Morano Gelato

57 S Main StSte 101 – Hanover, NH 03755 • (603) 643-4233 • moranogelato.com
When our friends implored that we simply must go to this “amazing” gelato place in Hanover, you can imagine that this was met with a healthy dose of ferocious skepticism. I didn’t tell them this at the time, obviously, but they read the blog, so I guess the jig is up.

Well, I’ll be damned, because it just might be the best gelato I’ve ever had. The Almond Rum Crunch being an Ultimate and a firm glove across the face of lesser gelato peddlers. You heard me Grom! I don’t think I have ever tasted the presence of the rum in any other ice cream that bears its name like did at Morano. Just wow.

In fact, this place was so good, I made my friend take me back for seconds! Not on the same day mind you. I do have someself-control.

My only gripe on day two is that about 80% of the flavors changed, which has its plusses, but the loss of Almond Rum Crunch was a rough one for me, I’m not gonna lie. Still going through the loss, so I kinda don’t wanna talk about it right now. Need my space.

Fortunately, Morano crushes it on a bevy of other flavors like the Dark Chocolate which is so rich it probably doesn’t get hit with the AMT.

Equally strong, but wildly different is the Wild berries flavor, bursting with fruity brightness that leaps off of your spoon into your mouth. Same can almost be said for the Black Raspberry, but it’s a touch less unique, so I wouldn’t quite put it at the same level.

Of the nutty persuasion I gotta give it to Pistachio. Always a gelato crowd pleaser and Morano handily delivers. The hazelnut is also strong, but just not quite as flavor-forward as its greener compadre.

On par with the nutters I would place the Espresso, which manages to toe the line masterfully between creamy dessert and powerful coffee kick, paying faithful homage to the drink from which it hails.

A notch down from there would be the Stratacca or Chocolate chip. It’s still VERY good mind you, but when you are choosing amongst diamonds, gold starts to lose a bit of its luster. You feel me?

In fact, the only two flavors that were just okay for me were White Chocolate and the

Strawberry, Nutella Crunch. I know, right? Would’ve expected those to be winners too, but it’s kinda hard to complain when so many other flavors are lit.

Not too shabby for a woman who just decided to visit Italy for a few months to learn how to make gelato and winds up schooling everyone!

Oh, and if you don’t live anywhere near Hanover, fret not. She has two other locations. One in Chestnut Hill, MA and the other in Westfield, NJ. Sadly, there are none near Westport, CT, but I’m working on that. 😉

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Buca

604 King Street WToronto, ON M5V 1M6 Canada • (416) 865-1600 • buca.ca/king.html
 

I hadn’t been to Toronto in over a decade, but I remember having some great meals there. In fact, if you ever read my review of Mercer Kitchen, then you will know that it was the sushi pizza from Toronto that is somewhat responsible for finding my wife. So, it probably goes without saying that I didn’t really need another reason to love the Toronto food scene more than I already do, but then Buca happened.

An epic love story all its own, spanning across eleven rapturous dishes. It was like a scene out of Gone With the Wind- me running into the arms of antipasti, secondi and dolci… and antipasti, secondi and dolci all running into my mouth.

To start, Buca is a massive, industrial space right across the street from another strong Italian option, Gusto 101. That said, Buca is a cut above by all measures, including price tag. But I’ll be damned if it isn’t worth every last loonie.

From the get go, Buca served up more wow’s than Sam and the Firefly, starting with their salmon crudo with goat yogurt, zucchini blossoms, capers, cipollini and dill. Quickly followed delectable, little, warm rosemary, garlic and olive oil bread knots and a strong charcuterie board loaded with assorted cheeses and salumi.

And then Buca stopped playing around and brought the heat. Showing off in the most unlikely of places like a salad of mustard greens filled with berries from a local farm, dressed with goat yogurt and an olive oil of the gods.

This was then chased by a simple, beautiful buratta pizza. But all of this matters not, because the bigoli, aka duck egg pasta with duck offal ragu, venetian spices and mascarpone came in like the second coming and stuck the landing like Mary Lou Retton, crossbred with a cat wearing spikes on its feet.

The prime rib might’ve been the most mortal of the dishes we had or perhaps it was more a dimension of comparison, because it was served back to back with the branzino which stole the show.

For the final act, the dolci, Buca reimagined a Tiramisu with espresso soaked tapioca biscuits, mascarpone and chocolate mousse all layered deep in glass I wish was a yard in hindsight. And while the gelato was no slouch either, after that Tiramisu I could’ve just curled up in a ball and died happy.

