Alta

64 W 10th StNew York, NY 10011 • (212) 505-7777 • altarestaurant.com
Finally, a newbie with rave reviews that actually lives up to them! Yes, Alta is Al that (and a bucket of chicken). Set in a somewhat odd location for a tapas joint, an old Amish home (pictured). But, hey, if it works, don’t knock it.

In terms of the tapas itself, the hit ratio was most admirable. Going 10 of 12 with not one thing being bad and only two mehs. So let’s do role call, from best to mehs:

Top of the list has to go to the ridiculous parker house rolls with dill butter. So good you’ll wanna open a vein. Also muy delicioso are the bacon wrapped dates and olives (granted you could wrap garbage in bacon and I’d probably eat it), the scallops are money, the Brussels sprouts with green apple are inventive and much lighter than so many other sprout dishes getting love these days, and two different desserts, the sundae and the lemon tart also rounded out the best of the best. But there is an MVP from the meal that I feel compelled to give a shout-out to, the wine. The Morgon Beaujolais is phenom. This is now the second time I’ve had it (first at Scarpetta) and it is right up there with Prisoner, for those who are fans.

Now back to the food. A notch down toward very good, I would list the buratta with black truffles, the short rib with beet parpadelle and horseradish slaw and lastly, the warm chocolate cake.

Bringing up the rear would be the fried goat cheese with lavender honey. It’s clearly trying to do the Italian ricotta and honey thing, but misses significantly. The other non-starter, get it? Is the agnolotti with yam, shroom and cheese. As I caveated above, it wasn’t bad, but with so many other hits, it was surrounded by tough competition.

Speaking of, Alta is, or should be, some major competition next time you are planning to go out, because chances are, the place you’re thinking of going to isn’t as good. The name says it all. Alta is tops.

Boca

43 Main StWestport, CT 06880 • (203) 557-0720 • bocawestport.com
 

Tucked away right off of the main drag in an alley adjacent to West Elm, is a bit of a sleeper with big aspirations. A two-story Italian ( I know they call themselves Mediterranean, but it’s mostly Italian), that is probably trendier than it needs to be, with staff that’s trying almost as hard as the décor. But what a view form upstairs! Overlooking the Saugatuck River. You could do worse my friend. Same goes for the food, because Boca is better than most of the Italian options in Westport, which admittedly isn’t saying a whole lot. It seems to be the one cuisine in town that isn’t nailed yet. Tarry Lodge is decent, but that’s really it (granted I hear good things about Filamente Trattoria, so TBD on that one). But if the owners of The Whelk, Kawa Ni & Jesup Hall ever decide to get in the game, count me in as an investor!

Until that happens though, Boca will have to suffice. And suffice is does with killer dishes like the lobster with soft polenta. I also found their mussels with fava beans to be damn skippy.

In the middle I’d peg the fig, goat cheese & honey bruschetta as well as the kale salad with walnuts, green apples and gorgonzola. Both are good, but come off a little too basic and/or simply lacking that wow factor, missing the boat on either texture, contrast or balance.

As for misses, steer clear of the crispy artichokes. They are overly breaded and underly sauced, netting out as unsettling balls of fried batter. We didn’t even finish a third of the dish. Fortunately my glass of red wine will help make up for the cholesterol bomb.

So, with more hits than misses, and the void that it fills in the Italian Westport scene, I’d say it’s a worthy stop. Especially if you’re in the middle of a Main Street shopping spree and you get the grumbles.

Rose Hill

34 E 32nd St. New York, NY 10016 • (212) 448-1302 • rosehillrestaurant.com

I know this place is still green, so I will try to muster up a modicum of understanding while they get their footing. And boy do they need it. Starting with the layout of the dining room, which is a bit odd to say the least, situated to the side of a hotel lobby through a current. The room itself is long and narrow and I can only assume it was the coat check or storage once upon a time. Making matters worse, the tables are so tightly squeezed together along a booth that runs the entire length of the subway car dining room (pictured), that if you were sitting to the inside, you simply can not get out without displacing every table within a twenty foot radius, so be sure to empty the bladder before getting locked in. Fortunately for us no one was sitting next to us, but if the place had been packed, you’d probably have to go under the table, suffer the sneers of those around you or become very intimate with your new friends at your neighboring table as your genitals rake across the port side of their mesa.

The thing you will be sure to notice is that the staff comes off like a family of beaten children. All of them are so incredibly timid that the plates are shaking in their hands as they walk one overly cautious step at a time to and from your table. In fact, they were shaking so much one of our servers accidentally got some wine in my friend’s water glass while trying to pour in the wine glass! Fortunately she apologized and replaced it immediately, and truth be told I honestly felt worse for her than us because I can assume this only meant more beatings.

The wine itself though, was excellent. The 2015 Hosmer Dry Reisling from the Finger Lakes. Highly recommend.

