounce of adulation. But it gets high with a little help from its friends, taleggio and the fried egg on top.

The other world-rocking small plate was the bloomin’ broccoli. I assume paying homage to the Outback Steakhouse, the battered and fried floret is not only bloomin’, it’s boomin’ with flavors both savory and sweet thanks to the brilliant accompaniments of Humboldt Fog and apricot jam. The former already being one of my favorite cheeses on Earth, perhaps I’m a little biased.

The third app was also pretty good, the spaghetti with pork ragu and piave (yet another favorite cheese), but because it was done as a torta, the pasta was a bit on the crispy side, which I like in a textural way, but don’t actually love.

Now, before I move on to the entrees, or “big bowls” as they are referred to on the menu, I want to dispel a crazy misperception you might find in other reviews, this notion of meager-sized portions. Now, I’m not exactly sure what passes for a small plate for some of these people, but I’m guessing these were the same people fighting Bloomberg to keep Super Big Gulps in the city. It’s either that or they went with the tasting menu, which are supposed to be small portions, you neanderthals!

Getting back to the Big Bowls, this is where things fell apart. The fried chicken everyone raves about is almost as puzzling as the portion size comments. We only ordered a half portion and it was easily enough for three people, granted that might’ve been due to the fact that it sucked wind. Soggy on the outside, dry on the inside and flavorless all over. If you want truly great fried chicken try ABC Kitchen in New York, Highball & Harvest in Orlando or Son of a Gun in LA. This, on the other hand, is a cock-a-doodle-don’t.

The other big bowl of blah was the Korean-ish baby back ribs. Once again a dish ruined by Sahara-like dryness, which was such a shame, because the flavors on the outside were actually pretty decent (kimchi and gouchujong). Fortunately the third bowl, the Short Rib Pho somewhat redeemed Wolfert, because thankfully it was served in a broth that kept it moist. But as good as it was, it was no consolation to the damage done.

Pressing on and trying to put the past behind us, or more accurately trying to put dessert in front of us, we went with what was essentially a chocolate chip cookie and ice cream and a caramelized banana and ice cream dessert. I don’t recall the actual names of either, but both were good, not great- which is indicative of the experience as a whole. Good, but not great.

3 teeth

Upland

345 Park Ave S. New York, NY 10010 • (212) 686-1006uplandnyc.com

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Once upon a time this place used to be called Manzanilla, a terrific restaurant that for some reason caught the venom of the New York Times food critic, and had to close its doors less than a year after a brutal and undeserving one star review. Which brings me to my next point- Manza-who? Just one bite of Upland’s porchetta and egg sandwich and I completely forgot all about what’s its face. Served up with a nice helping of hot peppers and placed on a wonderful mini ciabatta- it’s yabba dabba delicious!

But if the sandwich was hog heaven, the Eggs in Hell (pictured) can only be described as hedonistic. Fried and floating in a spicy marinara sauce that is bread-sopping bodacious. Such an inventive twist on huevos rancheros I almost find it hard to categorize it as such.

On the less inventive front, the pancakes are also quite good, but not quite as interesting as the other dishes. And lastly, the citrus salad with olive oil and bitter chocolate shavings was a little too simple for my tastes. Not that it wasn’t good, but it was a little too simple for even me, and I like simple. Just not so simple that I could make it at home, just as well, in less than five minutes. It is nice and refreshing though, especially next to the heavier plates.

Such a great meal I can’t wait to come back for lunch and dinner, because everything else on the menu looked pretty ridic as well. So glad this new tenet is as good as the old. Guess this space just has good restaurant juju?

4 teeth

The Hollywood Brown Derby

Disney’s Hollywood Studios • Walt Disney World Resort • Lake Buena Vista, FL 32830 • (407) 939-2267 • disneyworld.disney.go.com/dining/hollywood-studios/hollywood-brown-derby

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Ever since I used to work at Disney’s MGM Studios (now Hollywood Studios) as a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and yes, that sentence just came out of my mouth, I have always wanted to eat here. Widely considered to be the best restaurant in all of the theme parks combine (not including hotels).