Easily among the best Italian restaurants in the world, including Italy.

Bitez Dondurma

Ataturk Caddesi 48 A/3-4, 48400, Turkey • +90 536 480 47 24 • bitezdondurma.com

Unless it has freezer burn or fell off of your cone onto the ground, ice cream is seldom a disappointment.  But as mood-altering good as it is, the Turks take it to a whole other level. Sure, the Italians have them beat with gelato, but what they don’t have is Tutti Frutti, which sort of tastes like Panettone in ice cream form. Granted the Italians created Panettone, so checkmate on that one.

Several other flavors shine at Bitez Dondurma as well (which means Bitez Ice Cream- Bitez being a town in the south of Turkey where the company is originally from before turning into a big chain), from their rich, creamy chocolate to nutty pistachio and hazelnut. In fact, you really can’t go wrong. And truth be told, the best way to go is layers, like how your mama told you to dress in the winter, only at Bitez they do it with thin layers of killer ice cream (pictured). It has the total opposite effect your mother was intending, but it sure tastes a lot better than a wool sweater.

Il Leone Mastrantonio

22 Cobern Street | corner of Prestwich, Cape Town Central 8001, South Africa
+27 21 421 0071 • www.mastrantonio.com/il-leone-mastrantonio

This cozy Italian charmer is a pleasant surprise for being hell and gone from Italy. But as good as it is, I assure you it is nowhere even close to as good as the reviews make it out to be on Google and TripAdvisor. So go in with tempered expectations and I think you’ll be happy.

From the outside to the inside, the place has an inviting old-school vibe about it. Sadly, the crowd has an old-school vibe as well, so keep your voice down, because apparently at several places in Cape Town people like to eat in libraries. Luckily they don’t live in New York or they might starve. Either that or they’d live off takeout.

But I digress. In terms of the food, they kick it off right with a visit to the wine room to check out their offerings firsthand. The antipasti offerings are also solid, from the creamy buratta to the grilled octopus and bruschetta. Nothing exceptional, however. The real stars are their pastas. I had both the Bolognese and the carbonara and both hit the el spoto. Again, nowhere near Ultimate status, but for South African Italian, you could do a lot worse.

Like with dessert for example. I found their gelatos to be so lacking in flavor it was hard to tell which flavor was which, coming off more as just scoops of frozen cream.

Il Porcellino

59 W Hubbard Chicago, IL 60654 (312) 595-0800ilporcellinochicago.com

Image result for il porcellino chicago

Doing Al Capone proud, Il Porcellino (which means “Little Pig” in Italian- no idea why) feels like good, ole, authentic Chicago Italian, with lots of little back rooms tucked away in brick catacombs turned dining areas with private bars and back doors for easy escape… to smoke. Yes, Capone would’ve love this place, granted as slow as the service was, I think he might’ve whacked a few waiters until things improved.

Also worthy of mention is that we were a large party, and why I think this is of significance in this review is because very often that means that the food will be nowhere near as good as it would be during a typical dining experience. So fedora’s off to the piglet, because if this is a notch down, then it must be something special when you eat there like a normal person.

For starters the green chopped salad with kale, avocado, parmesan, pistachios and pepperoncini was good, as was the charcuterie, aka prosciutto trio (parma, cotto & speck). But if you want your world rocked, go with the guilty pleasure of the Tuscan Cheese Bread. I know it sounds like typical Americanified Italian crap, but damn is really friggin’ awesome Americanified Italian crap. Made even more kickalicious with some seriously spicy marinara for dippage.

Both pastas were also crowd pleasers. The rigatoni in vodka sauce with peas and red pepper flakes was a classic done right. And the orecchiette gigante with Italian sausage and broccolini, was right up there with it. Not even sure which was better.

What I am sure about was that the Steak Grigliata was terribliata. I’m guessing grigliatta is Italian for grisly because it was so undercooked and chewy it was inedible. In fact, I had to get up and go to the bathroom just to spit out my bite. And while I’m beating this dead horse, I would say it was so bad that it cost them a knive on this dish alone. That said, the parmesan-garlic fries were pretty darn good.

Ending on a high note, both desserts were great. The gelato is creamy and rich and the tiramisu cups are pretty spectacular.

3 teeth

The Blanchard

1935 N Lincoln Park W. Chicago, IL 60614(872) 829-3971theblanchardchicago.com

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The chef comes from very good pedigree having worked at some of New York’s finest such as The Four Season (RIP), Le Bernadin and the Gotham Bar & Grill. But now he’s making a name for himself in Chi-town, serving up French cuisine with a twist. And some truffles. And foie gras. And sweetbreads.