But back to the beaten staff. Did I mention that even their voices are a bit shaky and they talk so softly you might think you were in a library?

So now the question becomes, is it worth it? Beyond the comedic novelty (and rarity) of seeing servers in New York act like this, as opposed to self-important, rude assholes. Well, it kinda is. I mean both starters were truly incredible. The first being the wonderful seared foie gras with cherry mostrada and black pepper. Simple and flawless. And second, the octopus was almost every bit as good, jazzed up with merguez, fingerling potatoes and smoked tomato. Again, nothing too crazy, yet crazy good.

Which only made the next course that much more disappointing, because the fall was from such a high. But both the lamb sandwich and the chickpea burger were as timid on the tongue as the servers were with everything else. No goat cheese or fire-roasted red pepper and rosemary aioli could save the lamb, tasting more like goat cheese on bread with some indiscernible meat. And the veggie burger was even blander still, the tzatziki and cucumber fading into the white noise of whole wheat and bland bean.

And so now I was really torn. The starters were a five. The entrees were a two. And the service and décor are teetering between a one and a two. Thus, dessert had to be the tie-breaker!

Well, it broke. The chef’s restraint on the appetizers fully escaped him on the deconstructed Key lime pie. It was so tricked-out that it tasted more like an experiment than it did Key lime. Rendering the final blow to Rose Hill and landing it a mere two knives. That said, I am feeling a rare streak of compassion for some reason. Maybe it’s the poor, beaten souls I feel sorry for. Or that the starters were just that damn good. Nonetheless, give them a chance. I think they will get there.

Le Club 55

Plage de Pampelonne 83350 RamatuelleFR • +33 4 94 55 55 55 • club55.fr

There is an old French saying that roughly translates to mean, “may this misery never leave us,” which is as sarcastic as it is perfect for describing what it was like to sail to Saint Tropez for the day and dine on the beach at Le Club 55. Yes, I live an extremely charmed life and I work very hard to keep that in perspective. So I tell you this not as a “look at me,” but rather as strong nudge to YOU, because if you should ever find yourself in the South of France, you owe this to yourself. Yes, it’s a bit of commitment (two hours from Cannes each way), but sacre bleu is it worth it!

Strung together like a bunch of Gilligan’s Island-esque straw huts, this place continues to grow and sprawl across the sand like the Zabar’s of the Cote d’Azur. And also like Zabar’s, it is as far from fancy as it is from Cannes. This is toes in the sand and swim suit on butt couture.

But don’t let the casual façade fool you, because getting a table is serious business, and so is the food. For example, their crudité bests some of the finest restaurants in the world, including Blue Hill at Stone Barns and Bohemian in NYC. Served on a bountiful wooden board (pictured) and loaded with farm-grown fireworks in the form of vegetables. The tomatoes speak for themselves, needing no salt, nor sauce. The radishes bite back. And the red pepper tastes like a conversation you simply can’t get enough of. Oui, it is an Ultimate of ultimate proportions.

Two other stellar dishes are the beef tartar served with crack-tastic chips and the bone-simple, equally magnificent, perfectly cooked whole fish. And that seems to be the name of the game here. Keep it simple, because when they strayed and tried to get a little too fancy they missed.

For example their salad with shaved parmesan and black truffles didn’t hold up to the rest. I’m guessing because the truffles weren’t real. Blasphemy to say, but they were virtually flavorless next to the crudité, which makes zero sense. And the other concoction getting trickier still, would be the odd variation on a caprese salad, made with tomatoes, goat cheese, hollandaise and mint. It wasn’t awful, but after having seen the tomato as a solo act, this seemed like a crime to drown it with such an odd combination of flavors.

On the simpler side of things I did also find a miss, ruined with a very simple error. The langoustines were very (and sadly) overcooked. But misses aside, Le Club 55 is a triumph, as if anybody needed another reason to love the beach.

The Little Beet

2 Penn Plz. New York, NY 10001 thelittlebeet.com

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So I wasn’t lying when I said I’ve been going to the Pennsy a lot lately. In fact, if I keep it up they might start charging me rent. But until that happens I’m going to continue my trip around the world, through all six menus at all six establishments.

My recent staple being Little Beet, which has pretty decent salads and is one of the healthier options apart from Cinnamon Snail. My usuals are the beet salad with arugula, warm quinoa, goat cheese and chicken tossed in a sherry, shallot dressing. It’s quite good and if you’re feeling like doubling down on the healthy, they have some solid fresh squeezed juices as well.

The other salad I often get is the Miso Chicken salad. Made with chicken, brown rice, romaine, cabbage, soba noodles, pickled Asian slaw and wasabi nori shakes and a miso glaze. It sounds more impressive than it is. But what it is, is exactly what you’d expect, nothing more, nothing less. And it’s sure to hit the spot, assuming that spot is craving an Asian chicken salad.