Well, some 25 years later, and no longer a turtle, I finally made it to lunch here, and I’m happy to report that it was worth the wait. Well, at least the food is, the service quite annoyingly slow. But after waiting 25 years, what’s another hour, right?

In terms of décor, while fake to the bone like all things Disney, it still passes as MUCH nicer than any other restaurant in all of Disney, hotels included this time, with the only exception being Victoria and Albert. Set to make you feel like you are back in the 50’s, eating at some Hollywood movie star favorite, the Derby delivers an experience that truly rivals The Palm. Granted I don’t love The Palm, so perhaps that isn’t saying much.

Now on to the grub! Which is more surprising than learning that Mickey Mouse is more often than not played by a girl. For example, their waygu beef burger holds its own amongst many of the so-called best burgers in the country. Topped with gruyere, pastrami, Cognac mustard and a fried egg this crazy-ass messy burger will take you right to the threshold of embarrassment as you will meld with this bun-filled beacon of beef like you were soul mates. Also, it comes paired with a beer called La Fin du Monde, which I also highly recommend for the melding process. It’s a French Canadian tripel, which means it’s a very strong ale… which means 9% alcohol… which is nearly twice that of a regular beer… which means you’ll need a nap later.

And equally impressive, but vastly different was the andouille crusted chicken sandwich with smoked bacon, white cheddar and veggie slaw all sitting on an onion Kaiser roll.

Now I’m not about to run back to Disney again anytime soon, but if I do, this will be higher on my list than that 3-D Buzz Lightyear shooting game, which really is quite fun, I have to admit.

4 teeth

 

Gordon Ramsay BurGR

Planet Hollywood Las Vegas Resort & Casino • 3667 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89109 • (702) 785-5555 • planethollywoodresort.com/restaurants/ramsay.html#.VDXahSRATv4
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I was actually headed to The Earl of Sandwich, but one look at it had me second guessing the rave reviews on Yelp. So, as a nearby back up, I decided to give Gordon another chance. I say “another” because after his abysmal performance at his fine dining establishment in the London Hotel, LA, I was very skeptical of the adulation for this burger joint. But, many a time I have found that chefs tend to struggle more with fine dining than they do with casual grub.

Well, once again that proved to be the case. BurGR was better than I expected, but that’s only because I was expecting it to be shit. And at first, it was. I sincerely find it baffling that people rave about the parmesan truffle fries. What is wrong with people’s tongues? Not only are these fries not rave worthy, they are an anomaly in tragedy, somehow managing to be both overcooked and undercooked at the same time. Adding insult to injury, they also came about 15 minutes before my burger, which meant I either filled up on fries or waited until they got cold, making them even worse than they already were.

On the plus side, the aioli they serve with the fries makes them somewhat tolerable. But on yet another downside, the house-made ketchup that also comes with the fries goes miserably with them. That said, both went very well on the burger.

The burger I went with was the equally touted Farm Burger which boasts duck breast bacon, sharp English cheddar, a fried egg and a cholesterol test. Now, it’s nowhere near amazing, needing the condiments from the fries to make it truly worth the gut-busting conclusion, but with that dressing, it went down quite nicely with a pint of Blue Moon.

Oh, and a tip for those who complain about the long lines, go at an off hour like I did and you will have your pick of nearly 30 open tables with zero wait.

Service was friendly, decor is very well done and the prices are nowhere near as outrageous as the claims. I mean, c’mon people, this is Vegas. They’re charging $35 for a friggin’ bottle of sunscreen for Christ sake!

So the knife count, adjusted for halfs would be more like 2.5, but since I’m feeling generous today, I’ll go with the over as opposed to the under (that’s Vegas lingo).

3 teeth