Starting with the foie gras, this guy obvious loves it (either that or he hates geese), serving so many dishes with it he ran out of names for them and just starting using numbers. For example “Seared Foie Gras #1” and “Seared Foie Gras #2,” of which I had the latter, crusted with black truffles, candied lavender and in a Madiera sauce. And while it sounds transcendent, it was really nothing memorable, especially when compared to the much less sexy sounding foie gras hot dog, which is doggone delectable. Topped with foie gras mustard, coz why not? Onion confit and served on a brioche roll.

Of the rest of the starters the only other one I would recommend would be the scallops, so don’t fall for your waiter’s swooning praise of the Oueff Outhier. The presentation is certainly nice, basically scrambled eggs put back in the shell with vodka infused crème fraiche and caviar on top. It’s good, but the scrambled eggs at Gato in New York and Bar LaGrassa in Minneapolis both trounce the shell out of this dish.

But the most disappointing of all the starters was the sweetbreads with chicken mousse, artichoke puree and bacon fat. Surprisingly bland for something so artery clogging.

The entrée course faired much better with all three being good. Granted I found the filet of sole to be insanely overpriced. It’s sole people. Not soul. But the dish worthy of the most adoration was the rack of lamb, served with a ratatouille tatin, roasted tomato and eggplant caviar all nestled in a natural reduction. So good Shaun the Sheep would wolf it down.

But as the evening went on, things just kept getting better and better, either that or I was getting drunker and drunker. Or perhaps it was something in between. Well, whatever the reason, dessert was the icing on the cake, delivering three winners in the form of a pineapple galette with passion fruit pastry cream, frangipane (almond paste) and a crème fraiche gelato. This was followed by a crepe gateau with Grand Marnier cream and hot fudge. And the cherry on top was an Ultimate crème brulee, of which I am normally not even a huge fan. But I scarfed that thing down like it was the only thing I had eaten in weeks.

Service is very good, other then the oversell on the eggs. And the décor is very nice. Striking that balance between warm and contemporary quite skillfully. And thus rounding things out for a fantastic four.

4 teeth

Bruno Pizza

204 E 13th St. New York, NY 10003(212) 598-3080 brunopizzanyc.com

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As a rule, it’s generally frowned upon to like your in-laws, much less love them, but when they find you gems like Bruno’s it’s kinda hard not to love the bejesus out of them. A “hot list” mention in Turkish Vogue (yes, there’s a Turkish Vogue), my mother in-law decided to give it a whirl. And then another and another, and before she knew it she was a dervish going back and forth to this restaurant five times in an eight week period. And while I had never even heard of the place myself, if it’s one thing my in-laws know- well, it’s probably diplomacy. But if there are two things, it’s food. So, I made it priority and grabbed wifey to head down for a bite.

The place is much hipper than most pie places, but the subway car-shaped dinning space with white on white box seats that double as a torture device and a music selection that does the same, it starts to make you feel like you’re in Guantanamo being forced to balance your ass on a cinder block whilst being exposed to shrieks and shrills that try to pass themselves off as music.

So already docking one star for setting, the food was going to have to do a ton of work to climb back out of the hole they were starting in. And my glass of wine wasn’t helping things either. Not because the wine itself was bad, in fact it was a very nice Syrah, but it was served in a glass reeking so heavily of the detergent it was washed in that it took away form the bouquet of the vino.

And then suddenly Bruno went on a tear, opening with an Ultimate Brussels sprouts, every bit as good as Ilili, but without the fried guilt, which so many other restaurants are doing now, loading up the sprouts with bacon and other goodies to the point where they are more like French fries than vegetables. But not Bruno. They let the sprouts shine through, with just the right amount of pizazz to make them special. Pizazz courtesy of apple butter, shishito peppers and puffed black rice.

As for the pies themselves, both were outstanding and both were served up on a whole wheat crust, shockingly enough. But not your typical, earthy, over-powering whole wheat. This is done in such a subtle way that you get all of the good and none of the bad, leaving you with a crust that rivals some of the best you could ever name.

The first of the pies was the Tasso Ham topped with smoked blue cheese, thinly sliced Fuji apples, sage and shallots. It’s excellent, but being the heat-seeker that I am, I found that it needed crushed red pepper to give it balance.

On the other hand, the Mushroom pie doesn’t need a thing other than your mouth, and is the best shroom pie I’ve had since Oenotri in Napa, CA. Topped with a blend of locally sourced fungi ranging from shitake to cremini, paired with a decadent béchamel, chives and chiles.