3 teeth

The Schoolhouse

34 Cannon Rd. Wilton, CT 06897 • (203) 529-7751 • schoolhouseatcannondale.com

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I love New York City. I love it times infinity. For providing a virtually limitless array of culinary experiences ranging from dives to the exquisite and every nationality or cultural niche you could possibly think of. But the one thing New York can’t do is be a quaint, refurbished schoolhouse like something pulled right out of the show, Little House on the Prairie.

But as unique and charming as the Schoolhouse is, it’s definitely not what I would call dressy, per the classification on Yelp. Unless you consider a fleece and chinos dapper. That said, the place is still a class act from the service to the seasonal menu, which not only rotates based on the harvest, but by party. And what I mean by that is that the menu itself actually has the name of your party printed right on it! Nice touch.

Starting class off with a lesson in awesomeness, the parsnip and apple soup was superb- well, initially it was served a touch tepid, so we asked them to heat it up, but after that, it was sheer perfection. As were the mussels with cauliflower. Such a simple twist on a classic dish that not only made it unique, but brilliant to taste, as the cauliflower served as a blank canvas to soak up the delicious broth.

The only slacker in first period was the salad with squash, goat cheese and pecans. It was bit over-dressed and comparatively, a bit underwhelming.

For the main event, we covered three different options on the menu with the branzini going to the head of the class. Best entrée of the three by far, served over a creamy celery root puree, along with roasted beets that made this dish an A++.

The NY Strip was cooked perfectly, served over mashed potatoes, with caramelized onions and broccolini, but having just had the transcendent beef tenderloin only days before at The Inn at Pound Ridge, I couldn’t help but find myself wanting more from the Schoolhouse strip. I also felt similarly about the duck, not that I had just eaten that at Pound Ridge too, but I did find myself craving more oomph, especially in light of such previous highs such as the soup, mussels and the fish.

Before class was dismissed, we stayed for extra credit, ordering the chocolate soufflé for dessert. And while very good, it is served with a completely unnecessary chocolate dipping sauce, because the soufflé itself is plenty ooey-gooey and chocolaty all by its lonesome. Also, I found the homemade vanilla ice cream served with it just okay.

All in, when you take into account the novel experience, culinary craft and the fact that even the misses were still pretty solid, it’s hard to give The Schoolhouse anything less than four knives, but to be fair, I am grading on a curve.

4 teeth

Red O

1541 Ocean Ave. Santa Monica, CA 90401(310) 458-1600 redorestaurant.com

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I know Rick Bayless is a name in the industry, but after that performance his name should be Please Cookless, because nada was bueno. Well, in terms of the food, anyway. The décor and energy (code for noisy) of the place is actually great. And they sport a nice range of tequilas should you want to go that way. They also have a pretty long list of cocktails as well, which I can only assume is designed to get you all liquored up so you’re awareness is impaired about the mediocrity you are about to eat.

Unfortunately the booze wasn’t enough to distract me from the piss poor service. Friendly for sure, but sloppy and slow. She completely forgot our guacamole order and missed on every recommendation, granted the fact that there’s nothing truly great on the menu makes it awfully hard to win in that scenario.

Amid the sea of asi asi (translation: so so) are the goat cheese tamales, which are okay on taste, but very mushy on texture. The duck taquitos, which were dry and tasteless, needing the addition of one of the salsas from the chips to give it moisture and make it worth half its salt. Oh, which reminds me… it needed more salt.

For the entrees, the shrimp and rice was “pretty standard” (to be read like Dr. Evil), the fennel lobster tails were a big ho hum and the NY strip with chimichurri, while the best of the three, is certainly no reason to come here.

Hell, they even managed to fuck up the churros, which are a foodie lay up, if you ask me. Way too hard and dry. And the chocolate and caramel dip wasn’t even close to being rich or flavorful enough to save them. But perhaps I’m to blame for not heeding the warning on the door. After all, “Zero” is right in the name. And that’s what this place is, a flaming red zero.

1 tooth

Blue Dog Kitchen

101 W 25th St. New York, NY 10001(212) 229-9222 bluedogkitchen-hub.com

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This place is teeny tiny so I don’t recommend eating there unless you like lines of people standing over you while you chew. It’s much better suited for the grab and go or Seamless.com. It’s also well suited for those who like good, fresh, wholesome food. From salads to sandwiches to their desserts it’s pretty hard to go wrong. Sure, some things are definitely better than others, but nothing I’ve ever had here has been bad.

My go to sandwich is the G19, which sounds a lot like an assault rifle or a supersonic fighter jet, but sadly it is nothing even remotely as cool. It does, however, taste better than both of those things, made with warm grilled veggies and goat cheese, served on a hearty multi-grain bread.