And to finish off, while the options are slim, they prove to be all you need. A refreshing duo of gelatos of which we opted for the Meyer lemon variety. But Bruno doesn’t do anything expected, serving it up with freshly sliced kumquats, mulberries, lemon curd and meringue brittle. It was so much more than we expected, capping the night on the highest of highs.

If you fashion yourself as a pizza connoisseur, then you need to hop your bones in cab and head to Bruno’s, presto!

4 teeth

Vine

851 Avenue Of The Americas New York, NY 10001(212) 201-4065 eventihotel.com

The Vine - Eventi Hotel in NYC 2015

One of the lesser-known gems in the area can be found in the back of the Eventi Hotel, which to be fair is one of the lesser-known hotels in the city. Yet deep within this vortex of obscurity lies an admirably appointed décor with cozy nooks for seating, warm, natural elements and huge windows that open up to a courtyard as opposed to the street (pictured), making for a relatively Zen dining experience.

The menu also got off on the right foot with a salmon entrée cooked perfectly, served over a bed of supped up cous cous and tzatziki sauce. It’s clean livin’ and tasty too. Wash that down with a slightly sweet Arnold Palmer and you could do a lot worse. Sure, it’s no Ilili if we’re comparing Middle Eastern/Mediterranean in the area, but it’s way easier to get a table and I find the décor much more inviting as opposed to the ironically more hotel-like vibe at Ilili.

On the guiltier side of things, the gelato is actually quite atrocious. So much so that I feel the need to outwardly shame our server for even recommending it, much less swooning about it as if it were the reincarnation of the Cup of Life.

But, on the alcoholier side, I have to give it up again to the Vine for going big on the spice and not going home in terms of their Bloody Mary. I love when places say fuck all and do what a Bloody Mary was meant to do, regardless of mass appeal. Because as the saying goes, the masses are asses, and greatness seldom lies at the feet of consensus. Okay, things are getting a bit preachy up in here for a food blog. Gonna dial it back and go out on a solid three.

3 teeth

Dish

1100 O St. Lincoln, NE 68508 • (402) 475-9475 • dishdowntown.com

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Just blocks from the Cornhuskers’ campus, which basically makes up 25% of Lincoln, you will find a surprisingly sophisticated restaurant. Granted the bar out here is about as low as city’s skyline. And although Dish boasts a horribly dated 80’s décor (sadly not due to theme or sardonic intent) I found myself liking the place.

The largest contribution to the likeage of which I speak came very early on in the form of an Ultimate Cornbread. I guess that’s to be expected in corn country. Served up as crispy cubes of sweet corn and jalapeno, topped with candy bacon. It might just be the greatest thing Lincoln has ever done, including winning the National Title. So wonderfully crusty on the outside and moist on the inside, with spicy and sweet contrasts, I could’ve just done two plates of these and called it a day.

The other appetizer on the table, the scallop bruschetta, was also pretty good, but after tasting that cornbread I decided to focus my efforts elsewhere. That said, it’s much less interesting than it sounds. Basically a thinly sliced disk of scallop placed over a crostini.

Come entrée time, I kinda had my sights missile-locked on something beef related. After all, it’s also cattle county. But strangely enough, the majority of the menu is actually seafood, which is bold for a land-locked state. Regardless, I stayed on target and went with the one meat dish, the filet, which was definitely good, but a bit heavy on the garlic. Granted, when you cut it with the jalapeno drizzle on plate, the result was quite tasty.

The only true misses for me, apart from décor, came during dessert where Dish went a dismal 1 for 4. The flourless chocolate cake with mint ice cream tasted no better than something you might expect to be served in a small town diner guilty of overreaching its capabilities. And the grilled peach trifle wasn’t much better. The truffle trio, however, was a step in the right direction, but that was probably more a dimension of comparative goodness, tasting like a notch above a Whitman’s Sampler.

But the best of the four came as a bit of a shock to be honest. The ginger gelato was creamy and refreshing and palate cleansing, which was much appreciated after three sub par desserts that I only wish I could have also cleansed from my waistline.

3 teeth

Dirty French

Ludlow Hotel • 180 Ludlow St. New York, NY 10002(212) 254-3000dirtyfrench.com

Dirty French

It is with great pleasure and relief that I submit to you a review of the restaurant Dirty French, who actually lives up equally to both its name and its hype (which is written in some shockingly eloquent Yelp reviews). And while Carbone and Torrisi can do no wrong in my eyes, I was still a little worried going in with such high expectations.

So, overcoming healthy doses of skepticism from Wifey and I, we arrived for our annoyingly early reservation of 6:00 pm, because nothing else was “available.” I use air quotes because the place was 90% empty when we arrived, leading me to believe that they save the normal times for people with connections, either that or they just hold out on decent times to build the allure of dining there.

But as annoyed as we were, the tides turned quickly when our host managed to accommodate us sitting in the back garden even though it is technically reserved for hotel guests and VIPs, of which we were neither. Not that there is anything wrong with the main dining room. It’s pretty traditional bistro décor, done well. But the garden is much more charming with its exposed brick walls, greenhouse ceiling and an eclectic array of pendants dangling overhead. Granted it’s much quieter and not as lively, so if you’re looking to see and be seen, I recommend staying up front.

The other tide-turning surprise was our server, Kenny, from Croatia. Such an infectiously positive spirit, born with hospitality coursing through his veins. We couldn’t help but smile at his enthusiasm about each dish. He was quick to offer tastes of different wines by the glass or even cocktails. Spot on with recommendations and just as deft with conversation.

Speaking of cocktails I went with the Pigalle, a bourbon based drink with nice balance to it, artfully blending elements of heat (chili) and refreshing citrus (orange and lemon) with just a touch of spice, between the bitters and cinnamon stick. Wifey had the Ludlow Gimlet which I can only assume was good since she finished it and didn’t even offer me a sip, hording it all for herself. But I forgive her. After all, it was her birthday.

And a happy one it was with stunning dishes like the lamb carpaccio (pictured), spread across the plate like an edible Chagall. It is handily an Ultimate across two categories, Lamb and Carpaccio. Seasoned generously with herbs, spicy chili oil, medallions of marinated eggplant and tiny dollops of yogurt. This is then accompanied by several slices of grilled bread upon which you are to spread your carpaccio like paint across a canvas, paying homage to the work of art it truly is.

Another mighty impressive dish in the raw camp is the tuna tartar, dressed in the same spicy chili oil as the lamb, also seasoned with plentiful herbs, including a healthy dose of Thai basil, which truthfully makes the dish- all sidled up next to something they call a crepe indochine.

Not even close to done showing off, the chef keeps the wows coming with a Foie gras terrine wrapped in a crispy phyllo brick, filled with jam and placed over a burnt lemon cream, which all coalesce in your mouth with such dexterity that you could swear you had a tiny, little conductor in there, waving his baton around so that the lemon knew just when to come in and brighten things up.

For our entrée, we split the hanger steak au poivre, which was once again a “dirty,” a.k.a. “unfaithful,” take on the classic French dish, made unique with an Asian twist on the sauce, more Thai basil (apparently the farmer’s market was having a sale) and lime cornichon. And as for the steak itself, it was cooked a perfect medium rare, allowing the meat to melt into the sauce like a dream.

In tandem with the steak, we also ordered a highly unnecessary side of pommes frites, which went perfectly with the steak. Sliced thin almost potato chip style with just enough fluffiness inside to contrast the crispiness. And in lieu of ketchup or mustard, they serve it up with a creamy remoulade that makes them hard to resist, even though you are about to pop like a child’s balloon being filled by a fire hose.

So obviously we skipped dessert, right? No way. Are you crazy? That’d be like a pitcher walking off the mound in the 8th inning of a no-hitter. You gotta see it through. So wifey and I hunkered down and toughed it out with an order of the beignets to see if this meal could truly end flawlessly. Well, landing stuck like Kerri Strug. These fritters were ankle-breaking good, and I don’t even know what that means. What I do know is that they are definitely an Ultimate with their clever hint of chicory, adding a light, floweriness to the otherwise heavy dough dipped in caramel.

Then, last but not least, Kenny, our Croatian master of ceremonies, surprised us with an assortment of birthday gelato on the house. One strawberry, one watermelon and one was coconut. The coconut being the best of the three, but compared to those beignets, I wasn’t about to blow out an internal organ over them, so if you’re deciding between the two yourself, there’s really no contest. Beignets all the ways.

Now, going back to the beautifully written Yelp reviews I mentioned earlier, it pains me that they still averaged out to be a mere 3.5 stars, which is ridiculously inaccurate. GOD, I HATE YELP! It’s so bad that it goes beyond subjectivity and lands squarely on the face of uselessness. When you have people sandbagging things with one star because a server was bad or 3 stars because they wouldn’t know their ass from their elbow pasta it waters down any value the site has to offer. It’s 5 stars people! FIVE!!! Or knives, as the case may be on this site. Okay, I need to go take a Xanax.

5 teeth