And for salads I definitely recommend the fig, arugula and faro salad. It can be a bit overdressed at times, but it always tastes great. Granted it’s extremely light on the faro to have that ingredient listed as a headliner in the salad’s name.

Then, for dessert, mentally prepare yourself for one of the best oatmeal raisin cookies since the dawn of molasses. It’s got just the perfect hint of cinnamon and a nice depth of flavor from the bourbon. On the other hand, the red velvet extravaganza is just a red velvet cupcake with an over-the-top selly name. Don’t get sucked in by the marketing people. Take it from an ad guy… who got sucked in by the marketing.

3 teeth

 

Little Drunken Chef

36 E Main St. Mount Kisco, NY 10549 • (914) 242-8800

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Well, the fact that the chef is a self-proclaimed drunk explains a lot. And considering this place got four stars on Yelp, I’d say the chef isn’t the only one who’s plastered, because you’d have to be shit-faced to think this place was even worth three, much less two. And yet both times we have tried to go here there has been a 45 and 20-minute wait respectively. The second time we powered through it with a few drinks at the bar, which also had a wait to be seated. We haven’t had this hard a time getting a table in Westchester since Bedford 234, but at least that meal proved worth it.

So back to the bar, where we were eventually able to squeeze in and get the only highlights of the night, the drinks. Figures when you take into account where you are. The two drinks we had were the sake cucumber concoction and the Drunken Manhattan, which is far less inventive than the sake (my reco), tasting like your run of the mill Manhattan, but served in a martini glass as opposed to a lowball. Oooooh!

Then miracle of miracles happened, our table was ready in under 20 minutes. And lucky us, we scored a drunken, jovial waiter who went on to swoon about roughly 75% of the menu, which is always a worrisome sign, made only more worrisome by the fact that not one single recommendation was even just okay, much less good. I think he was just ecstatic to have a job and someone to talk to.

Starting with the Tossed Goat Salad, the kale is overdressed, the Drunken Goat (that’s the actual name of the cheese, which is available at any Whole Foods, but aptly chosen for its name) is shaved so thin you can’t even taste it and the chunks of peach aren’t even ripe! On the plus side, at least they didn’t screw up the candied pecans. But the rest of the salad should definitely be “tossed.”

Next came the jamon and manchego croquettes four ways. And sadly 75% of them sucked about five different ways by my count. The only one rising to an “eh” was the chutney, but I suppose that’s to be expected since Indian is the closest in to the chef’s comfort zone.

As the night progressed, the losers kept coming and I’m not just referring to the clientele lined up outside still waiting for a table. I’m also talking about the pulled pork buns, served with a hint of chimichurri. Not with actual chimichurri, mind you. Just a hint. That hint being in the description on the menu, yet nowhere to be found in the dish itself.

And for an entrée, I highly recommend the paella for none. I tried the Paella for one and it might very well be the worst form of Spanish torture since the Inquisition. Overcooked rice, overcooked chicken, overcooked scallops, overcooked mussels and a sprig of chorizo- granted I’m not entirely sure it was honestly chorizo, but it was definitely a sausage of some kind.

Now I know I get dramatic sometimes and take things to extremes, but to have had to wait 20 minutes for this performance should be punishable by death. I’d rather wait in line at the DMV! Seriously. And the worst part is that I had to actually pay for the mistreatment of my mouth! But what’s crazy about all of this is that I have actually been a long time fan of the “Little” franchise, going back to its humble beginnings as just a Kebab Station. Then a Spice Market. That said, I’ve noticed that the further they step away from their bailiwick, the more the seams start to show, because Crepe Street is a bit of a pass, especially compared to places like Good Food in Briarcliff. But never has anything been as bad as this place, which if allowed, I would like to rename “Little Big Mistake.”

1 tooth

Good Food

1205 Pleasantville Rd. Briarcliff Manor, NY 10510 • (914) 432-7981

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With a name like this they are just begging for some asshole like me to come swooping in and shit all over their life’s endeavors, but as tempting as that might’ve been, I was actually pleasantly surprised. Not by the décor, however, it’s virtually nonexistent. But then again, the place isn’t called Good Décor. The staff, on the other hand, is very small-town warm and friendly, charming my pants off as they coerced me into ordering dessert when I was already full. Loveable bastards!

But before we leap all the way to the end, let’s go back to the beginning. Torn between a delicious sounding lineup of sandwiches and savory crepes I ultimately erred on the side of novelty and went with the caramelized onions, olives, basil, capers and goat cheese crepe, served with a side of couscous salad and damn was it good… food. No false advertising here. It was WAY better than the Little Crepe Street in Kisco and good enough that I will most certainly be returning in order to cover the rest of those chalkboards (check back for potential knife uppage).

So what did I do for dessert? A scoop of their Coconut Almond Joy ice cream. It was also good, obviously. But next time I will be sure to go with one of their Nutella crepes, which have my Ferocious name written all over them.

3 teeth